The Special Operations Command – Europe (SOCEUR) will move from Stuttgart, Germany to Mons, Belgium according to the Department of Defense. In a series of news releases defense officials outlined the plan to relocate 11,900 service members from Germany to other European nations or back to the United States. SOCEUR will be one of the affected units.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper stated in a press conference that the proposed changes are in line with the National Defense Strategy (NDS). The move will reduce U.S. military personnel in Germany from 36,000 to about 24,000.
The repositioning of troops will begin in a few weeks but it will be a long and expensive process. About 5,600 service members will move out of Germany but stay in Europe. An additional 6,400 will return to the states.
Esper is keen to emphasize that this is not a lessening of our support to NATO as rotational troops will take the place of those permanently assigned. The rotational units will likely conduct six to nine month tours in Eastern Europe. The likely locations will be Poland, the Baltic States, or the Black Sea region.
The move of SOCEUR to Belgium will place it near Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. The commander of U.S. European Command, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, stated that “This will improve the speed and clarity of our decision-making and promote greater operational alignment.” He also added that a similar relocation could happen for U.S. Special Operations Command – Africa; however, no new location has been determined.
NATO Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ) is located in Mons, Belgium at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). NSHQ is under the daily direct command of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). NSHQ is the primary point of development, coordination, and direction for all NATO Special Operations activities. NSHQ also operates the NATO Special Operations School (NSOS). NSHQ is currently commanded by LTG Eric Wendt – a U.S. Army Special Forces officer.
There is no word yet on the disposition of the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group – currently based in the Stuttgart, Germany area. This battalion had previously been based at Bad Tolz, Germany before moving to the Stuttgart area. The Air Force special operations unit based in Mildenhall, UK was supposed to rebase to Germany, putting the SOF air assets closer to a possible ‘eastern front’. However, the 352nd Special Operations Wing will now remain in the United Kingdom.
According to SECDEF Esper the planned repositioning of almost 12,000 troops will:
- enhance deterrence of Russia
- strengthen NATO
- reassure allies
- improve U.S. strategic flexibility and EUCOM operational flexibility
- take care of service members and their families
The costs of all the moves is expected to exceed several billion dollars. There is flexibility in the planned moves based on future events (for instance – the November 2020 presidential elections come to mind). European Command, now at Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, will be a big headquarters to move – so that will take some time.
Many national security observers are critical of the Department of Defense’s concept and state this is being pushed through by President Trump to ‘punish Germany’. Trump has been a long-time critic of Germany saying that Germany does not pay enough for its own defense. He has stated that Germany has been ‘delinquent’ in paying its fair share (2% of GNP) towards the cost of maintaining NATO. It is estimated that Germany spent 1.38% on defense in 2019.
The units assigned to SOCEUR include the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, Naval Special Warfare Unit 2, 352nd Special Operations Wing, and other support units. SOCEURs area of responsibility consists of 51 countries extending from Greenland to the European continent. The AOR includes all of Russia, the Caucasus region, Israel, and the Mediterranean Sea. The mission of SOCEUR is to employ special operations forces across the area of responsibility to enable deterrence, strengthen European security collective capabilities and interoperability, and counter transnational threats to protect U.S. personnel and interests.
“DOD Proposes Removing More Than 11,000 Troops From Germany”, DOD News, July 29, 2020.
“Department of Defense Senior Leaders Brief Reporters on European Force Posture”, U.S. Department of Defense Transcript, July 29, 2020. SECDEF Mark Esper, General John Hyten, and General Tod Wolters answer questions on the European force posture moves.
Image. Derived from Map of Europe (CIA) and SOCEUR banner.