Today I had the honor of presiding over the NATO Special Forces Headquarters change of command, from Lieutenant General Frank Kisner to Vice Admiral Sean Pybus, who I’m certain will continue the tradition of leadership excellence there. These "quiet professionals” provide unique current and emerging capabilities that enable our team to respond rapidly and precisely in ways no one else can.
The NSHQ has provided operational support for more than 2,200 allied and partner special operations service members operating in Afghanistan under our ISAF mission. They have also provided SOF expertise to other NATO operations like Unified Protector in Libya, Ocean Shield off the Horn of Africa and Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean Sea.
I would argue the success of these operations, and future operations is due in large part to the vision and vitality inherent in the NATO SOF Training and Education Program. This initiative is the centrepiece of building and sustaining Allied and partner SOF interoperability with over 3,500 SOF personnel from 34 nations graduating from 26 courses that span the spectrum of special operations capabilities.
In the U.S. European Command the U.S. Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) at Patch Barracks in Stuttgart is commanded by Maj. Gen. Mike Repass who heads all U.S. SOF forces in Europe. These elite troops are accomplishing great things every day on the ground, in the air, and on the seas across the European theater and beyond.
One example comes from the 352nd Special Operations Group, stationed at the British Royal Air Force base at Mildenhall, United Kingdom, where the Joint Special Operations Air Component for SOCEUR will soon receive the first two of ten CV-22 Ospreys. The arrival of these versatile aircraft is a first for U.S. special operations aviation in Europe, providing transformational vertical-lift capability to our theater.
The 352nd is also receiving the first of twelve MC-130Js, the newest special operations version of the C-130, which has served us well for decades. The J-model – recently re-named the "Commando II” in honor of the original air commandos of the Second World War -- is uniquely capable of low-visibility, low-level aerial refueling missions for special operations helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft, as well as infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of ground and maritime special operations forces.
These aircraft bring new capabilities to our theater that are welcome additions, specifically with regard to crises response, disaster preparedness, and emergency airlift mission areas. These important upgrades will allow our special operators to fly further, faster, higher and longer than ever before, dramatically increasing our theater special operations capabilities and range of modern support to our European partners.
Additionally, SOCEUR continues to focus on expanding theater-wide SOF capabilities in a manner that "thickens our lines” by training, developing, and enabling European SOF Allies and partners to deploy to Afghanistan as part of Combined Special Operations Task Force 10 (CSOTF-10), which serves under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
The Task Force is led by the only US SOF serving under NATO operational control, and includes SOF from eight European allies and partners: Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. In addition, the CSOTF controls multiple international Task Units operating across 9 different provinces and having profound effects on enabling the Afghans to assume full responsibility for their national security.
In addition to the land and the air, special operators are also highly proficient in the sea. This is well demonstrated by the maritime element of SOCEUR, Navy Special Warfare Unit-2. Teamed primarily with our Romanian and Polish allies and Afghan law enforcement, this unit has been pulling back to back rotations to Afghanistan bringing some very bad people to justice. They are also our lead element in all special operations maritime response options, and have built strong relationships with our Allies from Greece, Denmark, and the Norwegian Navy Special Warfare teams to create a theater maritime response capability second to none.
Coalitions remain the core method of operating for SOF and are essential for future international military operations.
As our military teams across the alliance find more efficient and effective ways of providing the right forces at the right place and at the right time we will increasingly look to our special operators to get the job done. And from what I have seen thus far, our quiet professionals in NATO and EUCOM are exactly the right people to meet this challenge. They are a special breed and I'm grateful for what they bring to our team.