Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists have stormed a cruise ship full of unaware tourists somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean. The U.S. Special Operations Command Europe has been alerted and swiftly deploys its SOF units to Greece. There, the American commandos link up with their Greek counterparts and prepare to storm the vessel.
This is just one of the many scenarios that U.S. and Greek SOF units will have to deal with during Jackal Stone 18, SOCEUR’s annual readiness exercise. The exercise will take place on the island of Crete. But there is some drama — Greeks invented the concept, after all, and it would be unfitting if it was absent from the event — behind the organisation of the exercise. The Greek military’s Joint Special Operations Command (DEE) was supposed to co-organise Jackal Stone 18 in conjunction with SOCEUR. The Greek Interior Ministry, however, argued that since the exercise will have a distinct counter-terrorism character, it is supposed to fall under the Hellenic Police’s jurisdiction (as in the U.S., domestic emergencies are dealt by the law enforcement and not the military). There was considerable backlash from the Greek Ministry of Defence. In the end, however, the Interior Ministry’s argument prevailed, and SOCEUR planners had to plan and coordinate with the Hellenic Police. Nonetheless, Greek military SOF units will be participating in the event but in a more limited role.
More specifically, on the Greek side, the exercise will involve officers from the Hellenic Police’s counter-terrorism unit (EKAM), their maritime counterparts from the Hellenic Coast Guard (MYA), Underwater Demolition (DYK) sailors from the Hellenic Navy, and soldiers from the Special Paratroopers Section (ETA), which is modelled after the famed British Special Air Service (SAS). On the American side, Green Berets from the 10th Special Forces Group, Navy SEALs, and Air Force special operations assets, such as the CV-22B Osprey helicopter, from the 352nd Special Operations Wing, will participate.
The exercise will begin from the United States Naval Support Activity (NSA) Souda Bay. Thereafter, the different scenarios will take the SOF units from small islets in the Mediterranean Sea to Chania to downtown Iraklio, Crete’s largest city. USN Captain Ryan T. Tewell, Commander of NSA Souda Bay, will exercise overall control.
From the American perspective, there is considerable interest in the performance of the involved units. The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) will be represented by senior officers, and SOCEUR by its commander, Major General Kirk W. Smith (USAF). The geographical position of the exercise is what draws so much attention: Greece, and particularly NSA Souda Bay, is situated very close to many countries of interest: Syria, Turkey, Libya, to name a few, are just around the corner. With Turkey distancing itself from NATO with each passing day, Greece is becoming increasingly important to U.S. interests.
The Hellenic and American special operators regularly conduct training exercises. Only a month ago, members of the above units had completed a joint training exercise in Athens. Jackal Stone 18 version will conclude December 7.