Could American special operators be integrated into the Greek Special Operations Forces (SOF)? According to reports in the Greek media, the European Special Operations Command (SOCEUR) and the U.S. embassy in Greece have proposed the idea to the Hellenic Ministry of Defense. The initiative would attach U.S. SOF officers and non-commissioned officers to various Greek SOF units.
More specifically, the Greek units that would be involved would be the Hellenic Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams (ΜΥΚ); the Hellenic Air Force’s 31st Special Operations Squadron (ΜΕΕΔ); the Hellenic Army’s Z’MAK, an amphibious commando unit that specializes in recapturing small islands among other commando tasks; and the Special Parachute Section (ΕΤΑ), the army’s “Tier 1” unit that specializes in special reconnaissance (SR) and direct action (DA) among other tasks. From the U.S. side of the house, the units that would likely be involved if the scheme is given the green light include the 10th Special Forces Group, which has a battalion forward-deployed to Germany; SEAL Team Five, which has Europe as its area of responsibility; and the Air Force (USAF) Combat Controllers (CCTs), pararescuemen (PJs), or Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) airmen from the 352nd Special Operations Wing, which is based in the United Kingdom.
The attached American commandos would serve as military liaison officers (LNO) with the primary objectives of better coordinating training events between U.S. and Greek SOF units, and facilitating operational requests. Aside from improved interoperability and coordination, what would the U.S. gain by this initiative? The proposal has come, after all, from the U.S. side.
It would place American commandos in a geostrategically important area. Turkey has been steadily edging away from the West for years. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan isn’t seen as a reliable partner by many American policymakers and military leaders. Thus Greece, seen as a more stable partner than Turkey and one with a vital eastern Mediterranean route on its doorstep, becomes that much more important to U.S. regional interests.
U.S. and Greek SOF have been working together for decades, mostly by way of training events and the participation of Greek commandos in U.S. schools (for example, Greek Navy SEALs are often sent to the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) and SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) courses). U.S. SEALs enjoy a close relationship with the Hellenic Coast Guard’s Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs), conducting joint anti-piracy and anti-drug operations in the eastern Mediterranean. Recently, however, the relationship between the two SOF communities has been expanding. American special operators find themselves in Greece more frequently. In the last few months, there have been three joint exercises, ranging from a few dozen operators to hundreds.
In January, for example, the 22 Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) trained with the Hellenic 32nd Marine Brigade, which is considered a special operations-capable unit, in exercise Alexander the Great 2019. The exercise’s main objective was to improve joint readiness, reinforce ties, and increase interoperability between the two forces.
The United States Naval Support Activity (NSA) Souda Bay, on the island of Crete, has been the location for many joint exercises. In early December, exercise Jackal Stone 18, the major annual training event of SOCEUR, took place in NSA Souda Bay and had a distinct maritime counterterrorism flavor, with the main scenario being the seizure of a cruise ship by Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists.