US Special Operations Command Europe establishes new outpost in Albania
- In January, US Special Operations Command Europe announced that it would establish a new headquarters in Albania.
- The command said it chose Albania because of its proximity to major transport hubs in the Balkans, thus reducing travel times.
- The announcement comes as ongoing disputes with Russia add to tension in an already strained corner of Europe.
Against the backdrop of Russia’s earthiness in Eastern Europe, US special operators have established a new forward operating base in another strained corner of Europe.
In early January, the US Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) announced its decision to set up a special operations headquarters in Albania.
The new headquarters will contribute to SOCEUR’s mission to “galvanize our relationships with Allies and our partners to counter malign influence, enhance interoperability, rapidly respond to emerging threats and, if necessary, defeat aggression”, said declared the command.
Access and Convenience
SOCEUR said the headquarters will be based in Albania on a rotational basis, suggesting it will only be used during certain months of the year or when needed.
The number of special operators in the new headquarters will be reduced – around 10 to 15 – Major General David Tabor, commander of SOCEUR, told local media.
The command, which oversees special operations activities in Europe, also said it chose Albania because of its proximity to major transport hubs in the Balkans, reducing travel times for special operators and conventional units.
“The ability to move and train quickly in the Balkans, in close coordination with other allied and partner forces, has made Albania the best location for this effort. Albania remains an important ally of the ‘NATO and a valuable security partner, both regionally and globally,’ Tabor said. said in a statement.
“The Balkans have always been a place of interest for us since the Cold War. You will see the 10 [Special Forces Group] guys in Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria, [and] Greece all the time,” a retired army special forces operator told Insider.
The region has long been unstable because the many different ethnicities, nationalities and religions are close to it, which in turn has made it “a fertile ground for conflict and atrocities, as we have unfortunately seen with the genocides in Bosnia during the war,” the operator said, speaking anonymously as he still works with the US military.
Special operations forces “are all about access,” whether it’s a forward operating base or a permanent partnership with a foreign military, and “the more access we have, the better we are able to operate,” said the retired Green Beret. “We can then use this access to our advantage if we [be] responsible for operating. »
But beyond access and convenience, the new special operations headquarters will help counter malign Russian influence in the region.
Countering the Malicious Russian Influence
Albania has been a member of NATO since 2009. It has sent troops to support NATO and the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, and the alliance has helped Albania improve its military capabilities.
However, several countries in the region, including Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria, are not exactly within the United States’ sphere of influence. These countries were aligned with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and some maintain close ties with Russia.
As tensions with Russia rise, Moscow may try to use the relationship to stir up trouble. He has already done this in the recent past – in 2016, Russian intelligence agents tried to stage a coup to overthrow the Montenegrin government. Moscow also criticized North Macedonia’s joining NATO in 2020.
Activities carried out by US special operations forces at the new headquarters will likely focus on foreign homeland defense, civil affairs and psychological operations, the retired Green Beret said.
“Albania is not next to Russia, so you don’t have that physical proximity to an opponent. But the Balkans are important, and Russia still has a lot of influence there,” he said. -he adds. “At the end of the day, Russians are Slavs[ic] and the same goes for most of the Balkans, with very few exceptions, such as Greece, and Russia has always played this card to manipulate and control the situation there. »
Turkey is also a factor in the region. Turkey has invested heavily in Albania and both are members of NATO as well as Muslim-majority countries, but under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Turkey has gradually drifted away from the transatlantic alliance, raising concerns about access and NATO operations in a significant part of the world. .
SOCEUR’s decision to base the new special operations headquarters in Albania could be a delicate attempt to preserve some of that access or prevent Turkey from dragging other NATO nations with it. Albania’s willingness to host the siege certainly played a role, as other governments might have faced domestic opposition.
For now, the new headquarters is more symbolic than operationally significant, but Special Operators are still looking for access and will benefit from this base. The decision to put it in Albania suggests that the Balkans are once again an important region for the US military.
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.