Special Operations Forces

  • Last updated 07-Oct-2014 10:34

NATO Special Operations Forces (SOF) provide capabilities that complement those of NATO air, maritime and land forces and are relevant across the full range of military operations. These SOF capabilities are also applicable to the Alliance’s core tasks of collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. The NATO Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ) is the primary point of development, coordination and direction for all NATO Special Operations activities.

Lithuanian Special Forces

Located at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium and under the daily direct operational command of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), the NSHQ focuses on ensuring Allied Joint1 SOF personnel possess a multinational foundation to allow them to operate as effectively, efficiently and coherently as possible in support of the Alliance’s objectives from the strategic to the tactical level. Twenty-six NATO member countries and three partners (Austria, Finland and Sweden) are represented among 200 plus headquarters staff.

The NSHQ is a unique hybrid organisation. It is involved in a very diverse set of activities such as NATO SOF policy, doctrine, capabilities, standards, training and education. On a daily basis the NSHQ is actively coordinating, advocating and advising reference SOF across NATO. These activities include areas such as SOF-specific intelligence, aviation, medical support and communications. 

The NHSQ also supports SOF involvement in NATO operations. This includes assisting with SOF force generation, integration into strategic and operational planning, and SOF-specific intelligence analysis. There is a Special Operations Component Command element responsible for command and control of SOF within the NATO Response Force (NRF). This element is provided on a rotational basis by a handful of countries which possess the requisite SOF capacity and capability. Enhancing SOF command and control mechanisms is also an area where the NSHQ works diligently to better integrate SOF into NATO exercises from their initial inception and design all the way through gathering of lessons learned.

At the Wales Summit in September 2014, Allies declared the Special Operations Component Command at full operational capability. This is a scalable expeditionary NATO SOF command and control capability, agile and responsive, capable of deploying to support NATO operations. It serves to provide an additional deployable NATO SOF command and control option to complement other existing mechanisms provided by NATO member countries.

The NSHQ is also a pillar of the CFI, which aims to ensure that Allies and partners retain the progress made in terms of interoperability and collaboration from their experience working together during multinational deployments, such as in Afghanistan, Libya, the Horn of Africa and the Balkans.

1. ‘Joint’ refers to activities, operations and organisations in which elements of at least two services participate (land, air, maritime, SOF).