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Rear Adm. William H. McRaven, has been named commander of the newly formed NATO Special Operations Coordination Center, which will be based in Stuttgart, Germany. In June, McRaven took over as commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command Europe.
Rear Adm. William H. McRaven, has been named commander of the newly formed NATO Special Operations Coordination Center, which will be based in Stuttgart, Germany. In June, McRaven took over as commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command Europe. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

STUTTGART, Germany — A new NATO Special Operations Coordination Center — designed to harmonize the training of special operations troops from NATO’s 26 member nations — will be headquartered at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart.

The goal of the center is to help the alliance troops operate at the same level, said Rear Adm. William H. McRaven, who will be the center’s director.

About 100 to 150 people would staff the center. It is hoped to be operating — staff hired, training methods established, operations doctrines decided — at least partially by the end of the year, and be fully operational by the end of 2008, McRaven said.

“I think we’re about to write a new chapter in NATO, and we’re looking forward to it,” he said.

McRaven, who also is commander of U.S. Special Operations Forces Europe, said he would not command NATO troops but merely prepare them.

He will report to U.S. Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, NATO’s military branch. Craddock could request special operations troops for NATO missions, such as for the war in Afghanistan, or attach them to units such as the 25,000-troop NATO Response Force.

Craddock also could advocate the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s multinational governing body, for money and other resources for NATO special operators.

“This now gives special operations a certain clout it may not have had in the past,” McRaven said.

Twenty-four of NATO’s 26 member nations have special operations troops. Only Iceland and Luxembourg have not designated troops as special operators.

The establishment of the center shows that NATO believes that special operators — typically small units of highly-skilled, multilingual troops — will be increasingly needed in the wars and exercises it foresees, according to Jeremy Shapiro, a fellow in foreign policy studies at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

“NATO in Afghanistan is the prototype mission of the future,” Shapiro said. “Nation-building occupies a bulk of its forces there. But they are also doing this intelligence-manhunt game, which is very much a special operations forces game.

“Most of that is being done by the Americans, but clearly it’s a very important mission for the future,” he said.

The NATO special operators would have three main missions: strategic, on-the-ground reconnaissance missions; direct action such as combat; and military assistance such as training of other nations militaries.

NATO troops would not have a single base on which to train but would use bases in many nations. McRaven said that he hoped in the next three years to establish a federation of training sites in different nations.

“Almost all of these countries have got magnificent training centers in some aspect of special operations,” McRaven said. “Some countries have a long-range patrol center, some have mountain warfare training, and some have winter warfare training.”

While getting different nations’ troops to work together will be a main goal, something that might not be standardized are the rules of fighting, known as national caveats, which can vary from nation to nation.

In Afghanistan, for example, troops from a certain nation might not be allowed to fight at night, while troops from another nation could not operate in certain parts of the country.

“We absolutely have to consider the national caveats,” McRaven said. “That is the way the nations function, and that is part of their political framework in which they have to operate.”

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