Following Soviet occupation, the Latvian National Defence Forces were effectively forced to start anew by building military and Special Operations capabilities from the ground up [source]. As a result, the Special Tasks Unit of Latvia (Speciālo uzdevumu vienība – SUV) was formed in September 1991 as a special battalion of the Latvian Armed Forces. Since this time, the unit has undergone significant reform and structural changes though remains in operation as an elite Special Operations Force (SOF) to this day.
- 1991 – The conception of the Special Tasks Unit as a special batallion of the Latvian Armed Forces.
- 1992 – The Special Tasks Unit is designated as the main security service of the Republic of Latvia.
- 1999 – Change of commanding structure. The Special Tasks Unit now reports directly into the Commander of the Latvian National Armed Forces.
- 2001 – The enactment of the Special Task Force Regulations Protocol [source]. Consequently, this law regulates the actions of the National Armed Forces and the Special Tasks Unit.
- 2003 – Further change of commanding structure. The Special Tasks Unit now reports directly into the Commander of the Latvian National Armed Forces, though administrative command is moved to the Latvian Land Defence Forces.
- 2004 – Latvia accession to NATO.
- 2005 – Significant investment into the Special Tasks Unit. The unit develops Human Intelligence capabilities.
- 2007 – Further organisational structure change to streamline military communication.
Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)
The Special Tasks Unit has a wide range of responsibilities, including:
- Security and Intelligence support to civil services and law enforcement
- Special naval, air, and land reconnaissance
- Combat diving
- Specialised sniping
- Search and Rescue
- Hostage negotiation
- The Special Tasks Unit conducts training exercises for other military units
Therefore, the selection process for the Special Tasks Unit is notoriously challenging. Firstly, recruits must undergo a 6-month pre-selection test to qualify for the main candidate selection phase, which runs over three weeks.
In order to undertake such responsibilities, a prospective Special Tasks Unit operative must undergo significant initial and ongoing training. Although the exact timescale of the training is unknown, the training does include:
- Critical thinking and decision-making skills
- Fatigue and stress training
- Navigation and communication skills
- First Aid
- Survival skills
- Water training
- Melee training
- Tactical shooting
- Industrial mountaineering
- Skydiving skills
Additionally, the operatives will undergo further specialised training depending on the exact unit they are assigned to.
Similarly, Special Tasks Unit officers have the legal right, as they see fit, to stop and search individuals and vehicles, detain individuals, and seize personal property in the interest of national security.
Estonian Special Forces are known to use a variety of weaponry, including:
- HK MP5
- HK MP7
- Glock 17/19
- HK G36
- HK 416A5
- Barret MRAD sniper rifle
Although the SUV is a relatively new Special Operations Force, the Special Tasks Unit encompasses culturally and historically significant symbolism within its doctrine to show its dedication to the Latvian defence. The unit’s emblem depicts a Latvian fighter in the skin of a wolf, symbolising the continuation of long-held soldier traditions [source]. The unit maintains its original motto – ‘Drošais Uzvar’ – The Brave Man Wins.
The Special Tasks Unit takes part in international training exercises, most commonly with other Baltic States and the US. Aside from being closely allied with the Baltic States, following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the US launched operation “Atlantic Resolve”, which includes the permanent presence of US troops within Latvia [source]. Therefore, it is prudent to regularly hold joint training exercises with the US.
In 2008, the SUV and the Michigan National Guard created an embedded training team in Afghanistan. This joint force trained the Afghan National Army as part of the War on Terror [source].
In late 2020, Latvia held military exercise “Winter Shield” – a joint exercise with the SUV, other Latvian Defence units, MATP Enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group, the Baltic Battalion, and the US Special Operations Command [source]. This exercise is aimed to develop and test the nations’ joint operations capabilities, in addition to readiness. As a result, in December 2020, the US opened a dedicated Special Operations Site in Riga as part of its continued commitment to regional security in the Baltics. The joint site includes:
- Vehicle Servicing Facilities
- Ammunition Storage Facilities
- CV-22 Osprey Aircraft helipads
The site is a US$3.7 Million development project to aid the readiness of US and Latvian Special Forces within the country.
Additionally, in 2021, the SUV organised and held a joint sniping training ‘competition’ exercise with forces from Lithuania, the US, Canada, Italy, Spain and Slovenia. The aim of the exercise was to test and develop sniping ability and measure effectiveness of specialised snipers. Unsurprisingly, the Latvian SUV won the competition, with Lithuania and US Special Forces coming in second and third respectively [source].
2021 marked the 30th Anniversary of the Special Task Force. Accordingly, the unit held a closed and understated ceremony to celebrate the occasion, attended by National Armed Forces leadership and the Minister of Defence. Indeed, whilst the Latvian Special Task Force continues to undertake incredibly secretive work, their achievements too will remain in the shadows.