First of all it must be mentioned that the creation of such a unit would not have been made in vain, or purely to satisfy someone's ego in commanding an elite structure. Second, working with the SRI has always meant that SIE agents could call for the involvement of the Anti-terrorist Brigade of SRI whenever they needed, and since they have considered necessary to create their own detachment, it must mean there were enough missions for it to perform. To confirm that, the size of this detachment, 23 or 25 at first, downed to 12 or 15 today, confirms the special character of the unit and the continous need for its existance.
Those having said, it is obvious that during the 7 years in which the detachment has joined total secrecy, we can not really track its operations.
Therefore, this section of the page will only handle the much publicized mission in Iraq, and the less publicized, alleged mission in Serbia.
Hostage rescue in Iraq
Three Romanian journalists were taken hostage in Iraq in 2005. Marie Jeanne Ion and Sorin Miscoci from the national private tv station Prima TV and Ovidiu Ohanesian from the newspaper Romania Libera.
They can be distinguished in blurry videos and photos by the fact that the first two are blonde, while the latter, an Armenian-origined Romanian, is of a darker tone.
Eight GAT members were present in Baghdad for the operation, having got there in a Romanian C-130. They have spent two full days in attempting to meet with the hostage takers, which kept on changing locations in and around Baghdad. In the end, President Basescu described the delivery of the hostages as "peaceful but dangerous".
Operatives stepping of the RoAF C-130
The Romanian Special Forces are among the very few which managed to free hostages from Iraq, as hundreds of them are taken every year. Some of freed, others are beheaded, but the first ones are usually abandoned by their captors and not rescued by their countries in an armed intervention.
It has to be reminded that the much publicised case of private Jessica Lynch was not a case of armed rescue, such as it was described by the American media. The alledged intervention, which sparkled national pride, never happened, Jessica Lynch being abandoned by her captors prior to have been found by US forces. Furthermore, her heroic resistance to interrogation and simbolic speeches to them have been found to be far from reality as well; she was raped by her captors, but she was not assaulted or beaten in any other way.
Something has to be said here about the reaction of the French authorities. A French journalist, Florence Aubenas, was also held captive with the three Romanian journalists and their Iraqi-Romanian guide. As the Romanian authorities managed to send special forces to recover their citizens, the French authorities did not. After the spectacular and unexpected release, France sent two intelligence officers to Romania to interview the former hostages.
The French officers behaved in a very arogant way, asking questions and not believing the answers. They patronized the former hostages throughout the interrogatory and did not show any form of appreciation for the courtesy which they had been given for it. The French officers also did not contact the Romanian intelligence community, nor the hostage negociator which managed to bring the three journalists home. Sources state that the French did not even thank the Romanians for allowing them to come to Bucharest and interrogate the journalists, and even more, they treated the Romanian hosts with an upper tone while they were there.
In the end, the French got home and Florence Aubenas was freed much later than the Romanians. Sources credit her release as the work of the same Romanian negociator.
After her release, Florence was asked to confirm the statements of Marie Jeanne Ion, according to whom all five hostages were held in the same basement for long periods of time. Florence Aubenas denied that fact. When she was asked by the French reporters if that means Marie Jeanne had lied about that issue, she declined to answer.
All intelligence and public sources, including the media from both countries, confirm all the hostages were held in the same location.
Marie Jeanne Ion and Sorin Miscoci have stated that they regret Florence's statements and do not know the reasons for them. Several weeks after the French journalist was released, Marie Jeanne invited Florence to her wedding.
Florence Aubenas declined.
Alleged mission in Serbia
In early 2006, numerous rumours, started mostly by Serbian media, stated that the Romanian and British Special Forces have captured general Ratko Mladici, a Serbian accused of war crimes, during a special operations mission at the banks of the Danube river.
This rumour is interesting due to a large array of reasons, and it was launched for another array of purposes.
One of the many interesting things in the statement is the fact that Romanian and British Special Forces have acted together, on Serbian soil, to capture a Serbian general, wanted for war crimes by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.
This confirms the Serbs wanted to impress international public opinion with the idea that they are doing something regarding war criminals, after being threated repeatedly by the European Union with not opening the admission negociations.
It must also be noted that out of the neighboring countries, they chose Romania as an alledged performer of this operation. This is not surprizing, as Romania indeed is one of the very few countries in Central and Eastern Europe which has forces capable of such operations abroad. Secondly, the association with British Special Forces is also not at random, as it is known in the intelligence community that units such as Grupul anti-tero of SIE and others have trained with the SAS and Royal Marine Commandoes for years. Furthermore, this is also a reminder for the knowledgable of the GAT's operatives close ties with the British SAS.
Just as interesting is the fact that the Romanian and British governments have denied the allegations straight away. However, the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) only stated that none of its troops were present at the location. We already know the allegations were about SIE's small elite detachment. In such a context, SRI's statement comes to only deepen the mistery. Furthermore, SIE did not release an official statement. And to complete the mistery and give the reader food for thought, the Ministry of Defense refused to issue a statement as well.
A few weeks later, another set of rumours persisted, which stated Ratko Mladici is near of being captured.
It is unclear if the Delta group of SIE and the British SAS have acted in Serbia, but the chances are they had. It is also unclear if Ratko Mladici escaped from their actions there, or whether the operation was simply another phase of closing the tie around him, and had no intention or expectation to capture him at all.
These two operations, which brought to light such a small, elite and secret unit, come as a reminder that in the world of special operations, not everything you read in New York Times is true, and as well, not everything that happens will be published in the New York Times.
The existance of this unit ever since 1998 can only stimulate one's imagination as to the places they've been and the missions they've performed.
One thing remains certain though, the official reason for its creation is but a smokescreen to cover more important operations of this unit. To say that 12 elite operators, graduates of Delta Force and SAS courses, have the sole mission to protect 140 or so Romanian Embassies abroad, is an ironic statement in anyone's eyes. Furthermore, the fact that the existance this unit has been held as a secret for 8 years, until accidentally reveiled against its will or prior notice, plus the fact that it only has such a small number of very well trained operatives, comes to sustain the idea that the detachment was created with specific purposes in mind, other than guarding embassies abroad. One can imagine the large number of operations abroad this unit might have had during those 8 years and even today, operations which are likely to remain in the shadows for years to come.
Instead of a quick finish line to this short page, I must remind the readers the fact that a large number of foreign officials, especially US ones, have repeatedly stated in the last years facts which do not match with official documents released to the public by Romanian authorities. Such is the case of statements like:
"I would like to thank the Romanian Special Forces for their significant contribution to the war against terror"
"The operations of your special forces are well known"
"Your country has brought a significant contribution regarding intelligence, special forces [...]"
"Countries from the new Europe are helping a great deal with special operations forces", etc.
Even though, officially, no such units have been deployed abroad prior to 2006, even Romanian commanders of elite units insinuate their men have combat experience abroad.
Whatever the case, the unveiling of this unit comes as yet another proof that we do not always know all the facts, and we should always keep an open mind while discussing issues from the area of special operations - or black ops.