Swiss army plans new elite force

The elite force would come to the aid of Swiss citizens in danger whilst abroad Keystone Archive

The Swiss army says it plans to create a force of elite troops to conduct special operations overseas as part of a shake-up of Switzerland's militia-based army.

This content was published on November 18, 2001 minutes

"Switzerland does not have an elite force for foreign missions," said Philippe Zahno, a spokesman for the army's Chief of Staff.

The proposal to train several dozen soldiers for the unit falls in line with the government's army reform plans, Zahno added.

Main mission

The elite troops' main mission would be to come to the aid of Swiss citizens in danger abroad. So far, Swiss citizens trapped in difficult situations overseas have had to rely on host or friendly troops.

In times of peace, the special contingent would intervene before Swiss soldiers were deployed abroad. "They would survey the ground," Zahno explained.

In times of war, the unit would undertake reconnaissance missions and work behind enemy lines. The army planning committee foresees a force of no more than 100 soldiers.

The elite unit would not be active in Switzerland and their mandate would have to observe Swiss neutrality. This would appear to rule out any active role in combat missions abroad.

Swiss soldiers on international peacekeeping missions are allowed to be armed following a national vote last June. However, they are barred from participating in combat operations.

Army reforms

Parliament is scheduled to debate proposals to reform the Swiss army next year. The plan envisages a reduced budget of SFr4.3 billion ($2.5 billion) per year, as well as a significant reduction in the number of personnel.

Furthermore, Swiss voters are due to decide next month on a radical proposal put forward by pacifist groups to abolish the army. A similar proposal was defeated at the ballot box in 1989.

swissinfo with agencies

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