Special Operations News Update – Wednesday, January 29, 2020

10th Special Forces Group Soldiers riding snowmobiles during training. 10th SFGA FB 20200127.

Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts from around the world.

Bombardier E-11A Crash in Afghanistan. A spokesman for U.S. Forces Afghanistan stated that the USAF jet that crashed on Monday, January 27, 2020 is an incident under investigation. He said that there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire. The surveillance and communications aircraft went down in Dih Yak district, Ghazni province in an area that is controlled by the Taliban. There are usually between 2 and 5 crew on board this type aircraft. Defense officials announced that two bodies have been recovered as well as the E-11A’s flight recorder. A mayday call went out while the aircraft was at 42,000 feet. Some reports say the aircraft executed a controlled crash landing before it exploded into flames.

See “U.S. Forces Recover Bodies From Plane Crash Site In Afghanistan”, Radio Free Europe, January 28, 2020. See also “Navy SEALs Recover Two Bodies From U.S. Plane Wreckage in Taliban-Held Territory”, Newsweek, January 28, 2020. There is at least one news report saying that a CIA chief behind Soleimani’s assassination was killed when the plane crashed. But no other confirmation from any other source. (Middle East Monitor, Jan 28, 2020).

SOF News

The Last Full Measure. A film about pararescue during the Vietnam War has had the technical advise of a retired Air Force NCO who spent 24 years in pararescue. The advisor, John Pighini, was a Silver Star recipient for his actions in Vietnam. (New York Post, Jan 23, 2020).

The Never Ending Saga of Eddie Gallagher. This is the story that just doesn’t go away. In a video published on social media Gallagher highlights the faces and current units of active-duty SEALs, calls them cowards. See “Retired Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher strikes back at SEALs who testified against him”, The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 27, 2020.

Naval SEAL Accused of Murder Promoted. The U.S. Navy promoted Chief Petty Officer Tony DeDolph, a Navy SEAL, four months after he admitted to choking Green Beret Logan Melgar of the 3rd Special Forces Group to death in Mali in June 2017. See “Navy SEAL Promoted After Choking Green Beret to Death”, Daily Beast, January 28, 2020.

International SOF

Colombia’s 2nd SF Bn in Exercise with 82nd. Members of the 82nd Airborne Division and U.S. Army South parachuted into Colombia this past Sunday (Jan 26). After the jump they began a follow-on exercise. A nearby airfield – Tolemaida Air Base – is the location of the Colombian National Training Center. Members of Colombia’s 2nd Special Forces Battalion are participating in the exercise. Read more in “Paratroopers jump into Colombia for airfield seizure exercise”, Army Times, January 27, 2020.

Military Topics

82nd Using Encrypted Messaging Apps Overseas. Paratroopers who deployed to the Middle East in early January are using two encrypted messaging applications on government cell phones. The apps – Signal and Wickr – are free for download and use. (Military Times, Jan 23, 2020).


Duarte Threatens Cancellation of Agreement. The president of the Philippines is once again threatening a move away from the U.S. and towards Russia and China in another diplomatic dispute. He is threatening to cancel the Visiting Forces Agreement which provides the legal basis for U.S. military forces to provide training and assistance to the Philippine security forces. U.S. Army Green Berets helped Philippine troops win a bloody battle against Islamic insurgents who had captured the southern city of Marawi in 2017. (Stars and Stripes, Jan 28, 2020).


UH-60s for Afghanistan: From 159 to 53. The United States military is reducing the number of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters it plans to provide to the Afghan Air Force. This is a two-thirds cut to a program that General John Nicholson (former RS Cdr) stated would be a ‘game changer’. The AAF is having difficulty maintaining the aircraft that it now has in the inventory (let alone getting flight crews trained up). Read more in “US cuts number of Black Hawks to Afghanistan by two-thirds”, Military Times, January 28, 2020.

‘Black Vipers’ Head to Afghanistan. Romania’s 21st Battalion arrived in Kandahar province, Afghanistan on a Force Protection mission that will last about six months. (Agerpres, Jan 28, 2020).

Crossing the Afghan-Pakistani Border. Ali Mohammad Sabawoon provides details on crossing the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan – a boundary also known as the Durand Line. Read up on some border history, the Durand Line, how people commute, different forms of national identity cards, verbal agreements, and more. See “The Gates of Friendship: How Afghans cross the Afghan-Pakistani border”, Afghanistan Analysts Network, January 28, 2020.

A Turbulent Decade. From 2010 to 2020 the Taliban insurgency has picked up steam while Afghanistan’s institutional dysfunction has continued and deepened. Read this article by Ezzatullah Mehrdad, a freelance journalist based in Kabul. “Afghanistan’s Turbulent Decade”, The Diplomat, January 28, 2020.


French and U.S. Cooperation in the Sahel. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recently met with the French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly. There were a number of issues on the agenda. The French are very interested in continued U.S. support to their efforts in the Sahel – calling it ‘critical’. In a recent press conference Esper was non-committal – but once again reiterating his view that we need to worry more about ‘great power’ competition (especially in the Pacific) and that he is looking for way to free up money and resources from other parts of the world to meet the challenges posed by Russia and China. He was also very evasive about the possible closure of an air base (that cost millions of dollars to build) in Niger. (DOD Transcript, Jan 27, 2020).

Middle East

Bradleys Depart Syria. The armored vehicles departed Syria just weeks after the U.S. publicized the deployment of the armored vehicles. The Army National Guard M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles were in Syria less than two months – leaving at the end of November 2029. (The Drive – The War Zone, Jan 27, 2020).

TBI Injuries Add Up. It was reported on 28 January that at least 50 US military personnel have now been diagnosed with concussions and TBI as a result of the Iranian missile attack on two bases earlier this month. Of these, 31 have been returned to duty.


Tip of the Spear. The December 2019 monthly issue of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Tip of the Spear is now posted online. Articles include Korean / American SOF exercise, Saber Junction 19, Operation Commando Wrath (Shok Valley, Afghanistan), 30th anniversary of USASOC, Rangers and the 30th anniversary of Operation Just Cause, MARSOC certification exercise, and more.

The Challenge of China. A host of writers have collaborated on a 69-page report entitled Rising to the China Challenge: Renewing American Competitiveness in the Indo-Pacific. The paper is dated December 2019 but recently published online by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). It covers the topics of sustaining conventional military deterrence, security vital U.S. technological advances, bolstering U.S. economic power and leadership, strengthening American diplomacy, competing over ideology and narrative, and provides recommendations.


Hearing on Afghan Strategy. On Tuesday, January 28, 2020 the U.S. House of Representatives conducted a two-hour long hearing entitled Examining the Trump Administration’s Afghanistan Strategy. The key witness was John Sopko, head of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The hearing was held to examine the challenges identified in reports issued by SIGAR.


Photo: 10th Special Forces Group Soldiers riding snowmobiles during training. 10th SFGA photo, Jan 27, 2020.

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