Special Operations News Update – Tuesday, February 4, 2020

STS Emerald Warrior 2020

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

Upcoming Events

5 Feb 2020 – U.S. Engagement in Afghanistan. The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) will be conducting a panel event that can be viewed via webcast. The discussion will feature Peter Bergen of New America, Rina Amiri of Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, Earl Gast of Creative Associates International (and former Afghanistan Mission Director, USAID), and Representative Michael Waltz (Rep, Florida 6th District). Waltz is a former Special Forces officer with two combat tours in Afghanistan. Tune in at this link to watch Making the Case for Sustained U.S. Engagement in a Transitioning Afghanistan, CSIS, Feb 5, 2020 (9:30 am to 11:00 am EST).

Headline Story

Cancer and the ‘K2 Veterans’. From the fall of 2001 to 2005 U.S. military units were based in Karshi Khanabad, Uzbekistan supporting the invasion of and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan. Initially the 5th Special Forces Group deployed their operational base at K2 and then launched teams into Afghanistan. Other SOF units soon followed in basing at K2 to include 1st Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group. A significant number of these ‘K2 Veterans’ are ill or have died due to cancer. The veterans of K2 are now organizing to call attention to the dangers that service members were exposed to at K2. Read “Toxic ‘black goo’ base used by U.S. had enriched uranium. More veterans report cancer”, by Tara Copp, McClatchy DC, February 3, 2020.

Editorial Note: The editor of SOF News spent a brief time at K2 (during a visit from Afghanistan) and remembers the stories of toxic waste told by members of the SF battalion based there. This past November 2019 the editor had the sad occasion of attending the funeral of a good friend and former ODA team mate that died of cancer. He had been based at K2 for nine months in 2002-2003.

SOF News

6 Feb 2020 – USSOCOM Testimony. The United States Senate Committee on Armed Services will be hearing testimony from representatives of the USSOCOM and U.S. Cyber Command on Thursday, February 6, 2020. Mr. Thomas Alexander (Acting ASD SO/LIC) and General Richard Clarke (Cdr USSOCOM) will be providing input.

MARSOC to Exercise in Crestview, Florida. The city of Crestview and the Marine Forces Special Operations Command have entered into an agreement that allows the SOF Marines to conduct training operations within the city for the next five years. The first exercise will be held this year in April and May 2020. The agreement mandates that Crestview agrees not to disclose any TTPs, methods of training, or scenarios about the exercises. See “Marine Corps special operators to train in Crestview”, NWF Daily News, February 3, 2020.

International SOF

Canadian SOF. Wes Kennedy, a former member of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, writes about SOTF-59, GWOT, JTF2, CANSOFCOM, CSOR, and a number of other Canadian special operations units and organizations. Read “Canadian SOF: Our Contribution to the War on Terror”, SOFREP, February 2, 2020.

Obituary – “Mad Mike” Hoare. The Soldier of Fortune who inspired the film “The Wild Geese” has passed away at the age of 100. An Irish accountant who turned the work in Africa as a mercenary led a storied life. See “Mad Mike Hoare, mercenary leader – obituary”, The Telegraph, February 2, 2020.

4 Russian SOF Killed in Syria. Four FSB Special Operations Center officers were killed on Saturday, Feb 1, 2020 after their vehicle hit a landmine near the northern city of Aleppo. (Spec Ops Magazine, Feb 3, 2020).

Royal Marines & Norwegian Stealth Ship. In a recent exercise members of 47 Commando were dropped off the coast of Norway to secure a key landing point by a Norwegian stealth ship of the Royal Norwegian Navy. (UK Defence Journal, Feb 3, 2020).

National Defense and Military News

Burn Pits – A Growing Concern. Anyone who has spent some time on U.S. military bases in war zones know the distinct smell of trash being burned when the wind blows the wrong way. What probably was not on a big conversation at the time was the potential for long-term health consequences veterans (and contractors) would experience as the years go by. Learn more in “Military contractor awarded compensation for burn pit exposure while deployed in Iraq”, Fox News, January 28, 2020.

Landmines are Okay Now. The White House issued a statement explaining its decision to allow U.S. military forces to employ anti-personnel landmines. The Department of Defense will soon issue a new a landmine policy. (White House, Jan 31, 2020). See also “Trump Administration Broadens Use of Landmines”, U.S. Department of Defense, February 3, 2020.


CIA, Mossad, and ‘Targeted Killings’. This detailed article explores the history of assassinations of terrorists and then dives into the aspects of the killing of Iran’s Quds Force commander in January 2020. Read this very long and interesting article entitled “Qassem Suleimani and How Nations Decide to Kill”, The New Yorker, February 3, 2020.


ANDSF and Insider Attacks. Members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) turned their guns on each other every four days on average in the closing months of 2019. Some 33 attacks insider attacks caused 90 casualties according to the latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. There were 172 deaths and 85 injuries in all of 2019. (Task & Purpose, Feb 3, 2020).

Middle East

Stabilization, Politics, and a Strategy for Syria. Daphne McCurdy, a Senior Associate with the Center for Security and International Studies (CSIS), writes on the U.S. flawed strategy for northeast Syria. She points out flaw with our support of the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) and points the way forward for future stabilization efforts in other regions of the world. Read “What America Can Learn From Its Mistakes In Syria”, War on the Rocks, February 3, 2020.

Leader of AQAP Killed in Yemen. It appears that the United States may have eliminated the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP) with a drone strike. The strike was reportedly conducted with the assistance of HUMINT and UAV monitoring over several weeks. AQAP has been suffering some hits over the past few years due to drone strikes and U.S. Special Forces raids. See “United States Targets Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular Leader in Yemen”, The Cipher Brief, February 3, 2020.

The Accidental Ethnographers of ISIS. In a COIN fight understanding the insurgents organization, tactics, strategy, etc. is important. But so is understanding the ‘human domain’. The U.S. attempted to gain ‘cultural competency’ with the deployment of Human Terrain Teams within its Human Terrain System. The success of “the Awakening” in Iraq stunned the insurgents – and later ISIS would establish their own program to understand why the tribes turned against them. Insurgency and counterinsurgency success often depends on which side (insurgents or COIN practitioners) is best in understanding the human terrain and incorporating that knowledge into policy and strategy. Read a research paper on this topic entitled Accidental ethnographers: the Islamic State’s tribal engagement experiment, by Craig Whiteside and Anas Elallame.


Uighur Muslims and Human Rights. A confidential document has indicated that the German government has knowledge of human rights abuses against Uighurs of the Xinjiang region. Read “German report spells out China human rights abuses against Uigher Muslims”, Deutsche Welle, January 31, 2020.

Europe, Russia, NATO, etc

Germany Needs a Bigger Army. There are some critics of the German military who believe that the country currently is unable to contribute adequately to the collective defense of NATO if any member were attacked. Of course, the biggest threat to Europe comes from Russia. It is not as powerful as the Soviet Union (and its allies) once was – but in today’s contemporary environment (hybrid warfare, cyberspace, political warfare, etc.) it still poses a viable threat. It is doubtful if German can get to the goal of spending 1.5% of GDP on defense by 2024. Germany has been willing to send troops overseas. It has been a leading ‘framework’ nation in Afghanistan as part of ISAF and now Resolute Support – deploying many troops to flush out staff positions in the RS HQs in Kabul and as the lead nation in TAAC-North in northern Afghanistan. Read more in “Germany Needs a Bigger, Stronger Army”, Yahoo! News, February 1, 2020.


Cloak and Dagger in Africa. Wiretapping and digital surveillance in Africa is big business. Firms from France, Israel, Russia, and China are competing with each other for rewarding contracts. Read more in “Inside Africa’s increasingly surveillance market”, The Africa Report, February 3, 2020.

Sub-Saharan Africa in 2020. Several ‘Africa experts’ provide their perspective on stories to watch over the next year. Future elections, current conflicts, great power competition, and the jihadist threat will feature heavily in the news. Read about the top ten issues in “What to Watch in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2020”, Center for Strategic & International Studies, January 10, 2020.


Photo: Special Tactics Airmen conduct weapons training during Emerald Warrior at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. USAF photo by Tech Sergeant Sandra Welch, January 28, 2020.

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SOF News provides news, analysis, commentary, and information about special operations forces (SOF) from around the world.