Special Operations News Update – Friday, February 14, 2020

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

Top News Story – Afghanistan Negotiations

The United States and the Taliban have agreed to a proposal for a reduction of violence in Afghanistan. The Defense Department is working with allies on the path forward. Signing could be on February 29th.

SOF News

MG Hill – SOJTF-OIR Cdr. Major General Eric Hill, currently commanding general, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq will soon be the deputy commander, Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Florida.

MARSOC Consolidation. The Marine Forces Special Operations Command will soon be implementing a phased plan to consolidate all MARSOC personnel and equipment to its headquarters aboard Camp Lejeune by the end of 2020. Moving will be over 900 Marines, Sailors, and civilian employees from the 1st Marine Raider Battalion and 1st Marine Raider Support Battalion currently at Camp Pendleton, California. (MARSOC, DVIDS, February 12, 2020). See also “Sneads Ferry, Holly Ridge ready to welcome MARSOC influx”, JDNews.com, February 13, 2020.

SOF Request for Enemy Bunker Training Facility. Millions of dollars have been requested to build a ‘state of the art’ training complex that would replicate enemy bunkers and underground facilities. The facility is likely to be used by JSOC. (The Warzone, Feb 13, 2020).

Senate’s Iran Resolution – Creates a SOF Problem. A resolution by the U.S. Senate would obstruct U.S. military covert operations in the Middle East. See “Senate’s Iran resolution has a special operations problem”, The Washington Examiner, February 13, 2020.

US SOF to Refocus. The ‘new plan’ is for United States special operations forces to pay more attention to Europe and the Pacific (think Russia and China?) and less to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Africa. So it appears SOF is leaving places where there are current conflicts to work in places where we ‘might’ have one. Read more in “After decades focused on terrorism, special operations is broadening its horizons”, Military Times, February 12, 2020.

Big Bonus for Green Beret Warrant Officers. The U.S. Army wants Special Forces Warrant Officers (180As) to stay in the service – and they are using big bucks to see that it happens. There is a $20,000 accession bonus for six years of service (an enlisted going warrant) and then a $100,000 retention bonus for another five years service as an SF Warrant. Smart move on the Army’s part. (Task & Purpose, February 12, 2020)

NSW’s FID Mission. The U.S. Army Special Forces have traditionally been the ‘go to’ force for conducting Foreign Internal Defense (FID). Not widely known is that the Naval Special Warfare community also has a FID mission. The SEAL and SWCC operators have a wide area of the world to cover – consider the many countries with ocean frontage. Read “Navy SEALs and SWCCs Do More Than Shoot Bad Guys”, SOFREP, February 10, 2020.

1st TACP Class Under USAF SWTW. The Tactical Air Control Party training now falls under the newly established Special Warfare Training Wing. The first TACP class under the SWTW graduated in December 2019. The Air force recently reorganized its SOF ground forces. (AETC, Feb 12, 2020).

SOF Light Attack Planes. If things go well SOF ground units can call in air support from a prop driven plane. USSOCOM is looking to purchase 75 light attack aircraft. The leading contenders are the A-29 and AT-6B. The A-29 Super Tucano has the edge as the U.S. Air Force has been working with the Afghan Air Force for a few years fielding and training the Afghans on the plane. Read more in “Here’s What Special Operators Want From Their New Light Attack Plane”, Defense One, February 12, 2020. However, one top general suggested that the MQ-9 Reader UAV is a more suitable candidate for USSOCOM’s ‘armed overwatch’ mission. (Jane’s Defence Weekly, Feb 14, 2020).

Navy SEAL Foundations’s February 2020 SITREP. The monthly newsletter introduces a new staff member, provides an update to the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim, details it’s support to families and wounded warriors, and provides info on the foundations events for the coming year.

International SOF

Russian SOF’s Special Mi-8. The Russian military is receiving ten Mi8AMTSh-VN special operations helicopters in 2020. Recent operations in Syria highlighted the need for a SOF helicopter with unique capabilities. Read about it in “Special Operations: Spetsnaz Special Mi-8”, Strategy Page, February 9, 2020.

Belgium SOF to Join Takuba in Mali? Belgium has not ruled out participating in a French special operations task force in Mali. Thus far Germany has declined. Estonia, Sweden, and others will be providing some soldiers to Task Force Takuba. (France 24, Feb 13, 2020).

Canada’s JTF2 Not Moving. A decade-old plan to move the military’s elite Joint Task Force 2 to a new base has been axed. The unit’s base will remain in Ottawa – and will not move to Ontario. (The Globe and Mail, Feb 10, 2020).

Zimbabwe’s SF School. Plans are at an advanced stage to set up a Special Forces training school in Kariba. (Pindula News, Jan 1, 2020.

Military Topics and National Defense

USAF Says “No” to Light Attack Aircraft. The U.S. Air Force has definitively stated it is not going to procure low-cost light attack planes. Aircraft similar to the A-29 Super Tucano used by the Afghan Air Force are ideal for air support of ground troops in a low-threat environment or in a counterinsurgency fight. However, ‘Big Blue’ is more interested in high-cost fancy jets that can clear the skies of near-peer competitors like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. Not to worry – USSOCOM will likely buy 75 of the light attack planes in a few years. (Defense News, February 10, 2020).

NG State Partnership Program and ‘Soft Power’. Russia and China are aggressively using ‘soft power’ mechanisms to spread their influence around the world. This is a component of the ‘great power competition’ that the U.S. is currently engaged in. One little known but highly effective ‘soft power’ tool that the United States has is the National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP). The National Guard of each state is partnered with a foreign country. For instance, Uzbekistan is paired up with Mississippi. Read more in “Projecting Soft Power Through the State Partnership Program”, Small Wars Journal, February 14, 2020.

Stars and Stripes Imperiled? It appears that the Department of Defense is going to do away with print versions of the GI’s trusty newspaper that can be found in dining facilities in far off remote locations without good Internet access. Darn bean counters! The decision is probably being made by someone who never lived in a tent with no internet for 10 months overseas.

Middle East

CJTF-OIR’s 2019 Review. The Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve provides an overview of its past year in Syria and Iraq. “CJTF-OIR reflects on significant gains in 2019”, February 9, 2020.

U.S. Drone Support to Turkey Halted. The United States has halted a secretive (but we seem to know about it) military intelligence cooperation program with Turkey that has helped Ankara target Kurdish PKK militants. It seems the U.S. was not too pleased with Turkey’s cross-border military excursion into Syria in October 2019. The drones were flown out of the U.S. air base in Incirlik, Turkey. See “U.S. halts secretive drone program with Turkey over Syria incursion”, Reuters, February 5, 2020.

NATO ‘Rebadging’ in Iraq. It appears that some NATO advisors and trainers will shift from the anti-ISIS coalition to a NATO training organization in Iraq. Apparently it isn’t an increase in troop level – just a move over who has command and control of the trainers. This is a developing situation and will be interesting to watch. See “NATO set for Iraq troop trainer-swap to mollify US demands”, Yahoo! News, February 11, 2020.

Checkpoint Drama in Syria. There are a lot of players on the battlefield in Syria. A fracas took place recently in northeastern Syria where the U.S. got into it with some armed Syrians (result one deceased Syria; slightly injured U.S.). U.S. Coalition forces exchanged small arms fire with pro-Syrian gunmen at a checkpoint while on patrol. The Russians arrive on the scene and helped the U.S. de-escalate the situation. Only ones missing from this event are the Turks and Iranians. Tensions are high and it won’t take much for these one of these type events to escalate quickly. Read more in (The WarZone, February 12, 2020). See also a report by the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, Feb 13, 2020.

Yemen. The al Houthi movement recently escalated attacks – probably in an attempt to pressure the Saudi-led coalition to come to a cease-fire agreement favorable to the Houthis.

Cache of Weapons Seized. On February 9, 2020 the USS Normandy boarded a dhow and discovered a large cache of weapons. Weapons seized include 150 anti-tank guided missiles – Iranian manufactured copies of the Russian Kornet ATGM. Other weapons were in the cache that were of Iranian origin. The weapons were assessed to be destined for the Houthis in Yemen. (CENTCOM News Release, February 13, 2020).


1st SFAB to Africa for TAA. The SECDEF is directing the deployment of elements of the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) to Africa to conduct train, advise, and assist missions in ‘spotlight’ African countries. The Army’s SFABs are manned, trained, and equipped specifically for the train, advise, and assist mission. Continued engagement in Africa by U.S. military forces is seen important in order to compete with other ‘great powers’. Sending the 1st SFAB to Africa for this mission will allow the 101st Airborne Division to bring back an infantry brigade to Fort Campbell. This will give the BCT the opportunity to conduct training for high intensity conflict operations. (DOD, Feb 12, 2020).

New CT Force in Kenya. The U.S. Department of State (CT Bureau) and Federal Bureau of Investigation are supporting a Kenyan-led initiative to establish a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). Kenyan investigators will receive 12-weeks of intensive counterterrorism training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Kenyans have seen numerous al-Shabaab incursions in recent years including the Manda Bay raid on January 5, 2020. Read more in “U.S. announces new counterterrorism task force in Kenya”, Africa Times, February 11, 2020.

Books and Reports

IG Report of OIR (Iraq and Syria). The Lead Inspector General has published its Quarterly Report to Congress on Operation Inherent Resolve. The 114-page report covers several topics to include the drone strike on Solelmani, Iran-aligned militias in Iraq, street protests, U.S. troops leaving Syria, Turkish incursion into Syria, Russian and Syrian troops moving into Kurdish areas, U.S. troops moving back into Syria, ISIS leader’s death and impact on ISIS operations (little impact), and more.

Report – Stability Operations. RAND Corporation has published a 273-page pub entitled Seizing the Golden Hour: Task, Organization, and Capabilities Required for the Earliest Phase of Stability Operations, February 2020. Sponsored by the U.S. Army G-8 this report captures the lessons learned from U.S. interventions and offer principles for success in the initial phase of the intervention and the nonkinetic efforts to stabilize the state.

Report – National CI Strategy 2020. The National Counterintelligence and Security Center has published the National Counterintelligence Strategy of the United States of America 2020-2022, February 2020. The nation faces an expanding array of foreign intelligence threats – Russia, China, regional adversaries, ideologically motivated entities, hackers, public disclosure organizations, and others pose a growing threat to the U.S. This new CI strategy identifies five strategic objectives that deal with critical areas that foreign intelligence services are targeting against. Report is published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Jan 2020, 20 pages.

Book – Cyber Deterrence. Drawing on lessons from Cold War deterrence theory and ballistic missile defense – a new book provides insight to cyber deterrence. This ‘pocket book’ proposes a ‘strongpoint defense along with a hardened critical infrastructure approach. Strongpoint Cyber Deterrence, by James J. Torrence, Small Wars Journal, February 2020. Available on Amazon.com.

Book Review – Aiding and Abetting. Harrison Manlove has reviewed a new book by Jessica Trisko Darden entitled Aiding and Abetting: U.S. Foreign Assistance and State Violence, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020. There is a downside to foreign assistance – the military equipment and training provided to some nations is used for state violence and repression of citizens.

Videos and Podcasts

Video –No Friend but the Mountains: Life in Modern Iraqi Kurdistan, Coffee or Die, February 6, 2020. This 21-minute long video depict what post-ISIS life is like. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSQQmZpfN0w

Video GSF – Feb 2020. Retired Green Beret Stu Bradin provides an update to the 2020 activities of the Global SOF Foundation. He covers strategic changes, upcoming events, Global SOF Imperatives, working with the Naval Post Graduate School (NPS), and more. (Feb 6, 2020, 6 minutes).

Podcast – Horse Soldiers and Bourbon. Former Green Berets who were among the first to infiltrate into Afghanistan to work alongside the Northern Alliance to topple the Taliban have a new passion. These retired Special Forces soldiers have founded American Freedom Distillery and now offer Horse Soldier Bourbon. Two of them are interviewed and discuss how they got into the bourbon making business. Listen to The Green Berets Who Traded Bullets for Bourbon, Entrepreneur, February 11, 2020, 26 minutes.

Podcast – Guest SEAL Steve Sanders. Episode 114 by Cleared Hot features retired Navy SEAL Steve Sanders in a interview about freefalling, life, combat, SEAL Delivery Vehicle team Two, and NsW Dev Group.
February 19, 2020, two hours.


Photo: Operators from the Norwegian Marine Hunter Command in a rib boat along the Trondelag coast. Photo Credit: Torbjorn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces.

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