Special Operations News Update – Monday, March 9, 2020

Military Free Fall Student Over Yuma, Arizona

SOF News Update – Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national defense, and conflicts from around the world. Below you will find articles about SOF from the last few weeks.

SOF News

SOTF-OIR Linguist Arrested. A civilian Arabic linguist working as a contractor for the Department of Defense in Irbil, Iraq has been arrested and charged with espionage. The classified information was transmitted to a foreign national with apparent connections to the Lebanese terrorist group Hizballah. The linguist held a Top Secret security clearance with access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). Rick Francona, a retired intelligence officer, provides greater detail in “Department of Defense Linguist Charged with Espionage – A Spy Story”, Middle East Perspectives, March 4, 2020.

New SOF Network in Afghanistan? Dan Lamothe of The Washington Post reports that a new network of special operations forces will serve as a backbone of a future and smaller U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. The purpose of the ‘network’ is to hunt Islamic State fighters even as the U.S. begins and completes its withdrawal. In addition, if the peace agreement fails, it can be used to support the ANDSF against the Taliban. The network, established by General Scott Miller, will improve coordination between Coalition and Afghan security forces. The network center is called the Combined Situational Awareness Room (CSAR) and is on a base in Kabul. Read “New Special Operations network will serve as security backbone in Afghanistan ahead of US withdrawal”, The Washington Post, March 5, 2020.

New Tactical Vehicle for SOCOM? The U.S. Special Operations Command is looking to acquire a new ground mobility vehicle for its SOF units. The command’s new Joint Armored Ground Mobility System (JAGMS) is looking for a vehicle that can hold 9-11 passengers, be lifted by a C-130, and meet SOCOM’s survivability requirements. Learn more in “SOCOM is eyeing a new armored tactical vehicle”, Task & Purpose, March 4, 2020.

Strategic Uses of SOF. A 4-page brief entitled “Special Obfuscations: The Strategic Uses of Special Operations Forces” has been penned by Alice Hunt Friend and Shannon Culbertson of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), Mar 6, 2020. The paper gets some things right and some things . . . maybe not.

Global SOF Interview. Stu Bradin, the president of the Global SOF Foundation is interviewed. (SOFREP, Mar 2, 2020).

How to Fix SOF. David Barno and Nora Bensahel think they know how to fix U.S. special operations forces. One bright idea is to rotate Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces back into the conventional force. (Ummm, no, bad idea). Read more in “How to Fix U.S. Special Operations Forces”, War on the Rocks, February 25, 2020).

Civilian Oversight for SOF. Mark Mitchell and others collaborate on an article that says insufficient civilian oversight has contributed to SOCOM’s over-emphasis on direct-action capabilities, ethics problems, and a special operations force that is ill-prepared to meet the challenges of great power competition. Read “America’s special operators will be adrift without better civilian oversight”, War on the Rocks, February 18, 2020.

AFSOC Refocusing. The Air Force Special Operations Command is shifting from a focus on combatting terrorism to a pivot to All Domain Operations. AFSOC will attempt to better integrate cyber, space, and information operations in its activities. The new AFSOC Strategic Guidance calls for investment in human capital, reorganization to meet joint force requirements, and modernization of capabilities. (Breaking Defense, Mar 6, 2020).

AC-130 Crew Recognized. An AC-130 Spooky crew provided more than nine hours of air support to endangered special operations unit during an April 2019 mission in Afghanistan. The mission enabled the rescue of 15 patients during a casualty evacuation event. Read more in “AC-130 Crew Receives 14 Medals for Afghanistan Mission”, Air Force Magazine, March 3, 2020.

MoH Recipient Chapman Remembered. An Air Force training facility has been renamed in recognition of an Air Force combat controller who died fighting al Qaida fighters during the Battle of Takur Ghar in Afghanistan. Read “Special warfare training annex renamed for Medal of Honor recipient Chapman”, Air Force Times, March 5, 2020.

Cultural Training and SOF. The Adaptive Readiness for Culture (ARC) competence model is recommended for cultural training in ARSOF courses. Read “Sluss-Tiller Tests the Cultural Competence Special Operations Forces Need”, Military Review, Army University Press, March-April 2020.

GB MoH Recipient Promoted to SGM. Matthew Williams of the 3rd Special Forces Group has been promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major. He received the Medal of Honor in October 2019. (Army Times, Mar 3, 2019).

Female Projected to Graduate SFQC. The New York Times recently published a story about how Special Forces will soon have a female Green Beret. According to the NYTs a woman is weeks away from graduation and almost assured of passing. The Times didn’t quite get it right. The first female Green Beret was Katy Wilder who was awarded a certificate of graduation from the Special Forces Officer Course (SFOC) in 1980. This entitles Wilder to the title of first female Green Beret. Of course, the 1980s era SFOC was not quite the same as the enlisted Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC). And there is the small mater of a cached rucksack. The female soldier currently going through training still has some training ahead of her – Robin Sage is one event in her future. The female NCO is in the SF Engineer course and is a member of the 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group of the Florida Army National Guard.

Drama on Smoke Bomb Hill. Several events over the past several weeks have retired Green Berets wondering where their history and heritage is going. First is the possibility of a woman graduating from the ‘Q’ course (not exactly a popular event among the old guard), then there is the rumor that the CRE/CIFs are going away (not entirely true?), the Special Warfare Museum losing its SF flavor, and the JFK Gift Shop is closing. The USASOC PAO and the USASOC Historian’s Office haven’t exactly been forthcoming in providing updates on these sensitive topics for retired and former Green Berets.

MH-60 and MH-47s and the al-Baghdadi Raid. The helicopters of the 160th Special Operations Air Regiment played a key role in infil, exfil, and fire support of the SOF raid into Idlib province, Syria. (The National Interest, March 4, 2020).

75th Rgr Rgt SEA Reflects on Career. The outgoing senior enlisted advisor for the Ranger Regiment talks about two decades of service. (Army.mil, Feb 19, 2020).

In Defense of Marine Raider Charged with Manslaughter. According to one opinion piece Gunnery Sergeant Josh Negron acted in lawful defense of a fellow Raider in Iraq that resulted in the death of a U.S. contractor (a retired Green Beret). There is always several versions of a story. This is the defendants version. Read “What Would a Warrior Do?: In Defense of Marine Raider charged with manslaughter”, Marine Corps Times, March 6, 2020.

MARSOC Consolidation. 900 Marines, sailors, and civilian employees with the 1st Marine Raider Battalion and 1st Marine Raider Support Battalion are moving. The Camp Pendleton based units will join the rest of the Raider community at Camp Lejeune. See “It’s official: Marine Raiders Leaving California for a new home in North Carolina”, Marine Corps Times, February 12, 2020.

MARSOC’s 14th Anniversary. Marine Raiders gathered at MARSOC Hqs on February 21, 2020 to celebrate the anniversary of the organization. (The Camp Lejeune Globe, Feb 29, 2020).

International SOF

Italy’s Secret Subs. A recent exercise held in the Mediterranean rendered clues about an Italian submarine’s covert mission capability. Read more in “Secret Submarine Capability Shown in NATO Photo”, Forbes.com, March 4, 2020.

Navy SEALs ‘Friends’ with Serbians. The Germany-based Special Warfare Unit Two SEALs trained with the Serbian Special Anti-Terrorist Unit in Belgrade recently. Read “Navy SEALs train with Serbians as US works ‘toward a friendship’ in a Russian-influenced nation”, Stars and Stripes, March 2, 2020.

Philippine and US SOF Train Together. Members of the Philippine 18th Special Forces Company and US SOF conducted joint training that covered a variety of counterterrorism subjects and exercises. Read “U.S. and Philippine Special Forces Train to Counter Insurgency”, U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, February 27, 2020.

The Deep Battle and the Royal Marines. Peter Roberts contemplates the future of the Royal Marines and the future conflicts it may fight. “The Integrated Review and Theatre Entry: It’s all about the deep battle”, Puzzle Palace, March 3, 2020.

SOF History

Canadians and the ‘Devil’s Brigade’. Read an article about the Canadians who joined the elite American-Canadian commando unit of World War II. “The Devil’s Brigade and the Canadians who helped make it fearsome”, by Derek H. Burney, National Post, March 3, 2020.

OSS, SIS, SOE, and Camp X. During World War II would-be secret agents roamed rural Maryland and Virginia learning the ‘ungentlemanly arts’ of espionage, covert action, and irregular warfare. (The National Interest, Feb 29, 2020).

Virginia Hall – ‘The Limping Lady’. Time Magazine featured Virginia Hall as one of the ‘100 Women of the Year’. She was an American operative with the British Special Operations Executive and the Office of Strategic Services. Infiltrated into occupied Europe she assisted the French resistance. Read more in “1943: Virginia Hall“, Time, March 5, 2020.

NATO, Europe, . . . and Russia

Mark VI’s for Ukraine. Armed patrol boats are destined for Ukraine’s future. This is an important development considering the tensions with Russia in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. (Defence Blog, Mar 7, 2020).

Russian COIN Doctrine in Chechnia. Russia has historically demonstrated a powerful ability to outmaneuver insurgents before they can gather sufficient momentum to exhaust Russian resources and resolve. However, Russia has difficulty in utilizing a ‘traditional’ hearts and minds approach – this is alien to Russia’s historical and cultural outlook. Read more in “Russian Counterinsurgency Doctrine During the Second Chechen War 1999-2009”, by Krystel von Kumberg, Georgetown Security Studies Review, March 6, 2020.

Middle East

IRGC, Ayatollah Mike, and Credibility. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is losing ground in the narrative fight. The image it is attempting to project is being damaged by false reports about its exploits in the region. One of the latest is the attempt to portray the downing of an ISR plane that crashed in Afghanistan as resulting in the death of Ayatollah Mike – a high-level CIA operative. Read more in “Ayatollah Mike and the IRGC’s growing credibility gap”, Atlantic Council, March 3, 2020.

NATO’s Training Mission in Iraq. Gen (Ret) David Petraeus and Vance Serchuk comment on NATO stepping up its advisory effort and offers suggestions on how to deploy effective advisors. Read “Big Ideas for NATO’s New Mission in Iraq”, Foreign Policy, March 6, 2020.


Combat Patch for Somalia. The shoulder sleeve insignia for former wartime service is now authorized for Somalia – backdated to 2004. Read more in “U.S. Army authorizes combat patch for service in Somalia”, Army.mil, February 28, 2020.

Books, Publications, and Reports

From the Cold War to ISIL: One Marine’s Journey. A book by Jason Bohm is reviewed by Joseph J. Collins in “Thirty Years as a Marine Officer: Lessons for Many Audiences”, Small Wars Journal, March 7, 2020.

Staring Down the Wolf. A former Navy SEAL, Mark Devine, has a book out that says seven commitments can help make a business team ‘military-strong’. His book is reviewed in Navy Times, March 6, 2020.

Military Review. The March-April 2020 issue published by the Army University Press is now available and online.

China and IO. China knows how to use strategic communication to shape primary audience attitudes and opinions on a key geopolitical issue. The U.S. . . . not so much. Read more in a 4-page pub by the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) published February 2020.

Case Analysis: the FARC in Colombia. Lee E. Taylor II provides an informative tract that looks at Colombia’s COIN campaign over the years. He identifies successes and failures at the tactical and strategic level. Published by Small Wars Journal, March 2020.

Videos, Movies, and Podcasts

Special Operations Forces in the Fight Against ISIS and on Tomorrow’s Multi-Domain Battlefield, Modern War Institute, March 5, 2020. Jake Miraldi interviews Major General Patrick Roberson – a career special operations soldier. In August 2019, he assumed his current role as commanding general of the Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Before that, he commanded Special Operations Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. He talks about SOF in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria over the past few decades. In addition he talks about the US special operations forces and what the future will bring – especially in terms of the great power competition era the US now finds itself in. (32 minutes)

U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group Airborne Conduct HALO Jump, U.S. Army, March 6, 2020, 2 mins.

Battlefield Finland 2020, Finnish Defence Forces, January 13, 2020. A neat 1 1/2 minute recruitment video.

75th Ranger Regiment Airborne Operations, DVIDS, February 19, 2020, 1 min.


Photo: A military free fall student from the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School descends over Phillips Drop Zone at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona December 3, 2019. Students who attended the course were trained in basic free fall techniques jumping from altitudes of 9,500 to 25,000 feet with and without weapons, combat equipment, night vision goggles and supplemental oxygen in day and night conditions. (U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens)

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