Special Operations News Update – Monday, March 16, 2020

SOF News Update. Curated news, analysis, and commentary on special operations, national defense, and conflicts.

Coronavirus and DoD

As everyone knows by now, the efforts to stop the coronavirus is dominating the news and life in general. On Friday, March 13, 2020 the Department of Defense banned all domestic travel for military members until mid-May. Huge step for DoD to take.

SOF News

Mini-Drone for SOF ISR. USSOCOM is testing a number of small drones for use by special operations forces. The drones need to operate during both day and night and under adverse weather conditions. One drone tested, the C-Astral ATLAS C4EYE mini tactical drone is described in this article. (sUAS News, Mar 13, 2020).

Green Beret Colonel’s Promotion Delayed. Colonel Bradley Moses was the 3rd Special Forces Group commander when four members of his command died during a mission in Niger in the fall of 2017. He had escaped punishment for the ill-fated mission. But, apparently, not completely. It appears that lawmakers have delayed his promotion. (New York Times, Mar 14, 2020).

Barrett MRAD Sniper Rifle. In 2019 the Department of Defense selected the MRAD as its newest Advanced Sniper Rifle. The MRAD is highly customizable to include offering eight different caliber options. Read “Barrett MRAD: One of the Best Precision Sniper Rifles on the Planet”, The National Interest, March 14, 2020.

Former GB Now Envoy for Hostage Affairs. On February 21, 2020 Roger Carstens (SF LTC Ret) was appointed to be the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. Carstens served in the 1st Ranger Battalion and in U.S. Army Special Forces. He is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary with the Department of State, worked overseas with international NGOs in Somalia and Jordan, and was the Senior COIN Advisor for the COMISAF Advisory and Assistance Team (CAAT) in Afghanistan.

Workout Gym Helps Former SF Stay Fit. A Fayetteville gym owned by a retired SF soldier helps veterans with staying fit. Read “Veteran-owned Silverback Fitness works on mind and body”, Fayetteville Observer, March 14, 2020.

AC-130W Gunships in the Arabian Gulf. The USAF gunships have been conducting training with U.S. Navy patrol coastal ships and P-8A Poseidon aircraft in the CENTCOM area of responsibility. (DVIDS, March 15, 2020).

GBs vs Delta. For those not familiar with ARSOF units and missions this article could be helpful. “4 Key Differences Between the Green Berets and Delta Force”, Military.com, March 13, 2020.

International SOF

SOF Deployed on Greek / Turkey Border. Poland, Cyprus, and Austria have deployed special operations forces along the Greek border to aid in the effort to stop illegal border crossings from Turkey. Officials from Turkey have sent thousands of migrants by buses – predominantly young men from Afghanistan and Iran – to the border. The Turkish President is making good on his threat to send millions of migrants and refugees to Europe. Migrants know they have a better future in some European countries that have been extremely accommodating – providing housing, jobs, social rights, and more.

Exercise Northern Griffin 2020. Finland’s Utti Jaeger Regiment is hosting special operations forces from several countries in an area inside the Arctic Circle. I bet it is COLD! Last year 10th SFGA participated; this year the group sent observers. (The Barents Observer, Mar 8, 2020).


GPC Lessons from Tibet. Steve Ferenzi, a Special Forces officer and Army Strategist with the USASOC G-5 Strategic Planning Division, wrote a 17-page article (including end notes) about the support of a proxy force by the United States from 1956 to 1974 in the mountains of Asia. His case study offers lessons for future proxy engagements in establishing mechanisms that facilitate proper proxy selection, mitigate deviation from sponsor goals, and optimize proxy capabilities. Read “Proxy Warfare on the Roof of the World: Great Power Competition Lessons from Tibet”, InterAgency Journal Vol 11, No. 1, 2020, pages 94 – 110.

Votel on Great Power Competition. On February 24, 2020 General (Ret) Joseph Votel delivered the keynote address at a Center for Strategic & International Studies event. His topic was Great Power Competition in the Gulf. You can read his address in this 16-page PDF.

SOF History

British SOE Agent – Noor Inayat-Khan. Read the story of a female British operative for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) who parachuted into occupied France during World War II. (The Scotsman, Mar 8, 2020).

National Defense

K2 Vets and Cancer. Some congressional committees are stepping up the pressure of the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense in their inquiry into the toxic conditions that veterans experienced at the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Central Asia from 2001 to 2005. Read more in “Congress wants answers on contamination at former U.S. air base in Uzbekistan”, Air Force Times, March 13, 2020.

Reaper Replacement? The U.S. Air Force is looking for a replacement for the MQ-9 Reaper so it can stay alive on the ‘new battlefield’. Currently the Reaper operates in mostly uncontested airspace but future conflicts may see it having to fly in hostile airspace protected by modern air defenses. (Popular Mechanics, Mar 12, 2020).

Minerva Research Initiative – On the Ropes. A Pentagon program that engaged outside researchers to tackle big questions is getting cut. The $15 million budget is getting axed to put toward more big weapons systems. Read “As the War on Terror Winds Down, the Pentagon Cuts Social Science”, National Public Radio, March 16, 2020.

NATO, Europe, and . . . Russia

Putin – Not Retiring Soon. Russia’s parliament approved an amendment to the constitution that would allow Vladimir Putin to serve two more six-year terms. If he completes those terms of office he would have ruled Russia for a total of 36 years – just as long as Ivan the Terrible. (The Economist, Mar 12, 2020).


The Jihadist War in the Sahel. Neville Teller, a book author and blogger, writes about the growth jihadism in Africa. He describes efforts to curtail the violence as ineffective. However, one tactic that the British are about to employ could change things up – long-range reconnaissance patrols of up to 30 days deep into jihadist territory. Read more in “The Sahel: A New Front Line in the Anti-Jidadist War“, Eurasia Review, March 14, 2020.

Eritrea – Striving for Independence. Dr. Harry Verhoeven, the convenor of the Oxford University China-Africa Network, provides an informative essay on Eritrea striking out on its own path in the regional affairs of the Horn of Africa. Read “Amid Red Sea Rivalries, Eritrea Plays for Independence”, Small Wars Journal, March 16, 2020.

Middle East

More Katuyusha Rockets. The Coalition base located at Taji, Iraq was once again hit by rocket fire on Saturday, March 13th. It is estimated that ‘a few dozen’ Katuyusha rockets struck the base. Three U.S. and two Iraqi personnel were wounded. Two of the U.S. service members were seriously wounded and are being treated at the U.S. military hospital at Baghdad International Airport. A few days earlier, on March 11th, Camp Taji took about 14 rockets killing two American and one British service members and wounding 14 more. (Military Times, Mar 14, 2020).

Camp Taji is about 20 miles north of Baghdad and is one of the main training bases for Iraqi security forces. The Katuyusha rocket was developed by Soviet forces during World War II. It is generally a truck-mounted, highly mobile rocker artillery system.

Responding to the Rockets. Michael Knights, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has some suggestions on “How the U.S. Can Stop the Surge of Deadly Rocket Attacks in Iraq”, Politico, March 13, 2020.

Syria Civil War – Entering 10th Year. After almost a decade of civil war President Bashar al-Assad appears to have consolidated his hold on power. He has been backed with strong support from Iran and Russia. Thus far more between 400,000 to 500,000 people have died and millions have been displaced. Currently Syrian government forces are fighting Turkish forces in the last remaining rebel province (Idlib). Daesh in Syria has been mostly defeated by the US, other Coalition partners, and the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF). The Syrian Civil War has brought about one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory.

Books, Pubs, and Reports

Italian COIN in Africa. A new book provides a study of the Italian experience in counterinsurgency operations in Africa during the Mussolini regime. I am not sure I like the review of the book by Robbin Laird; but the book itself by Federica Saini Fasanotti sounds very interesting. Gen (Ret) John Allen provides the foreword. Read the review of Counterinsurgency Operations: A Perspective from Italian History, Defense Info, March 13, 2020.

Videos and Podcasts

Video Green Berets – the Battle of Lang Vei, History Apple, January 2, 2016. The North Vietnamese launched a surprise Tet Offensive in 1968. A big battle ensued at Khe Sanh where thousands of Marines were encircled. A little to the east of Khe Sanh was a small U.S. camp of Special Forces. This video is about how the Green Beret camp got overrun and the survivors were rescued. (52 minutes)

Video – 352nd SOW RAPIDS Training in Norway, DVIDS, March 7, 2020. (2 minutes, B-Roll). USAF Special Tactics conduct RAPIDS training with snowmobiles.

Podcast – A Seat at the Table, SOFspot, March 9, 2020. During February the SOF Imperatives Forum was held by the Global SOF Foundation in Washington, D.C. Three former Assistant SECDEF’s for Special Operations / Low-Intensity Conflict (ASD SO/LIC) spoke about the need to elevate the ASD SO/LIC to an Undersecretary position. Moderated by Catherine Herridge of CBS News. (38 minutes)


Photo: HH-60G Pave Hawks, assigned to the 1st Expeditionary Rescue Group, sit on the flight line at sunrise February 25, 2020, at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. The primary mission of the Pave Hawk is to conduct day or night personnel recovery operations into hostile environments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Ralph Branson).

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