Special Operations News Update – Friday, March 20, 2020

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

SOF News

SOF Aviator and the OBL Raid. One of the pilots on the raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden provides some background of the mission. Read “Legendary special operations aviator reveals bin Laden mission details for the first time”, by Alex Quade, Military Times, March 17, 2020.

USSOCOM and Comms. Dan Goure writes about how the United States Special Operations Command has solved some communications issues with the Tactical Radio Application eXtension (TRAX). Read his article “SOCOM Has Solved the Military’s ‘Tower of Babel’ Problem”, RealClear Defense, March 20, 2020.

Former SF Officer to Head NCTC. President Trump has picked LTC (Ret) Chris Miller, a former Special Forces officer, to be the next director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). Miller is currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism. See “Trump taps new director for National Counterterrorism Center”, The Hill, March 18, 2020. There are some national security observers who see a ‘purge’ taking place within the intel community by the Trump administration. (The Washington Post, Mar 19, 2020).

Ranger Competition Postponed. The 37th Annual Best Ranger Competition scheduled for April 17-19, 2020 has been put on hold. Another event affected by the Wuhan virus.

NSW Member has COVID-19. Test results confirm that a second-class petty officer assigned to Naval Special Warfare has tested positive for the Wuhan virus. (DVIDS, Mar 19, 2020).

SSG Melgar Murder Trial Date Moved. The trials for a Navy SEAL and a Marine Raider charged in the death of a Green Beret in Mali in June 2017 has been moved from March to July 2020. See “Trial dates moved for SEAL, Marine Raider charged in Green Beret death”, Army Times, March 18, 2020.

Female Candidate Advances in STO Pipeline. A female Air Force office has completed a phrase of training in the Special Tactics Officer training pipeline. She has just completed the Special Tactics / Guardian Angel Assessment and Selection Course. Next stop is the Pre-Dive Course. Read “Airman Advances in Quest to Become First Female Special Tactics Officer”, Military.com, March 18, 2020.

17 SOS and HIMARS. During exercise Cobra Gold 2020 in Thailand the Marines successfully launched the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. The USAF 17th Special Operations Squadron used a MC-130J Commando II for the insertion. (Naval Technology, Mar 17, 2020).

SFQC Candidate Dies at FBNC. A soldier training to become a Green Beret died after being found unresponsive in his barracks room at Fort Bragg, NC on Monday, March 16, 2020. He was on an 18X-Ray contract and had been injured while training in the fall of 2019. See “Special Forces candidate dies while assigned to med group”, Army Times, March 18, 2020.

International SOF

CANSOF Cdr Promoted. Former special forces commander Lt Gen Mike Rouleua has been picked to be the military’s second-in-command. Rouleau is currently commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command. (Vancouver Courier, March 16, 2020).

French SOF – Among the Best. A French SOF mission in Africa provides some details about the French special operations forces. Read “Tough as Nails: Why France’s Special Forces are Among the Best”, National Interest, March 19, 2020.

Swiss SOF Getting Upgrades. Enhanced capabilities are coming the to the KSK’s army Reconnaissance Detachment 10 (DRA-10) and the Military Police Special Detachment Unit. (Janes, Mar 17, 2020).

Australian SAS Under the Glare. A helmet cam video aired on Australian television on Monday, March 16, 2020 shows an Australian soldier killing an – apparently – unarmed and compliant Afghan. The helmet cam video has sparked a renewed focus on the SAS. (The Age, Mar 17, 2020).

SOF History

AN/GRC-109. Read a detailed posting about the ‘special forces’ radio set used for several decades during the Cold War. Old SF commo guys will feel their fingers twitch impulsively trying send code.

SOF and Great Power Competition

SOF and Winning an Asymmetric War. The current National Defense Strategy is moving U.S. special operations forces focus from counterinsurgency and counterterrorism to that of great power competition. Our principle near peer adversaries – Russia and China – will not confront the U.S. in open warfare. Instead they will challenge us below the threshold of armed conflict. The U.S. Army special operations forces (ARSOF) is uniquely qualified to operate in this new environment some call the ‘gray zone’, ‘hybrid warfare’, or ‘political warfare’. U.S. Army special operations forces should be the force of choice to lead these efforts against adversaries that deliberately avoid America’s conventional strengths. Read “How to Win an Asymmetric War in the Era of Special Forces”, The National Interest, October 12, 2019.


Grey Area Phenomena (GAP). Max G. Manwaring, author, retired Col., and much more; writes about the new type of warfare confronting the United States. He writes that the U.S. and the rest of the global community needs to understand and cope with the unconventional threats imposed by diverse actors who engage in asymmetric or hybrid conflict. Read “New Realities of Twenty-First Century Asymmetric Conflict”, Small Wars Journal, March 18, 2020.


U.S. Troop Withdrawals on Hold. General Scott Miller, the Resolute Support commander, has stopped the movement of troops to and from Afghanistan due to the coronavirus threat. The drawdown to 8,600 U.S. is still going to happen.

Khalilizad Puts Pressure on Ghani. The U.S. peace envoy is putting pressure on the Afghan government to release some Taliban prisoners in accordance with the U.S. – Taliban peace agreement. The Afghan government was not a party or participant to the agreement. (VOA, Mar 19, 2020).

Insider Attack in Zabul. At least 25 members of the Afghan army and the Afghan police were killed in an assault on a checkpoint that involved 6-8 Afghan policemen who sided with the Taliban. (Tolo News, Mar 20, 2020).

Helicopter Contract. Construction Helicopters has been awarded a $34 million contract modification to support NATO’s Air Command – Afghanistan and the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan. The contract supports the Afghan Air Force in the conduct of medical evacuations, passenger and cargo transport, and removal of human remains. (Shepard Media, Mar 19, 2020).


Tunisia: Challenges Spill Over From Libya’s Civil War. “The escalation and spillover of Libya’s conflict has posed security challenges for Tunisia and exposed shortfalls in the country’s defense transformation, in the areas of capability gaps, interagency coordination, intelligence sharing, strategic planning, and in the military’s relationship with foreign security patrons.” Read “Tunisia’s Wake-Up Call: How Security Challenges From Libya Are Shaping Defense Reforms”, by Frederic Wehrey, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 18, 2020.

UK in Mali. The United Kingdom is deploying an additional 250 soldiers to join the United Nations mission in Mali. The security situation in Mali has gotten worse and the crisis is spreading to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso. Read more in “The UK in Mali”, by Michael Shurkin, Wavell Room, March 12, 2020.

Exercises Cancelled. AFRICOM is scaling back or cancelling exercises scheduled for the next few months. Among the victims are Phoenix Express 2020 and African Lion 2020. Read more in “US Africa Command misses opportunity to show value amid cancelled exercises”, Washington Examiner, March 19, 2020.

Middle East

U.S. Transferring Small Bases to ISF. The U.S. military is transferring several smaller bases and equipment to the Iraqi Security Forces. The transfer is part of an effort to consolidate the U.S. military onto fewer bases with the anticipated smaller footprint predicted for the future. Read more in “US reduces footprint in Iraq with transfer of base used to fight ISIS”, Stars and Stripes, March 18, 2020.

Editorial Note: During the closure of U.S. bases in Iraq in 2011 Iraqi army commanders were quick to remove any valuable equipment signed over to the ISF and sell it on the black market. Anything not nailed down was carted away in military trucks and placed into private warehouses for resale later – sometimes within hours of the base handover. The same is likely to happen once again.

Videos, Movies, and Podcasts

Video – JFTC. NATO’s Joint Force Training Centre (JFTC), located in Bydgoszcz, Poland, is an integral part of the NATO Command Structure. The centre directly supports the mission of the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation and is one of the two NATO training centres. With its main areas of effort, JFTC is the focal point for NATO pre-deployment training, key venue for NATO exercises, and a superb location for experimentation and innovation. JFTC Overview Video 2020, NATO JFTC, February 21, 2020, 5 minutes.

Editorial Note: The editor of SOF News worked as an adjunct SFA SME for pre-deployment advisor training of NATO officers and NCOs from 2015 to 2017 with work locations at Bydgoszcz and Afghanistan. JFTC is a classy organization and they get advisor training right. The U.S. could benefit by sending their advisors heading to Afghanistan to the RS training at JFTC.

Video – UKs Parachute Regiment. A short video about the British Army’s paras. Parachute Regiment – Army Regiments – Army Jobs, UK Recruiting, February 2014.


Photo: U.S. Marines operate a rigid-hull inflatable boat near the USS New York during a visit, board, search, and seizure drill in the Red Sea on January 13, 2020. (Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Lyle Wilkie).

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