Special Operations News Update – Monday, March 30, 2020

Maghaweir Thowra Syria

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

SOF News

Army SOF Officer Assignments. MG Jonathan Braga, currently commander of SOCPAC, will be deputy commanding general for U.S. Army Pacific. MG Tony Fletcher, currently commander of SOCSOUTH, will be deputy director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. BG Marcus Evans, currently with the J-3 Joint Staff, will be commander of SOJTF-A. BG Allan Pepin, currently CG USASOAC, to be deputy CG USASOC. Col (P) Guillaume Beaurpere to be commander of SOJTF-OIR. Col (P) Isaac Peltier, currently commander of SOCNORTH, to be deputy commander, 4th Infantry Division.

COVID-19 Hits SOCOM HQ. The United States Special Operations Command headquarters has had its first positive case of the Wuhan virus. A civilian at SOCOM’s hqs in Tampa tested positive on March 21st. Several members of NSW on the west coast have also tested positive. About 3,000 personnel work at SOCOM hqs; the command has gone to mission-essential status only for people going to work. (Military Times, Mar 25, 2020).

SOA elections. The Special Operations Association will be holding elections for a new President, Vice President, and one Director to three year terms.

CSM Adkins (Ret) Health Update. COVID-19 has put Bennie Adkins, Medal of Honor recipient into the hospital. He is critically ill with respiratory failure.

New Chem-Bio Shroud. A new shroud being developed for the special warfare community may be adopted by the general ground forces as well. Read “US Army granted patent on new chem-bio helmet shroud”, by Troy Carter, TechLink Center, March 24, 2020.

MH-47G SOF Helicopter. Read a short article describing the special operations variant of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter used by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR). (Air Force Technology, March 25, 2020).

International SOF

SASR and Commandos of Australia. Unfortunately the elite warriors of Australia have been in the news recently. Two writers ask if the elite troops became too elite – wearing beards, living in a special compartmentalized camp, and increasingly aligning themselves with the American Special Forces. Read more in “Let Loose the Dogs of War: Why some elite soldiers were off the leash”, Brisbane Times, March 24, 2020.

Australia’s Security Sector Needs a Softer Touch? A lecturer in gender and politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Sheffield comments on harmful notions of masculinity. He says that “Notions of manhood that centre on strength, emotional detachment, risk-taking and violent resolutions of disputes all shape conflict, propel men to join violent groups and hamper peacebuilding.” (Editor thinks “Hmmmm”). Read “Addressing men’s harmful notions of masculinity in Australia’s security sector”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 27, 2020.

Royal Marines in Belarus. The 42 Commando spent some time training with the 103rd Guards Airborne Division during Exercise Winter Partisan. See “British Royal Marines conclude training in Belarus”, Naval Technology, March 24, 2020.

SOF History

Operation Vigilant Warrior. In the fall of 1994 the only U.S. combat troops in Kuwait were sixty-five Special Forces soldiers from Company C, 2nd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group. In October a significant amount of Iraqi forces began moving south to the Kuwait border. The U.S. responded with Operation Vigilant Warrior (Oct-Dec 1994). The spring 2020 edition of Army History tells the story of this operation. (not SOF history, but an interesting read on deterrence of Iraq in the mid-1990s).

SOF and Great Power Competition

China, Greenland, and the Arctic Circle. Greenland needs to exploit its natural resources and China seems willing to help. Access to zinc, iron, uranium, and rare-earth elements are a motivating factor for China to be involvement in Arctic Circle ventures and developments. Marco Volpe provides more info in The tortuous path of China’s win-win strategy in Greenland, The Arctic Institute, March 24, 2020.

U.S. – China Media War. The United States and China is currently engaged in a war of words over the Wuhan virus outbreak across the world. Read more in “Coronavirus Crisis: U.S.-China Media War Couldn’t Come at a Worse Time.”, Small Wars Journal, March 25, 2020.

Russian Disinformation and Coronavirus. China is not the only country spreading falsehoods about the worldwide pandemic. The Russian propaganda feeds into the views of conspiracy theorists worldwide. The goal is to cause panic, sow distrust, and widen the divide between Europe and the United States. (The Soufan Center, Mar 24, 2020).

NATO’s New Member. The Republic of North Macedonia is now the 30th member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Macedonia has been a consistent supporter of the ISAF and Resolute Support Missions in Afghanistan. (NATO, Mar 27, 2020).

National Security

CTC Rotations Adjusted by Army. The Combat Training Center training calendar is being adjusted due to the coronavirus threat. One immediate effect is that the 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Washington Army National Guard, is now available to the governor of Washington state. The CTCs include the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polks, and the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels, Germany. (U.S. Army.mil, Mar 18, 2020).

ADVISOR for SOF Medics. A recent article mentions the Advanced Virtual Support for Operational Forces or ADVISOR program to aid SOF medics in the field. Read “How Advanced Military Medical Technology Could Help in the Fight Against COVID-19”, War on the Rocks, March 30, 2020.

Guard / Reserve Callup. The Department of Defense is looking to call up retired officers and NCOs to battle the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, it is currently activating several units (primarily medical) under federal orders. (Military Times, March 27, 2020).

Middle East

Iraq Troop Withdrawal. France is the latest country to withdraw its contingent from Iraq. The primary reason appears to be the Wuhan virus threat – but other factors probably are in play as well. Other countries withdrawing troops (on a temporary basis) include Spain, Germany, Portugal, and the Netherlands. As part of the U.S. withdrawal CJTFOIR transferred $1 million of property on March 29, 2020 in the former U.S. compound inside K1 Iraqi Air Base. During the shutdown in 2011 it was standard practice for Iraqi commanders to steal anything that could be put on a truck and sell it on the black market. It would be interesting if the same happens now almost ten years later.

Yemen – No End to Conflict. Over the past five years an estimated 100,000 people have been killed and 80 percent of the population are dependent on food and humanitarian aid to survive. See “Yemen Analysts Do Not See End to Conflict”, Voice of America, March 26, 2020.

Houthis On a Roll. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are reevaluating their commitment to the Yemen conflict. This bodes well for Yemen’s Houthis who seem to be gaining some momentum in the northeast of the country. Read more in an article by Michael Horton entitled “The Houthis’ War to Lose: The Battle for Marib”, Terrorism Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation, March 20, 2020.

On Patrol in Syria. A company commander describes his security mission in Syria. Read “U.S. Forces in Syria Tackle a More Complex – And Possibly Dangerous – Mission”, NPR, March 26, 2020.


Africa, SOF, and SFABs. A recent article describes the U.S. military footprint in Africa and how the 1st SFAB is assuming advisor missions formerly conducted by BCTs and SF. Army Chief of Staff General James McConville describes the differences between an SF team and an SFAB team. Hmmm. Not sure I like his explanation. Read more in “Army advisers in Africa following spike in combat”, Army Times, March 24, 2020.

Turkey in Somalia. Turkey has assisted Somalia in humanitarian, developmental, and military projects. As a result al Shabaab is now engaged in a campaign to attack Turkish interests in Somalia. (Homeland Security Today, Mar 24, 2020).

Libya’s Conflict Drags On. International efforts to resolve the civil war have been unsuccessful. Foreign interference Turkey, UAE, and Russia has not helped the security situation. (Small Wars Journal, Mar 29, 2020).

IS in West Africa. Jacob Zenn provides a description of the leadership changes (and purges) in Islamic State West Africa Province (USWAP) and its relationship with other jihadist movements and organizations. Read “Islamic State in West Africa Province’s Factional Disputes and the Battle with Boko Haram”, Terrorism Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation, March 20, 2020.

70 Nigerian soldiers Killed. A large number of soldiers were killed in an Islamist militant ambush in northeastern Nigeria. The attack involved the use of rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy weapons. It wasn’t clear if the attackers were from Boko Haram or the Islamic State West Africa Province groups. (Reuters, Mar 24, 2020).

Shifting Our Focus in Africa. A professor of history at Loyola University Maryland who has authored six books about Africa provides four recommendations for the U.S. policy in Africa. She says we must question our current framing of U.S. national security interests, acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, support local peace initiatives, and withdraw our support for corrupt, repressive regimes. Elizabeth Schmidt argues that there will be no peace if underlying grievances aren’t addressed, militaries victimize local populations, and states fail to provide basic services. Read “Lessons from Africa: Military Intervention Fails to Counter Terrorism”, Foreign Policy in Focus, March 26, 2020.

Books, Reports, and Pubs

Russian Way of War. B.A. Friedman, a wargame analyst and officer in the USMC, presents his views on a recent book about how Russia conducts political warfare. Read his review of The Russian Understanding of War: Blurring the Lines Between War and Peace, by Oscar Jonsson, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2019. (The Strategy Bridge, March 24, 2020).

Defending NATO’s Northern Flank. Norway occupies a key geographic position within the ‘high north’ region. Read about allied perspectives on strategic options for Norway in this 96-page report (pdf). Enhancing Deterrence and Defence on NATO’s Northern Flank, RAND Corporation, March 25, 2020.

Counterterrorism Yearbook 2020. 19 authors contribute to this annual review by the Counterterrorism Policy Centre of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. (119 pages, PDF).

Military Review. The March – April 2020 issue from the Army University Press is now posted online.

CTC Sentinel. The March 2020 issue is now online. Published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. Topics include the Hanau terrorist attack, an interview of a former Director General of MI5, the Pensacola terrorist attack, how U.S. supporters help finance daesh, and al-Shabaab’s PSYOP media warfare campaign.

Armor. The winter 2020 edition of the ‘mounted maneuver journal‘ is now available online. Interesting stuff if you like tanks I guess. (75 pages, PDF).

Videos, Podcasts, and Movies

Video – 75th Ranger Regiment: 2nd Battalion Task Force Training. U.S. Army, March 17, 2020. Members of the 2nd Bn, 75th Rgr Rgt conduct task force training at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. (1 min)

Video – 352d SOW Exercise. USAF airmen from the 352d Special Operations Wing participated in culex exercises with the Romanian Air Force and Polish military a few months back. This video (published 27 Mar 2020) shows some scenes from that training – C-130 jumps, cargo drops, medical evacuation, CV-22 hoist, and much more.

Video – Armed Overwatch & Gothic Serpent. CSM (Ret) Rick Lamb presents a short (5 mins) video about his experiences in Somalia and the need for Armed Overwatch for SOF. Global SOF Foundation, March 24, 2020.

Podcast – Fitness Series – Rest, Recovery and Sleep. U.S. Navy SEAL and SWCC Channel, YouTube, March 25, 2020.

Podcast – Navy SEAL Proof Techniques on Mental Toughness. A Blue Grit podcast features retired Navy SEAL Rob Stella – a sport and performance psychology coach. He is co-founder of Acumen Performance Group and talks about mental toughness and success. (DVIDS, Feb 3, 2020, 1 hour).


Photo: Maghaweir Thowra in Syria. Source is Special Operations Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, Twitter post 19 July 2018. The Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra (MaT) or the Revolutionary Command Army is a U.S.-backed Syrian vetted opposition group in Syria. MaT is fighting primarily alongside the Coalition in the 55-km deconfliction zone around At Tanf located close to the Syrian and Jordan border.

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