Special Operations News Update – Thursday, April 23, 2020

321st STS MFF North Sea

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

SOF News

New Submersible for USSOCOM. A Dry Combat Submersible (DCS) featuring a new battery system as an energy source will be picked up by USSOCOM. The submersible is a long-endurance delivery vehicle that can transport personnel in a dry environment. (Seapower Magazine, Apr 21, 2020).

SOF Riggers in Tampa Make Face Masks. Special operations riggers assigned to USSOCOM and SOCCENT are leveraging their occupational skill set to protect the force by sewing protective face coverings at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. (SOCCENT DVIDS, Apr 21, 2020).

Online Training in the Age of COVID-19. An NCO in the 97th Civil Affairs Battalion provides information about online training courses that can improve your job performance and put to use some of that spare time you have due to the coronavirus. Some of his recommendations are SOF related including online course offered by the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU). Read “It’s a Weapon: Taking Advantage of the Online Range”, The Civil Affairs Association, April 21, 2020.

Engagement by the Global SOF Foundation. In two letters dated April 17, 2020 the Global SOF Foundation argues for legislative action to elevate ASD SO/LIC to the Under Secretary of Defense for Special Operations / Irregular Warfare and to gain support for the USSOCOM Armed Overwatch Program. The letters were sent to the leading members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. ASD SO/LIC provides oversight and advocacy for U.S. special operations forces and the Armed Overwatch Program will provide USSOCOM with a light attack aircraft similar to the A-29 Super Tucano.

Ranger School Revisited. A graduate of the Ranger course in 2004, Will Bardenwerper sometimes dreams he is a Ranger student once again. He got to relive his dream for real when he recently spent time at the course as an observer. Read “Army Ranger School is a Laboratory of Human Endurance”, Outside Magazine Online, April 20, 2020.

International SOF

NATO SOF and Beer. The folks at SOCEUR, SOCAFRICA, and NATO SOF will be a bit disappointed this year. Oktoberfest is cancelled. Morale will sink and productivity will rise. Read “Munich Oktoberfest among festivals in Germany cancelled because of coronavirus”, Stars and Stripes, April 21, 2020.

SOF History

Col Nick Rowe – RIP. April 21st was the anniversary of the assassination of a former POW of the Vietnam War and a Special Forces officer. Nick Rowe was killed in the Philippines in 1989. Read up on the story of this American hero in an article posted by the Office of the Command Historian at USASOC.

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COVID-19 and the Military

More than 1,000 U.S. troops have recovered from the Wuhan virus. There have been 25 deaths of DoD personnel due to COVID-19. The number of National Guardsmen activated to assist in the pandemic is about 41,000. Every state has activated personnel thus far. Six percent of veterans who contract the virus die. About 400 retired service members will be re-activated for 179 days – most of them medical personnel.

The semi-annual fitness test for the Marine Corps for this current testing period has been cancelled due to the pandemic. Marines still have to go to the barbershop to get their haircuts. (Hmmm).

Operation “Feel Good”. The Air Force’s Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels are going to overfly a number of cities to highlight “national unity” in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Operation America Strong is meant to be a morale booster. Just the promise of jets roaring overhead is starting to make folks feel better about being sick, under quarantine, and unemployed. No word yet on if the jets will be dropping supply bundles of TP and test kits while overhead.

There are no indications that there is any benefit to using an anti-malaria drug according to a VA virus study. Researcher say that there were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care. DoD has announced a plan to test every service member for coronavirus- but it will be done in phases. There will be four phases or tiers – some SOF will be in tier 1.

Travel Restrictions Extended. SECDEF Esper approved an extension to the stop move order through June 30th to aid in the further prevention of COVID-19. See “Update to Travel Restrictions”, U.S. Department of Defense, April 20, 2020.

Two FBNC COVID-19 Deaths. Officials reported on Friday that two employees who worked on Fort Bragg have died of the coronavirus. Read “Fort Bragg Reports First COVID-19 Deaths”, Military.com, April 20, 2020.

The Drug Trade and COVID-19. Gareth Rice provides his perspective on how the illegal nacortics trade will be affected by the pandemic in “Narcos in the time of Covid-19”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, April 21, 2020.


WOs as Cyber Operators? Jeremiah Pittman and Jan Kallberg say that there is too much turnover among the enlisted ranks to match the expanding need for highly qualified and technically cognizant cyber operators. See “Warrant Officers Should be the Next Cyber Operators”, Fifth Domain, April 20, 2020.

Viewing China. H. R. McMaster has a story about how our assumptions about how China would act on the world stage were wrong. For the past few decades there were hopes that the Asian nation would “. . . play by the rules, open its markets, and privatize its economy.” Hasn’t happened. “China has become a threat because its leaders are promoting a closed, authoritarian model as an alternative to democratic governance and free-market economics.” Read more in “How China Sees the World. And how we should see China.”, The Atlantic, May 2020.

Great Power Competition

Report – Russian Election Interference. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has released a report that concludes that Russia conducted a campaign to interfere with the U.S. presidential elections in 2016. The 158-page report is available online.

Wagner Group. Created in 2014 this Russian private military company maintains close ties to the Kremlin and has been active in a number of conflict zones – to include Ukraine, Syria, Libya and beyond. Its mercenary activities help Russia achieve its national security objectives. The company is part of Russia’s strategy for utilizing ‘gray zone’ operations to extend the its influence around the world. Read more in “The Wagner Group: A Russian Symphony of Profit and Politics”, The Cipher Brief, April 21, 2020.

Russian Military and COVID-19. The novel coronavirus has been responsible for almost 400 deaths in Russia. The country’s military stands ready to assist. Read more in “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Russian Armed Forces”, by Jorgen Elfving, Eurasia Daily Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation, April 21, 2020.

Norway’s Defence Plan. Norway has released its new plan for improving the country’s security. A section of the document states that the ability of special forces to contribute to national and international operations will improve. There will be increased personnel and an ” . . . additional operations task group. The Bell 412 transport helicopters will be replaced by a new capacity that is better suited for the Special Forces.” (Second Line of Defense, Apr 20, 2020).

Assisting Ukraine. Annika Kastetter explains the nature and extent of the US bilateral cooperation with Ukraine and why Ukraine matters for US foreign policy. She also explains how U.S. security assistance is helping to lay a foundation for peace and stability in Ukraine. Read “Security Assistance to Ukraine is Only Enhancing Kyiv’s Hard Power”, Georgetown Security Studies Review, April 20, 2020.

Middle East

Iranian Harassment. Iranian gunboats have been coming dangerously close to U.S. Navy ships. Iran has a history of naval provocations against the U.S. Several boats at a time have been conducting close in operations.

“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”

President Trump, Twitter, April 22, 2020.

Account of Al Asad Air Base Missile Attack. U.S. Air Forces Central Command has published a 34-page account (PDF) of the January 2020 Iranian missile attacks on the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq. Some interesting reading. (CENTCOM, April 7, 2020).

K1 – Troops in Kirkuk. Kevin Knodell spent some time with units based at a base in northern Iraq. Read “Life and Death at K1: Inside America’s Last Days in Kirkuk”, Coffee or Die Magazine, April 19, 2020.

The Abandonment of Syrian Kurds. Many Syrians thought that the U.S. cared about them. Now they know better. Read “America’s Abandonment of Syria”, by Luke Mogelson, The New Yorker, April 20, 2020.


Somalia, AFRICOM, and Civilian Casualties. U.S. Africa Command has announced that it will be issuing a quarterly public report on civilian casualties that are alleged to have resulted from U.S. military operations in Somalia. This article “. . . explores the circumstances under which civilian casualties may occur in Somalia . . .”, where they take place, why they may be under-reported, and what to do about it. Read “Great Expectations: AFRICOM’s New Quarterly Report on Civilian Casualties”, Just Security, by Daniel R. Mahanty, April 21, 2020.

Genocide in Nigeria? Violence and terror is increasing in intensity in Africa’s largest nation. Heavily armed jihadist groups are attacking small rural Christian villages – killing its inhabitants and destroying houses, schools, and churches. Boko Haram has been responsible for nearly 35,000 deaths between 2015 and 2020 while Fulani jihadis have murdered around 17,000 between 2010 and 2020. Read more in “Is the World Ignoring a Christian Genocide in Nigeria?”, by Lela Gilbert, Providence, April 21, 2020.

Blacksmith Publishing

Books, Pubs, and Reports

Report: Technologies and Intelligence. Brian Katz has written a 10-page paper entitled The Intelligence Edge: Opportunities and Challenges from Emerging Technologies for U.S. Intelligence, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), April 17, 2020. The report says that emerging technologies have the potential to transform and empower the U.S. IC; but that it also will be presenting challenges from our adversaries who will use the technology as well.

Long Term Strategy for Iraq. Ben Connable has authored a 56-page report entitled An Enduring American Commitment in Iraq: Shaping a Long-Term Strategy with Iraqi Army Partners, RAND Corporation, April 2020. He argues that the U.S. should commit now before China, Russia, or Iran fills the role.

Book: The Battle of Arnhem. Antony Beevor’s book The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II (Penguin Books, 2019) is reviewed by Brandon Patrick at The Strategy Bridge (Apr 22, 2020). Operation Market Garden has come to signify an instance of poor planning and confusion on the battlefield. The author explores the failure of the operation at many different levels of command. He also depicts how complicated the operation was and how fierce the combat was that took place.

Army Pub – Mountain Warfare and Cold Weather Operations Leader’s Book. The Center for Army Lessons Learned and Asymmetric Warfare Group have published a 141-page publication for leader training in a mountainous environment. (April 2020).

Videos, Podcasts, and Movies

Podcast – The Colombian Umbrella. The folks at Global SOF Foundation conduct an interview with US Army Special Forces COL (Ret) Kevin Higgins from his home in El Salvador. He’s had a lifelong career in South and Central America to include years in Colombia. The podcast covers the presence of Special Forces in Colombia, Plan Colombia, and the war on drugs. SOFspot, April 17, 2020, 52 minutes.

Podcast – Predators in the Global Jungle. David Kilcullen discusses his new book – The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West. His book looks at the military threats posed by Moscow and Beijing – as well as Tehran, Pyongyang, and non-state violent extremist organizations.
(FDD Podcast, April 20, 2020, 47 minutes)

Movie – Undercover. An hour-long movie was produced by the Field Photographic Branch for O.S.S. Schools & Training that served as a WW II spy training film. A little bit of Office of Strategic Services history (1944).

353rd CA CoC. the 353rd Civil Affairs conducted a virtual Change of Command ceremony between BG Robert Colley and BG Timothy Brennan on April 19, 2020. (YouTube, 15 mins).


Photo: A U.S. Air Force special tactics operator assigned to the 321st Special Tactics Squadron, 352d Special Operations Wing executes a military free-fall into the North Sea, April 9, 2020. The event was part of a larger full mission profile that focused on air and sea readiness using the 352 SOW’s MC-130J Commando II and CV-22B Osprey. This training enables units to rapidly deploy personnel and equipment into contested or austere environments. (Courtesy photo 352nd SOW)

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SOF News provides news, analysis, commentary, and information about special operations forces (SOF) from around the world.