Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world.
SEALs Attempt Rescue in Afghanistan. The U.S. is trying to determine the location and conduct a rescue of an American contractor held by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network in Afghanistan. Mark Frerichs disappearance has been shrouded in mystery and his case has not been discussed very much by U.S. officials. The FBI’s multiagency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell is assisting in the Frerichs case. Frerichs, age 57, was held at one time in Khost province. Read more in “SEALs tried to locate US citizen taken by Afghan militants”, AP, April 30, 2020.
Parade for Fallen Raider. The family of Gunnery Sergeant Diego Pongo was surprised with a Sunday morning parade outside their California home that began with a police helicopter flyover, followed by about 1,500 law enforcement vehicles, fire engines, and cars. A memorial service planned for last month had to be postponed because of the pandemic. Diego Pongo died during an operation against ISIS in Iraq in March 2020. Read “Thousands participate in memorial parade for fallen Marine Raider”, Marine Corps Times, April 27, 2020.
3rd Group Chaplain Adapts to COVID-19 Era. The chaplain for a Fort Bragg based Special Forces Group has changed up his delivery to reach members of his unit. Read “Military chaplains pivot to serve soldiers in virus outbreak”, ABC News, April 27, 2020.
SOF Standards. Steve Balestrieri, a former 7th SFG Warrant Officer, provides his thoughts on SOF selection and training. Read “The Big Ugly Elephant in the Room: Standards in Special Operations“, SOFREP, April 27, 2020.
From SF to Army’s eSports Program. Read the story of how one Green Beret ended up on the United States Army eSports Team. He started out as an elite gamer as a teenager, joined the Army and then SF. He deployed with his Special Forces team four times. He now is one of the Army’s competitive ‘gamers’. Read more in “Green Beret gamer”, U.S. Army Recruiting Command, April 24, 2020.
Army Rangers and Combat Flip Flops. Some veterans of the Afghan War got together and designed a new type of shoe. Read “Former Army Ranger Makes Flip Flops and More for Peace”, Forbes.com, April 29, 2020.
Book – Resistance Operating Concept. The Swedish Defense University and Special Operations Command Europe collaborated on a research project that culminated in the publishing of a book entitled Resistance Operating Concept. This pub is a guide that will be used by European and US SOF for many years to come in the conduct of unconventional warfare. It was first published in print in limited quantities in fall 2019. It then was posted on the Swedish Defense University website in early 2020. The Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) now has it posted on its website as well. Read more in Book Review – Resistance Operating Concept (ROC), SOF News, April 3, 2020.
British SF – A National Asset. Simon Anglim, of the Department of War Studies at King’s College (London), has written an informative and detailed article about the United Kingdom’s Special Forces (UKSF). Read “British Special Forces in the 2020s: Still A National Asset”, Military Strategy Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 1, spring 2020, pages 43-51.
Indian SOF – Change Needed. Lt Gen Singh (Retd) offers his opinion on the equipment and technology needed for India’s elite forces. He also comments on the AFSOD, minimising casualties, and SF leadership. Read “Special Forces meant to do ops like surgical strikes. They’re called ‘special’ for a reason”, The Print, April 29, 2020.
Russian Commandos Jump in the Arctic. The Russians recently conducted a military exercise in the cold north that included a parachute jump at 33,000 feet. The three-day exercise took place in last April. (The Drive, Apr 27, 2020).
Honduran Navy Special Forces works with USCG. The Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane has returned to Portsmouth, Virginia after a 71-day patrol of the Central Caribbean. Part of the excursion was spent with the Honduran Navy. (Coast Guard News, Apr 27, 2020).
Afghan SOF Base Hit by Suicide Bomber. Three civilians were killed and more were injured in a suicide bombing at an Afghan commando base on the outskirts of Kabul. The bombing targeted civilians who worked on the camp at the camp gate as they waited to enter the commando base. The attack took place one day after General Austin Miller, the Resolute Support Mission commander, visited the base. (Military Times, April 29, 2020).
Operation Nimrod – 40 Years Ago. The Iranian Embassy siege took place from April 30 to May 5, 1980. A group of six armed Arab men stormed the Iranian Embassy in London. They took 26 hostages – demanding safe passage out of the United Kingdom and the release of Arab prisoners in Khuzestan Province, Iran. On the sixth day the armed men killed a hostage and threw his body out of the embassy. Shortly afterward the elite Special Air Service conducted Operation Nimrod to rescue the remaining hostages.
The Forgotten Allies of Burma. During World War II the Special Operations Executive (SOE) conducted operations in Burma against the Japanese. There were approximately 20,000 members of different ethnic communities (Kachin, Karen, Shan, etc.) who assisted the British. Many of these indigenous personnel worked with Force 136, part of the SOE, which was engaged in espionage, irregular warfare, sabotage, raids, and other military activities. These fighters, once the British left, and Burma achieved independence – were largely forgotten. However one scholar has done some research on the topic. Read “Finding ‘Forgotten’ Allies”, The Special Operations Executive in Burma 1941-1945, April 26, 2020.
Wuhan Virus and the Military
137th SOW Activated. Members of the 137th Special Operations Wing of the Oklahoma National Guard have been activated to assist in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Many of them are assisting in the operation of food banks to help those financially struggling with the impact of COVID-19. (Army.mil, Apr 29, 2020).
Veterans Home in Mass Hit Hard. Thus far, as of Monday, April 27, 2020, 75 residents at the Holyoke Soldier’s Home in Massachusetts have died during the coronavirus outbreak. (WWLP.com, Apr 27, 2020).
CJTF-HOA Health Emergency. The head of U.S. forces in East Africa has declared a public health emergency for American troops and contractors based at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti. There has been a sharp spike in coronavirus cases in the region (Horn of Africa).
VA to Study Illnesses of K2 Vets. The Department of Veterans Affairs has notified Congress that it will study the health impact of toxic exposure on K2 Vets who served at an airbase in Uzbekistan. The U.S. occupied the airbase from 2001 to 2005 and many of the veterans have fallen ill and died. Veterans Affairs has been negligent in providing care for many of these veterans that are ill with or have died from various forms of cancer. Read more in “VA agrees to study cancers, illnesses tied to military deployment to toxic Uzbek base”, McClathy DC.com, April 27, 2020.
U.S. is Failing in Influence Operations. Paul Cobaugh provides his thoughts on how the United States needs to be doing better in putting forth its narrative in today’s global competition. Read “Perspective: Influence is Today’s Battlefield, and the United States is Unarmed”, Homeland Security Today, April 26, 2020. See also a 40-page paper by Paul on the same topic – “Combat Ineffective” – Ethical Influence, the broken-down, rusting vehicle of American power, Narrative Strategies, April 2020.
SFABs – Avoiding the Next Forever War. Dan Grazier, a former Marine advisor, says that the Security Force Assistance Brigades are a step in the right direction for fighting the wars of the future. He worries that the shift to ‘great power competition’ will see the SFABs tanked to free up money to buy some costly weapons systems. Read “The US Needs to Rethink Nation-Building to Prevent the Next Forever War”, POGO.org, April 28, 2020.
Great Power Competition
Russia’s Militarization of the Arctic. Climate change is providing opportunities for Russia to exploit natural resources previously buried under ice and a more open Northern Sea Route for shipping. Russia has been very busy building up its military presence in the Arctic region. It has claimed ownership of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) based on ‘historical legacy arguments’. The Baltic states have concerns on the military buildup as well as the Russian claims of the NSR. The historical legacy argument could be used by Russia for a land grab for parts or all of Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia. Read more in “Russia’s Arctic Development Poses Risks for Combating Climate Change in the Baltics”, Baltic Bulletin, Foreign Policy Research Institute, April 24, 2020.
Keeping an Eye on the Kremlin – From the Baltic States. The countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia may be hard to defend in an event of war with Russia. However, they serve as ideal ‘listening posts’ on the activities of the Russian state. Read more in “NATO’s Eyes and Ears: The Baltics are Listening Posts in the Alliance’s Competition with Moscow – Again”, by Andris Banka, Modern War Institute at West Point, April 28, 2020.
China and a Foreign CT/FID Mission? Jimmy Zhang, a policy analyst at the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Counterterrorism Policy looks into the future and evaluates China’s ability to conduct a CT or FID mission in places like the Middle East or Africa. The likelihood of Chinese engagement would probably be tied to defending personnel and investments associated with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. He goes on to argue that should that take place there is the possibility that China could get ‘bogged down’ in a years-long quagmire. In closing, he suggests that the U.S. may need another Charlie Wilson to step up to promote a sustained insurgency against the Chinese. Read more in “From Non-Interference to Wolk Warrior: Chinese Foreign Internal Defense”, War on the Rocks, April 24, 2020.
USMCs Pivot to the Pacific. The National Defense Strategy 2018 and the Marine’s Force Design 2030 envision a restructuring of the U.S. Marine Corps’ mission, organization, and focus. This move to countering the long-term threat posed by China is a profound change. The European community will need to take a hard look at this change to see where and how they fit into this new environment. Read “The United States Marine Corps is Changing. Why Should We Care?”, Wavell Room (UK), April 21, 2020.
Turkey’s Strategic Plan. The 2017-2021 Strategic Plan for the Ministry of Defense is on track. The plan identifies the priority procurement programs for the country’s military. Defense expenditures are at 1.89% of Gross Domestic Product. Read more in “Ahead of the Curve: Turkey’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan in Action”, Offiziere.ch, April 21, 2020.
Future of Iraq’s PMF. Inna Rudolf is a Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence. She has penned a 20-page report entitled The Future of the Popular Mobilization Forces After the Assassination of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The paper is posted on the website of Foreign Policy Research Institute (Apr 15, 2020).
Afghanistan Needs Better Leadership. While the Afghan leadership are feuding over power sharing and ministerial spoils the Taliban are winning on the battlefield and in ‘peace’ negotiations. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic threatens to spread and get worse. The agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban for the withdrawal of U.S. troops seems to be a done deal. However, the hope that this would lead to a peace agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban seems to be diminishing. Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, provides his perspective in “Afghans and Americans both deserve better Afghan leadership”, The Hill Opinion, April 28, 2020.
4th SFAB Headed to Afghanistan. One of the Army’s newest units, the Fort Carson, Colorado based 4th Security Force Assistance Brigade is training for their deployment to Afghanistan. The unit will be heading to a JRTC rotation in June 2020 ahead of its Afghan deployment. Read “Latest SFAB activates, prepares for Afghanistan mission”, Army News Service, April 28, 2020.
Afghanistan – “It is time to go”. Martin Skold, a Ph.D. in international relations and a student of ‘great power competition’ (GPC) says it is time for us to leave Afghanistan and time to find a new project. At the top of his list is leaving the world of CT and COIN behind and concentrating on GPC. Read “America’s Afghan Mission Has Been Overtaken by Pandemic”, War on the Rocks, April 28, 2020.
Books, Pubs, and Reports
Book – Slurp Sends. A former Green Beret has written three books about his life as a Special Forces soldier. His accounts focuses on his training, a deployment to Ethiopia during the Ethiopia – Somalia border war, and his 18-months in South Vietnam with a Special Forces ‘A’ team. Read more about Dick James (the author) in and watch a video of his interview. (The Pine Tree Net, Apr 26, 2020).
Perspectives on Terrorism. The spring 2020 issue by the Terrorism Research Institute is now posted online at Universiteit Leiden.
CTC Sentinel. The April 2020 issue of the monthly publication by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has been posted online.
Videos, Podcasts, and Movies
Podcast – Puppet Master of Air Assets. MSgt (Ret) Wes Byrant, a former JTAC and TACP with 20 years USAF service is interviewed. He talks about the important role that a JTAC plays in combat operations, the importance of airstrikes in the fight against the Islamic State, and how the fight took place in the Middle East.
SOFSpot, Global SOF Foundation, April 28, 2020, 48 mins.
Video – Special Forces Medic. SFC Cody McMennamy discusses why he chose to be a Special Forces medic. Video by USASOC, April 29, 2020, 2mins.
Video – Recon Marines Helocasting. Members of the Maritime Raid Force, 26th MEU conducted helo-cast training with combat rubber raiding crafts from a CH-53E Super Stallion. The 26th MEU is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in the Central Region. Video by Cpl Gary Jayne III, April 23, 2020.
Video – Emerald Warrior 20-1. An annual special operations exercise provides realistic pre-deployment training that encompasses multiple joint operating areas is called Emerald Warrior. The exercise prepares special operations forces to execute full spectrum special operations in an arctic climate. Video by Staff Sergeant James Merriman, AFSOC, posted on DVIDS April 27, 2020.
Photo: Special Forces Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) secure a landing zone during combined aviation load training with the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade as part of exercise Saber Junction 19 in Hohenfels, Germany, Sept. 13, 2019. Photo by Sgt Patrik Orcutt.