Special Operations News Update – Monday, May 18, 2020

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

SOF News

SF Icon Dies. Retired Major General Victor Hugo died on May 11, 2020. He was 88 years old. Hugo was a former Special Forces officer and a combat veteran who served during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. A West Point graduate, he was assigned to the Central Intelligence Agency as a case officer for unconventional warfare and paramilitary actions in Vietnam. Read more in “Special Forces Icon, Vietnam Veteran Dies”, Association of the United States Army, May 15, 2020.

Targeting at SOJTF-OIR. The Chief of Targets, Major Sean Chao, talks about his experience in the military and working for the Special Operations Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. (DVIDS, May 15, 2020).

SOF Units Love the Glock. It is unlikely that the Glock will ever become the standard-issue sidearm for the U.S. military. However, it will likely remain the preferred choice for elite operators who get a vote in what they carry. Read “Why U.S. Special Forces Love the Glock”, The National Interest, May 17, 2020.

AFSOC Selection – Attributes not Performance. The commander of the Air Force’s special operations said that physical prowess will be de-emphasized while ‘attributes’ will be stressed. See “AFSOC ‘Moving Away’ from Selecting Operators Based on Physical Performance”, Military.com, May 13, 2020.

SOCOM and NGSW. The conventional Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapons may soon be found in U.S. SOF units. Read more in “The Army’s Next-Generation Squad Weapon is a Big Hit with SOCOM”, Military.com, May 14, 2020.

5th SFGA WO Recognized. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Gibbs has been recognized as the Fort Campbell Volunteer of the Year by the United Service Organization (USO). He spent many hours assisting in recent relief efforts in the Nashville area that had been affected by a disastrous tornado. (DVIDS 5th SFGA PAO, May 16, 2020).

New Tech on the Horizon for Navy SEALs. U.S. Special Operations Command has been investing time and money in developing new undersea and surface craft for Naval Special Warfare units. See “SEAL Teams Get Funding Boost for New Tech”, National Defense, May 14, 2020.

SOF Officer Promotion. Air Force MG Kirk Smith will soon be a LTG and is projected to be the deputy commander of US AFRICOM. He is currently serving as commander of the Special Operations Command Europe.

Virtual SOFIC. The yearly SOF event held every year in Tampa was reformatted into a virtual event due to the COVID-19 threat. Read more in “From Bullets to Bytes: Tampa’s Special Operations Military Conference Goes Virtual Amid Pandemic”, Tampa Bay Times, May 11, 2020.

Women and SOF

Women and Ranger School. Over 50 women have graduated from the Army’s Ranger School. The most recent graduation in 2020 included five women. Read more in “Meet the quiet trailblazers”, by Ellen Haring, Army Times, May 3, 2020.

Can Women Pass SF Selection? Steve Balestrieri, a former 7th Special Forces Group WO, provides some history of women in the world of special operations and how women can prepare themselves for Special Forces Selection and Assessment (SFAS). Read Steve’s thoughts in “Women Passing Special Forces Selection? Yes You Can,”, SANDBOXX, May 15, 2020.

SOF Aviation

New RW Platforms for SOCOM? The Army’s special operations Little Birds and Black Hawks will be replaced in the future. See “SOCOM to Leverage Army’s Helicopter Modernization Programs”, National Defense, May 13, 2020.

SOCOM: Eliminating Chopper Brownouts. The development of the Degraded Visual Environment Pilotage System (DVEPS) may soon make it safer for USSOCOMs helicopters flying in brownout conditions. (Military.com, May 16, 2020).

LAF Competition for SOCOM. The US Special Operations Command is going to conduct some evaluations of light attack aircraft in November 2020. SOCOM wants to buy up to 75 aircraft in the next several years. See “Light Attack Providers Get Second Shot with SOCOM”, by Rachel S. Cohen, Air Force Magazine, May 13, 2020.

MC-208 Caravan – Good for SOCOM? US special operations forces need a flexible air platform that can provided a multitude of missions to include CAS, log runs, ISR, and much more. The MC-208 Caravan is a likely candidate to fulfill this role. Read “U.S. Special Operations Fast-Tracks New “Armed Overwatch” Attack Plane”, Warrior Maven, May 11, 2020.

Another A-29 for AFSOC? Sierra Nevada Corporation will be providing another Super Tucano to AFSOC for its Combat Aviation Advisor (CAA) missions. The contract also provides for pilot training, logistics support, spare parts, etc. (Shepard Media, May 12, 2020).

Ghostrider to Get Lasers? AFSOC has announced that the AC-130J will be conducting tests of a high-energy laser as soon as 2022. See “U.S. Special Forces Test Laser Gunship for Covert Strikes”, Forbes.com, May 15, 2020.

SOF History

Retired SF CSM Teaching History Online. Active and retired members of the 10th Special Forces Group are helping a history teacher providing online history classes to his students. Read “10th Group: Green Berets share their love of history”, Fort Carson Mountaineer, May 16, 2020.

COVID-19 and the Military

Mercy’s Mission Complete. The Navy’s hospital ship is leaving for home port after assisting in the treatment of patients in Los Angeles during the coronavirus pandemic. The ship had arrived at the end of March to provide beds for non-coronavirus cases. Some medical personnel from the ship will remain in the Los Angeles area. The ship had a capacity of 1,000 beds but many were not used.

USS Roosevelt. Some sailors who tested positive for COVID-19, were quarantined, and then returned to duty have been found positive for a second time.

JARVISS and COVID-19. A software program used by the Army to discover terrorism threats is now being deployed to monitor the spread of COVID-19. The Joint Analytic Real-Time Virtual Information Sharing System (JARVISS) is Army software designed to target criminal activity and provide natural disaster information. However it is now being used to help track the virus and its impact on installation readiness, training, and recruiting. Read “Army Anti-Terrorism Technology Helps Pinpoint COVID-19 Cases”, by Thomas Brading, Army News Service, May 13, 2020.


CMO and Collaboration. Assad A. Raza says that organizations should increase collaboration with their partners while working toward common goals. This should be done at all levels, from tactical to strategic, for all types of operations. Read “Collaboration: Key to Successful Civil-Military Operations”, The Civil Affairs Association, May 17, 2020.

Inspector Generals – A Threatened Species? The Trump administration hates bad news; especially when it comes from within the government. The inspector generals of several agencies have found themselves removed from their position after publishing official reports with ‘bad news’. Probably the only reason the SIGAR head has not been fired is because he works for Congress. Some recent departures below:

  • May 15, 2020. Steve Linick, State Department Inspector General
  • May 15, 2020. Mitch Behm, Dept of Transportation Inspector General
  • May 1, 2020. Christi Grimm, HHS Inspector General
  • April 7, 2020. Glenn Fine, DoD Inspector General
  • April 3, 2020. Micheal Atkinson, IC Inspector General

Great Power Competition

GPC in Antarctic. Numerous observers and commentators have penned articles and reports about the activities of Russia (and China) in the Arctic. But not too much attention has been on the Antarctic. The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many nations (US, Britain, Australia, and others) to postpone, scale back, or cancel various programs (research, etc.) in the Antarctic. Russia and China appear to be filling the vacuum. Read more in “The Countries Taking Advantage of Antarctica During the Pandemic”, by Leah Feiger and Mara Wilson, The Atlantic, May 15, 2020.

DoD HA and GPC. Russia and China are continuing to expand their influence across Asia, Africa, and other areas of the world. This is all part of the ‘great power competition’ that the US faces in the current geopolitical environment. However the Department of Defense has some tools available to deter the malign influence of Russia and China. One of these tools is the Humanitarian Assistance Program. Read more in “DoD Humanitarian Assistance: A Powerful Tool for DoD in Great Power Competition”, by Charles Barham, Real Clear Defense, May 15, 2020.

China’s ‘Wolf Warrior’ Diplomacy. The new approach to international relations by China has gone from conservative, passive, and low-key to assertive, proactive, and high-profile. Two Chinese movies that feature agents of Chinese special operations forces highlight this new approach. Wolf Warrior and Wolf Warrior II have been contributing to a rising sense of nationalism are representative of China’s assertive role in world affairs. Read more in “Interpreting China’s ‘Wolf-Warrior Diplomacy'”, The Diplomat, May 15, 2020.

China’s Overseas Base in Africa. The Chinese Navy is supported by a number of overseas bases. One of these is located in the small country of Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. The design of the base is quite fascinating. Read more in “China’s Heavily Defended Fortress Near the Middle East and Indian Ocean”, Forbes.com, May 15, 2020.

PMC’s of China. A lot of Chinese bases and personnel are now abroad in various parts of Africa, Asia, and beyond. Most of these have some level of security – sometimes provided by Chinese security contractors. Read more in “Chinese Private Security Contractors: New Trends and Future Prospects”, by Sergey Sukhankin, China Brief, The Jamestown Foundation, May 15, 2020.

US Elite Forces Need to Adapt to Meet China Threat. Special operations is assuming a new role in Washington’s power struggle with Beijing. Read “US elite forces ill-equipped for cold war with China”, Financial Times, May 16, 2020.

“Vintage special operations forces is about stealth, cunning and being able to blend in – they were triathletes rather than muscle-bound infantrymen with tattoos.”

Middle East

Afghan and Pakistani Militias in Syria. Iran’s position in Syria is supported by armed groups from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are tied into the Imam Ali base in eastern Syria positioned between the SDF in the northeast and the U.S. base at Tanf where MaT is located. (MECRA, May 16, 2020).

An ISIS Resurgence . . . Not 2014 . . But Still. Sam Heller, a member of the International Crisis Group specializing in Non-State Armed Groups, provides his perspective on the current status of the Islamic State in the Middle East. Read “When Measuring ISIS’s “Resurgence”, Use the Right Standard”, Crisis Group, May 13, 2020.

Iraq – Time to Leave. In an oped piece, Gil Barndollar – a former Marine officer, provides the reasons that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq makes sense. Read “Iraqis, not US troops, must be the ones who counter Iran’s influence in Iraq”, Military Times, May 17, 2020.


Pulling Back From Afghanistan. The peace process is stalled, Kabul is still trying to fix its political deadlock, and the Taliban have been very busy. But the ‘withdrawal agreement’ is still looking good. The US troop level should be down to about 8,600 by July 15th. See “US on track to pull troops from Afghanistan despite turmoil”, Military Times, May 15, 2020.

Political Agreement in Kabul? Apparently President Ghani and former CEO Abdullah have come to terms in a power sharing accord. A ‘High Council of Government’ will be established to provide consultation to the president on important national issues. A ‘High Council of National Reconciliation’ will be established to head up the governments efforts for the peace process. A 6-page PDF posted by Tolo News in mid-May 2020 provides greater detail.

Khalilzad on Afghanistan. The Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation recently held a press briefing. Ambassador Khalilzad re-emphasized that there can be no military solution to ending the conflict in Afghanistan – that a political settlement must be reached. He also restated that the intent is to reduce the burden of the Afghan conflict on the American people while at the same time ensuring that terrorist acts cannot be supported and launched from Afghanistan. May 15, 2020, U.S. Dept of State.


War on Terror in Sahel: France in the Lead. Sergey Sukhankin provides a description of the conflict in West Africa and the political and military steps being taken to lower the level of violence. The coalition of European and African nations is a bit shaky but still holding. Read “France to Lead Joint Effort in War on Terrorism in Sahel Region”, Terrorism Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation, May 15, 2020.

Need for US to Stay in West Africa. Herman J. Cohen, a career veteran of the Foreign Service with lots of African experience, makes the case for continued US military presence in Africa. Read “Pulling Troops Out of Africa Could Mean Another Endless War”, War on the Rocks, May 13, 2020.

The Battle for Libya . . . and Tribes. Alison Pargeter brings us up to date on the fighting between the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar based in eastern Libya and the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli (western Libya). Alison explains the importance of the tribes in Libya and how they provide much needed support to the LNA. Read “Haftar, Tribal Power, and the Battle for Libya”, War on the Rocks, May 15, 2020.

Mercenaries in Libya. It is well-known that Russia’s Wagner Group is operating in Libya. Also known are the numerous Syrian fighters introduced into the conflict by Turkey. Less known, however, are the presence of smaller groups of military professionals providing niche capabilities to the warring factions. Read more in “Western Team Went to Help Moscow’s Man in Libya, UN Finds.”, Bloomberg.com, May 16, 2020.

Upcoming Events

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Books, Pubs, and Reports

Parameters. The Summer 2020 issue of Parameters is now posted online. The journal by the US Army War College has a number of interesting articles for the military professional. Nothing SOF centric based on a quick scan of the 128-page PDF. But some may find something of interest.

CA Reading List. The Civil Affairs Association has published its 2020 Civil Affairs Reading List. The books selected this year serve as a baseline for understanding the CA role in a changing world, regional knowledge, and new perspectives or modes of thinking for CA professionals. (PDF, 15 pages).

The Soft Power 30. A 125-page report details the importance of soft power as a tool of foreign policy. The international order is changing. This report provides a comprehensive comparative assessment of global soft power. Published by Portland PR Limted and the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, 2019.

Videos, Podcasts, and Movies

Podcast – How the Islamic State Happened. Two guests provide a detailed picture of ISIS origins and its evolution over the years. Modern War Institute at West Point, May 14, 2020, 45 minutes.

Podcast – Fighting ISIS in the City. John Spencer is joined by Maj. Gen. Roger Noble – an officer in the Australian Army. In 2016 he was the deputy cdr of CJFLCC-OIR. In this podcast he shares insights, lessons, and experiences about overcoming the unique challenges Iraqi forces and their coalition partners confronted during recent urban battles such as the fight to liberate Mosul from ISIS in 2016. Modern War Institute at West Point, May 15, 2020, 48 minutes.


Photo: A member of Crewman Qualification Training Class 109 receives a Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman (SWCC) Basic pin during a graduation ceremony at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, May 14, 2020. The graduates will join a Special Boat Team, where they will utilize specialized craft to provide covert insertion capabilities, deliver operators, and provide heavy weapons and other support.
(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony W. Walker, Coronado, CA, May 14, 2020)

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