Special Operations News Update – Monday, July 20, 2020

Mules in Robin Sage

Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. How Green Berets got their name, first female cdr of 1st SOW, AFSOC accident report, Exercise Commando Crucible, new Israeli SOF air unit, Estonian SOF in Africa, historical photos of Camp MacKall, and more.

SOF News

Green Berets – How They Got Their Name. Harm Venhuizen provides a short article on how U.S. Army Special Forces got their ‘nickname’. “How the Green Berets got their name”, Army Times, July 15, 2020.

GB’s Still in Venezuela Prison. Former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson recently traveled to South American to try and secure the release of Americans being held in prison by Venezuela. There are six employees of Citgo held as well as former Green Berets Luke Denman and Airan Berry. The Citgo executives have been imprisoned on allegations of embezzlement and the Green Berets for leading a failed incursion attempt aimed at capturing President Maduro.

The Case of MARSOC TF in Afghanistan in 2007. In March of 2007 a platoon of Marine commandos was attacked by the Taliban. Initial press reports and a U.S. military investigation indicated that Marines killed innocent Afghan women, children, and elderly citizens. The unit was ordered out of the country. Fred Galvin, a retired Marine familiar with the event, is fighting to correct the record. See “Evidence in Marine special operations case stalled again by Pentagon’s censor”, Marine Corps Times, July 15, 2020.

Exercise Commando Crucible. The Air Force recently concluded an exercise in Florida that involved special tactics operators, hundreds of participants, and 40 aircraft from Air Force Special Operations Command and Air Combat Command. ST operators conducted training in precision strike, personnel recovery, and FID. (Air Force Times, July 14, 2020).

AFSOC Leaders Relieved Due to Parachute Accident Report. An Air Force Special Tactics jumpmaster died when he was accidently pulled out of a C-130 aircraft over the Gulf of Mexico in 2019. An accident investigation board issued a report that detailed the event. Read “Two command teams relieved of duty following report on Hurlburt airman death”, Pensacola News Journal, July 14, 2020. See also an article posted in Air Force Times, July 14, 2020.

Silent Knight. A new terrain following and avoidance radar system is being tested for AFSOC’s tilt and rotary wing aircraft. See “Eglin Squadron Begins Radar System Tests on CV-22”, Air Force Special Operations Command, July 15, 2020.

Female Cdr for 1st SOW. A change of command ceremony for the 1st Special Operations Wing took place at Hurlburt Field, Florida in June 2020. Col. Jocelyn Schermerhorn became the wing’s first female commander. She is a master navigator with more than 3,500 flight hours. “First Female Commander of 1st Special Operations Wing Says ‘There are no Barriers'”, Military.com, July 16, 2020.

Key DoD SOF Positions Unfilled. Many of the top positions in the Defense Department have been unfilled. This is true of positions that provide civilian oversight of special operations forces. (SOF is discussed about half-way through the article). Read “The Pentagon is playing its C Team with so many top positions left unfilled”, Task & Purpose, July 17, 2020.

SPMAGTF-SC Trains at NAVSCIATTS. The Marines of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Southern Command recently participated in training at the Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The 13 personnel were getting trained up in small boat operations. NAVSCIATTS is a U.S. Special Operations Command’s Security Cooperation schoolhouse. (DVIDS, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South, July 16, 2020.

International SOF

New Israeli SOF Air Unit. Several elite Israeli units are being merged into one. The 7th Wing of the Israeli Air Force will include Shaldag, Unit 669, the Forward Landing Unit, and a dedicated intelligence unit. “Israel combines special forces into new Air Force unit”, Defense News, July 16, 2020.

Estonian SF in Africa. The Defense Forces of the Estonian Special Operations Command began service with Task Force Takuba this month. The Estonian SOF will be stationed at the Gao base where some Estonians are serving in the Barkhane operation. See “Estonian SF started their service in Mali”, MilMag.eu, July 18, 2020.

SOF History

Camp MacKall. The historical training grounds for U.S. Special Forces training has a long history. Take a look at some photos of Camp MacKall. “Rare photos of Fort Bragg & Camp MacKall in 1930-1940s”, Fayetteville Observer, July 13, 2020.

July 20, 1942. On this date the First Special Service Force was officially activated. Or, it could be on July 9, 1942 . . . depending on your source of information.

COVID-19 and the Military

Over the past week the cases of coronavirus are rising in every state except for Maine and New Hampshire where slight decreases are being noted. The south and west of the United States are getting hit extremely hard at times filling ICU beds to full capacity. Worldwide, the pandemic (as of late July 2020) has claimed over 570 thousand lives. The virus has affected more than 3 million people in the U.S. and over 12 million worldwide. However, the U.S. military has adapted to COVID-19, continues training and operations, and is assisting many of the hard-hit communities.

Coronavirus at Eglin AFB. The base commander at Eglin said that “We have mission impacts that are worse than we’ve had before, and we can’t continue to have those impacts.” Read more in “COVID-19 adversely affecting missions at Eglin AFB”, Northwest Florida Daily News, July 17, 2020.

Efforts by Army Medical Units to Assist. In March, the Army deployed thousands of soldiers to help health care providers worldwide. The assisted in overcrowded ICU units, provided testing, and more. Read “Soldiers Describe Initial COVID-19 Fight”, Army News Service, July 17, 2020.

PJ Assisted in COVID-19 Fight in New York. A member of the 308th Rescue Squadron jumped into the fight against the coronavirus pandemic early on. Read how he mobilized a group of SOF medical professionals to assist NYC hospitals. See “Rescue Wing Airman Volunteers for COVID-19 Response in NY”, 920th Rescue Wing PA, DVIDS, July 17, 2020.

Faces Masks Make a Difference. New research suggests that face covering help reduce the transmission of droplets, though some masks are more protective than others. “Face Masks Really Do Matter. The Scientific Evidence Is Growing”, The Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2020, paywall.

National Security

NDS Spotlight. The DoD has posted information about the National Defense Strategy. It lists the implementation of the NDS citing the SECDEF’s top ten priorities. See “Spotlight – National Defense Strategy”.

New M4A1 Barrel. The Army was granted a 15-year design patent for the manufacture of a new barrel for the M4A1 rifle. It dramatically reduces the risk of barrel failure or premature ammunition detonation. Read “Army invents new heavy barrel for M4”, TechLink, July 8, 2020.


Withdrawing from South Korea – A Really Bad Idea. David Maxwell (retired SF officer) provides his perspective on the possible withdrawal of U.S. troops from Korea. A dispute about the amount that South Korea funds the expense of U.S. troops on the Korean peninsular has prompted threats of removing U.S. troops from the region. Moving 28,500 troops, their dependents, and equipment is a major undertaking. Maxwell examines this issue in detail and concludes that pulling U.S. troops out will undermine U.S. national security interests. Read “Penny wise, pound foolish: The flawed logic of withdrawal from South Korea”, Military Times, July 19, 2020.

GB on Defunding Police, Russian Meddling, and Misinformation. A former active duty Green Beret, Matt Visnovsky, offers his thoughts on reducing funds for police departments, the use of social media for malicious purposes by fringe groups on the left and right, and how to set the ship back on course. Read “A Green Beret’s Perspective on Defunding the Police and Answer to America’s Growing Polarization”, Medium.com, July 17, 2020.

Disinformation War. America is facing several crises at the moment and foreign powers (Russia, China, Iran, and others) are aggravating the current problems with a disinformation campaign through social media. See “The Disinformation War Is Just Beginning“, Lobo Institute, July 19, 2020.

Great Power Competition (GPC)

SOF and GPC. U.S. special operations forces are adapting to the new threat as defined by the national security strategy. Several ‘SOF experts’ are asked how the military’s elite forces are meeting this new challenge: Dr. Michael Vickers, LTG (Ret) Ken Tovo, Col (Ret) Mark Mitchell, and Rep. James Langevin. “Special Operations Forces and Great Power Competition”, Deloitte, July 17, 2020.

Deterring Russia. Dr Jack Watling, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), believes that in a new era of great power competition, the United Kingdom must strengthen its ability to take proactive deterrence measures. Read his 68-page paper entitled By Parity and Presence: Deterring Russia with Conventional Land Forces, RUSI Occasional Paper, July 2020.

Russia’s ‘Reflexive Control Theory’. Another presidential election is approaching, and once again, the Russians are interfering. They are targeting beliefs, stoking tribalism, and polarization. “How You Can Fight Russia’s Plans to Troll Americans During Campaign 2020”, RAND Corporation, July 14, 2020.

Russian Armed Forces. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has published a 3-page brief on the capabilities of the Russian armed forces. There are a couple of paragraphs about Spetsnaz, the Russian Special Operations Command, and airborne troops. (CRS, June 30, 2020, PDF).

Standing Up to China in INDOPACOM. The U.S. Department of Defense is not positioned for persistent hypercompetition with China in the Pacific. China has gained the strategic initiative through its gray zone capabilities and methods. INDOPACOM needs to fundamentally change how it organizes, operates, integrates, and employs its capabilities. Read more in “The US is Out of Position in the Indo-Pacific Region”, Defense One, July 19, 2020.

Middle East

Foreign Fighters in Libya. Over 3,500 Syrian fighters were paid by Turkey to fight in the regional proxy war. The mercenaries were engaged in the fight against the east Libya-based commander Khalifa Hifter. Turkey is hoping to gain greater leverage in the eastern Mediterranean. (AP News, Jul 17, 2020).

Defeating ISIS – ‘On Hold’. The Coalitions long-term aim to defeat ISIS is not going to happen soon. ISIS is likely to remain a long-term threat. The terrorist group has successfully transitioned to an insurgency that can survive over the time despite pressure from counter terrorist forces. “US Efforts to Deal Islamic State ‘Enduring Defeat’ on Hold”, Voice of American, July 16, 2020.


Boko Haram and the MJTF. The Lake Chad Basin states have combined efforts (with the Multinational Joint Task Force) to defeat Jihadist elements. There have been some victories but also some setbacks. What to do? Read a 41-page report entitled What Role for the Multinational Joint Task Force in Fighting Boko Haram?, Africa Report No 291, International Crisis Group, July 7, 2020.

Iran Stoking the Fires in Somalia. Iranian forces are supporting al-Shabab and allegedly offering bounties for attacks against U.S. military personnel. (Foreign Policy, Jul 17, 2020, paywall).

Books, Pubs, and Reports

SFA Lessons in Tunisia. Elisa Yousif has penned a 36-page report about the train, advise, assist, and equip program in Tunisia. The report looks at the successes and short-falls of the SFA program in that country. Read Beyond Performance: Lessons Learned from U.S. Security Assistance to Tunisia, Security Assistance Monitor and Center for International Policy, July 2020.

Report – Military Parachutes: Observations on Army and Marine Corps Acquisition Programs. The Army and Marine Corps expect to spend almost $150 million to replace thousands of aging free fall parachute systems. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has released a report about the free fall parachute acquisition programs. GAO -20-524, PDF, 29 pages, July 16, 2020.

Book Review – The Great Betrayal. David L. Phillips has a book out about the political and diplomatic history of the Kurds and how the US let the Kurds down. Zeynap Kay reviews The Great Betrayal: How America Abandoned the Kurds and Lost the Middle East. (E-International Relations, Jul 16, 2020).

Videos, Podcasts, and Films

Film – School for Danger. Originally produced as a public information film, this documentary tells the story of Great Britain’s Special Operations Executive or SOE. The film shows how the SOE provided trained agents and other assistance to European resistance groups fighting against Hitler. Posted on YouTube (Joe Doakes), 1 hour.

Podcast – Inside Insurgency: Nonstate Armed Groups in Syria and Iraq. This podcast features Dr. Vera Mironova and Dr. Daniel Milton where they discuss the inner workings of insurgent groups in Iraq and Syria. Irregular Warfare Podcast, Modern War Institute at West Point, July 17, 2020, 37 mins.

Video – Reconnoitering the Suwalki Corridor: A Conversation with Jacek Bartosiak. The CEO and Founder of Strategy&Future is interviewed about the Suwalki Corridor – the slim 65-mile long border between Poland and Lithuania that poses a major military dilemma for NATO military planners. He explains the difficulty of defending this terrain, and what can be done to better NATO’s position. Eastern Approaches, The Jamestown Foundation, July 17, 2020, 58 minutes.

Video – COL (Ret) Milburn Interview. Colonel Andrew Milburn, USMC, is interviewed by the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU). Milburn is the interview of When the Tempest Gathers: From Mogadishu to the Fight Against ISIS. Colonel Milburn chronicles his experiences through his career. He spent part of his career with Marine special operations. JSOU, July 13, 2020, one hour.

Video – FY21 Global SOF Areas of Focus. The Global SOF Foundation details its future programs for Fiscal Year 2021. GSF, July 14, 2020, 3 mins.

Video – Special Operations Command North Change of Command Ceremony. U.S. Army Colonel Shawn Satterfield took command of SOCNorth in a ceremony at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado on July 10, 2020. Satterfield is the former commander of the 20th Special Forces Group. U.S. Northern Command, Jul 10, 2020, 50 minutes.

Podcast – Chris Masters on alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. The author of No Front Line: Australian Special Forces at War in Afghanistan, Chris Masters, is interviewed about the allegations of Australian troops committing war crimes. Saturday Extra, ABC Net, July 18, 2020, 20 mins.


Photo: Special Forces candidates lead mules down a path as part of a long-distance movement during the final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina. Robin Sage is the culmination exercise for Soldiers in the Special Forces Qualification Course. Photo by USAJFKSWCS, July 2020.

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