Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. Topics include change needed to U.S. SOF community, USAF SOF selection process, modernization at USSOCOM, Russia’s Vagner Group policed up in Belarus, UK SF war crimes alleged, Gen Singlaub and Jedburgh missions, K2 vets, IO articles, podcasts, videos, and books.
Shaking Up the SOF Community. A retired Special Forces officer, Dave Maxwell, argues that it is time to redo the structure and organization of the U.S. special operations community. His plan would disestablish USSOCOM, form a Dept of Special Operations within the Department of Defense, elevate the TSOCs to a three-star command, and make JSOC a 4-star command. He says that “This third revolution in special operations would place this critical capability at the right level of command, with the right organization, with empowered leadership, authority, and influence providing civilian oversight to most effectively support the national security and defense strategies.” Read his article in “It’s time for a third special operations revolution”, Military Times, August 1, 2020.
SOCEUR CoC. The Special Operations Command – Europe will be conducting a change of command ceremony on Monday, August 3, 2020. The outgoing commander, Major General Kirk Smith, will be replaced by Major General David Tabor.
USSOCOM and the MDB. The U.S. Special Operations Command is adapting new capabilities to suit their special mission profiles. Learn more about USSOCOM’s path to modernization. “USSOCOM Adopting New Capabilities for the Connected Multi-Domain Battlefield”, The Modern Battlespace, July 30, 2020.
Navy SEAL Museum Under the Glare. A video by the Navy SEAL Museum used a Colin Kaepernick jersey as a prop in a K-9 demonstration at a fundraiser last year. The target of the military working dogs was wearing the Kaepernick jersey. The Navy Special Warfare Command is looking into the matter. The Navy released a statement saying “The inherent message of this video is completely inconsistent with the values and ethos of NSW and the USN.” The museum in Fort Pierce is a private entity that has no official connection to the U.S. Navy. (Fox News, Aug 2, 2020).
MARSOC Operators on Trial for Death of Defense Contractor. In January 2019 a former Green Beret and defense contractor working in northern Iraq died as a result of injuries suffered during an altercation with Marines. Two Marines and a Sailor from the Marine Forces Special Operations Command are on trial for his death. Some see the fight between the contractor and the Marines as a crime; others see it as an accident and overzealous prosecution. (The Washington Post, Aug 3, 2020).
Former MARSOC Operator Faces 50 Years of Prison. A former Marine is facing 50 years in jail; but he says he is innocent. He has one last chance to prove his case. (Coffee or Die Magazine, Aug 2, 2020)>
SWTW Assessment & Selection. The Air force’s Special Warfare Training Wing has refined the Assessment and Selection course for entry into the Special Tactics (ST) and Guardian Angel (GA) career-fields. A&S is a character-based process that is indexed off of physical performance and mental fortitude. In addition, it assesses a candidates cognitive abilities. “SWTW’s Assessment and Selection Equals Airpower Projection”, Air Education and Training Command, July 31, 2020.
Italy’s Naval SOF. A good article (in Italian) about Italian naval special operations. The article is entitled “La guerra sereta sotto i mari” or “The secret war under the seas”, Corrierre Della Sera, July 2020.
Elite German Unit Disbanded. Germany’s defense ministry officially stood down a company of its Special Forces Command (KSK) on August 1, 2020. The company was reported to be infiltrated or comprised of members with far-right and neo-Nazi ideology. The KSK’s 2nd Company had been investigated by the country’s Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD). The KSK was established in 1996 to focus on special operations – to include CT, HR, and intel gathering. It numbers about 1,100 personnel. “Germany Dissolves Elite Army Unit Over Far-Right Activity”, Voice of America, August 1, 2020.
UK SF and War Crimes? Some senior officers of UK’s special forces were alarmed about the increased number of enemy killed in action (EKIAs) in reports from Afghanistan. They worried about the possible existence of a ‘deliberate policy’ of illegally killing unarmed men. “Did UK Special Forces execute unarmed civilians?”, BBC Panorama, August 1, 2020.
Russian SF. An elite unit configured for reconnaissance, counterinsurgency, and power-projection in the Russian military is known as Spetsnaz. This ‘special purpose’ unit has played an important role in the country’s post-Second World War operations. Read more in “Spetsnaz: Russian Special Forces”, New Delhi Times, August 3, 2020.
Russian Mercenaries Detained in Belarus. Authorities in this eastern European country have detained 32 Russian members of private military company Vagner. There are allegations that they were plotting to ‘destabilize’ the country ahead of the August 9th presidential election. (Radio Free Europe, Jul 29, 2020).
Commando Decision Making and Leadership Training. An interesting article on how the mind thinks and how we arrive at good and bad decisions. “Evolution of Royal Marines Commando Leadership Training”, by Command Wing } Commando Training Centre Royal Marines, The Cove, July 22, 2020.
Spec Ops Day in Ukraine. The Army’s Special Operations Forces (SOF) Day was recently observed in Ukraine. The holiday has been observed annually since 2016. (UNIAN, Jul 29, 2020).
Turkish SF Cdr Retired. Why has the special forces commander General Zekai Aksakalli been retired since he had been so central to stopping the coup attempt against Erdogan? “Rumors and questions surround sidelining of key Turkish general”, The Jerusalem Post, August 2, 2020.
NK Special Forces. North Korea has likely the largest special forces organization in the world trained in unconventional warfare. “North Korea’s Secret Lethal Weapon: Its Special Forces”, The National Interest, August 1, 2020.
Gen Singlaub and the Jedburgh Mission. Major General John Singlaub is a legend within the special operations community. He started his career with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. Former Green Beret and author Jim Morris interviewed Singlaub. Read an account of his participation in the Jedburgh mission during World War II. “Singlaub: The Jedburgh Mission”, Sentinel, Volume 11, Issue 8, August 2020, Special Forces Association Chapter 78, PDF.
Coronavirus and the Military
The United States passed the 150,000 death mark for the COVID-19 pandemic. Rapid and accurate testing, which is critical to containing the virus, is still not readily available. The military had seen a spike in coronavirus cases the last few month. The U.S. Army is facing a significant COVID-19 challenge – most of the service’s installations are located in the South and Southeast where the coronavirus has been running rampant lately.
For instance, in the 101st Airborne Division 1 in 5 soldiers have been unavailable for training because they have tested positive for COVID-19 or they had been in contact with someone who might have had the disease. The division is seeing a slow, steady increase in cases. “As COVID-19 sweeps across the South, the Army finds it’s not immune”, by Sean Naylor, Yahoo! News, August 1, 2020.
With the recent surge in COVID-19, the ICU beds at Brooke Army Medical Center are quickly filling. Many patients are on ventilators or hooked to a myriad of tubes and wires to a heart-lung bypass machine as they battle the virus. A cardiac unit has been transformed to a COVID-dedicated ICU. “BAMC Nurses: It’s Us Against COVID”, Department of Defense News, July 30, 2020.
Changes Needed for Intelligence Analysis. Robert K. Ackerman says evolving threats and new collection methods compel a shift in direction for the intelligence community. “Intelligence Analysis Needs Course Change”, Signal – AFCEA.org, July 27, 2020.
K2 Vets and Cancer. Congress and the Veterans Affairs Department are finally making some initial steps to investigate the significant incidents of illness and deaths among veterans who served at the K2 airbase in Uzbekistan during the early years of the Afghan War. One K2 widow is an advocate for the people whose lives have been altered by their service a Karshi-Khanabad. Read her story in “K2 Widow & Accidental Advocate”, Medium.com, August 1, 2020.
U.S. Failing at IW. Russia, China, Iran and others are using irregular warfare to their advantage. The U.S. responds . . . sometimes . . . in varying degrees of effectiveness. Seth Jones and Juan Zarate explain in “The U.S. faces new kinds of threats around the globe, but we have failed to adapt”, Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2020.
Great Power Competition (GPC)
SOF and GPC. Tim Nichols, a Visiting Professor at Duke university and Executive Director of the Counterterrorism and Public Policy Fellowship Program, provides his perspective of U.S. special operations forces in the era of great power competition. “Sending Special Operations Forces into the Great Power Competition”, Small Wars Journal, August 2, 2020.
ARNG and GPC. The Director of the Army National Guard announced a new plan that will align existing subordinate elements under the ARNG’s eight division headquarters. The move directly supports the National Defense Strategy, which describes great-power competition and the need to be prepared for potential large-scale combat operations. This will increase the Total Army’s division strength from 10 to 18 divisions. (DVIDS, Jul 31, 2020).
The United States has long been a target of influence operations. During the Cold War there was a robust effort by the Soviet Union in the fight for the ‘hearts and minds’ between democracy / capitalism and communism / socialism. The U.S. held its own during this era with some highly-skilled governmental organizations working overtly and in the shadows to counter the propaganda campaigns.
In the current times, the U.S. seems to be devoid of a interagency effort to counter disinformation activities by foreign nations (Russia, China, Iran, and others). This can be seen in the Russian interference with the 2016 and 2020 elections, foreign powers spreading lies and dis-information about COVID-19, and in the overall ‘great power competition’ between the U.S. and other near-peer nations. Unfortunately, a lot of this foreign messaging gets picked up and disseminated by U.S. news outlets and social media (across the political spectrum).
The advent of social media and digital communication has re-invented the nature and tone of political discussions within the United States as well. Political news junkies (and to an extent national security ‘experts’) have a wealth of news outlets to read through. Many tend to track those news sources that reinforce their beliefs; widening the political divide in America.
There are a lot of names for these influence activities – a common one in use by the U.S. military is “Information Operations” or IO. For the time being, this will be a regular feature of the “SOF News Update” that is usually posted and emailed on Monday mornings. IO will be used as a sub-heading until a more suitable term becomes apparent to the editor. If you have a suggestion for a more accurate sub-heading ping the editor at staff @ sof.news. And if you have any articles that you think we should link to send them along.
China and Influence Ops in Australia. A 47-page report by Amy Searight details China’s attempts to influence Australian politics and interfere with civil society debate. Countering China’s Influence Activities: Lessons from Australia, Center for Strategic & International Studies, July 31, 2020.
Russia & Info Warfare. Matthew Radman, a Civil Affairs Officer currently studying at the Naval Postgraduate School, wrote about how the United States and its allies need to develop a partnered approach to reject the nefarious information activities of Russia. “Organized Chaos: Societal Resilience in the Face of Russian Information Warfare”, Eunomia Journal, The Civil Affairs Association, August 1, 2020.
Political Junkies and ‘Their’ News. Digital media has undergone some significant changes over the past decade. Videos and pictures are easily posted to a variety of social media venues. Many are posted ‘out of context’ – reinforcing the political beliefs of the poster. Some are definitely altered to change the interpretation of the video. Claire Potter, a professor of History at the New School for Social Research, tells us where digital media went wrong in “Political Junkies Are Killing Our Democracy”, The Bulwark, August 2, 2020.
Turkish Officer Assigned to CENTCOM Arrested. A Turkish representative who worked at Central Command in Tampa, Florida has been accused of drugging and tying up a woman who died in his Tampa apartment. (Military Times, Jul 29, 2020).
Turkey and NATO – the Worm in the Fruit. What is the added value of a 70-year-old politico-military alliance when some of its members no longer share the same values and, more importantly, when the behavior of one member – Turkey – collides with the security interests of the rest? “The Worm is in the Fruit: A Rising Strategic Foe Inside Nato”, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), July 31, 2020.
Books, Pubs, and Reports
Paper – Green Beret Identity Crisis? Colonel Edward Croot, a U.S. Army Special Forces officer, has penned a paper that argues that Special Forces is in the midst of an identity crisis. He says that the crisis affects all aspects of the culture, values, and behaviors of the SF community. Croot believes that SF leadership must address this identity crisis to restore the morale and honor of the force, enable modernization, and recapture readiness. There is an Identity Crisis in Special Forces: Who are the Green Berets Supposed to Be?, United States Army War College, 2020, 68-pages, PDF.
CTC Sentinel. The July 2020 issue of the CTC Sentinel has been posted online by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. It has several interesting articles about terrorism. The conflict between IS and al-Qa’ida in West Africa, interview with Chris Costa – former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Counterterrorism, threats from Europe’s Jihadi prisoners (current and former), and the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Videos, Podcasts, and Movies
Podcast – Proxy Wars: War Through Local Agents in Africa. Retired Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks and Dr. Eli Berman discuss proxy and partner warfare in Africa. They look at the objectives of proxy warfare, tools available to influence local agents, and the U.S. in Africa in an era of renewed great-power competition. Hicks is a former Special Operations Command Africa commander. Berman is a book author and professor at the University of California. Irregular Warfare Podcast, July 31, 2020.
Video – Weaponized Information: Disinformation and Narrative Warfare. Dr. Ajit Maan and Mr. Paul Cobaugh take part in a webinar about how the U.S. public is influenced by ‘narratives’. Presented by the “Mad Scientist”, TRADOC G-2 OE Enterprise, July 29, 2020, 1 hour.
Podcast – There’s Time to Turn This Ship Around. Dr. Seth Jones is a guest on SOFspot, a podcast series by the Global SOF Foundation. Jones and the Global SOF Foundation staff chat about Great Power Competition with China, Russia, and Iran. The discussion looks at how the US has taken a more conventional approach to the fight while its adversaries have adapted their strategies to meet the challenges of irregular warfare. July 29, 2020, 42 minutes.
Webcast – PSYWAR: Profiles – Foreign born PSYSOPers. This episode takes an in depth look at naturalized US citizens who joined the US Army and transitioned to Psychological Operations. 8th PSYOP Group, Fort Bragg, NC, July 27, 2020, 53 minutes.
Webcast – Special Forces Vietnam: Mobile Guerrilla Force, Blue Light. Ruben Garcia is a Cuban immigrant who joined the Army in the 1950s and Special Forces in 1961. He did multiple tours in Vietnam, helped stand up the Mobile Guerrilla Force, was station in remote SFOB’s on the Cambodia border, involved in search missions for Nich Rowe, and later served at Mott Lake running Special Operations Training for Special Forces. His story – going from private to major. The Team House, July 31, 2020, 2 hours.
Movie Trailer – Desert One. Arriving in theaters August 21, 2020. A documentary film reveals the story behind one of the most daring rescues in modern US history. A secret mission to free hostages captured during the 1979 Iranian revolution. Greenwich Entertainment, posted July 23, 2020, 3 minutes.
Photo: A mine countermeasures platoon from Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Mobile Unit (EODMU) 11 conducts surf passage training at the Silver Strand Training Complex South in Imperial Beach, Calif.
(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Kara Handley, June 5, 2018)