Special Operations News Update – Monday, August 17, 2020

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Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. Topics include new ASD SO/LIC, expanded campus for SWCC, a deadly Ranger raid in Afghanistan, “Kill Chain” and contractors in Africa, “operator syndrome”, mini-subs, Somalia’s Danab brigade, Gurkhas, Chindits, troubles in Belarus, US SOF in Africa, and more.

SOF News

New ASD SO/LIC. In less than three years the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations / Low Intensity Conflict or ASD SO/LIC has been filled with five civilian leaders. Ezra Cohen has replaced Chris Miller. Miller is now the director of the National Counterterrorism Center – he had been in the ASD SO/LIC post for just two months. Miller is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer. The nominee for the ASD SO/LIC post is Louis Bremer – the Senate Armed Services Committee has not yet voted on whether to advance his nomination forward. Bremer is a former U.S. Navy SEAL.

New Special Warfare Center Buildings for FBNC. The United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School is expanding its campus. New buildings are going up to house the many academic courses offered by the ARSOF community. “Construction continues on Bragg special Warfare center buildings”, The Fayetteville Observer, August 14, 2020.

A Ranger Raid in Afghanistan – and Friendly Fire. Two Soldiers died, most likely from friendly fire, during a joint Ranger – Ktah Khas raid to capture / kill a leading member of the Islamic State in Khorasan Province. “Inside a fatal Ranger raid that killed an ISIS-K emir in Afghanistan“, Army Times, August 13, 2020.

‘Kill Chain’ in Africa – and Private U.S. Contractors. A revealing article has been published on how U.S. firms are assisting in the counterterrorism fight in Africa. “Private U.S. Contractors Part of the ‘Kill Chain’ in East Africa Anti-Terrorist Operations”, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), August 14, 2020.

“Operator Syndrome” – the Invisible Injury. An Army nurse corps officer and an Army Special Forces officer (Kevin Trujillo) write on how blast traumatic brain injury (bTBI) is taking a devastating and disproportionate toll on service members of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). “Modern Warfare Destroys Brains”, The Belfer Center – Harvard University, July 2020.

Feeling Safe in the Water? Here is a little something for all you SEALs and SF Combat Divers. Robert Shaw in one of his finest moments. “The darkest moment in ‘Jaws’ had nothing to do with *that* shark”, Task & Purpose, August 16, 2020.

Report – USSOCOM’s SO-P Equipment Performance. The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Defense has published a 36-page report entitled Audit of U.S. Special Operations Command Testing and Evaluation, August 12, 2020.

Former SEAL Named ‘Person of Interest’ by Police. After a bomb was thrown at Portland, Oregon protesters on August 8th the Portland Police Bureau is looking to interview a former Navy SEAL. (Task & Purpose, Aug 13, 2020).

Interview of Former SF Soldier and Delta Operator. Norm Hooten is questioned on a variety of topics (Delta missions, Mogadishu, missing the guys, working in the VA, and more) in this interesting article. “What to remember in a firefight and other advice from a legendary Delta Force operator”, Task and Purpose, August 13, 2020.

USSOCOM’s Mini-Subs. The United States Special Operations Command’s miniature wet and dry submersible program is progressing. These include the SDV Mark 11s, Dry Deck Shelters, and DCS Block I and II. “USSOCOM’s Mini-Subs Progress Into the 2020s”, Naval News, August 12, 2020.

AFSOC’s ‘Bomb Dump’. The AC-130W Stinger II Gunship, MQ-9 Reaper, and CV-22 Osprey that operate out of Cannon AFB all have one thing in common. They get their ammo from the ‘bomb dump’ maintained by the 27th Special Operations Maintenance Squadron’s munitions flight. Learn more about the flight’s activities in “Behind the Boom”, DVIDS – 27th SOW PA, August 12, 2020.

International SOF

China’s ‘Sea Dragons’ and their Underwater Weapons. A recent video shows some special underwater weapons used by Chinese combat divers. (War Zone, Aug 10, 2020).

Somalia’s Danab Brigade. In 2014 the Danab (“Lightning”) Brigade was established as a counterterrorism combat force to take on al-Shabaab – an Islamist militant group operating in Somalia. The brigade is mentored and trained by U.S. special operations units as well as trainers from Bancroft Global Development. “The Danab Brigade: Somalia’s Elite, US-Sponsored Special Ops Force”, Pulitzer Center, August 11, 2020.

SOF and WW II History

The Gurkhas in Wartime Burma. It has been 75 years since the Japanese were defeated in the Pacific during World War II. One of the battlegrounds took place in Burma – where the Gurkhas played a big role. “Welcome to the Jungle – Exploits of the Gurkhas in Wartime Burma”, Forces – Net, August 12, 2020.

Chindit Special Forces. A Second World War memorial to a group of soldiers known as the “forgotten army” has been given listed status to mark the 75th anniversary of Victory over Japan Day. The Chindit Special Forces fought in Burma (now known as Myanmar) in 1943 and 1944 and are credited with helping to turn the tide of the war against Japan in the Far East. (Sky News, Aug 13, 2020).

World War II History. The Defense Department has published a short pictorial timeline of the major events of WW II. “Significant Events of World War II”, DoD, August 14, 2020.

COVID-19 and the Military

The number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. continues to climb. Despite that the U.S. military is still conducting operations and training – although certainly with a degradation in efficiency and effectiveness. About one-third of the Department of Defense schools are opening remotely. The Department of Defense is conducting Operation Warp Speed (OWS) to accelerate the testing, supply, development, and distribution of safe and effective vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to counter COVID-19 by January 2021.

UV Lights. An Air National Guard unit is experimenting with the Krypton Light Disinfection system. It is installing 50 ultraviolet lights within its facilities. The UV lights are supposed to safely and effectively kill airborne or surface pathogens in occupied locations. (DoD News, Aug 13, 2020).

Vaccinations and Herd Immunity? There are two methods of reducing the pandemic that are frequently mentioned. Widespread vaccinations and the spread of the coronavirus throughout the general population to develop ‘herd immunity’.

Vaccinations. There are news reports of vaccines being developed that could potentially halt the spread of coronavirus – but that is months away, if not a few years. In an interagency effort the Department of Defense, Center of Disease Control and other U.S. government agencies are moving forward with plans to distribute a vaccine to fight COVID-19. (DoD News, Aug 14, 2020).

Herd Immunity. Most scientists think that 60% to 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated or have natural antibodies to achieve herd immunity. However, letting the virus spread uncontrollably to achieve herd immunity could be very costly. As of August 2020 the coronavirus has infected less than 2% of the U.S. population and it has already killed more than 167,000 people. Some scientists believe that trying to establish herd immunity could kill up to a million people in the United States.

Keeping AFSOC Aircrews Healthy. Members of the 859th Special Operations Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit, provide support to Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) units. Learn how they keep AFSOC aircrews healthy in a COVID-19 environment. “Flight surgeons one step ahead of COVID”, 919th Special Operations Wing, August 12, 2020.

Mobilization Training for CA Unit Adapts to Coronavirus. Soldiers from the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion trained at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin for an upcoming overseas deployment later this year. Training was a bit different due to the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Safety measures were put in place to ensure soldiers remain healthy and ready to deploy. The training has incorporated guidance from DoD and the Center for Disease Control. This includes conducting temperature checks twice a day, wearing masks, socially distancing, and an emphasis on cleaning standards. “Civil Affairs Soldiers Prep for Mobilization at Fort McCoy”, DoD News, August 4, 2020.

National Security

SECDEF’s Days Numbered? President Trump has admitted that he has considered firing Mark Esper. He is now referring to him as “Yesper”. The Secretary of Defense has recently said quite a few things that directly contradict what the president has said. That usually does not end well for political appointees. Most observers think Esper will get fired after the November elections.

Trump Pardon for Snowden? On Saturday, August 15th, the president said he was considering a pardon for Edward Snowden – “I’m gong to take a very good look at it.” Snowden is a former NSA contractor in exile in Russia. He fled the United States after leaking volumes of US intelligence secrets to the press in 2013. The former contractor did tremendous damage to the country’s intelligence efforts and activities. U.S. authorities have attempted to get Snowden back in the U.S. to face a criminal trial on espionage charges. In the past Trump has called Snowden a ‘traitor’ and referred to him as a “spy who should be executed”. (Reuters, Aug 15, 2020).

UAP Task Force Established. The Department of Defense has formed the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF). The U.S. Navy will be leading the new TF. The mission is to detect, analyze, and catalog UAPs that could potentially pose a threat to U.S. national security. (DoD News Release, Aug 14, 2020).

Sue Gordon and the Intel Community. A woman with a 40-year career in the service of her country walked away from her passion when ‘politics’ interfered with her job. “After Quitting Last Year, Senior U.S. Intelligence Official Now Talks”, NPR, August 13, 2020.

Great Power Competition

Major Redesign Needed to Compete with Russia and China. A strong U.S. military is necessary, but insufficient to meet the truly global response to China and Russia that is needed today. Just reorganizing the military alone is not the solution; the U.S. needs to create new interagency and integrated regional commands. Steve Ferenzi and Keith Weber – both serving in the USASOC G-5 – provide their thoughts on this topic in “We Need to Reorganize More than the Military”, Defense One, August 16, 2020.

Belarus and Russia. The long time leader of Belarus has lost a lot of popular support and he is threatened with the prospect of removal. The contested presidential election of August 9th was marked by voter fraud and a crackdown against unarmed demonstrators. Since then there have been numerous protests, demonstrations, and work stoppages disputing the election and demanding the resignation of the president. The leading contender opposing President Lukashenko has fled the country (now in Lithuania) due to threats against her and her family. (VOA, Aug 14, 2020).

Russia has been operating in the shadows to keep Lukashenko in power. That support could become more overt in the near future. The president said that he is concerned about NATO military exercises and has indicated he is moving an air assault brigade to Belarus’ Western border. He has also reached an agreement with the Kremlin for Russian intervention into the political strife affecting Belarus. (Reuters, Aug 14, 2020).

For the West . . . there are “No Easy Answers“. Western governments cannot afford to ignore the events in Belarus. But they must tread carefully in their reactions. (Royal United Services Institute, Aug 14, 2020).

Finland and Russia’s ‘Little Green Men’. A small country that shares a border with a powerful and aggressive neighbor relies on a conscript army for its defense. But it also seeks to engage the Finnish public in any future fight with Russia as well. One way to educate the population on how to conduct a defense of its territory is through an inspirational film. “Finland has a Plan for Russia’s Little Green Men”, by Robin Haggblom, Foreign Policy, August 15, 2020.

Russia’s GRU and “Drovorub”. The U.S. NSA and FBI have exposed a sophisticated Russian hacking tool to break into Linux-based computers. The hacking tool, used by the GRU’s Special Service Center (GTsSS), targets systems used by U.S. defense and intelligence agencies. The GTsSS is associated with the same hackers who broke into the Democratic National Committee’s systems in 2016. “Drovorub” can steal files as well as remote-control computers. (Reuters, Aug 13, 2020).

The Chinese Challenge. The United States and China are competing across economic, diplomatic, military, technological, and ideological spheres. As tensions rise the U.S. needs to understand the nature of the competition and options available to advance and defend U.S. interests. “The China Challenge”, Center for a New American Security, August 12, 2020.

Russian Bounties and HUMINT Challenges. Anthony Ippoliti, a retired CIA Operations Officer, provides perspective to the differing personal, political, and other interests that can influence the intelligence process. “What the Russian bounties story reveals about the limits of human intelligence collection”, Task and Purpose, August 14, 2020.

U.S. / Poland Defense Agreement. On August 15, 2020 the United States and Poland inked the U.S. – Poland Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). This agreement provides the legal framework for the two countries to work together in military operations. (State.gov, Aug 15, 2020).

Information Operations

Confucius Institute – A Foreign Mission of Red China. The State Department has designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China. It is recognized as a global propaganda and malign influence campaign tool of the PRC. (U.S. Department of State, Aug 13, 2020).

U.S. Military Attempts to Counter ‘Fake News’. Russian disinformation efforts are a massive problem in the U.S. The fake news stories that originate in Russia often on highly divisive and partisan topics – make their way into American’s social media feeds on a continuous basis. Topics about political candidates, gun control, race relations, coronavirus, and other hot-button items are exploited by Russian fake news to divide Americans. But the U.S. military is fighting back. “Fake News Is Wreaking Havoc on the Battlefield. Here’s What the Military’s Doing About It”, Military.com, August 16, 2020.

Russia, Election Meddling, and U.S. Intelligence Agencies. The fact that foreign nations have attempted to meddle in the U.S. election process is well established. Russia, and other nations as well, is currently doing more of the same for the 2020 elections. However, getting to the bottom of it all is difficult due to friction between the White House and the intelligence community. Read more in “Unwanted Truths: Inside Trump’s Battles With U.S. Intelligence Agencies”, The New York Times Magazine, August 8, 2020.

VOA Under Siege. One of America’s most important tools in the ‘influence battle’ is Voice of America. The U.S. government news agency has been in existence for 75 years – providing the ‘U.S. version’ of unbiased news and information around the world. But there are fears that the Trump administration is attempting to transform the agency into an ideological mouthpiece to promote Donald Trump in advance of the November presidential election. “Purge of Senior Officials at Foreign Broadcast Agency Stirs Fear and Outrage”, National Public Radio, August 15, 2020. See also “Trump administration steps up efforts to turn broadcasters into propaganda outlets”, The Guardian, August 14, 2020.

Deepfakes – Easy to Make. Computer-generated images and footage of real people are easier to make with new publishing tools. A commonly-available set of tools has emerged that lends itself to the creation of faced images and voice recordings. In a world characterized by rapid, high-volume information consumption on social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) the increasing use of deepfakes is a concerning national security issue. “Deepfakes Are Getting Better, Easier to Make, and Cheaper”, Defense One, August 6, 2020.

Middle East

Paper – Training Better Arab Armies. Micheal Eisenstadt and Kenneth Pollack are the authors of a 19-page (PDF) article that suggests a different way ahead for training Arab partners. They note that U.S. security force assistance missions to Arab partner states have had limited success, due in part to a tendency to impose American doctrine, which embodies American cultural values and norms, on Arab armed forces. The authors believe that US security force assistance missions should train Arab partners to fight in a manner better suited to their own cultural preferences and operational requirements. Parameters, Army War College, Autumn 2020.

A Trump Diplomatic Victory? UAE – Israel Relations Improve. The U.S. has managed to assist the United Arab Emirates and Israel to agree to normalize relations and forge a new relationship. Jon Alterman provides some questions and answers on the new deal brokered by the Trump administration. “The Normalization of UAE-Israel Relations”, Center for Strategic & International Studies, August 14, 2020. In related news, Lebanese President Michel Aoun told French TV on Saturday night that his country may be ready for peace with Israel. (Asia Times, August 16, 2020).

U.S. Support for the KRI Needs Review. Mera Jasm Bakr, an independent researcher, has written an article that suggests the U.S. needs to revamp its strategy of support for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). He believes that channeling military aid to partisan militias has entrenched the duopoly of the KDP and the PUK – and prevents meaningful democratic reforms. (Middle East Institute, August 11, 2020.


Negotiations and the Future. The Afghan government has begun with the release of the final group of Taliban prisoners. This paves the way for intra-Afghan talks to begin. (Radio Free Europe, Aug 14, 2020).

Foreign Fighters and the Taliban. Franz J. Marty, a freelance journalist based in Afghanistan, writes on the Taliban not fulfilling their part of the bargain with the U.S. The Taliban denial of the presence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan raises questions about the implementation of the U.S.-Taliban deal. “The Taliban Say They Have No Foreign Fighters. Is That True?”, The Diplomat, August 10, 2020.

Post-Talks Troop Presence? One of the topics sure to be discussed between the Afghan government and the Taliban is the future presence of Western military forces. It appears that the U.S. troop level will be at about 5,000 by the time the November elections come around. Some national security observers, Michael O’Hanlon for example, believe that 5,000 is the number needed for the next several years to conduct CT missions and continue the training mission of Afghan security forces. (Brookings Institute, Aug 13, 2020). The Taliban are unlikely to support keeping a U.S. counterterrorism force in Afghanistan in the near future. (Stars and Stripes, Aug 12, 2020).


U.S. SOF In Africa. A recent article explores the wide range of activities of special operations forces in Africa. In 2019, US SOF were deployed in over 20 African countries. Since 2017 US SOF have seen combat in some 13 African nations. “Exclusive: Inside the Secret World of US Commandos in Africa”, Pulitzer Center, August 11, 2020.

SOCAFRICA in Burkina Faso. The military of Burkina Faso continues to struggle with an increasing terrorist threat, growing instability, and mounting insecurity. Special Operations Command Africa is trying to help out. The U.S. mission in the country is small – fewer than 100 people. However, training is a continuous and regular activity. In addition, the U.S. provides air support, surveillance, and intelligence to the French who are fighting jihadists in the Sahel region. “In Burkina Faso, US Troops Train Local Soldiers”, Pulitzer Center, August 11, 2020.

Insurgency in Mozambique. The country is experiencing a grave security threat in its Cabo Delgado province. The security situation is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Military action by the government forces (with support from mercenaries) has not quelled the violence by extremists. The insurgency is likely to grow and could possibly spill over into neighboring countries. “Mozambique insurgency requires urgent response from SADC and the AU”, Institute for Security Studies (ISS), August 13, 2020.

Key Mozambique Port Seized. Militants linked to the Islamic State have seized a key port in the northern part of Mozambique. The town is near the site of natural gas projects worth billions of dollars. Government troop abandoned the port city with many troops fleeing by boat. (BBC News, Aug 12, 2020).

LRA – Diminished, but Still Active. The Lord’s Resistance Army has been reduced to a dwindling bunch of fighters hiding out in jungle camps located in Central Africa. But it still continues its attacks on communities – to include abductions of child soldiers. The effort to hunt down the LRA’s leader Joseph Kony by US Special Forces has wound down. “The enduring harm inflicted by the Lord’s Resistance Army”, The New Humanitarian, August 11, 2020.

Upcoming Events

August 29, 2020. Virtual Fundraiser
Deep Dive 2020
Combat Diver Foundation

September 10-11, 2020. Orlando, Florida
2020 Blackbeard Golf Tournament
SSG Matthew Pucino Memorial Foundation

September 20, 2020. Boston, Massachusetts
Boston Frogman Swim
Navy SEAL Foundation

October 3, 2020.
Mogadishu Mile
Three Rangers Foundation

October 5-8, 2020. Web-based event.
2020 Civil Affairs Symposium
Civil Affairs Association

October 13-16, 2020.
AUSA Now – 2020 Annual Meeting & Exposition (Virtual)
Association of the United States Army

Videos, Podcasts, and Movies

Video – Gen McKenzie on Defeating ISIS. The Central Command commander recently took part in a panel discussion sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace on the challenges ISIS poses and the military’s role toward long-term stabilization and the defeat of ISIS. DVIDS, August 12, 2020, 2 hours.

Video – SOCPAC Change of Command Ceremony. The Special Operations Command Pacific held a change of command ceremony on August 14, 2020.


Photo: Two Special Forces Combat Divers prepare to enter the water for an O2 re-breather sub-surface swim. (Photo by Peter Seidler, 3rd Special Forces Group).

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