Special Operations News Update – Monday, August 24, 2020

Saber Junction 20 10th SFG(A)

Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. SFODA’s and MDMP, SEALs – masks and kevlar not needed, SOF weapons upgrade, Russian PMCs in Africa, British masters of IW, Go-Fast narco boats, TALOS, Russia’s GRU, Russian’s INFOWAR, Mali coup, books, videos, and podcasts.

SOF News

SFODA Cdrs – Is There a Training or Cultural Problem? Two Special Forces officers have penned an article that details mission planning deficiencies by Special Forces Operational Detachment “A”s. “Junior Officers Demonstrate Troubling Command Failures”, Association of the United States Army, August 20, 2020.

Proxy Warfare and U.S. SOF. This year’s defense authorization legislation currently includes two alternative paths for U.S special operations forces and U.S. proxy warfare. A lengthy article by Tommy Ross, a ‘career national security professional’, provides a history of proxy warfare by U.S. SOF. Ross also provides details on current legislation that will influence the future of U.S. proxy warfare. “House and Senate Chart Different Courses on US Clandestine Support of Foreign Militias”, Just Security, August 20, 2020.

SOF Armed Overwatch. Bob Wilson, a former Special Forces group commander, says that special operations forces will remain in high demand and will frequently find themselves engaged in low intensity conflicts in austere environments. Armed overwatch could mean the difference between success and failure for these missions. “Armed overwatch: A critical special operations forces requirement”, Military Times, August 23, 2020.

Former SEAL Banned by Delta. Navy veteran Robert O’Neill posted a selfie showing himself, with no mask, on a Delta Connection flight. The former SEAL, who says he killed bin Laden, has been banned by Delta on any future flights. Delta released a statement saying the “Failure to comply with our mask-wearing mandate can result in losing the ability to fly Delta in the future.” All major U.S. airlines require passengers to wear face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Stars and Stripes, Aug 20, 2020).

SEAL Team 6 – Ditching Their Body Armor. In an act of solidarity with self-avowed super SEAL Rob O’Neill, members of the elite SEAL Team 6 said that they would no longer wear body armor. A Naval Special Warfare spokesman said that the Dam Neck, Virginia-based unit believes that kevlar is merely a placebo. (DuffelBlog, Aug 23, 2020).

More News about SEALs. A former Navy intelligence analyst assigned to a SEAL unit in Iraq talks about the misdeeds of the Naval Special Warfare unit. Rapes, illegal bars, heavy drinking, and more. “Former sailor details misconduct by SEALs pulled from Iraq”, by James Laporta and Julie Watson, AP News, August 21, 2020.

Compressed Adventures

10th SFG(A) Wins Best Warrior Competition. Two soldiers from the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) won first place in a virtual Best Warrior Competition hosted by 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne). Events included an APFT, M4 qualification, written essay, military knowledge exam, 12-mile ruck march, and an oral military board. (10th SFGA Facebook, Aug 11, 2020).

TALOS – Still Just Science Fiction? The Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit was intended to build an exoskeleton that could increase the amount capabilities of a Special Forces operator. It has ultimately failed to produce a suit worth using . . . for now. “Why Military Exoskeletons Will Remain Science Fiction”, Forbes.com, August 17, 2020.

SEALs – More Important Than Ever? Kris Osborn, Defense Editor for National Interest, says that major power war does not preclude the need for small unit combat operations. In fact, great power competition may require more of them. “Why America’s Navy SEALs Are More Important Than Ever”, National Interest, August 22, 2020.

ATAC Contract for AFSOC. Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) has been awarded a contract to provide live contract Close Air Support for Air Force special Operations Command’s Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) training. (The Aviationist, Aug 19, 2020).

Stolen Valor Gets Former Soldier Jail Time. A retired service member who wore the SF and Ranger tabs and filed false reports to receive VA benefits is going to spend a year in prison. “Army vet gets year in prison for stolen valor pretending to be Green Beret with PTSD”, American Military News, August 20, 2020.

1st SOW’s Innovation Cell. The 1st Special Operations Wing’s Project 1 Innovation Cell is continuously formulating new solutions to various problems throughout Hurlburt Field and working in tandem with different units and local businesses to reach these goals. “1st SOW takes step to next-gen innovation”, 1st SOW PA DVIDS, August 20, 2020.

7th SFG(A) Ceremony Honors Fallen. On August 21, 2020 members of the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group held a ceremony to honor fallen members of the unit as well as to view the presentation of medals for valor for members of the formation. “Sacrifices of Special Forces Soldiers recognized during ceremony”, 7th SFGA DVIDS, August 21, 2020.

SOF Weapons Upgrade. The U.S. special operations community is continuing its efforts to conduct surgical strikes from the air. “U.S. Special Forces Get an Upgrade to Unique Secret-Shrouded Weapons”, Forbes, August 21, 2020.

23rd SOWS Helps Aviators Fly Safely. The 23rd Special Operations Weather Squadron informs decision makers of environmental and meteorological conditions to allow Air Force Special Operations Command to carry out its missions. “23rd SOWS Weather Flight Forecasts Mission Safety”, 1st SOW PA DVIDS, August 21, 2020.

CV-22 History. Just days before assuming command of the newly-activated 249th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, FL an airman become the first CV-22 Osprey pilot to amass in 3,000 flight hours in the Air Force. (DVIDS, Aug 20, 2020).

International SOF

SOF and ATVs. The use of all terrain vehicles by special operations forces around the world has increased significantly. “Special Operations: Special Vehicles Go Mainstream”, Strategy Page, August 21, 2020.

Russian PMCs in Africa. The West is facing a challenge posed by broader influence wielding by Russia on the African continent. Moscow is increasingly using so-called private military contractors (PMCs) to pursue foreign policy objectives. Past examples in other countries show how Moscow plans and executes the building of its ‘influence’. Russia knows it can’t confront the U.S. directly . . . but its certainly has refined how it executes its below the ‘threshold of conflict competition’ at an expert level. “The Role of Russian Private Military Contractors in Africa”, by Anna Borshchevskaya, Foreign Policy Research Institute, August 21, 2020.

SOF History

British Masters of IW. Christopher D. Booth writes up a little history piece on two influential military leaders who had unique ways of leveraging local forces in war. During World War II two British officers, Orde Wingate and Colin Gubbins, developed inventive applications of irregular warfare in high-intensity conflict against peer competitors. Perhaps there is a lesson for the United States in its competition with ‘great powers’? “When You’re Outnumbered: Lessons From Two British Masters of Irregular Warfare”, War on the Rocks, August 21, 2020.

James Carney – Priest, Guerrilla Fighter, and Marxist. A little history of the conflict in Central America in the early 1980s is revealed in this interesting article about Padre James Francis Carney. Greg Waker – a retired Green Beret, author, speaker, and journalist – writes about an American who fought with Marxist groups in Central America. “The Life and Death of Father James Francis Carney”, LinkedIn Pulse, August 9, 2020.

Wuhan Virus and the Military

Photo: Army Col. John Litchfield, Joint Task Force Bravo commander, unpacks medical supplies with Francisco Mendez, mayor of Lejamaní, a municipality in the department of Comayagua, Honduras, Aug. 11, 2020. The donation was part of four different deliveries to the departments of La Paz and Comayagua that included personal protective equipment and medical supplies provided under U.S. Southern Command’s humanitarian assistance program to aid local health professionals in the fight against COVID-19. Litchfield, a Special Forces officer, assumed command of JTF-B just this summer.

As of Saturday (according to CNN) the COVID-19 death toll in the United States reached 175,000 people. According to a University of Washington model the coronavirus death toll in the United States is projected to reach 258,000 by Election Day.

The U.S. State Department would have us believe that the United States continues to lead the global response to COVID-19. In a ‘fact sheet‘ released on August 21, 2020 it details the assistance provided to foreign nations. In related news the U.S. continues to lead the world in the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19. The U.S. is followed by Brazil, Mexico, and India.

Photo: Airman 1st Class Tessa Campanella, 96th Medical Group, completes a COVID-19 test Aug. 10 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Campanella and the medical group’s diagnostic testing center employees administered more than 330 tests in a two-day span to 7th Special Forces Group Soldiers returning from a deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ilka Cole)

The U.S. military has altered its training and work routine to account for the coronavirus pandemic. It has established teams of ‘contact tracers’ to track down possible close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 patients. (DoD News, Aug 19, 2020). Over 300 Green Berets from the 7th Special Forces Group recently redeployed back to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida after a deployment. Medics performed COVID-19 tests for all of the SF soldiers via a drive-thru testing center during a two-day period. All members of the group who landed by plane were tested. (DVIDS, Aug 19, 2020). And in Italy . . . no dancing allowed for U.S. service members. The DoD has worked hard in improving its digital capabilities to improve the ability of service members to work remotely and to collaborate in meetings without physically attending.

Vaccines and Disinformation. An investigation on how the narrative of an American vaccine trial killing soldiers in Ukraine (which did not actually happen) was laundered from the propaganda site of a pro-Russian militia into the international information ecosystem. The completely fictional story was quickly picked up by Russian-language media and found its way into the conspiracy theory and anti-vaccination social media platforms in the United States. It is worth noting that the US-Ukraine vaccine disinformation article was launched the day after Russia announced plans to mass-produce its own vaccine in a matter of weeks. “Covid-19 disinformation campaigns shift focus to vaccines”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, August 24, 2020.

National Security

Go-Fast Narco Boats. H.I. Sutton, a columnist who covers the world of underwater warfare, writes about three types of Go-Fast narco boats that the U.S. Coast Guard faces. (Forbes.com, Aug 21, 2020).

SEALs and QAnon. Some well-trained military veterans are being recruited into the QAnon conspiracy. At least according to journalist Alex Henderson. The article is a little light in facts. (Salon.com, Aug 19, 2020). Some former SEALs are promoting conspiracy theories on their social media accounts. “What Happens When Ex-Navy SEALs Go Full QAnon?”, Daily Beast, August 19, 2020.

Paper – QAnon Conspiracy. The QAnon conspiracy, which emerged in 2017, has quickly risen to prominence in the United States. QAnon represents a public security threat with the potential in the future to become a more impactful domestic terror threat. Conspiracy theories have a track record of propelling terrorist violence in the West. QAnon’s recent influence on mainstream political discourse is becoming more worrying. “The QAnon Conspiracy Theory: A Security Threat in the Making?”, CTC Sentinel, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, July 2020, PDF, 46 pages.

Crum's Sauce

Great Power Competition

Troubles in Belarus. The president of this East European country is under siege. Russia is assisting the dictator by overt and covert means. NATO is anxiously watching the situation. The president of Belarus says that NATO forces are on his border. “NATO Rejects Belarus Talk of Border Threat”, BBC News, August 22, 2020.

Russia’s GRU – Sloppy Spy Work? Russia’s largest foreign security service keeps popping up in the news due to its foreign capers being discovered. Poisonings of Russian expatriates, paying the Taliban to kill U.S. service members, and more. The latest was the (seemingly a good operation as it lasted so long) recruitment and running of a former U.S. Army Special Forces officer with a TS/SCI clearance as a Russian spy. Read more about the GRU in “This is the Russian Spy Unit That Keeps Getting Caught in the Act”, We are the Mighty, August 22, 2020.

Information Operations

Russia’s Social Media War. Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential elections. It targeted the Clinton campaign and aroused divisiveness within U.S. society. It is doing the same for the 2020 presidential elections with an updated playbook. “The Kremlin’s Plot Against Democracy”, by Alina Polyakova, Foreign Affairs, Sep / Oct 2020.

Russia’s INFOWAR and Civil Affairs. MAJ Matthew Radman, a Civil Affairs officer, writes on about the challenge defeating Russian information operations campaigns. He believes that the Civil Affairs Regiment is ideally suited to contribute to the fight against INFOWAR challenges. “Organized Chaos: Societal Resilience in the face of Russian Information Warfare”, Eunomia Journal, The Civil Affairs Association, August 1, 2020.

Russia and Estonia: A Case of Hybrid Conflict. In 2007 Russia employed diplomacy, social and traditional media, economic pressure, cyber-attacks, and other means for create a crisis in Estonia. This 55-page report is useful for anyone interested in Russia’s modus operandi for influencing events abroad. The Bronze Soldier Crisis of 2007: Revisiting an Early Case of Hybrid Conflict, International Centre for Defence and Security, August 21, 2020.

Report – Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election, Volume 5: Counterintelligence Threats and Vulnerabilities, Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S. Senate, 2020, PDF, 966 pages. This report finds that the Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multi-faceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/sites/default/files/documents/report_volume5.pdf

The Psychology of Fake News. The more you hear something the more you are likely to believe it. What makes fake news feel true when it isn’t? For on thing, hearing it over and over again. (Nieman Lab, Aug 21, 2020).

Rise of Deepfakes. Machine learning provides artists, pranksters, and others the ability to generate highly realistic fake images and videos known as “deepfakes.” This has spawned a huge collection of audio and video depicting high-profile leaders, such as Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and others, saying things they never did. The rise of deepfakes could enhance the effectiveness of disinformation efforts by states, political parties, and adversarial actors. A new report offers a comprehensive deepfake threat assessment grounded in the latest machine learning research on generative models. Deepfakes: A Grounded Threat Assessment, Center for Security and Emerging Technology, July 2020, PDF, 50 pages.

Disinformation – a Wicked Problem. Molly Montgomery provides a detailed report about disinformation found online and ways to combat it. She also provides some recommendations for the future. She proposes that an approach that increases collaboration with governments, social media platforms, and civil society can balance the benefits of a free and open internet with the need to protect citizens and democratic institutions. Disinformation as a wicked problem: Why we need co-regulatory frameworks, Brookings Institution, August 2020, PDF, 14 pages.

IC and Countering Malign Foreign Influence. Gavin Wilde, a former member of the National Security Council, writes on the intelligence community’s role in monitoring and countering the threats in the social media space. “The Intelligence Community’s Role in Countering Malign Foreign Influence on Social Media”, Lawfare Blog, August 21, 2020.

Middle East

Camp Taji Transfer. Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) leaders transferred $347 million of property and equipment to Iraqi Security Forces. Apparently the Iraqi Security Forces are enjoying good success against ISIS and the U.S. feels comfortable in handing over military bases. This is the eighth base to be transferred to Iraqi forces in 2020. Looks like we are leaving soon! The U.S. is downsizing its force in Iraq – current troop levels are at 5,200 for the CT and advisory missions.

“We were there, and now we’re getting out. We’ll be leaving shortly. We have been taking our troops out of Iraq fairly rapidly, and we look forward to the day when we don’t have to be there.”

President Donald Trump during a meeting with Iraq’s new prime minister, Aug 20th.

Syria – SDF Losing Support? Major tribal leaders in eastern Syria may break away from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This would jeopardize the anti-ISIS mission by fracturing the US partner force in Syria. “Anti-ISIS Coalition Begins Losing Tribal Support in Syria”, Institute for the Study of War, August 20, 2020.

Africa

Mali Coup Ldr Trained by U.S. SOF. The military officer who declared himself in charge of Mali after leading a coup that ousted the president this week received training from the United States. The colonel worked for years with U.S. special operations forces focused on fighting extremism in West Africa. He headed Mali’s special forces unit in the country’s restive central region where fighters linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS have established a stronghold. “Mali coup leader was trained by U.S. military, officers say”, The Washington Post, August 21, 2020.

Some interesting reading on U.S. special operations forces interactions with the Mali military can be found in this paper posted on the website of the Naval Postgraduate School. Enduring engagement yes, episodic engagement no: lessons for SOF in Mali, thesis by Simon J. Powelson, 2013, PDF, 93 pages.
https://calhoun.nps.edu/handle/10945/38996

US Drone Strikes in Somalia. The United States hit a high-ranking al-Shabab bomb-maker in a recent airstrike. The strike took place as a group was preparing to attack a Somalia government force position. (Voice of America, Aug 21, 2020).

Iran Involvement in Benghazi Attacks? Kenneth Timmerman believes that US intelligence agencies are sitting on a treasure trove of documents that detail Iran’s direct and material involvement in the September 11, 2012 attacks that cost the lives of four Americans. “Why won’t the US government admit Iran funded the Benghazi attacks?”, New York Post, August 22, 2020.

Upcoming Events

August 24, 2020. Panel Discussion
Is There An Identity Crisis Within U.S. Special Operations?
Defense Innovation Network

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

September 9, 2020.
How to Build Civilian Resilience
Civil Affairs Association

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

Books about Special Forces Training

Books, Pubs, and Reports

Book – A Question of Time. James Stejskal, the author of Special Forces Berlin and a former Green Beret who served with Det A, has a new book coming out in October 2020. The scene is the Cold War in Berlin in 1979. Could be a good read.

Need Some Late Summer Reading? Take a look at the DIA Bookshelf and Listening Library 2020. 189 books are listed with a brief summary in this 68-page PDF. Categories include Global Analysis, History, and Leadership and Professional Development.
https://www.dia.mil/Portals/27/DR%20Reading%20List/DR_ReadingList_2020.pdf

Parmeters. The Autumn 2020 issue is now posted online. Army War College Press, August 2020, PDF, 166 pages.
https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/3733.pdf

Infantry. The Summer 2020 issue is now online. Nothing really SOF related but some decent reading material among the articles. Fort Benning, GA, August 2020.
https://www.benning.army.mil/Infantry/Magazine/issues/2020/Summer/

Videos, Podcasts, and Movies

Video – Brent Cooper, Executive Director of the Green Beret Foundation. Spotlight, August 19, 2020. A former Green Beret is now working for the Green Beret Foundation’s mission. (2 mins).
https://vimeo.com/449301796

Movie Trailer – Desert One. The movie about the aborted embassy hostage rescue in Iran is out. It reveals the true story behind a secret mission to free hostages captured during the 1979 Iranian revolution.
https://www.desertonemovie.com/

Video – Nomination Hearing for Bremer as ASD SO/LIC. United States Senate Committee on Armed Services held a hearing for the nomination of Louis Bremer as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations / Low Intensity Conflict on August 6, 2020. The video begins at the 18:00 minute mark; Bremer’s opening statement is at the 39:25 minute mark.
Video – Bremer nomination hearing
Testimony Opening Statement – Transcript, PDF, 2 pages
Advance Policy Questions and Answers – Transcript, 33 pages

Video – 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Combat Divers. A short video about Special Forces Combat Divers. 10th SFG(A) Facebook, August 8, 2020, 2 minutes.
https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=327132448671026

Video – SOCPAC Change of Command Ceremony. The Special Operations Command Pacific held a change of command ceremony in Hawaii on August 14, 2020. (Aug 14, 2020, DVIDS, 1 hour).
https://www.dvidshub.net/video/763513/socpac-change-command-ceremony

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Photo: Green Berets from 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) coordinate the location for a downed pilot mission at Exercise Saber Junction 20. SJ 20 is a multinational exercise comprising over 6,000 conventional troops and more than 140 SOF soldiers from Moldova, Albania, and the USA. Photo by SOCEUR.


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