Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world.
JSOC, Project Maven, and 21st Century Warfare. Richard Shultz and Gen. Richard Clarke provide a detailed account of the transformation of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) during the Iraq War that enabled it to ‘claw the guts out’ of the insurgent organization. Today U.S. special operations forces are using machine learning and artificial intelligence for its targeting process. Clarke is the commander of United States Special Operations Command and Shultz is the director of the International Security Studies Program at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “Big Data at War: Special Operations Forces, Project Maven, and Twenty-First-Century Warfare”, Modern War Institute at West Point, August 25, 2020.
SOCAFRICA SEA Retires. Command Sgt. Maj. Lyle Marsh is retiring after decades of service – 27 spent in the Army Special Forces. “SOCAFRICA senior enlisted leader reflects on 35 years of service”, DVIDS – SOCAFRICA, August 21, 2020.
Rear Adm. Green – Not Retiring. The SEAL commander who got on the wrong side of President Trump over the Eddie Gallagher incident is not retiring after all. He will be assigned as chief of staff, U.S. Special Operations Command, Tampa, Florida. He is currently serving as commander, Naval Special Warfare Command, San Diego, California.
SF Colonel – Not Guilty. Colonel Kevin Russel, an Army Special Forces officer, was acquitted of five sexual assault charges following a court-martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “Army Special Forces colonel found not guilty of sexual assault”, Army Times, August 28, 2020.
GB Accused of Spying – Flight Risk. A Special Forces officer who has been arrested on charges that he had passed intelligence to a foreign nation has been denied bail as he is a flight risk. “Judge refuses to free ex-Green Beret accused of spying for Russia”, Army Times, August 28, 2020.
A Green Beret’s Painful Recovery From Wounds. Ryan Hendrickson served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and while deployed to Afghanistan was injured by an IED. “A Green Beret’s harrowing journey from Lowell to Afghanistan”, The Register-Guard, August 24, 2020.
160th SOAR’s “Newest” Little Bird. Among the many variants of helicopters flown by the Army’s Special Operations Aviation Regiment is the NOTAR variant of the MH-6J. This variant has no tail rotor and is meant to provide the “Night Stalkers” with a quieter and safer helicopter. (The Aviationist, Aug 25, 2020).
10th SFG(A) Dive Team Conducts Maritime Training. A 10th Group dive team hit the west coast for some advanced maritime training during the last week of July 2020. The team worked with Naval Special Warfare Combatant Craft Mediums – an infil and exfil platform for SOF in maritime environments. “Joint maritime operations: Green Berets train in California”, Fort Carson Mountaineer, August 29, 2020.
SF Training in Korea. George Hand (MSG Ret) relates his past ODA training missions to Korea. “Green Berets in Korea: A Firsthand Account of Special Forces Life”, SANDBOXX, August 27, 2020.
NSW Tactical Medical Training. A program has been established that allows SEAL medics to remain fully prepared to care for combat casualties. “Discipline, Innovation, Attention to Detail: Training Combat Medics”, Naval Special Warfare Group One DVIDS, August 28, 2020.
SF Smartphone. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Tactical Edition is only available to the federal government and military. It has a lot of unique features. “Inside a Special Forces Smartphone”, Design Today, August 27, 2020.
SOF and Expeditionary Sea Base Training. Personnel assigned to Special Operations Command – Africa (SOCAF) trained on the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4). The interoperability training took place in the Mediterranean Sea and prepared for upcoming operations throughout the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) area of responsibility (AOR). The training consisted of small boat and aircraft operations. (DVIDS, Aug 28, 2020).
Photo: Sailors on Combat Craft Assault (CCA) conduct small boat operations with the Expeditionary Sea Base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4) in the Mediterranean Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Conner Foy, August 27, 2020).
New Ukrainian SOF Commander. Major General Hryhoriy Halahan has been appointed as commander for the Ukraine Special Operations Force. Ukraine’s Special Operations Force was established in early 2016. It conducts highly-sensitive operations in intelligence, psychological warfare, counterterrorism, and other missions. (Kyiv Post, Aug 26, 2020).
Kenya’s Secret GSU Team. The General Service Unit (GSU) training camp is the home of the Rapid Response Team (RRT) – a unit that is at the heart of efforts by the United States to combat terrorism in Kenya. According to a recent news report the RRT was set up by the Central Intelligence Agency is staffed with around 60 commands. The paramilitary team’s operations are driven by intelligence from the CIA and Kenya’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). “Kenya: Secret GSU Team That Neutralises Terrorists”, AllAfrica.com, August 30, 2020.
Special Warfare Museum Closing
The news that the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) closed the Special Warfare Museum was revealed in the spring of 2020. This prompted an outburst on SF social media, numerous media reports, and an online petition to keep the museum open.
Apparently USASOC got the message that the Special Forces community wanted more than an online ‘virtual presence’ and occasional exhibits. In his address to the recent 2020 Special Operations Association ‘Virtual’ Convention LTG Fran Beaudette addressed the museum controversy. At the 7:00 minute mark he says “We heard your voice loud and clear on the museum. Thanks for keeping us honest.”
USASOC is in the final administrative phases of recording the results of a complete inventory of the collection that supported the former Special Warfare Museum. An ‘external advisory committee’ was formed early this summer to study the issue and provide COAs to the command about the future of the Special Warfare Museum. Let’s hope USASOC does an azimuth check and gets back on course.
Photo: Hospitalman Caleb Newbill takes Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Jordan Belthrop’s temperature at the Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece, Branch Health Clinic. (U.S. Navy photo by Joel Diller, August 20, 2020)
SARS-CoV-2 and the Military
The coronavirus death rate in the U.S. continues to climb; it is approaching 200,000. The United States has surpassed six million coronavirus cases and remains at the top of the global chart. The U.S. accounts for almost a quarter of the 25 million cases globally – with only 4% of the world’s population.
However, the military has adapted and continues (for the most part) its training and operations. Activities and Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan have certainly slowed down – due to COVID-19 but also due to troop withdrawals. All of the services have develop procedures to allow it to continue to conduct operations during this pandemic.
The Air Force has fielded a new isolated containment chamber to safely transport infectious disease patients – including those with novel coronavirus – on board an aircraft. The Army is deploying microbiologists with COVID-19 mobile medical laboratories to assist in specimen testing. The U.S. military could potentially be used in a nation-wide COVID-19 vaccination program. Some U.S. service members are experiencing more lockdowns and are sheltering in place.
USASOC is providing advice on the pandemic as well. It is posting articles to help keep ARSOF Soldiers safe. Find out what the grossest thing that you own and discover some pitfalls of online shopping in a COVID-19 era.
Contract Guards in Iraq Test Positive for COVID-19. About 300 Ugandan guards working for the Triple Canopy PSC in Afghanistan and evacuated from Operating Base Fenty after COVID-19 positive tests in June are now waiting to return home. The guards manned the watchtowers and provided security at entry points at the U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan. The sick guards were moved to Bagram Air Field. (Stars and Stripes, Aug 25, 2020).
Wearing a Mask? There’s lots of misinformation about how effective masks are and when or why you should wear a mask. For all you old people out there the American Association of ‘Old’ People (AARP) has some advice. “7 Myths About Face Masks”, AARP, June 2, 2020.
Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jesse Hoffberger, a Force Reconnaissance Marine with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s (MEU) Maritime Raid Force, conducts a military free fall at Ie Shima Training Facility, Okinawa, Japan, July 30, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ryan Harvey)
The Military and Anti-Intellectualism. James Joyner, a former Army field artillery officer and currently a professor at the Marine Corps University’s Command and Staff College, writes on the value of intellectual pursuits within the military. “Soldier-Scholar (Pick One): Anti-Intellectualism in the American Military”, War on the Rocks, August 25, 2020.
SOF Veterans and Conspiracy Theories. Jack Murpy, formerly of SOFREP and now with Connecting Vets, describes how current and former members of the special operations community fall into the conspiracy theory world. “For some military veterans, QAnon conspiracies offer comfort and belonging”, Connecting Vets, August 28, 2020.
A Ranger on Breaching and Interpersonal Conflict. Brandon Young describes how three principles of explosive breaching relate to interpersonal conflict and how you can use them to improve – or preferably deescalate – your next fight! “Explosives Breaching, Leadership, and Interpersonal Conflict”, Coffee or Die Magazine, August 28, 2020.
Snowden: Trial Yes, Pardon No. George Croner, a former principal litigation counsel in the Office of General Counsel at the National Security Agency, provides his views on Trump’s declaration that he would look at a pardon for Snowden. “Edward Snowden Deserves a Trial, Not a Pardon”, Foreign Policy Research Institute, August 26, 2020.
CTC at West Point. Over the past two decades terrorism has implanted itself into the consciousness of the American people nationwide. It has also reoriented the U.S. military toward counterterrorism across the world – especially the nations SOF forces. The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point was established in 2003 to help to study terrorist groups and their activities. The center teaches terrorism courses to cadets at the military academy, conducts research into terrorism, and publishes their monthly publication – the CTC Sentinel. “Combating Terrorism Center studies terrorism worldwide”, by Brandon O’Connor, USMA at West Point DVIDS, August 28, 2020.
U.S. Marines, IW, and Littoral Operations. With the shift from CT and COIN to great power conflict (GPC) the Marine Corps is refining its doctrine. Along with its shift to maritime operations comes a new doctrinal approach to littoral operations. This is an area where the the GPC and irregular warfare (IW) intersect. The Marines need to be able to respond to both. Walker D. Mills, a Marine Corps infantry officer, tells us more in “Marines and Mercenaries: Beware the Irregular Threat in the Littoral”, Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), August 27, 2020.
Artificial Intelligence (AI). Artificial intelligence is a rapidly growing field of technology with potentially significant implications for national security. AI research is underway in the fields of intelligence collection and analysis, cyber operations, information operations, command and control, and autonomous vehicles. AI has already been incorporated into military operations in Iraq and Syria. China and Russia are leading rivals in the competition for innovative military AI applications. Being in the lead for AI research and development will go a long way to improving the national security of the U.S. Artificial Intelligence and National Security, Congressional Research Service (CRS), August 26, 2020, PDF, 43 pages.
Air Force to Allow Ponytails? The Air Force is reviewing its grooming policies and may be ‘lightening up’ a bit. European military personnel generally have more relaxed standards for grooming. (Editor’s note: I spent six months at Mes-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan with NATO forces. I am in favor!). “Air Force Considers Allowing Ponytails, Other Hairstyles for Women”, Military.com, August 27, 2020.
Photo: Air Force Special Tactics operators conduct a static line parachute jump out of a C-130H Hercules. The Airmen are following a Rigged Alternate Method Boat package into the water during training at Eglin Range, Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Rose Gudex, August 21, 2020).
Great Power Competition
China’s Fishing Fleet and GPC. Lisa McKinnon Munde, a former naval officer and current consultant for NSW Command, describes how the People’s Republic of China’s immense fishing fleet is part of the great power competition. It is an example of how China is very adept at exploiting economic relationships that further its strategic power and influence around the world. As food resources continue to become scarcer China’s ability to exert its economic reach and power becomes even more important. “The Great Fishing Competition”, War on the Rocks, August 17, 2020.
China’s Helicopter Bases – at Sea. The use of civilian ships to support combat could expand the reach of China’s military. But it also blurs targeting rules in wartime. “Chinese Military Experiments With Using Commercial Vessels as Helicopter Bases”, by Steven Stashwick, The Diplomat, August 28, 2020.
Ending the Ukraine Conflict. “President for Life” Putin has shown he has no intention of leaving eastern Ukraine or withdrawing his support for the Russian-backed proto-states of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. He appears to be driven by a Cold War ideology that sees an economically stable and fully independent Ukraine as a threat to Russian interests. With this in mind, Ukraine should employ a strong long range strategic plan for countering the Russian-backed insurgency. A retired Civil Affairs officer provides some recommendations that could end the conflict. “How to End the Endless War: Ukraine, as New Way Forward”, Eunomia Journal, The Civil Affairs Association, August 29, 2020.
Belarus in Turmoil. The last remaining dictator of Europe (ignoring Putin at the moment) is struggling to stay in power. Street protests have taken place in all the major cities of this eastern European nation. Russia is standing by “to help” – like they have in the past in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Read up on the the situation in Belarus: An Overview, Congressional Research Service (CRS), August 24, 2020, PDF, 3 pages.
Gray Zone Competition – A Dangerous Path to War. The DoD’s primary role in great power competition should be to deter war, not engage in daily competition. It’s role in daily competition should be narrowly circumscribed and subservient to diplomacy. Two authors provide their views in “Defining DoD’s Role in Gray Zone Competition”, Center for a New American Security, August 24, 2020.
Gray Zone Competition – U.S. Needs to Engage. The next National Defense Strategy (NDS) needs to do much more than just deter war. Deterring high-end conflict does not produce the desired outcomes that will persuade friends and coerce adversaries. Competition with Russia and China takes place around the world on a daily basis and it isn’t a general conventional war. Melanie W. Sisson, a Non-Resident Senior Fellow with the Stimson Center, explains in “A Strategy for Competition”, Center for a New American Security, August 27, 2020.
Deep Fakes: An Explanation. Social media is swamped with video, audio, and images that have been altered by artificial intelligence technologies and used to promote a political viewpoint (left and right) or conspiracy theory. Learn how Deep Fakes are created, how they are used, and how they can be detected in this pub by the Congressional Research Service. Deep Fakes and National Security, CRS, August 26, 2020, PDF, 3 pages.
COVID-19, China, and INFOWAR. The People’s Republic of China went through great lengths to misrepresent the severity of the virus and suppress information that would have potentially helped the international community. It also is conducting a campaign to project misinformation about COVID-19. “Information Warfare on United States Citizens: How China Weaponized COVID-19”, Over the Horizon Journal, August 28, 2020.
Russian Info War in Syria. The U.S. conducting deconfliction exchanges with the Russians on a daily basis. When they were saying things, they were unhindered by the truth and it was information warfare every day. “In Syria, The Pentagon Got a Real Taste of Russian Information Warfare”, The National Interest, August 29, 2020.
Online Disinformation – Securing the U.S. Steven Bradley, director of the Cognitive Security Intelligence Center (CSIC), writes on how disinformation is disrupting democracies. He says that social media platforms lack the formal coordination and investments in counter-disinformation approaches are scarce. “Securing the United States from Online Disinformation – A Whole-of-Society Approach”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 24, 2020.
Photo: A parachute rigger assigned to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School packs a T-11 Non-Maneuverable Reserve Canopy at Fort Bragg, North Carolina August 6, 2020. Soldiers packed the reserve parachutes as part of required periodic repacks to ensure serviceabilty and reliability. (U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens)
Syrian Kurds – Caught in the Middle. When President Trump decided to withdraw from Syria in October 2019 he worsened the security situation for both the Syrian Kurds and the United States. While the US incurred a massive loss of influence within Syria the Kurds and various Christian groups suffered terrible consequences. The Kurds should be used to the US history of wavering support for the Kurdish region. The November 2020 US presidential election is just a few months away – and the Kurds should wait it out before they fall in on the Russian – Syria camp. “Should the Syrian Kurds gamble their existence on a tenuous US presence?”, Washington Kurdish Institute, August 17, 2020.
Russian – U.S. Confrontation in Syria. Four U.S. service members were injured during a recent ‘incident’ in Syria on Tuesday, August 25, 2020. One U.S. defense official said that Russian vehicles sideswiped a lightly-armored U.S. military vehicle (MRAP ATV) injuring the Americans. The Pentagon issued a statement on the incident. The Trump administration’s decision to retreat from parts of northern Syria in 2019 allowed Russia to fill the void. Since then the Russian troops have been more aggressive. Read more in an article posted by the Foreign Policy Research Institute – August 27, 2020.
Iraq – U.S. Reducing Troops by Election. President Trump’s promise to “bring the troops home” may be partially fulfilled by election day. Plans to cut back on troop levels in Iraq are in the works. “US plans further troop reductions in Iraq by November”, Marine Corps Times, August 30, 2020.
UAE – Military is Stepping Up. For years the United States has encouraged the Gulf States to increase their military capabilities. The United Arab Emirates has done just that. The Gulf nation has also shown it is willing to use its military outside of its borders. Some observers worry about this; but perhaps that concern is misplaced. “Little Sparta” and the Good Problem of Capable Allies”, Lawfare Blog, August 30, 2020.
Photo: A U.S. Air Force Airman assigned to the Combat Team Member Course rappels down during training training at Lake Theodore Roosevelt, Roosevelt, Arizona, Aug. 5, 2020. The training focused on Airmen’s ability to insert and extract from a contested area using different techniques. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob T. Stephens)
Somalia – Military Coordination Cell. An informative article that describes a small organization that serves as the ‘connective tissue’ providing coordination of multiple international efforts to rebuild the Somali National Army (SNA). The U.S. Military Coordination Cell (MCC) works with CJTF-HOA, JSOTF-SOM, OSC, MAG-S, ANISOM, and other entities and organizations to advance the development of the SNA. A good article on the organizational landscape of military activities in Somalia. “Military Coordination Cell Synchronizes International Approach to Security in Somalia”, by Capt. Scott Rye, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, DVIDS, August 27, 2020.
Mozambique – Government is Overwhelmed. A smouldering Islamist insurgency has set the north of the country ablaze. Each year the attacks by jihadists become more frequent. “The conflict in Mozambique is getting worse”, The Economist, August 26, 2020.
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 2, 2020. Virtual
Special Operations Forces and Great Power
2020 Virtual SO/LIC – NDIA
October 3, 2020.
Three Rangers Foundation
October 5-8, 2020. Web-based event.
2020 Civil Affairs Symposium
Civil Affairs Association
Books, Pubs, and Reports
Perspectives on Terrorism. August 2020. An independent online journal of the Terrorism Research Center. Hezbollah, Mexico Narto-Terrorism, book reviews, illicit trade and terrorism, and more.
Australian Journal of Defense and Strategic Studies, Australian Defence Force, Vol. 2 No. 1, June 2020, PDF, 177 pages. Contains a number of interesting articles on reform of the PLA, assumptions about future war in the Indo-Pacific region, professional military education, capacity building, and more. View journal here.
CTC Sentinel. The August 2020 issue of CTC Sentinel by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point is now online. Topics include biological weapons, EU counterterrorism, foreign fighters in Syria, and ISIS in Africa.
Book Review – Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It, by Richard Stengel, 2019. Book is reviewed by Simon Wells and posted in Canadian Military Journal, June 2020.
Videos, Podcasts, and Movies
Film – The Montagnards. A U.S. Army film produced by the Army during the Vietnam War described the fight for the central highlands of South Vietnam and the role the U.S. Army Special Forces played in their support of the Montagnards. (U.S. Army, 27 mins).
Movie Review – The Ottoman Lieutenant. Rick Francona offers his thoughts on a Netflix movie aired in 2017. It takes place in eastern Anatolia (present-day Turkey) in the city of Van. It is a Turkish-American romantic story involving an American doctor, an American nurse, and an Ottoman Army officer. If you are ready to suspend belief and pretend that the Armenian genocide didn’t happen then you may enjoy the movie. Otherwise, Rick says ‘take a pass’. Middle East Perspectives, August 24, 2020.
Podcast – Chasing Ghosts. A Soldier who was a company commander in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province in 2012 describes his units mission and combat operations that his unit conducted. The Spear, Modern War Institute at West Point, August 26, 2020, 1 hour.
Video – What Makes AFSOC Great? A combination of the strength, tenacity, and ingenuity from a team of highly qualified warriors ready to complete the mission makes the Air Force Special Operations Command great. (DVIDS, Aug 21, 2020, 1 min).
Photo: A Green Beret from 7th Special Forces Group. Photo by SPC Schaeper, 7th SFG(A).