Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. In this article we catch up with some December 2020 news stories as well as cover news from the beginning of 2021.
Memorial for MG (Ret) Eldon Bargewell. A memorial is planned to honor MG Bargewell in his home town of Hoquiam, Washington. Bargewell earned many honors during his service to the nation – including the Distinguished Service Cross, 6 Bronze Stars (3 with V), and 4 Purple Hearts. He was a recipient of the 2010 Bull Simons Award given by the U.S Special Operations Command. Learn how to donate to the memorial at the Eldon Bargewell Memorial Group.
“The Flyer” – Off-road SOF Vehicle. Developed specifically with special operations forces in mind, the Flyer can operate at high speeds including off-road and in all-weather conditions. A new article on equipment that has been in the SOF inventory for a few years. “Wonder Weapon: Meet the U.S. Special Operations Off-Road ‘Flyer'”, The National Interest, by Peter Suciu, January 3, 2021.
160th SOAR’s SOA-ATT. The Special Operations Aviation – Advanced Tactics Training (SOA-ATT) is a cutting-edge rotary-wing training pipeline for the 160th Special Operations Air Regiment. SOA-ATT prepares the 160th aircrews and staff to operate in contested and denied environments against sophisticated adversaries. Read “Special Ops Aviation Unit Hones Tactics in Desert”, Association of the United States Army, January 5, 2021.
USSOCOM’s CCA’s. A detailed article provides a description of the United States Special Operations Command’s Combat Craft Assault. Very good description and some good photos about the key features of the CCAs. “USSOCOM Combat Craft Assault Photo Reveals Some Key Features”, Naval News, December 28, 2020.
SFCDQC at Key West. Abraham Mahshie fills us in on the latest at the Special Forces Combat Diver Qualification Course. Read “Waging war below the waves: Special Forces combat diver school is in session”, Washington Examiner, December 26, 2020.
Navy SEAL Officer Selection. Stavros Atlamazoglou describes the four different traditional paths to become a Navy SEAL officer. “Navy SEAL Officer Selection: Everything You Need to Know”, SANDBOXX, December 21, 2020.
SF Doctor Recognized. Lt. Col. Larry Wyatt, the director of the U.S. Special Operations Command’s medical clinic, received the Soldier’s Medal for his actions during a recent motorcycle accident where he provided life saving aid to others even though he was severely injured by a motorcycle that struck him. (Task & Purpose, Dec 30, 2020).
23rd STS and Hurricane Relief. Members of the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron responded to humanitarian situations in Central America. The region was suffering from the effects of Hurricanes Eta and Iota. “Special Tactics augments hurricane relief effort in Honduras”, AFSOC, December 17, 2020.
Gryphon Group. Many members of the SOF community have no doubt passed an educational and exciting week attending one of the various courses offered by the Gryphon Group. The private school founded by a former Marine is well-known for its one-week mobile force protection driving course offered in the early 2000s. One of the high-lights was the introduction to tasers and OC. (Editor’s note: yep, got the t-shirt). The training program has expanded dramatically since those early days. The Gryphon Group was recently acquired by Raven Advisory in December 2020.
More SOF News. Eric Tegler informs us about mission of the Air Force Combat Controllers that are attached to U.S. Army Special Forces teams in Forbes article. The 58th Special Operations Wing has received new helicopters for its search and rescue mission. A Navy SEAL will plead guilty to killing a Green Beret in Mali in 2017 and has agreed not to profit from his experience at SEAL Team 6. The new TAG of the West Virginia National Guard is a former Special Forces officer. The former 1st SFG(A) commander recently arrested for domestic abuse has had difficulties in dealing with subordinates in the past – and was investigated by IG for a toxic command climate.
The “Shetland Buss” and Improving Our Maritime Covert Capabilities. The historical example of the “Shetland Bus” could provide ideas for improving our maritime covert capabilities. Article by Christopher Booth. “The Modern Shetland Bus: The Lure of Covert Maritime Vessels for Great-Power Competition”, War on the Rocks, December 29, 2020.
Rwandan SOF in CAR. A special forces unit of the Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) has been operating in the Central African Republic (CAR). Rwanda has a large peacekeeping contingent serving with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in CAR (MINUSCA). However, the SF unit is not part of MINUSCA, but instead is conducting ‘force protection’ operations. Read more in “Inside the Rwandan special forces’ operation in CAR”, The New Times (RW), January 2, 2020.
Ethiopia’s ‘Regional Special Forces’. The northern part of Ethiopia has seen a lot of conflict over the past year. One aspect of the fight is the emergence of ‘special forces’ units on a regional basis. Read more in “Regional Special Forces: threats or safeties?”, The Reporter, January 2, 2021.
Historic Camp Mackall. The Special Forces community is very acquainted with Camp Mackall – a training base for SF located west of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This camp has over 8,000 acres of land with about eight major training sites. Camp Mackall had an important role to play during World War II. In 1943 it was home to three newly formed units of the 11th, 13th, and 17th Airborne divisions. This article explores the WW II history of Camp Mackall as well as its modern day mission of training Special Forces soldiers and units. By Lt. Col. (Ret) Robert P. Curtin, Pine Straw Magazine, (date unknown).
OSS and the Congressional Country Club. The US government leased a golf club from 1943 to 1945 to train OSS commandos, saboteurs, and spies for World War II. “Where Soldiers Trained in the Art of Sabotage During World War II”, Coffee or Die Magazine, January 5, 2021.
James Richardson – RIP. One of the last surviving members of the World War II jungle fighting unit known as Merrill’s Marauders has died at age 99. “James Richardson, soldier in Merrill’s Marauders, dies at 99”, AP News, December 30, 2020.
Embracing Irregular Warfare. IW is important in supporting the whole-of-government efforts to bolter the nation’s influence and legitimacy against external challenges. Kevin Bilms, a career DOD civilian serving as the irregular warfare chief in the office of the ASD SO/LIC, provides his perspective on the importance of IW. “Better understanding irregular warfare in competition”, Military Times, January 1, 2021.
Pentagon Undermining CT Strategy. A retired SF officer and former CIA officer believe that Acting SECDEF Miller should insist on maintaining sufficient capability in hotspots to prevent the resurgence of terrorist threats. Read “Pentagon Moves Undermine Counterterrorism Strategy”, Just Security, January 5, 2021.
Weaponizing PA. Maj. Brian Kerg (USMC) argues that to compete with adversary information operations (IO) and to be able to effectively disseminate the joint force’s narrative we must weaponize public affairs. Read “Disruptive by Design: Weaponize Pubic Affairs”, AFCEA.org, January 1, 2021.
Papers – U.S. Intelligence. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has recently (Dec 30, 2020) published four “In Focus” Defense Primer fact sheets detailing the organization and mission of various U.S. intelligence agencies and organizations. Each is a PDF that is three pages long.
National and Defense Intelligence
Budgeting for National and Defense Intelligence
Intelligence Support to Military Operations
Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security
Russian Cyber Attack. A group of U.S. intelligence agencies formally accused Moscow of being linked to the recently discovered hack of the SolarWinds firm that compromised much of the federal government. The agencies included the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the FBI, then National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Change in Army’s Grooming Regulations? Senior Army leaders are discussing making long-awaited changes to hair and grooming regulations. We will learn more in later this month (Jan 2021). Women may be able to wear ponytails. (Editor’s Note: When stationed at Camp Marmal in Northern Afghanistan in 2014 as a contract Counterinsurgency Advisor I noted the prevalence of pony-tails among the female soldiers of the European nations . . . it didn’t appear to hamper their work performance). See “The Army is Planning a Major Overhaul of its Hair and Grooming Regulations”, Military.com, December 29, 2020.
Great Power Competition
SOF, GPC, and the Future. A short article about special operations and great power competition. “Great Power War: How U.S. Special Operations Forces See the Future”, Defence Aviation Post, December 28, 2020.
CA, SOF, GPC, IW, and Training. Three Civil Affairs officers provide their perspective on the role that Civil Affairs can play in bridging planning gaps and seams between conventional and special operations forces in an Irregular Warfare environment. They specifically take a close look at the training the 83rd CA BN is conducting to fulfill this important role. “Building a Bridge: Cultivating an Irregular Warfare Mindset in the 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion”, Eunomia Journal, The Civil Affairs Association, December 28, 2020.
Espionage in 2020. The past year has seen several high-profile espionage cases hit the headlines. As expected, China and Russia made the top of the list for their exploits in targeting the United States in order to acquire information and technological know-how. These cases include China’s “Thousand Talent Program”, the penetration of the Department of Energy, recruiting of U.S. citizens for spy purposes to include a Special Forces officer spying for Russia, and Russian SolarWinds Orion software exploit. Read more in “The Top 5 U.S. Espionage Cases of 2020“, Clearance Jobs, December 30, 2020.
Sweden and NATO. The Swedish parliament has voted in favor of a ‘NATO option’ which will allow the country to join the alliance in the future. Joining NATO would be a big policy shift for Sweden – ending 200 years of Swedish military neutrality. Russia, of course, plays a big part in the national security environment of Sweden. “Sweden edges closer to NATO membership”, Politico, December 22, 2020.
January 14. The leadership of the 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion and the 16th Military Police Brigade will be conducting a Zoom event on January 14, 2021 where they will discuss CA and MP partnerships in Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO).
January 17. The Tampa Bay Frogman Swim will be hosted by the Navy SEAL Foundation in Tampa, Florida.
Books, Pubs, and Reports
Book Review – Three Wise Men. The book tells the story of the three Wise brothers – a Navy SEAL, a Green Beret, and a Marine. Two of the brothers die in Afghanistan. One was working as a security contractor on a high-profile CIA mission and the other from wounds sustained in an intense firefight. Read the review in “Three brothers: a Navy SEAL, Green Beret and the Marine sole survivor”, Marine Corps Times, January 5, 2021.
Report on IS in the Philippines. A 62-page report helps us to understand the evolving nature of Islamic State-linked activity in the Philippines and its regional implications. Read Rising in the East: the Evolution of the Islamic State in the Philippines, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, December 30, 2020.
Marine Corps Gazette. There are several SOF related articles in this latest issue. These include “Intelligence-Driven Operations”, “A Letter from the MARSOC Commander”, “Green Water SOF”, “Irregular Warfare”, and “SOF and the ARG/MEU”. January 2021, PDF, 108 pages.
Infantry Magazine. The Winter 2020 issue is now available. The 68-page PDF has a number of interesting articles to include “Advising Lethality: What the SFAB Brings to the Fight”.
Transformation Through Training. The December 2020 issue of the magazine of NATO’s Joint Force Training Centre (Bydgoszcz, Poland) is now online.
Podcasts, Videos, and Movies
War Movies – A Review of the Best Five. James Carafano, an expert in national security and foreign policy, takes a look at the war movies made in the aftermath of World War II. Read “Five Unforgettable Forgotten War Movies You Need to Watch”, The Heritage Foundation, January 1, 2021.
Podcast – Artificial Intelligence in Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency. Retired Gen. Stan McChrystal and Dr. Anshu Roy discuss the role that information and intelligence play in CT and COIN. They explore how artificial intelligence can assist in tracking and identifying insurgent and terrorist activity. Irregular Warfare Podcast at Modern War Institute at West Point, January 1, 2021, 51 minutes.
Podcast – Shots from the Field with Col Allison Black. Air Force Colonel Black, a pioneering aviator in Air Force special operations, started out as an enlisted SERE specialist, became an officer and AC-130H navigator, and now is a leader in AFSOC. Listen to her discuss her career, “mission first” philosophy, and more. SOFCast, USSOCOM, December 15, 2020, 1 hr 30 mins.
Podcast – General Joseph Votel – The Basics Matter. Gen. (Ret) Votel, a former commander of USSOCOM and CENTCOM, provides a candid discussion on decision-making, risk management, and leadership. From the Green Notebook, January 3, 2021.
Video – Special Warfare Training Wing Human Performance. Air Force Special Operations Command is hoping to recruit Airmen to enter the elite group of medical professionals that help train USAF special operators. DVIDS, December 30, 2020, 4 mins.
Video – US Army Military Free Fall HALO Training. Filmed in October 2019 but released by DVIDS on December 21, 2020, this 5 mins long video has some nice jump scenes. B-Roll, DVIDS, Yuma Proving Ground, AZ.
Video – MARSOC uses drones in support of training exercise. Watch the launch of a RQ-21 Blackjack drone in support of a Marine Raider exercise held in December 2020 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC. DVIDS, Dec 11, 2020, 1 minute.
Video – Get to Know Your General. Lt. Gen. Slife, Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) commander is interviewed. He answers questions about himself, his personal interests, and offers words of wisdom to the special operations community. DVIDS, 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs, December 30, 2020, 5 mins.
Video – 352 SOW Winter 2020 Baltic Deployment Wrap-up. The 352nd Special Operations Wing deployed to the Baltic region to train with Danish, Swedish, and Estonian special operations forces. DVIDS, 352nd SOW PA, Dec 30, 2020, 3 mins.
Photo: HALO Parachute Jump. DVIDSHUB, 20 Dec 2017.