Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world.
John Mulholland on SOCOM as a Service. LTG (Ret) Mulholland has some thoughts to share on whether U.S. Special Operations Command should be a separate service. There are many in the SOF community that would like to see this happen. “Retying the Gordian Knot: US Special Operations Command as a service”, Military Times, March 7, 2021.
“To force USSOCOM into an unwanted, unnecessary service structure would fix nothing and break, perhaps, everything. The greatest loss would be both to the great formations that constitute USSOCOM, and to unquestioned reduced capability on behalf of our country.”
CSM Banfield to SOJTF-A. DoD has announced that Army Sgt. Maj. Garric M. Banfield, currently assigned as the Civil Affairs Proponent sergeant major, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has been selected to replace Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Teagle as the command senior enlisted leader for Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan.
‘Allostatic Load’ and Operator Syndrome. A study has revealed a list of psychophysiological symptoms and side-effects that come from a career of working within SOF units. “Operator Syndrome: Managing High Allostatic Load“, Military.com, March 2021.
SOF Operators – Mass Exodus? The 9/11 patriots that joined the services and entered the special operations career field shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 are hitting the twenty-year mark. Many may opt for retirement. Read “Special Operations Will See a Massive Exodus in the Next Year”, SOFREP, March 5, 2021.
Retooling Spec Ops? Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego is aiming to use more military spies. He also wants to root out extremists in the ranks. The chairman of the new House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations thinks that Green Berets, Navy SEALs, and other special operations units need to be withdrawn from some regions and assignments and be more focused on China. Read “Intel Panel Chair” Retool Spec Ops for China War”, Washington Monthly, March 2, 2021.
Green Beret Now in Japanese Custody. Former Green Beret Mike Taylor and his son were handed over to Japanese custody on Monday, March 1, 2021. They were extradited to Japan for aiding former Nissan Motor Company Chairman Carlos Ghosn escape from the country in December 2019. Ghosn was awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges. “2 Americans wanted in Ghosn’s escape in Japanese custody”, AP, March 1, 2021.
SF Helps Clean Up Key West Waters. Green Berets from the U.S. Army’s Special Forces Underwater Operations School took part in a community effort to clean up the waters off Key West, Florida. (Keys Weekly, Mar 6, 2021).
CSM Joplin – RIP. A long time member of the Special Forces community has passed away. He had the distinction of participating in both the Son Tay POW rescue operation in 1970 ant the attempt to rescue American hostages in the Tehran embassy in 1980. Read about him in “CSM Jack Joplin, Celebrated Delta Force Warrior, Dies at 82”, SANDBOXX, March 2, 2021.
SF and Parachuting with Backpack Nukes. During the Cold War selected Special Forces teams trained to parachute in behind enemy lines with small nuclear devices called Special Atomic Demolition Munitions (SADM). The low-yield weapon would be used against strategic targets in the event of war with the Warsaw Pact nations. Read “How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War”, Business Insider, March 1, 2021.
The Yarborough Mile. The Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk holds an event that recognizes the contributions that Lt. Gen. William Yarborough made to the Airborne and Special Forces communities. He is recognized as the “Father of the modern Green Berets”. The Yarborough Mile is an arduous course that stretches through terrain with thick brush, waist-deep streams, concertina wire, and deep mud. The event participants must use teamwork and critical thinking to complete the course. “Yarborough Mile strengthens Operations Group Soldiers”, DVIDS, February 26, 2021.
CA and Cultural Heritage. U.S. Army Reserve and Guard Soldiers from more than 10 commands recently participated in a virtual cultural and heritage training event. The focus was on the impact of the conservation of cultures while conducting civil affairs missions around the globe. Read “Civil Affairs and the Smithsonian team up to strengthen Cultural and Heritage Knowledge”, DVIDS, 251st Civil Affairs Command, February 20, 2021.
CA and Follow the Money. A recent training event for members of the Civil Affairs community centered on the subject of money laundering and corrupt government officials. Civil Affairs teams should understand the motivation and methodology behind the crime so they can identify the signs of corruption and then identify ways to curtail it. Read “USACAPOC(A) leverages real world experience for Civil Affairs money laundering training”, DVIDS, USACAPOC(A), March 1, 2021.
AF Special Reconnaissance Training. The 352nd Special Warfare Training Squadron has implemented a Special Reconnaissance (SR) Apprentice Course for Airmen training to enter the SR career field at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina. “New training course prepares Special Reconnaissance Airmen for combat”, Special Warfare Training Wing, February 26, 2021.
Drones – Manpower Intensive. U.S. Special Operations Command is looking at establishing its armed overwatch program. Some consideration is being given to the use of drones for this program. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have several advantages over manned aircraft – duration of flight, no need for CSAR if shot down, and more. However, the drones have special needs. “U.S. General Says Unmanned Aircraft Need Too Many People”, Forbes.com, March 5, 2021.
How MARSOC Began. Stavros Atlamazoglou details how the Marine Corps begrudgingly created the Marine Corps Special Operations Command Detachment One in late 2002 and later MARSOC in 2006. Read “The messy way the Marines jointed US Special Operations Command”, Business Insider, March 4, 2021.
Marine Raiders and 1/8 Train Together. Elements of the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion and members of 1st Battalion, 8th Marines recently participated in a three-day close-quarters battle training evolution in January 2021 at Camp Lejeune, N.C. This training allowed for collaboration between Marine Forces Special Operations Command and Fleet Marine Forces that helps improve institutional and operational cooperation among the conventional Fleet Marine Force and Special Operations Forces. (MARSOC DVIDS, 28 Jan 2021).
Reconnaissance Sniper Course. The Marine Corps has established (Jan 2021) a new sniper course. Reconnaissance Marines were attending the 11-week Scout Sniper Basic Course (SSBC). Camp Pendleton’s Reconnaissance Training Company (RTC) has developed the 9-week Reconnaissance Sniper Course (RSC) to train Reconnaissance Marines in the art of sniping. This will allow Recon to train up their own snipers internally. It also reduces some redundant training that Marine Recon personnel were receiving in SSBC. Read “With Storied Sniper School’s Future in Question, Marines Launch New Recon Sniper Course”, by Ethan E. Rocke, Coffee or Die Magazine, March 4, 2021.
Royal Marines in the Arctic. The commandos are swimming in temperatures of -30 degrees C amid challenging sea states. “Royal Marines Undergo Reconnaissance Exercises in Arctic Circle”, Forces.net, March 2, 2021.
Afghan Elite Forces – Overworked. Reduced U.S. military support to the special operations forces of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) has diminished the capability of the Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF) to roll back militant advances. Decreased U.S. airstrikes and a shortage of advanced technology have slowed the ASSF ground operations. (The Washington Post, Mar 7, 2021) (Subscription may be required).
Royal Marines Picking up Commando Missions in Pacific. An expansion of roles in commando missions – such as sabotage and deep reconnaissance – is giving the Royal Marines a bit of ‘special operations’ experience. (American Defense News, Mar 1, 2021).
NZ’s SAS. The New Zealand’s Special Air Service (NZSAS) units are closely modeled on Britain’s SAS. A recent article explores how one becomes a member of the NZSAS, who can join, how many personnel are in the NZSAS, and more. “The Badass Series: Part Three – New Zealand’s SAS”, Forces.net, March 5, 2021.
Photo: Members of the Turkmenistan Special Forces receive instruction from Indian Special Forces instructors in free fall. photo by Ministry of Defense, March 4, 2021.
Turkmenistan SF Free Fall Training. The Indian Special Forces (SF) are hosting Special Forces members from Turkmenistan at the Special Forces Training School (SFTS) of the Indian Army. They are currently receiving training in free fall but will soon be attending other customized professional courses that will assist in capability enhancement of Turkmenistan Special Forces. ( Indian Ministry of Defence, Mar 4, 2021).
Founder of Egypt’s SF Dies. Egyptian Major General Ahmed Rajai Attia died at age 83. He is considered to be the founder of the Egyptian Special Forces 777th Division. (Egypt Today, Mar 5, 2021).
US SF in Serbia. A Special Forces team, based out of Stuttgart, will be in Serbia for one month, training alongside elite Serbian counterterrorism units. Maj. Gen. David Tabor, head of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, recently visited Serbia and provides comments on his trip in this article. “US Special Forces train in Serbia, where China and Russia have strengthened military ties”, Stars and Stripes, March 5, 2021.
WWII Norwegian Commandos. 80 years ago, in March 1941, a British Special Operations Executive (SOE) group known as Norwegian Independent Company 1 was formed to conduct commando raids during the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany. (SOF News, Nov 2016).
SAS Originals – Daring to Win. Gordon Stevens describes the Special Air Service’s first mission in the western desert of North Africa in World War II. Their task was to parachute behind German lines and destroy enemy aircraft on airfields. Of the 65 that jump in, only 21 make it to the rendezvous point where the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) took them back to friendly lines. “The Special Air Service (SAS) Originals”, Defense Media Network, February 4, 2021.
Interview – Surveillance Missions on the ‘The Trail”. Jim Bolen, a former Special Forces operative, went into Laos and Cambodia on dangerous and top secret ‘SOG’ missions during the Vietnam War. He was extracted under fire from over 30 of those missions. Jim is interviewed about his missions. “Surveillance Missions to the Ho Chi Minh Trail During the Vietnam War”, History of MACV-SOG, February 27, 2021.
Gary Rose – SF Medic, Vietnam War Vet, and MoH Recipient. Retired Army Captain Rose describes the four-day Special Forces mission into Laos for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. The details of the mission was secret for over 28 years but was finally declassified by the Pentagon. (The Andalusia Star-News, Mar 5, 2021).
CA in Northern Iraq – 1991 to 1992. Shortly after the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm in the early 1991 Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq and Kurds in northern Iraq revolted. Their intent was to unseat Saddam Hussein – the ruler of Iraq – from power. Both attempts failed. A humanitarian crisis developed in northern Iraq and soon American troops were once again deployed to the region. The Civil Affairs community played an important role in assisting in the humanitarian effort. Colonel (ret.) Patrick Carlton describes this in “Operation PROVIDE COMFORT: Civil Affairs Operations in Northern Iraq, 1991-1992”, Eunomia Journal, Civil Affairs Association, March 6, 2021.
An OSS and UDT-10 Member – Hank Weldon. The Office of Strategic Services had a maritime division that recruited men from the Coast Guard, Army, Navy, and Marines. Hank Weldon was recruited by the OSS because he was a strong swimmer in college. Read more in “One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century“, We Are The Mighty, March 5, 2021.
Great Power Competition
Biden, Russia, and Kennan’s ‘Long Telegram’. The new administration is busy retooling America’s foreign policy. One of the more important issues to consider is the US relationship with Russia. Read more in “History Offers Biden a Way Forward on Russia”. The Dispatch, February 23, 2021.
More US Support for Ukraine. A $125 million aid package is heading to Ukraine and Moscow is being punished with sanctions. The Biden administration is signaling a hard line against Moscow’s malign activities. Nolan Peterson, author and former US Air Force special operations pilot, provides info on these two topics. He is close to the action as he is a resident of Ukraine. “Double-Whammy for Moscow: US Delivers Sanctions for Navalny and More Military Aid for Ukraine”, Coffee of Die Magazine, March 2, 2021.
Russia, Georgia, and Hybrid Warfare. Russia astutely uses a mixture of its national powers to achieve its strategic interests and political goals. In the case of Georgia – Russia employs a variety of economic measures, diplomatic pressure, information operations, and cyber attacks. Read more in “Russia’s Permanent War against Georgia”, by Giorgi Shaishmelashvili, Foreign Policy Research Institute, March 2, 2021.
China – Deterring its Gray Zone Activities. Clint Mallory, an Air Force officer, explains how our over-whelming conventional military superiority has actually hurt our ability to influence China. He contends that we need to leverage our military capabilities to fight the war that Beijing is waging now – not just the one that we are planning for in the future. Read more on this topic in “The Deterrence Trap: The cost of the US military’s overwhelming conventional superiority”, Small Wars Journal, March 3, 2021.
Interim National Security Strategic Guidance. The Biden administration released its Interim National Security Strategic Guidance on March 3, 2021. The 24-page document describes “. . . President Biden’s vision for how America will engage with the world, and to provide guidance for departments and agencies to align their actions as the Administration begins work on a National Security Strategy.” One aspect of the new guidance is interesting:
“We will maintain the proficiency of special operations forces to focus on crisis response and priority counterterrorism and unconventional warfare missions. And we will develop capabilities to better compete and deter gray zone actions.”P. 14, Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, March 3, 2021
America’s Proxies. For the past several decades the United States has employed proxy forces, groups, or nations to fight its battles and advance its national interests. In a long essay Milton Bearden provides some insight into the outsourcing of American warfare. From the Montagnards and Nungs of Vietnam to the Mujahedin of Afghanistan, U.S. Army Special Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency have relied on proxy partners to accomplish its strategic goals. Read more in “America’s Foreign Legions: How We Treat Our Proxies Defines Us”, The National Interest, March 5, 2021.
Our friends at “Coffee Bitz” recognize that effective national security depends on copious amounts of coffee consumed by harried officers and NCOs in the dark, dusky basement of the Pentagon and the men and women sheltering from the rain and cold under poncho tents in the field. So they are informing us on how to make the perfect cup of coffee!
Report on Military Dynamics of MENA Region. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) has penned a report entitled The Changing Military Dynamics of the MENA Region. Dated March 2, 2021, the PDF is 53 pages long.
Army IO and It’s Identity Crisis. Two US Army Information Operations (IO) officers have penned an article that says Joint Force and Army IO doctrine and terminology needs to be standardized. Read their article in “The Army’s Information Operations Profession Has an Identity Crisis”, Proceedings, U.S. Naval Institute, March 2021.
Army’s 1st IO Command Reassigned. Effective October 2021 the 1st Information Operations Command will be reassigned from the US Army Intelligence and Security Command (USAINSCOM) to the US Army Cyber Command (USARCYBER). See General Orders NO. 2021-04, HQs Dept of Army, 3 Feb 2021.
China and IO. The information war against the United States by China is in full swing. In 2003, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) adopted a strategic framework known as the “Three Warfares” – psychological, media, and legal. Major Martin Morgan, an Army psychological operations officer, provides the details. “China’s Three Information Warfares”, Proceedings, March 2021.
GPC and Africa. Under the Trump administration the US began a pivot away from the African continent. It withdrew troops and resources as part of a broader national security shift from counterterrorism to great-power competition. This disengagement was based on a faulty assumption that counterterrorism and long-standing U.S. priorities will diminish as competition between China, Russia, and others intensifies. Read the thoughts of Marcus Hicks, Kyle Atwell, and Dan Collini on this topic in “Great-Power Competition Is Coming to Africa”, Foreign Affairs, March 4, 2021. (may need subscription).
Airstrikes and AFRICOM – “May I?” The Biden administration is taking a hard look at many of the past national security policies and practices of the past four years and quickly making changes. One of these changes affects the ability of military commands – Africa Command is one – to conduct drone strikes against terrorists and jihadi groups. Read more in “AFRICOM needs White House approval for airstrikes, report says”, Stars and Stripes, March 4, 2021.
Former Navy SEAL and Project Opus. Erik Prince, the founder of the firm Blackwater has been tied to an effort to provide helicopters, weapons, and other equipment to a warlord in Libya. Khalifa Hifter, a U.S. citizen and former CIA asset, is attempting to defeat Libya’s U.N.-recognized and U.S.-backed government. The failed attempt is in violation of a U.N. arms embargo for Libya. (The Intercept, Feb 26, 2021).
Opportunities in North West Africa. A soldier assigned to the 91st Civil Affairs Battalion (SO) (A) provides his perspective on the best way to conduct Civil Affairs operations across North West Africa (NWA). He shares some recommendations on how to mitigate the root causes of insurgency in NWA. “Windows of Opportunity for a Stable and Free North West Africa”, Eunomia Journal, Civil Affairs Association, March 1, 2021.
Longest Serving Cdr of Afghan War. General Scott Miller now owns the distinction of being the longest-serving commander of forces in Afghanistan. The former JSOC and CFSOCC-A commander has served over 900 days in Afghanistan as the commander of the coalition. He is the 17th commander overseeing the U.S. and NATO mission. He has also served in previous tours in Afghanistan. (Stars and Stripes, Mar 5, 2021).
Video – The Future of the U.S. Afghanistan Strategy. The Center for New American Security (CNAS) hosted a discussion on the challenges that Afghanistan presents. On the panel are General Joe Dunford (Ret), Ambassador James Cunningham (former Ambassador to Afghanistan), Lisa Curtis (director of the CNAS Indo-Pacific Security Program). A brief overview of the Afghan Study Group Final Report is presented as well.
Law of Unintended Consequences. Commentator Rick Francona finds a gem in the midst of a recently aired episode of the CBS television series SEAL Team. Bravo Team is operating in a village in Afghanistan. Overwatch for the opn is provided by an overhead drone but it gets shot down by a surface-to-air missile. When the SEALs realize the loss of situational awareness one of them remarks “Thank you, Charlie Wilson”. Rick explains the remark that many in the viewing audience may not understand. Middle East Perspectives, March 6, 2021.
March 15-16, 2021 – Virtual
Exploring SOF Identity
Joint Special Operations University (JSOU)
March 16-17, 2021. Tampa, Florida
2021 Global SOF Symposium
Global SOF Foundation
March 17-21, 2021. Virtual
Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC)
NDIA and USSOCOM
March 25, 2021. Online Event
Conversation with Author Erika Robuck
The Invisible Woman (OSS’s Virginia Hall)
April 14, 2021. Web-based event
“Civil Affairs: A Force for Influence in Competition”
Civil Affairs Association
Books, Pubs, and Reports
Air Commando Journal. The February 2021 issue (Vol 9. Issue 3) is now available online (PDF, 52 pages). Topics cover air advising in WWII, book reviews, airpower heritage, and much more.
Perspectives on Terrorism. The February 2021 issue is online. Articles on Taliban suicide bombings, counterterrorism in the Philippines, books on terrorism, and more.
Conference on Russia Papers. The Russia Conference Papers 2021 is an annual publication by the Baltic Defence College. The purpose of the conference (and the publication) is to focus on and study Russia, from within and without, especially concerning the Baltic, European, and transatlantic perspectives. A good read if you follow the news about Russia. 190 pages, PDF, March 4, 2021.
Armor. The Mounted Maneuver Journal Winter 2021 issue is now online. It has 78-pages (PDF) of on a variety of topics such as leadership, Stryker Cavalry troop, and . . . well, . . . tank stuff.
Podcasts, Videos, and Movies
Movie – Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. A movie is coming soon about World War II and Britain’s decision to conduct unconventional warfare to combat the Germans. The movie is based on the book Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: How Churchill’s Secret Warriors Set Europe Ablaze and Gave Birth to Modern Black Ops. Read about the book Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Learn more about the upcoming movie. (Deadline, Feb 22, 2021).
TV Show – The United States of Al. “For the last several months, No One Left Behind, Special Forces Association, and Special Operations Association of America have been working together to push the US Government to improve and streamline its Special Immigrant Visa Program for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who rendered invaluable service to the United States. The Biden Administration has ordered a review of and embraced our recommended changes to the program. Now CBS is launching a terrific show, “United States of Al”, that comedically captures the incredible relationships formed between US service members and their interpreters.” (Quote via Doug Livermore, SF Officer, Mar 4, 2021).
The new TV show is a hilarious look at the life of a Marine combat veteran struggling to readjust to civilian life and Al – an Afghan interpreter – who served with the Marine’s unit in Afghanistan. Al has just arrived to start a new life in America. Premiers April 1, 2021 on CBS. Watch the official trailer.
Podcast – The British Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. A discussion about the UK military, the relationship between it and the society it serves, and two decades of war. Modern War Institute Podcast, March 3, 2021, 46 minutes.
Podcast – The Art of Persistence and Self-Discipline. Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) student Joe Novak sits down and has a drink with U.S. Army Special Forces Officer and NPS Alumnus Major Jonathan Fagins. They discuss how his persistence and self-discipline shaped his success, nuclear weapons, and the importance of enjoying the now. Fagins has 19 years of service. He has deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Niger, and Burkina Faso. The Trident Room Podcast, recorded July 17, 2020 and posted by DVIDS on March 4, 2021. 1 hour long.
Podcast – The Battle of Marawi. In 2017 the Philippine Army fought against Islamic State fighters over the course of five months. It was one of the biggest urban battles of the modern era. Dr. Charles Knight has researched and written about this battle and takes part in a discussion on the fight with John Spencer. Urban Warfare Project Podcast, Modern War Institute at West Point, March 5, 2021.
Podcast – Cyber Strategy and Tactical Cyber Integration. Listen to a discussion about the cyber domain presented by the 1st Special Forces Command. The Indigenous Approach, March 4, 2021, 45 minutes.
Podcast – Stan McChrystal on Leadership. In this 44-minute long podcast retired General Stanley McChrystal discusses how his time out of the Army has further shaped his thoughts on leadership and what major life lesson he’s learned since the publication of the infamous Rolling Stone article in 2010 that got him fired as commander of all forces in Afghanistan. McChrystal was also the former commander of the nation’s premier counter-terrorism force, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). From the Green Notebook, February 21, 2021.
Photo: A Sailor assigned to Naval Special Warfare Group One rappels down a shaft in a glacier during austere high altitude environment training at Eklutna Glacier, Alaska on Sep 11, 2020.
Correction: Every once in a while the editorial staff at SOF News screws up. This recently happened in the SOF News update for Monday, March 1, 2021. We described and linked to an article entitled “A rare glimpse inside the secretive Regimental Reconnaissance Company”, Connecting Vets, February 23, 2021. We indicated that it was about a secretive UK unit – but it is about a 75th Ranger Regiment unit. We have made the correction to the online post, but unfortunately, there is no calling back our incorrect emailed newsletter. Our apologies for the misleading information. Thanks to our readers for pointing it out and keeping us on the straight and narrow path of accuracy.