Special Operations News Update – Monday, March 15, 2021

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Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. US SOF are everywhere, GB in prison, JORSOF, book reviews, podcasts, commentary, great power competition, upcoming SOF events, and more.

SOF News

Ruben Gallego. A Marine Corps veteran with time in combat in Iraq now is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations. A recent news article provides his background and political stance. Time will tell if he is good or bad for the special operations community. “This Salty Former Marine Corporal now Grills Generals on Capitol Hill”, Military.com, March 9, 2021.

SOF and Armed Robots. David Hambling reports on the history and use of armed unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) by US special operations forces. “Are U.S. Special Forces Quietly Using Armed Drones?“, Forbes.com, March 9, 2021.

SOCOM’s New Ground Vehicles. The Special Operations Command is experimenting with emerging technologies for its ground vehicle fleet. It is outfitting their vehicles with lightweight armor, AI, hybrid-electric technology, electronic systems, and more. “SOCOM Shows Interest in Hybrid, AI-Enabled Vehicles”, National Defense Magazine, March 9, 2021.

Command SEL Assignment. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Clint Grizzell, currently assigned as the command chief, 492d Special Operations Wing, Hurlburt Field, Florida, has been selected to replace Navy Command Master Chief David Isom as the command senior enlisted leader for U.S. Special Operations Command North, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

US SOF are Everywhere. American special operations forces have become a major military player in today’s defense community. Even as it only uses 2% of the Pentagon budget. Mark Bowden, book author, describes the rise of US SOF over the past several decades from its birth to present day. “American Special Ops Forces Are Everywhere“, The Atlantic, April 2021.

Podcast – Former Green Beret Now in Japanese Prison. Mike Taylor and his son, Peter, are now in Japan awaiting trial. They are accused of helping former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn’s brazen escape from prosecution in Japan. Taylor is a former U.S. Army Special Forces veteran and private security specialist. Listen to a podcast about this case in “Fast Take: The story of former Green Beret Mike Taylor through the eyes of his wife”, Military Matters, Stars and Stripes, March 11, 2021, 35 minutes.

Roger Carstens – Former Green Beret Turned Diplomat. The Biden administration’s special presidential envoy for hostage affairs has been traveling the world working to release Americans held hostage or imprisoned in dangerous countries. “He helped Trump bring American hostages home. Now he’s working for Biden”, Yahoo! News, March 13, 2021.

AFSOC and Preventing Injuries. New technology is helping the 24th Special Operations Wing Human Performance Team to assess, maintain, and enhance the health and performance of special tactics Airmen. “24th SOW Using Machine Learning to Prevent Injuries in Special Tactics Airmen“, Air Force Magazine, March 10, 2021.

AFSOC and GPC. The Air Force Special Operations Command is now experiencing a strategic pivot away from years of counterinsurgency back toward its earlier operational functions which primarily involved providing support to larger joint forces. “Air Force Special Operations Forces: Readying for a Russia or China War?”, The National Interest, March 11, 2021.

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International SOF

JORSOF. The Polish GROM unit commemorated a Jordanian SOF Major who was killed several years ago in the fight against terrorism. This article describes the relationship between the GROM and JORSOF as well as Jordan’s fight against international terrorism. “Polish GROM Unit Commemorates a Jordanian Commander”, Defense24, March 11, 2021.

Indian Para Commandos. The Para Forces unit is a special operations unit of the Indian Army – and is among the oldest airborne units in the world. Their role involved occupying areas behind enemy lines in small assault teams. They are trained in inclement weather conditions, deep snow, and all kinds of rescue operations. Read more in “Indian Para Commandos up for challenges in Kashmir Valley”, Yahoo! News, March 10, 2021.

New Colombian Elite Force. A new unit consisting of 7,000 personnel will be deployed to the border with Venezuela and to drug trafficking hotspots. The military unit will target coca crops, cocaine production, illicit mining, and illegal armed groups. The unit will be known as CONAT. “Colombia launches ‘elite force’ to target rebels, drug gangs”, Aljazeera.com, February 26, 2021.

GERSOF Mistaken for Terrorists in US. German special forces soldiers on a training mission in the US nearly caused a diplomatic incident earlier this year. The German unit’s insistence on secrecy went badly wrong when a local hospital contacted the FBI over fears they could be extremists planning a terror attack. (Yahoo! News, Feb 22, 2021).

British Commandos Train in Norway. 45 Commando is exercising its skills in the mountainous terrain of northern Norway. The Arctic training included raids, ambushes, live firing at ranges, ski training, using skidoos for reconnaissance and mobility, and more. “Royal Marines Complete Arctic Training with Intensive Combat Missions”, Royal Navy, March 12, 2021.

AFSOC JTACs Train in Norway. U.S. special operations forces training with Norwegian and Swedish joint terminal attack controllers were supported by a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer. “Bomber Task Force leads ally, partner JTAC training“, US Air Force, March 9, 2021.

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SOF History

Book Review – The Jessie Scouts. A historical novel that was based on extensive historical research features a Union forces unit called the Jessie Scouts. The members of the unit were volunteers who conducted reconnaissance and espionage behind enemy lines. There were times when they also conducted surprise raids and ambushes. The author, David Phillips, is a former member of U.S. Army Special Forces and an Adjunct Researcher at the RAND Corporation. Read the review of The Jessie Scouts, LinkedIn, March 7, 2021.

Book Review – Operation X. In 1971 a secretive group of combat divers was established to conduct covert operations in East Pakistan waters. This was an activity by the Indian Navy during the Indo-Pak war in 1971 that was highly successful. “Navy’s 1971 covert exploits make for breathless reading“, Deccan Chronicle, March 14, 2021.

Royal Gurkha Rifles. Explore over 200 years of loyal service to the British Armed Forces by the Gurkhas. “Better to Die Than be a Coward”, Forces.Net, March 10, 2021.

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Wuhan Virus and the Military

U.S. deaths attributed to COVID-19 have gone over the 500,000 mark. The vaccinations rollout is maturing and states are slowly adapting new rules for social gatherings and mask wearing. The military is remaining very vigilant and enforcing some strict mandates to keep coronavirus from degrading the operational readiness of the defense forces.

Russian Disinformation and COVID-19. Websites linked to Russian intelligence services consistently publishes false information questioning the safety and efficacy of the U.S. developed vaccines. (Wall Street Journal, Mar 7, 2021).

Vaccine Passport? John Torres, a senior medical correspondent for NBC News, (also an instructor for NATO special forces training) wonders how he can prove he has been vaccinated for COVID-19. Current vaccination record cards provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are too easy to forge. “Vaccine Passports: Will they be available in the U.S. in time for summer?”, NBC News, March 14, 2021.

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Mitchell on ASD SO/LIC, SECDEF, and his Generals. A former acting ASD SO/LIC, Mark Mitchell, worries that the new SECDEF – listening to his senior general officers – will reverse reforms to ensure USSOCOM is subject to administrative civilian control. “Will Lloyd Austin stand up to the generals”, The Hill, March 8, 2021.

Maxwell on Deterring North Korea. David Maxwell, a former Special Forces officer and a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, discusses the importance of joint US – South Korean training exercises to the security of the South Korean people and protection of U.S. interests in the region. Read “The U.S. Military and South Korea Must Train to Deter North Korea”, FDD, March 10, 2021.

Short Story on Toxic Leadership. Daniel Sukman, a strategist and member of the military faculty at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia, provides a short read on toxic leadership. “Phony: A Short Story”, From the Green Notebook, March 12, 2021.

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Great Power Competition

Pub – Great Power Competition: The Changing Landscape of Global Geopolitics. The articles in this work explore the cultural and regional implications of Chinese and Russian power projection in Eurasia, the Americas, and Africa; the rise of sub-state actors in their regions; and military applications of culture, area expertise, and foreign language proficiency in the operational environment. Army University Press, March 2021, 308 pages.


NATO and Russian Gray-Zone Conflict. This paper examines the question of whether NATO is currently enabled to effectively compete in gray-zone conflict by reviewing NATO’s strategy through changes made to force structure and other areas over the past decade. “The Rhetoric vs the Reality: Understanding NATO’s Capacity to Address Russian Gray-zone Conflict”, Eunomia Journal, Civil Affairs Association, March 11, 2021.

Podcast – Hybrid is Everything and Everything is Hybrid. Since the Ukraine war of 2014 Western governments have struggled with how to react to conflict in the grey zone. A UK psychological operations expert, Ewan Lawson, discusses the struggle to find a coherent response to hybrid activities. The Western Way of War, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), March 2021, 30 minutes.

UK, Estonia, and ‘Malign Activity’. The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary recently said that the UK will continue to stand with the Baltic states and their partners in tackling “Russia’s malign activity” in the region. He said the presence of 850 UK troops in Estonia was a testament to Britain’s commitment to Estonian security. “UK Stands With Estonia Against Russian ‘Malign’ Activity”, Raab Says”, Forces.Net, March 11, 2021.

Swedish Defense in the Baltic. Rear Admiral Ewa Skoog Haslum, Sweden’s navy chief, is overseeing a ramped-up response to Russia. She is also waging a campaign to harden Swedish citizens against disinformation, psy-ops, and personal instability that can fray society form the edges in. “The trailblazer taking on Putin in the Baltic”, Politico, March 8, 2021.

Defending Norway’s Northern Region. Elisabeth Braw, a Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), writes on the whole-of-society defense adopted by Norway to counter potential Russian aggression along their shared border. “How Norway is Folding Civilians into National Defense”, Defense One, March 12, 2021.


Podcast – Preferred Partners in INDOPACOM. Col Ed Croot, the 1st Special Forces Command (Abn) Chief of Staff sits down with the 1st Special Forces Group (Abn) commander – COL Ryan Ehrler. They discuss the importance of relationships spanning across the Indo-Pacific and why 1st SFG is “First in Asia”. The Indigenous Approach, March 11, 2021, 28 minutes.

China and the Gray Zone. Thomas Marks and David Ucko (both professors at the national Defense University in Washington, DC) collaborate in a article that sets out the intellectual history of China’s approach to irregular warfare (IW). The authors revisit the past use of IW, discuss strategic political warfare, and point out how IW and controlling the narrative is in the playbook for China (and other revisionist states) in its quest for power and influence on the global stage. “Gray zone in red: China revisits the past”, Small Wars & Insurgencies, Taylor & Francis Online, March 11, 2021.

China’s Attack on Microsoft Exchange. The Chinese have been targeting online systems of the West – causing disruptions with viruses and worms while at the same time stealing information from computer systems that benefit the Chinese economy. “China’s Deep Strike”, Spy Talk, March 14, 2021.

French Stepping Up in Indo-Pacific. For the US to effectively compete with China in the Pacific region it will need some allies. Not only from the Pacific area (Australia, India, Japan, etc.), but help from European nations as well. France has ramped up activity in the region in accordance with its 2019 Indo-Pacific strategy. “France in the Indo-Pacific: A Mediating Power?”, by Murielle Delaporte, Breaking Defense, March 11, 2021.

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National Security

CIA and Drones. It appears that the Central Intelligence Agency is expanding its small drone base in Dirkou, Niger. The base was constructed in the second half of 2018 and is adjacent to a small commercial airport in Niger. “CIA Activity Could Indicate a Reversal of Biden’s Drone Policy”, SOFREP, March 11, 2021.

Spies, Secrets, and ‘Open Source’. Over the past three-quarters of a century the United States has developed an efficient and sophisticated intelligence community. These intel agencies and organizations have provided American military and civilian leaders with information and analysis to help them make better decisions about critical national security concerns. The elaborate security architecture of spy planes, satellites, listening posts, and other methods are expensive to develop and maintain. However, this same structure is sometimes an impediment to the timely communication of information. Open source information is rapidly becoming more important and U.S. spy agencies must adapt to an open-source world. “The Declining Market for Secrets”, Foreign Affairs, March 9, 2021. (subscription).

Battle for Mosul. The fight to recapture the northern Iraq city of Mosul from the Islamic State was an intense event that lasted months. It was a big urban fight from which many lessons were observed. Read “Five Operational Lessons from the Battle for Mosul”, Military Review, January-February 2019.

Korea – Policy Review Needed. David Maxwell, a former Special Forces officer with deep Asian experience, provides his perspective on the vexing ‘Korea question’, denuclearization, deterrence, and more. “How to Conduct the Biden Administration’s Korea Policy Review”, The National Interest, March 8, 2021.

Yemeni Houthis’ Political Ideology. Hani Nashira reports on the Houthis militia’s revocation of its terrorist designation and the contempt and antipathy towards the US, Israel, and Gulf states. Read “The hatred and hostility underpinning Yemeni Houthis’ political ideology”, Arab News, March 8, 2021.

Syria – No Sign of a U.S. Departure . . . Yet. The United States is still maintaining a small number of troops in western Syria on several small bases. The Biden administration is reviewing the need for keeping the US military presence in Syria. “Inside U.S. troops’ stronghold in Syria, a question of how long Biden will keep them there”, Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2021.


The Blinken Letter. A letter sent to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reveals the Biden administration’s path forward to get the stalled Afghan peace talks energized. The letter was published by Tolo News provides four ways to move forward – talks with regional nations, talks between the Taliban and government representatives hosted by Turkey, proposal for a new Afghan government, and a 90-day reduction of violence.

Blinken (Biden) Peace Proposal. Anthony H. Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), examines the new peace proposal that the US State Department has submitted to the Afghan government. He points out the potentially fatal challenges to a real peace, US strategic priorities, and provides the text of the Blinken (Biden) peace proposal (March 2021). A sobering conclusion by Cordesman is provided below. “Afghanistan: Another Peace to End All Peace?”, CSIS, March 11, 2021.

“Either the Afghan Central Government now makes a full effort, or the U.S. should leave and end its role in Afghanistan as well as its aid. The U.S. should make it openly clear that the key failures were caused by the Afghan government, and that U.S. aid to other countries and regimes will be strictly conditional in the future. The U.S. made a massive effort. It had its failures, but no outside power can help a government that will not or cannot help itself.”

Afghanistan – Reframing the Mission. Many Americans are surprised when they realize that we still have troops in Afghanistan. Most say that the war is ‘unwinnable’. Perhaps Americans should view the efforts in that troubled country as a long-term international stability and counter-terrorism mission. Colonel Thomas Spahr teaches strategy and military history at the U.S. Army War College. He recently completed a 12-month tour with Resolute Support HQs in Afghanistan. Read his thoughts on the conflict in “Reframing the Mission in Afghanistan”, War Room, U.S. Army War College, March 11, 2021.

U.S. Troops in Afghanistan. According to Pentagon announcements over the past couple of months the official number of military personnel in Afghanistan had declined to 2,500. This was under the direction of President Trump – who wanted that milestone reached by mid-January. Not so much. Apparently there are an additional 1,000 personnel that are “off the books”. Many of them are SOF personnel working for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), farmed out to the CIA, or members of temporary and transitioning military units. “The U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan Just Got More Complicated”, New York Intelligencer, March 15, 2021.

Biden and the Afghan Withdrawal. May 1st is rapidly approaching – a date that the United States is supposed to complete a total withdrawal of troops and personnel from Afghanistan. The Biden administration has reached a decision point on the way forward. The challenges of moving 3,500 troops (2,500 plus another 1,000 not on the books?) and their equipment in a short time frame are many. A decision will likely need to be made by April 1st. (CNN, Mar 12, 2021).

Upcoming Events

March 16-17, 2021. Tampa, Florida
2021 Global SOF Symposium
Global SOF Foundation

March 17-21, 2021. Virtual
Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC)

March 25, 2021. Online Event
Conversation with Author Erika Robuck
The Invisible Woman (OSS’s Virginia Hall)
OSS Society

Guest Writers for SOF News

SOF News welcomes the submission of articles for publication. If it is related to special operations, current conflicts, national security, or defense then we are interested.

Books about Special Forces Training

Books, Pubs, and Reports

Sentinel. The March 2021 issue of the Chapter 78, Special Forces Association newsletter is now posted online. Several good articles to read. “Operation Genie” is about PSYOP activities in Laos in the early 1960s, Kenn Miller includes a book review of Shadow Commander: The Epic Story of Donald D. Blackburn – Guerrilla Leader and Special Forces Hero, and more. PDF, 16 pages.

Paper – CT in Burkina Faso and the Consequences. A new report from Brown University’s “Cost of War” project takes an in-depth look at the effects of U.S. security assistance and the risks of “helping” other nations wage their own “wars on terror”. The West African Sahel nation has received U.S. CT funding and training since 2009. The paper examines how this U.S. CT assistance has intensified the conflict in Burkina Faso and the broader region. The Costs of United States’ Post-9/11 “Security Assistance”: How Counterterrorism Intensified Conflict in Burkina Faso and Around the World”, PDF, March 4, 2021, 26 pages.

Training the Command and Control Warfighting Function. HQs, Department of the Army has posted a guide for commanders at battalion through corps echelons to use to incorporate command and control training during unit training management. TC 6-0, March 2021, PDF, 88 pages.

Book Review – Islamic State’s Online Propaganda: A Comparative Analysis. A book by published in 2021 is reviewed by the Dr. Robert Bunker. Small Wars Journal, March 10, 2021.

Paper – Training Foreign Militaries for Peace. Dr. Sandor Fabian is a former Hungarian Special Forces officer, a faculty member at NATO’s Special Operations School, and a research fellow at the University of Central Florida. A recent paper by Fabian proposes that American educated and trained foreign military personnel return home with a better understanding about the role of the military as an instrument of national power, civil-military relations, and the cost of war. He argues that the more support the U.S. provides a country through the U.S. International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs the less likely it will initiate a militarized interstate dispute (MID). In addition, he finds that these countries are less likely to escalate ongoing MIDs to higher levels of hostility. “Training Foreign Militaries for Peace – U.S. IMET and Militarized Interstate Disputes 1976 – 2007”, Journal of Strategic Security, Vol. 14, No. 1 (2020), pages 43-61, PDF, 21 pages, posted by University of South Florida.

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Podcasts, Videos, and Movies

Podcast – Civilian Oversight of SOF. Special Operations Forces (SOF) have played a critical role in US counterterrorism operations. But now, as policymakers focus shifts from CT to GPC, the implications for SOF are unclear. In this podcast Senator Joni Ernst and Owen West (former ASD SO/LIC) argue that SOF is uniquely suited to address irregular warfare challenges in the era of great power competition. However, limited understanding of these threats among policymakers in Washington, DC, budget constraints, and outdated authorities hinder SOF’s ability to evolve. Irregular Warfare Podcast, Modern War Institute at West Point, March 12, 2021, 37 minutes.

Podcast – Jim Reese – 1st SFOD-D Officer. LTC (Ret) Jim Reese served 25 years in the Army – to include time with the 75th Ranger Regiment and “Delta Force”. He talks about his career and more. Mentors for Military, February 2021, one hour.

Video – Inside the US War on Terror in Somalia. President Trump ordered the departure of 700 military trainers and advisors from Somalia just prior to his leaving office. Much of the support now provided is done ‘remotely’ or with the secretive drone program. Vice News, March 10, 2021.

Video – The Easter Offensive 1972. Tet 1972 had come and passed and in the aftermath the North Vietnamese presented a picture to the U.S. and the world indicating that the war was winding down. This made it easy for the U.S. to disengage from the Vietnam conflict. U.S. intelligence units were closing down or had already departed country. Those units that remained mostly ignored potential indicators of an offensive until the Easter Offensive of 1972 began in I Corps. Bob Baker was an intelligence analyst in Vietnam in 1972. He has a book coming out soon on the topic. Watch a slide presentation by Bob Baker about the failure to use intelligence. Hosted by the Army Heritage Center Foundation, February 11, 2021, YouTube, 1 hour 20 minutes.

Video – History of CA in Recent Conflicts and GPC. Major Travis Clemens discusses the history of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs in recent conflicts, the dynamics of conventional and SOF CA, and the future of SOF CA in the context of Great Power Competition. The webinar is presented by the Joint Special Operations University. (Think JSOU, Mar 1, 2021, 1 hour).


Photo: Sailors assigned to Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron (MSRON) 11 are underway aboard 34-foot Sea Ark Patrol Boat during high value asset security protection inbound transit as part of final evaluation exercises provided by Maritime Expeditionary Security Group (MSEG) 1 Training Evaluation Unit. The Maritime Expeditionary Security Force is a core Navy capability that provides port and harbor security, high value asset security, and maritime security in the coastal and inland waterways. (Photo by Chief Petty Officer Nelson Doromal Jr., 24 Feb 2021).

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