Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. SOCOM’s diversity plan, Global SOF Symposium, international SOF, SOF history, commentary about special operations, upcoming events, books, podcasts, and videos.
SOCOM’s Plan for Diversity and Inclusion. Headquarters United States Special Operations Command has published its Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan 2021. The 20-page PDF was posted March 2021.
Golsteyn – Medals and SF Tab Denied. The Army has rejected an appeal to return medals for valor and the Special Forces Tab to retired Major Mathew Golsteyn. He was a Special Forces soldier who admitted to killing a suspected bomb maker who had been released after questioning in Afghanistan in 2010. Golsteyn had requested that his award of the Distinguished Service Cross – second only to the Medal of Honor for valor in combat – be restored. He had been awaiting courtmartial when President Trump pardoned him. “Army denies medals, Special Forces insignia to soldier Trump pardoned for alleged murder”, USA Today, March 17, 2021.
Global SOF Symposium. Steve Balestrieri reports on the recent two-day event that attracted special operations professionals from around the world for a series of presentations, discussions, and exhibits. “Global SOF Symposium, United Special Operations Forces in Person in Florida”, SOFREP, March 19, 2021.
Retired GB Charged for Actions During Capitol Riot. A former Army Green Beret has been arrested and charged for using a flag pole as a spear against a police officer during the Capitol riot in January. He had donned a helmet and gas mask and confronted D.C. Metropolitan Police – attempting to grab a riot control spray cannister. (Army Times, Mar 20, 2021).
SEL Assignment for SOC Korea. Army Command Sergeant Major JoAnne Naumann, currently assigned as the command sergeant major, Joint Special Operations Intelligence Brigade, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has been selected to replace Command Master Chief Stephen White as the command senior enlisted leader for Special Operations Command – Korea.
Trials Delayed for Death of Retired GB. Three members of a Marine Raider battalion charged in the 2019 death of a former Green Beret in Iraq have been delayed – once again. Two Marine Raiders and a Navy corpsman got into a fight with a retired Special Forces NCO who was in Irbil working as a contractor. (Coffee or Die, Mar 20, 2021).
Ranger Unit Ministry Teams. The 75th Ranger Regiment has a group of chaplains and religious affairs specialists that provides services for the unit. This group of soldiers recently took part in some specialized training. Read “Ranger Unit Ministry Teams Conduct Intensive Training to Ensure Mission Readiness”, Army.mil, March 17, 2021.
SOF Maritime Task Group to be Formed. Belgium and the Netherlands will be forming up a Composite Special Operations Maritime Task Group by 2026. Currently the Netherlands relies on the Korps Mariniers and the MARSOF. Belgium has its Special Forces Group and Special Operations Boat Unit (SOBU). (Army Recognition, Mar 17, 2021).
Joint SOF Cmd for Nigeria? Fola Aina writes on the plans to establish a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) for Nigeria. The country’s northern regions continue to be plagued with armed banditry and the Boko Haram terrorist group. The organization would likely enhance the ability of the Nigerian military to collect, share, and act upon various forms of intelligence (HUMINT, SIGINT, COMINT, etc.) – thus enabling it to respond to asymmetric threats. “The Nigerian Military’s Missing Link: A Joint Special Operations Command“, Council on Foreign Relations, March 17, 2021.
Norway’s All-Female SOF Unit. In June 2014 a new unit of the Norway military began taking on recruits that would begin a grueling training regime. The training program, lasting almost a year, qualifies female soldiers to join up with the “The Hunter Troop”. “Jegertroppen: Norway’s all-fighting, all-female special forces unit“, Norway Today, March 20, 2021.
SAS Changing Focus. Some of the traditional roles of the Special Air Service will be picked up by a new UK unit known as the ‘Ranger Regiment’. The SAS will be tasked with some new missions. “SAS to track ‘hostile’ state actors in armed forces shakeup”, Central Fife Times, March 20, 2021.
SF in Vietnam and SPIE System. During the Vietnam War special operations personnel used some unique methods of infiltrating and exfiltration denied areas to conduct their missions. One of them was the Special Patrol Insertion / Extraction (SPIE) system. The SPIE system was used primarily by members of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG). The SOG commandos sometimes used SPIE to get into or out of North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Other names for similar ‘rope’ systems include the STABO rig, McGuire Rig, and Swiss Seat. Read more in “How US special operators use a Vietnam War-era method to get into and out of dangerous spots quickly,” Business Insider, March 18, 2021.
How Not to Move Live Water Buffalos by Chopper in Vietnam. A Special Forces team located at an austere operating base relied on live animals for food. They had no refrigeration capability. So food runs were made by chopper. On one trip a live water buffalo was purchased in Quang Tri and transported to Mai Loc on a Huey. Things did not go well. Read more in “Food Run”, by Bob Donoghue, History of MACV-SOG Blog, March 9, 2021.
10th SFG and Defeating Ansar al-Islam in 2003. The Kurdistan region of northern Iraq was the scene of a second front during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Elements of the 10th Special Forces Group, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and and 10th Mountain Division were pushing south from northern Iraq along with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. However, there was a very important side fight that took place as well – the destruction of the Ansar al-Islam enclave in northern Iraq. Read more in “The Special Forces op that supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq”, We Are the Mighty, March 19, 2021.
SOF – The Easy Button. For years the US special operations forces has been the military equivalent of the easy button. SOF had a huge growth in its budget (2000 = $300 billion; 2021 = $700 billion) and in size of personnel (although much of that growth was support and staff). The Special Forces community has been extremely busy that past two decades. With the drawdown in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia – the number of deployments to war zones has diminished. The future reduction in the SOF budget (almost sure to come over the next four years) will likely shrink overseas deployments (JCETS, exercises, and other types of military engagements). Read more in “Special Operations has been the easy button for far too long“, We Are the Mighty, March 15, 2021.
SOF is Overstretched. US special operations has been overused since 9/11 and President Biden needs to give them a break so the can refocus on Russia, China, and the ‘grey zone’. At least these are the thoughts of Stewart Parker and Ari Cicurel. “To prepare for strategic competition, America needs to adapt its counterterrorism and counterinsurgency missions. SOF will be vital in operations against China and Russia while remaining crucial against enduring threats in the Middle East. Bluntly, there is no war the U.S. military can win without effective Special Operations Forces”. “Special Ops Aren’t A Substitute for Strategy”, Breaking Defense, March 19, 2021.
SOF Review Needed? Nick Turse, the journalist who loves to raise a ruckus about US special operations, once again provides us an article about SOF (as he sees it). He writes on the missions, the funding, and the oversight in “Will the Biden Administration Shine Light on Shadowy Special Ops Programs?”, The Intercept, March 20, 2021.
IW and Operational Design. There is a need to update how the military conducts operational design. Brian Petit, Steve Ferenzi, and Kevin Bilms argue that irregular warfare is an enduring, economical contribution to America’s national security, and will remain an essential core competency of the Department of Defense. They propose five specific operational design elements to address a wide spectrum of geopolitical challenges ranging from cooperation through war. “An Irregular Upgrade to Operational Design”, War on the Rocks, March 19, 2021.
Drone Warfare in the Shadows. The editorial board at Bloomberg argues that the White House needs to be more transparent about the United State’s use of drones overseas. They believe the US can do this without compromising the effectiveness of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). “Bring Drone Warfare Out of the Shadows”, Bloomberg Opinion, March 16, 2021.
Next CIA Spy Chief – Bill Burns. Most observers are speaking highly of the Biden administration’s choice to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. Learn a little more about him in “Bill Burns’ CIA and the Roads Not Taken”, by Jeff Stein, Spy Talk, March 18, 2021.
Counter-UAS Operations. An informative article by Maj. Benjamin Scott (U.S. Army) about countering unmanned aerial systems can be found in the latest issue of Military Review. “Army Counter-UAS 2021-2028”, March-April 2021.
Guidelines for Countering Indirect Warfare. American adversaries such as Russia and Iran are persistently challenging U.S. interests around the world through indirect attacks. These competitors employ nebulous tools like private military contractors, proxies, cyber-driven disinformation campaigns, and more. Three authors have collaborated to provide a way to respond in “Negotiating Implausible Deniability: Strategic Guidelines for U.S. Engagement in Modern Indirect Warfare“, Prism, Vol. 9, No. 2, National Defense University Press, March 19, 2021.
Iran and al-Qaeda: Strange Bedfellows. Iran’s allies and proxies are often at war with al-Qaeda affiliates, but at the same time Iran hosts senior al-Qaeda leaders. Read more about the history of this odd relationship and identifying the advantages for Tehran and al-Qaeda. “Making Sense of Iran and al-Qaeda’s Relationship”, Lawfare Blog, March 21, 2021.
Budgeting for CT. Dr. Matthew Levitt, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, informs us about how we need to improve our counterterrorism posture while disengaging from the ‘forever wars’. “Re-Budgeting for a Right-Sized International Counterterrorism Posture”, The Cipher Brief, March 18, 2021.
Video – Disinformation in the Gray Zone: Opportunities, Limitations, and Challenges. The U.S. House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations held a public hearing on information operations, MISO, propaganda, and disinformation. Two key defense officials testified at the hearing. You probably won’t glean much from the public hearing. Perhaps the closed door session was more informative. Some of the committee members seem to be relatively new to the special operations and intelligence field. (1 hour) Patrick Tucker provides an assessment of the hearing in “Key Official: Defense Information Operations ‘Not Evolving Fast Enough'”, Defense One, March 17, 2021.
Info War – US a Little Behind. A retired Navy Commander, Mike Dahm, has some recommendations for the advancement of information warfare within the US military. DoD needs to adequately define “information warfare”, develop an information warfare operational concept, and subordinate select organizations under a designated leader for information warfare. “The Reality of War Should Define Information Warfare“, Proceedings, Vol. 147/3/1,417, March 2021, by U.S. Naval Institute.
Peace Process in Afghanistan – Analysis. Franz Marty, a freelance journalist in Kabul, provides a detailed analysis on the peace process in Afghanistan. He takes a close look at the U.S.-Taliban agreement, examines how it is interpreted differently by the U.S. and the Taliban, and argues that the core problems of the agreement will not be remedied with the latest U.S. proposal of a grand conference. “The Precarious State of Afghan Peace Efforts“, Swiss Institute for Global Affairs, March 16, 2021.
Afghanistan Challenge. James Dobbins, a former State Department senior official, discusses the proposals that Biden administration is floating to adjust the timing and framework of the peace talks for Afghanistan. “The Biden Administration’s Afghanistan Challenge”, The RAND Blog, March 16, 2021.
Downed SOF Mi-17 Helicopter. Last week a helicopter for the 777 Special Mission Wing was downed by either a SAM or RPG. Nine on board were KIA in the aircraft that crashed in Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan.
Jihadi Violence in Africa. Lela Gilbert, a Fellow at the Hudson Institute, writes about how jihadist groups are attacking and killing Christians in several countries across Africa. Christian communities are increasingly at risk in Africa due to the jihadis’ religious ideology and their attacks. For instance, in Nigeria, tens of thousands of Christians have been massacred there in recent years by Boko Haram, Fulani jihadis, and the Islamic State of West Africa Province. “When will the World Respond to Jihadi Violence in Africa?”, Newsweek, March 17, 2021.
SOF Failure in Africa? Nick Turse (always looking for new ways to poke US SOF in the eye) paints a dark picture of US special operations activities in Africa. He states that the US military is failing at combating violent extremist organizations in Africa – citing a recent research study and Pentagon reports. “Stunning Classified Memo Details How U.S. Commandos Are Getting Beaten by Terrorists in Africa”, Vice World News, March 18, 2021.
Somalia and Kenya – Sea Border Issues. A dispute between Somalia and Kenya over an oil and gas-rich area in the Indian Ocean is having ramifications for local fishing communities, as well as the wider region. This dispute over the waters revolve around fishing, oil, and gas – but there are other issues that have inflamed tensions as well. “Somalia and Kenya’s sea border dispute threatens regional stability“, Deutsche Welle, March 15, 2021.
US in Sahel. Tobias Armour argues that the Sahel region of Africa cannot afford to lose the support of the United States. Throughout the Sahel poverty, climate change, and violent extremist groups threaten the inhabitants of this region. Armour details the challenges faced by Mali, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, and beyond. “The American Response in the Sahel”, Lobo Institute, March 16, 2021.
March 25, 2021. Online Event
Conversation with Author Erika Robuck
The Invisible Woman (OSS’s Virginia Hall)
March 26, 2021. Webinar – Hearing.
SOF Culture and Climate: The Future of the Force
House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Operations
April 14, 2021. Web-based Event
Civil Affairs Association
Books, Pubs, and Reports
Report – The Blurred Battlefield. Patrick Paterson has authored a report that is an investigation into crucial factors of contemporary warfare and the use of force rules that are governed by the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), criminal law, and human rights law. In many instances, SOF operates in circumstances not covered by LOAC. He argues that SOF frequently operates in a ‘grey area’ – providing security assistance in situations that are governed by criminal law or human rights law and for which SOF is inadequately trained. Paterson is a Professor at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies. His publication (report or book) is entitled The Blurred Battlefield: The Perplexing Conflation of Humanitarian and Criminal Law in Contemporary Conflicts, Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Report 21-1, March 2021, PDF, 286 pages.
Podcasts, Videos, and Movies
Video – Forging Raiders. Marines who successfully complete MARSOC assessment and selection go through a rigorous 7-month course comprised of 4 phases: basic skills, small unit tactics, close quarters battle and irregular warfare. This Individual Training Course culminates with “Operation Derna Bridge” which requires the students to use all of the skills mastered throughout the course. After graduating from ITC the Marines are designated Critical Skills Operators and Special Operations Officers, capable of executing complex, distributed operations in uncertain environments, achieving silent success and strategic impact. (U.S. Marine Corps video by Cpl. Brennan Priest, Feb 19, 2021, 2 mins)
Video – Death Valley Overland. An Operational Detachment Alpha “ODA” team from the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) drove overland through 500 miles of extreme terrain in Death Valley, California. The trip was designed to test the capabilities of the 1.1 vehicle in an environment that simulates deployed terrains overseas. Video by 5th SFGA, published March 4, 2021, 2 mins.
Video – Training Is Underway in Souda Bay. U.S. Navy SEALs from Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) worked with Greek and Cypriot Naval Special Warfare teams in Marathi, Greece conducting Over The Beach Training (OTB). (DVIDS, Mar 18, 2021, 30 secs.)
Video – Force Recon and SPIEs. U.S. Marines with Force Reconnaissance Company, III Marine Expeditionary Force, practice special patrol insertion and extraction rigging drills. (DVIDS, Mar 19, 2021, 5 mins).
Video – The Iconic Tiger Stripes of Vietnam. When people picture U.S. troops in Vietnam, they often think of the “tiger stripe” camouflage uniform. But did you know it wasn’t an American creation? The Navy SEALs liked the uniform and started to make their version for use in combat in South Vietnam. March 5, 2021, DVIDS, 1 min.
Photo: During a combined training mission between 19th Special Forces Group and 20th Special Forces Group near Honolulu Hawaii, a US Marine Helicopter takes off to transport the soldiers to conduct a helocasting mission. The training event happened on April 19th 2017. US Army National Guard Photo by Sgt Jake Cox.
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