Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. SOCOM diversity chief reassigned, AFSOC’s A-29s, Montagnards of Vietnam, ASD SO/LIC, Russia in the Arctic, border crisis, Sahel, Mozambique, podcasts, books, and videos.
New SOCOM Diversity Chief – Under Investigation and Reassigned. Richard Torres-Estrada was recently welcomed by the United States Special Operations Command as the new chief of diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, he is off to a rough start due to some political posts on his Facebook page. “SOCOM Investigating New Diversity Chief’s Posts, Including One Comparing Trump to Hitler”, Military.com, March 29, 2021. While SOCOM conducts an investigation into the issue he has been reassigned to a different position. (CNN Politics, Mar 29, 2021).
CACI, Inc. Contract. A $372 million contract was awarded to CACI, Inc. for joint geospatial analytic support services to U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The contract will provide geospatial analysts to process, exploit, and disseminate traditional and non-traditional intelligence data. The contract will be performed in multiple locations to include Fayetteville, NC, Newport News, VA, Alexandria, VA, and other locations in the US and overseas.
SF MSG on Personalized Medicine. A Special Forces Master Sergeant was experiencing some significant health problems. He put his skills to work to research and analyze his medical condition. Following the steps of the military decision-making process he identified the causes of his symptoms and developed his ‘alternative approach’ to health care. He is now sharing his methodology with others. “Personalized medicine is the future of health care for troops, advocates say”, Military Times, March 31, 2021.
Lead Exposure on SOF Firing Ranges. A recent study found that changes to special operations firing ranges appeared to reduce lead levels in soldiers. (Military.com, Apr 2, 2021).
USSOCOM, AI, and the Human Domain. Artificial intelligence (AI) systems is an emergent technology that will have a huge effect on how militaries fight wars. The United States Special Operations Command has been in the lead on many fronts when it comes to incorporating new technology. USSOCOM will want to see how AI can be integrated into its many SOF programs. However, Dr. Mark Grzegorzewski warns us that SOF operates in the human domain and that AI may or may not have the impacts we think it will give us in SOF’s core missions. “USSOCOM: Information-Enabled Command versus AI-Enabled Command”, Small Wars Journal, April 4, 2021.
Emerald Warrior. Air Force Special Operations Command recently hosted an annual special operations exercise. This years event showcased the Pentagon’s recent shift from counterterrorism to great power competition. “Emerald Warrior 21: The largest special operations exercise with a twist”, We Are the Mighty, March 30, 2021.
Navy SOF Officer Assignments. Rear Adm. (lower half) Peter G. Vasely, selected for promotion to rear admiral, will be assigned as commander, special operations, Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan, U.S. Special Operations Command, Kabul, Afghanistan. Vasely is currently serving as director for operations, Defense Intelligence Agency, Washington, D.C. Rear Adm. (lower half) Milton J. Sands will be assigned as commander, Special Operations Command Africa, U.S. Special Operations Command, Stuttgart, Germany. Sands is currently serving as commander, Naval Service Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois.
AFSOC Stops Using Range in UK. The use of a private firing range in the United Kingdom by the 352nd Special Operations Wing has been discontinued due to its closeness to a Buddhist monastery. “AFSOC wing in England halts use of private Scottish rifle range”, North West Florida Daily News, April 3, 2021.
10th SFGA and Teaching Winter Warfare. The 10th Special Forces Group has long been known as an organization adept in operating in mountain and cold weather environments. In addition, it has as one of its core missions providing instruction and training to foreign military units. Personnel from 10th SFGA had the opportunity to sharpen both of these fields of knowledge by providing winter warfare training to a group of soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division. “Arctic Joint Training Exercise: Green Berets teach 4ID on winter warfare tactics”, Fort Carson Mountaineer, March 30, 2021.
Gen. Scott Miller and His Glock. Apparently the sidearm that the commander of Resolute Support wears is a newsworthy item. More than one media outlet has published a story of the type of pistol he sports to include its accessories (red-dot optic, mag extension, and compensator). Read “A Gucci Glock Goes to War with Top US General in Afghanistan”, The Firearm Blog, April 2, 2021.
AFSOC’s New A-29 – and Paint Schemes. The Super Tucano, of which three will be delivered to Hurlburt Field, will be a new addition to Air Force Special Operations Command. The aircraft will support the AFSOC Combat Aviation Advisor (CAA) mission. One of the three will be painted in a color scheme that honors the aircraft and airmen of the 1st Air Commando Group that flew during the World War II in the Pacific region. The other two aircraft will have the paint scheme like the A-29 Super Tucanos used by the Afghan Air Force. “Special Operations Command’s New A-29 Super Tucano Pays Tribute to World War II Air Commandos”, The Warzone, March 29, 2021.
Indian MTT Trains Malagasy SF. A small detachment of an Indian Navy mobile training team deployed to Madagascar for two weeks in March 2021 to train up 50 members of the Malagasy Special Forces. (United News of India, Mar 30, 2021).
UK SOF and “Covert Operations”. Rory Cormac, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, comments on the significance of the UK’s review of defense, security, and foreign policy and the implications for the use of UK special operations forces. He examines two documents recently published that restructures the missions and organization of UK special operations units. He finds that they emphasize secret intelligence, special operations forces, and offensive cyber capabilities. “The United Kingdom Doubles Down on Covert Operations”, Modern War Institute, April 2, 2021.
“Shaky Boats”. Apparently some things just can’t be said by members of the Special Air Service. “Dope on a Rope” is one such term. “SAS members banned from calling rivals ‘Shaky Boats Service’ in ‘banter’ clampdown”, Mirror (UK), April 3, 2021.
UK SF to Use Black Hawks. Britain Special Forces are on track to use the UH-60. (Express (UK), Apr 4, 2021).
Belgian Paracommandos Drop in on US-run Airbase. Members of the Belgian Special Forces Group recently conducted a series of parachute jumps at Chievres Air Base in Belgium. Paratroopers were hosted by the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux and the 424th Air Base Squadron. The base is a Belgian air base but run by Americans. (Army.mil, Mar 30, 2021).
Royal Marines, FCF, and Integrated Review. The Future Commando Force (FCF) will be undergoing some changes to its mission in the next several years as a result of the publishing of the Integrated Review by the UK government that changes up the UK Special Forces and other specialized units. “Reconciling the Old with the New: FCF and the Integrated Review”, Puzzle Palace: The Unofficial Commando Think Tank, April 4, 2021.
UK SF and “No Comment”. The United Kingdom has been very tight-lipped about the activities of its Special Forces – the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Boat Service (SBS), and other specialized units. One organization has been very critical of the ‘cone of silence’ over the lack of disclosure by the UK government and its “Long Standing Policy” of not commenting on the activities of its Special Forces. Read more in a report entitled The UK Government’s “Long Standing Policy” on Special Forces Operations: a Review 1940-2020″, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), March 2021, PDF, 85 pages. The AOAV has been very critical about the lack of transparency of the UK government about its Special Forces. This article posted by the AOAV explains the findings of the report cited above.
Indian SF Trains With US SF. The Special Forces of India carried out a joint military exercise inn March 2021 alongside US SOF. The Vajra Prahar 2021 exercise was conducted at the Special Forces training school located in Bakloh with the intent to improve interoperability between the SOF of the two countries. (India Times, Mar 31, 2021).
Montagnards of Vietnam and SF. U.S. Special Forces teams worked with the Montagnards of Vietnam’s Central Highlands in the fight against the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Members of over 30 native tribes and more than six ethnic groups, these hill tribesmen were invaluable to the US war effort. The “Yards” formed a unique bond with the Green Berets beginning in 1961 with the “Buon Enao Experiment“. That bond lasted through the end of the war in 1975 and continues today. “The Montagnard People: America’s Forgotten Vietnam Veterans”, Coffee or Die Magazine, March 29, 2021.
Jim Bolen SOG Interviews. A former Special Forces soldier who was in the Studies and Observations Group (SOG) during the Vietnam conflict describes one of his most successful missions. This article is the sixth one describing the events of SOG operators in during the Vietnam conflict. Read “Finding and Destroying a Huge Enemy Weapons Cache Inside Cambodia”, History of MACV-SOG, April 3, 2021.
Coronavirus Pandemic and the Military
COVID-19 cases in the United States are rising according to the new head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is happening despite a robust rolling out of vaccinations across the country. Currently (early April) more than 3 million shots are being given a day. More US troops are taking the COVID-19 vaccine, including those who rejected it before. However, the pandemic still poses a threat to military personnel. Recently there were 18 new COVID-19 cases reported in South Korea and Japan. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says that fully vaccinated Americans can travel at low risk to themselves, but should still wear masks, wash hands, and practice social distance.
The US military was able to maintain readiness throughout the pandemic due to mounting an early and major effort to mitigate the COVID-19 threat. It mandated practices such as social distancing, face coverings, transition to teleworking, cancellation or postponement of large scale exercises, and other activities. Read more in “Maintaining Readiness Through the Pandemic”, Hoover Institution, April 2, 2021.
VA and Vaccines. The Department of Veterans Affairs is in the midst of a nation-wide vaccination program for the pandemic. President Joe Biden singed the Save Lives Act into law which authorizes all veterans, spouses, and caregivers in the VA system to receive a Covid vaccine. Read about “What it’s like to get the COVID vaccine from the VA”, by Alex Hollings, SANDBOXX, March 29, 2021.
ASD SO/LIC and SOF Oversight. Clay Fuller, a former White House Fellow who served with the office of the Assistant Security of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, provides his perspective on great power competition, USSOCOM as a ‘service-like’ organization, and upgrading the SOF civilian leadership to a more senior level. “Why Special Operations Oversight Should Matter to Every American”, Small Wars Journal, March 29, 2021.
SOF Aviation Advising Missions. Tobias Switzer, a US Air Force combat aviation advisor and FAO, writes about the ad hoc nature of the way the US military organizes its advisors and resources to conduct aviation security force assistance. In 2017 Switzer served as commander of a special operations advisor team subordinate to the Special Operations Advisory Group that advised the Afghan 777 Special Mission Wing – Afghanistan’s special operations aviation unit. He provides a detailed account of the air advising effort in Afghanistan – the good and the bad. “Learning to Fly: How the US Military Can Fix the Problems Plaguing Aviation Advising Missions”, Modern War Institute, April 1, 2021.
SOF and CIA Relations. Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA senior operations office, has worked with US special operations forces frequently over the past few decades. He writes about the benefits of both organizations continuing their close working relationship into the future. “The Three R’s: A case officer perspective on future CIA-special operations forces relations”, Washington Examiner, April 2, 2021.
SOF and the Senate. USSOCOM commander General Richard Clarke, Cyber Command’s chief General Paul Nakasone, and the Acting Assistant Secretary of Special Operations / Low Intensity Conflict Christopher Maier testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee recently. Walter Pincus provides the highlights in his article entitled “Tracking U.S. Engagement in Undeclared Warfare”, The Cipher Brief, March 30, 2021.
Navy SEAL Comments on USSOCOM as Separate Service. Some national security observers are endorsing the effort to establish USSOCOM as its own service but there are those who think it isn’t a good idea. “Should USSOCOM Be Its Own Military Branch? A Navy SEAL Weighs In”, SANDBOXX, March 31, 2021.
Embracing the ‘Soft Power’ of the Military. Kyle Wolfley, an assistant professor of international affairs at West Point, argues that the US military and its civilian government leaders need to realize the importance of ‘soft power’. His concept of shaping operations through military alliances, exercises, and other forms of military interaction with foreign nations would help the US maintain its influence and power throughout the world. “The Shape of Things to Come: Why the Pentagon must embrace soft power to compete with China”, Modern War Institute at West Point, March 30, 2021.
Great Power Competition
GPC, Simple Addition, and Complex Math. Arun Iyer, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, provides a unique way at looking at great power competition (GPC). The 4+1, 2+3, and other additive explanations that scale Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and terrorism are simplistic in nature. He introduces three alternative methods for explaining GPC. “Recalculating the math of great-power competition”, Atlantic Council, April 2, 2021.
Internet Governance and GPC. Competition with China is taking place on many fronts. At the center of China’s technological way forward is the Chinese techno-autocracy model of internet governance. Read more in an article by Marc Losito where he writes on competing with China for the ‘Soul of the Internet’. “Great Power Internet Governance”, Small Wars Journal, April 4, 2021.
Competition in the Arctic. The interest among nations of the world in the Arctic region has increased with climate change. Climate change has opened up new opportunities – including more navigable waterways, access to natural resources, and a platform for projecting military power. The recent blockage of the Suez Canal for several days will also prompt some sea transportation outfits to take a look at the Northern Sea Route (NSR) through the Arctic as an option.
The West has been paying more attention to the activities of the Russians in the northern most region of the globe. Over the past few years the Russians have been conducting more activities, adopting a more aggressive stance in the region, and staked out ambitious territorial claims. In March 2021 the US Army adopted a new Arctic strategy to adapt to the climate change and to contribute to the advancement of US security interests in the Arctic. The US is stepping up the exercises it holds in the region.
For the US and Russia, these events signal a return to a version of its Cold War. In a recent paper, Paul Stronski – a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, studies the issue in great detail. Russia in the Arctic – A Critical Examination, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 29, 2021. The US and Russia are not the only countries focusing its attention on the Arctic.
Norway is also having to relook at its “. . . Arctic policy against the strategic backdrop of increased global rivalry and Arctic volatility” in light of Russia’s aggressive behavior and military buildup. Read more in “Arctic Security: Deterrence and Detente in the High North”, The Arctic Institute, March 30, 2021. China is also flexing its muscles over the Arctic – what is not yet know is will Russia and China be competitors, partners, or a little of both.
Border Crisis. The number of migrant children entering the United States along the southern border has forced the Biden administration to look to the Department of Defense for temporary housing arrangements. The number of unaccompanied minors detained at the border has doubled in March when compared with February 2021. Illegal migrants have surged across the border in the opening months of 2021 and Customs and Border Protection temporary facilities have been overwhelmed. A number of US military installations are going to see thousands of migrant children living on their premises. (Washington Examiner, Mar 29, 2021). The Washington Post reported that border crossing in March 2021 jumped to the highest level in 15 years. A few of the US intelligence agencies have been involved in searching for jihadists who attempt to cross into the US over the southern border. Read more about this in “Spooks on the Rio: U.S. Spy Agencies’ Little Known Homeland Security Role”, Spy Talk, April 5, 2021.
DoD Updates Transgender Policy. A new policy change announced on March 31, 2021 provides “. . . a path for those in service for medical treatment, gender transition, and recognition in one’s self-identified gender”. The new policy will allow transgender individuals to enlist in the military, serve openly according to their gender identity, and also receive medical treatment to transition. The DoD Instruction 1300.28: In-Service Transition for Transgender Service Members can be found here. (PDF, 22 pages).
JPRA and Its Capabilities. Stavros Atlamazoglou, a defense journalist, provides a brief on the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. “How a little-known Pentagon agency trains troops to escape the enemy and get home safely”, Business Insider, April 1, 2021.
LL and the Nagorno-Karabakh War. The brief war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the fall of 2020 included post-modern characteristics and multi-domain operations. There are some general lessons that were observed – especially in the world of counter unmanned aerial systems strategy. “What The United States Military Can Learn From the Nagorno-Karabakh War”, Small Wars Journal, April 4, 2021.
MK22 MRAD Rifles for US Army. Barrett Firearms has inked a contract to provide 2,800 MK22 Multi-role Adaptive Design rifles to the Army. They are part of the Army’s Precision Sniper Rifle program that provides an extreme-range weapon system to snipers. (UPI, Apr 1, 2021). The MRAD is used by US special operations forces. “Army Awards $50 Million Contract for New Special Operations Sniper Rifle”, Military.com, March 31, 2021.
Armstrong on Propaganda, Political Warfare, and History. Matt Armstrong writes on past examples (good and bad) of how to conduct information operations within a government bureaucracy. Includes link to a video and slideshow. “Neglected History, Forgotten Lessons: a presentation and discussion”, Mountain Runner, April 2, 2021.
China’s Disinformation War and Xinjiang. The Chinese regime is in the midst of a strategic information operations campaign to shape the narrative about its treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in its western province of Xinjiang. They have been helped by US social media platforms (Twitter and Facebook) where Western influencers and denialist fringe media outlets reinforce the Chinese narrative. Read “China’s disinformation on Xinjiang is political warfare, not diplomacy”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), April 1, 2021.
Russia’s Troll Farms and Other Nefarious Actors. Alexandra Ivey reports on the disinformation activities that Russia, China, and others are conducting that influence American society. Read “The US Is Fighting a Disinformation War – and Losing“, Pop Dust, April 2, 2021.
Russian Disinformation. Over the past decade the use of disinformation has been an important foreign policy tool of Vladimir Putin. The innovative information warfare used by Russia takes advantage of international news outlets such as Reuters – which easily fall into the trap of republishing Russian propaganda. This disinformation has been especially effective in support of the Russian activities in eastern Ukraine. “How Putin made the international media his unwitting accomplices”, Atlantic Council, April 1, 2021.
An Increasing NATO Presence in Iraq. In February 2021, NATO defense ministers decided to increase the commitment to Iraq. Reports indicate that the increase in military and civilian personnel could go from 500 to almost 4,000. The ‘NATO Mission Iraq’, established in 2018, has been advising Iraqi military institutions – MoD and training institutions. The NATO operation is not involved in training or accompanying Iraqi military units at the tactical level. The drawdown of the anti-ISIL coalition, led by the United States, will be partially offset with the increase in NATO’s participation. Paolo Napolitano, Ph.D., deployed to Iraq as part of the NATO mission in 2019. He provides a good explanation of the upcoming plans of ‘NATO Mission Iraq’. “What To Expect When You’re Expecting NATO in Iraq”, War on the Rocks, March 29, 2021.
Paper – Building an Enduring Peace in Yemen. The civil war in Yemen is in its sixth year and has killed more then 1/4 of a million people. It currently is the home of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. A 58-page paper draws on five years of research into the Yemen conflict and outlines how the international community can work constructively to overcome the challenges to peace. RAND Corporation, March 2021, PDF.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
Video – Why Can’t The US End the War in Afghanistan? The Bottom Line. Al Jazeera has published an informative video that explains how Afghanistan has become its ‘forever war’. Much of the video examines the Congressionally mandated document entitled the Afghanistan Study Group Final Report published in February 2021. Al Jazeera, April 2, 2021, 25 minutes.
Pakistan’s Taliban Problem. While Pakistan supports the Taliban that are fighting the Afghan government it is contending with its own version of the Taliban within its borders. The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been openly fighting the Pakistani government since 2007. In the last couple of years the TTP and Pakistan government have been conducting secret peace negotiations . . . but the talks have collapsed. This has led to an increase of attacks by the TTP. Franz J. Marty, a freelance journalist based in Afghanistan, provides more details. “Spike in Violence Follows Failed Negotiations Between the Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad”, The Diplomat, April 3, 2021.
Leave Afghanistan? Not so Fast. Dr. Jeffrey A. Stacy, a former State Department official in the Obama administration and a United Nations consultant focused on Afghanistan shares his thoughts on whether to observe the May 1st deadline for a US military departure from Afghanistan. He believes we should stay to keep full military and diplomatic pressure on the Taliban that has violated almost every major provision of the US-Taliban withdrawal deal signed in February 2020. “Getting wrong the right way to get out of Afghanistan”, Air Force Times, April 2, 2021.
American Policy in Africa. The Biden administration faces three dilemmas of U.S.-Africa policy. Sam Wilkins, a U.S. Army officer, explains in this article and lays out the policy challenges. “Why Are We in Africa?: The Dilemmas of Making American Strategy towards the African Continent”, The Strategy Bridge, March 30, 2021.
Sahel Barkane Force – Niger Leader Issues Report Card. The new president of Niger has lately been critical of the anti-jihadist effort in the Sahel. He said that the Barkhane force and Task Force Takuba operating across five countries in the Sahel has failed to reduce the activities of the jihadists. “Niger Leader Calls France’s Sahel Force ‘Relative Failure'”, The Defense Post, March 30, 2021.
Estonia and Mali. The Minister of Defense for Estonia met with the senior leadership of the Mali government to discuss Mali’s security challenges and Estonia’s contribution to the training of the country’s defense forces. Estonia contributes forces to the French-led operation Barkhane, the UN mission MINUSMA, the EU training mission EUTM Mali, and Task Force Takuba. (Baltic Times, April 3, 2021).
The Chibok Girls – and the Difficulty of Rescue Operations in Austere Environments. In the months after the Boko Haram militants kidnapped almost 300 girls from a school in northeastern Nigeria the US attempted to gather intelligence that could be used for a rescue operation. However, despite the great capabilities of the US intelligence and special operations communities, there was no rescue attempt. Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw explain why in “When America Couldn’t Bring Back Our Girls”, The Atlantic, April 4, 2021.
Troubles in Mozambique Continue. Government troops are attempting to retake the northern city of Palma from militants. As of the last week of March the insurgents controlled the city and were taking over banks and government offices. Thousands are missing and many are dead. The town is where the oil and gas corporation – Total – has a facility. The United States recently sent a small contingent of Special Forces to Mozambique to provide training to Mozambique Marines.
Central Asia and The New Great Game. Chris Harrington describes how three major great powers are competing in an area that has seen competition for influence for centuries. The new great game is now one of economics, politics, and diplomacy. Posted on April 2, 2021 by Georgetown Security Studies Review.
Terrorism in Indonesia. Recent attacks in Jakarta and Sulawesi suggest that militant jihadi groups continue to pose a potent threat to the Indonesian state. Bilveer Singh, PhD, of the National University of Singapore, explains in “Why Do al-Qaida and the Islamic State Continue to Target Indonesia?”, The Diplomat, April 1, 2021.
April 14, 2021. Web-based Event
Civil Affairs Association
April 28, 2021. Online Event.
“Oh So Social: Conversation Series”
Discussion of Special Duties Pilot
May 4-7, 2021. Alabama to Florida
5th Annual Rucking for Raiders Memorial March
Rucking for Raiders
May 5-6, 2021. Virtual Forum
The Future of SOF in Strategic Competition: A Look at the Indo-Pacific and Beyond
Joint Special Operations University (JSOU)
May 17-21, 2021. Tampa, Florida
Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) 2021
National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA)
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.
Podcasts, Videos, and Movies
Video – Navy SEAL Turned Astronaut. A former Navy SEAL chats about how he became an astronaut. Read up on his transition from sea, land, and air to space. “Navy SEAL turned astronaut talks training, scary moments”, Military Times, March 28, 2021, YouTube, 5 minutes.
Video – AFSOC Security Forces Arms Instructor. A combat arms instructor with the 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron talks about his job training others in using weapons. 1st Special Operations Security Forces (SOSFS) CATM instructors train and qualify Air Commandos on required weapons needed for deployments, enabling special operations forces worldwide.
(U.S. Air Force video by Senior Airman Blake Wiles, March 29, 2021, 1 min).
Photo: A Special Forces candidate navigates one of the obstacles of Nasty Nick. The potential Green Berets must traverse the school’s legendary obstacle course during Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) at Camp Mackall, NC. (U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens, January 2021)
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