Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. Danish SF to Mali, GBs train with Swedes, Recon on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, GPC, IW, Russian PMCs, IO, upcoming SOF events, podcasts, and videos.
SOF Veterans and Their YouTube Channel. A former Marine Raider and Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman have teamed up to make videos about special operations forces. Established in mid-2020 the channel, SAVAGE Actual, has 83 thousand subscribers. “Marine veterans’ YouTube channel gives civilians a taste of special ops”, Marine Times, April 6, 2021.
SOCOM and Cyber Security. United States Special Operations Command has been a leader in testing new artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. SOCOM is anticipating that China and Russia will bring more advanced cyber security and technology means to any future fight. (Military & Aerospace Electronics, Apr 12, 2021).
SEAL Eddie Gallagher & TV Series. Apple has launched a dual podcast-TV series on the controversial former SEAL who faced charges in 2018 for alleged war crimes in Iraq. (Military Times, April 7, 2021).
AFSOC Officer Assignments. Maj. Gen. (select) Michael E. Martin will be assigned as commanding general, Special Operations Command Korea, U.S. Special Operations Command, Camp Kim, Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. Martin is currently serving as director, operations, Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Florida. Brig. Gen. Matthew W. Davidson will be assigned as director, operations, Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Florida. Davidson is currently serving as deputy commander, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan, U.S. Central Command, Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. Brig. Gen. (select) Robert A. Masaitis will be assigned as chief innovation officer and deputy director, integration and innovation, Deputy Chief of Staff, Strategy, Integration and Requirements, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, The Pentagon, Washington, D.C. Masaitis is currently serving as commander, 27th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command, Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.
USACAPOC(A)’s Best Warrior Competition. The U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) held a Warrior skills competition from April 8 – 11, 2021 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Events included the Army Combat Fitness test, weapons qualification, land nav, a swim event, and other Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills. “USACAPOC(A) Best Warrior Competitors Hail From Around the U.S.”, DVIDS, April 7, 2021.
711th SOS and CAA Training. Combat Aviation Advisors (CAA) of the 711th Special Operations Squadron recently employed a new method of training utilizing a two-week long Proficiency Exercise (PROEX). CAAs advise, assist and instruct personnel from partner nations. PROEX with personnel from the 24th Special Operations Wing, 492nd Special Operations Wing, and the 7th Special Forces Group, provided scenarios that allowed the CCAs to embed with other units in a deployed environment. “New proficiency exercise streamlines training for CAAs”, Air Force Reserve Command, April 8, 2021.
Danish SF Going to Mali. Denmark will deploy about 100 special forces as part of Task Force Takuba – a special operations force headed by France. The deployment will take place in the early part of 2022. (TerraDaily, Apr 8, 2021).
Canadian SOF in Iraq. In a two-week operation codenamed Ready Lion members of Canadian special forces supported a major Iraqi military assault on Islamic State fighters in March 2021. They also assisted with medical evacuations by helicopter and provided surveillance and resupply assistance. There are roughly 200 Canadian special forces soldiers currently in Iraq. Canadian SOF have been in Iraq since 2014 and usually operate out of a base near the city of Irbil in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. (National Post, Apr 11, 2021).
UK Recon Group Completes Mission. The United Kingdom’s Long Range Recce Group (Mali) covered more than 1,500 kms and visited more than 60 villages during a recent operation in Mali. (Forces.net, Apr 8, 2021).
US Green Berets Train with Swedish Brigade. A US Special Forces unit of the Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) has finished training with Swedish military units during exercise Vintersol 2021. The SF deployment began with winter warfare training in Sweden followed by participation in the Swedish exercise. “American special forces practiced winter combat in the north”, Forsvarsmakten, April 7, 2021.
Recon on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Jim Bolen, a member of the Studies and Observations Group during the Vietnam War, went on nearly 50 SOG missions into Laos and Cambodia. Many of these missions were reconnaissance on the Ho Chi Minh Trail that carried troops and supplies from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodian to South Vietnam. Read an interview of Jim in “Reconnaissance Missions to the Ho Chi Minh Trail”, The History of MACV-SOG Blog, April 10, 2021.
8th SFG Established. On April 12, 1963 the 8th Special Forces Group was established at Fort Gulick, Panama Canal Zone. The primary mission of the Group was counterinsurgency training for the armies of Latin America.
Podcast – The Story of the Son Tay POW Raid. Terry Buckler, one of 56 Green Berets who went 300 miles behind enemy lines into North Vietnam to rescue American POWs at the Son Tay POW camp. Terry is also the co-author of the book Who Will Go: Into the Son Tay POW Camp. Combat Story, Episode 24, April 8, 2021, 1 hr 45 mins.
Wuhan Virus and the Military
There has been a recent surge in the United States of COVID-19 cases – despite the advances made in distributing the vaccines. The coronavirus variant first seen in Britain is now found in over 100 countries. The U.S. has (as of mid-April) vaccinated over 20% of its population. A US air base on Okinawa has reported a dozen new COVID-19 patients. The US Army has begun clinical trials on a vaccine that may be effective against all coronaviruses. The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research is preparing for a clinical trial. About 35 percent of the Navy is vaccinated against COVID-19. The DoD is prioritizing vaccinations for its overseas population. The DOD vaccination program was set back when 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines were contaminated at a Baltimore factory in early April. Nearly 40% of Marines have declined the COVID-19 vaccine.
Special Forces and GPC. Dr. Sandor Fabian writes about the need for U.S. Army Special Forces to adapt to the recent changes of the global strategic landscape and the increasingly multipolar world. His article argues that building urban resistance networks within allied and partner nations during pre-conflict periods and enabling these networks during war are an important capability. Read more in “Building and Enabling Urban Resistance Networks in Small Countries – A Crucial Role for U.S. Special Forces in Great Power Competition”, Small Wars Journal, April 11, 2021.
USMC, IW, and GPC. The emergence of great power competition (GPC) as a national security priority has the services taking a hard look at the future. Some defense commentators worry that that focus on irregular warfare (IW) may be diminished. The competing perspectives of GPC and IW have implications for the DoD as a whole – as well as for the Marine Corps’ future force design. “Service leadership must ensure its efforts to refocus the force on fighting the nation’s enemy of choice does not leave the Corps ill-prepared to wage future irregular conflicts as well.” Adam Taylor expresses his concerns in “Irregular Conflict in a Great Power World: A Word of Caution for the Marine Corps”, Small Wars Journal, April 6, 2021.
Great Power Competition
GPC, SOF, and Counter-Threat Finance. Adversary use of economic statecraft and financial warfare demand a response beyond “kicking doors” within the gray zone of competition. Such challenges elevate the importance of using non-lethal irregular warfare activities as a way to compete. Applying Counter-Threat Finance (CTF) towards financial access denial against China and Russia expand the range of military options to shape adversarial behavior short of war. Beyond sensational direct-action raids, this evolution of SOF offers a form of unconventional deterrence that ultimately puts the United States, its allies, and partners in a position of advantage to secure their interests while reducing adversary influence and leverage. This informative article is by Colonel Sara Dudley (USASOC), Colonel Kevin Stringer (SOCEUR and US Army War College), and Major Steve Ferenzi (USASOC). “Beyond Direct Action: A Counter-Threat Finance Approach to Competition”, Insights, Kingston Consortium on International Security (KCIS), Queen’s University (Canada), April 2021. See the podcast on this topic featuring COL Sara Dudley under podcast section below.
A Blue Arctic. The Navy Department issued a new pub on January 5, 2021 that describes its strategic blueprint of the Arctic region. The 28-page paper acknowledges the climate change. On another ‘Navy’ topic, a recent article asks if it really matters that China’s navy has more ships than the US Navy. The DoD is keeping a watchful eye on Russian activities in the Arctic region. The Army is working on a prototyping effort to acquire an all-terrain vehicle that can operate in the Arctic. The vehicle will undergo extensive testing in Alaska at the Cold Regions Test Center in 2021.
China’s BRI and Kenya’s Big Problem. China intends to dominate the rest of the planet economically, militarily, and technologically and the Belt and Road Initiative will help it do that. If you are an underdeveloped nation and China offers you as sweet deal . . . you might want to read the fine print. Kenya signed up for Chinese assistance and the bill is a $50 billion debt comes due in 2024. If they can’t pay it back they may have to turn over the Mombasa Port to Chinese investors. “All Rails Run Through Tsavo”, by David M. Tillman, War Room, Army War College, April 9, 2021.
China Targets Foreign Media. The propaganda machine of China is targeting foreign journalists with verbal and online attacks over their coverage of the Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. Beijing has increasingly harassed foreign journalists over reporting on the Uyghurs plight. “China’s Propaganda Against Foreign Media Increases”, Voice of America, April 9, 2021.
China’s Lawfare. The use of ‘rule of law’ by China provides a powerful weapon both within the country and around the globe. Many laws and regulations established to ‘combat terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism’ are very useful to control the Uyghur and other Muslim peoples within the People’s Republic of China. In addition, the Chinese are using ‘rule of law’ to advance its political goals around the world – filing lawsuits in the West to challenge policies or decisions adverse to China. “The growing threat of China’s lawfare”, MSN News, April 10, 2021.
Russia and Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is flexing his muscles and testing Western resolve. The security situation in eastern Ukraine is deteriorating while Russian troops have moved up to the border as part of a big military buildup. Sarah Lain provides the details in “Russia Piles Up the Pressure on Ukraine”, Commentary, RUSI, April 6, 2021.
Russia’s PMCs. One of the tools used by Russia to advance it strategic interests is the deployment of private military companies. The Wagner Group and other PMCs to the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere has given Russia the ability to inject itself into conflicts without drawing international retribution or sanctions. Two U.S. Marine Corps officers tell us about this growing concern in “The US military must plan for encounters with private military companies”, Brookings Institute, March 30, 2021.
Intel Report – Global Trends. A new U.S. intelligence assessment – Global Trends – assesses the key trends and uncertainties that will shape the strategic environment over the next 20 years. The National Intelligence Council’s report is published every four years. Global Trends 2040, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, March 2021.
Border Crisis. More 20,000 children and teenagers are in the care of the federal government since crossing the southern US border. Some 16,000 unaccompanied child border crossers are in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services and another 4,000 in the care of Customs and Border Protection. In March 2021, almost 19,000 children and teenagers were encountered at the border by border agents. The sharp increase in border crossings coincides with a Biden administration decision to exempt children from a pandemic-era rule that allows the immediate expulsion of migrants without offering asylum. The Biden administration’s Southern Border coordinator will step down at the end of April. According to a recent Congressional Research Service report unaccompanied alien children (UAC) encounters in March 2021 were the highest monthly total on record. (CRS IN11638, 9 Apr 2021).
IO, PSYOP, and Cyber. Chaveso Cook and Liam Collins examine “. . . the reasons why psychological operations (PSYOP) forces have distinct advantages in comparison to the cyber community regarding online influence efforts.” “PSYOP, Cyber, and Infowar: Combating the New Age IED”, Modern War Institute at West Point, April 6, 2021.
China and Cyber. China has two distinct messages in regards to telecommunications: one is domestic and the other international. “China as a ‘cyber great power’: Beijing’s two voices in telecommunications”, Brookings Institute, April 2021.
Imposing Costs on Russia in the IO Environment. Over the past several years Russia has become more aggressive in the information operations arena. One way to counter or deter these activities is to take advantage of Russia’s vulnerabilities. Major Travis Florio, a U.S. Army information operations officer (FA30), provides his recommendations. “Impose Costs on Russia in Information Environment”, Proceedings, U.S. Naval Institute, April 2021.
US Withdrawal from Iraq? The United States and Iraq are engaged in a series of talks about the redeployment of US troops. The mission has shifted from a combat role to training and advisory roles. The talks began in June 2020. Current US force levels is at about 2,500. At the same time, NATO is looking at stepping up its commitment to Iraq with an increase in advisors and trainers at the institutional level. “No timetable for withdrawal of troops after US, Iraq talks”, Military Times, April 8, 2021.
Iran Nuclear Site Sabotaged? In an apparent Israeli operation Iran’s main nuclear enrichment site at Natanz has been struck on April 11, 2021. It is believed that a possible cyber attack caused a power failure that in turn caused a huge explosion. This took place one day after Tehran announced that it had begun testing an advanced nuclear centrifuge. The incident could set back work at the underground nuclear facility by months.
Yemen Weaponry. The Iranian-aligned Houthi insurgents put various ‘made in Yemen’ weapons on display in March 2021. A recent article describes the weapons and provides a perspective on how they are manufactured. Many of the weapons are targeting Saudi Arabia interests. “Made in Yemen” Houthi Exhibition Showcase New Drones, Missiles, and Naval Mines”, Small Wars Journal, April 8, 2021.
SDF and JTAC Training. In March USAF Joint Tactical Air Controllers provided training to members of the Syrian Democratic Front in calling in air strikes. “Air Force JTACs training Syrians to help call in helo airstrikes raises questions”, Air Force Times, April 8, 2021.
Myanmar Update. The military of Myanmar has taken a lot of criticism for its violence against civilians who are protesting the recent military coup that took place on February 1, 2021. The civil resistance movement – known as the Spring Revolution – has received some moral support from some of the rebel groups that have been fighting government troops. The rebels have been in a long running conflict defending their ethnic territories. Three of the rebel groups – the Arakan Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – have issued a statement in support of the Spring Revolution. Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based security analyst, is interviewed about the prospect of rebel groups combining their efforts to fight the Myanmar military. “Myanmar Military Versus Ethic Armies Would be ‘David and Goliath Contest’: IHS-Janes Expert”, Radio Free Asia, April 8, 2021.
US Security Information Update. The Embassy of the United States of America in Rangoon has issued a travel advisory on Burma. It is advising US citizens to not travel to Burma or to leave as soon as possible due to the likelihood of life-threatening risks. The current Level 4 Travel Advisory is the highest level issued by the Department of State. “Message to U.S. Citizens: Security Information Update for April 9, 2021”, U.S. Embassy in Burma, April 9, 2021.
Philippine – US Joint War Games. Over the next few weeks the Philippine armed forces will conduct an exercise that will include 700 US soldiers. The exercise is being held amid growing tensions in the South China Sea. (The Defense Post, Apr 12, 2021).
Tough to Withdraw. Ryan Baker and Jonathan Schroden provide commentary on the obstacles to withdrawing from Afghanistan. They point out the factors that stand in the way of the US leaving the long-running conflict and detail the logistics constraints as well as other issues. “Why Is It So Tough to Withdraw From Afghanistan?”, War on the Rocks, April 8, 2021.
Paper – An Enduring Proxy War. Ajmal Sohail provides a short paper on the four-decades of the Afghan conflict. Afghanistan has been a chessboard for super powers (Russia and US) as well as regional countries (Iran, Pakistan, India, etc.). He details the ‘Soviet invasion’, ‘Indo-Pakistan dispute’, ‘Sino-Indian row’, ‘Iran-Saudi Arabia dispute’, and several other rivalries that puts Afghanistan in the crosshairs. Nations promoting their foreign policy objectives using proxy forces in Afghanistan have severely limited the ability to usher in a peaceful period in that country. “Will the enduring Proxy-war be ever ended in Afghanistan?”, Modern Diplomacy, April 9, 2021.
Taliban – Closing in on the Cities. For the past two decades Taliban control, influence, and activities was mostly in the rural areas of Afghanistan. Other than the occasional high-profile attack there was not a concerted effort to ‘control’ the cities. But the Taliban are encroaching toward the major population areas . . . slowly. And mounting targeted attacks against civil servants, journalists, and others. Ashley Jackson and Antonio Sampaio provide commentary on this topic in “Afghan Cities Become Key Battlegrounds”, War on the Rocks, April 9, 2021.
Al Qaeda – Still Operating in Afghanistan. Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal reports that Al Qaeda and its regional branch, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, are still operating across Afghanistan. This, despite Taliban claims that the group has no presence in Afghanistan. It is believed that the terrorist group is operating in at least 21 of the 34 Afghan provinces. (FDD’s Long War Journal, Apr 8, 2021).
Officer Assignment: NATO Air Command – Afghanistan. Brig. Gen. Julian C. Cheater will be assigned as commander, NATO Air Command-Afghanistan; deputy commander, air, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan; commander, 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan; and director, Air Forces Central Command Air Component Coordination Element for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, Kabul, Afghanistan. Cheater is currently serving as deputy director, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations; and director, Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Operations Center, J-32, Joint Staff, The Pentagon, Washington, D.C.
ISIS and Africa. Violence in Africa by jihadists reached a high in 2020. The Islamic State is using these attacks to increase its stature. Two years after losing its ‘physical caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria the Islamic State is gaining strength in Africa. “In Bid to Boost Its Profile, ISIS Turns to Africa’s Militants”, The New York Times, April 7, 2021.
Mozambique Seeking Assistance. The African nation is having problems dealing with an Islamic State affiliate insurgent group in the northern region of Mozambique. Regional nations are conducting talks on how to assist the country. The US has sent a small team of Green Berets to train selected units of the Mozambique security forces for a two-month period. The country’s president has been reluctant to seek foreign assistance in the fight against the insurgents but seems to be relaxing this position. “Mozambique seeks targeted foreign support to help tackle insurgency”, Reuters, April 7, 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, 2021. Tampa, Florida
7th Global SOF Anniversary Reception
Global SOF Foundation
May 17-21, 2021. Virtual
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.
Books, Pubs, and Reports
Army Communicator. The April 2021 edition is focused on the 75th Ranger Regiment. This month’s issue provides an in depth look into the Ranger world and the jobs that communicators fulfill in the 75th Ranger Regiment. The pub provides a quick profile on the regiment, details the history of Ranger communications, and has information on the 75th’s tactical mission network. PDF, 26 pages.
Gray Zone Aggression and Denial. Elisabeth Braw says liberal democracies must create deterrence by building societal resilience and offers proposals to make that happen. Building a Wall of Denial Against Gray-Zone Aggression, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), April 2021, PDF, 25 pages.
Podcasts, Videos, and Movies
Podcast – A Counter-Threat Finance Approach to Competition. This podcast features a wide-ranging discussion on the concept of counter-threat finance. Colonel Sara Dudley, US Army Special Operations Command Comptroller, explains the security implications of finance and the role the SOF can play in this space. She explains how threat finance is part of the broader intelligence function within defence and security. Episode 2, The Politics of Special Forces, Kingston Consortium on International Security, Queen’s University, April 2021.
Podcast: Armed Overwatch – Airpower in IW. The use of airpower to support ground forces will require manned and unmanned aviation platforms that are more versatile and robust. Lieutenant General Thomas Trask (Ret.) and Dr. James Kiras discuss the use of aviation platforms in the coming years. “Armed Overwatch: Airpower in Irregular Warfare – Past, Present and Future”, Modern War Institute at West Point, April 10, 2021, 50 minutes.
Podcast – Military Free Fall School. Major Derrick Taylor, the commander of the MFF school at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, discusses the mission of the military free fall school and what it does for special operations forces. Knowledge Wins, U.S. Army JFK Special Warfare Center and School, YouTube, April 2, 2021.
Webcast – Conversation b/t Two SF MOH Recipients. SFC (R) Melvin Morris and SGM Matt Williams talk about their service in the Special Forces Regiment. Both soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. Morris was in 5th Special Forces Group in the Vietnam conflict. Williams served with 3rd Special Forces Group in Afghanistan. “Honor & Legacy – a conversation between two Special Forces MOH recipients”, Indigenous Approach, 1st Special Forces Command, March 18, 2021.
Webcast – Taking Care of the Team with SGM Matt Parrish. United States Special Operations Command HQ SGM Parrish (Green Beret) talks about Air Force Special Warfare attachments on SF ODAs.
Video – GSOF Symposium. The Global SOF Foundation Symposium was held in March 2021. GSOF has posted a video on the event. April 6, 2021, 4 minutes, YouTube.
Photo: A Naval Special Boat Team Combat Craft Assault is lifted onto an amphibious dock landing ship during Exercise TRIDENT (TD) 20-2. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Russell Rhodes Jr., January 24, 2020)
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