Special Operations News Update – Monday, May 10, 2021

Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. Topics include Navy SEAL training, jetpacks for SOF, the talkative Eddie Gallagher, SOF small arms, ASD SO/LIC and civilian oversight of SOF, 4th Canadian Ranger Group, smokejumpers and the CIA, ANASF, books, podcasts, videos, and more.

SOF News

ASD SO/LIC Memo by Miller Reversed by Austin. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has reversed the memo that Former Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller (a retired SF officer) signed in the fall of 2021 pulling the Assistant Secretary of Defense Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict office from under the policy section of DoD and having it report directly to the SECDEF. ASD SO/LIC is now back under the under secretary of defense for policy organization. The press release (note the word “Optimizes”) can be found here. “DOD Optimizes Organizational Role of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict”, DoD, May 5, 2021.

ASD SO/LIC and DOD Directive. The Department of Defense has published an updated directive that spells out the responsibilities, functions, relationships, and authorities of ASD SO/LIC. This 28-page PDF was effective as of May 5, 2021.

Report – CRS on SOF Issues and ASD SO/LIC. The Congressional Research Service has updated its report entitled U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF:) Background Issues for Congress. This report submitted to Congress on a periodic basis provides an explanation of SOF and the current issues that Congress needs to be aware of. This latest report on SOF identifies potential issues for Congress including policy concerns relating to Secretary of Defense Austin’s decision to reverse Acting Secretary of Defense Miller’s 2020 policy decision on ASD SO/LIC and the status of DOD’s review of DOD and USSOCOM support to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). PDF, 13 pages.

Civilian Control of US SOF and JSOU. There is a push within Congress and some parts of the ‘defense community’ for more oversight of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) based in Tampa, Florida. General Clark, the current commander of USSOCOM, prefers to keep the civilian oversight at a minimum. The Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), a part of USSOCOM, is currently in the midst of a study about the pros and cons of increasing SOF civilian oversight. But some critics are complaining about this. “Internal Study highlights struggle over control of America’s special ops forces”, Politico, May 7, 2021.

No Arrest in Death of SF Soldier. Nearly five months after the death of Master Sgt. William LaVigne there has been no solving the case. The death certificate for LaVigne says he died of multiple gunshot wounds. His body was found on a Fort Bragg, NC training area on December 2, 2020. LaVigne was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and had served for 19 years in the Army. “Still no arrests in deaths of Special Forces soldier, veteran at Fort Bragg”, Army Times, May 3, 2021.

Green Beret Congressman Interview. Representative Mike Waltz (R-FL) is interviewed on a variety of topics to include the mistake of leaving Afghanistan, problems with ‘wokeness’ at West Point and the military, competition with China, and racism in the military. “A Candid Conversation with Rep. Mike Waltz, Congress’s only Combat-decorated Green Beret”, The Washington Examiner, April 29, 2021.

3rd SFG(A) Soldier Charged with Murder. A female parachute rigger was charged with the murder of an active duty female motor pool clerk assigned to the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The incident took place on Friday, May 7, 2021. The Fayetteville Observer, May 8, 2021.

Army SOF Visit to CBRN School. Staff members from USASOC, 75th Ranger Regiment, 160th SOAR, and Special Forces groups paid a visit to Fort Leonard Wood to learn more about collective training opportunities. (Army.mil, May 5, 2021).

Rescue MH-60G Retired. A Pave Hawk of the USAF rescue community had its final flight. At 32 years old, 1,000 flight hours, and multiple deployments it was time to put the historic airframe to rest. “MH-60G Pave Hawk tail number 009 soars one last time”, US Air Force, May 8, 2021.

Females and Standards for Entering Navy SEAL Training. Very few men can meet the physical standards needed to pass the demands of SEAL training. Even fewer women are able to meet these standards. It hasn’t happened yet but it will in time. Read up on what the requirements are for both men and women for entering and completing SEAL training. (Hint: the standards are the same). “Entrance Standards for Female Navy SEALs”, SOFREP, May 7, 2021.

USAF Combat Controllers. US Air Force Combat Controllers accompany Special Forces, SEALs, and Army Rangers on combat missions to provide a comms link to air support flying above. Rifles, radios, smart phones apps, lasers, and goggles are some of the items they carry on missions. “Putting warheads on foreheads – This is the gear Air Force combat controllers carry into battle”, Task & Purpose, May 5, 2021.

SF and SOAR Conduct Cold Weather Dive Training. Members of the 10th Special Forces Group and the Special Operations Aviation Regiment conducted maritime operations on a cold spring day at Fort Carson, Colorado. The SF dive team practiced fast rope insertion and extraction, helocasting, water infiltration techniques, and other events. “Combat Dive Team Uses Reservoir as Landing Zone”, Fort Carson Mountaineer, May 7, 2021.

Photos – Navy SEALs and 160th SOAR. Some pretty neat photos to view in this article. “From pirate patch-waring SEALs on Little Birds to an operator mid-air fast-roping into a stealthy boat slung under an MH-47, these shots impress”, The Drive, May 9, 2021.

Jetpacks in a Maritime Environment. It won’t be long before jet suits will be used by Navy SEALs to conduct maritime vessel boardings. Gravity Industries LTD in London, UK has developed a prototype that will soon be put into use by SOF around the world. Watch a video of Royal Marines using a jet suit to board a ocean going vessel. Gravity Industries, May 1, 2021, 3 minutes.

Former Green Beret Spy May Get 17 Years of Prison. A Special Forces officer who pleaded guilty to providing classified information to a Russian military intelligence agent could face up to 17 years in jail. Peter Debbins had a relationship with Russian intelligence that dated back to 1996. (Radio Free Europe, May 8, 2021).

STO Honored. A building dedication ceremony was held at Hurlburt Field, Florida on May 6, 2021 to honor U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Roland. The Special Tactics Officer died in 2015 during an insider attack in Afghanistan – an incident for which he was awarded the Silver Star. “Service. Strength. Sacrifice: Special Tactics training complex dedicated to fallen STO”, Air Force Special Tactics (24 SOW), May 6, 2021.

Eddie Gallagher Can’t Stop Talking. The Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murdering an Islamic State prisoner in Iraq in a war crimes trial said in a new podcast that his platoon agreed to practice medical procedures on him until he died.

SOF Small Arms. The special operations community has a broad range of ‘lethality enhancements’ to choose from. Many manufacturers are presenting improvements to pistols and sniper weapons systems that will improve the capabilities of SOF operators. “Industry Supports Special Ops With Lethality Enhancements”, National Defense Magazine, May 6, 2021.

Secret “LEAP” Drone Crash in Iraq. The loss of a Long Endurance Aircraft Program drone in mid-2020 used by a ‘SOF entity’ is detailed in this report. “Crash in Iraq Helps Unmask Secretive Ultra-Quiet Special Operations Drone Program”, The War Zone, May 4, 2021.

SOF and Digital Signature Management. In October 2020 US Navy SEALs rescued Philip Walton, a US citizen living in Niger who was kidnapped. The SEALs killed six of the seven hostage takers and Walton was saved. The infil was done by a HALO insert – and followed in near real time by a Dutch aircraft spotting website. This incident reveals how the collection of SOF digital signatures give adversaries access to patterns and profiles of missions and operations. “Manhunting the Manhunters: Digital Signature Management in the Age of Great Power Competition”, by Chris Cruden, Modern War Institute at West Point, May 3, 2021.

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International SOF

NATO SOF Conference. The NATO Special Operations forces (SOF) Commander’s Conference was held on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. The event was hosted by NATO Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ). 32 Alliance and Partner nations participated in discussions on a wide range of topics. (NATO, Apr 30, 2021).

Drugs, Sex, and SAS Missions. An interesting story about a member of the UK military. “Drugs, sex, SAS missions – the extraordinary life of Ben Timberlake”, The Times, May 7, 2021.

Russian Spetsnaz. Steve Balestrieri provides details and some history on Russian elite forces. “Russian Special Forces – What Are Spetsnaz?”, SOFREP, May 7, 2021.

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SOF History

Female Photographer of Vietnam War had ‘Wings’. In 1968 Life Magazine profiled a female photographer who parachuted into combat with a U.S. unit during the Vietnam War. “A Tiny Girl with Paratroopers’ Wings”, Carrying the Gun, May 6, 2021.

Killing Qassem Soleimani. New details are out on the US operation to kill the head of the elite Quds Force, part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in a January 2020 drone strike at Baghdad’s international airport. “Conspiracy is hard: Inside the Trump administration’s secret plan to kill Qassem Soleimani”, Yahoo! News, May 8, 2021.

Video – Smokejumpers CIA Clandestine Weapon in America’s Secret Wars. A documentary details the CIA’s hiring smokejumpers to help in its unconventional war operations. Over 100 were employed during the Cold War. YouTube, April 4, 2021, 48 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0PlLyzX_K0

A Bridge Named for Ola Mize. A Special Forces officer and Medal of Honor recipient, Col. Ola Lee Mize, will have a bridge named after him in Albertville, Alabama. Mize died in 2014 at the age of 82. “Albertville bridge to be named after war hero”, Sand Mountain Reporter, May 7, 2021.

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COVID-19 and the Military

COVID-19 in the U.S. and Around the World. With a large segment of the older population vaccinated doctors are finding that a greater share of their COVID-19 patients are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. Those under 50 years old now make up the greatest percentage of nationwide COVID-19 hospitalizations. The majority of younger patients hospitalized with COVID will survive but many will suffer from long-term symptoms after the initial infection. Congressional leaders are trying to figure out the origin of SARS-CoV-2. Some blame a lab in Wuhan, China, others a food market in China. The Congressional Research Service put together a two-page explainer detailing four different ‘theories’ of how the coronavirus pandemic began.

India is still in the midst of a COVID-19 crisis, currently leading the world in daily caseloads – probably overtaking the United States and China. The U.S. Air Force has been delivering oxygen concentrators, N95 masks, and other medical equipment to India.

COVID-19 and the U.S. Military. President Biden has said that he will not mandate the COVID vaccine for military personnel once it receives full approval from the Food and Drug Administration; but stated he would leave it up to the military to decide. A Navy active-duty senior NCO, age 45, died of COVID-19 related complications recently bringing the military’s death total to 25 – a relatively low number (due to stringent safety precautions) when it is compared to the high death count in the US civilian population.

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Green Berets – Need to Rethink Training and Focus. Barnett S. Koven and Chris Mason argue that the US Army Special Forces should revitalize some of the capabilities that will allow it to successfully train and operate with indigenous resistance forces behind enemy lines. They believe that revamping language training is of critical importance as well as covert resupply and communications capabilities in denied areas for extended duration. (Editor’s Note: Not sure how current their information is. Seems that 1st SF Command and SWCS is back on track for UW and language skills.). “Back to the Future: Getting Special Forces Ready for Great-Power Competition”, War on the Rocks, May 4, 2021.

Coping with China. Austin Matthews and Collin Meisel provide their perspective on how to react to China’s ambitions in the Pacific and around the world. “Seeking Serenity: A new American influence strategy for southeast Asia and beyond”, War on the Rocks, May 10, 2021.

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National Security

Border Crisis. President Biden, under pressure from progressive groups and Democrats, has increased the number of refugee admissions to 62,500 for this fiscal year.

Braids and Ponytails. The US Army has changed its grooming standards for female soldiers. No longer are they required to put their hair up in a bun or wear their hair short. Braids and ponytails are now authorized. Apparently ‘battle braids’ is a new term that we have to get used to. (Editor’s Note: I spent six months in 2014 as a contract counterinsurgency advisor in RC-North at Mazur-e Sharif. My associates would often refer to Camp Marmal as the ‘home of the long ponytails’ due to the many European female soldiers based there.) “Female soldiers celebrate the Army’s new ponytail, braid policy”, Military Times, May 8, 2021.

CF and IW Training. James Derleth, a professor of irregular warfare at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies (Germany), argues that conventional forces do not train enough for the type of conflict they will most likely engage in. “Failing to Train: Conventional Forces in Irregular Warfare”, Modern War Institute at West Point, May 5, 2021.

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Information Operations

Paper – Deep Fakes and National Security. The term “deep fakes” first came about in 2017 to describe the process of generating realistic photo, audio, video forgeries with artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. As these technologies mature they could have significant implications for national security. Read more in a 3-page report by the Congressional Research Service published May 7, 2021. (PDF)

Competing in the IO Environment. William Heitshusen maintains that the United States Air Force needs to shift to shift its information warfare posture from reactive to proactive in today’s dynamic information environment. “The Power of Truth: How to Compete with Information Warfare”, Over the Horizon Journal, May 10, 2021.

DOD IO Strategy. Some improvements are needed in the Department of Defense’s information operations strategy. The DOD faces a number of challenges in overseeing the IO enterprise and integrating its IO capabilities. “GAO: Leadership and Integration Improvements could Improve DOD’s Information Operations”, HSToday, May 8, 2021.

China’s Propaganda Campaigns. The CCPs foreign information operations activities targeted against the US and other Western nations is sophisticated and effective. There are four components of this IO or propaganda campaign: disinformation, elite capture, coerced self-censorship, and brainwashing. Miles Maochun Yu provides details in “Beijing’s Woke Propaganda War in America”, Strategika, Hoover Institution, May 5, 2021.

Great Power Competition GPC

Great Power Competition

Pub – The Future Operational Environment. The US Army’s Training and Doctrine command has published a new paper that updates its thinking on the operational environment – taking into account new aspects such as the coronavirus pandemic and renewed great power competition. The Operational Environment: Great Power Competition, Crisis, and Conflict, April 2021, PDF, 28 pages.

CT and GPC. While the US is shifting away from counterterrorism and to great power competition it is important to remember that the two are mutually reinforcing, not mutually exclusive, efforts. “Harmonizing Counterterrorism and Great-Power Competition”, by Matthew Levitt, The National Interest, May 9, 2021.


Indonesia’s Infantry Bn 315 Deployed. 400 members of an elite unit have been sent to Papua, Indonesia following an April 2021 attack that killed the head of Indonesia’s intelligence agency in the eastern province. The West Papua National Liberation Army (WPNLA) has claimed credit for the attack. “Indonesia Deploys Forces to Troubled Papua Region”, The Diplomat, May 5, 2021.

“Free Burma Rangers”. Dave Eubank and other members of his humanitarian organization are busy in Myanmar along the Thai border assisting those suffering from the military crackdown. Eubank, a former U.S. Army Green Beret, has a lot of experience in Myanmar assisting minority tribes people. “Why This Former American Soldier Keeps Returning to War Zones”, Vice.com, May 7, 2021. In another unrelated news item a Myanmar shadow government has formed a militia to oppose the military junta. (Voice of America, May 6, 2021).


Russia’s Spy Agencies – Some Successes and Failures. The Russians have been up to their dirty tricks in Europe. Several operations have been exposed to the public eye in the past few months that have taken place in Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, and the Czech Republic. “Analysis: Russia’s secret services betray their weakness”, Deutsche Welle, May 3, 2021.

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Afghan Update. At least 30 people were killed and many more injured in a bomb explosion in a majority Shiite district on Saturday, May 8, 2021. Many of the victims were from a girls school. The Taliban took control of two districts in the northern province of Baghlan this past week. The annual spring offensive by the Taliban is in full swing. There are a few districts in Kandahar and Helman provinces that are under siege as well. The Afghan Air Force is considered a key element in the ability of the ANDSF to stop the Taliban from encroaching on the major provincial capitals – but a scheme of supporting the AAF with foreign contractors for maintenance and logistics is necessary.

Reorganizing Afghan Elite Forces. Eddie Banach, a US Air Force officer, argues that the elite units of the MoD and MoI need to be fused together to form a more effective fighting force. He cites the success of Iraq’s CTS. “Apex Predators: Why Few Security Institutions are Masters of Their Environments, and How to Help the Afghan Security Forces Become Masters of Theirs”, Small Wars Journal, May 4, 2021.

Afghanistan and China’s Western Flank. Representative Mike Waltz is calling the departure of US forces from Afghanistan a mistake. He warns that the US is losing the only US bases near Iran’s eastern flank and China’s western flank. In an era of great power competition, he believes that bases in Afghanistan have an important strategic value. Waltz is an Army Special Forces officer serving in the reserve component and served two combat tours with Special Forces in Afghanistan. “Concerns over leaving US bases in Afghanistan on China’s western flank”, Fox News, May 7, 2021.

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Somalia. Michael Rubin blames the current political and security situation on bureaucratic ignorance within the US military and State Department. Money and weapons are being sent to Somalia’s armed forces at a time when the Somali government seems more interested in factional and clan conflict than fighting al Shabaab. “The Pentagon is fueling Somalia’s renewed civil war”, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), May 3, 2021.

LRA Commander Sentenced. A former commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was convicted of 61 horrific crimes. US Army Special Forces played a big role in the degradation of the LRA. (Voice of America, May 6, 2021).

Mozambique. The country is facing a jihadist insurgency in the north regions. An agreement between Portugal and Mozambique will provide for the training of Mozambique’s special forces. The pact will deliver Portuguese training and education for special forces, marines, and commandos – to include intelligence, drones, and ground-to-air topics. The European Union (EU) is also looking at training Mozambique’s armed forces – with European troops deployed before the end of the year. A team of U.S. Army Special Forces is currently in Mozambique providing training to that countries marines. (Macau Business, May 7, 2021). In another article both the history of Mozambique and the role of US Special Forces is discussed. “Special Operations: Diagnosing Mozambique”, Strategy Page, May 7, 2021.

Global Special Operations Foundation

Upcoming Events

May 14, 2021. Charlotte, North Carolina
Patriot Classic Tactical
Green Beret Foundation

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)

May 26, 2021. Ijamsville, Maryland
4th Annual Golf Tournament
Three Rangers Foundation

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

New Issue of JSOM Newsletter. The May 2021 issue of the Journal of Special Operations Medicine Newsletter is available. Topics include 2021 EMS Week, Handbook updates, JSOM online store, combat casualty care in West Africa, podcasts, upcoming events, and more.

Book Excerpt – Sacrifice: A Gold Star Widow’s Fight for the Truth. Michelle Black, the widow of Green Beret Bryan Black, has published an excerpt of her recent book about the ambush of an SF team by jihadist militants in Niger in October 2017. Following the death of her husband Michelle received many condolence visits and briefings from military officers – but she found that she had more questions than answers after these events. She also discovered that the official investigations were less than truthful on what really happened before and during the ill-fated mission. (Military Times, May 7, 2021).

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Podcasts, Videos, and Movies

Podcast – The Unconventional Future of Conventional War. Sean McFate, a professor of strategy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and book author, argues that the U.S. military suffers from what he terms “victors curse”. The U.S. envisions future war as WWII with lots of technological; but McFate believes that future conflict with Russia, China, or others will be more unconventional in nature. War on the Rocks, April 30, 2021, 41 minutes.

Webcast – Foresighting the Future of SOF. Colonel Ed Croot (SF), CoS 1st Special Forces Command, LTC Sharon Engelmeier, (PO), and LTC Samuel Hayes, PhD, (CA) take part in a discussion about the identity of US Special Operations Forces.

Podcast – The Harsh Lessons of Anbar: Insurgency, the Awakening, and the Rise of ISIS. US counterinsurgency efforts in Anbar province, Iraq from the 2006 surge through the rise of ISIS in 2013-2014 are the topic discussed by General Robert Neller (USMC, Ret.) and Dr. Carter Malkasian (book author, historian, and national security advisor). Irregular Warfare Podcast, May 7, 2021, 54 minutes.

Video – Reviewing DOD Strategy, Policy, and Programs for Countering WMD in FY22. The House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations conducted a hearing on May 4, 2021. The Acting Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the Deputy Command of USSOCOM, and were witnesses. YouTube, 1 hr 30 mins.


Photo: A Green Beret with 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), maneuvers through the Arctic tundra on a snowmobile during an Arctic Mobility Training. The Arctic has recently developed into an international competition space and potential future battlefield that 1st SFG (A) Soldiers will have to continue to familiarize themselves with. (Photo by 1st SFG(A), Talkeetna, Alaska, April 22, 2021).

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