Special Operations News Update – Monday, May 17, 2021

Swift Response 21 Airborne Operation

Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. Drones for SOF, Arctic and special operations, Navy’s SOF helicopter unit, Green Beret gets 15 years for spying, R-SOCC reaches IOC, international SOF, some SOF history, ‘Armed Overwatch’ program, signature reduction for clandestine ops, Chris Miller (former SECDEF) on Jan 6th, IO, IW, and more.

SOF News

Small Drones for SOF. Israeli company Xtend has a contract to deliver some small unmanned aerial systems for use in urban environments and indoors to US special operations units. The Xtender can be used for close quarters battle (CQB), counter drone (C-UAS), and subterranean operations. “Pentagon orders small Israeli drones for indoor special operations”, Defense News, May 10, 2021.

AFSOC Honors Personnel. The top performers throughout the Air Force Special Operations Command were recognized during the “Outstanding Airmen of the Year” and Annual Award Winners Banquet on May 13, 2021. “AFSOC Honors 2020 Outstanding Airmen”, DVIDS, May 14, 2021.

AFSOC, Munitions Delivery, and Experimentation. During the recent Emerald Warrior exercise held in March by the Air Force Special Operations Command a series of tests were conducted with the stability of airdropped palletized munitions. Read more in “Air Force demonstrates value of rapid prototyping at Emerald Warrior”, SpaceWar.com, May 17, 2021.

SOF and the Arctic. Steve Bucci, a retired Special Forces officer, gets quoted in this article about the missions that US special operations forces may conduct in the Arctic in support of conventional forces and the challenges that come with operating in a cold weather environment. The author of this article, Jon Harper, goes on to describe the types of training missions US SOF have conducted over the past few years in the north region. “COLD FRONT: Special Operations Forces Bracing for Arctic Missions”, National Defense Magazine, May 14, 2021.

551st SOS to Deactivate. The AC-130W gunship will be retiring in the next few years so the training requirement for the aircraft is significantly diminished. The 551st Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico has been responsible for mission qualification training for the AC-130W. With the training requirement fading the squadron will be made inactive in June 2021. “551st Flies One Last Time”, DVIDS, April 30, 2021.

SF, Rucking, and Running. A runner found that his times and performance improved after a 30-day adventure with a heavy backpack. He did some research about Special Forces training and how humans ‘hunted’ in earlier days to find out why. “How Rucking Can Benefit Your Running Performance”, Runner’s World, May 11, 2021.

Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 85. The U.S. Army has the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment – and when people think about SOF rotary aviation the SOAR comes to mind. However the Navy also has its own dedicated squadron for special operations. The squadron is currently flying their Block III MH-60S Seahawks in support of Navy special operations. (Business Insider, May 11, 2021).

SF Doc and Astronaut On Space Mission. A former 3rd Special Forces Group doctor, Andrew Morgan, talks about his nine month long space mission. His time onboard the International Space Station was filled with spacewalks and science experiments. (Army.mil, May 4, 2021).

15 Year Sentence for Green Beret Russian Spy. A former Army Special Forces officer has been sentenced to 15 years in prison on espionage charges. The lawyers for Peter Debbins say that Russian agents of the GRU threatened to expose his same-sex attractions to prompt him to spy for Russia. This claim is new and was never revealed during his lengthy interrogations with the FBI. “Ex-Army Green Beret gets 15 years for Russian espionage”, Army Times, May 14, 2021. Read a press release by the Department of Justice about the sentencing of Debbins. (DOJ, May 14, 2021).

Navy SEAL Honored in Oregon – RIP. A former Navy SEAL and CIA operator, Tyrone S. Woods, died in Benghazi in 2012 and has been honored in his hometown. “New Park Dedicated for Local Hero in Oregon City”, KXL.com, May 16, 2021.

University President ‘Borrows’ Parts of McRaven Speech. The president of the University of South Carolina and a former superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point lifted some remarks from a speech by retired Adm. William McRaven (former USSOCOM Cdr and Navy SEAL) and failed to provide proper attribution. “University President Apologizes for Plagiarizing Remarks by Famous Navy SEAL McRaven”, Military.com, May 11, 2021. On Wednesday, the university accepted the resignation of Bob Caslen, a retired Army lieutenant general.

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International SOF

R-SOCC Reaches IOC. The Regional Special Operations Component Command (R-SOCC) has declared attaining Initial Operational Capability in May 2021. It recently participated in exercise Black Swan 2021 which was held during April and May. The R-SOCC, composed of the nations of Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Austria, increases the ability of the five nations to employ their SOF units. “Four NATO Allies and one partner boost Special Operations Forces capabilities”, NATO, May 13, 2021.

Egyptian Special Forces. The special operations forces of Egypt have been busy for the past several years fighting an insurgency in the Sinai. Their performance, past and present, has been mixed. Much needs to be done to increase the effectiveness of the Egypt SOF. “The future of Egyptian special forces”, Egypt Defense Review, May 4, 2021.

Greek SOF Train with US AF. In May units of the US Air Force trained with the Special Operations Forces of GEETHA / DEP and Greek Air Force units in the bilateral exercise STOLEN CERBERUS. The training consisted of HALO, static, and cargo parachute operations as well as rescue scenarios. The U.S. 57th Rescue Squadron (RQS) from the Aviano Air Base in Italy took part in the exercise. “Greece, USA Conduct Joint Military Exercises, Mull Further Cooperation”, Greek Reporter, May 16, 2021.

Uganda’s Special Forces Command. The Ugandan SFC is under the glare of the media for alleged human rights abuses. The special operations units are led by the son of the current president of Uganda. (Amsterdam News, May 6, 2021).

CANSOF – Still Busy Fighting ISIS. The Canadian deployment in Iraq is currently in its 7th year and Canadian special operations forces have been a major part of that effort. The ultra-secretive CANSOF are increasingly found engaged in overseas conflicts. “Why Canada’s special forces ‘shadow army’ is still fighting ISIS”, Maclean’s, May 11, 2021.

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SOF History

OSCAR-8 – Vietnam SOG Mission That Ended Badly. U.S. intelligence had information that North Vietnam’s top general – Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap – would be visiting a North Vietnamese Army base in Laos. It launched a mission by Studies and Observations Group (SOG) to conduct a bomb damage assessment of the area one hour after a B-52 strike and to attempt to capture or kill Giap. The secret operation ended in disaster with 23 men from SOG and supporting units and 50 indigenous fighters wounded, killed, missing or captured. (We Are the Mighty, May 13, 2021).

1st Group Dive Team Recovery Mission. In 1958 two aircraft collided during bad weather while approaching Okinawa-Naha Air Force Base. Search and rescue teams tried to recover Americans lost in the mishap. Eventually the wreckages were found on the ocean floor. 1st SFGA dive teams assisted in the recovery of crash victims. “The time Special Forces combat divers recovered 26 Americans from the floor of the Pacific Ocean”, We Are the Mighty”, May 5, 2021.

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COVID-19 and the Military

COVID in the US. The Centers for Disease Control has approved emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 12 to 15 years old. The CDC has relaxed rules for wearing masks for those who are fully vaccinated. Masks are still required in airplane or health-care settings. About 35 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated as of mid-May.

COVID Around the World. Seychelles was the world’s most vaccinated nation but now it is battling a surge of COVID cases – including those that have been fully vaccinated. It seems that the use of the Sinopharm vaccine (China) may not have been the best choice of vaccines. The US State Department has issued a travel warning on Egypt due to the very high level of COVID-19 in the country. The US isn’t the only nation suffering from misinformation about COVID cures – apparently in India if you put a few drops of lemon juice in the nose it will cure COVID-19. Despite reports that the coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, a successful information operations campaign, using overt propaganda and subtle media messages, has cast this nation in a favorable light around the world during the more than year-long pandemic. The origin of the SARS2 virus is explored in an article by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – some readers will come away with the belief that the virus was not naturally occurring but rather escaped from the Wuhan lab. Not a quick read and you may need to relay on that high school biology class to understand it.

COVID and the US Military. The Army has administered over 1 million COVID-19 vaccine shots as of mid-April. Over one half million are fully vaccinated. Vaccines provided at Army facilities are being given to soldiers, families, civilians, contractors, and other eligible beneficiaries. Visitors may need proof of COVID vaccination to attend Air Force basic training graduations. Between 10 to 15% of people infected with COVID have suffered long-term effects, but little is known on how it affects younger, fit people. The Marines are conducting a study to find out more – it includes gathering data to see how many Marines who got infected are suffering from the ‘long haul’ effects of COVID – fatigue, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, headache, and other problems.. On Thursday, May 13, 2021, the Pentagon lifted most of the requirements to wear masks by fully vaccinated DoD personnel who are beyond two weeks after their final dose.

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IW Vs. Conventional Warfare. Dr. Sandor Fabian, a former Hungarian Special Forces officer, argues that “instead of understanding irregular and conventional warfare as separate categories of conflict, scholars and practitioners should consider their differences as running along a linear continuum.” “Irregular Versus Conventional Warfare: A Dichotomous Misconception”, Modern War Institute at West Point, May 14, 2021.

Vickers on ‘Armed Overwatch’. A former Special Forces officer and CIA operations officer who served in a number of senior DoD positions provides his perspective on the platform of choice for the United States Special Operations Command’s Armed Overwatch program. “MQ-9 Reaper: The only option for SOCOM’s ‘armed overwatch’ role”, Air Force Times, May 15, 2021.

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National Security

US Military’s Signature Reduction Program. According to a recent news article the military has a secretive program that provides personnel the ability to operate in a clandestine manner around the world. Certainly a very interesting read. “Inside the Military’s Secret Undercover Army”, Newsweek, May 17, 2021.

Female Soldiers Having Trouble with Army Fitness Test. Less than a year ago the Army Combat Fitness Test or ACFT was introduced to the ranks after extensive testing and evaluation of physical fitness requirements for combat duty. However, almost half of the female soldiers attempting the new fitness test are failing. It seems that the Army’s goal of creating a more fit organization is creating problems for women in the ranks. “Nearly Half of Female Soldiers Still Failing New Army Fitness Test, While Males Pass Easily”, Military.com, May 10, 2021.

Former Acting SECDEF Miller on Jan 6 Capitol Riot. Retired Green Beret Chris Miller, the acting Secretary of Defense during the last months of the Trump administration, testified before the House Oversight Committee about the January 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol building in D.C. by Trump supporters. “Former acting SECDEF blames media ‘hysteria’ for his response to Jan. 6 insurrection”, Military Times, May 12, 2021.

Border Crisis. The Border Patrol’s encounters grew in April over the stats from March. The April numbers were the highest since April 2000 – over two decades ago.

ISTAR Aircraft – Eyes in the Sky. The US is introducing a new surveillance aircraft to its fleet of planes that conduct intelligence missions. “Thanks to This New Spy Plane the U.S.’s Eyes in the Sky Just Got Sharper”, The National Interest, May 14, 2021.

US Navy Needs a Patrol Craft Boat. The Navy is getting ready to sunset the Mk VI and Cyclone-class patrol craft programs – with no replacements planned for the future. The Navy has done this before – getting rid of their small boats – only to find out that they have a need for them when hostilities break out. “The Mk VI is Dead – Long Live the Mk VII”, Proceedings, U.S. Naval Institute, May 2021.

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Information Operations and Cyber Warfare

IO and Confusing Definitions. The current confusion within the DoD over the meaning of “information operations” is setting the US up for failure in an era of great power competition. The armed forces are not prepared to effectively counter hostile influence operations and shape the international environment to a favorable state for the US. The US military’s doctrine on IO needs to be updated. “Finding the Right Words: Ending the confusion on what “information operations” actually means”, Small Wars Journal, May 14, 2021.

Recent Cyberattacks. The SolarWinds, Microsoft Exchange, and Colonial Pipeline cyber attacks demonstrate how vulnerable the United States is to state-sponsored and criminal cyberattacks. The recent shutdown of the Coloninal Pipeline that supplies almost half of the gas to the East Coast by DarkSides (a Russian criminal cyber organization) is just the latest example. Defense cyber experts say that it isn’t easy to determine who some hackers are – they could be a foreign government, a cyber criminal, or a cyber criminal supported by a foreign government. Russian security services are known to use the services of cyber criminals and shield them from prosecution.

Colonial Pipeline and Gas Shortage. The pipeline providing gasoline to the East Coast is now reopening. It had been shut down due to a ‘ransomware attack’ by cyber attackers based in Russia. The pipeline runs from Texas and delivers 45 percent of the gas consumed on the East Coast. The firm is the largest fuel pipeline operator in the United States. The Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations said that the US should consider an ‘irregular warfare’ response to the pipeline hack. Colonial Pipeline paid a ransom of about 75 Bitcoin or $5 million to recover stolen data from the Russian-based hacking group DarkSide. Read more in Colonial Pipeline: The DarkSide Strikes, Congressional Research Service, May 11, 2021, PDF, 3 pages.

Exec Order on Cybersecurity. The Biden administration has posted its Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity ( The White House, May 12, 2021). It sets out cybersecurity policy, removes barriers to sharing threat information, modernizes federal government cybersecurity, enhances software supply chain security, establishes a cyber safety review board, updates the federal governments playbook for responding to cybersecurity vulnerabilities and incidents, improves detection of cybersecurity vulnerabilities and incidents on federal government networks, improves the federal governments investigative and remediation capabilities, and adopts new national security systems requirements. Robert Chesney and Trey Herr dissect the recent EO by President Biden in “Everything You Need to Know about the New Executive Order on Cybersecurity”, Lawfare Blog, May 13, 2021.

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Great Power Competition

Russia and the High North. Nikolay Korchunov is interviewed about Russia and the Arctic region. He is the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs ambassador at large for Arctic cooperation and the senior Arctic official of the Russian Federation to the Arctic Council. “Russia and the High North”, The Modern War Institute at West Point, May 7, 2021.

Exercise Swift Response 21. US paratroopers conducted a night-time airborne operation in Estonia in early May to begin an exercise that involves the paratroopers of ten nations parachuting into Romania, Bulgaria, and Estonia. In addition, the US 77th Field Artillery Regiment did a live-fire with the Multiple Launch Rocket System and troops conducted a helicopter assault in Estonia.

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Middle East

Israel. Militants have fired over 1,000 rockets at cities across Israel in the past week. The Gaza strip has been hit with Israeli airstrikes. There is unrest in the streets of Israel with violence between Jews and Arabs. Israel has used a combination of artillery and air units to strike Hamas targets in Gaza. One of the principle target sets is the vast network of militant tunnels crossing underneath the border.

Russia Builds in Syria. The Russian are continuing to improve and expand their military facilities in Syria. The navy base at the Syrian port of Tartus is getting a floating dock added to the port’s ship repair facilities. In addition, it has extended one of the runways at its Hmeimim airbase. “Russia Expands Military Facilities in Syria”, Voice of America, May 12, 2021.

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Afghan Update. New reports say that the United States has pulled its service personnel from the air base in Kandahar province. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is proceeding along rather quickly. The international forces are departing Afghanistan from the major air bases at MeS, Kandahar, Bagram, and Kabul. The Taliban have stepped up attacks on district centers, one of the latest to fall is Nirkh district in Wardak province – just 25 miles from Kabul. The number of Afghan districts controlled and contested by the Taliban has almost doubled since 2018.

Why Afghanistan is Important. Retired Special Forces officer David Clukey has a lot of experience in Afghanistan. He details the dynamics of Afghanistan’s society, politics, culture, and other factors – and how they favor the ability of foreign terrorist groups to seek shelter within the country. Clukey provides some recommendations on the way forward that would prevent terrorist groups from gaining sanctuary in Afghanistan and to protect US strategic interests in the region. “Afghanistan’s Importance to the Future of U.S. National Security”, Small Wars Journal, May 12, 2021.


Uganda’s LRA. The Lord’s Resistance Army has been terrorizing parts of central Africa for 3 1/2 decades. The group is a shell of its former self – after being hunted by US Special Forces and African armies in the region. But the group still exists. “Uganda’s brutal Lord’s Resistance Army, past and present”, France 24, May 6, 2021.

Islamic State in the Congo. Since launching its caliphate in 2014 the Islamic State has been severely degraded in Iraq and Syria. However, over the past few years, it has been branching out to other parts of the world. It has found success in Africa and the newest affiliate can be found in the Democratic Republish of the Congo. The U.S. State Department has designated ISIS-DRC a foreign terrorist organization. Read more in “The Islamic State Is in Congo. What Now?”, Lawfare Blog, May 16, 2021.

Upcoming Events

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

Books about Special Forces Training

Podcasts, Videos, Books, and Movies

Video – Flight Physician. Air Force Major Shana Hirchert talks about her job as a flight physician with the 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron. Watch her in a video of a simulated casualty evacuation aboard a CV-22 Osprey aircraft in Okinawa, Japan. DoD, May 10, 2021, one minute.

Movie Trailer – The 12th Man. An adventure film based on a true event during World War II in Norway was released in 2018. After a failed attempt to conduct an anti-Nazi sabotage mission the only survivor on a twelve-man commando team is on the run in the Arctic region of Scandinavia. The months long evasion from the Germans requires a lot of courage and determination by the Norwegian resistance fighter. IFC Films, April 16, 2018, 2 minutes.

National Guard Magazine. The April 2021 issue is now posted online. The 70-page publication covers a variety of news about the National Guard. Topics include obsolete armories, National Guard force structure, missions, defense committees in Congress, and more.

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Photo: Soldiers participate in Swift Response 21, a joint, multinational airborne operation at Boboc Air Base, Romania, May 10, 2021. Swift Response 21 is the first exercise of the larger operation Defender-Europe 21 during which U.S. forces work closely together with NATO allies and partners. Photo by sgt. Catessa Palone, U.S. Army.

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