Special Operations News Update – Monday, May 24, 2021

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Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. Future of SOF, new training parachute, UK Ranger Regiment to Somalia, SOCNorth, Israeli SOF, NATO to train Afghan SOF, Navy’s Sealion, Army’s ‘woke’ recruiting video, and more.

SOF News

Future of SOF. Last week the commander of Special Operations Command, General Richard Clarke, was interviewed about the future of SOCOM and SOF. He discussed a number of topics to include the op-tempo, threat of extremism, incidents of misconduct, Afghanistan, information operations, and great power competition with Russia and China. “The Future of SOF: Exclusive interview with SOCOM commander Richard Clarke”, Military Times, May 20, 2021. In another article, Clarke is quoted on the future activities of US special operations forces – “Future of Warfare, Strategy Will Dictate Special Ops Action”, US Department of Defense, May 20, 2021.

ARSOF Becoming More Competent in Technology. The special operators of tomorrow will not have the large support bases from which to operate from in a future conflict. While in the field they will likely be in smaller groups and operating in more subtle ways – and relying more on technology. “Army SOF Units Are Getting Smaller, More Self-Reliant as Focus Shifts to China, Russia”, Defense One, May 20, 2021.

SEALs to Receive Third Sealion CCH. A low-profile vessel used by the Navy SEALs will be delivered to the Navy. The SEAL Insertion, Observation and Neutralization (Sealion) craft is also referred to as the Combatant Craft – Heavy (CCH). This is the third Sealion to be delivered. “Navy SEALs’ Third Heavy Combatant Craft Set for Summer Delivery”, Sea Power Magazine, May 19, 2021.

Navy’s New Mini-Submarine. A new dry combat submersible will allow SEALs to infiltrate from underwater without breathing gear. “This Teeny-Tiny Sub Carries Navy SEALs to Their Next Mission”, Popular Mechanics, May 20, 2021.

SEAL Team Moves to Paramount. The TV series depicting the activities of a SEAL team will move from CBS to Paramount (streaming service). The television show SEAL Team began in September 2017. The TV drama will enter its fifth season. (TV Insider, May 19, 2021).

Direct Appointment of SF NCOs to WO. The Army published a directive on May 12, 2021 authorizing the direct appointment of senior noncommissioned officers to Chief Warrant Officer Two for Special Forces. E7, E8, and E9s serving in the Regular Army can be appointed directly to the rank of CW2 after completing Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS).

3rd Group PAO in Hot Water. The public affairs officer for Special Forces group has landed in a bit of trouble after he tweeted on Twitter about a woman’s bra cup size. “3rd Special Forces Group spokesman tweet triggers suspension, inquiry”, Army Times, May 19, 2021.

SOCNorth and Homeland Defense. U.S. Special Operations Command North hosted a ‘Special Operations Forces in Competition and Homeland Defense Workshop in for three days in May 2021. Working groups developed plans for countering trans-regional criminal organizations, weapons of mass destruction, and security challenges in the Arctic. (The Free Press, May 19, 2021).

Fallen SF Soldier Honored. Sgt. Jeremy Wright died in Afghanistan while deployed with his 1st Special Forces Group detachment. He was killed by an improvised explosive device in 2005. Wright was recently recognized in his hometown in Shelbyville, Indiana. “US Army Green Beret honored by hometown high school with dedication of memorial stone“, DVIDS, May 14, 2021.

Army’s New Parachute for 250 Foot Tower. Students at the Army’s Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia will soon be using a new parachute while conducting jump training on the 250 foot towers. “Army Airborne School replaces J-1 training parachute after testing new J-3 chute system”, Fort Hood Press Center, May 20, 2021.

Retired SEALs to Paddle for Fundraising Events. A team of former Navy SEALs will be paddling a six-person ocean outrigger canoe from Key West to the National Navy SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce. The event kicked off on Sunday, May 23, 2021. (Keys Weekly, May 21, 2021).

1$ Billion to Small Businesses (SOCOM). The United States Special Operations Command awarded about 1$ billion in contracts to in fiscal year 2020 to small businesses. It will pass that amount in 2021. SOCOM’s acquisition office believes that small businesses can innovate quickly providing SOF warfighters the advanced equipment they need for their missions. “SOCOM to Award More Than 1$ Billion to Small Businesses in 2021”, National Defense Magazine, May 17, 2021.

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International SOF

NATO to Continue to Train Afghan SOF. Despite the withdrawal of international forces the North Atlantic Treaty Organization plans to provide military education and training to Afghan special operations forces – but outside of Afghanistan. “NATO Vows to Continue Training Afghan Special Forces After Withdrawal”, Gandhara Blog, May 21, 2021.

Israeli SOF and Hamas. Fighting between Israel and Hamas has killed hundreds of people over the past few weeks. Israel’s special operations forces have certainly been busy during this time period and past exploits tell us what they are likely doing in the current crisis. “What the IDF’s past special-ops missions reveal about how Israel takes out Hamas’ rockets and tunnels”, Business Insider, May 20, 2021.

Belgium SOF Searching for Right-Wing Extremist. About 350 police and elite military members are searching for a heavily armed soldier with far-right views who they believe poses a serious threat. The man had taken possession of anti-tank rockets, sub-machine guns, and other weapons. He has made threats against a public figure who has led Belgium’s government health response to coronavirus. “Belgian manhunt for heavily armed far-right soldier”, BBC News, May 19, 2021. See also “Why the Manhunt for a Rogue Soldier in Belgium is a Nightmare for the Authorities”, Vice News, May 20, 2021.

UK’s Army Ranger Regiment. Four battalions will form the core of a new unit called the Special Operations Brigade. These four battalions (actually more company sized) will be the Army Ranger Regiment. They are being seeded by the Specialised Infantry Battalions. “Latest on UK Army Ranger Regiment”, Overt Defense, May 19, 2021.

UK’s Ranger Regiment to Serve in Somalia. Britain will send up to 250 troops to help train government forces that are fighting the Al Shabaab terrorists. The UK soldiers will come from the Ranger Regiment of the Special Operations Brigade. They will likely work with the special forces of the Somalia military. (Express, May 23, 2021).

Italian Midget Subs for Qatar. The Qatari Emiri Navy is modernizing and expanding. One new capability to be added is a new submarine that will likely be used as a special operations troop transport for infiltration and exfiltration. “Italy’s Secretive Submarine Deal With Qatar: New Intelligence”, Naval News, May 21, 2021.

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SOF History

Op Haven. A former Royal Marine, Maj gen (Ret’d) Andy Salmon, looks back at his time protecting the Kurdish refugees in the post-Gulf War time frame of 1991. “Op Haven: 30 Years Since ‘A Very Special Operation'”, Forces.net, May 21, 2021.

Book Review – Churchill’s Secret Messenger. A historical novel about the Resistance fighters in World War II features a typist in the underground Cabinet War Rooms who works long hours processing classified documents. After a chance encounter with Winston Churchill and the discovery that she is fluent in French, she finds herself working for the Special Operations Executive – a secret organization that works in Europe. (Akron Beacon Journal, May 23, 2021).

WWII Guerrilla Movement in the Philippines. After the fall of the Philippines to the Japanese during World War II Filipino insurgents conducted a guerrilla war against the occupiers. The resistance fighters engaged in irregular warfare, espionage, prison raids, ambushes, and sabotage – wearing down the Japanese occupation troops. “The Philippine Resistance – How WW2’s Forgotten Guerrilla Movement Helped Bring Down Japan”, Military History Now, May 11, 2021.

The Jock McLaren Story. A veterinary surgeon became a famed guerrilla fighter in the Philippines during World War II. He had escaped a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Singapore and then once recaptured a different one in Malaysia. He made his way to the Philippines where he joined the US led resistance movement. He would later take part in several special operations missions towards the tail-end of the war. “An Ordinary Man and His Exceptional War: The Jock McLaren Story”, The Cove, May 21, 2021.

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COVID-19 and the Military

COVID in the U.S. As vaccinations become more available a greater percentage of the US population has become ‘fully protected’ from coronavirus. There are spikes here and there – primarily among the younger population. The daily COVID case rate in the US has declined to 30,000.

COVID around the World. India continues to be in a crisis over the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID death count for India has now passed 300,000. It now has the third highest COVID death count in the world, surpassed only by the United States (588,000) and Brazil. The US and other nations are sending aid and supplies to assist. Africa has yet to feel the full effects of the pandemic; however, it has a low vaccination rate and is wary of the future.

COVID and the Military. The mask mandate has been partially lifted by the Department of Defense. In the Veterans Administration hospitals the mask mandate is still in place. In the Pacific, some U.S. military organizations are dropping the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people in certain circumstances. A study published in the April issue of Medical Surveillance Monthly Report (a military peer-reviewed medical journal) says that among the services Army soldiers are less likely to choose to get vaccinated than their Air Force, Navy, and Marine counterparts. Many of those opting not to get vaccinated are found to be Black service members as well as female service members, those in the lower ranks, and with less formal education. The Defense Logistics Agency has shipped doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 17-year-olds in the DOD medical system who are in Europe, Middle East, and the Pacific regions.

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National Security

Female Soldiers – Most Fail the ACFT. This test provides a method to evaluate fitness for combat operations. However, women are having a difficult time with the new test. In 2020 about 60% of the women failed the Army Combat Fitness Test. Those that passed had significantly lower scores than men. The leg tuck event, which requires upper-body strength, is the one giving female soldiers the most trouble. The Army made a change in March 2021 that allows women to do a 2 minute long plank event in place of the leg tuck. Only 22% of the women are failing the plank event. (Military.com, May 17, 2021).

Border Crisis. President Biden was quick to reverse many of the steps taken by former President Trump to secure the southern border. One of these was to stop the building of “the wall” along the US border to prevent illegal aliens, drugs, and human traffickers from crossing the border. Biden pulled back the funds that had been diverted by Trump from military construction projects for the building of the wall. Read more in “An Update on Military Funding for the Border Wall”, Congressional Research Service, CRS-IN11675, May 21, 2021, PDF, 5 pages. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IN/IN11675

The crisis on the border is not going away and will likely continue over the next few years. The US Department of Homeland Security has requested the continued presence of US military units along the U.S.-Mexico border past the current end date of October 1, 2021. About 4,000 DOD personnel are providing support to the DHS.

Recruiting Video – Army Has ‘Woke Up’. A cartoonish Army recruiting video is getting a lot of negative attention. The video depicts a female soldier with ‘two Mom’s’ describing her early life before joining the Army. The video aired on May 4, 2021 and as of May 24th had 4 thousand likes and 83 thousand dislikes. The Army had to disable the comment section due to the significant amount of negative posts on the YouTube video site. There are some videos that depict a soldiers motivation for joining the Army that are very well done – one that aired in April 2021 depicts members of the 10th Special Forces Group during training.

The ‘Techno-Info’ Confrontation. Competition with Russia and China will see adversaries confronting each other in the information sphere. The ability to accumulate, process, and analyze information will go a long way in the conflicts of tomorrow. A new report explains. More than Half the Battle: Information and Command in a New American Way of War, CNAS, May 2021, PDF, 56 pages.

SECDEF Austin at West Point. The Secretary of Defense provided remarks at the recent graduation ceremony at West Point. “Secretary of Defense Austin Remarks for the U.S. Military Academy Graduation Ceremony”, US DoD Transcript, May 22, 2021.

Myanmar’s Conflict. Fighting is continuing in rural sections of Myanmar. The military junta’s troops are exchanging blows with fighters of the People’s Defence Force near the borders of the Southern Shan and Kayah states. The fighting has increased since the military coup that overthrew the elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Ethnic armed groups have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades. Meanwhile, protests and demonstrations are taking place in many of the country’s major cities. “Fighting surges in Myanmar’s growing anti-junta conflict”, Reuters, May 23, 2021.

Outrage Over Flight Diverted Over Belarus. A flight between two European member states was forced to divert and land in Belarus. After landing Belarusian security officials removed and arrested journalist and opposition leader Raman Pratasevich from the airliner. The forced landing took place under false pretenses – with the Belarusian government fabricating a bomb threat to force the passenger jet to land in its territory. The Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was overflying Belarusian air space at the time and was instructed by Belarusian air traffic control to divert to Minsk, Belarus due to a bomb threat. “Belarus opposition figure detained when flight diverted”, Associated Press, May 23, 2021.

Great Power Competition GPC

Great Power Competition

Russia in the Arctic. The Russians are attempting to assert authority over Arctic shipping lanes and reduce the influence of other nations in the region. And now, Russia has assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council. “US, Russia at odds over military activity in the Arctic“, Military Times, May 20, 2021. A recent report by the Brookings Institute looks at US military options to enhance Arctic defense (May 2021, PDF, 15 pages).

Russia, the Baltics, and Rocket Artillery. Brennan Deveraux, a U.S. Army officer, writes that the U.S. Army’s rocket artillery in Europe is a formidable force for the Russians to contend with while contemplating an invasion of the Baltic States. One key factor is the ability to rapidly deliver the HIMARS throughout Europe by SOF aviation. “Rocket Artillery Can Keep Russia Out of the Baltics”, War on the Rocks, May 20, 2021.

US SOF and War with Russia. In this new era of great power competition US special operations forces are preparing for a possible war with Russia in Eastern Europe. A series of recent exercises held in 2021 will go a long ways to sharpening SOF skills in this regard. “U.S. Special Forces are Training for Full-Blown War With Russia”, The National Interest, May 20, 2021.

Pentagon’s New IO Process – Will it get Rolled Back? Some of the policy changes that occurred within the Department of Defense during the Trump administration are getting reversed to their previous state. One new policy in the final months of 2020 was the move to let the military run influence campaigns more quickly and with less bureaucratic stonewalling from the State Department. However, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is deciding whether to maintain the new policy or reverse it. “Pentagon weighs keeping Trump-era change to ‘psychological operations'”, Politico, May 17, 2021.

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Middle East

Repatriation of Jihadists. A former Islamic State hostage says repatriating jihadists for trial is vital to defeat ISIS. Ex-fighters for ISIS (and their families) face an uncertain future in Syria. There are about 43,000 foreign former residents under the Islamic State from 57 countries. – a mix of fighters and their families. This opinion article by Nicolas Henin argues that they should be returned to their homelands to face trial. “We Must Try ISIS’s Terrorists – Or Risk Creating New Ones”, United States Institute of Peace (USIP, May 11, 2021.

Israel – Hamas Conflict. The conflict being waged between Israel and Hamas appears to have subsided with a negotiated truce (helped by Egypt) bringing about a ceasefire. Read up on the recent violence in a report by the Congressional Research Service entitled “Israel: May 2021 Violence, Other Background, and U.S. Relations in Brief”, CRS-R4425, May 20, 2012, PDF, 27 pages.

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And the Aftermath? There is a lot of uncertainty about the Biden post-withdrawal plan for Afghanistan. Questions persist about how the US and the international community will assist the Afghan government through diplomacy and financial aid – for how long and how much? And will they provide ‘over the horizon’ military assistance and support should the Taliban begin taking provincial capitals and advance on Kabul? “Much about US pullout from Afghanistan is unclear”, Associated Press, May 22, 2021.

Taliban Overrun Another District. The district of Dawlat Shah in the eastern Afghan province of Laghman was taken by the insurgents on May 19, 2021. This was the fourth district to fall in just two weeks. (FDD Long War Journal, May 20, 2021.

Visas for Afghans? US Senators are pressing the Department of Defense for answers on how they plan to expedite visas for Afghans who helped U.S. troops during the 20-year long conflict in Afghanistan. The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program has been extremely ineffective under Department of State control. Over 18,000 SIV applications are awaiting processing. (The Hill, May 20, 2021).

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US Role in Countering Russia in Africa. At the same time that the US is scaling back its military commitment in Africa the Russians are stepping up their activities. Russia aims to acquire political support, legitimacy, and economic resources in the countries where they have a significant presence. “To Counter Russia in Africa, America Should Rethink Its Own Role”, War on the Rocks, May 20, 2021.

Congo Needs US Assistance. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has the will and incentive to fight terrorists, insurgents, and criminal networks but lacks the capacity. It needs some military assistance – help that the US should provide. According to Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a small investment in terms of a U.S. mentoring and advisory mission would allow the DRC to improve its security situation. “The Pentagon Should Partner with Congo’s Military”, The National Interest, May 23, 2021.

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Podcasts, Videos, and Movies

Video Russian SOF Training. A video shows Russians conducting a high-altitude parachute jump, running through a combat obstacle course, emplacing demolitions, firing weapons and sniper rifles, and conducting other training events. “Russian Special Forces – “These Guys Stronger Than Concrete”, Military Forces XXI Century, May 19, 2021.


Photo: U.S. forces host a range day with the Danab Brigade in Somalia, April 5, 2021. Special Operations Command Africa remains engaged with partner forces in Somalia in order to promote safety and stability across the Horn of Africa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Zoe Russell)

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