Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. Topics include SOCOM and AI, awards for Battle of Mogadishu, SEALs and their SDVs, Belgian SOF, MACV-SOG, Afghanistan, COIN, SFABs, IO, GPC, and more.
SOCOM and AI. The United States Special Operations Command has been a pioneer in the application of Artificial Intelligence to find ways to make its special operators more combat effective. Advanced computing technologies that are introduced into the tactical domain will give SOF personnel an advantage – especially important in the context of great power competition. SOCOM is partnering with private industry and academia to improve its Artificial Intelligence capabilities. Read more in “How US Special Operators Use Artificial Intelligence to Get an Edge Over China”, by Stavros Atlamazoglou, SANDBOXX, July 15, 2021.
SF Officer Moves. Col. Luke VanAntwerp took command of 10th SFG from Col. Brian Rauen at Fort Carson, Colorado. Col. Brent Lindeman took command of 5th SFG from Col. Joseph Wortham at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Former JSOC CSM and the Battle of Mogadishu. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris, a Delta Force veteran, is one of 60 individuals who will be receiving an awards upgrade for their participation in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. He will receive the Silver Star. “JSOC’s former top enlisted soldier is one of 60 ‘Black Hawk’ award upgrades”, Army Times, July 13, 2021.
GB Awarded Soldier’s Medal. Staff Sgt. Tyrrel, a Special Forces Medical Sergeant, was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for saving the life of a severely injured drowning woman. The 5th Special Forces Group medic was presented the award by Major General John Brennan, Commanding General, 1st Special Forces Command at Fort Campbell, Kentucky on July 14, 2021. “Green Beret Awarded Soldier’s Medal for Heroism”, DVIDS, July 14, 2021.
1-10th SFG(A) Hosts Pistol Competition. A shooting competition took place at the Panzer range complex in Stuttgart, Germany – hosted by the SF unit based in Germany. The three-day event was part of a formal program run by the Army Marksmanship Unit. “1-10th Special Forces Group host inaugural pistol competition”, Army.mil, July 16, 2021.
Navy SEAL ‘Personality’ to Host SOF Podcast. Remi Adeleke will be hosting a podcast with the name of ‘Down Range’. The former SEAL will be telling the story of men and women who defend the United States by service in the military. (Deadline, Jul 15, 2021).
Beer, SEALs, and Marketing to Veterans. A recent video advertisement featured former Navy SEAL Rob O’Neill (OBL raid in Pakistan) endorsing a new IPA called “Special Hops” by Seawolf Brewery. How the beer tastes, who actually makes the beer, and the marketing behind it is discussed at length in “The Navy SEAL who shot Bin Laden is hyping a new brewing company. We tried their beer so you don’t have to”, Task and Purpose, July 15, 2021. If you are interested in a micro-brewery that definitely is veteran-owned (SF dude) and that actually makes its own beer then check out the Longtab Brewing Company.
And Coffee, as well. While we are on the topic of marketing to vets . . . a firm owned by a former SF NCO has been doing well with its patriotic, pro-veteran message. It has, although, seen that even coffee is a product that is not exempt from becoming ‘political’ – as it has been attacked by MAGA veterans and ‘woke vets’ alike. An article in the New York Times Magazine, “Can the Black Rifle Coffee Company Become the Starbucks of the Right?” published on July 14, 2021 stirred up some controversy. Read more in “Behind Black Rifle coffee, the ‘anti-hipster’ answer to Starbucks’ latte liberals says sales are surging”, Markets Insider, July 17, 2021. See also “The Black Rifle Coffee NYT Interview is a Courageous Journey Up the Arch of the Moral Universe”, Unprecedented Mediocrity, July 17, 2021.
Navy SEALs and Their SDVs. SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams operate a fleet of mini-submarines that can strike or carry special operators clandestinely behind enemy lines. The SEAL teams that utilize SDVs have three primary missions: underwater insertion and extraction, underwater special operations, and underwater special reconnaissance. Read more in “SDV: The Secret Weapon of the Navy SEAL Teams”, SANDBOXX, July 9, 2021.
Green Beret Jailed for Two Years in Japan. Michael Taylor was sentenced to serve time in jail for helping an automotive executive escape Japan while he was awaiting trial. Taylor’s son, also involved in the plot, has also received a jail sentence. “US Army Special Forces veteran and son jailed for helping former Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn flee Japan”, ABC News, July 19, 2021.
AFSOC’s WEPTAC 2021. Air Force Special Operations Command held a weapons and tactics conference at Hurlburt Field, Florida in early July 2021. The gathering of personnel from SOF and other representatives met to identify and improve tactics, techniques, and procedures for AFSOC. “WEPTAC 2021: Staying relevant for future fights”, AFSOC, July 15, 2021.
Paper – BELSOF: Quo Vadi? Colonel Tom Bilo, the Commander of the Belgian Special Operations Regiment, traces the evolution of BELSOF from their origin to current times. He goes on to describe its current transformation and potential for further development in light of the multiple security challenges ahead. Published by The Kingston Consortium on International Security, Canada, June 30, 2021, PDF, 6 pages.
UK SOF’s New Role. The Special Air Service and Special Boat Service will be engaging more higher risk counterstate tasks in this era of great power competition. “Military chief reveals secret new role for special forces against China and Russia”, The Times, July 17, 2021.
UK’s Ranger Regiment Deployment to Africa. British officials visiting Fort Bragg, NC have indicated that the Ranger Regiment’s first deployment is likely to be in east Africa with the intent of supporting the fight against Islamist extremism. The Ranger Regiment is a new entity as of 2021 and is currently being formed up. “Ranger Regiment: UK and US Plot New Army Unit’s Future”, Forces.net, July 16, 2021.
JFK Special Warfare Museum. The regimental museum of Civil Affairs, Special Forces, and Psychological Operations has reopened their doors after having been closed for over a year. It is located on Ardennes Street, Fort Bragg, NC and is open Monday through Friday 1100-1600.
Video – MACV-SOG: The Paul Christensen Story. One of the heroes of the Vietnam conflict is profiled in this video. The “History of MACV-SOG”, July 16, 2021, 19 minutes.
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COVID-19 and the Military
COVID in the U.S. The Delta variant of COVID-19 is raising concern among medical professionals. Delta is a more transmissible variant of COVID. Missouri is one state where the emergency rooms and intensive care units are maxed out with COVID patients. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that COVID-19 is “becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
COVID and the Military. It won’t be long before the U.S. military makes it mandatory to get the COVID vaccination. Most military personnel are at least partially vaccinated (70%) but there are a lot who are not. Current DoD policy permits fully-vaccinated troops to go without a face mask on military installations. However, unvaccinated personnel need to wear masks. The Department of Defense issued new guidance on the use of masks (June 23, 2021) and announced that “. . . unmasked, fully vaccinated Service members should be prepared to show proof of vaccination . . .” if asked by a supervisor.
Security Update. The north of Afghanistan has seen a significant uptick in fighting with the Taliban gaining control of several major border crossings where the taxing of commercial activity will pad their financial coffers. Kabul is now cut off from these key northern trade routes. This will restrict the goods arriving from other countries as well as limit income from the taxation of commercial trade crossing the borders. The southern border crossing at Spin Boldac has also been the scene of heavy fighting.
Profile of General Miller. The last commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan was given a warm welcome by SECDEF Austin upon his return to the United States. General Scott Miller, a former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, had a number of previous tours in Afghanistan so he was an excellent choice to lead American and NATO troops these past three years. James Kitfield provides a lengthy narrative about Miller’s career and his tenure as RSM commander in “The Last Commander”, Politico, July 16, 2021.
Afghanistan – Still Important to the U.S. Even though the United States is pulling out its troops it must still consider that a primary theater for violent extremist organizations and strategic competitors (Iran, Russia, and China) will be Afghanistan. Tom Hammerle, a U.S. Army Special Forces officer, provides his perspective in “Afghanistan’s Continuing Role in U.S. Strategic Competition in the Absence of U.S. Troops“, Small Wars Journal, July 15, 2021.
Taliban Governance. There are some new rules to observe in the districts recently taken by the Taliban. Gender segregation, restrictions on women, banning of music, and requirement to grow beards are among them. Taliban control of districts has increased significantly over the past few months since the departure of the last few thousand U.S. and NATO military personnel began on May 1st of this year.
Afghan Interpreters. The Biden administration has finally stepped up to the plate to assist Afghan interpreters and others who assisted U.S. military units in the long Afghan war. They are in danger of being targeted by the Taliban. In a new program called Operation Allies Refuge the U.S. will begin relocation flights for eligible Afghan nationals and their families who are currently within the Special Immigrant Visa program. The U.S. Department of State – long responsible for processing SIVs – has not exactly covered itself in glory over the past few years in helping Afghan interpreters and translators. There are approximately 20,000 Afghan principle applicants at some stage of the SIV process.
Paper – Operational Cyberpsychology: Adapting a Special Operations Model for Cyber Operations. Operational cyberpsychology can be a force multiplier that can improve the effectiveness of cyber operations in support of activities such as PSYOP, online intelligence operations, assessment and selection of personnel, and hostage negotiations. By Jason Spitaletta, PhD, John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, June 2021, 22 pages, posted by NSI, Inc.
Paper – Strategic Influence: Applying the Principles of Unconventional Warfare in Peace. COL (Ret.) Robert Jones, a senior strategist at USSOCOM, offers a new approach to how we advance our foreign policies abroad with a modern adaptation of winning the “hearts and minds”. Posted online by NSI, Inc., June 2021, PDF, 19 pages.
Asymmetrical Warfare. A Redo is Necessary? Daniel Riggs, a Design and Exercise Manager at the Special Warfare Training Group at Fort Bragg, gives us his perspective on how the future of Asymmetry needs to be radical and proactive, not a reactive spending spree. “Re-Thinking the Strategic Approach to Asymmetrical Warfare”, Military Strategy Magazine, Summer 2021.
Navy’s P-8s – Doing Secret Stuff. The P-8 Poseidon is the Navy’s long-range maritime patrol aerial platform that conducts anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, ISR, and other missions. David Axe provides the details on some specially configured P-8 Poseidon aircraft. “These Subtle P-8s Are the U.S. Navy’s Most Secretive Spy Planes”, Forbes.com, July 14, 2021.
COIN and U.S. Misadventures. The United States spent two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan waging a counterinsurgency battle against terrorists and insurgents. The results have been mixed. Read more in “The Hearts-and-Minds Myth: How American Gets Counterinsurgency Wrong”, Foreign Affairs, July 15, 2012 (subscription needed).
SFAB’s – an Endurring Legacy of General Milley? The current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff served as the commander of the ISAF Joint Command (IJC) – the three-star billet under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). This was during the time that the U.S. was transitioning combat operations to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and was in the middle of the ‘security force assistance‘ advisory phase of the conflict. He saw first hand the ‘ad hoc’ nature of the Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams (SFAATs) to include the pros and cons (as in selection and training of advisors, etc.). Once General Milley became the Chief of Staff of the Army one of his major goals was to establish a professional advising corps that would augment the train and advisory efforts of U.S. Army Special Forces. The end result was the Security Force Assistance Brigades. There are now six SFABs – each with its regional orientation. The likelihood is that they will remain a permanent part of the U.S. Army. Read a recent ‘fact sheet’ on the these advisory teams entitled “The Value of the SFAB“, by SGM Thomas I. Thornhill Jr, Infantry, Spring 2021, PDF, 2 pages.
Information Operations and Narrative Warfare
GAO and IO. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has published a 20-page report (PDF) on how DOD operations need enhanced leadership and integration of capabilities for the information environment. April 30, 2021, GAO.
Afghanistan – Taliban Victories or Good Propaganda. The media is full of accounts that state Afghan security forces are on the defensive while the Taliban is rapidly taking district after district and threatening provincial capitals. The Afghan government responds saying that much of that media noise is false – that the security situation is not as dire as it has been portrayed. Afghan government officials also are complaining that a ‘false narrative’ is detrimental to the effectiveness of the Afghan security forces. Read more in “The battle for narrative in Afghanistan”, by Tanya Goudsouzian, Le Monde Diplomatique, July 13, 2021.
Russian Info Ops. Patrick Tucker provides an analysis of the Russian governments new security strategy and the call for an improvement in its influence-warfare capabilities. The new strategy sees information and cyber threats as a challenge to Russia’s long-term survival. “Information Warfare Looms Larger in Russia’s New Security Strategy”, Defense One, July 13, 2021.
Social Media and Political Systems. Guy Schleffer and Benjamin Miller write about how American social media platforms can affect the political systems of different states in varying ways. There are a number of possible approaches that U.S. policy makers can take to decrease the negative effects of social media platforms. Read more in “The Political Effects of Social Media Platforms on Different Regime Types”, Texas National Security Review, Summer 2021.
Great Power Competition
Strengths and Weaknesses of Russia. Rebecca Campbell, a South African journalist, takes a close look at Russia’s military in this detailed article. While Russia doesn’t have the power and resources of the Soviet Union it still can field a competent and large military. “How Strong is Russia?”, UK Defence Journal, July 18, 2021.
Keeping an Eye on China. One can learn only so much about a society that restricts the freedom of expression. But technology and the internet has changed things up. For those keeping tabs on China open source information is valuable . . . if analyzed and disseminated to the right audience. “The bottom line is that a huge part of the latest and greatest in Chinese military and technology news lies in the public domain. One simply has to collect it, make sense of it, and share it.” One media source for this sort of information is being established – The China Intelligence. Read more in “Introducing ‘The China Intelligence”, Defense One, May 25, 2021.
Do We Need a Larger Navy? China is ramping up its military presence in the Indo-Pacific – should the U.S. respond by building up its Navy? The next Secretary of the Navy is in favor of such a move, saying that a larger fleet is needed as part of a larger strategic reorientation away from the Middle East and towards the Pacific. “Biden’s Navy Secretary Pick has His Eyes Laser-Focused on China”, by Mark Episkopos, The National Interest, July 15, 2021.
Scheme to Ship U.S. Commando Craft to Red China. U.S officials have successfully prosecuted individuals involved in a plot to illegally export inflatable military boats that are used by U.S. special operations forces to China. The perpetrators were going to reverse-engineer the boats. The craft were capable of being launched from submerged submarines or dropped into the ocean from aircraft. One of the defendants is awaiting trial – he is a China-born Navy officer who holds a top-secret clearance and was assigned to the Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance Weapons School in Jacksonville, Florida. “Chinese national gets 3 1/2 years in jail for scheme to buy U.S. commando craft”, The Washington Times, July 16, 2021.
India and the Maoist Insurgency. What was once considered the biggest internal security challenge for India has now been in a steady decline over the last decade. Incidents, security force casualties, and civilian deaths have declined significantly. However the Maoists are still active and continue to mount violent attacks against security forces. Read more about the history of this protracted conflict in “Indian Counter-Insurgency Operations and COVID-19 Limit Maoist Insurgency”, Terrorism Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation, July 16, 2021.
Central Asian States Brace for Afghan Crisis. Taliban fighters have made steady progress in gaining territory in the northern provinces of Afghanistan and in taking over major border crossings with countries on Afghanistan’s northern border. The countries of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have a close eye on their southern border. “Then and Now: Concerns About a Taliban-Led Afghan Spillover Into Central Asia”, Radio Free Europe, July 12, 2021.
US Bases in Central Asia? Russia Says Nyet! One of the ways that the U.S. could position a counter terrorism force near Afghanistan to strike terrorist targets in that country is to set up a base in a country to the north of Afghanistan. This, of course, would be a country that was formerly part of the Soviet Union and one which the Russian’s view as in their sphere of influence. “Russia warns US against deploying troops in Central Asia near Afghanistan”, Military Times, July 13, 2021.
South of the Border
Border Crisis. The surge of border crossers has not subsided; June was the highest number in a single month in over 21 years – with almost 200,000 migrants crossed the southern border. More than 1 million migrants have been taken into custody by the United States – many of them attempting to cross the border multiple times. Thus far, the current administrations ‘catch and release’ policy does not seem to be stemming the tide of illegal border crossers.
Haiti. The security situation in this Caribbean country is troubling since the assassination of the president. Members of the Haitian government are calling on the U.S. and international community to provide troops to secure the countries infrastructure and governmental centers. The U.S. is sending in the Marines . . . but only to guard the U.S. embassy. The Congressional Research Service has published a 4-page fact sheet discussing the political unrest now ensuing since the presidential assassination. CRS, July 8, 2021, PDF, 4 pages.
Colombia’s Mercenaries. The news of the involvement of former Colombian special forces military personnel who were trained by the U.S. military in the recent assassination of Haiti’s president has some observers in the national security arena in a state of angst. But they have failed to recognize that this is not an usual circumstance as the U.S. military, especially its special operations forces, have been advising and training the Colombians for decades. “What Makes Colombian Army Veterans So Popular Mercenaries?”, SOFREP, July 16, 2021.
Cuba. Protesters in the thousands are demanding more rights, democracy, better health care, and more action by the government in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more in “It’s about ‘freedom’: Cuban Americans say shortages don’t explain protests”, NBC News, July 17, 2021.
Fixing Yemen. While campaigning for president Joe Biden promised to end the conflict in Yemen. He believed that negotiation was the answer along with pressuring Saudi Arabia to end its active military engagement inside of Yemen. Well . . . that doesn’t seem to be working so far. Some believe he has recognized the need for a revised approach after seeing that – due to Biden’s initiatives – the Houthis seem to be more emboldened about the prospects of a military victory. “How Biden Can Help Yemen”, War on the Rocks, July 15, 2021.
Video – Iranian Proxy Groups in Iraq, Syria, & Yemen. Three scholars discuss their recent (2020) publication about Iranian proxy groups. Tehran uses these proxy groups to advance their strategic interests in the Middle East. July 16, 2021, Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), 1 hr 30 mins.
CT Success in Tunisia. Some notable progress has been made by the Tunisian military in revising its doctrine and improving its operational readiness and combat competency. This has gone a long way in aiding Tunisia in detecting and preventing terrorist attacks. The United States and selected European countries have played an important role to upgrade the professionalism and readiness of the Tunisian military. Anouar Boukhars, a professor of counterterrorism and countering violent extremism, provides a detailed look at “Tunisia’s Evolving Counterterrorism Strategy”, Spotlight, Africa Center for Strategic Studies, July 16, 2021.
“Crisis in Mali”. The Congressional Research Service has published an updated fact sheet on the current instability of this northwest African country. Mali has become the epicenter of regional conflict over the past decade. Foreign troops are assisting the country in fighting insurgents and armed gangs rule a significant part of Mali. CRS, July 14, 2021, PDF, 3 pages.
ISIS and Lake Chad. There appears to be a reconfiguration of jihadist groups taking place in West Africa. Read more in “Islamic State fortifies its position in the Lake Chad Basin”, by Malik Smauel, Institute for Security Studies, July 13, 2021.
July 29, 2021. Washington, D.C. (Can be viewed online)
Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations Markup
National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2022
August 5-6, 2021. Eglin AFB, Florida
7th SFG(A) VA Disability Claims and Benefits Seminar
Green Beret Foundation
August 20-21, 2021. Perdido Key, Florida
Deep Dive 2021
Combat Diver Foundation
August 30, 2021. Lincoln, Maine
MSG Gary Gordon MOH Memorial Unveiling
Books, Pubs, and Reports
CALL Pub on ARSOF. Army Special Operations Forces in Multi-Domain Operations, Catalog / Bibliography, Center for Army Lessons Learned, July 2021, PDF, 13 pages.
Research Topics – JSOU. The Joint Special Operations University has published its Special Operations Research Topics 2022 pub – PDF, 54 pages. The document highlights a wide range of topics that are intended to guide research projects for JSOU faculty and students and others who are writing about special operations over the next year. There are six priority topics:
- Special Operations Forces (SOF) Ethics
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Assisted Decision Making
- Utility of SOF in Strategic Competition
- Civil Resistance in the Future Operating Environment
- Influence Operations
- Fixing SOF Command and Control (C2)
Book Review – The Spymaster of Baghdad. Barnaby Crowcroft reviews a non-fiction book by Margaret Coker that describes an intelligence unit called the Falcons that provided valued intelligence about ISIS. His review can be read in “The Iraqi Spies Who Helped Defeat ISIS”, National Review, July 17, 2021.
Podcasts, Videos, and Movies
Podcast – Ending Afghanistan for US Army Special Forces. Jessica Donati, war correspondent and book author, joins Colonel Brad Moses, a Special Forces officer with extensive Afghanistan experience, in a podcast about Special Forces engagement in Afghanistan since 2015. “They will argue that Army Special Forces, also known as Green Berets, have been instrumental to preserving stability in Afghanistan since 2015, and their departure will leave a concerning void in the security and functionality of the country.” Irregular Warfare Podcast, Modern War Institute at West Point, July 16, 2021, 36 minutes.
Video – The State of Special Operations Forces: A Conversation with Rep. Stephanie Murphy. Dr. Seth Jones and Representative Murphy discuss the state of special operations forces in light of the shift in focus from CT / COIN to great power competition. Murphy is the Vice Chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations. Posted online by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), July 14, 2021, 48 minutes.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgpPUoRyWrs. Or, if you don’t have time to watch the video then read some of her key comments in this article.
Photo: An AC-47 from Topeka, Kansas, and an AC-130J Ghostrider from the 4th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., fly in formation around Topeka June 25 in preparation for a gunship legacy flight that will be flown at EAA AirVenture July 30 and 31. Air Force Special Operations Command Airmen and aircraft will be among the highlighted programs at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021. The AC-47 belongs to the American Flight Museum in Topeka and is restored as John Levitow’s Medal of Honor aircraft. The AC-130J Ghostrider’s primary missions are close air support, air interdiction, and armed reconnaissance. (U.S. Air Force photo by MSgt Christopher Boitz)