Special Operations News Update – January 2023

SOF winter warfare training above the Arctic Circle, Kiruna, Sweden. (Photo from SOCEUR video by SPC Liem Huynh, February 24, 2018).

Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world.

Photo: SOF winter warfare training above the Arctic Circle, Kiruna, Sweden. (Photo from SOCEUR video by SPC Liem Huynh, February 24, 2018).

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SOF News

Flintlock 2023. SOCAF will conduct Flintlock 2023 in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire March 1-15, 2023. Approximately 1,300 service members from 30 participating nations with be involved in the exercise. “Africa SOF, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa Announce Flintlock 2023”, DVIDS, January 13, 2023.

Silver Star Award for NSW Legend. On January 17, 2023, the Silver Star was awarded to Rear Adm. Keth Thomas Richards for his actions 50 years ago in Vietnam. Subsequent to his heroic actions during the Vietnam conflict he would continue to serve in the U.S. Navy. His final post was as commander of Naval Special Warfare Command from 1996 to 1999. “Silver Star Awarded to Naval Special Warfare Legend”, Navy.mil, January 19, 2023.

24th SOW D-Cell – Training in Alaska. The Agile Combat Employment concept of the Air Force is one that a sub-unit of the 24th SOW has been conducting for decades. It has recently spent some time training in Alaska. “24th Special Operations D-Cell, Pioneers of the ACE Concept, Hone Arctic Skills in Alaska”, Pacom.mil, January 20, 2023.

SF’s ‘Sling’. Members of the 3rd Special Forces Group is involved in the development and testing of a mortar system that will modernize firepower capabilities for SOF units. The 120 mm mortar system can be used on small 4×4 wheeled vehicles and be put into use very quickly. “Fort Bragg Special Forces soldiers are testing a new mortar system. Here’s what it can do.”, Yahoo! News, January 15, 2023.

SOF Vehicle Upgrades. Special Operations Command is searching for vehicle integration kits that will enhance or expand the tactical capabilities of its ground transport vehicles. “Special Operators Look for Easy Vehicle Upgrades”, National Defense, January 20, 2023.

Frank Sobchak Now With MWI. Retired Colonel Frank Sobchak, former Special Forces officer, has joined the Modern War Institute as the chair of the irregular warfare studies for 2023. He has taught at West Point, the Joint Special Operations University, and several other educational institutions. (MWI, Jan 17, 2023).

Howell on Joby Aviation Advisory Board. Lt. Gen. (ret) Scott Howell, a former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has been appointed to serve on the advisory board of Joby Aviation, Inc. He had served in special operations for more than two decades and deployed extensively. Howell was a career special operations helicopter pilot with more than 2,600 hours of flight experience. (Vertical Magazine, Jan 11, 2023).

SOCOM and C2I Software Update. The United States Special Operations Command is looking for a platform that can integrate its separate systems used in mission data storage as well as in intelligence, planning, and execution. (ExecutiveBiz, Jan 13, 2023).

Awards for CV-22 Crew’s Part in Rescue. In October 2020, U.S. Navy SEALs rescued an American who was held hostage in West Africa. Their insert and exfil was conducted by Special Operations Airmen in aircraft that required multiple mid-air refuelings. Read more in “Airmen honored at Kirtland for daring rescue mission”, Albuquerque Journal, January 11, 2023.

Suicide in SOF Ranks. The Army SOF community has experienced its share of suicides and there are ongoing efforts by U.S. Army Special Operations Command to reduce incidences among the ranks. “It can happen to anyone”, The Fayetteville Observer, January 18, 2023. See also “Army Special Operators Seek to Reduce Suicide with ‘Bottom-Led’ approach”, Defense One, January 17, 2023.

Training for Combat Diver School? The quicker you learn the techniques of swimming, treading, and other water competency skills the better the odds of passing. “Try This Military Swim Workout to Prepare for Special Ops, Diver or Rescue Swimmer Training”, Military.com, January 2023.

Drug Use in USASOC? According to a press release by the United States Army Special Operations Command the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) more than a dozen USASOC soldiers assigned to Fort Bragg, NC are being questioned on alleged drug use. “Over a dozen Army Special Operations Command soldiers investigated for alleged drug use”, Task & Purpose, January 9, 2023.

‘MARSOC 3’ Update. Two Marine Raiders are in the midst of a trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter. They were involved in an incident in 2019 at an off-base nightclub in Irbil, Iraq while deployed with Marine Special Operations Command that resulted in the death of a retired Green Beret. “As 2 of the ‘MARSOC 3’ go on trial for homicide, the 3rd gets immunity”, Marine Corps Times, January 17, 2023.

920th Rescue Wing – 60 Years! This United States Air Force Reserve unit has a storied history – beginning with the flying of C-123 Provider cargo aircraft. Over time it transitioned to WC-130 cargo aircraft. Now it is a rescue wing with C-130s and HH-60 helicopters. “920th Rescue Wing marks 60th year since activation”, Air Force, January 15, 2023.

Covert Semi-Sub. Washington State University has unveiled a new unmanned semi-submarine to support secret military operations. At only 1.5 feet long, it will show only 10% of its body above the water surface. “US Develops Unmanned Semi-Sub for Covert Military Operations”, The Defense Post, January 18, 2023.

3rd SFG(A) Cook Killed in Shooting. SSG Jimmy Smith was killed during a shooting on January 18 in Raeford, NC. He was a culinary specialist in Group Support Battalion. Smith joined the Army in 2016. Before his assignment to 3rd Group he had served with the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea and the 82nd Abn Div at Fort Bragg, NC. “Soldier assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group killed in North Carolina shooting”, Task & Purpose, January 20, 2023. See also “3rd SF Group soldier killed in shooting”, Army Times, January 20, 2023.

SOF Role Changing? The recent National Defense Strategy has verbiage in it that changes up the mission of the U.S. special operations forces. Read more in “The Changing Role of Special Operations Forces”, Special Operations.com, January 8, 2023.

SOCSOUTH Cdr Interview. Marine Brigadier General Peter Huntley took command of Special Operations Command South in July 2022. His career began with a tour in the 1st Ranger Battalion as an enlisted man. He then went to college and was commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps. One of his assignments was as the Operations Officer of UK’s 45 Commando. “Meet SOCSOUTH’s New Commander”, South Dade Newsleader, January 20, 2023.

Cancer in SOF. The Military Special Operations Family Collaborative hosted a live Q& with several experts on cancer trends in the special operations community. “SOF Health Deep Dive: Cancer in SOF”, MSOFC, December 19, 2022.

All Army Soldiers to Wear Green Beret. (Caution: humor zone). Over 20 years ago, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army General Eric Shinseki, decided that all U.S. Army soldiers would wear the Black Beret – a move he said would ‘boost morale’. The Rangers, present and past, went ballistic. A compromise was reached where the Rangers would don tan berets. In time, the Black Beret was deemed impractical for the general Army population for everyday use. It afforded no protection from the elements; was hot in the summer, didn’t keep ears warm in the winter, keep the rain out of your eyes, provided no protection from the sun, looked frumpy, and required two hands to don. Years later the policy was changed allowing the wear of brimmed ‘patrol cap’ for wear with the ‘everyday uniform’. Army soldiers celebrated that they could ditch the ill-fitting black wool berets and that they could stop wearing ‘a wet sock on my head‘. However, the incoming Sergeant Major of the Army, a Green Beret with decades of SOF experience, has recently announced a new uniform policy. Read more in “New SMA: All soldiers will now wear green beret”, Duffel Blog, January 20, 2023.

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International SOF

France’s GIGN. Aidan Hickey writes about France’s primary counterterrorism and hostage rescue unit – formed in 1973 as a direct response to the 1972 Munich Massacre. “GIGN: The Hostage Rescue Primacy of the Gendarmerie Intervention Group”, Grey Dynamics, January 6, 2023.

Russia Recruiting Afghan SOF. Former Afghan elite commandos who fled to Iran after the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021 are being recruited by Russia. “Why is Russia Recruiting Former Afghan Soldiers for its War Against Ukraine?”, The Jamestown Foundation, January 12, 2023.

Lithuanian SOF. Aitvaras is one of the most secretive units in the Lithuanian military. “A glimpse into lives of Lithuanian special operations soldiers”, LRT, January 10, 2023.

French SOF Leaving Burkina Faso. A 2018 military accord that allowed the presence of French troops in the African country of Burkina Faso has been suspended. Some 400 French special forces troops had been in the country engaged in operations against al-Qaeda and ISIL factions. Russia has been making headway in the region at the expense of France and other western nations. “Burkina Faso demands departure of French troops”, Aljazeera, January 22, 2023.

SOE Ends. On January 15, 1946, the Special Operations Executive was dissolved by UK Prime Minister Clement Attlee. The SOE was the British counterpart to the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

SOF History Banner

SOF History

National Intelligence and SOF Museum. A site in northern Virginia may soon be the home for the National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations. The museum is projected to open in 2027. “Defense bill OKs future national intelligence museum”, Military Times, January 20, 2023.

Air America’s Secret War in Laos. Author Marc Phillip Yablonka provides a short bio of Air America pilot Louisianan Allen Cates and his time in Laos. “With Air America, that meant flying in Laos”, Hmong Daily News, January 7, 2023.

OCPW Established. On January 15, 1951, the Army established the Office of the Chief of Psychological Warfare headed by Brigadier General Robert McClure.

OEF-P. Twenty years ago, on January 15, 2002, Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines began to support the Republic of Philippines counterterrorism efforts. Special Operations Command – Pacific (SOCPAC) formed the nucleus of OEF-P. https://sof.news/sof/oef-p/

Ukraine Russia Conflict

Ukraine Conflict

Former Navy SEAL KIA in Ukraine. Daniel W. Swift, a former Navy Special Warfare Operator First Class, died on January 18, 2023 after suffering injuries in combat (Yahoo! News, Jan 20, 2023) while fighting with Ukrainian forces in Dnipro. He was a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Swift is the sixth known American to die in the war. He joined the Navy in 2005 (VOA, Jan 21, 2023) and was assigned to a SEAL unit in 2007.

Ukrainian SOF and Foreign Operators. Since February 2021, thousands of volunteer from other countries have gone to Ukraine to fight the Russians. Many of them are former special operators of elite units from other European countries as well as other nations around the world. Read more in “Special Operations: Ukraine Integrates Foreign Operators”, Strategy Page, January 12, 2023.

Wagner Group – Terrorist Organization? A bill likely to be introduced to the U.S. Congress in the coming year is the HARM Act – or Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries. Read more in “The Case for Designating Wagner Group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization is Still Compelling”, Lawfare Blog, January 18, 2023.

Mozart Group – in a Court Battle. The two owners of the U.S. entity assisting the Ukrainian military are now at odds with each other with a court case in the States and an ongoing battle on social media. The ‘non-profit’ has been engaged in training Ukrainian military units and in humanitarian assistance. The public face of the Mozart Group has been Andy Milburn, author of When the Tempest Gathers and a career U.S. Marine officer with significant time in MARSOC. “U.S. Military Vets in Ukraine Are Fighting Each Other in Court”, The Intercept, January 20, 2023.

No Tanks for Ukraine. Defense leaders around the world met in Germany last week to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how to assist Kyiv over the next several months in resisting the aggressor. Ukraine was disappointed in the group not coming to an agreement on providing main battle tanks to Ukraine. President Zelensky expressed his regret over lack of a decision; saying that the modern Western tanks would offer more firepower than the Soviet-era tanks it is currently fielding against the Russians. Several European nations who have the German Leopard 2’s want to ship them to Ukraine; but can’t, without Germany’s approval.

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USSOCOM and ‘Competition Campaigning’. Jonathan Schroden, the director of the Special Operations Program at CNA Corporation, has penned an essay that addresses the topic of ‘competition campaigning’ and its implications for USSOCOM. He provides some recommendations that would help USSOCOM be the DoD’s premier force for competition over the next several decades. “Competition Campaigning: What it Looks like and Implications for US Special Operations Command”, Modern War Institute at West Point, January 20, 2023.

SOF and UN Peace Operations. A Ghanian officer argues that SOF units should augment UN peace operations forces that are deployed to crisis regions around the world. Read more in “Contemporary Need for Special Forces in United Nations Peace Operations”, Small Wars Journal, January 5, 2023.

SOCOM, IWFC, and IW. James Armstrong, a former Army Infantry officer, provides some interesting (and questionable) comments in his article about irregular warfare education and the special operations community. “Developing Mastery of Irregular Warfare is a Pipe Dream if the DOD is Forced to Rely on SOCOM”, Small Wars Journal, January 3, 2023.

Maxwell on Irregular Warfare. An interesting article has been provided by Col (Ret.) David Maxwell, a Special Forces officer with a deep knowledge of doctrine and special operations. He explores the many terms used in the past and the present that are related to Irregular Warfare (IW) and the quest to define IW. “The First Rule of Fight Club and Irregular Warfare Should be the Same”, Small Wars Journal, January 22, 2023.

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National Security

“Political Warfare”. An introductory explanation is provided in a publication entitled What Is “Political Warfare”? This short 2-page Congressional Research Service pub provides a synopsis of the background, present day challenges, and description of political warfare. CRS, PDF, Jan 9, 2023. View more pubs about political warfare here.

Syria’s Kurds and the Way Forward. Turkey, long an opponent of the Assad regime in Syria, may soon be (incrementally) normalizing relations with its long-time dictator. This would directly threaten the position of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds – as both Syria and Turkey would like to remove the control the Kurds have over parts of northeastern Syria. The U.S. should get out in front of this possible reconciliation between Turkey and Syria to protect the interests of the Kurds. One way is to help the Kurds reach a political agreement with both nations. Read more on this topic in “A New Path for Syria’s Kurds”, War on the Rocks, January 18, 2023.

The Border Crisis. The U.S. southern border is in the midst of a historic surge in illegal migrant crossings. Despite its association with the Trump administration, the current admin has expanded “Title 42”; the controversial pandemic health rule. The slowing of ‘legal crossings’ – migrants seeking asylum at U.S. border crossings means that there will be an uptick in illegal border crossings. “IntelBrief: Biden’s Visit to U.S. Southern Border Highlights Historic Migrant Surge”, The Soufan Center, January 17, 2023.

Afghan Commando Detained at Border. An Afghan special operations soldier who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August 2021 crossed the U.S. southern border seeking asylum. He has been detained for months by the Customs and Border Patrol and is facing deportation back to Afghanistan. “Lawmakers seek to free Afghan soldier detained at U.S.-Mexico border”, Axios, January 21, 2023.

Blacksmith Publishing

Upcoming Events

February 4, 2023. Birmingham, AL
20th SFG(A) Reunion / Dining Out
20th Special Forces Group (Airborne)

April 5-6, 2023. San Diego, California
Warrior West

May 8-11, 2023. Tampa, Florida
SOF Week

Books about Special Forces Training

Books, Pubs, and Reports

Pub – “The Position of the Special Operations Forces Soldiers on the So-called Global War on Terrorism”, by Marcin Lason, Defense & Security Analysis, January 6, 2023.

Sentinel. The January 2023 issue of Sentinel had been posted online. Published by Chapter 78 of the Special Forces Association, this 20-page PDF has a number of good articles.

Infantry. The Winter 2022-2023 issue of Infantry has been published by the U.S. Army Infantry School. This 54-page PDF features a number of articles; this issues’ theme is mountain warfare.

IW Books. Dr. Kevin Stinger, a retired U.S. Army colonel, provides us with ten book recommendations for 2023. Read about the books in “Irregular Warfare Center 2023 Book Recommendations”, Irregular Warfare Center, January 3, 2023. (Editor’s note: Two these I have read – No Moon as Witness and Special Forces Berlin.

Book Review – Somalia’s Forever War. An active duty U.S. Army Special Forces officer with assignments to Somalia and other parts of Africa reviews a book about the Somali conflict. He provides insight into Mary Harper’s Everything You Have Told Me is True: The Many Faces of Al Shabaab (2019). “Al-Shabaab and the Grim Realities of Somalia’s Forever War”, Modern War Institute at West Point, January 3, 2023.

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Podcasts, Videos, and Movies

Video – SF SGM Shares Stories of Career and Afghanistan. An active duty SF SGM, Chuck Ritter, talks about his career in Special Forces, combat in Afghanistan, working with Afghan special operations kandaks, a firefight between the Taliban and SFODA 3335 / 6th SOK, and getting wounded in combat. “Surrounded Special Forces Fight Through Hundreds of Taliban”, Black Rifle Coffee, January 17, 2023, YouTube, 21 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7ERVuDKHao

Video – SF Dog Handler Shares His Story on Career. An Army veteran who spent time with the 82nd Airborne Division, 7th Special Forces Groups, and other SOF units recounts his career in the military. This includes his time as a K-9 handler. “USASOC Operator Rick Hogg”, Combat Story, YouTube, January 14, 2023, 1 hour 40 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgSEFTa3q10

Podcast – The Arctic Heats Up: Global Competition in the High North. Brigadier General Shawn Satterfield, the commanding general of Special Operations Command North (SOCNORTH), is a guest on this podcast by the Irregular Warfare Podcast at Modern War Institute at West Point, December 30, 2022, 45 minutes. https://mwi.usma.edu/the-arctic-heats-up-global-competition-in-the-high-north/

Podcast – Warrior Mindset with Nick Lavery. A ‘warrior’s warrior’ talks with the hosts about the importance of sacrifice, determination, work ethic, and having a purpose for life. Nick is a SF NCO who suffered some severe wounds in Afghanistan, recovered, and redeployed once again. The Pinelander, January 13, 2023, 1 hour. https://pinelander.podbean.com/e/episode-058-the-year-ahead-january-13-2023/

Podcast Channels

SOFCAST. United States Special Operations Command

The Pinelander. Blacksmith Publishing

The Indigenous Approach. 1st Special Forces Command

Irregular Warfare Podcast. Modern War Institute at West Point

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