Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world.
Photo / Image: Staff Sgt. John Rosine, 20th Special Operations Squadron special missions aviator, observes the landscape on his assigned CV-22 Osprey at Melrose Air Force Range, Melrose, N.M., Sept. 26, 2023. (U.S. Air Force Photo by 2nd Lt. Merit Davey)
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Cuts to ARSOF. It is looking more and more likely that the Army will be making some significant cuts to the Army Special Operations Forces organizational structure. Faced with a big recruiting problem the Army is looking for SOF to fill the personnel gaps. Cuts could be as high as 3,000 personnel, as much as 10% of the force. Some cuts would be enablers (staff and support) and some of the ‘operators’. Last year there were about 700 cuts to SOF forces.
- “Army Plans Major Cuts to Special Operations Forces, Including Green Berets”, by Godon Lubold, The Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2023.
- “Congressional veteran stunned and appalled at possible special operations cuts”, Washington Examiner, October 5, 2023.
- “Proposed USASOC Cuts: A Threat to Global Security”, Special Operations Association of America (SOAA), October 6, 2023.
CoS ASD SOLIC Under Fire. Over 30 U.S. Senators have signed a letter (PDF, US Senate) sent to Secretary of Defense Austin expressing their concerns about Ariane Tabatyabai, the current chief of staff to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC). Apparently, she was part of a so-called Iran Experts Initiative that senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues. In September 2023, a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails connected her with the Iran Experts Initiative. In the past, she has been accused of echoing the Iranian regime’s talking points. Tabatyabai is an Iranian American scholar of political science. She was born in Tabriz, Iran.
SOF and Psychedelic Drugs. Certain drugs have been tested and found to lower depression and anxiety as well as improve cognitive functioning in a sample of U.S. special operations forces veterans. Ohio State University. “Psychedelics improve mental health, cognition in special ops veterans.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 October 2023.
5th SFG(A) SEA CoR. The 5th Special Forces Group conducted a Change of Responsibility ceremony at Fort Campbell, Kentucky on October 5, 2023. Command Sgt. Maj. Joshua King passed on his responsibilities as the top senior advisor to Command Sgt. Maj. Travis Esterby.
Congressional Gold Medal for MACV-SOG – Sign the Petition. The U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group was an elite special operations unit that played a vital role during the Vietnam War. During its existence from 1964 to 1972, MACV-SOG conducted highly classified and dangerous covert operations behind enemy lines in Southeast Asia. A petition has been started to call upon the U.S. Congress to award MACV-SOG the Congressional Gold Medal. You can sign the petition here at change.org.
Navy’s HSC-85 Squadron. In August 2023 the U.S. Navy deactivated its only special operations rotary-wing aviation support squadron. the shutdown is expected to save about $300 million over the next several years. However, the lack of a dedicated special operations support Squadron in the Navy could negatively affect the operational readiness of the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific region. “Reconsider Shutting Down the Navy’s Only Special Operations Support Squadron”, Proceedings, U.S. Naval Institute, October 2023.
Robin Sage. For decades volunteers in the hills and woods of North Carolina have assisted in supporting culminating exercise of the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) known as Robin Sage. The two-week training event is held about four times a year in the fictional country of Pineland. “How hundreds of volunteers help test Army Special Forces candidates”, Army Times, October 4, 2023.
SOF Command in Romania. Romanian president Klaus Iohannis requested the Parliament to approve the establishment of a Regional Special Operations Component Command (HQR-SOCC) on the territory of Romania in partnership with Bulgaria. The initiative will establish a structure in the Black Sea region belonging to NATO. It will fill the need for a command-control structure (C2) of the Special Operations Forces (SOS) for the Black Sea region. “NATO to establish Special Operations Command in Romania”, Romania-Insider.com, October 6, 2023.
Southern Star 2023. A 3,700-kilometer area of operations, covering almost all of Chile’s territory, from the Atacama Desert to the southern pampas, was the backdrop for joint-combined exercise Southern Star 2023. The training brought together the Chilean Army, Navy, and Air Force (FACH); U.S. Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), a component of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM); and the Spanish Joint Special Operations Command. “Chilean, Spanish, and US Special Forces Together for Southern Star 2023”, Dialogo-Americas, October 5, 2023.
Ukraine SOF in Africa? A video has emerged adding to claims that Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate is operating in Sudan against the Wagner Group – a Russian paramilitary force. The Wagner Group is working in Sudan with the Rapid Reaction Forces (RSF) to topple the government in Sudan. “Are Kyiv’s Special Operators Fighting Wagner in Africa?”, The War Zone, October 6, 2023.
OSS Veteran Passes. Ellsworth Johnson was a member of the Operational Group (OG) of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. He parachuted behind enemy lines prior to D-Day and conducted operations against German forces in France. Later in the war he into China to fight against Japanese forces in the Pacific theater. He was believed to be the last surviving member of an Operations Group. This past year he was inducted into the Special Forces Regiment and was presented with an Army Special Forces tab and a Green Beret by the 1st Special Forces Command. “Ellsworth Johnson, Last Survivor of a Secret Army Unit, Dies at 100”, The New York Times, October 6, 2023. (subscription)
“Che”. On October 9, 1967, Che Guevara was executed in Bolivia. 8th SFGA trained the counter-guerrilla force that tracked down Che’s small guerrilla group.
Ranger Course. On October 10, 1951, the Ranger Course was conceived during the Korean War and was known as Ranger Training Command. “The Ranger Training Command was inactivated on this day in 1951 and became the Ranger Department, a branch of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga. Its purpose was, and still is, to develop combat skills of selected officers and enlisted men by requiring them to perform effectively as small unit leaders in a realistic tactical environment, under mental and physical stress approaching that found in actual combat.”
46th Company. On October 12, 1966, the 46th Special Forces Company was activated in Thailand. Those in the SF community will remember this as being one of the better overseas assignments.
Kennedy Visit to FBNC. On 12 October 1961, Brigadier General William P. Yarborough, as commander of the Special Warfare Center, Fort Bragg, NC, met with President Kennedy to visit Fort Bragg. The meeting resulted in increased funding for Special Forces and the authorization of the Green Beret for wear as the official headgear of Special Forces. The President further showed his unfailing support for Special Forces in publishing an official White House Memorandum to the US Army dated April 11, 1962, which stated in part that “The Green Beret is again becoming a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.”
“Storm Z” Units – Cannon Fodder. Russian soldiers who have broken rules (drinking, drugs, disobeying orders, etc.) are being sent to so-called punishment battalions and are then used in heavy fighting. The members of these “Storm Z” units have very poor chances of survival. (Business Insider, Oct 3, 2023).
Conservative Leaders Support Ukraine. The Vandenberg Coalition, a network of conservative national security professionals, released a public letter signed by over 100 leading conservatives urging Congressional Republicans to increase support to Ukraine. (Vandenberg Coalition, Oct 4, 2023).
F16s – Important . . . But. Michael Bohnert of the Rand Corporation says that F-16s will not win the war for Ukraine. “Only ground victories and unacceptable Russian losses will force Putin to negotiate. The most important support to Ukraine is still artillery, medical equipment, infantry weapons, ground vehicles, and drones. However, a long-term commitment to supporting a well-equipped, sizable F-16 force will improve the likelihood of Ukrainian success even if an F-16 never shoots a Russian fighter.” “F-16s are no magic bullets in Ukraine, but their armaments will matter”, Defense News, October 3, 2023.
Israel Under Attack
For an account of what transpired in Israel and the Gaza Strip over the weekend read “Israel Under Attack”, SOF News, October 7, 2023 (updated October 8, 2023).
Fighting Continues. Overnight (Sunday into Monday) Hamas continued to infiltrate fighters (approximately 70) across the border. The rocket and missile attacks against Israel are continuing. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) says that there are still six sites of fighting on the Gaza border as of Monday morning although it also states that the IDF has regained control of all the communities on the border with the Gaza Strip; 15 of the 24 border communities have been evacuated. The pace of the ground fighting has diminished – for now. The air attacks by Israel have stepped up – hitting over 1,000 military and communications targets. A ground offensive by Israel into the Gaza Strip is just days if not hours away. Thus far over 800 people have been killed in Israel, thousands wounded, and probably about 150 held hostage (now in Gaza). Israel has called up over 300,000 reservists.
U.S. Military Response. The United States is sending air and naval assets into the region. A number of strike aircraft and fighters are heading to the Middle East – probably a mix of A-10s, F-15s, F-16s, and F-35s. The US has moved the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group (CSG 12) (CENTCOM, Oct 8, 2023) to the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Special Operations Capable (SOC) has a good part of its force in the Persian Gulf on deployment aboard naval vessels and in Kuwait. (DVIDS, Oct 8, 2023) Part of the 26th MEU is in Norway and the other part is in the Middle East region.
Foreign Nationals. A lot of countries are reporting that some of their citizens have been killed, wounded, or taken hostage by Hamas over the weekend. Some of these people have been seen in videos posted by Hamas. The Nepal government confirms (Twitter) that the terrorists have killed 10 Nepali Hindu citizens. Among the hostages are German, UK, American, Nepali, and Russian citizens. The Thai government says 12 Thai citizens were killed and 11 taken hostage. The White House has announced that ‘several’ American citizens were killed in the Hamas attacks in Israel. There is speculation that some Americans may have been taken hostage and are now held captive in the Gaza Strip. Some nations are flying aircraft to pull out its citizens. Poland has taken some of its citizens out on at least four aircraft.
Report – Attack on Gaza? The fighting to take Gaza will be fierce urban combat. A ground assault into Gaza will likely take place in about 48 hours. Accomplishing the objectives of finding and killing Hamas fighters and recovering hostages will be difficult. Urban warfare in highly dense cities is tough. The “Urban Warfare Project Case Study Series” presented by the Urban Warfare Project at the Modern Warfare Institute at West Point has studies on Fallujah I, Fallujah II, Suez City, Stalingrad, Hue, Ortona, and Mosul. Followers of the conflict may find a Rand Corporation report done in 2017 of interest. Lessons from Israel’s Wars in Gaza, Rand, 2017, PDF, 12 pages. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9975.html
National Security and Commentary
Border Crisis. The people keep pouring across the border and the Biden administration seems unable (or reluctant?) to do much about. Meanwhile, the sanctuary cities (NYC, Denver, etc.) are shouting “No Mas!” Apparently, some steps are being taken by the government. On October 5, 2023, the Department of Homeland Security issued a determination (Federal Register, PDF, 6 pages) that it is necessary to waive certain laws, regulations, and other legal requirements in order to resume expeditious construction of barriers in areas of “high illegal entry” along the international border with Mexico. Secretary of State Blinken met with Mexican President Obrador to discuss a number of issues – one being “the challenges presented by irregular migration and synthetic fentanyl.” (DoS Readout, Oct 5, 2023) The United States will resume direct deportation flights to Venezuela (Washington Examiner) in an attempt to curb the surge in migration. See also “Migrants pass quickly through once impenetrable Darien jungle as governments scramble for answers”, Associated Press News, October 6, 2023.
Haiti – One More Time. It seems every few decades the United Nations has to step in to restore order to Haitian society. On October 4th the United Nations Security Council approved the deployment of a UN force to quell the rampant violence and chaos in Haiti. The UN’s multinational force will be led by Kenya – the country will send about 1,000 police officers. Other countries – including Jamaica, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda – will send personnel as well. The U.S. has pledged $100 million in logistical support. “Haiti Only Has One Feasible Way Forward”, Carnegie Endowment, Octobe 5, 2023.
A Second War in Europe? The world’s attention is on Taiwan and Ukraine. However, and area of tension that could escalate into open conflict is the Balkans. Armed conflict could break out between Serbia and Kosovo. This could reignite a conflict that took place in the 1990s. The Serbians have bolstered their military presence along its border with Kosovo. The NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo has deployed additional peacekeeping troops to the region. “A second war could easily erupt in Europe – while everyone’s distracted by Ukraine”, CNBC, October 5, 2023.
Gender Integration and Combat Power. Julian Spencer-Churchill notes that there is an eventual likelihood of gender-neutral conscription legislation in Canada that will require a serious look at how personnel will be allocated to the combat arms. The Canadian government is currently dealing with an epidemic of sexual misconduct in the military; this could get worse in the future. “The Canadian Liberal Party’s Ideological Gender Integration Will Reduce Frontline Combat Power”, RealClear Defense, October 5, 2023.
Great Power Competition
Resistance by Taiwan. A retired SF officer, Lumby Lumbaca, describes how civilian population of Taiwan can play a critical during an occupation by the People’s Republic of China. “Every Taiwan Citizen a Resistance Member: Preparing for a Chinese Occupation”, Modern War Institute at West Point, September 14, 2023.
Report – China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities, Congressional Research Service, CRS RL33153, October 5, 2023, PDF, 70 pages. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL33153
Russian Presence in Arctic – Swedish Response. Sweden has taken decisive action to counter Russia’s growing presence in the Arctic region by increasing land forces in the northern part of the Nordic country and expanding military cooperation with Finland and Norway. Sweden recently announced it is increasing military spending by almost 30% next year. “Sweden ‘beefing up’ military presence in Arctic to counter Russian threat”, Breaking Defense, October 4, 2023.
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.
Israeli Assisted Azerbaijan in Ethnic Cleansing. Prior to the Azerbaijan attack on the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Israeli military cargo planes airlifted weapons to Azerbaijan. The flights carried heavy artillery, rocket launchers, and drones. Azerbaijan supplies about 40% of Israel’s oil needs. Azerbaijan is a big customer of Israeli weapons. Over 80% of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh are now refugees in Armenia. The alignment of interests between Israel and Azerbaijan has a lot to do with their common opposition to Iran. “Israeli arms quietly helped Azerbaijan retake Nagorno-Karabakh, to the dismay of region’s Armenians”, Associated Press News, October 5, 2023.
Earthquake in Afghanistan. A severe earthquake rocked Herat province. Estimates are that over 2,600 people died and thousands more were injured.
Pakistan to Deport Illegal Afghan Immigrants. Pakistan on Tuesday ordered all illegal immigrants, including 1.73 million Afghan nationals, to leave the country or face expulsion after revealing that 14 of 24 suicide bombings in the country this year were carried out by Afghan nationals. Most of the Afghans have fled the Taliban as the faced retribution for being part of the previous Afghan government, were former members of the Afghan security forces, or supported the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. Many have fled due to the dire economic situation in Afghanistan since the Taliban have taken over. “Pakistan orders illegal immigrants, including 1.73 mln Afghans, to leave”, Reuters, October 3, 2023.
Gen Miller on Somalia. It has been 30 years since the two-day fight in Mogadishu where 18 Americans lost their lives. General (Ret.) Scott Miller has put his thoughts about that event into an article. “In the Battle of Mogadishu, We Had Extreme Trust in One Another Amid Chaos”, Solider of Fortune Magazine, October 3, 2023.
Special Forces – Failure and Learning. The lesson 30 years on from the Battle of Mogadishu is that, with the right response, defeat can be a better tutor than victory. Although the American units involved fought courageously, and inflicted heavy losses on their adversaries, the Battle of Mogadishu exposed significant weaknesses in U.S. Special Operations Forces’ capability. “Our Special Forces’ Capacity to Evolve Despite Failure”, by Andrew Exum, The Atlantic, October 3, 2023. (subscription)
Wagner Group in Africa. Despite the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, the paramilitary organization will continue its operations in Africa. Read more in “After Prigozhin: The Future of the Wagner Group Model in Africa”, CTC Sentinel, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, September 2023.
Niger. The drawdown of French troops in Africa’s Sahel region continues. French troops will be out of Niger by the end of the year. “France starts pulling soldiers out of Niger”, Politic.eu, October 5, 2023.
Mali Update. The security situation in Mali is getting worse. The governments security forces are fighting on several fronts, the Tuareg rebels are back on the offensive in the north, and Timbuktu is being targeted by Islamists from the east. The city’s road access has been cut as well as the river and air routes. The current Mali regime demanded the departure of a 13,000-strong force led by the United Nations. Over 1,000 Russian paramilitary mercenaries were brought into the country to bolster security, but they have not filled the security gap. “Mali in meltdown as militants advance and U.N. withdraws”, Reuters, October 3, 2023.
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Books, Movies, and Videos
Book – AUSA Army Green Book 2023-2024. The Association of the United States Army has published its ‘Green Book’ (October 2023). It is available online in PDF format, 204 pages. A lot of interesting articles, ‘year in review’ feature, listing of key Army personnel, weapons and equipment (cross-functional perspective) descriptions, info on posts and installations, and plenty of snazzy advertisements. https://www.ausa.org/sites/default/files/AUSA_Army-GreenBook_23-24.pdf
Best War Movies. Amazon’s Prime Video has a wide variety of movies and shows – to include some great war movies. “The Best Military Movies and Shows Streaming Right Now on Amazon Prime Video”, Military.com, October 2, 2023.
Video – D-Day: Planning the Impossible. Army University Press, October 5, 2023, YouTube, 50 minutes. “Allied planners spent years analyzing changing tides, perilous terrain, and German fortifications along the Atlantic Wall to figure out the best time and place to come ashore. Even basic logistics were a nightmare. Over a million soldiers had to be shipped to the United Kingdom, and then equipped and fed. Paying heed to Allied leadership from COSSAC to SHAEF, our film examines how the plan for one of the largest invasions in history was changing clear up to D-Day. Created in collaboration with the Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM), the film outlines important Army doctrine such as the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB), and the Sustainment Preparation of the Operational Environment.” (Editorial comment: The narrators take every opportunity to insert modern Army terminology into this historical documentary.)
October 16-20, 2023
Special Operations Association
November 29-30, 2023
SOF & Irregular Warfare Symposium
Defense Strategies Institute
December 8, 2023
Combat Diver Association
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