Special Operations News – December 18, 2023

173rd Airborne Operation

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

Photo / Image: U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade conduct an airborne operation in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Operation Northern Delay at Aviano Air Base, Italy on March 22, 2023. Photo by Spc. Alisha Grezlik

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SOF News

More SOF Helicopters. The U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command (USASOAC) has awarded Boeing a substantial contract to manufacture six remanufactured MH-47G Block II aircraft. “US Special Forces to receive additional MH-47G helicopters”, Defense Blog, December 12, 2023.

RIP. Retired USAF Chief Master Sgt Alan T. Yoshida, a combat controller who was awarded the Silver Star as one of the original “Horse Soldiers” that routed the Taliban in 2001, died on Dec. 9 at the age of 51. “Legendary Combat Controller and Afghanistan ‘Horse Soldier’ dies at 51”, Task and Purpose, December 13, 2023.

Nepal DREE. A U.S. Navy SEAL Team conducted a joint training exchange alongside the Nepali Army and members of the Nepali Army Special Operations Force (SOF) Brigade near Kathmandu, Nepal from October 30 to November 6, 2023. The two-week training exchange consisted of a week-long subject matter expert exchange (SMEE) and a week-long multilateral disaster response training.
The first week of the joint training included classroom instruction from Nepali Special Operators and instructors from the Nepali Army’s High Altitude Mountain Warfare School. “Nepali Army, U.S. navy SEALs strengthen Joint Partnership”, DVIDS, December 18, 2023.

UAV Contract. General Atomics secured a $200 million contract for special operations UAV modifications integration. GA-ASI will install Special Operations Forces peculiar modifications into the MQ-9 and MQ-1C UAVs, produce aircraft modification kits and conduct analysis and studies to inform future SOF-p improvements. (GOVCONWIRE, Dec 18, 2023)

Best Ruck? Packs are as essential for the military as bullets and chow. But for decades, two rucks have weighed down more military backs than any others. That’s the O.G. All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) pack and the Modular Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment (MOLLE) pack. (editor note: no mention of the Lowe in this article) “MOLLE vs. ALICE: Which pack reigns supreme?”, Task and Purpose, December 15, 2023.

USAF Pararescue. Read a basic explainer into the U.S. Air Force’s elite pararescuers or PJs. “Air Force Pararescue: What Do They Do?”, Simple Flying, December 16, 2023.

S-MET. The Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate conducted various testing on the Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport, to include a Simulated Airdrop Impact Test to ensure the system could withstand impact forces of hitting the ground after the low-velocity airdrops. “Airborne Soldiers Drop Test New Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport”, Army.mil, December 13, 2023.

Social Hierarchy of SOF. This article is a humorous look at the special operations world. The writer uses the university campus as a method of describing the various U.S. SOF units. From the ‘new guys on the block’ (freshmen) to the ‘handpick individuals’ who get to join an exclusive college club (grad students). “The Social Hierarchy of US Special Operations Units”, SANDBOXX, December 13, 2023.

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International SOF

General Sir Roly Walker. The next head of the British Army has a special forces background. As well as serving as a commander at company, squadron, battlegroup, brigade and Special Forces group levels, Walker has also served in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq. “Who is the new Army chief who led Special Forces?”, Forces.net, December 12, 2023.

Italian SOF Validated by NATO. Allied Special Operations Forces Command and an Italian Special Operations evaluation team recently validated an Italian Special Operations Land Task Group (SOLTG) and a Special Operations Air Task Unit (SOATU) in central Italy to ensure high level readiness for NATO special forces. “Allied Special Operations Forces Command Validates Italian Special Operations”, NATO, December 13, 2023.

French Commandos Marine. The Commandos Marine are a French special operations force (SOF). They operate under La Force Maritime des Fusiliers Marins et Commandos (FORFUSCO) interjoined with the French Navy (Marine Nationale) and are under the command of the French Special Operations Command (SOC). Read more about them in “Commandos Marine: The French SBS”, by Joseph Balodis, Grey Dynamics, December 14, 2023.

Korean SOF Train with US. South Korea and the United States have recently staged a combined special operations exercise amid joint efforts to reinforce deterrence against North Korean military threats. “S. Korea, US stage joint special operations forces drills”, The Korea Times, December 18, 2023.

Colombian SOF and SOCSOUTH. On December 7, 2023, the United States and Colombia signed the Capability Development Action Plan for Colombian Special Operations Forces 2025-2029. The signing of the document between Colombia and the United States, will enhance synchronization of security cooperation as well as efforts to obtain mutual goals of regional stability and the professional exchange of ideas, experiences, and practices between the two partner nations over the next five years. “Colombia’s Special Operations Forces and SOCSOUTH Sign Historic Agreement”, Dialogo-Americas, December 7, 2023.

Protecting Afghan Commandos. Former operatives from Afghan Territorial Force 444 and Commando Force 333 – known as The Triples – should be allowed to relocate to Britain. The units were set up, trained and funded by British forces, but fell under the control of the Afghan security forces, meaning they did not immediately qualify for the UK’s ARAP (Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy) scheme. However, many UK veterans believe former members of The Triples should meet the ARAP criteria. “UK has duty to protect ex-Afghan Special Forces operators from Taliban”, Forces.net, December 13, 2023.

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SOF History

Capture of Saddam Hussein. On December 13, 2003, Iraq President Saddam Hussein was captured hiding in a hole at a farmhouse in Adwar, Iraq, near his hometown of Tikrit. Task Force 121, a joint special operations team, conducted the operation. The TF was assisted by elements of the 4th Infantry Division. (Wikipedia) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capture_of_Saddam_Hussein

Just Cause. On December 20, 1989, the entire 75th Ranger Regiment participated in Operation Just Cause (Panama). Parachute assaults were conducted onto Torrijos/Tocumen International Airport, Rio Hato Airfield and other locations to neutralize Panamanian Defense Forces. USASOC History Office, https://arsof-history.org/arsof_in_panama/index.html

Churchill’s Secret Army. During World War II the Allied forces developed a clandestine organization that could operate in occupied countries. The Special Operations Executive or SOE was, informally, known by a few different names – ‘The Baker Street Irregulars’, ‘Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare‘, and ‘Churchill’s Secret Army’. Read the history of the SOE in “Special Operations Executive” Churchill’s Secret Army”, by Javier Sutil Toledano, Grey Dynamics, December 13, 2023.

Vietnam-Era SDV. The Mark VII Swimmer Delivery Vehicle (SDV) was used in the late 1960s and 1970s. “This Underwater Vehicle Was Used by Navy SEALs in Vietnam”, by Carl O. Schuster, History.net, December 14, 2023.

History of the KA-BAR. On December 9, 1942, after the start of World War II, KA-BAR submitted a knife to the United States Marine Corps in hopes that it would become a general issue to that branch of the military. The USMC KA-BAR was adopted by the Marines as well as the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Underwater Demolition Teams. Years after World War II, many KA-BAR knives were unofficially reactivated in the Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and Iraqi Freedom conflicts. Learn more about the KA-BAR in these three one-minute videos. “KA-BAR and the Marine Corps”, DVIDS, December 12, 2023. Part one, part two, and part three.

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Ukraine Conflict

Conflict Update. Morale within the Ukrainian military may be slipping due to the long two years of fighting and stalemate on the battlefield. This, coupled with Republican threats to curtail aid to the beleaguered country is putting in doubt the ability of Ukraine to continue its counteroffensive. The Ukrainian troops are facing artillery munition shortages – which is forcing them to scale back some operations. (Reuters, Dec 18, 2023)

Aid For Ukraine. Ukrainian President Zelensky arrived in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, December 12, 2023, to address Congress and meet with President Biden about continuing aid to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Congress is adjourning for the holiday season and will not be back until early January. The White House is warning that it will run out of money to help Ukraine’s military combat Russia’s invasion by the end of the year. Some Republicans are tying the Ukraine aid request to increased security along the southern U.S. border. Instances of sabotage of critical targets in Russia have been taking place – compliments of Ukrainian special operations commandos. (Business Insider, Dec 17, 2023)

Study – Losing Ukraine. The Institute for the Study of War has released a report that details the military, strategic, and financial implications of a Russian victory in Ukraine. The study states that the United States has a much higher stake in Russia’s war on Ukraine than most people think. “The High Price of Losing Ukraine”, ISW, December 14, 2023.

The Ground Robots of Ukraine. Unmanned ground vehicles are bringing much-needed supplies to Ukrainian and Russian soldiers on the battlefield. Some of them appear to be made with commercial off the shelf components. “Crude ground robots emerge on the battlefields of Ukraine, experts say”, C4ISRNET, December 15, 2023.

Resiliency and Urban Reconstruction. Recent history has shown that leaving a city’s defense to its nation’s borders is a dangerous proposition. It is time that Kyiv, and other cities in nations that border expansionist neighbors, once again make the defense part of city planning. “Rebuilding Resiliency: Kyiv’s Opportunity to Bolster Its Defense”, War on the Rocks, December 12, 2023.

Interactive Map. Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine by the Insitute for the Study of War and Critical Threats.
On storymaps.arcgis.com

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About Those Cuts to SOF. Lt. Col. Doug Livermore, a Special Forces officer, shares his perspective on proposed cuts to the special operations force structure. “Counterpoint to U.S. Special Operations Forces Cuts”, Military Review, Army University Press, December 2023.

IW Funding. Irregular Warfare proponents are wrestling with how to bring their domain into a new era – and to convince others that it is still needed. This new NDAA provides about $20 million for SOF to be able to conduct IW. “As irregular warfare comes to a crossroads, Congress chips in”, Defense One, December 17, 2023.

DoS and Fighting Disinformation. The Department of State is coming under criticism for not taking the offensive in the information domain. (New York Times, Dec 14, 2023). (subscription)

Assistance to Taiwan. China is accelerating its military modernization and some national security experts are predicting that it could have the ability to seize Taiwan as soon as 2027. There are military commentators that believe the U.S. should proactively position itself ‘left of the boom’. “Five Recommendations for Left of Boom Security Assistance to Taiwan”, War on the Rocks, December 18, 2023.

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National Security

NDAA. The National Defense Authorization Act may soon be passed by Congress. The 3,000-page document would then be signed by President Biden before the end of the year. Some of the provisions include a 5.2% pay increase, increased maternity leave, and raising fitness standards for infantry, cavalry scouts, and Special Forces. There are several changes that affect the National Guard. “Guard Gets Some Wins in Compromise Defense Bill”, NGAUS, December 13, 2023.

Deterring China. Stepped up Chinese aggression in the South China Sea is becoming a growing flashpoint. The Navy’s 7th Fleet, headquartered in Japan, is increasing its exercises in the region and including more foreign nations in the training. “Increased military exercises with Pacific allies seek to deter China, top U.S. admiral says”, Washington Times, December 15, 2023.

Border Security. Thousands of illegal immigrants cross the southern border of the United States each day. Many of the ‘sanctuary cities’ of the U.S. have maxed out in their ability to house, feed, and support the many people who arrive on buses each day at their shelters. The journey for these people seeking a better economic life begins in a perilous stretch in Central America. “The jungle between Columbia and Panama becomes a highway for migrants from around the world”, AP News, December 17, 2023. Things at the U.S. southern border are not getting any better. Monday, December 18, 2023, saw the highest number of illegal immigrants encountered by the CBP in a single day ever. “Biden border crisis shatters record with 14,509 illegal immigrants encountered in one day”, Washington Examiner, December 19, 2023.

International Migrants Day – December 18th. The United States has led the largest expansion in decades of lawful migration pathways to help vulnerable migrants, refugees, and other displaced persons. Tens of thousands of individuals have benefited from rapid processing and support through the Safe Mobility initiative since its launch in June 2023.  We have resettled more refugees than any other country in the world, welcoming more than 3.5 million refugees into communities across the country since 1975. This count, of course, is just those who are legally in the country. U.S. Department of State, December 18, 2023.

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Great Power Competition

New Russian Diaspora. Since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, hundreds of thousands of Russians — if not more than a million — have fled the country. Activists, journalists, intellectuals, businesspersons, and software engineers have sought a combination of freedom, safety, and prosperity outside their country’s borders, often at significant material risk to themselves and their families. Read of detailed analysis of this topic by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan: “In From the Cold: The Struggle for Russia’s Exiles”, Center of European Policy Analysis, December 12, 2023.

Russia in Africa. Paramilitary organizations have stepped into a vacuum left by military forces of the west. “Russia Deepens Counter-Terrorism Ties to Sahelian Post-Coup Regimes”, The Jamestown Foundation, December 15, 2023.

Old Salt Coffee is a corporate sponsor of SOF News. The company offers a wide range of coffee flavors to include Green Eyes Coffee, a tribute to those Navy special operations personnel who operate in the night.


Iranian and Pakistan Deportations of Afghans. In the last three months, Iran and Pakistan have forced around 850,000 undocumented Afghan nationals to return to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, officials reported Sunday. The crackdown on Afghans illegally residing in the neighboring countries is ongoing, despite warnings by the United Nations that a harsh winter and an uncertain future await returnees in their crisis-ridden, impoverished nation. “Taliban: Iran Deports Almost 350,000 Afghans Within 3 Months”, Voice of America, December 11, 2023.

Resettlement via Germany. For the past two years (off and on) the U.S. Department of State has been relocating Afghans with pending Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) applications to the United States; but not before they are ‘processed’ at an intermediate location – usually Doha, Qatar. Now this relocation effort is also taking place at an intermediate location in Germany as well. It’s part of a ramped-up worldwide effort by the State Department to resettle thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S. government, along with their families, but who haven’t yet received special immigrant visas. “Afghans again being flown to US base in Germany before resettlement”, Stars and Stripes, December 11, 2023.

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Middle East

ISIS in Syria. The Islamic State is continuing its campaign of violence in Syria. Much of its attacks is against Syrian regime forces. It mounted a successful offensive in October and maintain some of its gained territory during November. Read more in “ISIS Redux: The Central Syria Insurgency in November 2023”, Counter Extremism Project, November 2023. Over 4,400 Da’esh fighters and their relatives have been repatriated to their countries of origin from camps in northern eastern Syria in 2023. Over 47,000 individuals from more than 60 countries remain in camps administered by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Iraq. Iranian-backed militias have resumed attacks on U.S. facilities across Iraq in the past several weeks. Munitions have been targeted against U.S. facilities at Erbil International Airport, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and Al Asad Air Base in Anbar Province.

Political Signaling. Iran and its proxies are using attacks (rockets and drones) for political signaling. They may be creating escalation challenges that bring them closer to war with the United States. U.S. interests in the Iraq and Syria have attacked over 100 times since mid-October 2023. “How Iranian-Backed Militias Do Political Signaling”, Lawfare, December 18, 2023.

Operation Prosperity Guardian. A new task force has been formed to protect merchant ships and commercial boats from the aerial attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Canada, United Kingdom, France, Bahrain, Italy, Norway, Seychelles, Spain, and the United States are participants in Operation Prosperity Guardian. Large maritime companies have been redirecting transit routes to avoid the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. (DoD, Dec 18, 2023) See also “Why Are the Houthis Attacking Now?”, by Nicholas Brumfield, Foreign Policy Research Institute, December 15, 2023.


Report – Coups and U.S. Aid to African Nations. Events in Africa and Burma have brought attention to a provision in annual State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) appropriations legislation that restricts U.S. foreign assistance following a coup d’état. One particular case is the recent coup in Niger. As Congress considers SFOPS appropriations for FY2024 and beyond, it may revisit the law restricting aid (Section 7008), examine its impact, and weigh whether its application supports congressional intent. Coup-Related Restrictions in U.S. Foreign Aid Appropriations, Congressional Research Service, CRS IF11267, updated December 12, 2023. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF11267

AU Mission in Somalia Drawing Down. The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia on Sunday resumed handing over security responsibilities to Somali government forces after a three-month pause. (Voice of America, Dec 17, 2023)

End of MINUSMA in Mali. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA, UN Fact Sheet) was established on April 25, 2013, to stabilize the country after the Tuareg rebellion of 2012. In June 2023, a new government came to power in a coup. It quickly withdrew the mandate for MINUSMA (UN Fact Sheet), forcing the mission and all of its staff to depart the country by the end of the year. A European SOF element – Task Force Takuba (SOF News) – has already departed Mali. Listen to a podcast on how the UN mission in Mali was conducted. “Searching for Peace in Timbuktu: The UN Mission in Mali”, War Room, Army War College, December 12, 2023, 25 mins.

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Reports, Podcasts, Videos, and Movies

Movie Trailer – Civil War. A Civil War in the United States. Could be interesting. In theaters April 2024. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDyQxtg0V2w

Civil Affairs Briefings. A number of briefings are now being displayed on the website of the Civil Affairs Association that are the result of a recent conference held December 8-10, 2023.

9/11 – VCF. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), Congressional Research Service, CRS R45969, updated December 18, 2023, PDF, 12 pages.

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