Special Operations News – January 15, 2024

Romanian SOF Train with Navy SEALs

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

Photo / Image: East-Coast based U.S. Naval Special Warfare Operators (SEALs) conduct visit, board, search, and seizure training with the 164th Romanian Naval Special Operations Forces near Constanta, Romania, Nov. 16, 2023. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Bill Carlisle)

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SOF News

Missing Navy Sailors. Central Command reported (12 Jan 2024) that two Navy Sailors are missing off the coast of Somalia (map NSI). Some news reports state that they are Navy SEALs who were conducting nighttime vessel boarding search and seizure operations (VBSS) on the evening of January 11th. Search and rescue missions are ongoing. According to the WP the Navy SEALs were boarding a vessel transiting the Gulf of Aden that was suspected of transporting Iranian arms. “Navy SEALs lost at sea were searching for Yemen-bound weapons shipment”, The Washington Post, January 14, 2024. (subscription) See “Two Navy SEALs missing after Thursday night mission off Somalian coast”, Military Times, January 13, 2024.

Trump on Miller. Here is an interesting article about former acting SECDEF Chris Miller (and former Green Beret) and being a pick for SECDEF if Trump wins again. “Trump hints at possible picks for Pentagon chief in second term”, by Lara Seligman, Politico, December 22, 2023.

GUNDAM 22 Final Report. The Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) released a statement on Friday, January 12, 2024, indicating that recovery and salvage operations have ended for the CV-22 that crashed off the shore of Yakushima Island, Japan on November 29, 2023. The major parts of the aircraft have been recovered and the remains of seven of the eight crew have been recovered. An investigation into the mishap is ongoing. (Air Force Times, Jan 11, 2024)

SOF by the Numbers. How big is a SEAL team? How many Green Berets are there? “MARSOC, Navy SEALs, and Army Rangers: SOF by the numbers”, Task & Purpose, December 20, 2023. The author manages to get it mostly right.

Airmen and Ranger School. The U.S. Army’s Ranger School is filled with difficult physical training and exercises designed to educate participants on elite infantry squad and platoon tactics. The Air Force thinks its Airmen are a good fit for the two-month long course. “Wanted: Airmen and Guardians Urged to Apply to Grueling Army Ranger School”, Military.com, January 8, 2024.

Ghostriders’ Big Gun – Going Away? The U.S. Air Force may be taking its big 105mm gun off their gunships, possibly as soon as 2026. The change is part of its rethinking of what the aircraft is and how they are to be designed. (Business Insider, Dec 27, 2023) See also “Special Operations Command’s Commando Aircraft Are in Jeopardy”, SANDBOXX, January 3, 2024.

Swimming – Fins or Not? Stew Smith writes up on how to prepare for a future in military diving, special ops, and rescue swimming. “The Differences Between Swimming With and Without Fins”, Military.com, December 27, 2023.

Sgt. Maj. Thetford (Ret.). A former Senior Enlisted Leader at the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is profiled in this media release by CACI International, Inc. William Thetford served over 35 years in special operations. “Spotlighting Command Sgt. Maj. William F. Thetford, U.S. Army (Ret.)”, 3blmedia.com, December 21, 2023.

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International SOF

Army Ranger Wing (Ireland). The ARW, the most elite and secretive unit of the Irish Defence Forces, is going through its largest expansion and restructuring in its 43-year history. There are going to be some dramatic changes to its command-and-control structure and refinement of the organization into distinct specialized units – air, sea, and ground. “Army’s elite special forces unit to be overhauled in major revamp”, Irish Times, December 30, 2023.

Finland’s SOF. Javier Sutil Toledano provides a detailed description of the SOF units of Finland. Origins, purpose, organization, training, selection, and more are described in this article. “FINSOF: Finland’s Special Operations Forces”, Grey Dynamics, December 25, 2023.

Canada’s Elite. The Canadian Special Operations Regiment is part of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM). It conducts complex missions and is able to operate in harsh environments. “CSOR: The Canadian Special Operations Regiment”, Grey Dynamics, December 30, 2023. The 427 SOAS is an air force unit that supports CANSOFCOM. “Canada’s 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron”, Grey Dynamics, December 30, 2023.

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SOF History

CIG Established. On January 22, 1946, President Truman directed the establishment of Central Intelligence Group, forerunner of CIA. (CIA)

OCPW Established. On January 5, 1951, the Army established the Office of the Chief of Psychological Warfare (OCPW) as a special staff division under the Deputy Chief of Staff and supervisory control of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, headed by Brigadier General Robert A. McClure.

SEALs Established. On January 1, 1962, the first Navy SEAL teams were established by President Kennedy. The OSS Maritime Unit was the precursor to the SEALs. Learn more in the book First SEALs.

MACV-SOG Established. On January 24, 1964, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was established. It was a highly classified, multi-service U.S. special operations unit that conducted operations during the Vietnam War in Indochina. It conducted reconnaissance missions, capture of enemy soldiers, rescued downed pilots, and rescued POWs throughout Southeast Asia. Individuals assigned to MACV-SOF came primarily from U.S. Army Special Forces. However, members of the U.S. Navy SEALs, Air Force, Marine Corps, and CIA were present in the organization as well.

1/75th Activation. 25 January 1974. On this date General Creighton Abrams directed the activation of the first battalion-sized Ranger unit since World War II. HQ U.S. Army Forces Command issued General Orders 127 directing the activation of the 1st Ranger Battalion 75th Infantry with the effective date of January 31, 1974. The battalion was to be an elite, light, and very proficient infantry unit. (USASOC) https://www.soc.mil/rangers/1stbn.html

CASI and the CIA. The history books make many mentions of Air America in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War; but very little of Continental Air Services, Inc. Both flew for the Central Intelligence Agency. “Air America Was Not Alone: There Was CASI”, by Marc Yablonka, Hmong Daily News, December 21, 2023.

Ukraine Russia Conflict

Ukraine Conflict

The eastern front lines in Ukraine are somewhat stable. There are incremental gains made by both sides of the conflict. Casualties remain high. The U.S. Congress still has not settled whether it will allocate new funds for Ukraine’s defense. With its large population and industrial base Russia is favored in a conflict that is prolonged.

Paper – Russian Propaganda Tactics in Wartime Ukraine, The Russia Program, George Washington University, November 2023, PDF, 41 pages. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xdmk4Mn2G-jNSWhljjuv7sCqMbE-LT3Y/view

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

Help Special Operations Forces (SOF) personnel with spine injuries receive the healthcare options, education, and care they need.

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Sudan Conflict and Evac of Foreign Nationals

Conflict Grinds On. International attention on the civil war in Sudan (maps, NSI) has waned . . . more eyes are on Ukraine and Gaza at the moment. But the fighting continues between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and the humanitarian situation worsens as time goes on.

Egypt Involvement. The ongoing civil war in Sudan between the SAF and the RSF created a humanitarian disaster. Refugees from Sudan flooded into every neighboring state; many of them to Egypt (map NSI). With a downgraded credit rating, severe inflation and unsustainable debt, the Egyptian economy is on the rocks. Refugees only add to those pressures. It is little wonder then, that Egypt has a vested interest in the security architecture of Sudan and in particular the SAF. “Egypt’s Role in the Sudanese Civil War: a 6-month outlook”, by Alec Smith, Grey Dynamics, December 23, 2023.

Update on the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF), ceasefire, humanitarian crisis, and evacuation of foreign nationals.

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SOF and the Arctic. Joshua C. Huminski and Ethan Brown have collaborated on an article entitled “Into the Cold: Special Operations in the Arctic”, Wavell Room, December 20, 2023. Excerpt: “Russia and China are placing increased emphasis on the polar regions in their strategic calculus and future planning. Russia, prior to its expanded invasion of Ukraine, undertook demonstrative military exercises in the Arctic, and was building up its forces in the High North. In its 2018 arctic policy, China declared itself a ‘near-arctic state’, seeking to assert its regional interests. While much of this activity from Moscow and Russia is predicated on securing economic and commercial interests, military interests and strategic competition-related power projection are clearly not far behind.” Read more articles about special operations forces in the Arctic.

Cutting SOF Force Structure. The Department of Defense has mandated that USASOC cut its force levels by 3,000 personnel. The command plans to cut special operations support, civil affairs, and psychological operations units. “Cutting Army Special Operations Will Erode the Military’s Ability to Influence the Modern Battlefield”, by Cole Livieratos, War on the Rocks, January 9, 2024.

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National Security

Report – Defense Primer: Special Operations Forces. The Congressional Research Service has updated its brief on U.S. SOF. CRS IF10545, updated January 8, 2024, PDF, 2 pages. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF10545

Report – Defense Primer: Organization of U.S. Ground Forces. The Congressional Research Service has updated its brief on the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. CRS IF10571, updated December 29, 2023, PDF, 3 pages. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF10571

SECDEF Austin, ICU, and Not Informing the White House. The Pentagon did not tell President Joe Biden and other top officials about Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s presence in a hospital ICU (Politico, 6 Jan 2024) until he was there for three days. He first underwent surgery at Walter Reed Hospital for surgery for prostate cancer in mid-December. Although discharged in December, he returned to the hospital’s ICU unit for more hospitalization on January 1st.

  • Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. C.Q. Brown was not informed of Austin’s presence in a hospital until Tuesday, Jan 2nd.
  • Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks did not know his whereabouts until Thursday, Jan 4th and was on vacation in Puerto Rico. See “Pentagon No. 2 didn’t know why she was in charge for days as Austin furor mounts”, Washington Times, January 8, 2024.
  • DoD didn’t notify the White House until Thursday, Jan 4th.
  • DoD notified Congress 15 minutes before releasing a public statement at 5:00 pm on Friday, Jan 5th – a typical method of burying bad news over the weekend. As of Saturday, Jan 13, 2024, the SECDEF is still reported to be at Walter Reed.
  • Fire the SECDEF? There are many national security commentators (not just Republicans) calling for the firing or resignation of Austin for his failure to inform his senior military leaders, the NSC, and the White House about his surgery in December, time in ICU in January, and his medical situation. See “Fire Lloyd Austin”, Lawfare, January 12, 2024. (Editorial note: his departure will probably take place in 3-4 months – a ‘graceful exit’ rather than fired or resigned).
  • Still Hospitalized. As of January 14th, the Pentagon is reporting that SECDEF is still hospitalized.

Border Security.

  • Migrant encounters at southern border hit record 302K in December 2023. This number includes only ‘documented encounters’, not the illegals that evade authorities crossing the border. (Fox News, Jan 1, 2024)
  • Negotiations are underway between Republicans and Democrats on the border issue. It appears that some compromise is under way for both political parties to get at least ‘something’ that they want. Topics on the table include asylum, border security, increased deportation, Afghan evacuees from post-August 2021, and more. The Senate seems to have come up with a plan, but it is unlikely to be accepted by the House.
  • Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Ms. Melissa Dalton recently led a delegation to the Southwest border on January 11-12 to see firsthand how the DoD is supporting U.S. government efforts to secure the border. (DOD, Jan 12, 2024)

Finland Border Closure. Just after Finland joined the NATO alliance Russia shipped migrants without documentation to the border points advising them to cross into Finland and seek asylum. Finland has viewed this as a form of economic warfare – flooding the country with undocumented migrants who will need to be supported financially by the country’s 5.6 million people. Late last year Finland closed the border crossings with Russia. The country is extending this closure for another month -suspecting continued manipulation of undocumented migrants from Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. “Finland extends closure of Russian border for another month, fearing a migrant influx”, The Washington Post, January 11, 2024. (subscription)

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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.


Taiwan Elections. The ruling party has held onto the country’s presidency; many observers citing this as a blow to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The winner is seen as independence-leaning. China has increased its rhetoric about Taiwan and increased its military and ‘gray operations’ in the region around Taiwan (map, NSI) in recent years. Taiwan is taking measures to that will enable it to resist an invasion and occupation by China (NSI).

IO and China. The People’s Republic of China has long used the information operations arena to influence the thoughts of people around the globe. This practice continues into the present day. Read more by Mark Scott in “China’s Kremlin-style disinformation playbook”, Politico.eu, January 11, 2024.

Western Hemisphere

Haiti. Gang violence continues to be the cause of a dire security crisis in Haiti (Google Maps). Transnational crime, economic slowdown, and other problems have plagued this nation for decades. It appears that Kenya will soon lead a Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission to Haiti under the auspices of the United Nations.

Troubles in Ecuador. On January 7, 2024, a notorious gang leader escaped from custody as he was about to be transferred to a maximum security facility. Gang members went on the offensive across Ecuador (map, NSI) – taking over prisons, attacking law enforcement, and seizing a television station. There are worries that the country may turn into a narco-state. Read more in “Explaining and Predicting Ecuador’s Security Crisis”, Global Americans, January 12, 2024.

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Media Freedom in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) has published its report on the state of journalists and media in Afghanistan in 2023. According to the report, journalists and media in Afghanistan faced severe restrictions and violations of their fundamental and legal rights throughout 2023, impeding their freedom and ability to work. (AFJC, Dec 29, 2023)

Learning from Afghanistan. The U.S. military must understand its failures in Afghanistan to succeed in strategic competition. Failure to learn and adapt could end in similar disaster with greater strategic consequences. “Learning from Failure: Afghanistan as a Microcosm for Strategic Competition”, by Paul Bailey, Irregular Warfare Initiative, January 4, 2024.

Office of the Special Coordinator for Afghanistan. The Department of Defense recently published a website with resources about Afghanistan. Afghan Report, January 8, 2024.

Middle East

Wider Conflict? The Houthis of Yemen (SOF News) have significantly stepped up their operations against commercial vessels in Middle Eastern waterways since November 19, 2023, shortly after the start of the Hamas-Israel conflict (SOF News). This includes seizing or attempting to seize vessels or launching missiles or drones against them. Most shipping is now traveling around the southern tip of Africa to avoid possible damage or seizure. The U.S. and other nations have been issuing warnings to the Houthis over the past month. The U.S. and United Kingdom struck hit more multiple targets in 16 locations in Yemen on Thursday, January 12, 2024. CENTCOM released a statement on Saturday that a follow-on strike took place against a Houthi radar site in Yemen – conducted by the USS Carney (DDG 64) using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles. The Pentagon released a statement (DoD, Jan 12, 2024) saying that the strikes against Houthis are aimed at degrading the rebel group’s capabilities to carry out more attacks in the Red Sea (Google Maps).

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Books, Journals, Reports, Podcasts, Videos, and Movies

Book Review – Dead Hand. James Stejskal’s latest book, Dead Hand, involves Cold War intrigue in current times. The book envisions an aggressive Russia that has won the war in Ukraine and now sets its sights on other countries in Eastern Europe. Cold War warriors are brought out of retirement to assist in a covert operation. Stejskal is a former Green Beret (some time with ‘Det A‘) and CIA operative – and uses his experience in crafting this espionage thriller. One of his earlier books is Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956-1990. Read a review of Dead Hand in “Spies in Winter: A Tale of Russian Victory in Ukraine”, The Cipher Brief, December 28, 2023.

Special Warfare. The January 2024 issue of Special Warfare is now available. Articles on irregular warfare, U.S. Army’s Special Warfare Center and School, and SOF unmanned systems. PDF, 23 pages. https://www.swcs.mil/Special-Warfare/Special-Warfare-Archive/

Military Review. The January – February 2024 issue is now online, posted by Army University Press. This issue spotlights China and operations in mountainous areas and the Arctic. https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/English-Edition-Archives/January-February-2024/

CTC Sentinel. The December 2023 issue of the “CTC Sentinel” is now posted online. Articles on Iranian-backed militia and terrorist groups and terrorist use of IEDs. https://ctc.westpoint.edu/december-2023/

IWC Spotlight. The December 2023 issue has been posted by the Irregular Warfare Center. https://irregularwarfarecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2023-12-IWC-Spotlight.pdf

Report – Defense Primer: What is Irregular Warfare, Congressional Research Service, CRS IF12565, January 5, 2024, PDF, 3 pages. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF12565

Report – Assessing Resistance for the Purpose of Informing International Policy. By Dr. Robert S. Burrell and John Collison, Marine Corps University, January 9, 2024, PDF, 46 pages. https://www.usmcu.edu/Outreach/Marine-Corps-University-Press/Expeditions-with-MCUP-digital-journal/Assessing-Resistance-for-the-Purpose-of-Informing-International-Policy/

Video – USSOCOM in Strategic Competition. A former CSEL for USSOCOM shares his unique perspectives on strategic competition and the United States Special Operations Command’s role in that environment. Joint Special Operations University, Think JSOU, January 9, 2024, YouTube, 36 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9CuZVHUi4k

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