Special Operations News – February 20, 2024

SEALs Operate Submarine Propulsion Vehicle

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

Photo / Image: East Coast-based Naval Special Warfare Operators use a Submarine Exploration (SUEX) diver propulsion vehicle during a sustainment exercise in Virginia Beach, Va. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Trey Hutcheson, Jan. 7, 2024)

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SOF News

Questions on the Osprey. AFSOC is eager to get their fleet of CV-22s back in the air but want to ensure it is safe for its crews. In November 2023 a special operations Osprey crash off the coast of Japan’s Yakushima Island resulted in the death of eight crewmen. An investigation is ongoing. (Military.com, 13 Feb 2024) (Editorial Note: One retired SF colonel commented: “Do the troops have a desire to fly IN the CV-22?”) Read more in “Is the V-22 Osprey Headed to the Scrap Yard?”, National Interest, February 16, 2024; and in “US Navy’s Six-Decade-Old Greyhounds to fill Grounded V-22 Osprey’s Role”, The Defense Post, February 14, 2024.

Women in SOF. An interesting article takes a look at the history (and outcome) of the effort to integrate women into special operations forces. “A Reconsideration of Women’s Role in Special Operations: Critical Questions, Mooted a Decade After the Fact”, Small Wars Journal, February 19, 2024.

Change of SEAL Mission. Naval Special Warfare sailors are pivoting away from being a counterterrorism force to supporting the combatant commands. Training is now more focused on the maritime environment. “The Navy SEAL Mission is Shifting from Raids to Supporting the Service”, Military.com, February 14, 2024.

USS Canley Commissioned. An Expeditionary Sea Base ship (ESB) was recently commissioned (DOD, 16 Feb 2024) on February 17, 2024, in Coronado, California. It will support a variety of missions to include the staging of Special Operations Forces (SOF). It has a four-spot flight deck, mission deck, and hangar. The ship is named in honor of a U.S. Marine, Gunnery Sergeant John Canley (DVIDS, 17 Feb 2024), who won the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the Battle of Hue City, Vietnam in 1968. Watch a video about the ESB ship that describes the mission and layout of the ship. In the video, the captain of the ship describes the ESB as a “large command and control platform for sea basing Marines and Special Forces.” “USS John L. Canley (ESB 6) Virtual Tour”, DVIDS, February 10, 2024. See also “Explore the Floating Navy SEAL Base: A Closer Look at the US Warship Resembling a Tanker”, Texas Breaking News, February 12, 2024.

MoH – Zabitosky. The U.S. Department of Defense published a story about a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during a 1968 helicopter crash in the Vietnam War. His recon team was tasked with monitoring the Ho Chi Minh Trail on February 19, 1968, in the midst of the Tet Offensive. Read more in “Medal of Honor Monday: Army Master Sgt. Fred W. Zabitosky”, DOD News, February 19, 2024.

“The Unit”. The New York Post has published an article entitled “This military special ops unit is so classified, even its name is a secret – and getting into it is absolute hell.” February 19, 2024.

NSW Force Multiplier. Rear Adm. Keith Davids recent participated in and provided some commentary at the AFCEA-USNI West 2024 Conference held in February 2024 in San Diego. “Naval Special Warfare a Force Multiplier for Fleet, Prioritizing Reintegration with Joint Force”, Seapower Magazine, February 15, 2024.

DOL Foundation

1st SFG(A) Training in Taiwan. The United States and Taiwan appear to be having a more robust relationship over the past year or more. Members of the 1st Special Forces Group are reported to be working on two bases of the 101st Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion – a Taiwanese special operations force. “US Army Special Forces Train Taiwan Troops Near China’s Coast”, Newsweek, February 8, 2024.

Nine Honored at Fort Liberty. Some prominent members of the special operations and airborne community were recently honored at the Iron Mike Conference Center on Fort Liberty. (CityView, 17 Feb 2024)

26th MEU (SOC). The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is conducting cold weather bilateral training with the 32nd Marine Brigade in Volos, Greece at the Mount Olympus Mountain Training Center. (DVIDS, 19 Feb 2024)

Cigars Honoring the SEALs. A cigar line honoring the Navy SEALs and their families has been created by a New Hampshire-based smoke shop. “United Cigars To Release New Smokes Honoring Navy SEALs”, Cigar Aficionado, February 14, 2024.

Special Forces Scholarship Fund. The Special Forces Scholarship Fund has now become a part of the Green Beret Foundation (GBF). Read a press release dated February 9, 2024, by the GBF.

5th SFG(A) Memorial. Over 800 Special Forces men were lost during the Vietnam War. There is a plan underway to build a memorial on Gabriel Field, Fort Campbell, Kentucky close to the headquarters of the 5th Special Forces Group. Members of the Special Forces Association and Special Operations Association are involved in the project and the fundraiser to make the memorial a reality.

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International SOF

Royal Marines New CRC. A new CRC is replacing the troop-carrying and fire support variants of the Offshore Raiding Craft (ORC). The new craft is multi-purpose and more supportive of the Commando Force. “Royal Marines Receive New Commando Raiding Craft”, Forces.net, February 14, 2024.

Paddy Mayne and the SAS. A member of the Special Air Service executed some of the most daring raids against enemy strongholds during World War II. (War History Online, 13 Feb 2024)

UKSF Blocks Afghans from Triples. Afghan fighters of CF 333 and ATF 444 have been stymied in their attempt to resettle in the UK under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme. Recent reports from multiple media sources (Express, Arab News, AOAV, Independent, Guardian) indicate that the roadblock may be because the applications did not receive approval from UK Special Forces. “Special Forces blocked UK resettlement applications from elite Afghan troops”, BBC, February 19, 2024.

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SOF History

Burma. On February 24, 1944, Merrill’s Marauders began a campaign in northern Burma. The mission of the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional) was to disrupt Japanese supply and communications lines.

Corregidor. On February 16, 1945, members of the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team (PRCT) dropped onto Corregidor in an effort to recapture the island from the Japanese.

Desert Storm. On February 23, 1991, SOFDA 525 was inserted by helicopter at night and moved to a hide site to conduct a recon mission deep behind enemy lines in Iraq. On the next morning, the 24th, this 5th SFG(A) team would find itself fighting for survival against an overwhelming enemy force.

MARSOC. On February 24, 2006, the Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) was officially activated at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Robin Moore. On February 21, 2008, Robin Moore, the author of The Green Berets, died. He attended the Special Forces Qualification Course and would later deploy to South Vietnam where he spent time with the 5th Special Forces Group.

Ukraine Russia Conflict

Ukraine Conflict

Fall of Avdiivka. After many months of fierce resistance by Ukrainian forces it appears that Ukraine has withdrawn from the small city of Avdiivka (Google Maps). Shortages of supplies, ammunition, artillery rounds, and manpower have contributed to the difficulties that Ukrainian forces have had in continuing to defend the city. Without the departure from the city, Ukrainian troops would have been cut off and encircled by Russian troops. The victory came at a high cost for Russia. (Business Insider, 18 Feb 2024) A detailed account of the Battle for Avdiivka can be read here on Wikipedia.

IG Report on Ukraine. The Special Inspector General report to the U.S. Congress was recently put online. It covers the period from October 1, 2023, to December 31, 2023. The publication has an executive summary, mission update, operational update, info on security assistance, diplomacy, development, and humanitarian assistance. “Operation Atlantic Resolve“, DoS, February 2024, PDF, 158 pages.

Brave Chopper Pilots Who Resupplied Mariupol. When Russia invaded Ukraine (SOF News) in February 2022, one of its principal targets was the coastal city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. However, the defenders held on for months despite overwhelming odds. The resistance by these fighters most likely stalled the Russian assault on Kiev and provided time for the Ukrainian defense forces to reconstitute and reorganize. The 36th Separate Marine Brigade and Azov Battalion fought a heroic defense of the city but were ultimately reduced to defending a small, four-mile in area industrial complex located on the shore of the Sea of Azov. Resupply of ammunition and the evacuation of wounded was difficult as the city was surrounded. But a handful of brave helicopter pilots provided a lifeline that prolonged the resistance in Mariupol. “The Untold Story of the Ukrainian Helicopter Rescue Missions During the Mariupol Siege”, Time, February 15, 2024.

Frontline Evacuation. Read a story of how medics tend to patients picked up from the trenches and the journey to a hospital – the race to save a life. “The quiet intimacy of a desperate frontline evacuation”, The Counteroffensive, February 15, 2024.

More News Snippets. A Russian helicopter pilot who defected to Ukraine with his Mi8 aircraft (for $1 million?) has been confirmed dead (Kyiv Post Twitter) in Spain by the Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR). He was shot multiple times and then run over by a vehicle in what appears to be an assassination. The U.S. Defense Department says that without U.S. funding, Ukraine’s defense will likely collapse. (DOD, 16 Feb 2024)

Battle of Irpin River. In the early days of the war, late February 2022, Russia forces were stopped short of Kyiv. One of the key factors was stopping the Russian advance on the capital from the north and northwest. Read more about this in “The Battle of Irpin River”, The British Army Review, Spring 2024, 54 pages.

Reality Check. Martin Stanton, a retired Army officer, provides his appraisal of the likely outcome of the Ukraine conflict – a negotiated peace. “The Ukraine War at Two: Time for Some Reality”, Small Wars Journal, February 14, 2024. See also “Does the West’s Ukraine policy need a reality check?”, Brookings Institute, February 15, 2024. And there is this as well “A Frozen War in Ukraine Would Be a Victory for Russia”, by Paul Poast, World Politics Review, February 16, 2024.

Commentary and Reports

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Air Power and IW. The Irregular Warfare Initiative has a new program called Project Air Power that will explore and advocate for the totality of air, aviation, and space power in the unconventional, hybrid, and gray-zone environments. The director is a retired USAF Air Commando, Richard D. Newton, PhD. Read more in “Air and Space Power in the Gray Zone”, Irregular Warfare Initiative, February 2, 2024.

IW Masters. Sal Artiaga provides details the strategic thoughts and successes of Mao Zedong, T.E. Lawrence, Michael Collins, and Vo Nguyen Giap. “The Legacy of Irregular Warfare Masters”, Irregular Warfare Center, January 31, 2024.

Report – The Conceptualization of Irregular Warfare in the Indo-Pacific Region, by Dr. Sandor Fabian and Gabrielle Kennedy, Irregular Warfare Center, February 13, 2024, PDF, 21 pages. Abstract or PDF.

National Security

Report – FARA Program Cancelled? The U.S. Army is seeking to cancel the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program in its FY2025 budget request. The program is part of an effort to improve existing rotorcraft and replace the AH-64 Apache and OH-58 Kiowa helicopters. Read more in Army Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) Program Proposed Cancellation: Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, CRS IF12592, February 16, 2024, PDF, 3 pages.

Dropping Munitions from Drones. The increased drone activity in the Middle East and Ukraine is changing up modern warfare. The U.S. Army is trying to stay up with the times. “The 82nd Airborne is dropping munitions from drones”, Task & Purpose, February 15, 2024.

Conexs, Pallets, and Rucksacks. Anyone who has deployed has taking part in loading a Conex, pallet, and personal gear into rucksacks, duffel bags, kit bags, and team boxes. One of the never-ending questions is what to pack and what to leave in the supply room. The Army has come around to the idea that ‘leaner is better’ and more efficient. “Lighten the load: The Army’s plan to save time by shedding excess gear”, Army Times, February 13, 2024.

Border Security. The Texas government is looking at opening a base along the Rio Grande River at some point in the future. This 80-acre base camp for National Guard troops could house as many as 2,300 troops and will provide improved living conditions for those maintaining border security. (Task & Purpose, 17 Feb 2024)

SECDEF Out of Hospital. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was released from Walter Reed National Military Hospital Medical Center on Tuesday, February 13, 2024. He was held for two nights for “supportive care and close monitoring” in the critical care unit of the Hospital. “Austin Released From Hospital Today”, DOD News, February 13, 2024. DOD announced that he returned to work at the Pentagon on Thursday, February 15, 2024.

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Strategic Competition

China and IW. Sal Artiaga writes about the contrasting approaches of two world powers – China and the United States – towards irregular warfare. He says that the U.S. is playing Chess while China is playing Go. “Contrasting Chinese and American Approaches to Irregular Warfare”, Irregular Warfare Center, February 12, 2024.

China’s Gray Zone Operations. “The latest wave of gray zone operations initiated by Beijing will heighten tension in the region and increase other countries’ concerns about China’s aggressive posture. Gray-zone operations involve using irregular tactics without resorting to open combat.” “Analysts: China Challenges Taiwan’s Sovereignty Through Gray Zone Operations”, by William Yang, Voice of America, February 19, 2024.

U.S. Engagement in SE Asia. Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at RAND, takes a hard look at the limited success that the Biden administration has had in countering the influence of China in southeast Asia. With some countries – Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia – there have been some achievements. But other countries like Laos and Cambodia seem to be neglected. “The Good and the Bad for Biden in Southeast Asia”, RAND Blog, February 8, 2024.

Russia’s New Space Capability. The U.S. security establishment and politicians in D.C. a buzzing about a new space weapon (Associated Press, 15 Feb 2024) that may be part of Russia’s arsenal in the future; many characterizing it as a “serious national security threat”. At risk could be GPS and communications networks that depend on satellites. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty (Arms Control Association) prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons in space. The White House has publicly confirmed that Russia has an anti-satellite capability that is not yet operational.

Death of Navalny. A well-known dissident and Putin critic, Alexei Navalny (age 47), is reported to have died on while in a Russian penal colony in the Arctic region of Siberia. He had survived two poisonings – with Russian intelligence agents as the suspected perpetrators. He was imprisoned in 2021. Even while imprisoned he continued his criticism of Putin to include the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. “Alexey Navalny dead in a Russian penal colony, prison service says”, CBS News, February 16, 2024. See also commentary by Ambassador Daniel Fried in “Navalny’s Death and the Kremlin”, Just Security, February 16, 2024.


UN Meeting on Afghanistan in Doha. On February 18-19, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will convene a meeting on Afghanistan in Doha to discuss the ongoing humanitarian and human rights crises and the recent report on a way forward by U.N. Special Coordinator for Afghanistan Feridun Sinirlioğlu. A host of representatives from various international organizations and U.N. member states will attend. Read some news reports about the conference.

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Middle East

U.S. Strike Kills Afghans in Middle East. Afghan refugees who joined the Fatemiyoun Brigade have died in strikes by the United States in Syria. The Afghans join the expeditionary unit to escape crushing poverty and to battle for Shiite Islam. The brigade is estimated to be about 20,000 strong and operates under the command of Iran’s Quds Forces. “U.S. Strike Killed Afghans Recruited to Fight for Iran”, The New York Times, February 19, 2024. (subscription)

Report – Iraq: Attacks and U.S. Strikes Reopen Discussion of U.S. Military Presence, Congressional Research Service, CRS IN12309, updated February 16, 2024, PDF, 4 pages. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IN/IN12309

IG Report on Operation Inherent Resolve. The US Department of State’s Office of Inspector General has published its quarterly report to Congress for Operation Inherent Resolve. The publication, posted online in February 2024 is 114 pages long (PDF). Major sections cover the security situation, mission update, activities of CJTF-OIR, CSOJTF-L, ISIS, talks on transitioning the U.S. presence in Iraq, the “new operating paradigm”, U.S. policy goals, IG oversight activities, and the security partners in the region (Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian) to include the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service (CTS) which is advised by the Special Operations Advisory Group. Russia and Turkey get a mention as well.

Yemen. The situation in the seas around Yemen has not improved. There are unconfirmed news reports that the Houthis have shot down a MQ-9 Reaper. In addition, the Houthis are using unmanned underwater vessels (UUV) (USNI News, 19 Feb 2024) and unmanned surface vessels (USV). On February 18, 2024, an anti-ship ballistic missile struck a UK-owned bulk carrier. The crew was evacuated and transported to a nearby port. Some news reports say the Houthis are now using underwater drones.

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Podcasts and Videos

Podcast – Analyzing Emerging IW Trends. LTG (ret) David Barno and Dr. Nora Bensahel analyze the emerging trends in the character of Irregular Warfare as seen in the ongoing conflicts in both Ukraine and Gaza. The Trident, U.S. Naval College, February 15, 2024, 1 hour. https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/the-trident/2/

Podcast – Three Missions in Panjwai District. A Special Forces NCO tells of his time in a dangerous district in southern Afghanistan that was littered with IEDs. Ryan Hendrickson shares his stories on The Spear Podcast, Modern War Institute at West Point, February 14, 2024.

Podcast – Flashpoints in the US-China Relationship. This podcast is focused on the book entitled Facing China: The Prospect for War and Peace, which examines various flashpoints in the Indo-Pacific that could result in military conflict. Bonnie Glaser and Jean-Pierre Cabestan are featured in this 22-minute episode presented by the German Marshall Fund. (20 Feb 2024)

Video – 5th SFG(A) Tactical Skills Assessment. Soldiers from across all battalions of 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) teamed up and conducted a three-day tactical skills assessment Jan. 31 – Feb. 1, 2024, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The assessment included day and night marksmanship, stress shoots, tactical combat casualty care, timed rucks, and land navigation. (U.S. Army video by Staff Sgt. Gregory T. Summers, 5th SFG(A) Public Affairs) (DVIDS, 7 Feb 2024, 1 minute)

Upcoming Events

February 27-29, 2024
Special Air Warfare Symposium – Global SOF
Fort Walton Beach, FL

March 11-13, 2024
Irregular Warfare COI Symposium
Mclean, Virginia

April 12-14, 2024
Best Ranger Competition

April 24-25, 2024
12th Border Security & Intelligence Summit
Defense Strategies

May 6-10, 2024
SOF Week – Global SOF
Tampa, FL

June 24-25, 2024
CIWAG Maritime Symposium – Newport, R.I.
Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups

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