A Nightmare Called Syria

Syria

As the SUV bounced down the rocky slope towards the Tigris river, the truck’s headlights illuminated a small inflatable boat churning through the current towards us.  I dumped my bags on the ground and waited for my turn to make the clandestine river crossing from Iraqi Kurdistan into the newly liberated region of Kurdish Syria called Rojava.

I was surrounded by teenage kids, the next generation of Kurdish freedom fighters.  The previous generation had been wiped out by the ISIS meat grinder in places like Rabbia, Jezza, and Kobani.  Hardcore guerrillas who had fought in the Turkish mountains for 12 years were sent to Rojava and killed within a year.  Rojava is running out of fighters and ISIS, referred to as the Daash, are not.  The teenagers are being sent up the front to fight and die for a country which does not yet exist.

These boy soldiers are not conscripted.  They volunteered to fight.

Climbing into the raft, I crossed the river and found myself in a surreal new land.  Some of this land had only been ridden of Daash a month or two prior.  This region was now a part of Rojava, a place that did not really exist as an idea much less as a country until a few years ago as the Syria civil war opened up a front for Kurdish nationalism in what had been northern Syria.

This war is nothing like what I saw in Iraq in 2005 or 2009.  The combat is conventional, armed forces squared off in mostly urban centers where they have reached stalemates.  This has become a status quo battlefield, occasionally broken by US airstrikes or bold offensives.  Urban combat is vicious and often house to house.  Snipers and heavy machine guns duel with each other and casualty rates are astronomically high on both sides.

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Driving down the road with a YPG (People’s Protection Unit) commander the next morning, he comments on the school children smiling and waving at him from the streets.

“The people here love us,” he says referring to the YPG.  “Because we fought for every single inch of this.”

In Rojava, Muslims, Christians, Yezidi, and the socialists of YPG and YPJ co-exist with each other peacefully.  They also fight a ruthless war against the Daash, a war in which female snipers wearing US Marine Corps camouflage kill Daash fighters who refuse to die as they have been injecting a combination of heroin and morphine.  After racking up impressive kill counts they hang up their Dragonov rifles to read books about philosophy and politics.

They are fighting and dying for a dream called Rojava, an ancient dream of Kurdish autonomy blended with socialist ideology.

The sacrifices the Kurds are making for Rojava is impossible to calculate and as much as it hurts to says this, I’m not sure if they can win.

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Latest Work

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Ukraine

SOFREP recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions of a friend who was just returned from Ukraine. As I’ve written before, it is very difficult to discern what is actually happening amongst the chaos and confusion of the battlefield. Throw some war-time propaganda into the mix and it can become almost impossible to discern reality. Thankfully, we were able to interview a neutral third party who actually met with Ukrainians to find out what is going on.

 
ISIS and American hostages
 
The recent propaganda film featuring the murder of journalist James Foley by a British ISIS fighter, also carried the follow on threat to murder another freelance journalist named Steven Sotloff.  Today video has emerged that Sotloff has now been beheaded, and the third captive threatened is a former British soldier who does security work for aid organizations, David Cawthorne Haines.  The pattern seems to be that every two weeks another hostage is executed.
 
PKK vs. ISIS in Northern Iraq
 
Crossing back across friendly lines can be a tricky proposition in the middle ISIS-made warzone.

“Can you have your commander write you a letter to help you get through the check points?”

“He’s dead.”

“What?”

“He’s dead, Jack.”

“What about your Squad Leader?”

“He’s dead too.”

“Are you kidding me?  There must be some officer around there somewhere.”

“Not really.  They died or ran away.”

“Dude, are you in charge now?”

“Pretty much.”

This was the conversation I had today with a friend fighting alongside the PKK in their war against ISIS in North West Iraq.  The last time we spoke was several days ago.  He filled me in on what had happened since then.  About three hours after our conversation his position was hit by ISIS.  Once again they were outnumbered and outgunned.  ISIS had fifty jihadist and three or four DShK 14.5 machine guns assembled around their redoubt in a L-shaped formation that rained fire down on them all night.  The PKK position was occupied by ten fighters, including my contact, who were armed with one DShK, one PKM, their Kalashnakovs.

 
My appearance on Sun News:
 
Yesterday I did a segment on Sun News about Al-Baghdadi, westerners going to fight for ISIS, and how to build a coalition that can defeat them.  Check it out on Sun News.
Record Setting South African Special Forces Sniper Shot:
 
Last year a South African Special Forces operator chalked up the 6th longest range kill in history against M23 rebels in the Congo, but with the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) remaining quiet, the story has not been told until now.
 
Horse Soldier Horror in NYC:
 
Commemorated by General Muholland and Vice President Joe Biden on Veteran’s Day in 2011, the horse soldier memorial is a larger than life bronze representation of an iconic image from the early days of the War on Terror. The actual name of the statue is “America’s Response” in reference to the US Special Forces soldiers who were the first in to fight in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. Some of these soldiers even rode into combat against the Taliban on horseback. Although I never rode horseback in Afghanistan and missed the initial invasion, I later served in the same unit as these men and was fortunate to meet and work with some of them.
 
Al-Baghdadi Does Not Exist
 
The media is currently in a frenzy about the leadership of ISIS, hailing Al-Baghdadi as the new Bin Laden, the next Public Enemy #1 for them to write about and report on as the next 21st Century boogyman. The problem is, there is no Al-Baghdadi. As most media reports confirm themselves, the details of this guy are iffy at best. This article advances the alternative thesis that Al-Baghdadi is not an actual biological individual but rather an immortal idea.
 
Back when Special Operations forces were conducting nightly raids in Iraq, a number of individuals were fingered as being a terrorist leader named “Al-Baghdadi” but they turned out to be bogus claims, little more than whispers in the desert night. Commanders wrote off the mistakes and figured they had the wrong guy so they kept looking, rather than concluding that this person was more of a myth than a man. While HUMINT sources blabbed about Al-Baghdadi there was never any SIGINT or other technical sources which confirmed his existence.
 
Yezidi Protest the UN for Inaction
 
Today at 10AM a group of about forty Iraqi immigrants belonging to the Yezidi religious minority protested in front of the United Nations building in Manhattan.  Among them was my friend Dakheel who I worked with when he was my interpreter in Iraq back in 2009.  At the time, I remember hanging around the camp fire at night with Dakheel talking about the future of Iraq.  We both agreed that after the United States pulled out of the country that things would get pretty bad.  We were already dealing with what was then called ISI, the Islamic State of Iraq, which was a group of hard core terrorists.  Dakheel told me at the time that there was no future for Iraq and that he was starting the process to immigrate to America with his wife and children.  He got his visa and I’m glad he did.
 
Non-Violent Unconventional Warfare
 
US Special Forces has some fairly good Unconventional Warfare doctrine to work from as a base.  The concept of using a small 12-man team to infiltrate deep behind enemy lines, train guerrilla forces, and launch of unconventional campaign is a sound one, but one that is only now beginning to be updated, an endeavor which took far too long.  Special Forces is making some positive steps in the direction of modernizing their approach to Unconventional Warfare but they still have a long way to go.  Until Title 10/50 disputes are resolved, Special Forces will never truly conduct covert operations unless they are done so under the auspices of the CIA.  With new UW capabilities left in legal limbo, it may only be a matter of time before some bean counter in the Pentagon, or even within SOCOM, realizes they are spending money on a shiny new toy whose only purpose is to gather dust in garrison and suck up training resources at the Special Warfare Center.
 
Counter-Insurgency in Ferguson
 
A few years ago I had a New Jersey cop who was deployed as a Civil Affairs soldier tell me about how police officers approach counter-insurgency differently than guys who are career soldiers.  While soldiers have a propensity towards going straight towards an escalation of force, police officers are used to walking around bad neighborhoods and engaging with the locals.  While this is not a rule, there is some truth to it.  A soldier who has been doing nothing but Infantry training his entire career will be missing a vital piece of the Counter-Insurgency puzzle by comparison to someone else with experience as a beat cop.

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Coming Soon: Deckard Audio Books!

I get asked again and again if my novels are available as audiobooks.  Well, now your wildest dreams have come true!  All three Deckard novels will be produced and narrated as audio books in the near future.  This week I signed a deal with Beacon Audiobooks and the official announcement has been made on Beacon’s website so go check it out.  No release dates or names of any narrators attached to this project yet, but I will keep you guys up to date!  Thanks to Beacon and all the readers out there who kept asking for this to happen.

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Foreign Special Operations Roundup, News, and Future projects

One of my favorite subjects to research is foreign Special Operations units.  Many of our allied SOF units are very professional and I think much more proficient than we often give them credit for.  Some of them have literally been fighting and dying alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, a fact that the American public is painfully unaware of.  One of my main goals is to cut through the misinformation and bring some of the realities of foreign SOF to American readers.

This includes a two-pronged approach.  First, writing articles about these units with as much insight as I’m able to dig up via my sources and research.  Second, actually buying the foreign rights to books written by and about foreign SOF and having them published in America.  The current project that I’m working on is Jaeger: At War with the Elite by Thomas Rathsack.  The book is written by a former member of Denmark’s Jaeger Corps who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I’ve read the translation and it is an amazing book that I can’t wait to bring to American readers.

Currently, we are discussing having our company, SOFREP.com, actually open our own publishing house for Special Operations books like this.  Mainstream publishers won’t bring these books to America because they haven’t been able to make money on them.  That’s a shame and the English speaking world is missing out on some great books from Denmark, Poland, France, and beyond.  No wonder why Americans don’t know about this stuff…

So on that note, here is a roundup of some of the foreign SOF material I’ve worked on recently.

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Swiss DRA-10

In our coverage of foreign Special Operations units, there is one country which is easily overlooked. When we think of SOF in the Western world, it is Rangers, SEALs, SAS, KSK, or somewhat more obscure units like SOG or FSK that come to mind. In a conversation about international Special Operations units, few would mention Switzerland’s DRA-10. In a country famous for neutrality and chocolate, fewer still would be aware of the Swiss hostage rescue mission that almost got off the ground in Libya several years ago.
Read more: http://sofrep.com/34395/switzerland-dra-10-libya/#ixzz2zCJA4Zcj
Israeli S13

Shayetet 13, the Israeli answer to the US Navy SEALs, executed a ship seizure operation off the coast of Sudan yesterday.  The ship was carrying Syrian made rockets that were en route from Iran to the Gaza strip.  These are the type of rockets that would be used if we saw a repeat of the 2006 offensive against Israel.  I had the opportunity to meet a S13 veteran about two years ago in New York City.  He was a cocky little guy who gave a friend of mine (a former US Navy SEAL) a t-shirt that said, “Don’t worry America, we got your back!”  I always recognize SOF guys, doesn’t matter what country they come from!
Read more: http://sofrep.com/33652/israeli-s13-maritime-commandos-capture-ship-carrying-iranian-missiles/#ixzz2zCHwluYO
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Swedish SOG

We hear little about the Special Operations units of Scandinavian nations, but in recent days the veil has been lifted, if only just a little, to give us a small look at what our allied SOF units have been up to in Afghanistan.  Policy-makers in Sweden have refused to confirm or deny any operations that Swedish troops may have participated in, but by correlating martyr biographies of dead jihadists, at least one newspaper has been able to put two and two together.
Read more: http://sofrep.com/32212/swedens-sog-takes-taliban/#ixzz2zCIZGvTj
Australian Commandos

By all accounts Corporal Cameron Baird was true warrior and is greatly missed by his team mates in 2 Commando.  Corporal Baird is Australia’s 40th KIA in Afghanistan during the War on Terror and is now Australia’s 100th Victoria’s Cross recipient.
Read more: http://sofrep.com/33001/australias-100th-victorias-cross-corporal-cameron-baird/#ixzz2zCI8gteY
Norwegian FSK/MJK

Tom Bakkeli is a Norwegian writer and journalist who has written extensively about Norway’s Special Operations units, MJK and FSK. Unfortunately, his books are not available in English, but Tom was gracious enough to spare SOFREP a few minutes of his time to answer some questions about Norway’s allied Special Operations units, which have been helping us fight the War on Terror.

Q: What is the Norwegian approach to special operations? Is it roughly along the same lines as other NATO member nations, or do the Norwegian units feature historical and cultural traits unique to their country?

A: As a country with a five million population, we have a quite small defense force. It has undergone a huge modernization after the cold war. In this process, the special operations forces, Forsvarets Spesialkommando (FSK) and Marinejegerkommandoen (MJK), have been strengthened. The operations in the former Yugoslavia – Bosnia and Kosovo – and especially in Afghanistan, have shown that they are capable. The Norwegian SOF traditions go back to Second World War, when they were established under British command in Special Operations Executive. Company Linge executed several spectacular operations in Nazi-occupied Norway; one of the best known is the heavy water operation in Vemork in 1943.
Read more: http://sofrep.com/33876/inside-fsk-norwegian-special-forces-command-interview-tom-bakkeli/#ixzz2zCHhdiFd

Peruvian SOF

On the 17th of December this past year, a joint police and military operation commenced in the Valley of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro rivers (VRAEM) in which Peruvian forces launched multiple synchronized strikes against clandestine airfields used to smuggle an estimated 1.2 tons of cocaine per day.  Four 30-man teams were reportedly launched from a base in Pichari to begin the process of disabling the illegal airfields with explosives, probably cratering charges in this case.  The Peruvian troops were drawn from the police counter-terrorism directorate known as Dircote, a counter-narcotics units called Dirandro, and a Special Forces unit reported as being called FEC, however as Navy personnel are reported to be conducting the operation with law enforcement, it seems more likely that this unit was actually Fuerza de Operaciones Especiales which is more akin to America’s Navy SEALs.
Read more: http://sofrep.com/31564/peruvian-sof-strikes-narco-traffickers/#ixzz2zCIkvQFT
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Canadian CSOR

W5′s Mercedes Stephenson recently filmed a rare documentary about Canadian SOF, specifically about CSOR conducting Foreign Internal Defense operations in Niger.  The Canadians are very tight lipped about their SOF units, the other being JTF-2, so it is surprising that they were willing to publicize their involvement in Flintlock.  One of the interesting things about foreign SOF units is that what the US government considers to be the most low grade operations are often considered to be the most sensitive by foreign governments like Canada.  While the US military openly publicizes SOF’s involvement in Flintlock, allied nations treat it like a closely held state secret.
Read more: http://sofrep.com/34370/canadian-sof-operation-flintlock-niger/#ixzz2zCHQ6kEd
Hope you enjoyed the articles.  In addition to the Jaeger book, there are a few other projects in the works.  SOFREP will be publishing a ebook about the history of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, we’ve got an account from the Australian Commandos coming, and I may be participating in a military exercise abroad later this year.  More on that soon!

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Switzerland’s DRA-10 in Libya

In our coverage of foreign Special Operations units, there is one country which is easily overlooked. When we think of SOF in the Western world, it is Rangers, SEALs, SAS, KSK, or somewhat more obscure units like SOG or FSK that come to mind. In a conversation about international Special Operations units, few would mention Switzerland’s DRA-10. In a country famous for neutrality and chocolate, fewer still would be aware of the Swiss hostage rescue mission that almost got off the ground in Libya several years ago.

Even before Hillary Clinton and Silvio Berlusconi unfriended Omar Gaddafi on Facebook in 2011, relations had begun to sour between Libya and Switzerland as early as 2008. The trouble began when Swiss police arrested the Libyan dictator’s son, Hannibal Gaddafi, in Geneva for allegedly mistreating his house staff. Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife were later released, but the damage had been done, and Omar Gaddafi carried out a series of retaliations against Switzerland.

Flights from Switzerland to Libya were halted, Gaddafi threatened to stop oil shipments, Swiss businesses were forced to close their doors in Libya, and most notably, two Swiss businessmen named Max Göldi and Rachid Hamdani were held on house arrest in Libya, kept as de facto hostages and political bargaining chips to be used against the Swiss government. The two Swiss nationals were initially allowed to stay in the Swiss embassy but were not permitted to leave Libya. Then, in 2009 when diplomatic negotiations broke down, the two Swiss nationals were kidnapped and disappeared and were not returned for over a month.Negotiations over the fate of Max and Rachid continued to grind away. Both were convicted in a Libyan court of visa violations. The dispute went from being a Swiss problem to being a European problem when Gaddafi then refused to issue visas to any European Union citizens. When Max Göldi was imprisoned, the Swiss government secretly paid Hannibal Gaddafi 1.5 million francs to try to smooth things over and normalize relations with Libya.

While the falling out between Switzerland and Libya was being reported in the European media, what was not reported was the quiet deployment of Swiss counter-terrorist operators to the Swiss embassy. Planning for a high-risk hostage rescue operation began, as the Swiss commandos started working to recover Max and Rachid. In Bern, frustrations were growing with Gaddafi’s bluster.

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Direct Action Giveaway Concludes!

The Direct Action giveaway closed last night and after consulting the random number generator, I’ve selected the grand prize winner and two runners up.  E-mails are out to the winners!  Thanks everyone who entered, you guys rock!

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Direct Action Giveaway, Time Running Out!

DirectActionGiveAwayOnly three more days left to get your submissions in for the Direct Action giveaway.  If you ever bought one of my three novels (Reflexive Fire, Target Deck, or Direct Action) then you are eligible.  Get the details here and enter to win!

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