The Havana Syndrome: Unconventional Health or Warfare?

Hotel Nacional, Havana, Cuba where Havana syndrome was reported

Main knowledge and developments

The Havana syndrome is uncertain in its nature. In 2016 and 2017, US diplomats in Havana reported medical symptoms regarding ear and mental pressure. The US government regards the symptoms as ‘anomalous health incidents’ and remains secretive on the nature of the virus. While the syndrome is explored, cases continue to emerge around the world with the threat of professional ineligibility.

  • There are plausible theories explaining the syndrome that do not establish causality or correlation with the event. There is currently no determined cause of the Havana syndrome.
  • It is likely that the Havana syndrome will become a foreign policy tool in the future. The origin of the symptoms and the lack of information are ideal conditions for the Havana syndrome to be exploited.


The increase in relations between the USA and Cuba in 2015 preceded the first documented case of the Havana syndrome. The US government maintained secrecy around the event between 2016 and 2017. Following the publicity, the notion of a targeted attack became an accepted hypothesis. The initial health incident became a matter of foreign policy. The appearance of further affected diplomats and the significance of Havana publicised the incident towards a geopolitical series of events. The latest cases occurred in August 2021 in Berlin, July 2021 in Vienna and May 2021 in Singapore. In the latter, it was the delegation of Kamala Harris that postponed a trip due to an ‘anomalous health incident’.

The physiology of Havana syndrome:


The Havana syndrome causing the ‘anomalous health reports’ is allegedly diverse in its manifestations. Deployed officials allegedly showed no indicators prior to the symptoms. Simultaneously, the clinical differences of victims increase the difficulty to characterise or identify the syndrome. Symptoms may include:

  • Severe Pain
  • Pressure to the face
  • Loud piercing in one ear
  • Heavy disequilibrium
  • Vestibular and Cognitive disfunction


The National Academy of Sciences (NAS), at the request of the Department of State (DoS), carried out an investigation. Although the investigation was premature, no treatment or rehabilitation method was established due to the unknown nature of the syndrome. As of 2019, the CDC continued to declare the majority of explanations for the Havana syndrome unresolved.

The Havana syndrome: A North American target

As of September 2021, all of the recorded cases of the Havana syndrome affected either US or Canadian government personnel. Symptoms affected officials in multiple locations. Nevertheless, only the Canadian and US governments reported the events. Despite the nature and origin of the syndrome, the geographical proximity and origin of both targets are likely significant.

Havana syndrome: USA

The health incidents in originated in Cuba are likely growing in significance as a foreign policy tool and concern. In July, Secretary of State Blinken recognised more than 200 recorded cases of health incidents since 2017. A de-classified accountability review board over the events in Havana identified poor organisational and communicative behaviour to contribute to the event. Furthermore, the board identified excessive secrecy to have hampered efforts to identify and characterise the Havana syndrome.  The syndrome affected personnel in the following locations:

  • Moscow, Russia
  • Vienna, Austria
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Havana, Cuba
  • Guangzhou, China
  • Taiwan
  • Poland
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Bogota, Colombia
  • Singapore
  • India
  • Tajikistan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Uzbekistan
  • Miami, USA
  • Washington DC, USA

The reportedly recent rise in cases indicates a likely growth in the frequency of affected diplomats. Since July 2021, cases emerged in Vienna, Berlin, India, and Bogota. Cases in Singapore and India affected team members of Vice-President Kamala Harris and CIA-Director Bill Burns, respectively. The target difference in rank, location, and symptoms of government officials increases the spectrum of objectives. Overall, the perceived threat to the US government is likely increasing.

Havana syndrome: Canada

The Canadian government’s behaviour surrounding the Havana syndrome is likely an indicator of its significance. In 2018, Global Affairs Canada ended all embassy postings in Cuba due to a growing number of incidents. Prior to that, the government rejected the aid of the U. of Pennsylvania, privately forcing staff to the University of Pittsburgh. According to embassy diplomats in Havana, the government demanded secrecy from the affected personnel.

Diplomats used a letter in May 2021 to claim 25 new cases observed at Dalhousie University, and particularly to denounce the lack of government-shared information. A lack of an appropriate response in 2017 likely explains part of the governmental behaviour in avoiding the subject. The lack of action by the government, nevertheless, may likely create an inaccurate and dangerous perception of the syndrome amongst personnel.

Potential plausible causes

Despite the accusations, there are no indicators to correlate the symptoms and effects of the syndrome to a plausible hypothesis. Officials in the Trump and Biden administrations privately aim at the GRU bearing responsibility. Meanwhile, the ODNI stated that there is no definitive information regarding the cause of the incidents. In 2018, the NAS determined that Direct-Energy (DE) weapons are the most plausible theory with supporting factors like PPPD or psychological conditions. A report by congress determines the capability of DE weapons. Nevertheless, there is no evidence to support the hypothesis despite its plausibility. According to the CDC in 2019, there is no explanation, cause or potential actor to be identified behind the Havana syndrome.

Part of the memo of the DoD secretary regarding Havana Syndrome

Warfare on perception

The creation of uncertainty, as well as a geopolitical loss, are likely the largest non-medical consequence of the Havana syndrome. The lack of an explanation by both governments is an indicator of the interpretative nature of the syndrome. While the US government increases the bureaucratic role in determining a cause, the Canadian government adopts a posture of silence. Accusations and reports establish plausible theories, yet no causation or direct relation is established. As a consequence, the ‘likely’ but not certain hypotheses create a general division of opinion on the nature and origin of the symptoms.

According to the Radio Research Group, the Havana syndrome is an example of 5th Generation Warfare (5GW). This is the continuation of the de-centralised environments seen in the 4GW. In this case, perception and information play the main role of warfare, described to be at least partly non-kinetic. The uncertainty of the havana syndrome contrasts to the certainty of symptoms, cases and real neurological damage. 5GW exploits the difference in certainties and information to divide the decision-making body. Theoretically, the approach obtaining similar objectives to kinetic warfare without employing large-scale capabilities. The only certainty is that both the US and Canada lost capabilities when closing the Havana stations, and the uncertainty is almost certainly preventing a re-deployment.


The Dragon against the Snake: Conceptualising Drone and Motorcycle Warfare

Falling Stars

The skies are no longer exclusively ruled by jets and stealth. Innovations in drone and motorcycle warfare have bred a revolution in doctrine. Now, small countries that are usually militarily behind or not as technologically advanced can level the playing field in the skies.

The most recent and surprising case of this instance occurred when Azerbaijan invaded Armenia. Azerbaijan had invested in Turkish and Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and these UAVs or “drones” in common parlance, effectively allowed Azerbaijan to inflict high casualties while keeping its low (Source). Azerbaijani drones effectively won the conflict against the Armenians. Ethiopia was also able to keep rebels from seizing Addis Abada with the help of Iranian and Turkish drones (Source).

The Turkish Bayraktar Akıncı armed drone in 2019. (Source)

Historical Cases

Resonating with the Spanish Civil War’s cases of blitzkrieg tactics taught by the Germans and the equipment they provided, this conflict provides a look at how future wars may look. The great powers before World War II saw the SCW as a testing bed for new doctrines and equipment.

Germany’s infamous Kradschützen Truppen motorcycle units served as a lynchpin of World War II movies post-war. An anonymous Allied trooper said this in a 1941 Motorcyclist issue on the effectiveness of motorcycle warfare.

“The power of the motorcycle troops is due to the fact that they, to the highest degree, fulfill the fundamental requirements of the combat unit. In the first place they have speedy mobility and freedom of action and secondly they have terrific fire-power. The rider carries besides his pistol a complement of grenades, an automatic rifle and a submachine gun. If he has a companion in a side-car the armament is more than doubled.”

Modern Cases

The same could be said for Azerbaijan and Armenia, as larger regional powers gave the Azerbaijanis technology, but they were not able to produce it domestically.

Drone warfare is clearly here to stay. However, it is no longer just the indiscriminate strikes from UAVs. Remember “Swarms” from Call of Duty: Black Ops 2? They are real and they are already here. Iran has released the drone system “Shahed-136” which is can be mounted on a pick-up truck and launch multiple drones that can drop ordinance or commit suicide strikes onto forces. The photos below show the Shahed system as well as the damage it wreaks. The importance of these drones is mainly their cost-effectiveness as well as their small size, making them effective in urban areas.

Suicide drones present a threat to literally every target one can think of. Infantry, vehicles, aircraft, communications equipment, etc. It presents a unique challenge to infantry units since these drones can be launched quickly and move fast once in the air.

Scythian Horse Archers

The question that remains is how to combat these types of drones and the new forms of drone warfare. In terms of their mobility and speed, it needs to be matched. Luckily the answer may already be in use by insurgents and recon forces already: motorcycle units!

Drone Warfare
JNIM insurgents on their motorcycles during a press release. (Source

Modern units have already adopted motorcycles as a vital part of their doctrine already, particularly in the Sahel. Malian SOF units use motorcycle warfare, as well as their JNIM-(Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin) insurgent counterparts (pictured above) effectively. Their speed and manoeuvrability are unparalleled in dense and rocky terrain. Their speed also allows them to disperse and hide from enemy aircraft quickly.

Modern unconventional motorcycle troops, like Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), who launch large scale hit and run attacks on villages and their enemies have mastered the mechanised art of warfare. Thereby, quickly overwhelming and outrunning enemy forces in the blink of an eye. Ground reconnaissance capabilities are heightened, and in daring situations, motorcycles can be used to mount large weapons as a firing position.

Drone Warfare
What appears to be a Chinese W85 HMG mounted to a motorcycle in a firing position against a wall in Syria. (Source)

Recent developments in technology have led to motorcycles possibly being used in the recent war in Ukraine. The commander of the Georgian Legion, fighting on the side of Ukraine, told outlets that they are seeking electric motorcycles. (Source) The Eleek Atom electric motorcycle has reportedly been manufactured for Ukrainian troops already, as well as Delfast electric bikes. (Source & Source) The reasoning for this is to be able to move quickly and quiet, aided by an electric motor that is nearly silent. This presents a new arm of stealth and small motorised operations being used in tandem, and gives purpose to electric vehicles on the battlefield.

Ukrainian SOF troops on a Delfast electric motorcycle and NLAW anti-tank guided missile system. (Source)

The Unstoppable Force and the Immovable Object

This new trend in steppe-style fighting has shown that it can be effective against drones for the aforementioned reasons. France has used drones against JNIM and other motorcycle-based insurgent groups for years and it has offered no concrete resolution of the hostility or shown any sign of diminishing motorcycle units’ effectiveness.

Drone warfare, the black sheep of modern warfighting, has made immense headway in conflict alteration. Motorcycles, like Scythian horse archers, are great for quick, cost-effective, and hit and run style attacks and insurgencies. For the time being, using the Sahel as an example, they can “outwit” drones and their operators.

Future of the Battlefield

Warfare has obviously evolved from horses and bows, but not fully evolved away from physical battlefields. However, history has shown that conventional war is usually won through speed and fast manoeuvring. This is alluding to not only the individual soldier, but the command and support structure of the force.

Both of these forces, drones and motorcycles, rely on speed and adaptability. When poised against a ground force with equal speed, anti-air support, (mounted HMGs) and increased manoeuvrability, drones may have trouble adequately dealing with motorcycle-based forces.

Motorcyclists can hide in forests, cramped city blocks, or ride along a cliff face to avoid detection, and do so with speed. These factors will most likely see armies and insurgencies possibly adopt a more rapid motorcycle warfare doctrine to outmanoeuvre the growing army of autonomous drones.


An Introduction to Fifth Generation Warfare

Graduates of the 80th Training Command PSYOP class receive regimental crest pins at the end of their field exercise at Fort Hunter Liggett, California, Feb. 6, 2019.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love 5GW

We type these words travelling through the Swiss Alps on high-speed rail. As the world becomes
smaller, we at The Radio Research Group have witnessed firsthand how nearly everything we knew
about modern conflict is changing, under the shadow of Fifth Generation Warfare. The incredible, exponential, accelerating pace of technology has overturned centuries of standard operating procedure. Diplomats and military leaders alike have been thrust into uncharted domains, disrupted by an invisible enemy that makes us question our reality.

Darkness descends upon us as a tunnel envelops our train. Terrestrial GSM goes dark, satellite
tracking loses sync. We enter the Gotthard Base tunnel, the longest tunnel in the world.

Our world is evolving so quickly that classical frameworks of thought around modern warfare have become irrelevant. Our GSM modem connects to a cell tower deep within the tunnel. We reconnect
to the world, deep underground, at the speed of light. Pre-existing notions believed to be impossible
beforehand have now become commonplace.

Our train exits the tunnel, sunlight envelops the train as GPS returns back online. Incredible
mountains open up all around us as we enter an incredible new world.

What is 5GW?

William Lind’s generations of warfare model goes something like this:

GenerationDescriptionMade Irrelevant By
1stAncient melee battleMuskets
2ndOrganized battle with gunpowderBlitzkrieg
3rdMechanized warfare focused on speed and manoeuvrabilityTerrorism
4thDecentralized warfare is led by state actors (Primarily Kinetic)The Mobile Internet, Network Effects
5thInformation and Perception (Primarily Non-Kinetic)TBD?

The concept of Fifth Generation Warfare itself is controversial, with Lind arguing against it saying that
4GW “had yet to fully materialize”. We argue that what is happening in modern conflict today is
so radically different from the 4th generation framework that it’s time to enter the fifth
generation. (We were so convinced that we had to write the Wikipedia article on it ourselves,
despite it now being heavily redacted. Many of the key elements we have added here.)

Our favourite definition of Fifth Generation Warfare is featured in Abbot’s “Handbook of 5GW”,
2010, stating that “The very nature of Fifth Generation Warfare is that it is difficult to define.”
Besides the fact that defining a subject based on it being difficult to define is counterintuitive, Abbot
adds that 5GW is a war of “information and perception”.

5GW is a war of information and perception.

We at Radio Research have evolved the definition, stating that Fifth Generation Warfare is defined
by data-driven, non-kinetic military action designed to take advantage of existing cognitive
biases and create new cognitive biases. Or as Abbott and Rees/Herring describe, “the deliberate
manipulation of an observer’s context in order to achieve a desired outcome.”

Fifth-generation warfare technologies have advanced to the point that when applied correctly, their
very use has been concealed. As we will describe further below in the Attribution Problem, in many
cases simply understanding who is behind a 5GW attack is impossible.

This means that a Fifth Generation Warfare conflict can be fought and won without a single bullet being fired,
or even most of the population knowing that a war is taking place. The following technologies and
techniques are often associated with 5GW. What’s important to note is that these technologies may
be used to heavily influence, or completely remove the need for kinetic combat:

  • Misinformation (Data Driven)
    • Deepfakes
  • Cyberattacks
    • Honeypots
  • Social engineering
  • Social media manipulation (Data Driven)
    • Decentralized and highly non attributable psychological warfare (memes, fake news)
  • Mass surveillance
    • Open-source intelligence
    • Commercially available Social media analytics
    • Open source and grey market Data Sets
    • Commercially available Satellite / SA imagery
    • Commercially available Electromagnetic intelligence
    • Cryptographic backdoors
  • Electronic warfare, with the rapid reduction in cost and availability thereof
    • Open source encryption/ DeFi / Community technology
    • Low cost Radios / SDRs
    • Quantum computers? (unclear if being used yet at scale)

Abbot finished his description of 5GW quite elegantly, quoting Clarke’s third law; “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

In Summary 5GW:

  • Is a war of information and perception
  • Targets existing cognitive biases of individuals and organizations
  • Creates new cognitive biases (social engineering)
  • Is different from classical warfare for the following reasons:
    • Focuses on the individual observer / decision maker
    • Is difficult or impossible to attribute
    • Nature of the attack is concealed

Below we will describe where current frameworks for warfare begin to unravel, and what we can do next.


The origins of 5GW as mentioned before are hotly contested, as data driven warfare combined with
propaganda date back at least to the end of WWII. Some of the best work in the space happened
around this time.

For our analysis, we focus on how networked mobile computing and big data analytics are being
used to drive decision making on a societal scale. While the “Handbook of 5GW” alludes to early
examples, the book was published before one of the most disruptive societal events had happened
since 9/11.

Fifth Generation Warfare
Egyptian protestors shine high powered lasers at a helicopter, disrupting its optics. (Source)

Precursors to 5GW: The First Accidental Fifth Generation Conflict

The Arab Spring represents a key turning point in warfare, emerging in Tunisia in 2008, and erupting
across North Africa in 2010. The Arab Spring was the first conflict to be driven by Social Media,
primarily Facebook and Twitter.

We had witnessed first-hand that a revolution or protest would show up first in the data, then on BBC
a few hours later. The conflict was manifesting itself online, and generating tremendous amounts of data
before any kinetic action would take place.

The Arab Spring lacks a few key elements of Fifth Generation Warfare, most notably the ambiguity of the opposing force. (Despite having some ambiguity as to who was fueling it. An interesting side note is that one of the main organizers of the Egyptian Revolution, Wael Ghonim, worked at Google at the time).

From our interactions with people involved during those early years of mostly privatized data
collection, the use of social media to cascade into a regional conflict was almost entirely accidental.
Because of that, we like to call The Arab Spring the first accidental fifth-generation conflict.

The societal echoes of the Arab spring continued to bounce around the planet, focusing a few years
later on Hong Kong and Taiwan during democratic protests in 2014. At this point, we begin to see a
new technology beginning to emerge: Decentralized technologies (or “zero trust systems” for those
of you who work in more conservative organizations like the DoD). During the Sep 2014 Hong Kong
protests, encrypted messaging apps were used heavily. When local cellular infrastructure was
“overloaded” protesters employed a decentralized Mesh networking app called Firechat- completely
bypassing Great Firewall restrictions. Governments were so disturbed by the event, Russia began
deploying its own electronic warfare units to protests.

Decentralized currencies like Bitcoin began to see popular use, For example during Occupy Wall
Street, 2011). While decentralized warfare is a key element of the 4GW definition, the coming
ambiguity of attackers and the use of big data and media as a weapon reinforcing one another takes us
into new realms.

Fitting a Fifth Generation Warfare puzzle piece into a Fourth generation playing field

While warfare has a long history of psychological operations and propaganda, conflict going online
has accelerated psychological warfare, reducing the feedback loops to milliseconds. Facebook
product teams have a word for this: “Dopamine Loops”. In the world of big tech, you can build, test,
deploy in a matter of minutes. Military, advertising, and political strategists are beginning to think
about how they can leverage over a hundred years of teachings in psychological warfare and combine this knowledge with data-driven, psychological feedback loops to influence behaviour.

We call this the Social Engine, Facebook (sorry “Meta”) calls it “business as usual”. The creation of
data-driven cognitive biases has already defined the past decade, everything from “swinging”
elections, to determining a Netflix script, or which celebrity will be in an advertisement for makeup.

In fact, we used GPT-3, an AI algorithm to write the italicized section of this paragraph. GPT-3 is a
predictive text entry program, which allows people to type words on their keyboard by predicting
keys that are likely to be typed. This allows us to influence cognitive biases by sneaking certain
ideas into peoples’ text, bypassing their critical thought processes altogether. People will then
replicate these messages in their own texts, and the spread of the content will be a reflection of the
users’ natural cognitive biases.

These capabilities are unseen in traditional warfare and do not fit well into the 4GW framework.

One of the main areas where 4th generation warfare begins to break down is the ambiguity of the
attacking force, in particular, “the cyber attribution problem”. This is related to the fact that software
engineers are actively hiding or misconstruing their identity while writing lines of code. In some
cases, hackers are even using modified cyberweapons leaked from NSA servers (see EternalBlue,

In a Fifth Generation of cyberwar, simply knowing who your enemy is can be nearly impossible.

The Attribution Problem

The cyber attribution problem has highlighted the problems of traditional warfare, as almost all
modern military doctrine requires knowing the identity of your enemy. This is where modern conflict
begins to get outright frightening. Governments have routinely stated that cyberattacks can and will
be responded to with kinetic force.

In the 2018 edition of the “U.S. Dept. of Defense Nuclear Posture Review” the U.S. government
states that they reserve the right to respond to “non-nuclear strategic attacks” with “the employment
of nuclear weapons”. The fatal flaw of nuclear deterrence is that it does not apply only to nuclear

“The United States would only consider the employment of nuclear weapons in extreme
circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, and partners. Extreme
circumstances could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks.” (Insert Citation)

The Nuclear Posture Review itself mentions “Cyber” sixteen times. Considering some of the largest
cyberattacks in history was started by teenagers, (Mirai botnet, 2016) the impact of The Cyber
Attribution Problem on modern nuclear deterrent theory is quite literally insane.

“We used to be able to get into a room with an enemy, now they’re just floating in the ether,”
-M speaking to Bond in No Time to Die, 2021

A new era begins.

The Birth of Fifth Generation Warfare

Social media in its essence (along with most of the internet today) is driven by for-profit cognitive programming, also known as advertising. Ads along with the exponentially growing set of “Advertising” data generated by billions of people have now been weaponized. The amount of data that can be collected on an individual is increasing exponentially.

We argue that the first compelling case of Fifth Generation Warfare was the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. This includes complete ambiguity of the opposing force, wide-scale societal engineering using data (see Cambridge Analytica), organized counterattacks between government and social media companies, censorship, and the direct attack on the decision making process of billions of people.

We encourage you to read the leaked internal Facebook report detailing precisely how this is taking place from the perspective of a computer scientist. It’s fascinating and very scary: “Stop the Steal and Patriot Party: The Growth and Mitigation of an Adversarial Harmful Movement”).

Unfortunately, the 2016 presidential election gets too political for most readers, as their own cognitive biases prevent the creation of a subjective Fifth Generation Warfare framework. We may update this section in the future, and continue our story of 5GW with something far less controversial.

Israel, May 2021: Operation Guardian of the Walls

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are masters of information warfare. Israel even has their own propaganda division of the military, the IDF Spokesperson Unit. They have a pretty cool logo, representing the propagation of radio waves.

The first 5GW conflict to evolve into a kinetic battle (excluding the storming of the U.S. Capitol a few months before) took place during the 2021 Israel–Palestine conflict. On May 13th, 2021, the IDF announced falsely on Twitter, and on the record to The Wall Street Journal, that “IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip”. The IDF had announced that an Israeli invasion of Gaza had begun.

The New York Times then reported the following day that the announcement had been a deception, that no Israeli troops had stepped foot into Gaza. IDF further clarified the statement declaring that the intent of the announcement was to expose opposing Hamas forces (presumably using unmanned ISR) and destroy tunnel networks with precision-guided munitions.

Katz and Bohbot describe separately in their book “Weapon Wizards, 2017”, how IMSI-catchers and cellular network analysis were used to previously identify and destroy Hamas tunnels. If an IMSI “teleports” from one place to another, it’s a tunnel. A single fighter (likely many) forgetting to turn off their cellular transmitters after the news reports may have resulted in massive, heavy bombing attacks. There is so much data in our corner of the universe, that the absence of data can even provide information.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit announced two weeks after operation “Guardian of The Walls”, that the conflict was the “First AI war”. IDF continued to describe a system built by Unit 8200 that fused “signal intelligence (SIGINT), visual intelligence (VISINT), human intelligence (HUMINT), geographical intelligence (GEOINT)”. While such battlefield management systems (BMS, or C5ISR) have existed for years before the 2021 Gaza crisis, the announcements themselves combined with social media deception and precision-guided munitions represent a stark contrast to the Lind definition of fourth-generation warfare.

The IDF example does however lack “ambiguity of the opposing force”, but does include many unprecedented techniques and technologies- most notably using media as a weapon combined with unmanned ISR.

From here take a quick coffee break, before we dive even deeper into the strange, mind-bending and brain-frying world of Fifth Generation Warfare.

A Syndrome in Havana: A Symptom of Fifth Generation Warfare?

Our last example, Havana Syndrome, includes the purest form of Fifth Generation Warfare we have witnessed to date. It is also one of the weirdest. Havana Syndrome checks all of the 5GW boxes:

  • Ambiguity of the opposing force.
  • Ambiguity of attack vector.
  • Dopamine loops.
  • Triggering existing cognitive biases in target.
  • Creating new cognitive biases.

In fact, Havana Syndrome is so obscure there is significant debate within the U.S. DoD on whether or not it even exists.

Havana Syndrome was first reported in and around the Cuban embassy in 2016 and has since been reported all around the world including Guangzhou, Hanoi, Berlin, and most notably Vienna, Austria.

Diplomats report hearing strange noises and headaches, resulting in significant neurological damage. The US Army Mad Science Lab interviewed Dr James Giordano, one of the doctors involved in researching the cases.

You should read the deleted report, it is extremely interesting: (Link to report)

As Dr James Giordano describes to the U.S. Army Mad Science Lab:

“To date, there are over 100 validated cases of personnel being afflicted with the subjective symptoms and clinically validated objective signs representative of Havana syndrome…

“ The acute symptoms are relatively ambiguous, in that some individuals report sensations of pressure in the head, ringing or buzzing in the ears, and feelings of confusion…

“The majority of the originally affected individuals, and many of those subsequently affected have shown long-lasting, discernible neurological features that are evident upon physiologic testing and imaging…”.

To make things even more interesting, the State Department recently declared that 5GW was no attack at all, simply a cricket, Anurogryllus Celerinictus, and that psychogenic effects were the primary cause of reported health issues.

The Army report has since been deleted. We do love 5GW!

The last we checked, there is no Anurogryllus Celerinictus in Vienna or Berlin, but go read the DoD report for yourself. The very nature of the attack being ambiguous, and the heated debates between DoD and even CIA officials over causes and existence make “Havana Syndrome” fit perfectly into our 5GW framework.

Take a look at the DoD report on crickets: (Source)

We surely have not seen the last of our friend Anurogryllus Celerinictus, and expect to see more attacks like this play out in the future. (We think it is a Massive MIMO attack using modded cell towers, but that’s story for another day)

History of Fifth Generation Warfare Summary:

5GW Checklist:

  • Ambiguity of the opposing force.
  • Ambiguity of attack vector.
  • Dopamine loops.
  • Triggering existing cognitive biases in target.
  • Creating new cognitive biases.
  • Emerges from The Arab Spring.
  • Solidified during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
  • The 2021 Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the first example of 5GW in kinetic battle.
  • Havana Syndrome is pure 5GW.

From here, the future is incredibly uncertain. We lie at the brink of WWIII in Europe. Deep Fakes are being created by both sides. It is more important now than ever to begin thinking about 5GW. We have attempted to organize a framework of thought.

Our thinking on this is evolving rapidly, as cognitive bias plays a role in influencing each section of the OODA loop. Here are some recommendations:

Observe: What’s happening. Understand the battlespace, attempt to single out the opponent or describe key attributes. Get as much data as you can and hire the best people who can work with that data. China is doing this by building a network of “AI consultancies” around the earth, along with backdooring apps for kids to feed massive amounts of data back to Beijing. The U.S. does this by working with Facebook, ISPs, and controlling Android. Hedge funds have a lot of this data as well. Maintain caution when developing your own mass surveillance tools, as this may accelerate the systemic issues in your society, and the enemy will target these weak points within your own team. Mass surveillance generally poses more risks to civilization than benefits. Is mass surveillance a deterrent technology? This is open for debate and becomes increasingly relevant in 5GW.

Orient: Attempt to understand any pre-existing cultural biases you may have. 5GW attacks the decision-making ability using the biases as cognitive tools of influence. What memes do you like or political groups you do prefer, what are your fetishes and dislikes? What skeletons do you have in the closet? How do you use social media? How’s your relationship going with a loved one? All of this data is being harvested from your internet history and the spatial web and will be used against you in a world of Fifth Gen targeted warfare. (Most of this data is commercially available on the grey market).

Once you establish a psychological baseline, we can try to separate cultural biases from cognitive biases. A meme you viewed the day before can certainly impact decisions you are going to make today. The only recommendation we have here so far is to reduce your digital attack surface, go spend time in nature, and meditate. Meditate on your pre-existing cultural biases to build a baseline and understand where your ego will play in your subconscious decision-making processes. Humans really haven’t progressed very far in understanding this front, and some of the best work on this is thousands of years old. We recommend starting with the Bhagavad Gita.

Decide: We now have to choose the best strategy to recover faster, move forward, and act with minimal damage. See if you can test your hypotheses, and watch out for making the same decision over and over again. In many cases, you simply have to “move fast and break things”, and make sure that when you do Act that you get data. Have the means to analyze this data at scale and a plan for a complete breakdown in communications. Ideally, you have some insanely large supercomputers to help you, the latest Facebook Graph, and that you watch out for biases in your own algorithms. In many cases the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System will already be orbiting, your servers will be on fire, your comms backdoored, and you won’t have the pleasure of testing your theories.

Act: Pull the trigger, and get as much possible data as you can in the aftermath. In the end, we’re all human, this is what will be used against us.

We Are only at The Beginning of 5GW

Hopefully, we could give you a quick overview of what the hell 5GW is, its history, and how we can begin thinking about it. Our definition of a 5GW framework is evolving, and we encourage you to contribute to the conversation and challenge our thinking.

Denying that 5GW exists is incredibly dangerous, and we see a tremendous divide between the hackers and cryptographers we speak to and officials in the public sector. Most people we speak to at the DoD think we’re completely crazy.

The attacks that we will begin to see will quickly evolve beyond “crickets” and into the bizarre and seemingly impossible. It’s easy to get rather depressed about a future of biological and nuclear deterrence, massive social engineering attacks, and hypersonic proliferation concerns. But we must always remain positive.

Thinking about the world in regards to limited resources, (a war of “us” vs. “them”) is the root of much of the world’s issues. Our economy is moving digital, and incredible technologies are coming online that solve most of the resource-driven conflicts that we have seen historically:

  • Petrochemical – Nuclear
  • Drought – Desalination
  • PetroDollar – DeFi
  • Disease – mRNA/ CRISPR
  • Advertising – Web3

Civilization requires a fundamental shift in our organizations and institutions towards a perspective of abundance, with a strong focus on defence based deterrence (e.g. password managers or the Iron Dome). Data is going to help us. Understanding and mastering 5GW is going to be key.

And to finish, we once asked a DARPA program manager how they stay optimistic about the future, having witnessed so many technologies that could wipe civilization off the face of this earth. The ex-program manager responded, “Civilization has been through a lot, they always get through!”

The future is going to be incredibly interesting, and we’re excited to see it.

5GW Recommendations:

  • Use the OODA loop to build a framework of thinking.
  • Defensive:
    • Understand basic cybersecurity: Use a password manager and hardware security keys. Understand your own biases, culture and those that have inflicted you (media, memes)
    • Meditate and understand your own biases
    • Map your electronic attack surface and Work to limit your digital footprint (e.g. who has access to your location data?)
    • Attain complete technology awareness on your domain
    • Map and visualize filter bubbles
    • Assume your entire network is going to get attacked, taken offline and have a plan
    • Do not underestimate blockchain, learn about zero knowledge proofs and DAOs. Read the Blockchain And Decentralized Systems by Pavel Kravchenko for everything you need to know technically. Read The Sovereign Individual for a good understanding on the societal implications.
    • Assume all commercial cryptography is either backdoored or will be broken during the next great conflict
    • Map your cryptographic roots or trust and have a key management plant
    • Invest in modern communications equipment and “zero trust systems”
    • Pay for security audits and Red teams if you are an organisation
    • Red team your systems.
    • Red team your people, perform simulated phishing exercises.
  • Offensive:
    • 5GW is mostly defensive, but there are a few things to be done.
    • Inoculation Theory. A fairly new concept for resisting social engineering, but a focus on reinforcing an idea by presenting the intended target with weak counterarguments. A recommendation from Over The Horizon: (Link)
    • Surveillance, Controversial but effective, at least in understanding a baseline.
    • Censorship. Social media companies are a business of influencing cognitive bias.
    • Generation of fake and alternative profiles and data, hide in the randomness. See Sybil attack, sock puppet accounts.
    • Meme warfare.
    • Make social media algorithms accountable and open. This is a major problem today as social media reinforces cognitive biases, generally for profit.

Essential reading on the history and future of propaganda, and information warfare:

  • Massenpsychologie (Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego), Sigmund Freud, 1921.

  • Propaganda, Edward Bernays, 1928 (heavily inspired Propaganda Minister Goebbels).

  • The Ultra Secret, F.W. Winterbotham, 1974. The first “tech leak”, the book goes into detail in the breaking of the Enigma Codes at Bletchley Park, along with the propaganda campaigns organized by Churchill and Special Liaison Officers to hide Ultra’s use.

  • Berlin Diary William L. Shirer, 1941. Describes the compelling account of WWII breaking out in Europe as it’s happening, as described by a CBS news correspondent. His descriptions of Nazi propaganda and arguments with censors is fascinating.

  • Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, 2007. Just read it.

  • Snow Crash Neal Stephenson, 1992. (Science Fiction) An extremely entertaining account on information warfare, literally defined the “MetaVerse” and “Avatar”


Army Ranger Wing: The Shadow Warriors of Ireland

The Irish Army Ranger Wing is a highly specialised Special Operations Force. Skilled in unconventional warfare, the ARW supports a large range of counterterrorism operations.


The Early Days

The Irish Army Ranger Wing (ARW) was formally established in March 1980, though the organisation’s roots can be traced back to the 1960s. Irish army strategy underwent significant change throughout the 1960s, with international terrorist attacks highlighting the need for specialised and covert forces.

In 1968, a small group of elite army personnel were selected to devise and hold Special Operations Forces training. In these early years of the Irish Special Operations forces, operatives were also sent to training courses in the US and England to help inform the syllabus of the future Special Operations training regime. Ultimately, the personnel completed the design of the training course in 1969.

1970s: The Transition Years

The rigorous training course, comprised of 18-hour days of intense physical and mental testing, was rolled out and continued throughout the 1970s. These courses, called ‘Ranger Courses’, were taken by only selected elite units within the Irish army. At this time, specialist operations, such as counterterrorism and counterintelligence were not centralised in one force; selected personnel across the Irish Defence Force undertook training so that there were agile and highly trained troops throughout the entire force.

The importance of such specialised forces in Ireland was clear: The Troubles was escalating throughout the mid and late 1970s, with insurgent groups regularly undertaking bombings, kidnappings, and murders. As a result, the Irish Army Ranger Wing was approved by the Department of Defence in 1979. As such, the Army Ranger Wing (Irish: “Sciathán Fianóglach an Airm”) was officially established in March of 1980.

1980s and Beyond

The first instructors of the ARW in the 1980s had trained and served extensively in the decades prior. Many of these instructors had undergone Ranger training throughout the 70s, which largely informed the new ARW syllabus. Ultimately, the first training course ended in 1981, and the ARW began its first counterterrorism operations by the mid-1980s.

From its formation until the late 1990s, the ARW was mainly tasked with assisting in the Troubles, undertaking reconnaissance and counter-terrorism operations in assistance of the Irish Police Force (Garda Síochána).

ARW Frogmen via Óglaigh na hÉireann / Irish Defence Forces

Doctrine and Organisation


The ethos of the ARW is to have ‘a high level of preparedness to deal with any requests for operations of a specific nature’ [source]. Although vague, this means that the unit must be ready to deal with a variety of hybrid threats with little notice. For this reason, the ARW is on call 24/7, every day of the year [source].


The Irish Army Ranger Wing is the Special Operations Force of the Irish Army. Therefore, the unit falls operationally underneath the Irish Army, and therefore the Irish Defence Forces. However, the unit runs semi-autonomously reporting directly to the Chief of Staff at the Defence Forces HQ. Similarly, the ARW is designated as a Military Aid to Civil Power. Therefore, the Irish Army Ranger Wing also accepts assignments directly from civil offices, most commonly the Irish Police Force (Garda Síochána).

Whilst the exact operational structure of the ARW itself is classified, it is believed that the force is comprised of smaller units focussed on specialised skills.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)


Owing to the nature of the unit’s mission, their training protocols are intense and all-encompassing. The modern ARW selection and training course is incredibly rigorous. However, the ARW Special Operations Force Qualification (SOFQ) is open to all active members across the entire Irish Defence forces. The training runs for over 36 weeks, aimed to test all manner of physical and mental abilities [source]. As a result of such lengthy and challenging selection, attrition rates into the force are incredibly low – reports suggest only 2 new recruits completed the entire training course in 2019 [source]. The entire force is estimated to be around 150 personnel total [source].

(Video; ARW Training Exercise; via Óglaigh na hÉireann on YouTube)

Owing to their historic training regimes, ARW troops must be equipped in many methods of unconventional warfare, including:

  • Parachuting
  • Amphibious assault
  • Helicopter fast-roping
  • Sniping
  • Reconnaissance
  • Navigation
  • Extensive psychometric testing

On completing three training modules, recruits are awarded the coveted ‘Fianoglach’ tab. On completing the final initiation training module, new ARW troops are officially assigned to a specific unit and given the distinctive ARW green beret [source].

Army Ranger Wing
(Img; ARW personnel in a training exercise; via Óglaigh na hÉireann / Irish Defence Forces

Aside from the initial training, ARW troops undergo significant amounts of ongoing training. This includes specialist training courses, as well as joint drills with other forces from Irish Defence [source].


The ARW, in addition to Irish Army standard issue equipment, are known to use the following weaponry:


  • SS P226
  • SS P228
  • HK USPs (various models)

Shotguns, Rifles & Semi-Automatics

  • Remington 87
  • HK 33/SG1
  • HK MP5A3
  • Steyr AUG A1
  • Steyr AUG A3


  • M203 Grenade Launchers
  • M1 60mm Commando Mortar
  • AT4 Anti-tank weaponry
  • Tactical assault vehicles (various models)
  • Klepper M13 Canoes
  • Drager LAV-7 Underwater Equipment

Notable Operations

The unit completes multiple functions for the Irish Defence Forces domestically [source]. On an everyday basis, the ARW’s responsibilities include [source]:

  • Reconnaissance
  • Raids
  • Ambushes
  • Intelligence collection
  • VIP Protection services
  • Counterterrorism
  • Hostage negotiation

However, the ARW has also been called to action for several high-profile international missions:


The ARW, alongside multiple international Special Forces Units, deployed to Chad in 2008. This deployment was UNderneath the UN Peacekeeping mission MINURCAT.  This mission was aimed at long-range reconnaissance in hostile territory. Whilst the ARW undertook specialist monitoring to assist with Irish Intelligence in the region, the ARW also supported conventional Irish forces in the area. This includes transporting essential supplies across hostile territories and assisting with the extraction of wounded personnel [source]. Ultimately, the ARW withdrew from Chad and the CAR in 2010.


In June of 2019, troops from the Army Ranger Wing were sent to Mali as part of the UN Peacekeeping mission MINUSMA [source]. MINUSMA is widely considered to be the UN’s most challenging and dangerous mission due to high casualty rates [source]. As of 2022, Irish Defence Forces are considering extracting the ARW from Mali and deploying the force into the Sahel Region. Reporting suggests that no final decision has been made on this movement, but is due to be made during the year [source].

ARW Operators in Mali


Following the fall of Kabul in August 2021, twelve members of the ARW were deployed to Afghanistan to assist in the evacuation of Irish citizens from the country [source]. The ARW were able to assist with the successful extraction of 26 Irish citizens from Kabul airport [source]. Despite multiple bombings surrounding the airport, Irish forces and civilians sustained no casualties.

ARW personnel using night vision equipment in Kabul
(Img; ARW personnel using night vision equipment in Kabul; via Óglaigh na hÉireann on Flickr)


The Army Ranger Wing is an elite force with a rich history of unconventional warfare. The ARW is therefore instrumental to Irish domestic and international security.

[Source of note: Shadow Warriors: The Army Ranger Wing, written by Paul O’Brien and Wayne Fitzgerald]


Danish Special Forces: The Huntsmen of Denmark

The Danish Special Forces include the jaeger corps and Danish Frogmen, which are specialised soldiers that deal with unconventional warfare an non-standard reconnaissance missions. Selection and training processes for Danish Special Forces are incredibly rigorous particular for the Danish Frogmen Corps and Jaeger Corps due to the interdisciplinary nature of the job.

Within its military manual, the Danish Ministry of Defence defines Special Operations as “military activities conducted by specially designated, organised, trained, and equipped forces through the employment of tactics, techniques, and procedures that are non-standard for conventional forces”. There is no better example of this than Denmark’s own Special Operations Forces.

Danish special forces: jaeger corps members

Danish Special Forces

Comprised of three highly specialised units – the Jaeger Corps, the Frogmen, and the Sirius Dogsled unit – Danish Special Forces are all under the Danish Special Operations Command (SOC or SOKOM) command. As part of the Danish Defence Agreement 2013-2017, SOKOM was established as a central Special Forces authority. As a result, in July 2015, Jager Corps was transferred from the Danish Army, and the Frogmen Corps were transferred from the Danish Navy to SOKOM’s command. The SOC then reports to the Chief of Defence of the Danish Defence Command.

Danish Special Forces Command

The Danish Special Forces units are well known in the intelligence, military, and naval communities for their advanced capabilities. In an interview, Major General Peter Boyson, the Commander of SOKOM, stated:

“From my point of view, the biggest challenge is that between the multiple possible deployment options or missions that Danish SOF are capable of and qualified for, we only utilise a small portion. Mission such as Military Assistance, Special Reconnaissance, Direct Action – we train for it all, but we do not put it all to use.”

Major General Peter Boyso, Commander of SOKOM

How does a force with such varied responsibilities become specialised in all areas? And how does it best use these skills to bolster national security? This is the difficulty the Danish Special Forces face as part of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Jaegerkorpset (JGK) – The Jaeger Corps

The Jaeger Corps, translated to English as the Huntsman Corps, was founded in 1961 as a military long-range reconnaissance patrol unit (LRRP). The unit was modelled after the British SAS and US Rangers. Indeed, many Jaeger officers attended courses in the US and the UK to train during the early years of the special force.

Danish Special Forces Jaeger Corps
Danish Special Forces Jaeger Corps operator on a bike somewhere in the Sahel

The Jaeger Corps specialise in land operations, including unconventional warfare, reconnaissance, and counterterrorism.

Fromandskorpset (FKP) – The Danish Frogmen

Denmark founded the Frogmen Corps even earlier than the Jaeger Corps – in 1957. The unit was modelled after the British Special Boat Squadron (SBS). Finally, the unit became a designated Special Forces unit in 1970. At this time, the Frogmen Corps operated under the Danish Navy’s diving school.

Danish Frogmen
(Img; Danish Frogmen; via Belzo)

The FKP operationally sits underneath the Royal Danish Navy Command, with its base in Kongsøre. Frogmen focus on special maritime operations. As a specialised unit in naval operations, Danish Frogmen are well equipped to deal with special operations and are trained in advanced scuba diving. In addition, they conduct support work on request for the Danish Police and any other military or naval authorities.

Slædepatruljen Sirius (SS) – Sirius Dog Sled Patrol

The Sirius Dog Sled Patrol, known colloquially as the Sirius Patrol, is a Danish Naval Unit specialising in Arctic Patrol. It is the oldest of all the Danish Special Forces, established in 1941. In 1933, Denmark was granted sovereignty over Greenland. While, the patrol was established during World War II to monitor and attack German weather bases. However, following the War, the force remained active in the region.  

The unit conducts long-range reconnaissance missions in North and East Greenland, patrolling Denmark’s areas of sovereignty. This is done exclusively by dog sled, which remains the most efficient way of traversing the unforgiving terrain.

Slædepatruljen Sirius - Sirius Dog Sled Patrol

Generally, the patrol teams are formed of six teams of two patrol officers who are tasked with patrolling the 8,900-mile coastline of North Greenland. Members of the Sirius Patrol have unique operational requirements – the teams can spend up to five months on patrol missions in complete solitude, in negative 40 degrees Celsius, with extended hours of darkness.

Interestingly, Crown Prince of Denmark, Frederik Christian, patrolled with the Sirius Patrol in 1995 and is a qualified Frogman.

Tactics, Techniques & Procedures (TTP)

Selection processes for all three of the Danish Special Forces Units are incredibly rigorous. Generally, existing Danish Army, Navy, and Air Service troops will apply for coveted placements within the Special Forces. The timeline of Special Forces Selections is as follows:

  1. Pre-Course – Candidates must take several pre-courses in land navigation, swimming, and basic shooting

  2. Patrol Course – An eight-week course, introductory operational training course

  3. Selection Course – An eight-week course, which includes training and testing to assess candidates’ suitability for Special Forces

  4. Physical Programme – Runs concurrently with the selection course – includes training and ongoing physical testing as part of the selection process

  5. Special Forces Selection – Following the above, the Special Forces operatives are selected from the remaining applicants

  6. Special Forces Training – Candidates begin their full training with the relevant force

  7. Probationary Year – Further training and operational support. Further relevant qualifications such as parachute training, extreme weather condition training, and vehicle training – *This is additional to any force-specific training, such as specific maritime, land, or snow training used primarily by each unit

Danish Special Forces often undergo training and operations in collaboration with foreign Special Forces, such as that of the US, UK, Sweden, and France.

However, very few operatives complete the entire selection and training course to become a member of the Danish Special Forces. In fact, on average, only 12 new Frogmen and 8 new Jaeger Corps are selected each year. In total, there are 6 teams of 2 Sirius Sled Dog Patrol operatives, however, there is no available data on how many personnel are trained for this role.

Danish Special Forces Weapons

All three of the Danish Special Forces units use similar weaponry. Most notable is the HK P11 pistol, designed with a 10 to 15-metre underwater range. Other known equipment include:

  • HK G3

  • HK G41

  • USP 9mm pistols

  • Glock 17

  • Glock 19

  • MRG M/95

  • .338 Lapua TRG-42

Notable Operations

Whilst often unseen, Danish Special Forces have been instrumental in strategic and operational successes for the country. For example, the forces operated in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghan Wars.

Operation Ocean Shield

Operation Ocean Shield was a NATO-led operation in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, which became part of the larger Operation Enduring Freedom – the US War on Terror. The mission specifically focussed on anti-piracy operations, running between August 2009 December 2016.

The operation was a significant multinational effort, with special forces from EU and NATO states deployed to the region. The Danish Frogmen Corps were deployed as part of the effort and were incredibly successful in the mission. As a result, in 2011, Frogmen intercepted a hijacked fishing vessel, Jelbut 16, which Somali pirates had seized.

Due to the incredibly varied nature of Danish Special Forces operations, Frogmen must be highly skilled in all manner of combat and have extensive Intelligence gathering, analysis, and interpersonal skills. Anonymous interviews with former Frogmen suggest that their duties often include leading meetings with local foreign leaders as part of peace negotiations and delivering key messages – what is now referred to as ‘Key Leader Engagement’ (KLE). KLE is not a typical responsibility of naval or military officers and is generally left to commanders and other senior leadership. However, it is a skill required of Danish Special Forces in their incredibly varied roles.

Task Force K-Bar & The Afghan War

Both the Jaeger Corps and Frogmen of Denmark deployed to Afghanistan as part of Task Force K-Bar – a coalition of multiple Special Forces comprised of almost 3,000 troops. The force operated between October 2001 to April 2002, with over 75 missions in the region.

Following the end of Task Force K-Bar, the presence of Danish Special Forces in Afghanistan did not end. It is reported that in 2006 Danish Defence sent Jaeger Corps specialised in sniping to Helmand, where Danish and British forces were suffering strategic losses to the Taliban. This deployment of the Jaeger Corps resulted in the extraction of a Danish military unit without any fatalities.


The US awarded the Jaeger Corps with a Presidential Unit Citation in 2004 for its work during the Afghan War, including the work conducted as part of Task Force K-Bar. Similarly, in 2014, Denmark won the Special Forces and Intelligence Operations Prize in France.

Recent Developments

In 2018, defence ministers of Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands announced the establishment of a joint Special Force command. The unit, named the Composite Special Operations Component Command (C-SOCC), announced its full operational capacity on the 7th of December 2020. As part of this, it is believed that the C-SOCC is formed of Special Forces operatives of these respective countries, including Jaeger Corps and Frogmen of Denmark, though this remains confidential.

 The member nations of C-SOCC committed the force to NATO for 2021 and will support any relevant NATO or UN Special Forces operations as required.


The Danish Special Forces personnel are highly specialised troops trained for unconventional warfare and non-standard reconnaissance missions. Although becoming a member of these Special Forces is incredibly challenging, such rigorous selection processes are required to ensure varied and challenging operations are completed successfully.


Operation Momentum: The Secret Laos Guerrilla Force

Hmong People Crossing the Laos-Vietnam Border in 1971
(Img; Hmong People Crossing the Laos-Vietnam Border in 1971; via Flickr)

The political stability of Laos crumbled on the outbreak of the Laotian Civil War in 1959; a war waged by the communist Lao People’s Liberation Army against the Royal Lao Government. Often called the ‘Secret War’, the Laos Civil War had both sides receiving significant clandestine support from Cold War adversaries. For the Kingdom of Laos, this would be the US, and for the Communist forces, sympathisers from Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The series of successful coups – beginning a year after the outbreak of civil war – only destabilised the Laotian political system further [source]. Although Laos had been overtaken by a politically ‘neutralist’ party, the war between the communists and monarchy supporters intensified. In the US, Red Scare hysteria grew domestically, considering the increasing prowess of the Soviet Union [source]. Accordingly, the US stepped up its efforts in the war on Communism, with Laos in the line of fire [source].

Operation Momentum

The Hmong People

The Hmong people are an ethnic minority group that settled in mountainous regions of Laos and Vietnam. With a rich cultural history through the occupation of remote regions, the Hmong people were almost entirely self-sufficient. The CIA saw significant opportunity in the guerrilla-style fighting capabilities of the Hmong people, which was already adapted to unconventional rural and jungle warfare. Ultimately, the CIA believed that the Hmong force would be best placed to attack groups of Communist Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese enemies, as a result of their extensive geographic and cultural understanding, as well as their unconventional warfare capabilities [source].  

The Hmong community too saw Communism as a threat to their autonomy and land ownership, which would make recruitment much easier [source]. Therefore, Operation Momentum was born: to arm and train an indigenous Hmong force as part of the US proxy war. 

A Plan in Action

The CIA ran Operation Momentum from 1960 until 1974. The plan, approved directly by the Kennedy administration, was to train an elite force of native guerrilla fighters. This force would assist US forces with covert military operations in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. This began on a small scale but ramped up significantly throughout the war [source]. At its height, Operation Momentum was costing US$500 million annually – equivalent to US$3.3 billion today [source].

In 1960, the CIA approached General Vang Pao, the charismatic and undisputed leader of the Hmong. In exchange for fighters, the CIA would provide training and supplies in what would theoretically be a mutually beneficial fight against the Communist insurgency. This would include aerial support, transport, weaponry, and other relevant military and civilian supplies [source]. Additionally, the CIA offered refuge in the US in the event of a military loss [source]. On this basis, General Vang Pao agreed.

Hmong Commander Vang Pao in 1961
                                              (Img; Hmong Commander Vang Pao in 1961; via Flickr)

Operation Momentum: The Largest Covert Operation in CIA History

Operation Momentum ultimately marked the beginning of the militarisation of the CIA [source]. The project, which experienced several early successes, grew significantly as the war continued. It is believed to be the CIA’s most extensive covert operation due to the enormous scale of training, operational support, and armament involved. Therefore, Operation Momentum is believed to be responsible for the training of over 19,000 troops, the average age of recruits being 15 years old [source]. The force grew to an estimated 30,000 personnel at its height.

The project ran through the presence of dedicated CIA agents within Laos, along with Thai Police Aerial Reinforcement. These agents would liaise with US Forces, the US embassy in Vientiane, and Air America to provide logistic support to Operation Momentum forces wherever possible [source].

A Loss of Momentum

The operation began to wind down in 1973 due to a political peace treaty signed in Paris. All US assistance was withdrawn by 1974. However, the Laos Civil War was still ongoing. Without US intervention, the Laotian force was significantly weakened. The Civil War continued for several years, though ultimately the Communist forces and North Vietnamese belligerents were victorious. In 1975, on the brink of the fall of Laos to communist forces, the US airlifted General Vang Pao and 2,500 Hmong fighters to safety in Thailand.

After Withdrawal

Although this was the end of the CIA’s involvement, this was not the end for surviving indigenous communities. Following its victory, the Pathet Lao administration designated the entire ethnic minority Hmong people as traitors to their country due to their allegiance to the monarchy and CIA during the civil war. As such, over 40,000 Hmong people fled from Laos, though it is believed a further 100,000 people died whilst being displaced from their homeland [source]. Whilst some Hmong people, mainly fighters, made it to the US, the CIA did not keep its promise of offering a safe new home for the majority of Hmong people who were displaced as a result of the Civil War [source].

250-pound bombs used to fight Northern Vietnamese forces in Laos, image taken in US and Laotian shared Military Base
(Img; 250-pound bombs used to fight Northern Vietnamese forces in Laos, image taken in US and Laotian shared Military Base; via

Human Rights Watch allege that Hmong people continued to be persecuted on the basis of their ethnicity and religious background as recently as 2008, illustrating that deep scars remain on this community as a result of the Laos Civil War [source]. Thailand continues to extradite Hmong refugees back to Laos, in spite of the significant humanitarian risks [source]. General Vang Pao later died in exile in the US in 2011 [source].


Operation Momentum remains one of the largest-scale clandestine interventions the CIA has ever undertaken. The mission is controversial; whilst aiding an under-militarised people, the mission was ultimately unsuccessful and led to the ethnic persecution of an indigenous community for decades to come. To this day, Laos holds the title for the most heavily bombed country in world history [source], which highlights the destruction and bloodshed that Operation Momentum left in its wake.


MACV-SOG: Secret Operations in Vietnam

MACV-SOG Recon Team Habu was commanded by US Army Green Beret member Nick Brokhausen together with indigenous Montagnard tribesmen, Vietnam War.

In 1964, owing to the US’ increasing number of military activities within Vietnam, US military structure underwent a marked change. Thus, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Studies and Operations Group (MACV-SOG) was established in January 1964. Sometimes simply referred to as the ‘SOG’, the inconspicuously named unit was responsible for all manner of reconnaissance, special operations, and psyops in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

The MACV-SOG Emblem
(Img; the MACV-SOG Emblem; via SOGsite)

The group was comprised of Navy SEALs, Marine Recons, Air Force Special Operations soldiers, and Army Special Forces operatives [source]. The force was above top secret – operatives swore to secrecy for over 20 years. This sadly meant that families of MACV-SOG members were not informed if their loved ones were killed in action [source].

Operational Structure

Command Control

The MACV-SOG fell underneath the control of the US Military Assistance Command Vietnam, the US military command offering military assistance to South Vietnam. The Military Assistance Command was a subsidiary of the US Indo-Pacific Command. The first commander of the MACV-SOG was Colonel Clyde Russell.

The MACV-SOG had headquarters in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), with its subordinate units having multiple operational bases throughout Vietnam and surrounding territories [source].

However, some reports suggest that the MACV-SOG had direct instruction from the Pentagon on specific missions [source].

Subsidiary Units

In the early years of the MACV-SOG, the unit operated in smaller units under a singular command. This created a complex command structure that was difficult to maintain due to the highly varied demands of each region.

(Img; MACV-SOG Command Structure; via WikiCommons)

As the unit matured and the Vietnam war progressed, the MACV-SOG split into regional commands:

  • Command and Control North (based in Da Nang) – operated in Southern Laos and Northern Cambodia
  • Command and Control Central (Based in Kontum) – conducted similar operations as Command and Control North, by operating in Southern Laos and Northern Cambodia
  • Command and Control South (Based in Ban Me Thout) – operated exclusively in Southern Cambodia.


The equipment carried by MACV-SOG was significantly different to that of the mainstream army forces, owing to the unconventional warfare they undertook. The unit primarily carried the CAR-15 [source].

In addition, depending on mission requirements, MACV-SOG operatives also carried:

  • AK-47
  • 40mm M79 – often modified to reduce weight
  • V-22 grenades
  • M-26 fragmentation grenades
  • Claymore Mines

During the early years of the Vietnam war, the US denied it had any troops operating outside of South Vietnam. As a result, SOG operators wore sterilised uniforms and carried weaponry without serial numbers to avoid detection [source]. This is also a contributing reason for MACV-SOG operators to also use captured AK-47s, RPKs, and RPDs.

MACV-SOG also dabbled in experimental weaponry. The “Gyrojet” pistol was a firearm that fired miniature rockets, dubbed “Microjets”, instead of bullets that gyroscopically kept the bullet in balance. It was surprising light and transportable and in turn was known to be used by the unit. (Source)

MACV-SOG operators also had an affinity for captured weaponry and fitting it to their needs in combat. The RPD was a popular LMG that when captured would be “chopped.” In shortening the barrels MACV-SOG units saw increased mobility, and allowed them to continue fighting with captured enemy ammunition in the field.

Notable Operations

Although much of the details of MACV-SOG operations remain classified, the MACV-SOG undertook numerous reconnaissance missions across borders. Many of these missions were the most dangerous and sensitive of any covert action undertaken during the time.

For example, OP-35, the ‘Ground Studies’ group of MACV-SOG, undertook hundreds of cross-border operations between 1966 and 1972 [source]. It is believed that OP-35 had a force of up to 2,500 US personnel and 8,000 indigenous troops [source], segmented into smaller teams as small as 10 men. These tended to include a mixture of US Green Beret troops, specialised in unconventional warfare, as well as local war fighters. These indigenous troops, colloquially known as “little people”, came from multiple regional countries such as China, Cambodia, and South Vietnam [source]. Indigenous people were key to the SOG’s success. This is because they brought a wealth of intelligence surrounding local geography, language, and culture.

OP-35 Personnel, SubUnit of MACV-SOG
(Img; OP-35 Personnel, SubUnit of MACV-SOG; via

Operation 34A

Operation 34A began in 1961. This highly classified CIA operation was a string of largely unsuccessful covert attacks in North Vietnam. These failed missions, comprised of both air and naval infiltration, led to loss of life for personnel entering via parachute and boat.

To increase the chances of success, Operation 34A was transferred to MACV-SOG in July of 1964. MACV-SOG was tasked with covert missions against Northern Vietnam. The unit was supported by an increase of 130 SIGINT personnel to support their monitoring and infiltration operations [source]. This led to a significant increase in the number of operations being undertaken by MACV-SOG: evidence suggests that offensive operations were being launched almost daily.

On the night of the 30th of July 1964, MACV-SOG launched a midnight naval assault on the Vietnamese islands of Hon Me and Hon Nieu. In the early hours of the 31st of July, MACV-SOG personnel began their assault on the Vietnamese islands.

However, attacks on both of the islands were unsuccessful. On Hon Me, South Vietnamese operatives opened fire from shore, forcing US retreat. This rendered their plan to plant explosive charges completely unsuccessful. On Hon Neiu, the result was similar: US forces retreated within 45 minutes of beginning their offensive [source].

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident

As a result of Operation 34A, North Vietnamese forces became increasingly suspicious of US naval presence, building up their own presence around the islands of Hon Me and Hon Nieu. Their increased SIGINT capabilities meant increased monitoring of US vessels. Whilst US naval forces did indeed intercept Vietnamese messages indicating that they were imminently launching offensives on US vessels, these went largely ignored [source]. As a result, on August 2nd, the USS Maddox came under attack by 3 Vietnamese torpedo boats.

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident directly led to the US’ increased involvement in the Vietnam War. US Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7th of 1964. This resolution allowed President Johnson the power to ‘retaliate and to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in Southeast Asia’ [source]. This effectively gave the US government a legal basis to become further involved in the Vietnam War.

Whilst the US initially blamed North Vietnam for the unforeseen bombardments, later declassified documentation showed the MACV-SOG’s involvement in clandestine monitoring and attack operations prior to the Incident, highlighting the US’ culpability.

A Vietnamese Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving day of 1968, MACV-SOG was tasked with arguably its most challenging mission yet. Army Intelligence had lost the position of multiple North Vietnamese army divisions. This meant that there were 30,000 Northern Vietnamese troops unaccounted for.

MACV-SOG were tasked with locating the enemy troops to update US Army Intelligence. This was assigned to one specific MACV-SOG team who were best placed in the area the troops were last located: ST Idaho. ST Idaho was comprised of only six men: four indigenous troops, and two Green Berets [source]. They were led by John Stryker Meyer, as pictured below.

John Stryker Meyer (Left) and Lynne Black Jr. (Right
(Img; John Stryker Meyer (Left) and Lynne Black Jr. (Right); via Sandboxx)

6 Versus 30,000

The State Department had strict rules for engagement in Cambodia, meaning that air support was not an option whilst they were on this mission. Meyer and ST Idaho were completely on their own.

Meyer and his team began their search for the missing troops. Soon, they located an enemy camp that appeared to be empty. The team raided the camp for any clues about enemy whereabouts. However, after a short amount of time, one of the team’s indigenous personnel was alerted to an enemy approach. ST Idaho quickly began exfiltration, and just in time, hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers began to flood the camp, opening fire at the MACV-SOG unit [source].

ST Idaho quickly made their way to their landing zone, lobbing grenades and firing at the North Vietnamese forces as they moved. US gunships manned by Green Hornets airlifted ST Idaho away from the landing zone, with the team barely escaping with their lives.

Other Operations

Other common missions included counterintelligence through bugging of enemy communication systems, infiltrating enemy strongholds, and any other assignments that would allow US forces to gain more information on the number and location of Vietnamese troops throughout the continent [source]. As the group was comprised of highly trained troops from well-trained US forces, the group regularly undertook specialised operations such as high-altitude parachute jumps behind enemy lines and naval missions [source]. The MACV-SOG was also responsible for with the recovery of wounded soldiers.

Disbandment and Recognition

The MACV-SOG, whist instrumental to the war effort, has one of the highest casualty rates of any US force. The force’s casualty rate exceeded 100% – every single SOG officer was wounded at least once, and over half of the force was killed in action [source].

MACV-SOG was ultimately deactivated on the 29th of March 1973 [source]. Subsequently, this became the US National Vietnam War Veterans Day from 2017. Owing to the secret nature of the work, much of the information surrounding the covert force is only just becoming available within the public domain.

In 2001, MACV-SOG received the Presidential Unit Citation for its efforts during the 60s and 70s [source].


The inconspicuously named “Military Assistance Command” was a large clandestine intelligence operating throughout Asia. Ultimately, the group’s operations were instrumental to the success of the US war effort in Vietnam.

This piece was contributed to by Wes Martin


Kor Risik Diraja: Malaysia’s Intelligence Unit

KRD during a retirement ceremony; via

Kor Risik Diraja has been operating for 52 years, although much of their operations remain highly classified. The Kor Risik (in English, the ‘Intelligence Corps’) was established in November 1969 to unify the previously fractured intelligence units of the Malaysian army into one body.

The unit was officially awarded ‘royal’ status in recognition of its comtribution to the security of Malaysia in 1997, and thereafter was called Kor Risik Diraja (in English, the ‘Royal Intelligence Corps’).

Today, the KRD is responsible for “planning and implementing Intelligence collection, processing, evaluation and dissemination in the interests of the Malaysian Army and the Malaysian Armed Forces General” [source].

Director General of Defence Intelligence and Chairman of the KRD, General Datuk Ahmad Norihan Jalal, addresses troops during a retirement ceremony
(Img; Director General of Defence Intelligence and Chairman of the KRD, General Datuk Ahmad Norihan Jalal, addresses troops during a retirement ceremony; via

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)

The KRD is comprised of multiple units:

  • Defence Staff Intelligence Division – Established in 1981, the unit is responsible for the coordination of national Intelligence strategy.
  • 165th Army Intelligence Battalion – Tactical Intelligence and covert action unit of the KRD.
  • 91st Special Combat Intelligence Regiment – This unit is responsible for combat within the KRD. Members are specialists in unconventional warfare.
  • 92nd Military Special Branch Battalion – The unit is responsible for all specialist intelligence, most of its activities are unknown.
  • 93rd Electronic Warfare and Signals Regiment – This unit, as its name suggests, this unit specialises in electronic and signals warfare. Established in 1968, the unit initially had 14 members. However, it is one of the biggest units of the KRD, though exact membership numbers are currently unknown.
  • The Intelligence Branch – Undertakes various Intelligence activities as tasked by the Director General.
  • Intelligence Administration Department.
  • Intelligence Training Centre.
The KRD Emblem
(Img; The KRD emblem; via WikiCommons)

Recent Operations

Communist Rising

In recent years, Malaysian military forces have been focussed on monitoring and countering communist insurgencies within the country. In 2019, there were reports of meetings of up to 400 people, including former members of the Malayan Communist Party (CPM), sparking security fears of communist rebellion within the region. The rising communist threat has therefore been the KRD’s priority also. The KRD has been responsible for monitoring the rise of communist ideologies within the country.

Cyber Security

In 2019, the Chief of Defence Operations Steering Committee stated that the unit is aiming to update its cyber technology to increase its cyber capabilities ‘in line with developed countries’. This suggests a significant shift to improve the force’s online abilities, in light of increasing security threats such as cyber-attacks and social media misinformation campaigns.

Other Modern Operations

The KRD and Malaysian military at large are increasingly open about their activities to the public. As part of its Golden Jubilee in 2019, the KRD held an open Exhibition to show its technology and educate about the KRD’s function within the Malaysian Army.

Kor Risik Diraja: Malaysia's Intelligence Unit
KRD Members during a retirement ceremony; via


As a result of its specialist operations and contribution to national security, the unit and its operatives are highly decorated. Operatives have received the ‘Grand Knight of Valour’ award, the highest military award that can be bestowed. Multiple other KRD members have received ‘Star of the Commander of Valour’, the second-highest award possible. Other operatives have also received the Malaysian Gift of Courage, another military recognition award.


The Royal Intelligence Corps, or Kor Risik Diraja, is a Malaysian military unit responsible for intelligence gathering and analysis, counterintelligence, reconnaissance, and propaganda. Comprised of multiple specialist units, the force is integral in the security and Intelligence operations of the Malaysian Army.


The New Zealand Special Air Service: Who Dares Wins

(Img; New Zealand Special Air Service on a training exercise; via

The New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) is proof that elite Special operations units exist beyond the ones commonly associated with that designator. DEVGRU, Delta Force, SAC, British Special Air Service (SAS): the usual suspects that often come to mind, that the public assumes handle the most sensitive unconventional missions around the world.

The New Zealand Special Air Service stays relatively under the radar as far as media attention goes, which isn’t the worst thing for that line of work. Behind the shadows of the NZSAS lies a fascinating origin story, and a rather unknown legacy shaped by participation in international special operations.


Long Range Desert Group

World War II was a breeding ground for the prototypes of modern-day special operations units. That includes the New Zealand Special Air Service, along with its close relative, the British SAS. North Africa was contested in WW2, with Italy the predominant Axis occupier, and the British as their primary belligerent. The relentless open desert and scorching dry heat posed new challenges to military personnel. This is particularly true for intelligence gathering and the undetected deep infiltration of enemy lines.

Special circumstances called for the raising of a new unit to tackle that problem, and thus the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) birthed in June 1940. The unit was inititally under the command of British Maj. Ralph Bagnold. Bagnold had experience navigating through the desert in the 1920s and 1930s, during the gap between the two Great Wars. His experience and personal character made him a prime candidate to spearhead the LRDG, which shaped into a unique force.

The unit specialised in “long-range reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, direct action, and infiltration and exfiltration of other special-operations units.” The LRDG would therefore form the basis of the modern New Zealand Special Air Service.

Post-War NZSAS

In the post-war era, 1955, the New Zealand Army used the experienced soldiers from the LRDG and similar operations to form what would eventually become the New Zealand Special Air Service to model their commonwealth partners in the British SAS.

The service conducted operations in Southeast Asian countries including Thailand, Malaya, East Timor, and Vietnam, as well as Kuwait, Papua New Guinea, and most recently Afghanistan.

Long Range Desert Group personnel in World War II
(Img; Long Range Desert Group personnel in World War II; via picryl)

Selection Process

The process of selection for the modern New Zealand Special Air Service does not digress from its high tier counterparts. Therefore, attrition rates in selection are astronomically low; between 2013-2017, 243 candidates attempted selection. However, only 31 made it to the next stage.

The selection process include rigorous physical and mental exercises, all with minimal sleep and nutrition, and conducted in various terrains. Being in prime physical shape is a requirement, but possessing a sound mind that shows a genuine desire to be a part of the NZSAS is the ultimate deciding factor for candidates. The ability to work on a team is a requirement, and peer evaluations help identity those who miss the mark.

Training Programme

Candidates who make it past selection have only just begun the long training pipeline. Following completion, new operators receive the prestigious title and uniform designators possessed by all NZASA operators. Initial training takes a minimum of four months, with further specialised training courses taken depending on placement. The pipeline itself is, like many other aspects of the branch, a mirrored version of similar units. It includes:

  • Demolition
  • Medical
  • Airborne
  • Diving
  • Communications
  • Mountaineering
  • Any other skills required to conduct special operations missions
(Vid; NZSAS Training Overview; via NZ Defence Force on YT)


Units within the New Zealand Special Air Service have diversity in skill sets yet operate underneath the umbrella of a few specific core tasks.

  • Special Reconnaissance – like their origins with the LRDG, special reconnaissance tasks require units to conduct operations deep behind enemy lines, with minimal support and facing austere and potentially volatile conditions.
  • Direct Action – direct action tasks are some of the more straightforward types of special operations, such as conducting raids on maritime vessels, or search and rescue operations.
  • Combating Terrorism – counterterrorism for NZSAS personnel means partnering with other national government forces, especially in the light of a active terrorist threat
  • Support and Influence – support and influence operations are like the work conducted by United States Green Berets. They can task NZSAS personnel with the support and training of host nation defence forces and developing their internal security programs.

Unit Composition

The force is small, which is reflected in their basic unit breakdown.

  • A&B Squadron – these are the two primary special forces squadrons underneath the NZSAS organizational structure. Personnel within the units are the primary operators, who assist in the planning and execution of missions within the core task fields.
  • D Squadron (Commando Squadron) – counterterrorism is the bread and butter of D squadron – specifically within New Zealand and its surrounding territories. Commandos go through a specialized selection catered to their unit mission, followed by a four-month long training pipeline that focuses on cultivating skills, including:
    • close quarters combat
    • marksmanship
    • tactical insertion over multiple types of terrain
    • intelligence/reconnaissance gathering.
  • E Squadron (Explosive Ordinance Disposal Squadron) – Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) operators in E Squadron are not required to complete the same rigorous selection process as the other tactical personnel, but still must complete a highly shortened version called Special Operations Forces Induction Course (SOFIC). The course teaches basic skills to mesh EOD techs with their counterparts. The core tasks of E Squadron mirror other EOD units across the world.
  • Support Squadron – special operations cannot be completed without logistical, administrative, and other forms of support. That is where Support Squadron comes in. Personnel in this Squadron must complete SOFIC, and deploy with the other units, albeit in their own specialized support capacity.

Recent Operations

Female Engagement Team

The Female Engagement Team (FEM) was established in 2017 to support Special Operations Force Objectives. The unit works closely with the NZSAS to provide operational support where it would be culturally more appropriate for female rather than male operatives to work. As a result, the operatives in this unit receive much of the similar training to other units, as well as training in regional culture, communication skills, and reconnaissance.

NZSAS: The New Zealand Special Air Service Female Engagement Team

2021 Afghanistan Evacuation

The New Zealand Special Air Service’s most recent activity was in the 2021 extraction of NATO forces from Kabul, Afghanistan. According to a press release from the New Zealand defence department,

“The safe passage of hundreds of evacuees from Afghanistan was made possible by an elite group of New Zealand soldiers who used code words and tactical landmarks to assist their efforts in an attempt to avoid chaotic and dangerous scenes… The turbulent and dangerous environment saw Special Forces troops, including the Female Engagement Team, move deep into the security area designated around HKIA, at times utilising a canal, to reach those they had been sent to help, guiding them through the crowds to points on the perimeter where they could be brought into the airport, secured, and safely evacuated.”

Afghanistan was once the home to a selection of NATO nations, as part of the US-led war campaign. New Zealand had a presence there, and the NZSAS conducted operations to support the overarching global mission. For example, Operation Burnham was one of such.

A detachment of Kiwi operators conducted a planned night raid in the Tirgiran Valley, in October 2010. In the aftermath, around seven Afghan nationals and one girl were killed. The caveat is that they did not confirm the Afghan KIA to have been insurgents, and then later covered up the results of the raid, including the death of the young girl. Subsequently, a cover-up from the command and other details led to an eventual investigation and report.

NZSAS: The New Zealand Special Air Service


Owing to its success as a Special Forces Unit, the NZSAS and its operatives are highly decorated. The unit has received numerous honours. Notably, the Governor-General of New Zealand awarded Corporal Willie Apiata with the Victoria Cross for New Zealand in 2007. Similarly, the unit received a Presidential Unit Citation for its contribution to Task Force K-BAR as part of the War in Afghanistan from 2001.


The NZSAS is an experienced Special Forces unit that has experience in unconventional warfare and all manner of intelligence tradecraft. The unit continues to work closely with other international Special Forces to achieve its strategic objectives.

This artcile was written by Abbi Clarck and Michael Ellmer


The Israeli Special Forces

Israeli Special Forces
(Img; Members of the Shayetet 13 on a training exercise; via imgur)

The Israeli Special Forces consist of multiple units with alternating operational foci and specializations. As highly specialised units, they operate on domestic, regional, and international levels. Unit specializations come into play underneath these tiers, with some conducting operations to protect Israeli soil from within, and others conducting covert operations abroad.


The modern-day Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were bred from the stock of pre-Israeli-state resistance groups, with the first infantry unit, the Golani Infantry Brigade, being activated in 1948. Various elements of the IDF forces carried out reconnaissance and intelligence gathering operations until the creation of Unit 30 in 1951. Unit 30 was initially a specialized unit dedicated to unconventional operations, carried out by small units. The subpar performance led to the unit’s disbandment in 1952, but out its ashes came the next evolution of Israeli Special Forces: Unit 101

On the 5th of August 1953, Unit 101 was formed under the command of future Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Unit 30, its predecessor, passed on the same mission for 101. Subsequently, counter-terrorism training was conducted to the new commandos, along with other special operations-esque skill development, like small unit tactics and land navigation.

After a series of problematic events, Unit 101 was disbanded, a mere five months after its formation. A botched raid on the West Bank, taking place on the 11th of October 1953, resulted in almost 70 civilian causalities. Condemnation was levied against Unit 101 by the U.N. Security Council, and the remnants of the unit were absorbed into the IDF Paratroopers Brigade.



Unlike other national defence organisations, Israel does not have one centralised Special Operations Force. All units sit underneath the IDF, but each operationally report into the relevant command force. As a result, units can train exclusively in the relevant specialised unconventional warfare.

Organisation of IDF Special Forces

(Img; Organisation of IDF. via Abbi Clark / Haeyeon Lim)

The Units can be overall categorised as either:

  1. Reconnaissance Units (Sayeret)
  2. Counterterrorism Units (Mista’arvim)


Commando Brigade

The Commando Brigade, which sits under the command of the Israeli Ground Forces, contains a selection of different SOF units:

  • Duvdevan (Unit 217): Duvdevan has been operational since 1986 and has a focus on both overt and covert operations in Judea and Samaria. It specializes in counterterrorism within the dense populations in those regions.
  • Maglan (Unit 212): Maglan specializes in direct action missions deep behind enemy lines, as well as deep reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.
  • Egoz (Unit 621): Egoz have a primary battlespace in the Northern parts of Israel, with a focus on guerilla style warfare against Hezbollah.
  • Rimon (Unit 685): The Rimon unit was closed in 2018, and remaining personnel were transferred into the Maglan unit. Rimon was tasked with the primary mission of operating in Southern Israel, specifically along the Gaza Border, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Negev. Desert operations were their specialty, and they could conduct both covert and overt operations.

Operational Units

  • Oketz Unit: Oketz is a IDF canine unit that consists of trained dogs and their handlers. These human/canine teams work in counterterrorism missions, as well as other specialized roles.
  • Unit 669: 669 is very similar in training and mission to members of the US Air Force pararescue community. The primary use is aerial search-and-rescue missions and the extraction of downed Israeli pilots.
  • Shayetet 13: 13 specializes in maritime operations but can also function on land and in the air. This unit is like the US Navy SEALs, both in mission and training.
  • Sayeret Matkal: Sayeret Matkal is the premier unit in the Israeli Special Forces. Its history goes back to 1957, and within its ranks were former members of Unit 101 and the Paratroopers Brigade. Their primary mission is intelligence collection and deep reconnaissance, as well as hostage rescue and counterterrorism on an international scale. They are similar to the British Special Air Service and US Delta Force.

Israeli Special Forces
(Img; Israeli Special Forces during a joint exercise in Cyprus; via Flickr)

Other Special Operations

Finally, the IDF have other specialised forces within land, air, and naval forces:

  • Shaldag – Reporting into the Israeli Air Force – One of the most elite and classified units, very little is publicly known about the Shaldag. The name of the unit translates to ‘kingfisher’, owing to the airborne nature of their operations.
  • YALTAM Unit – Reporting into the Israeli Navy – a maritime specialist unit, the YALTAM conduct complex underwater missions such as costal reconnaissance and defusal of naval mines.
  • Alpinist Unit – Reporting into the IDF’s Northern Command –This unit specializes in mountain warfare in the Northern front. The unit requirements are unique in that personnel must ski and operate snowcats to traverse unconventional terrain.
  • Yahalom Unit – Reporting into the Israeli Engineering Combat Corps, a subsidiary of the Israeli Ground Force – This unit is a specialist engineering and technology unit with varied tasks. Undertaking a mix of reconnaissance and direct action, the unit’s tasks include identifying and removing landmines, subterranean warfare, and additionally white-water crossings.
  • Skylark & Moran Units – Sits operationally underneath the Israeli Ground Force – these units are specialists in UAVs and missile technology. Much of their operational responsibilities remain classified, however the units conduct military intelligence and support other units where required.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)

Recruitment and Training

The IDF holds Yom Sayerot – Special Forces Selection Day. Personnel must be successful in Yom Sayerot to be able to apply for selection to any Special Operations Force later. The testing runs over five days, testing candidates on all manner of attributes:

  • Aerobic Endurance
  • Resistance Training
  • Survival training
  • Medical Aptitude
  • Psychological readiness

Recruits undergo further training depending on the operational requirements of the force they join. For most Special Forces, the training lasts between 12 and 24 months. However, certain units, such as the Alpinist Unit, draw recruits from existing military officers, and as such, the selection and training processes will vary considerably.

Israel’s Special Forces recruitment and training are incredibly rigorous, owing to the nature of the job. The rigour of these exercises has led to injuries of new recruits. As a result, a review in 2019 recommended that military leadership restructure these exercises with more emphasis on personal health and safety.

(Video; Israeli Special Forces on Joint Training Exercises; via @IDF)

International Efforts

The Israeli Special Forces Units regularly participate in international joint exercises. Members of the Commando Brigade have attended training exercises with both Cyprus and Greece in recent years. Similarly, owing to the elite nature of the forces, Israeli Special Forces have also trained foreign forces, such as Peruvian Special Forces.


There is very little verifiable information available regarding the weaponry used by Israeli Special Forces. However, analysis of the IDK shows that up to 2020, 83% of Israel’s arms imports come from the US, with the rest of arms imports being exclusively from Western countries such as Germany, France, and the UK.

Limited reporting suggests the Israeli Special Forces may use:

  • Colt M4 carbine
  • Remington 870 combat shotgun
  • Para Micro-Uzi submachine gun
  • Colt M4A1 SOPMOD
  • M89SR sniper rifle
  • Glock 17/19C

It is also likely that SOF have access to missile equipment. Each individual unit is likely to have further specialised equipment tailored to the unit’s unique requirements, such as specialist vehicles.

Notable Operations

Missions in Egypt

Israel has increasingly been growing relations with Egypt. This is largely due to common aims of securing the Sinai region and peninsula, and resource cooperation. Therefore, Egyptian and Israeli forces are stepping up border control efforts to counter regional security issues.

The IDF deployed Special Operation Forces to the Israel-Egypt border in 2012, as well as deploying the Rimon unit to the Northern area of the border. The increasing ties between the two counties have allowed military collaboration to continue through to 2021, including the use of SOF.

Conflict in Gaza

Israeli Special Operations Forces form part of the Israeli effort in the clashes in Gaza.

The Special Unit, confirmed in 2019 to be Sayeret Matkal personnel, was conducting reconnaissance in Gaza for weeks prior to the high profile clash with Hamas forces.

The unit adopted aliases and forged documentation, provided by the Military Intelligence Directorate. Their mission was to plant listening devices on Hamas communication systems. However, a Hamas Patrol Unit stopped the operatives, comprised of eight undercover personnel.

Israeli Special Forces
(Img; Israel Defense Forces training in CQB/ urban environment fighting tactics; via Times of Israel)

Ultimately, the stop and search resulted in a firefight, wherein Israeli Special Forces were forced to use weaponry. This resulted in the death of Hamas Commander Nour Baraka, and a swift escalation in conflict within Gaza. This is a rare instance of such a failure of a covert SOF mission in Israel.

Recent Developments: Mission Momentum

In 2020, Israel announced the large-scale restructuring of its entire defence forces. The plan, titled Momentum, aims to optimise the operational efficiency of all units within Israeli defence, including Special Forces. Although it is yet to be seen how this will impact operational command of SOF units, it is believed the restructure will involve more collaboration between individual forces, to pull on the relative strengths of each unit.


Israel has a highly developed Special Operations capability, owed to its many units and large military expenditure. It is no doubt that, because of such a number of special operations units, Israeli Defence Forces have very broad but advanced capabilities in many terrains and unconventional warfare scenarios.

This article was written via collaboration between our two analysts Abbi Clark and Michael Ellmer.