Confidential

ESTSOF: Estonian Special Operations Forces

Estonian Special Forces
(Img; Estonian Special Forces; via ESTSOF on Facebook)

Introduction

Analysis suggests that Estonia has the most developed total defence and unconventional warfare processes and capabilities of any Baltic state [source]. Much of this is due to the Estonian Special Operation Forces; a highly specialised unit responsible for all manner of special operations.

Background/History

Relative to other national Special Operations Forces, Estonia’s formal special operations are relatively new. Estonian Commander of Defence signed a directive to create a Special Operations Force in 2008. As a result, Estonia created the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG). The SOTG operated underneath the Military Intelligence Batallion, primarily tasked with reconnaissance missions.

In 2012, the Estonian government voted for SOTG to become a semi-autonomous unit. As a result, in 2013 SOTG became a separate unit reporting directly into the Commander of the Defence Forces. Finally, in 2014, Estonian Special Operations Force (ESTSOF) was created, and SOTG became a subsidiary unit of ESTOF.

Modern Structure & Leadership

The first commander of the Estonian Special Forces was Colonel Riho Ühtegi. He held the position from 2012 to 2019. In 2019, Ühtegi left the post and became the commander of the Estonian Defence League (Eesti Kaitseliit). The Defence League is a paramilitary organisation that works closely with other Estonian defence organisations and the Estonian government.

The current commander of the Estonian Special Operations Force is Lieutenant Colonel Margus Kuul. Kuul has held this position since 2019.

Estonian Special Forces Personnel
(Img; Estonian Special Forces Personnel; via ESTSOF on Facebook)

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP)

Strategic Aims

Estonia’s Special Operation Forces has missions closely aligned to that of NATO SOF Doctrine, including but not limited to [source]:

  • Civil and Military Assistance
  • Strategic and Operational Reconnaissance
  • Cyber Network Operations
  • Direct Action
  • Personnel and Materiel Recovery

Selection

To become an Estonian Special Forces officer, applicants must have completed the mandatory conscription military service, completed secondary education, and have both Estonian and English language skills [source]. Additionally, applicants must not have a criminal record and be able to obtain security clearance as part of the enlistment process.

Little data is available on the selection tests for the Estonian Special Forces. However, the Estonian Defence Authorities stat that tests include:

  • General physical ability
  • Swimming
  • Diving
  • Language capabilities
  • Orienteering
  • Psychological resilience

Training

An Estonian Special Operations operator is hoisted to US Air Force CV-22 Osprey during extraction training
(Img; An Estonian Special Operations operator is hoisted to US Air Force CV-22 Osprey during extraction training; via @US_SOCEUR on Twitter)

ESTSOF officers complete significant training once inducted into the Special Operations Force. The training likely lasts a minimum of 3 years, including personal development, qualification in special operations, and other specialised training [source].

In addition, the Estonian Special Forces as a whole complete ongoing training with international forces, most notably the US SOF [source].

Equipment

Estonian Special Forces are known to use a variety of weaponry, including:

  • HK MP5
  • HK MP7
  • Glock 19
  • HK G36
  • HK 416A5

In February 2021, Margus Kull, the Commander of the Estonian Special Forces, confirmed the force planned to replace older equipment throughout the year [source]. Therefore, the unit will introduce the HK 416 and the Glock 19. He cited ESTSOF’s requirement for accuracy, reliability in unconventional environments, and ease of handling as motivations for this [source].

Paramilitary Support – Estonian Defence League

The Estonian Defence League (Eesti Kaitseliit) is a voluntary and non-political paramilitary force. Formed in 1918, the force works closely with governmental forces. Although not officially a governmental force, the Estonian Defence League supports the Estonian Ministry of Defence and has legal authorisation to hold military exercises and possess military equipment [source].

In its everyday role, the Estonian Defence League support all civil services, including the fire service and police force. However, duties also include supporting the Estonian military and Special Forces where required.

In terms of organisation, the Estonian Defence League has multiple units [source]:

  • Headquarters of League Defence
  • Regional Defence Districts
    • District Units house each of the 15 county-level units
  • Cyber Defence Unit
  • Defence League School
  • Women’s Home Defence
  • Affiliated Youth Organisations

The current commander of the Estonian Defence League is Brigadier General Riho Ühtegi. This is significant as Ühtegi is the former Commander of Estonian Special Operation Forces from 2012 to 2019.

Notable Operations

Task Force Takuba

Task Force Takuba, established in March 2020, is an international force aimed to bring stability to the Sahel region [source]. The force falls underneath Operation Barkhane – a counter-terrorism mission in Liptako-Gourma region. The Task Force includes personnel from France, Czech Republic, and Sweden.

As part of the task force, the Estonian Ministry of Defence sent approximately 30 Estonian Special Forces personnel to Mali [source]. These officers are stationed at Gao and are assigned to the 4th Light Reconnaissance and Intervention Unit (ULRI) of the Malian Army, along with French support. Estonian Special Forces assist with training of Malian forces, as well as provide support to reconnaissance and monitoring operations.  Therefore, Special Forces aim to increase COIN readiness of the host nation.

Afghanistan

Previously, Estonian military personnel were stationed in Afghanistan since 2003. However, the mission required further specialised support. Therefore, Estonia deployed ESTSOF in support.

Estonian Special Forces formed part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Therefore, from 2012 to 2014, Estonian personnel were stationed to assist with stabilising Afghanistan. Consequently, the missions included providing military assistance and training to the Afghan National Army and local police forces.

Recent Developments

The Estonian Special Operations Forces regularly participate in multinational joint training exercises. Moreover, this includes military, air, and other unconventional operations [source]. Most joint operations are conducted with the US, Baltic States, and relevant NATO allied forces [source].

In its 2026 forecast, the Estonian Military of Defence states that it aims to develop its intelligence and warning functions, as well as cyber capabilities [source]. This is therefore likely to include further development and funding of Estonian Special Forces.

Summary

The Estonian Special Forces are a highly specialised unconventional warfare unit with advanced capabilities. As a result, the unit is well known in the international intelligence community and is often requested to participate in multinational missions.

Confidential

The Caravan Hunters: Task Force Curtain

Caravan Hunters during the Caravan war

The Caravan War

What are the options available when facing an actor in an unconventional warfare environment? To cut off the supply chain and limit long-term operating capabilities, for example. In 1984, the Soviet Union decided to attempt this strategy in its own unconventional manner. The armed forces created brigades of caravan hunters to track down approximately 200 supply routes from Pakistan and Iran into Afghan territory.

Operation Curtain was as much detective work as it was the responsibility of special forces detachments. An estimation of 80,000 troops is needed to close or closely monitor the entire Afghanistan – Pakistan border. On the other hand, 2 brigades held the responsibility of monitoring the border. The caravan hunters faced an unlikely successful scenario, even if logistics and structure provided more support.  

In 1984, the Afghan war reached its mid-point mark and the Soviet Union, meanwhile, failed to deter the Mujahideen. The geographic conditions and nature of the war required an increase in support to deter the Caravans. The USSR doubled down on initial approaches. The creation of special forces detachments, or caravan hunters, along the borders marked the beginning of the ‘Caravan War’. Unorganised and semi-autonomous, by 1988 the detachments only managed to stop between 12-15% of caravans.

The structure and method of fighting Caravans

Operation Curtain likely depended on the nature and effectiveness of special forces. Although motorised rifle battalions monitored conventional routes, the supply of caravans required the use of unconventional warfare. The caravan hunters, stemming from GRU special forces, deployed in 2 brigades to prevent the flow of materials through ‘unconventional’ routes.

Despite the significance of the operation and its bureaucracy, the reinforcement of special forces was unorganised and rushed. The 15th and 22nd special brigades managed 4 detachments each, 6 being created, prepared, and deployed between 1984-1985. Simultaneously in 1984-85, reconnaissance units are strengthened within each detachment using MI-8 and MI-24 helicopters. In the end, the expansion and strengthening of the caravan hunters was compressed into a one-year margin including training.

  • 15th Brigade: 154th, 177th, 668th and 334th  detachments.
  • 22nd Brigade: 173rd, 370th, 186th, 411th detachments.
  • 459th special forces company in Kabul

Expertise and legend-status ≠ Success

Depending on the experienced detachments affected the reality of Operation Curtain. The first three detachments – 177th, 173rd and 154th – composed the original special forces deployed in Afghanistan, known as the ‘muslim battalions’. All of the personnel was initially intended to belong to an Asian ethnicity to increase the legitimacy in communities in Afghanistan.

Originating from the GRU special forces, the 154th detachment participated in the assault on Amin’s palace. The 177th detachment initially planned to operate in the Xi Xinjiang region in China and was composed of 300 Uyghur personnel. The expertise of the 3 detachments, all formed in 1979 and 1980, did not influence the performance of the rest of the hunters. The majority of caravan hunters remaining lacked the training needed to conduct raids, ambushes and seizures.

Operation Curtain: Low-Quality Training

The advantages of the secret nature of the caravan hunters ended wasted due to poor training. The concept of ‘separate motorised rifle battalions’ replaced the detachments to maintain the clandestine nature. Nevertheless, training in its majority was similar to a common motorised rifle division, with no infiltration, clandestine, or reconnaissance training. According to veteran Valery V. Marchenko, proving capabilities was for show more than action, and detecting caravan hunters was not difficult due to poor performance. For example, the 186th detachment failed to detect a group of surrounding enemies kidnapping a unit scout, or hostages fleeing through man-dug tunnels. In another example, the lack of discipline and preparedness forced caravan hunters to shorten travel distances during raids to avoid fatigue, such as from a helicopter 1Km landing distance to a 200 meter one.

Marchenko states that, at best, only through the rear of a caravan would special forces be able to conduct reconnaissance, collect intelligence and confiscate material. The units intended to fill the vacuum of unconventional warfare lacked the basic abilities of Spetsnaz units. The heads of special intelligence allegedly avoided setting difficult tasks due to the quality of the units. Despite the low quality of the direction and orders, it is likely that the unconventional caravan hunters did not have the knowledge to achieve the strategic purpose of the mission.

The Caravan Hunters or The Caravan cowboys?

The poor training led to a missing component when hunting caravans. The lacking unconventional skills made the definition of caravan hunters literal. Teams of helicopters commonly identified and inspected a caravan. After inspection, the caravan would commonly be torched and caravaneers killed. With the intelligence component completely abandoned, the Spetsnaz hunters meanwhile literally played a cat and mouse game with caravans supplying the mujahideen. It was tactical considerations, and not strategic decisions, that run the hunters on a day-to-day basis. Groups of 10-25 personnel moved to intercept caravans with little objective further than destroying any weapons intended for rebels.

Tactical intelligence or a few exceptions?

Intelligence, or in its place information of low reliability, became the orchestra director of the caravan war. The caravan hunters worked using the 1K18 Sensor that picked up signals of movement. Meanwhile, human sources transmitted intelligence to the detachment regarding caravans and routes. A detachment in the 22nd brigade allegedly controlled a Baloch, who in exchange for intelligence, obtained access to a portion of the intercepted caravans of his choice. Nevertheless, it is likely that the sensors and Baloch informants are exceptions. Intelligence from Kalat, where the GRU intelligence directorate was located, almost never provided accurate information. As an example, the largest caravan seized with more than 200 camels was found by accident, therefore intelligence played little-to-no role.

Bad organisation leading the orchestra

In practice, the special forces detachments enjoyed half-freedom on the front-line to hunt down the caravans. ‘Ekran’, the task force created to oversee the Caravan War, failed to monitor the operation. The task force lacked the logistics to run aerial and reconnaissance operations continuously. Ekran, to a certain extent, was driving the cowboy nature of caravan hunters. Ultimately, Ekran acted like a hedge fund that caravan hunters used to financially and materially support the targeting of caravans.

Caravan hunters: Aftermath of a raid

A poor track record

The poor strategy employed brought occasional successful operations along with a majority of defeats for the caravan hunters. Between 1984 to 1988, 554 detachment members from the 15th special brigade died in attacks and ambushes while hunting caravans. As caravans traveled along routes, mujahideen sometimes escorted the materials and ambushed special forces, mostly unprepared for unconventional scenarios.

Due to the bad organisation of the detachments and a superficial clandestine cover, the hunters also lacked cooperative capabilities. In 1988, during the exit of forces, the 177th detachment in Ghazni mined a field separate from the knowledge of soviet forces. A Soviet vehicle, after insurgents attacked the fleeing forces, ended trapped in the minefield. Ultimately, all of the sappers sent died, along with the commander. In an attack on the GRU directorate in Kalat by insurgents, caravan hunters abandoned a scout who would later die after forgetting to wake him up.

Confidential

The Great Toyota War: Birthplace of the Technical

The Great Toyota War was the birthplace of the “technical” – light-weight Toyota Hilux and Land Cruiser variants that are used in underdeveloped countries for troop transport and combat.

In 480 BC, the Battle of Thermopylae took place in Greece. Hordes of Persians under the banner of Xerxes the Great disembarked on the shores of Northern Greece only to be met by King Leonidas of Sparta and roughly 7,000 of his men. To put it bluntly, the odds against Leonidas were insane. Historians estimate the strength of the Persians to be upwards of 70,000 – 300,000. I am not a betting man, but if I were at the time, I probably would have wagered my ancient-Greece-equivalent to live savings that Leonidas would not be making it home for kebabs and baklava ever again.

Although the Spartans lost that battle, their military precision at Thermopylae is revered in the books of history – precision executed while wearing sandals and capes. For three days the Spartan led Greeks dominated by utilizing a piece of key terrain known as “the hot gates” – a narrow pass along the coast that forced the Persians to funnel into a Spartan meat grinder. This battle was a prime example of how an underdog unit can withstand unspeakable odds with a bit of tactical creativity – a proper segue into the Toyota Wars.  

The Great Toyota War
Poster showing different Technical variants. Courtesy: Jack Hurley @loudribs

The Libyan and Chad conflict in the late 1980s was the birth of the “technical” – light-weight civilian pickup trucks and land rover variants that are commonly used in underdeveloped countries for troop transport and combat.

In 480 BC, the Battle of Thermopylae took place in Greece. Hordes of Persians under the banner of Xerxes the Great disembarked on the shores of Northern Greece only to be met by King Leonidas of Sparta and roughly 7,000 of his men. To put it bluntly, the odds against Leonidas were insane. Historians estimate the strength of the Persians to be upwards of 70,000 – 300,000. I am not a betting man, but if I were at the time, I probably would have wagered my ancient-Greece-equivalent to live savings that Leonidas would not be making it home for kebabs and baklava ever again.

Although the Spartans lost that battle, their military precision at Thermopylae is revered in the books of history – precision executed while wearing sandals and capes. For three days the Spartan led Greeks dominated by utilizing a piece of key terrain known as “the hot gates” – a narrow pass along the coast that forced the Persians to funnel into a Spartan meat grinder. This battle was a prime example of how an underdog unit can withstand unspeakable odds with a bit of tactical creativity – a proper segue into the Toyota Wars.  

The Toyota War

In 1987, a dramatically different yet shockingly similar battle took place in Chad, Africa: The Great Toyota War. For almost two decades up to that point, Chad and its neighbour Libya had been in conflict. Along the border of the two nations laid the Aouzou Strip – a contested zone rumoured to contain an abundance of uranium – a natural resource of value to Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi, who had ambitions to turn Libya into a nuclear power. The Gaddafi regime started its land acquisition attempts small by funding small clusters of anti-government rebels in Chad who were sympathetic to the Libyan cause. Chadian President Hissène Habré opposed the idea of Libyan expansion in the region, which was met by Gaddafi further expanding his forces on the Aouzou Strip.

In 1987, the conflict turned kinetic. On one side of the ring, you have the Libyan expeditionary force – a combined arms detachment of the Libyan army, which according to Universidad de Navarra, was made up of “8,000 soldiers, 300 T-55 battle tanks, multiple rocket launchers and regular artillery, Mi-24 helicopters and sixty combat aircrafts”. On the other side you have the Chadian National Armed Forces – a significantly less advanced force of mostly infantry, and without the proper technology to go against the Libyan war machine.

Vehicular warfare was changed in this conflict, and the 1987 Battle of Fada was where the Chadians had their Thermopylae moment. A force of 5000 Libyans was defeated, with almost 800 dead infantrymen, 92 destroyed tanks among many other vehicles. On the Chad side, only 18 soldiers lost their lives, and three of the vehicles that were responsible for the turn of events.

The underdogs rose to the occasion and achieved a victory over Gaddafi’s forces. The secret ingredient? Toyotas.  

Birthplace of the Technical

The final phase of the Libyan-Chadian conflict is named The Great Toyota War in tribute to the battlefield deployment of roughly 400-armed Toyota Hilux pick-up trucks – the tactic that gave Chad their ultimate victory. There were of course other factors that played into the outcome of the war, but the clever use of mounted anti-air, rockets, and machine guns gave the Libyans something unexpected.

Chad was the birthplace of what became a future trend in unconventional warfare – the deployment of Toyota Hilux’s and Landcruisers in conflicts within underdeveloped countries. “Technical” is the contemporary term for such vehicles, and their use has been confirmed all across Africa, the Middle East, South America, and even Northern Ireland.

To further understand the appeal of using these vehicles, there are a few key characteristics to start off with:

  • Mobility – with 4-wheel drive and a tough engine and frame, Technical’s are moulded to withstand the harsh environments and rugged terrain commonly found in the conflict areas they are used in. One of the advantages these vehicles have is the ability to move with speed and intensity, a potent strike force when utilized correctly on the battlefield.
  • Weapons – the technical’s moneymaker factor is the diverse selection of weapons that can be mounted on its rear. In the Toyota War, this was what led the Chadians to victory – turning a pickup truck into a lightweight and highly mobile anti-aircraft platform.
  • Cost – imagine the cost of a Toyota truck compared to the cost of a piece of similar military hardware. No further details required.

According to author William F. Owen of the Small Wars Journal “UK forces employed armed Land Rovers in both Iraq and Afghanistan and only recently added low levels of armour. Such vehicles can easily carry 4-6 men with light weapons, such as PKM and RPGs plus water, rations, and communications gear. Functionally and doctrinally there is no difference between a TOW-armed HMMWV and a Toyota Hilux with an AT-4/7/14 ATGM – a common weapons system used on technical’s as mentioned in this Grey Dynamics article. The fact that these vehicles can function in parallel to a conventional military vehicle is alone something to marvel at.

The Great Toyota War
French SOF on Masstech 4×4 in da bush. source @towersight

Modern Use

Warfare technology has advanced quite a bit since the Toyota War, but the technical remains a crucial element of factions across the world. African rebel groups and state militaries continue to be synonymous with the technical, which is fitting for the continent’s role in the vehicle’s history. In Somalia, the technical has been called “the pirate ride of choice”, and was a notable force within the Somali Civil War in the ’90s, and the Somali War in the early 2000s. 


David Kilcullen describes in his book Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla the following about the use of technicals in Somalia:

I was misapplying the social and economic framework of a professional state-run military to an organization that had evolved from an irregular militia. In the Somali environment of fragmented, semianarchic clan organizations in which these tactics had emerged, the way someone became a squad leader in the first place was to own the technical (an extremely substantial piece of capital equipment). The squad leader became the squad leader precisely because it was his vehicle, so it would have been the height of stupidity for him to dismount and thereby cede control of the gun truck to someone else—let alone to leave someone behind him with a machine gun. He might not have remained the squad leader for long! Moreover, dismounted fighters are cheap and replaceable, but the vehicle is a precious investment that is decidedly not expendable. Seen from this perspective, the SNA’s “mounted swarm” tactics have (like any tactical system) an eco- nomic, political, and social logic, as well as a military grammar.

David Kilcullen

In the ongoing West Sahara Conflict, the Algerian backed Polisario Front is known to use them against the modernized Moroccan military (a similar situation to the Toyota War). Likewise, there is substantial documentation and media showing terrorist groups like ISIS in the Middle East and the Taliban in Afghanistan rolling deep in uniformed convoys. Even the Mexican cartel has gotten in on the technical action, as seen in this recent propaganda clip from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

Professional military’s in developed countries use technical’s in a similar capacity but with a different mission than their more “controversial” counterparts. When needed, special operations units from the United States and the United Kingdom have used them in tandem with the forces they support. This allows for SOF teams to blend in with the local populous, maintain combat capabilities, and not sacrifice mobility. This can be seen at the annual Flintlock Exercise in Africa that partners a coalition of special operations units. 

The Great Toyota War
Mauritanian soldiers escort a convoy of Polish, United States, and Guinean Special Forces soldiers on their way to a training site during Flintlock 20 in Nouakchott, Mauritania, February 18, 2020. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Evan Parker
Confidential

Sara Khitta: Taliban Special Forces

Sara Khitta

This Grey Dynamics article gives an overview of the Taliban’s Sara Khitta unit – a self-proclaimed “special forces unit” that has demonstrated unique tactics and more advanced weaponry on the Afghanistan battlefield than their rank-in-file counterparts.

Key Judgements

KJ-1. It is likely Sara Khitta will be used as the Taliban’s premier future fighting force against the Afghan national security forces.

KJ-2.
Sara Khitta is not a traditional “special forces” unit, and it is highly unlikely they will ever tactically progress into conducting actual special operations.

MOLLE and Velcro


Special forces. What comes to mind when you think of that terms? Navy SEALs? Green Berets? Delta Force? British SAS? Russian Spetznaz? Never-ending MOLLE straps and Velcro patches? Heavily trained bearded men with the bodies of Greek gods, and who possess the most coveted tactical skillsets on the modern battlefield? Those thoughts would be fairly accurate (albeit a bit caricaturized). Special forces communities in the Western world are known for brutal selection processes, advanced training pipelines, and are tasked with the most sensitive unconventional warfare missions in global theatres.

Internationally speaking, Special forces units reside on a spectrum in terms of ability and training. The ones mentioned at the beginning of this article are the most recognized in terms of fame and reputation on the world stage, but non-western countries often possess their own strains of units who are trained to conduct more “advanced” operations than your run-of-the-mill infantry force. Now, with that aside, here is an interesting idea to ponder. Revisit the question “What comes to mind when you think of special forces? What if I were to say, “the Taliban”? The Taliban? Yes, the Taliban.

A bit of context: Taliban Ingenuity


Throughout the almost 20-year duration of the War in Afghanistan, the Taliban have faced the challenges of fighting a collective of professional fighting forces who possess modern hardware and well-coordinated supporting agencies. Similarly, to their Afghan Mujahedeen ancestors, the Taliban have managed to hold their ground and resist NATO forces just as the former resisted the 1980’s Soviet occupation, despite being vastly outnumbered and wielding rather primitive weaponry and gear (in comparison).

Taliban tactics are constantly refined and adaptive to their western counterparts. According to Theo Farrell at the Texas National Security Review, “The Taliban have proven to be highly adaptive adversaries. During the war with the Soviets, the Afghan mujahedeen developed a pretty standard repertoire of guerrilla tactics. In particular, these involved planting mines on roads, ambushing convoys and conducting raids against military bases. Experience gained in this conflict shaped Taliban thinking about how they should fight.”

For instance, take this example of the Taliban’s sheer ingenuity. In the 2010s, as an effort to combat an increase in IED attacks, US Marines began to require metal detectors on every dismounted combat patrol in the Helmand Province. A designated point man would sweep and clear the terrain as the patrolling movement was conducted. The Taliban picked up on this change, and according to the Small Arms Survey, “Afghan insurgents have developed ways of reducing the metal content in their IEDs. For example, some now use carbon rods taken from inside batteries as their electrical contacts. These conduct electricity but do not have a metal signature. IED emplacer’s also buried the batteries to make them harder to detect.”

Creativity and adaptability have led the Taliban to have survived a battle of attrition in the modern Afghanistan War. Although the war has been heading towards a transition of power back to the Afghan security forces, the Taliban have come out of hiding and placed themselves in conflict with the NATO-backed national military and police. This brings us to Sara Khitta.

Sara Khitta

In the native Pashtun tongue, Sara Khitta translates to “red group” – the name of the Taliban’s self-proclaimed Special Forces unit. According to the New York Times, the first accounts of the unit’s operations dates loosely back to 2016 in the Helmand Province. At the time, the Taliban were on a successful campaign to retake the region that was once their central area of operations. The tactics of the Sara Khitta were attributed to the success of the Taliban’s efforts.

Going back even further, reports have made the claim that in 2015, media was released of “Taliban special forces training camps” in remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The authenticity of the media was unable to be confirmed, but at the very least it was an example of Taliban propaganda.

When compared to traditional Special Forces units, Sara Khitta merely kneels beneath their towering shadows. There is no question that they lack any ability to conduct foreign internal defense operations, long-range reconnaissance, or airborne operations, as SOF capable units do. Various sources who have covered Sara Khitta describe them more as a “commando force” or “shock troops” than tier quality operators.

In the present time, the propaganda aspect of Sara Khitta is still relevant. According to Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal, the Taliban have been active on social media platforms, and have continued to release media footage of what appears to be Sara Khitta (although not exclusively stated, it is reasonable to infer). Recent footage taken from the Twitter feed of Zabiullah Mujahid, one of the Taliban’s official spokesmen, shows staged photos of uniformed groups of fighters wearing red bandannas and shirts with the Sara Khitta logo on them.

Sara Khitta is currently most active in media, and reports of their recent operational activity are bare to say the least. The group remains a target for national security forces, however, and the Afghan air force reportedly killed a high-ranking unit leader in a tactical airstrike within the Helmand Province battlespace.

Sara Khitta:Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

  • Hardware: Sara Khitta has been reported using weapons and equipment that are a step up from the Taliban’s usual soviet made suite. According to a Reuters, that includes “night vision scopes, 82mm rockets, heavy machine guns and U.S.-made assault rifles”. This also extends to troop transport and up-armored vehicles that are likely taken from US armed Afghan security forces.
  • Tactics: Sara Khitta does conduct traditional direct-action operations but have also dipped their toes into some unconventional ones. This includes using stolen vehicles as “trojan horses” into secure positions, cutting off enemy avenues of approach, and conducting well timed and spread-out attacks on security force outposts resulting in diminished ability for a proper response.

Sara Khitta Final Judgement


So, why does this matter? In essence, the Afghanistan War is starting to reach its hopeful end, as far as NATO involvement goes. What current trends have shown, is a rejuvenated and motivated Taliban who has waited for the right time to resurge and reclaim governance. According to this Grey Dynamics piece, as of 2019, the Taliban have continued to be active in their traditional “Summer Offensive”, and have their own domestic goals in terms of interrupting elections and diminishing public trust in government.

The shift in tactics and development of Sara Khitta is one example of the Taliban’s adaptive and creative side in terms of how they approach warfighting. The lack of a competent national security force is a set condition for the Taliban to take advantage of and using Sara Khitta as the premier force in their kinetic operations is a likely possibility. Although is it highly unlikely Sara Khitta will ever be a reputable special operations capable unit, they have demonstrated a more advanced skillset on the battlefield that may pose a future threat to Afghan forces. 

Image: Taliban Propaganda Video / Twitter (link)

Confidential

Hybrid threat?

Hybrid threat

The 4th March poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal with a Novichok nerve agent has once again brought Russia, and its foreign affairs strategy, to the fore of Western politics. As such, the ‘Fusion Doctrine’ recently announced by Theresa May, which will allow the UK to utilise a wide spectrum of resources to counter Russian aggression, has reignited interest in the concept of Russian ‘hybrid warfare’ and its “Hybrid Threat” among the intelligence community.

The Russian intelligence services remain notoriously secretive, despite the insights and documents revealed by defectors such as Vasili Mitrokhin and Oleg Gordievsky, and the controlled release of sensitive information after the collapse of the USSR. It is therefore unsurprising that they have yet to be fully understood by Western intelligence practitioners. Whether Russia follows a consistent strategy when conducting their foreign intelligence operations is a question which has particularly fascinated experts in recent years. In February 2013, the chief of the Russian General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, published an article that gave the perspective of a senior military leader on the future of war. While this piece was not remarked upon in the West after its publication, it has been heavily scrutinised in the wake of the 2014 Russian intervention operation in Ukraine.

Within his article, Gerasimov remarks that “The very ‘rules of war’ have changed”, suggesting that non-military means have become more important than weaponry when conducting military operations. By urging greater cooperation between the Russian military, intelligence agencies, and the Academy of Military Sciences, Gerasimov highlights the importance Russia places upon the information sphere, and the use of political, diplomatic, and other measures in winning wars. This article has become the focus of recent Western efforts to understand Russian military and intelligence strategy, leading to a theory of ‘hybrid warfare’, in which a combination of conventional and unconventional warfare is utilized. This has become the principal term in which Russian intelligence is discussed by Western theorists, and now (it seems) politicians, leading to the suggestion that the strategy currently being used by Russian in its foreign intervention operations is frighteningly new and unpredictable.

Despite its recent popularity, however, the concept of ‘hybrid warfare’ is largely unhelpful when applied to Russian intelligence strategy. It was a term coined in 2009 by Frank Hoffman, who did not mention Russia at all when describing his theory, perceiving no uniqueness in a Russian incarnation of the strategy. Furthermore, intelligence scholars Michael Kofman and Matthew Rojansky have pointed to the imprecision of the term, which is simply a new word to both define a combination of previously defined types of warfare in order to make sense of the 2014 Ukrainian security crisis. Most importantly, notions of a Russian strategy of ‘hybrid warfare’ assume that Russian actions in Ukraine are unprecedented and unpredictable. Despite a multitude of recent discussions about the form which modern Russian military strategy assumes, a coherent Western understanding of Russian intelligence strategy during foreign intervention operations remains elusive. 

In actuality, when Russian intelligence strategy is examined throughout a number of foreign intervention operations, it becomes apparent that there are notable consistencies in the ways in which the intelligence agencies have conducted themselves since the 20th century and beyond. A Russian ‘hybrid threat’ is therefore nothing new. For example, the use of the information sphere has been cited as a defining characteristic of this new Russian way of working. However, the use of ‘dezinformatsiya’ (disinformation), as a method of promoting the Russian state while simultaneously reducing popular trust in alternate governments has been utilised before this new buzzword.

Prior to the second Chechen invasion, the Kremlin used a Russian Information Centre, which released videos of Chechens killing Russian soldiers in the First Chechen War, as a tool to denounce Chechen separatists as terrorists in order to legitimise another intervention. This use of the newly established internet easily parallels Russian use of social media during the Ukrainian conflict and in influencing the US 2016 election. The covert nature of recent influence campaigns is equally traceable to the KGB use of ‘front organisations’ such as the World Peace Council during the Cold War in order to undermine Western narratives and willingness to invest in defence. ‘Hybrid’ warfare is thus far from a new doctrine.

Hybrid threat

This remarkable consistency in Russian strategy can be explained. Gerasimov states that “In the twenty-first century we have seen a tendency towards blurring the lines between the states of war and peace”, thereby linking hybrid warfare doctrine to Russian activities. This mentality is undeniably held by Russian intelligence practitioners, who have consistently made use of the information and political spheres, as well as non-combatants. However, far from being the new phenomenon suggested by some theorists, this has formed an underlying factor in the consistency of Russian intelligence strategy since the Tsarist period.

Russia has traditionally viewed war in a similar way to Carl von Clausewitz, who wrote in the early 1800s that “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument”. Indeed, Russia has consistently lacked a delineation between war and peace and has instead seen itself as under constant hybrid threat from its neighbouring states, most recently NATO and the EU, as reflected in the 2014 Military Doctrine which details fourteen major risks to the Russian Federation, each a thinly veiled criticism of Western expansionism. Therefore, rather than being seen as new, threatening and ‘hybrid threat’, the eagerness of the Russian intelligence services to make use of non-state actors and the information sphere should be viewed as symptomatic of a deeper intelligence culture that has consistently informed its strategy during foreign intervention operations.

It is also worth noting the extent to which the modern intelligence services base their culture and doctrine upon that of their predecessors. The KGB was officially dissolved on 31 December 1991, an act heralded as signalling impending oversight of the intelligence activities of the Kremlin. However, due to the volatile political environment of the post-Soviet state, Yeltsin relied upon the security services to stay in power, leading to a dependence on former KGB personnel. Thus, the five new agencies which were formed from the KGB directorates were headed by ex-KGB staff. This has important ramifications for the consistency of a Russian intelligence strategy, since with the continuation of personnel in the Russian security services came a continuity in methodology. Putin’s assertion that “There is no such thing as an ex-KGB man” suddenly takes on a more sinister meaning.

Thus, the attempted murder of the Skripals should not come as a shock. Even leaving aside the case of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, the Russian government has a long history of targeting dissidents, often many years after their defection. Despite now forming part of intelligence legend, the 1978 assassination of Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov with a ricin tipped umbrella is a very real case of so-called ‘hybrid’ techniques being employed before the incarnation of any such doctrine. One could even go so far as to trace the strategy back to the Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, who operated in Paris in the 1920s to eliminate Tsarist sympathisers and further bolster the fledgeling Communist state.

While the targeting of the Skripals appears to have confounded the UK and its allies, it is simply the latest case of a Russian strategy that does not delineate between war and peace, combatants and non-combatants. The current preoccupation with a ‘hybrid threat’ merely distracts from recognising the consistency and precision with which Russia conducts its foreign intelligence strategy; a strategy which sees nothing new in the use of old KGB tactics, including the use of poisons and nerve agents.

Confidential

Jedburgh Teams: The Forefathers of Modern Special Operations Forces

Jedburgh team

Jedburgh Teams are a World War II-era military unit and case study for the successful integration of special operations forces (SOF) and conventional forces (CF).

The Second Great War institutionalised intelligence and special operations. That era’s creation of the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SEO) set conditions for the organizations, agencies, and task forces to come.

Although they lived in relative obscurity, compared to other WWII units, the Jedburgh teams are an instrumental example of utilising special forces operations in a conventional war.

A dangerous mission

Wanted: Volunteers for immediate overseas assignment. Knowledge of French or another European language preferred; Willingness and ability to qualify as a parachutist necessary; Likelihood of a dangerous mission guaranteed.

Men who heard that call, and answered, couldn’t have known the impact they would have in the historical record of WWII [source].

Nor would they know how the operations they conducted would be an early prototype for contemporary special operations.

Background context: the Third Reich was having a diabolically good time until 1943. France, the Netherlands, and Belgium fell into Nazi occupation as Hitler rose in power. The alarming speed and intensity with which the Germans conquered the European continent were hair-raising to the West.

When a threat reaches a certain level, the state must address it. The tremendous tactical minds in London and Washington D.C. converged – a plan to defeat the Nazi conquest of Europe became the central operational focus.

The OSS and SEO drafted a unique plan to fight the Nazis within occupied territory. Not with Allied conventional forces, but with a hybrid and more unconventional set of tactics that required a special breed of human to perform.

“Likelihood of a dangerous mission guaranteed” is a concise way of framing the Jedburgh team missions. It makes sense why the recruiting personnel wanted anyone interested to understand the unique risk beforehand.

It’s one thing to volunteer for a conventional total war – It’s another to volunteer for the Jedburgh mission.

The Jedburgh team pipeline

“Surprise, kill, and vanish”

-Team motto

Jedburgh teams were a joint effort between the OSS and SEO. The program started prior to D-Day, on the 6th of June 1944. Volunteers needed to be of high calibre – speaking French was a hallmark skill, along with physical fitness, tactical prowess, an intelligent mind, and the ability to work independently with minimal support.

The teams performed the role of “liaison” between guerilla fighters in occupied territory and Allied forces. They fulfilled that role by operating in two-to-four-man teams (typically three), aerial insertions into enemy territory, rendezvous with guerillas, and establishing communications with higher command.

The training pipeline started in the United States and ended in Great Britain and Scotland, where Jedburgh personnel would then stage and await their deployment to operations in the European theatre.

A typical Jedburgh team skill-set included:

  • Radio proficiency
  • Sabotage
  • Foreign espionage
  • Hand-to-hand combat
  • Demolition
  • Combat parachuting
  • Mountain climbing
  • Combat skiing
  • French language proficiency
  • Land navigation
  • Amphibious operations
  • Small arms proficiency

Jedburgh team training has drastic similarities to the pipelines in modern special operations units. They trained in various settings to prepare for their mission’s rigorous and unique demands. Like in today’s forces, few can do it. The organisational structure of the teams was not random [source]. Each had a radio operator, usually enlisted, and two officers. One team member hailed from the country of assigned operation (if they had a mission in France, there was at least one Frenchman on the team).

jedburgh team
Jedburgh’s training in England

Vive la résistance!

Two moons before D-Day was the first Jedburgh team deployment in history.


The mission: help secure a bridgehead, disable Axis communication systems, and disable a key railway that could transport enemy troops and supplies to the war front. [source]

 D-Day began team operations in France, with scores of Jedburghs parachuting in and assisting local resistance fighters. In the following months, Jedburgh teams would be a potent unconventional force throughout the European theatre.

French Maquisards, “The Marquis,” were one of the earliest customers. Named after underbrush that was common along the Mediterranean coastline, Marquis fighters were the idyllic non-conventional force to resist the Nazis.
They camped in the forests and mountains in southern France, such as the Alps and Brittany region. In guerilla fashion, The Marquis would do hit-and-runs on the Germans, along with sabotage and espionage operations.

Jedburgh teams received orders to help the Marquis. Upon making contact they would establish communications between the Marquis and Allied command. This opened new connections for the French fighters and gave Allied commanders unique intelligence on Nazi activity.
Other support included weapons, ammunition, and training, just like the mission of modern US Green Berets.

Throughout the war, Allied command would deploy Jedburghs to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, which included participation in Operation Market Garden.

jedburgh team
Getting ready to enter tactical mode

Marrying the conventional with the unconventional

Jedburgh teams are a primitive example of special operations being meshed with conventional warfare forces. Combining the two is an arduous task in the modern armed forces, but the Jedburghs are a worthy example to analyze.

According to US Colonel Kevin D. Stringer, there are four obstacles that obscure proper “SOF-CF integration” [source]:

  1. Doctrine and policy do not comprehensively define how SOF-CF integration should occur.

  2. The definitive concept of SOF-CF synchronization rigidly focuses on combat missions and cannot account for operational fluidity between unconventional, conventional, or humanitarian scenarios.

  3. There is a lack of mutual understanding between SOF and CF, creating a sense of SOF “otherness vis-à-vis the conventional forces from which the personnel were originally drawn.”

  4. The actual implementation of SOF-CF integration has often led to ad hoc organizational arrangements or mechanisms, both in training and wartime.

Stringer argues that the Jedburgh teams are a worthy example of successful SOF-CF integration, with three lessons to learn from:

  1. SOF team members must have a superb language expertise and cultural acumen to blend into the local population of highly sophisticated and repressive occupiers (such as Russia, or China).

  2. SOF liaison teams must educate conventional force commanders on resistance force capabilities and the requirements to attain the integration.

  3. CF commanders must understand SOF activities and missions and carry a willingness to trust the SOF liaison element to operate in his or her interest with resistance forces.

Those lessons derive from Jedburgh team operations. The language and cultural skills of each team were an enormous factor in their operational success. Not all CF commanders resonated with them, but there was a benefit for the ones that did.

SOF-CF integration is a complex doctrinal topic that is best approached by qualified brass and academics. It is worth noting how resilient tactics and strategy can be as war-fighting evolves in tandem with society and technology. Jedburgh teams surprised, killed, and vanished themselves into the historical record, yet remain a force worthy of case study for contemporary SOF and CF forces. 

Confidential

Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (UASOF)

UASOF operator from the 73rd Maritime Special Operations Centre

The Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (UASOF) are a special operations command and one of the five branches of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Born and based in Kyiv in 2017. Moreover, UASOF are often tasked with dangerous and politically sensitive operations, which other regular units would not be able to conduct.

The UASOF motto is “I Come At You!” (Іду на ви! In Ukrainian) and is from Sviatoslav The Brave, a Grand Prince of Kyiv in the 10th century. Known for his bravery, Sviatoslav managed to defeat great armies and expand his reign.

The emblem of the Special Operations Forces represents a silver wolf with a gold belt. Behind the wolf, there is a wreath of silver leaves. The motto is written on a gold ribbon under the wreath.

Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (SSO)
UASOF emblem

History of Ukrainian Special Operations Forces

The Special Forces Command was founded from remnant units of the Ukrainian Chief Directorate of Intelligence (HUR), which were originally formed from Ukrainian-based Soviet GRU Spetsnaz (then Ukrainian SSR).

In 2007, the then Defence Minister Hrytsenko published a document describing the creation of the Special Operations Forces. The Office of the UASOF and the training centre were officially formed and the training with the US special forces began.

However, in 2011, the Ukrainian MoD decided to dismantle the Special Operations.

At the beginning of 2014, during the Crimea Crisis, most of the Ukrainian military units were already deployed around the world, such as in Kosovo and Somalia. Consequently, the government decided to call the Ukrainian Spetsnaz forces. These forces were inherited from the Soviet armed forces and were the only ones at that time suitable to defend Ukraine.

During that period, Ukrainian Spetsnaz forces were able to neutralise terrorist cells, and clear cities captured by the enemy.

In September 2014, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, specifically Crimea, and the threat that Russia was posing, the then Ukrainian President Poroshenko decided to accelerate the process to form again the UASOF.

In order to accomplish this task, first deputy commander and chief of staff of the Ukrainian airborne forces, Sergei Krivonos, was appointed as the head of the Special Operations Directorate of the General Staff of Ukraine. By the end of 2014, the unit was ready, with around 4,000 operatives.

Ukrainian Infantry Loadout video by our friend and collaborator Oxide

A New Chapter for the UASOF

In April 2015, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces took the decision to give control of the UASOF to the Ministry of Defence. Consequently, the MoD decided to dismantle and restore the unit.

A new concept for the Special Operations Forces was provided in the Strategic Defence Bulletin of Ukraine on the 5th of January 2016.

The MoD of Ukraine then appointed Major General Igor Lunvov as Commander of the UASOF and Krivonos as the First Deputy Commander. After the first 29 recruits graduated from the UASOF training, President Poroshenko decided to establish the Special Operations Forces Day on the 29th of July.

Three years later, on the 24th of June 2019, the 140th Special Operations Forces Centre, a unit of the UASOF, became eligible to join the NATO Response Force (NRF). The NRF is a multinational force that consists of air, land, sea, and special forces units. Its main features are its high readiness and its technological advance.

For the first time, a non-NATO unit was certified as a Special Operations Forces (SOF) unit.

Operators of the the 140th Special Operations Forces Centre during NATO exercise Flaming Sword 2018

In that same year, the MoD decided to implement a new course of information and psychological operations, to add skills to the UASOF operators.

Due to the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence increased the number of operators of the Special Operations Forces, adding 1,000 members. The current number of UASOF members is around 3,000.

Structure of the UASOF

In 2015, the structure of the UASOF deeply changed and expanded.

The Special Operations Forces are divided in:

Command of Special Operations Forces, based in Berdychiv, Zhytomyr region

  • 99th Command and Support Battalion
  • 142nd Education and Training Centre

Land warfare and special purpose units

  • 3rd Special Purpose Regiment “Prince Svetoslav the Brave”, based in Kropyvnytskyi, Kirovograd region. The unit was formed on the basis of the Soviet 10th Special Purpose Brigade.
  • 8th Special Purpose Regiment “Iziaslav Mstislavich”, formed on the basis of the Soviet 8th Special Purpose Brigade, is based in Khmelnitsky, Khmelnitsky region.
  • 140th Special Operations Forces Centre, based in Khmelnitsky, Khmelnitsky. This is the most elite unit in the UASOF and it also took part in the hostilities in Donbass in 2014.

The tasks of these three units are special reconnaissance missions and direct-action operations.

Aviation special purpose unit

  • 35th Mixed Aviation Squadron, based in Havryshiyka Air Base, Vinnytsia region. This unit is subordinate to the 456th Transport Aviation Brigade of the Air Force of Ukraine.

Established in 2019, this unit is mainly involved in the extraction, resupply, and rescue of small unit teams in Ukraine.

Naval special purpose unit

73rd Frogman during training
  • 73rd Maritime Special Operations Centre, inspired by the Soviet 17th Naval Special Purpose Brigade, is based in Pervomaisky Island, Mykolaiv region.

This unit focuses on maintaining security in the Black Sea and also counterterrorism maritime missions.

Information and psychological warfare units

  • 16th Information Warfare and Psychological Operations Centre, based in Huiva, Zhytomyr region

  • 72nd Information Warfare and Psychological Operations Centre, based in Brovary, Kyiv region

  • 74th Information Warfare and Psychological Operations Centre, based in Lviv

  • 83rd Information Warfare and Psychological Operations Centre, based in Odessa

Responsibilities of the Special Operations Forces

The Law on Defence of the Ukrainian government defines a special operation as a set of interconnected and coordinated special actions. These actions both involve the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (UASOF) and the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The UASOF tasks include:

  • Taking part in raids behind enemy lines
  • Collecting intelligence
  • Building an intelligence network
  • Carrying out counterterrorism activities
  • Being able to search and evacuate either hostages or prisoners
  • Cooperating with international special forces units
  • Carrying out psychological operations
  • Espionage
  • Participating in operations aimed to fight drug and arms trafficking
  • Training of foreign police and armies

UASOF Training

The Special Operations Forces training centre is based in Khmelnitsky and this is where the recruits go through the UASOF Qualification Centre. The selection course, also funded by the United States, was developed with NATO partners from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

The requirements to access the selection course are extremely high and only 10% of the candidates are usually selected.

The training program lasts five weeks and each week is characterised by harsh training and difficult tests aimed to bring down the weakest recruits.

Week 1

  • Swim for 100m
  • Run for 3km with an average pace of 5 minutes per km
  • Loaded march of 16km in less than three hours with a 14kg rucksack
  • A test of general physical training such as push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups

Week 2

  • 50 squats carrying a 16kg rucksack
  • Run for 8km with an average pace of 5 minutes per km
  • Loaded march of 13km in less than two hours, carrying a 16kg rucksack

Week 3

  • Sets of push-ups and pull-ups
  • 50 squats with an 18kg rucksack
  • Run for 10km with an average pace of 4’20’’ per km
  • Loaded march of 19km in less than four hours with an 18kg rucksack

Week 4

  • Sets of push-ups and pull-ups
  • 50 squats with a 23kg rucksack
  • Run for 10km with an average pace of 4’20’’ per km
  • Loaded march of 29km in less than four hours and 45 minutes with a 23kg rucksack

Week 5

  • Swim for 500m
  • Run for 5km with an average pace of 3’45’’ per km
  • Loaded march of 29km in less than four hours and 30 minutes carrying a 23km rucksack

After completing the selection course, the UASOF training focuses on heavy weapons, combat medicine, gathering intelligence, mountain warfare, military freefall, and combat engineering.

opertors35th Mixed Aviation Squadron of the Picture courtesy of the UASOF

UASOF Weapons and Equipment

The Special Operations Forces units are equipped with a variety of weapons including:

Semi-automatic pistols

  • Fort 14 and Fort 17
  • Glock 17

Automatic rifles

  • AKS-74U
  • AK-74M (Zenitco furniture, Magpul FG, PEQ-15, Trijicon ACOG, SRVV sling)
  • Fort 221
  • IPI Malyuk
  • Sig Sauer MCX

Others

  • Fort 301 as a sniper rifle
  • Barrett M82A3 as a sniper rifle
  • Fort 401
  • PKM light machine gun
  • FGM-148 Javelin
  • RPG-22
  • RPG-26
  • SAAB NLAW
  • FIM-92 Stinger
Servicemen of the Ukrainian SOF part of the 73rd Maritime Special Operations Centre during a room clearing exercise

Observed Kit:

  • Arc’teryx LEAF Minotaur Half Shell
  • Ops Core FAST High-cut
  • L3 Harris GPNVG-18 w/ battery pack
  • Crye Precision High Back Blast Belt w/ suspenders
  • WarTech UP-102 “Spotter” pouch
  • MTAC AK single mag pouch
  • Bastion “FORT” double grenade pouch
  • USGI NODs pouch
  • VX600 radio

Ukraine and, in particular, the UASOF received military equipment from various countries such as the United States.

In June 2020, the US State Department agreed to the selling of 16 SAFE Boats International Mark VI patrol boats to the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces.

In February 2021, Ukraine also received 84 small boats and 20 high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs).

The aviation unit has access to Mi-8 Hips and Mi-2 Hoplites helicopters, both made in Russia, and An-26 Curl planes. Since 2018, the UASOF has also used Mol H125 and H225 helicopters, made by a French company called Airbus Helicopters.

Joint Military Exercises

In the past 10 years, the Special Operations Forces participated in many joint military exercises with both NATO and non-NATO partners. The United States and other Western special forces extensively supported the training of the UASOF.

Northern Light

In 2003, the UASOF took part in the Northern Light 03 (NL 03) which took place in the Irish Sea. Twelve NATO nations and two partner nations, Sweden and Ukraine participated in this exercise focused on Crisis Response Operation.

The scenario used for that specific exercise depicted an armed insurgency in a non-NATO country that was threatening the international security interests.

In 2017, the UASOF, in particular, the 140th Special Operations Forces Centre attended the Flaming Sword 2017 Exercise in Lithuania. The exercise lasted three weeks and more than a thousand operators from nine countries took part.

In 2018, the American and Ukrainian Special Forces participated in the Combined Resolve XI Exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Centre in Hohenfels, Germany.

This exercise, aimed to improve the interoperability and the readiness of the units, comprehended 16 nations and more than 5,500 soldiers.

This was the first time that the UASOF took part in this exercise.

In 2020, the UASOF did a joint exercise with reconnaissance operators of the British Royal Navy. The operation was to board and clear the Royal Navy’s “Dragon” destroyer in Odessa. The training focused primarily on abduction, boarding, close combat, and clearing the vessel.

UASOF
(Source)

UASOF Activities in 2021

In 2021, the Ukrainian Special Operations forces participated in many joint exercises.

In June the UASOF conducted a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) defence training in the Chernobyl exclusion zone (in Pripyat). During the exercise, the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces had to look for a chemical laboratory, suspected to be the place where a terrorist group created a bomb. This exercise was part of the NRF evaluation process certification.

Sea Breeze

Between the 28th of June and the 10th of July, the US Sixth Fleet and the 73rd Maritime Special Operations Centre took part in the Sea Breeze 2021 Exercise in the Black Sea region.

UASOF

Ukraine and the United States started this cooperation in 1997, in order to bring together NATO members and its partners. Further, The 2021 Exercise focused on diving operations, interdiction operations, anti-submarine warfare, land manoeuvre warfare and rescue missions.

Saber Junction

In Early September the Ukrainian SOF took part in Saber Junction 21 in Hohenfels, Germany. While, European and African countries took part in this US-led exercise focused on land operations in a joint combined environment and readiness.

Rapid Trident

From the 20th of September to the 1st of October the UASOF took part in Rapid Trident 2021 Exercise in Yavoriv, Ukraine. The Rapid Trident is a US-led exercise and in 2021 focused on defence capabilities, readiness, and interoperability.

Ukrainian and Moldovan Land Forces train on Fast Rope Insertion/Extraction System (FRIES) and Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction System (SPIES) with use of a Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopter as part of Rapid Trident 2021 at Combat Training Center-Yavoriv near Yavoriv, Ukraine photo by Spc. Preston Hammon

Editor’s note

To support the brave members of UKSOF and the wider Ukrainian Armed Forces you can donate via special page here, and if you want to support the important humanitarian efforts in Ukraine you can donate to the Ukrainian Red Cross here.

We would like thank Oxide for his support and his efforts to raise funds for a number of Ukrainian organisations and we urge you to see his latest video on the matter!

Confidential

Task Force Takuba: European Special Forces in the Sahel

Importance of Task Force Takuba

Task Force Takuba (TFT) is an example of the new geopolitical scenario relevant to European states. Takuba increases the share of a military burden against insurgents in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

France continues to be the leading force in the Sahel. The drawdown of Barkhane and increasing participation of non-European states is likely not enough to compensate for a 9-year long mission.

The focus of TFT on Counter Insurgency (COIN) and Counter-Terrorism (CT) operations provides both advantages and disadvantages. A majority of SOF personnel increases the COIN capabilities of Task Force Takuba. On the other hand, the insurgent nature of the conflict means that limited success in targeting militants is likely expected unless non-military efforts are made effective.

Timeline

  • In 2012, Tuareg militias entered Mali from Southern Algeria and triggered a coup d’état. By 2014, actors like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine, Al-Mourabitoun and the Macina Liberation Front increased French contribution under Operation Barkhane.

  • By 2017, a combination of insurgent groups formed Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and established in Mali. Simultaneously, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) formed during 2016 from defected factions of JNIM. By 2018, the insurgent threat expanded into different ethnicities and countries.

  • Since 2020, 2 coup d’états have changed the government and head of state. Militants increased the degree of support amongst specific ethnic local populations. Losing 55 military personnel and reaching a 5,100 strong presence, France proposed the idea of Task Force Takuba. The group is focusing on a-solely SOF approach under Operation Barkhane to successfully target insurgents.

Task Force Takuba: The Sahel and Special Operations nature

Tri-Border Area

Similar to the doctrine of insurgents, the concept of borders is non-existent for Task Force Takuba. The conflict originating in the Sahel started with Mali in 2012, while it entered Burkina Faso in 2016 and Niger in 2017. The operators targeting insurgents should not be limited by geographical boundaries. The area on which Takuba is focusing crosses state and ethnic boundaries. Below, highlighted.

Structure

For operational purposes, dividing Task Force Takuba within three bases is necessary. The bases are an evolution of the structure of Barkhane, reducing bases to three locations in the epicentre of the conflict. Menaka acts as the headquarters, holding both liaison officers and operational personnel. Another section of personnel is stationing in Gao. Meanwhile, Ansongo acting as a middle-ground, hosts the third base.

Task Force Takuba: The Components

Taskforce Takuba Organogram, organization and size

Operations Bourrasque in November 2020 and Eclipse in January 2021 included the participation of Task Force Takuba.  Bourrasque included the participation of French-Estonian Special Forces, attached to a Malian intervention unit and Nigerien forces. In addition, targeting special forces operators is already underway. On the 21st of April, 3 Swedish SOG operators suffered an injury in Menaka due to an IED.

French SOF in Menaka and Gao:

As Task Force Takuba operates under Barkhane, French elite units present in Mali since 2012 likely reinforced the Menaka and Gao bases in 2020. The French are the largest contingent in the force and prove it with experienced SOF operators. Takuba is reportedly working to prevent scenarios of indiscipline and corruption seen in Barkhane.

Three SOF components

Given the presence in Barkhane, the French contribution includes three special forces components including one being aerial support. SOF operators are likely armed with FN SCARS and HK 416 assault rifles and number around 300 personnel. In other words, half of Task Force Takuba. Nevertheless, given the specialisation of each unit, long-range precision rifles like PGM may be used

Descendants of the SAS

The 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (1er RPIMA) is the direct descendant of the SAS, with the crest showing significant similarities. Within the 1er RPIMA, the 2nd Company is deploying in Takuba. The company is suited for extreme environments and operates normally in the Sahel. Technically, the unit specialises in extreme cold, mountain or jungle environments.

1er RPIMA during a demo

Reconnaissance Marine Commandos

The Penfentenyo Commando represents the Marine Commandos, the French Navy’s special forces. Within the 6 commandos in the Marine, the Penfentenyo is responsible for Surveillance and Objective Neutralisation Teams (ESNO). The Penfentenyo Commando serves as support to motorised or aerial routes, particularly with sharp-shooting. The ESNO team acts as the eyes of the task groups hunting insurgents in Menaka and Gao, training requires yearly procedures and examinations to determine the capability of operators.

“Nulle Part Sans Nous”

France supports its 1st RPIMA with the 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment. The ‘4e RHFS’ offers unique and autonomous support to special force units, developing unconventional cooperation and strategies with operators. The material capability of the unit includes Gazelle, Caracar, Cougar and Tiger helicopters. Along with the UK and the US, only France is able to uniquely support SOF operators with a helicopter regiment specialised in unconventional scenarios. The unit allegedly joined Barkhane in 2014. Out of its 500 personnel and 6 divisions, the air combat division with most experienced units in Barkhane will likely be chosen to provide aerial support to Task Force Takuba.

4e RHFS member with a 1er RPIMA operator installing a .50 caliber Barrett sniper rifle on a Gazelle helicopter

Malian SOF in Takuba

The Light and Rapid Intervention Units (ULRI) are the Malian representative in Task Force Takuba. ULRI’s emerged in 2020 as a response to a worsening insurgency and a domestic military incapable of reducing insurgent activity. The Malian units in Takuba are characterised by the need to have rapid reaction forces capable of operating outside conventional scenarios.

Member of ULRI in Takuba

The ULRI’s play a protagonist role in Takuba as the Malian units tasked with acquiring special capabilities. European units in Gao and Menaka train the Malian components in degrees of basic training (1 year) and advanced training (2 years) to achieve operational autonomy. As the long-term objective is to replace foreign operators with local counterparts, groups are specialised in rapid reaction, IED’s and insurgent environments.

Characteristics and Division

Motorcycles are the operational symbol of the ULRI’s in Task Force Takuba. The vehicle shows the significance of the importance of geographical mobility in environments with insurgents like Gao and Menaka. The relevance and need of ULRI’s is seen in the formation of units that continue to be created in order to expand the Malian footprint in the task force. Takuba continued inaugurating ULRI nº5 and nº6 in October and November of 2021, both intended to operate in Menaka.

ULRI nº4 operates along with Estonian and French units in Gao, with reportedly positive operational feedback as recent as the 15th of November against insurgents in In Delimane. Also in Gao, ULRI nº3 is undergoing a process of developing the necessary operational skills. In Menaka, ULRI nº2 is likely in phase 2, or advanced training level. Apart from understanding the vehicle and environment, training is focusing on geolocation capabilities and the use of communication devices.

Estonian SOF in Gao:

Estonian forces, including a mechanised infantry division and special operators, arrived in 2018 in Mali under a French invitation. The units included members of special operations already stationed in Gao along with French troops. The added experience during Barkhane, particularly with SOF forces in Gao, is a likely reason to continue cooperation and change the framework to Takuba.

ESTSOF Estonian special operations forces
Estonian operator on combined patrol with Malian ULRI operators

ESTSOF operators offer multiple operations of experience in collaboration with French forces. Estonia participated in the EUFOR CAR operation along with French units. ESTFOR, for example, offers experience in Helmand during ISAF along with NATO SOF.

Contributions to Task force Takuba

Estonia is reinforcing the mechanised infantry division stationed to Barkhane which numbered 45 military personnel. The additional Estonian units arrived in Gao in July 2020, including special operators from ESTFOR. Contributions include:

  • To contribute, Estonia is sending British-donated Supacat Jackal armoured vehicles.

  • The THEMIS unnamed ground combat system, after successfully operating in battle, is participating in Barkhane.

  • In July, the parliament approved an increase to 95 personnel in total, including special operators.

  • The parliament approved in July a €7 million budget to expand special operations within Niger and potentially a resource and personnel expansion.

Czech SOF in Menaka

The Czech presence in Task Force Takuba falls under one of the significant operational contributions to the task force. While compared to the French or Italian contribution the capacity is limited, the Czech SOF provided Takuba with Initial Operating Capabilities (IOC) by October 2020.

The chosen: Group General Moravec

The 601st Special Forces Group (601 SkSS) is the designated contribution to cooperate with allies in the Menaka base. Group 601, also known as ‘General Moravec’, is named after the WWII Czechoslovakian chief of intelligence. The unit was designated within the special forces of the Czech Republic in 2003. In 1948, the unit emerges as a paratrooper brigade.

Task Force Takuba
601st special operations group operator in Mali

The unit conducts rapid reaction and long-term operations hunting insurgent members in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. General Moravec is based in Menaka and forms part of Task Group 1 (TG1). As a curiosity, it is the first time the unit is deployed to the African continent. The 601 SkSS contingent includes 60 operators and is expected to stay in Menaka, at least, until December 2022.

Previous Cooperation

The group participated in Operations Enduring Freedom and KFOR. In Afghanistan, the 2nd Task Force saw its deployment to Bagram Airbase. Battles like Tora Bora or Helmand included the participation of the 601st SFG. Again, Task Force Takuba reinforces the similarities between the Afghan approach at building local capabilities using SOF with the previous history of cooperation. 601st Group in Logar Province, 2009

Swedish SOF in Menaka

The Swedish contribution is currently crucial to the Takuba mission, especially for operational capabilities. Sweden is taking the command role of Task Force Takuba from November 2021 to February 2022. The role of Sweden, additionally, provides the needed capabilities to conduct operations in difficult terrain like the Sahel.

The Aerial Component

Task Force Takuba is majorly dependent on Sweden for aerial transport as a Quick Reaction Force (QRF). Sweden is deploying black hawk helicopters in Menaka and a C-130 Hercules in Niamey to support the operations. Above all, the Swedish responsibility adds significant capabilities to the mission due to the geographic spread of Takuba, which includes regions of Northern Mali.

The Särskilda Operationsgruppen

Sweden is sending 150 operators from the SOG, or Särskilda Operationsgruppen (Special Operations Group). Additional to the operators are assistant and operational staff, with an optional 100 additional personnel to Task Force Takuba. The expertise of the unit in risk environments and unconventional scenarios match the necessary skills in an environment like the tri-border area in Mali.

History and experience

The group originates from SIG and SSG, special forces units dedicated to rescue, direct action and reconnaissance missions. SOG operators deployed with ISAF until 2014, although several operators participated in the Kabul evacuation in August 2021. In 2015, 30 SOG members advised, trained, instructed and cooperated with Peshmerga forces.

Italian SOF in Menaka

Together with Sweden, the Italian contribution provides significant capabilities to Task Force Takuba, only outmatched by the French due to Barkhane. The Italian contingent contributing units from 5 different special operation groups, additionally, provides operational material to the reinforcement.

Sea and Land

The Italian contribution reinforces the Swedish aerial support, as well as the French-established capabilities. The following additions provide capabilities to extend the geographic reach in simultaneous missions:

  • LMV Iveco or ‘Lynx’ armoured vehicles

  • 4×4 Flyer Light Strike Vehicle

  • UH-90 Helicopters

  • CH-47x Helicopters

  • Agusta A129 Helicopters

Contribution: Combining Elite Units

The base of Task Force Takuba is holding 5 different special forces groups, commonly armed with HK416/HK417 assault rifles. Additionally from the transport provided, 200 operators are joining the base in September 2021. Apart from cooperating with allied and Malian SOF, the role of the Italian contingent is reported of MEDEVAC duties.

Col Moschin Regiment

The Italian Army is contributing the 9th Assault Regiment ‘Col Moschin’ based in Livorno. The origin is the 9th assault regiment in WWI known as ‘arditi’, or ‘daring’. With a required 75 weeks in training and formation, 55 weeks are spent developing amphibious, direct-action and reconnaissance capabilities.

An operational detachment unit reportedly includes:

  • Medic
  • Breacher
  • Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD)
  • Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) controller
  • Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Operator
  • Sniper
Col Moschin Operators during and exercise with simunition

Gruppo Operativo Incursori (GOI)

COMBUSIN, the elite unit of the Italian Navy, is deploying the Gruppo Operativo Incursori (GOI) to Task Force Takuba. COMBUSIN divides itself into sub-aquatic and raid operations. The GOI is responsible for the latter. The ‘Incursori’ specialise in hostage environment, territory infiltration, and counter-terrorism operations.

Gruppo di Intervento Speciale (GIS)

Task Force Takuba hosts the special forces of the carabinieri, as the third unit of the Italian Forces. The group specialises in counter-terrorism, direct action, and reconnaissance, becoming a special force unit in 2004. Members of the GIS, likewise, originate from the 1st Paratrooper Tuscania regiment. The Tuscania regiment is considered an elite-like unit operating along with the GIS.

GIS & 1st Rgt. “Tuscania” during the exercise Ex Watan in Doha, in preparation of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

17º Stormo Incursori

The youngest special forces within the Italian Forces likely represent a crucial component of the contribution to Takuba. The 17th Raiders Wing, created in 2008, operates as a Combat Search and Rescue (C-SAR) and Forward Air Controller (FAC). Dependent on the 1st Special Operations Air Brigade, for example, the unit provided aerial support to ISAF deployments in Afghanistan. Along with the following helicopter regiment, the 17th Wing will likely provide the aerial capabilities needed in the Sahel.

Aldebaran Helicopter Regiment

The 3rd Helicopter Regiment for Special Operations will be reportedly participating within Task Force Takuba. The department was specifically delegated to provide aerial capabilities and support to Italian Special Forces, particularly SAR and MEDEVAC operations.

Col Moschin Operators with Aldebaran crew

‘Monte Cervino’ Rangers

The 4th Parachute Alpine Regiment ‘Monte Cervino’ comes as likely support to the 9th Col Moschin regiment. The 4th regiment was created as a supporting unit of the Col Moschin. Due to this, all training occurs within the Col Moschin regiment in Livorno. In particular, the unit focuses on direct action and support to special operations in any environment.

Romanian SOF in Task Force Takuba

The Romanian contribution is arriving by the end of 2021, likely in December. While it is not specified what unit is being deployed, the location of the unit will likely be Ansongo or Gao. All other SOF forces are either in Gao and Menaka, in particular with the latter being more populated. The expansion of forward bases is crucial.

6th Special Operations Brigade ‘Mihai Viteazul’

It is almost certain that the Mihai Viteazul brigade is deploying within the Task Force Takuba framework. The government approved the contingent to number 45 special forces operators. The 610th “Vulturii” and the 620th ‘Bâneasa-Otopeni” Special Operations Battalions are the primary direct-action operating SOF force. Commonly using an M4 or HK-G36, the majority of members of the 610th Vulturii battalion trained in the US Army’s Special Warfare Centre School. While paratrooper and support battalions exist, either the 610th or 620th are candidates to join the other European special forces.

The Vultures 51st Battalion in Afghanistan

Demands and Secrecy

With an average entry failure rate of 95%, Romanian SOF including the Vulturii battalion are reportedly considered a Tier 1 unit. All applicants are highly likely to have served previously in extreme environments or high-risk operations, commonly Iraq or Afghanistan.

Until 2006, all information about the Vulturii unit was clandestine and not recognised. The secrecy reached a degree of secrecy, which significantly forced the Romanian Ministry of Defence to block and suspend any online user mentioning the existence of the unit.

Norwegian SOF in Menaka

The Norwegian parliament rejected a contribution to Task Force Takuba. It argued that the foreign presence of troops should be through an international body like MINUSMA or EUTM Mali. The Norwegian contribution to Takuba, allegedly, comes after an invitation by Sweden to contribute. Together with Denmark, there will be a Scandinavian contribution in Mali.

Forsvarets Spesialkommando

The Special Commando Forces (FSK) of Norway are the primary operating land-based unit of the Norwegian special operations command. Commonly armed with HK417M and C8-CQB rifles, operators from FSK are the likely choice to accompany the Swedish in Task Force Takuba.

Forsvarets Spesialkommando in Jordan

The commandos proved the capability to adapt to all scenarios. 78 FSK operators participated in Task Force K-BAR with coalition of special forces hunting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2001. Originating as a response to terrorism and organised crime, the unit is specialised in the protection and combat in oil rig environments.

Inclusion within the Swedish contribution

Apart from declaring a political statement, the Norwegian SOF contribution will form part of the Swedish contingent in Takuba. It is described as a ‘small number of soldiers’ along with 2 officers, making the contribution less significant to capabilities than other contributors. The contribution is more symbolic to European cooperation and Scandinavian efforts than to a need to participate in Takuba.  

Withdrawal

In 2020, a coup was led by the Malian Armed Forces, which successfully ousted the former Malian government. Just nine months later, a further coup undertaken, led by Vice President Assimi Goïta. Once again, this coup was successful. Since his acquisition of power, Goïta has been reluctant to hold elections, which has initially been agreed to be held in February 2022. The transitional government has indicated that it looks to delay elections by up to five years.

Following almost a full decade in of operations within the country, in February 2022, France announced the withdrawal of Task Force Takuba from Mali. Following the coups in 2020 and 2021, France has been unable to come to an agreement on democratic elections with the transitional military government, ultimately leading to the withdrawal order. As a result, Takuba will be stationed in Niger. In a joint statement with European Nations operating in Task Force Takuba, the force stated that “the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali”.

This article was first published in November 2021, but updated and republished due to recent developments by Abbi Clarck

Confidential

Ranger Regiment: Britain’s Future Soldiers

A spec inf Soldier takes a knee in front of an unmanned ground vehicle in the training area at Bovington Camp: Photographer Sgt Nick Johns RLC / MoD Crown

Background and Future Soldier Program

As part of the sweeping army reforms under the Integrated Review, the British Army has created a new expeditionary unit: The Rangers Regiment. As part of a larger “Future Solider” campaign, the Rangers will be operating under the 1,000 personnel strong Special Operations Brigade. The British Army hopes to fully deploy the Rangers by the end of 2022, and they are meant to replace the Specialised Infantry Group. The Future Soldier program hopes to integrate technical and cyber capabilities seamlessly into combat units and situations. (Source)

Brigadier Gus Fair, commander of the Rangers. Image via The Times UK

Tactics, Training, and Procedure

The Integrated Review has shown the UK’s commitment to modernization and cyber capabilities and the Ranger Regiment will be no different in terms of doctrine.

  • Taken from existing forces under the SIG, the Rangers are currently being recruited from the four current Specialised Infantry Battalions: 1 SCOTS (which will become 1st Battalion, Ranger Regiment), 2 PWRR, 2 LANCS, and 4 RIFLES (4th Battalion, Ranger Regiment). (Source)

  • First, the recruits must pass a “Cadre Course” which is a general aptitude test than anybody within the British Army can apply for.

  • Secondly, they go through a six week “Ranger Course.” This is more specialized and vague training, but what is known is it collaborative training with ally forces and can take place outside of the UK.

  • Finally, if these are passed, the recruit is placed in a Ranger Regiment and trains with their regiment for eight months before being given their metal patch and grey beret.

The role of a ranger is unique in a warfighting capacity. “Ranging” is a form of war in itself, and was first utilized in British battle doctrine in the French and Indian War (or Sevens Year War, 1754-1763) in North America. Notably, British soldier Robert Rogers produced the “28 Rules of Ranging” during this conflict. (Source)

The modern Ranger Regiment is sticking close to this doctrine of irregular combat, and introducing new technology with age-old warfighting practices – guerilla operations, deep forest reconnaissance, and hostile environment control.

Loadout and Technology

The Rangers are equipped and trained with top of the line reconnaissance devices and surveillance equipment, particularly the Puma drone. (Source) Rangers are equipped with SA-80 rifles and possibly MP5 submachine guns, but since they have not been deployed it is hard to gauge the weapons the battalions and teams will be using.

Image via The Times UK

Possible Operations and Capacity

It has been speculated the Ranger Regiment, once fully trained, could be deployed to Somalia and Mozambique in tandem with the Integrated Review-bred Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) to provide security and reconnaissance abilities in those regions. (Source)

Ben Wallace, UK Secretary of State for Defence, said that the Ranger will be part of “active and engaged” Army, as well as interesting adding that Ranger Regiment has had considerable funds devoted to make them logistically independent, and can be deployed in teams as opposed to a whole force. (Source)

General Sir Nick Carter had this to add about the Ranger Regiment’s roles and capacity, “I think the roles, ultimately, will be open to anybody in the Armed Forces and certainly within the Army and their function will be very similar to US Green Berets who have over years provided that sort of capability.” (Source)

Summary

These “Future Soldiers”, hailing from a doctrine of old use the abundance of new technology and training to adequately mesh the two ideas into a new style of unconventional and irregular warfighting. The Rangers are still training, but by the end of 2022 the four 250 soldier strong battalions will most likely be deployed around the world.

Confidential

World War Propaganda Posters

World War 1 Propaganda Posters
“We Beat ‘Em Before” (Source)

WW1 propaganda posters, and WW2 propaganda posters, are an essential component of psychological warfare in their involved time periods.

World War 1 and 2 were the first Great Wars, and the testing ground for new types of warfare, on a scale never seen before. Acolytes of history are familiar with the advancements in weapon technology and conventional (and unconventional) battlefield tactics, but the advancements made in the realm of psychological warfare are ever so present amongst the pungent scent of carbon and earth-shattering sounds of artillery blasts in the forests and fields of Europe and beyond. 

Propaganda posters are a profoundly important fixture of the nations involved in both power blocs. Their impact on civilian populations and militaries is of great importance in the grand scheme of things in the same degree that memes are in modernity.

Propaganda in history

It is no surprise that propaganda as a concept lacks a universally agreed upon definition. Different disciplines have different interpretations of it, and underneath those live even more variations of said interpretations. Brevity calls, however. To breathe coherent life into World War propaganda posters, it would be beneficial to view it as communication–one with roots in ancient civilization–but a linguistic start in the 17th century AD. 

Historians date the first use of the word propaganda back to 1622 and credit its usage to Pope Gregory XV. The Catholic Church was embarking on a proselytizing campaign in non-Christian nations, albeit not with unity. Although Rome was the power center of the church, missionaries from Portugal and Spain led their own evangelizing movements with limited direction from the Pope. In order to counter this, Gregory XV created the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, which became the ecclesiastical authority over missionary work in heathen nations. [source

Propaganda, as a term, propagated from the Catholic Church’s affairs, under the enforcement of Gregory XV’s committee. Through its work, the church could use methods of communication to evangelize and convert in unreached lands. Ralph D. Casey would argue that propagandas prior use was honorable and associated with what “commanded the respectful attention of mankind.” [source]  

Fast forward to the dawn of the 20th century, where manufacturing and production technology entered its most advanced stage since the Gutenberg printing press. Mass media was in a new era, with mediums of communication influencing large swaths of civilian populations. That brings us up to 1914, and the start of WWI, which will be the next significant milestone in the history of propaganda. 

Propaganda in World Wars

The role of propaganda in the First World War was multifaceted. It came in various forms with various goals. WWI would end up being the quasi-trial grounds for the effectiveness of this new form of mass communication, similar to other advancements in military hardware and tactics:

Patriotism & Nationalism

As a tool of mass media, governments often used propaganda in the First World War for promoting a strong national identity and rekindling the spark of patriotism amongst the populations. The First World War was unique for many reasons, one of the most prolific being the sizes of the involved military forces. Instead of cities fighting cities, or smaller forces fighting for land or resources, the scale was at a national level. 

An entire nation being at war requires a supportive citizenry, willing to either enlist in the service or fulfill a supporting role in factories, hospitals, or other areas. Not only that, but an energized sense of patriotism raises morale. High morale was a strain of lifeblood in the veins of First World War powers. The clever use of propaganda was one way the pulse of the war machine could continue its rapid frequency. 

Atrocity/weaponized propaganda 

WW1 propaganda posters had a potent offensive use, requiring no bullets or artillery barrages to inflict damage. Psychological warfare is a now commonly used term to describe the more “weaponized” use of propaganda, including its “atrocity” form. 

The United States and Britain were the WW1 benefactors that primarily used atrocity propaganda. Its primary goal was to use propaganda as a tool of emotional manipulation to gain public support for the war and foster hatred for the enemy. Unlike patriotic propaganda, however, the atrocities committed by the Austro-Hungarians and Germans turned into mass media messaging. [source]

Outside of atrocities, weaponized propaganda could garner support in countries who were neutral to the war, yet could be beneficial to have as an ally. This happened covertly and overtly using news media and the spreading of books and pamphlets in target populations. [source]

Overall, WW1 and WW2 propaganda posters proved themselves as a worthy component of military campaigns on a global scale. The same principles and forms of propaganda mentioned above crossed into the Second World War mere decades later. 

World War Propaganda Posters

WW1 propaganda posters, and WWII are some of the most famous and prolific pieces of visual art from each period. They cover the different arenas of propaganda and its forms of use, including patriotism, recruitment, and as an active measure. 

WW1 Propaganda Posters

WW1 Propaganda Posters
Field Marshal Lord Kitchener [source]

This poster is one of the most well-known ones to come from the First World War. It originated in Britain, and features Field-Marshall Lord Kitchener, who was a seasoned war hero prior to the start of the war. The primary goal of its messaging was recruitment, using Lord Kitchener as an inspirational figure. His celebrity was a resource that could influence men to enlist, with a stern and inviting look captured by the artist Alfred Leete. The extent of the posters’ actual success remains contested, but it spawned myriads of similar formats used in propaganda and art later on. [source]

WW1 Propaganda Posters
American propaganda targeting civilians [source]

This poster seems to target both the female and civilian population of the US during the war effort. It’s messaging is likely a recruitment drive for help in the production of domestic goods, including in the agricultural sector, as illustrated. The “only men go to war” stereotype is thankfully in the ash-heap of history amongst armed forces personnel in the West, but the idea of “the girl left behind” was surely prominent in this generation. The messaging within the poster likely seeks to recruit females whose partners are off at war to fulfill the masculine roles left vacant. [source]

World War 1 Propaganda Posters
“Remember Scarborough!” [source]
World War 1 Propaganda Posters
“Remember Scarborough!” [source]

Atrocity and Imagery

These two posters are an excellent example of atrocity propaganda (particularly the bottom one). The famous British painter, Luck Kemp-Welch, is the artist behind this propaganda, the subject being the Raid on Scarborough, which took place on the 16th of December, 1914. German battleships opened fire on the British town of Scarborough early in the morning, killing 17 citizens, injuring more and inflicting massive damage on the town’s infrastructure. The first poster includes Britannia, the personification of Britain. Her forceful presence on the poster was likely included to inspire citizens to fight for the nation. The second poster appeals to the pathos with an emphasis on German atrocities in the raid, including the death of women and children. [source]

World War 1 Propaganda Posters
“And you?” [source]

Austrian artist Alfred Roller is the designer of this piece of German WW1 propaganda posters. The tagline “Und Ihr?” translates to “And you?” which signifies the arts message, a rhetorical question posed towards the population, asking them to evaluate their own support for the German war effort. Here, the goal was to achieve more subscriptions to Austrias Seventh War Loan (“7. Kriegsanleihe”). The underlying idea is for a citizen to see an injured German soldier, and then ask themselves what they are contributing. If not with life and limb in the trenches, the fiscal option is the next best thing. [source]

WW2 Propaganda Posters

World War 2 Propaganda Posters
Rosie the Riveter [source]

WW2 propaganda posters were the next evolution of mass propaganda.

The same predicament that plagued the US homeland during WWI had a resurgence in WWII. Once again, most military enlistees were male, meaning the workforce back home suffered a myriad of gaps. It would be a grave misfortune to leave out the role women played during this time, and the famous Rosie the Riveter poster above is symbolic of the strength and bravery those women displayed.

J. Howard Miller designed the Rosie poster in 1942, with the goal of inspiring women to join the war workforce. A sizeable increase in employed women surged, despite female workers being paid around 50 percent less in wages than males. The role women played in WWII was monumental, as they produced crucial hardware, such as munitions and aircraft parts. [source] WW2 propaganda posters such as Rosie would become some of the most recognizable images of the war.

Robert James Nichol is the artist behind this piece of Canadian WWII propaganda. The beaver is symbolic of the Canadian spirit, and is chopping away at a tree containing Adolf Hitler. The message is clear: join the war effort, and “get your teeth into the job.”

Making an enemy

World War 2 Propaganda Posters
Racist propaganda [source]

This piece of propaganda uses a racist caricature of a Japanese soldier in order to promote war bonds. There are likely a few different layers beneath it that made it effective. For one, there is the stereotypical “helpless woman” trope, which can have an emotional appeal towards the population.

Similarly, the Japanese soldier has a grotesque and almost monster like illustration, and is labeled a “horror”, sowing hatred in the population towards the enemy, and drawing citizens to buy the product. Racism was a prominent feature of some WW2 propaganda posters and helped capture the hate expressed during the time.

“Beware of Spies” (Source)

This is a German World War 2 propaganda poster, illustrated by Theo Matejko. The message reads “Beware of Spies–Be Cautious in Conversations!”, signaling espionage awareness as its main purpose.

Russian propaganda [source]

Russian propaganda in WWII was on the nationalistic side. It was common to see similar themes throughout the posters, including a larger-than-life portrayal of Joseph Stalin commanding his masses of troops, all for the glory of mother Russia.

Conclusion:

Propaganda posters were an invaluable medium for all nations during the First and Second World Wars. They would capture the national fervor of these countries, the plights that their people had to endure, and the goals they all sought to achieve. By capturing the essence of these times, propaganda posters served not only to change the minds of the people in the time of use.