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Special Unit FAES strikes fear in Venezuela

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Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales FAES Venezuela - Special Unit FAES strikes fear in Venezuela

FAES – the special operation forces – has earned notoriety since the uprising against Nicolas Maduro began last month in Venezuela. Graffiti artists have daubed Caracas’ walls with messages denouncing its operatives as “murderers of the people”. Activists who are protesting against government suspect Nicolás Maduro has tasked FAES (Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales) with pacifying the city’s barrios in order to snuff out the protest in areas once considered the cradle of Chavismo.

But little is known so far about the elite special operation forces inner workings or even who exactly commands the unit. In a recent report, the Venezuelan human rights group Provea said FAES unit was created by Nicolas Maduro in 2017 to fight “organized crime and terrorism” and was part of Venezuela’s national police force, although some stories in state-run media outlets describe it as being directly under the command of the Venezuelan military. By last year it boasted almost 1,300 operators.

In a recent post on its official Instagram account, the unit said its role was to “guarantee security, tranquility and peace” for all Venezuelans. But activists claim it has taken on an explicitly political role since the most severe challenge to Nicolas Maduro’s rule erupted last month.

In one Instagram video, a FAES commander with his face hidden by balaclava urges troops to show “absolute loyalty to Maduro” given the “extremely difficult moments” his administration was facing. “As soldiers who are faithful to the revolution, let’s go for it, let’s really go for it – without hesitation,” he says.

FAES operators - Special Unit FAES strikes fear in Venezuela

FAES operators performing operation in Caracas suburb (Photo: Pinterest/Venezuela)

Provea’s coordinator, Rafael Uzcátegui, said: “What the government is trying to do is contain the discontent, to contain the anger – not by addressing the citizens’ concerns but by instilling terror and fear.”

Uzcátegui said his group had counted 43 killings linked to the protests. It had not been possible to identify the perpetrators of each death but he believed Faes was the number one culprit, followed by the pro-government paramilitary groups known as ‘colectivos’. FAES’ role appeared to be “neutralizing the greatest possible number of people”, not bringing criminals to justice.

Asked about alleged FAES killings on Venezuelan television last week, the attorney general, Tarek William Saab, said the criminal responsibility for such acts was “individual. Those who commit violations … will be prosecuted, whichever part of the police they are from.”

However, FAES continues to operate and execute various mission even after those allegations.

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Time for Change in U.S. Special Operations Command?

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annual sniper competiton us socom - Time for Change in U.S. Special Operations Command?

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command has gained manpower and money as well as responsibility for an ever-wider range of missions. But now Congress is beginning to question, and push back against, the commando mission-creep.

At present SOCOM is the lead agency for U.S. military counterterrorism operations and security-force assistance. The latter involves U.S. forces training foreign armies and other proxy forces.

SOCOM in 2016 also assumed the lead role in combating the spread of weapons of mass destruction, a mission that previously belonged to U.S. Strategic Command. More recently, SOCOM became the lead command for America’s “military information support operations.” In essence, propaganda.

The command wants even more responsibility, according to CRS. “The current unified command plan stipulates USSOCOM responsibility for synchronizing planning for global operations to combat terrorist networks,” CRS noted.

This focus on planning limits its ability to conduct activities designed to deter emerging threats, build relationships with foreign militaries and potentially develop greater access to foreign militaries.”

USSOCOM is proposing changes that would, in addition to current responsibilities, include the responsibility for synchronizing the planning, coordination, deployment and, when directed, the employment of special operations forces globally and will do so with the approval of the geographic combatant commanders, the services and, as directed, appropriate U.S. government agencies.

Further, the proposed changes would give broader responsibility to USSOCOM beyond counterterrorism activities, to include activities against other threat networks.

But the world has changed in those nearly two decades. Congress increasingly has questioned SOCOM’s sprawling responsibilities and recently ordered two separate reviews of the command.

Lawmakers in part were motivated by reports of misconduct by SOCOM personnel as well as by SOCOM’s alleged participation in conflicts for which Congress did not provide authorization, specifically in Niger.

Four SOCOM troops died on Oct. 4, 2017 when militants ambushed their patrol in Niger in Central Africa.

“Prior to starting out on the ill-fated patrol, two junior officers, including an Army captain who remained at the base in Niger and the team leader, falsified a document to get approval for a mission to kill or capture a local ISIS leader,” CNN reported.

“That mission was never approved by the proper chain of command, according to [an official] summary. A much lower-risk mission was instead submitted and approved. However, the team was unable to locate the ISIS leader during their unauthorized mission.”

“Some believe this situation calls into question the adequacy of civilian oversight and control of U.S. SOF,” according to CRS.

The reviews of SOCOM that CRS mentioned will “take an introspective look at U.S. SOF’s culture, roles and responsibilities, adequacy of resources, organizational structure and the adequacy of training, education and personnel,” the research service reported.

“Some have suggested these provisions are a precursor for congressional and [Defense Department] actions to ‘rein in and reorient’ U.S. SOF from fighting terrorists to taking on nation-states, instead.”

Aware that U.S. [special operations forces] are overburdened and that there is a need to find the right balance between continuing to challenge terrorist organizations while simultaneously addressing growing irregular warfare threats posed by nation-states, policymakers will likely make good use of the two forthcoming congressionally mandated reviews.

It is possible that over the next few years, significant public policy debates on the future of USSOCOM and U.S. SOF will be undertaken, potentially resulting in a number of changes.

After 17 years at the forefront of the global military campaign against terrorism, policymakers, defense officials, and academics are questioning the future role of USSOCOM and U.S. SOF.

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad.

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US SOF strengthen relationships with allied partners through combined training

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us and romanian sof joint training - US SOF strengthen relationships with allied partners through combined training

U.S. Air Force’s 7th Special Operation Squadron, assigned to 352nd Special Operation Wing, based out of Mildenhall, England, deployed to Bacau, March 10-15, 2019, to conduct mission essential tasks, and simultaneously, familiarize Romanian SOF with the CV-22 Osprey.

“The importance is not only for the commonality of our tactics, techniques, and procedures between US forces and partner forces but combining that within the NATO spectrum to make sure we are all operating in the same format,” said a U.S. Air Force Special Operations Capt., the mission commander for the training event and flight lead pilot . “Being able to get these staged drills out of the way now in a safe and effective training environment, allows us to be able to have the confidence to forward deploy in any contingency operation.”

The 7th SOS operates the CV-22B Osprey throughout the entire range of military operations in support of conventional and special operations. The 7th SOS executes this mission at night, in adverse weather, performing long-range insertion, extraction and resupply missions in hostile, denied and politically sensitive territories.

US and ROU SOF conducted day and night fast rope infiltration and exfiltration operations (FRIES) and low-level flying. These capabilities are something ROU SOF are (trained and) skilled in; however, this was their first time conducting FRIES out of the CV-22.

“Everyone here had used fast rope before, on different platforms, so they understood their techniques,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt., 7th SOS, special mission aviator. “One of the main differentiators from our side was just reminding them that the CV-22 creates a lot more downwash and it’s a much different experience when it comes to deploying out of our aircraft, compared to a conventional rotary wing aircraft.”

Through these pieces of training, SOF members demonstrate and strengthen partner nation relationships and air operations in the European Theatre.

“The ROU SOF was able to extend the CV-22 familiarization training invitation to other units that are not co-located here at Bacau,” said the mission commander. “So they were able to cycle through as many of their special operation ground forces as they could, during this timeframe.”

Along with developing combined leaders, this deployment gave the US SOF members the opportunity to establish professional development at the tactical level.

“I’ve been flying for the Air Force for 15 years, and all my training has been stateside, so even for me in the short time I’ve moved to RAF Mildenhall,” said U.S. Air Force Capt., an instructor pilot for the 7th SOS. “I’ve learned a lot working with Allied partners, whether it’s working through language barriers or just the different techniques. It’s eye-opening.”

The 7th SOS mission commander was very thankful for the ability to utilize the diverse NATO terrain and base resources to accomplish their objectives.

“The Romanian Government and Air Force Base here in Bacau have been extremely supportive with their ability to reach out to us and help,” said the mission commander. “They’ve been able to work on request, with short notice, to include base access, providing us workspace and just being very accommodating when it comes to airspace and tower-controlled patterns that they run here on the airfield.”

This collaborative training event allows each force to improve its individual and collective capabilities, and the 352nd SOW and ROU SOF will continue to train shoulder-to-shoulder in similar exercises.

“The biggest takeaway for me, is the Romanian partners are more than willing to host us, but they are thirsty to work with us as far as continued training,” said the mission commander. “Looking forward to coming back, not just in Bacau but into Romania in general, so that we can work in the dynamic air space that they have, and their terrain, but also working with the ROU SOF members who seem to be very much interested in working with specialized air power like the tilt-rotor Osprey.”

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