How Delta, Rangers, and the Green Berets’ unique training would pay off in an Arctic war with Russia

Army Green Beret Special Forces Arctic
US Army Green Berets with 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) practice self-recovery from a glacial crevasse during an Arctic warfare exercise in Seward, Alaska, October 15, 2020.

  • The increasing accessibility of the Arctic has led to more commercial and military activity there.
  • The demanding Arctic environment requires special skills to survive and operate effectively.
  • US Army special-operations forces have long emphasized those skills and could put them to use in a war.
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After a long period of hibernation, tension in the Arctic is increasing, with military build-ups and encounters there between the US and its near-peer competitors, Russia and China.

In a reflection of that tension, the Army recently released a strategy meant to secure its military preeminence in the Arctic.

Dubbed “Regaining Arctic Dominance,” the strategy aims to create a dedicated headquarters and specialized Arctic warfare units, improve infrastructure in the region, and invest in individual and collective training.

Although mentioned only briefly in the document, Army special-operations units are expected to have a significant role in the region both in peacetime and during war.

Why the Arctic?

Army Green Berets Special Forces Finland Poland Estonia Arctic parachute
US Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) soldiers and Finnish, Polish, and Estonian special-operations forces jump out of a C-130 during airborne operations over Rovaniemi, Finland, March 14, 2018.

Economic and military activity in the Arctic is nothing new, but the region’s value has been steadily increasing as it becomes more accessible.

As the ice melts and more passages open, trade becomes easier. The Northern Sea Route, stretching along the Russian coast from Norway to the Pacific Ocean, promises to connect Europe and Asia, two markets with more than 70% of the world’s GDP.

In addition, the increased accessibility caused by climate change allows for the exploitation of natural resources that have thus far been unreachable. Although the exact size of the oil and natural gas reserves underneath the Arctic is still uncertain, it is considerable enough to catch the interest of every major global player and several regional ones.

Further, climate change means that the region is becoming increasingly accessible to military forces.

Russian Arctic Elk
Members of a Russian Northern Fleet motorized rifle brigade being pulled by reindeer during an exercise in 2017.

Recent satellite images show that Russia is amassing forces in the region and testing new weapons.

In addition to Russian ground and air force buildup in the Arctic, there is the formidable Northern Fleet, which is Russia’s largest naval formation, accounting for close to 75% of its naval power. It is responsible for both the Arctic and the Atlantic oceans.

Russia is a legitimate Arctic state and has the world’s longest Arctic coastline. China doesn’t border the Arctic, but Beijing still wants a slice of the pie.

In 2018, China declared itself a “near-Arctic state” and launched the Polar Silk Road Initiative. Similar to the much-criticized Belt and Road Initiative, this project aims to make the Arctic a route for Chinese goods.

Since 1996, the countries bordering the Arctic – Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Russia, and the US – have used the Arctic Council to address issues facing the region, with the exception of security matters. A number of non-Arctic states have observer status with the Council, including China.

Army commandos in the Arctic

Army Green Berets Special Forces Finland Arctic
Army 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) soldiers and Finnish special operations forces during live-fire training in Rovaniemi, Finland, March 16, 2018.

In the Arctic, Army special-operations units can contribute significantly to deterrence in peacetime and in a potential conflict.

Rangers, Delta Force operators, and Green Berets all have valuable mission-sets and skills that can translate very well to the Arctic domain.

The 75th Ranger Regiment is the world’s premier light infantry special-operations unit focused on direct-action missions, such as raids, ambushes, and airfield seizures.

The harsh Arctic climate means logistics and the resupply of forces are particularly challenging, making the Rangers’ ability to seize airfields especially useful in case of conflict.

Army Rangers Arctic snow Wisconsin
Students in a Cold-Weather Operations Course, including 75th Ranger Regiment soldiers, on a ruck march at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, March 1, 2019.

Delta Force is the Army’s direct-action special-mission unit and primarily specializes in hostage rescue and counterterrorism.

In the Arctic, Delta Force could conduct unconventional warfare and sabotage operations similar to the World War II missions of the British Special Air Service (SAS), a unit that influenced Delta’s formation and early days.

The SAS wreaked havoc on Nazi and Italian forces in North Africa, destroying more planes on the ground than the Allied planes did from the air. SAS operations also forced the Axis powers to use a significant number of their forces for base and vehicle convoy security rather than on the frontlines.

“We certainly have the capability and the necessary skill sets to operate all alone and deep behind enemy lines for long periods without regular resupply. The Unit has already done it in the past during Desert Storm and the invasion of Afghanistan but also more recently in Syria,” a former Delta Force operator told Insider.

Army Green Beret Special Forces ice diving
Green Berets from 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) prepare for a dive during ice-dive training at Fort Carson, Colorado, February 18, 2021.

Finally, Special Forces operators can be very valuable as trainers of conventional Army units.

Green Berets thrive in foreign internal defense, or the training of foreign partner forces. They can take that knowledge to train their conventional counterparts in specialized skills such as mountaineering and cold-weather operations.

The 10th Special Forces Group already routinely trains soldiers from the Army’s 4th Infantry Division in cold-weather operations.

There are many other courses run by Green Berets that could prove useful, such as the Special Operations Advance Mountaineering School and the Winter Mobility Instructor Course.

Army Green Beret Special Forces ice Arctic
A Green Beret from 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) climbs a frozen waterfall at Fort Carson, November 14, 2019.

“If you look at the Multi-Domain Task Force and long-range precision fires that will be in there, the capabilities, it’s ideal for the amount of training space that we have, whether it’s a maritime component, whether it’s a land component, or an air component,” Maj. Gen. Peter Andrysiak, commander of US Army Alaska, told Insider during a March press briefing.

“So there’s a lot of opportunities to look at the breadth and depth of a future battlefield where Special Operations Command will play a role,” Andrysiak added.

All of the above units can also conduct special reconnaissance and direct both airstrikes and naval gunfire.

Other Army special-operations units, such as the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the “Night Stalkers,” and the Psychological Operations Groups could also contribute by enabling operations or shaping the critical information environment.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

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US deploys Green Berets to defeat ISIS-linked insurgents accused of beheading children on a new front in south Africa

Army Special Forces Green Berets Chinook helicopter helocasting
US Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Green Berets observe a CH-47 Chinook helicopter conduct hoisting operations during helocast training at Eglin Base Air Force Base, Florida, February 6, 2013.

  • US Army Special Forces will train Mozambican marines for the next two months to counter al-Shabab’s spread.
  • It comes after the US listed the group as a foreign terrorist organization last week because of its links to ISIS.
  • The violence in the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado has caused 2,000 deaths and displaced 670,000 people.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The elite Green Berets have been deployed to help defeat Islamic State insurgents accused of beheading children as young as 11 in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique.

US Army Special Forces soldiers are to train Mozambican marines for the next two months to counter the rapidly escalating insurgency from ISIS-linked terrorist group al-Shabab.

It comes after the US officially listed the group as a foreign terrorist organization last week because of its links to ISIS, who it pledged allegiance to in 2018 and who claimed its first attack in June 2019.

Mozambique, in southern Africa, represents the worrying spread of Islamic insurgency on the continent. Other nations facing ISIS-linked violence include Somalia, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, and Libya.

The deployment of the Green Berets is “to prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism,” the US Embassy in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, said, The Times reported.

According to an Insider report last month, the Green Berets are called on to deploy worldwide, build lasting relationships with local groups friendly towards the United States, and then teach those groups how to kill effectively. The SF soldiers then begin going on missions with the locals and fight side-by-side.

The situation in the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, which began in 2017, became even more urgent last year, with up to 3,500 fighters regularly engaging with the military to capture key towns.

At least 2,000 civilians have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project and 670,000 have been displaced, Save the Children added. Around a million people are also in need of food aid, the UN estimated.

‘They took my eldest son and beheaded him’

Cabo Delgado
Elsa, 28, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, stands with her family in a displacement camp in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique on January 26, 2021.

Children as young as 11 years old have been executed, according to Save the Children, that has spoken to displaced families that have described horrific executions by the Islamic insurgents.

One mother, Elsa, 28, whose name has been changed, told Save the Children: “That night our village was attacked and houses were burned. When it all started, I was at home with my four children.

“We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him. We couldn’t do anything because we would be killed too.”

Impoverished Mozambique, in southern Africa, had been relying on foreign mercenaries, mainly from South Africa, who have also been accused of human rights abuses.

An Amnesty International report found that both sides committed war crimes, with government forces responsible for abuses against civilians, something it has denied.

Mozambique violence
The remains of a burned and destroyed home is seen in the recently attacked village of Aldeia da Paz outside Macomia, Mozambique, on August 24, 2019.

Cabo Delgado has a population of 2.3 million, most of whom are Muslim, and is one of the poorest provinces in Mozambique with high illiteracy and unemployment rates, according to the BBC.

Al-Shabab, not to be confused with the Somalian al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group of a similar name, means The Youth in Arabic.

It has found ready recruits among the unemployed young people from the area, al-Jazeera reported.

Although a ruby deposit and gas field were discovered in Cabo Delgado in 2009 and 2010, creating dreams of a better life for locals, these were soon undermined by violence and extreme flooding, the BBC noted.

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Here’s what US snipers say they have to think about before they pull the trigger

An Army paratrooper points a weapon during sniper training at Pocek Range in Postojna, Slovenia
An Army paratrooper points a weapon during sniper training at Pocek Range in Postojna, Slovenia.

  • To be a sniper is to be an expert marksman at great distances.
  • Snipers consider their target, ballistics, and shooting position, knowing the first shots may be their best.
  • Several current and former US military sniper instructors told Insider about what it takes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

What do snipers think about before they pull the trigger? There are dozens of possible considerations that go into a sniper’s shot, everything from wind to an escape plan should things suddenly go sideways, current and former US military sniper instructors told Insider.

A sniper must be able to put accurate and effective fire on targets that may be moving at distances far beyond the range of regular infantry, which are trained to shoot at targets out to a few hundred meters. Snipers are trained to shoot targets possibly thousands of meters away.

To shoot at those greater distances, which sometimes requires pushing a weapon beyond its limits, snipers have to consider things like target selection and priority, size, distance to target, whether or not the bullet is lethal at that range, and, if the target is moving, target speed and direction.

‘We know what a bullet does’

There are also the ballistics – anything that affects the flight path of the bullet that could cause the sniper to miss.

Extensive ballistics knowledge is one of several key differentiators between snipers – expert marksmen – and other troops who are simply good shots, according to a former instructor.

“We know what a bullet does,” John Wayne Walding, a former US Army Green Beret who became a Special Forces sniper instructor after losing a leg in Afghanistan, told Insider. “A sniper has education on not just what the bullet’s doing but why it’s doing it. That is what sets us apart.”

There are both internal and external ballistics, he said.

Internal is everything happening inside the rifle and includes things like bullet size and weight, which affect to what degree a bullet will be impacted by the various external factors, and the barrel twist, which affects the spin drift of the round at greater distances.

External ballistics are everything happening to the bullet once it exits the barrel. Among the external factors that can affect the bullet’s flight path are atmospherics like wind, humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, and air density.

Wind speed and direction, which can change suddenly and inexplicably, are particularly important because they account for most missed shots, US Marine Corps Scout Sniper instructor Staff Sgt. Joshua Coulter told Insider.

Snipers need to know wind at not only their position, but also at various points along the bullet’s path and at the target. To get a wind reading for the distant points, the sniper looks for makeshift wind indicators like trash, clothes on a clothesline, smoke, or really anything that might be blowing in the wind.

Other possible considerations may include the curvature and rotation of the Earth, the angle of the shot if the shooter and target are at different elevations, and anything, such as thicker vegetation, between the sniper and the target that might throw off the shot.

Snipers have to take most, if not all, of these factors into account and correct before they fire a shot to hit a distant target – with the knowledge that their first shot is likely to be their best chance at striking it.

There are electronic tools that snipers can use to simplify the process to determine things like range, gather atmospheric data, and generate a firing solution. Snipers try not to rely on these though, but if they do use them, they verify the data.

The much more important tool snipers have is their collection data on previous engagements, which contains detailed information on how the sniper, the rifle, and the bullet performed in certain conditions in the real, not digital, world.

“At the end of the day, the bullet is not going to lie to you,” US Army sniper instructor Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Jones told Insider.

“We really don’t need a lot of technology to be able to operate,” he said, explaining that “given a weapon system with an optic and data on previous engagements, we are pretty effective at doing our job as far as engaging targets goes.”

US Army sniper during a sniper competition
US Army sniper during a sniper competition

‘That is when you want to fire the weapon’

There are also marksmanship fundamentals like shooting position, trigger control, and breathing that the sniper has to take into consideration. Through training, many of these things will become second nature for a sniper.

The ideal shooting platform is one that is solid, stable, and durable, and the ideal shooting position is prone. That is not always an option in battle though, so snipers have to be prepared to work with what is available, Walding told Insider.

“Out in the real world, you’re shooting over a Humvee, shooting out of a window, on a rooftop, on a knee, standing, standing while moving,” he said. “There are so many alternate shooting techniques we run through because of the realities of the battlefield.”

A proper shooting position improves recoil management, preventing the explosion that violently forces the bullet out of the rifle from disturbing the sight picture and complicating follow-on shots.

For similar reasons, it is also important that snipers have good control of the trigger, applying pressure smoothly when firing, and have relaxed, natural breathing.

“You want to breathe as natural as possible,” Jones said, explaining that snipers wait for a “natural pause” in ther breathing. “That is when you want to fire the weapon,” he said.

Snipers also have to think about mission-specific considerations such as muzzle flash, lens glare on the scope if the sniper is shooting into the sun, and barrel blast that can blow out vegetation or kick up dust. Any of these things can affect concealment and give away a shooter’s position.

Stealth and concealment, though they are crucial sniper skills, are not necessarily required for every mission, but when they are, snipers have to be prepared for the possibility that their position is compromised by their shot.

It is critical that snipers have an escape plan, “a tenable egress route and sourced contingency assets and fire support agencies in the event their position is compromised post-shot,” Coulter said.

‘Somebody that can get the job done’

“There are a million things that go into being a sniper, and you have to be good at all of them,” an Army sniper previously told Insider. That said, when it comes to the shot process, “everybody is going to have their checklist” that they run through, Jones said.

And in many, but not necessarily all, cases, there is also planning before the mission.

Coulter said that ideally a sniper’s “ability to conduct a mission analysis prior to crossing the line of departure or taking the shot will allow them to occupy a brief position of advantage when relatively compared to the enemy, the terrain and current weather.”

Doing so increases “the odds of mission success,” he said.

And with practice comes experience, reducing the time it takes to run through the process. A trained sniper can put accurate fire on at least 10 targets in about 10 minutes. It is actually something Army snipers have to do to graduate from the program.

For the extreme long-range shots, the shot process can still take some time, as well as some math. A Marine Corps sniper previously told Insider about a shot he took in training that involved putting a bullet in a target 2,300 meters away. It took him roughly 20 to 25 minutes to plan the shot.

Although shooting is a very important part of what snipers do, it is only a part. Snipers also gather intelligence and provide overwatch on the battlefield. The role requires professionalism, reliability, capability, and maturity.

“Just because you can shoot doesn’t mean you can be a sniper,” Walding said, adding that “You’ve got to have somebody that can get the job done, and not every marksman can.”

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