D.G. Martin: North Carolina, Special Forces and Ukraine

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Why can’t the Special Forces units such as those at Fort Bragg do something to help the Ukrainians’ use of unconventional warfare strategy and tactics against the invading Russian armed forces?

It turns out they have done a lot more than most of us know about.

Here is a headline from a March 2 article by Stavros Atlamazoglou, a Greek Army veteran and freelance defense journalist, posted on the website of the Business Insider: “Ukrainian special operators may soon be putting years of secretive training from the US to use against Russia.”

Another headline asserted, “Should the conventional fight in Ukraine end in Russia’s favor, Ukrainians could put those unconventional skills to use.”

Sooner or later, Atlamazoglou writes, “Russian quantitative and qualitative military superiority might give Putin his so-desired victory. But then the unconventional war will begin, and Ukrainians have been preparing for that since Russia’s invasion and seizure of Crimea in 2014.

“US and Western special-operations forces have worked extensively with the Ukrainian military in the years since, setting up commando units, training them, and preparing them to wage a guerrilla campaign against an occupying force.”

A guerrilla war in Ukraine, Atlamazoglou says, will be “bloody for defenders, insurgents, and bystanders.”

Steve Balestrieri, a journalist and retired Army Special Forces warrant officer, said, “The Russians’ logistics chain, which is already in a mess trying to keep their troops supplied, would become a primary target. They are soft-skinned, road-bound, and are staffed by conscripts, not professional warriors.”

In the event of a Russian “victory” and takeover of Ukraine, Balestrieri said, “Government buildings, isolated outposts, small groups of Russian soldiers would all be targets. If any high-ranking officers or politicians visit, they would all be likely targets for guerrilla attacks. The Russian battalion tactical groups are ill-prepared for being occupying powers in the cities of Ukraine.”

Atlamazoglou explains, “Unconventional warfare is the bread and butter of the US Army’s Special Forces Regiment-the Green Berets-and members of the 10th Special Forces Group, which has Europe as its area of responsibility, have worked with Ukrainian special-operations forces. Reports also indicate that the U.S. intelligence community has provided special-operations and intelligence training to Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, at the Army Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg, preparation for challenges such as Ukraine is ongoing and responsive to the changing threats and opportunities.

When some people learn that I served in the Special Forces they ask, “How in the world did they let you in?”

It is a good question.

I was a green second lieutenant without the skills and experience a good Special Forces soldier should have. But in 1961, President John F. Kennedy ordered the expansion of the Special Forces to include an intelligence unit.

Filling that unit was a challenge. Special Forces required airborne training and very few intelligence officers qualified. “Intelligence officers are too smart to jump out of planes,” I heard a thousand times.

But I was not that smart and was proud that I had made it through jump school.   

So, I got in. My two-year experience with the Special Forces began in 1963.

I was a freshly trained counter-intelligence second lieutenant reporting to Fort Bragg and the Special Warfare School to learn about unconventional warfare.

Ironically, the focus of training at the school was shifting rapidly from fostering and supporting insurgencies in places such as Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe to counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam.

Today, perhaps, the school will be adjusting again to changing times, renewing its focus on Eastern Europe.

Like other North Carolinians I am proud of our state’s connections to the school and to the Special Forces and for their contributions to the Ukrainian people’s battle to preserve their independence and freedoms.


D.G. Martin hosted “North Carolina Bookwatch,” for more than 20 years.