Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Every single active-duty Special Forces group has lost at least one soldier this year
It has been a deadly year for Green Berets, with every active-duty Special Forces Group losing a valued soldier in Afghanistan or Syria.
A total of 13 members of the Army special operations forces community have died in 2019, according to U.S. Army Special Operations Command. All but one of those soldiers were killed in combat.
In Afghanistan, Army special operators account for 11 of the 17 U.S. troops killed so far this year. Eight of the fallen were Green Berets. Of the other three soldiers, two worked with the 10th Special Forces Group and the other was a Ranger.
"It is extremely painful anytime we lose a member of our Army Special Operations family," said Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, a spokesman for U.S. Army Special Operations Command. "Providing support to their loved ones and honoring their service and sacrifice is a continued priority."
The fact that Army special operators are taking the brunt of the casualties in Afghanistan reflects the U.S. military's strategy of having Special Forces fight alongside Afghan troops and police while conventional forces provide "enablers," such as training and air support, said retired Marine Col. Mark Cancian, a security expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, D.C.
"Of course, enablers aren't out there on the front lines the way used to be," Cancian told Task & Purpose. "Now it's really only the Special Forces that are out there and that's by design. That's way we have structured our force."
The U.S. military decided to rely mostly on special operations forces to fight the Taliban and terrorist groups as part of the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan from about 100,000 U.S. troops during the Obama administration to roughly 14,000 troops today, said Cancian, who spent years working in the Pentagon on manpower and force structure issues.
In addition to being highly trained troops, Special Forces' core mission is to work alongside foreign militaries, he said. Lately, Special Forces have been working particularly with Iraqi and Afghan special operations forces, which are used quite often because both countries' conventional militaries are "mediocre at best."
Rep. Michael Waltz, a retired Special Forces officer, has taken note of the enormous sacrifice that Army special operators are making. Waltz (R-Fla.) told Task & Purpose that "Special Forces are leading the fight in Afghanistan."
"Green Beret teams are embedded with the Afghan commandos, which is doing the lion's share of the fighting on the ground – that's why they're taking the lion's share of the casualties," Waltz said.
Here are the soldiers with, attached to, or in support of special operations forces who have been killed in 2019:
- Sgt. First Class Jeremy W. Griffin, September 16, 2019, 1st SFG(A)-Combat
- Sgt. 1st Class Dustin B. Ard , Aug 29, 2019, 1st SFG(A)- Combat
- Master Sgt. Luis F. DeLeon-Figueroa, Aug 21, 2019, 7th SFG(A) – Combat
- Master Sgt. Jose J. Gonzalez, Aug 21, 2019, 7th SFG(A) – Combat
- Sgt. Maj. James G. "Ryan" Sartor, July 13, 2019, 10 SFG (A) – Combat
- Sgt. 1st Class Elliott J. Robbins, June 30, 2019, 10th SFG (A) - Non-Combat
- Master Sgt. Michael B. Riley, June 25, 2019, 10th SFG (A) – Combat
- Sgt. James G. Johnston, June 25, 2019, 79th Ordnance BAT (Attached to 10th SFG (A)) – Combat
- Sgt. 1st Class Will D. Lindsay, March 22, 2019, 10th SFG (A) – Combat
- Sgt. Joseph P. Collette, March 22, 2019, 242nd Ordnance BAT (In support of 10th SFG (A)) – Combat
- Sgt. 1st Class Joshua 'Zach' Beale, January 22, 2019, 3rd SFG (A) – Combat
- Sgt. Cameron Meddock, January 17, 2019, 75th RR 2nd BN- Combat
- Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan Farmer, January 16, 2019, 5th SFG (A) – Combat
For U.S. service members who have fought alongside the Kurds, President Donald Trump's decision to approve repositioning U.S. forces in Syria ahead of Turkey's invasion is a naked betrayal of valued allies.
"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," one unnamed special operator told Fox News Jennifer Griffin.
In a Twitter thread that went viral, Griffin wrote the soldier told her the Kurds were continuing to support the United States by guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners even though Turkey had nullified an arrangement under which U.S. and Turkish troops were conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria to allow the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, to withdraw.
"The Kurds are sticking by us," the soldier told Griffin. "No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has confirmed that a nightmare scenario has come to pass: Captured ISIS fighters are escaping as a result of Turkey's invasion of Kurdish-held northeast Syria.
Turkey's incursion has led to "the release of many dangerous ISIS detainees," Esper said in a statement on Monday.
Video footage of a purported "bombing of Kurd civilians" by Turkish military forces shown on ABC News appeared to be a nighttime firing of tracer rounds at a Kentucky gun range.
The U.S. military's seemingly never-ending mission supporting civil authorities along the southwestern border will last at least another year.
On Sept. 3, Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved a request from the Department of Homeland Security to provide a total of up to 5,500 troops along the border until Sept. 30, 2020, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Army North, said on Monday.