These Marvel shows on Netflix sure love an evil organization, huh? While the Defenders are dealing with an international group of Sigourney Weaver-led mystical ninjas called The Hand, the Punisher is going up against a shady org of his own: Operation Cerberus. So what is Operation Cerberus in The Punisher, and how scary is this new Marvel universe threat? Let's break down everything we know.
We first hear about Operation Cerberus early on in The Punisher through Frank Castle's flashbacks to his time in the military. Back when Castle was stationed in Afghanistan as a Marine sniper, he was drafted into a newly created subset of the United States military called Operation Cerberus... or at least, he was told that it was recognized by the U.S. government. In actuality, the organization was just the brainchild of a man named Rawlins, and Castle later finds out that Operation Cerberus was never approved by the United States, contrary to what Rawlins told Castle and the rest of his recruits.
The idea behind Operation Cerberus was to bypass the humanitarian laws of the U.S. military in order to torture and kill basically whoever Rawlins tells his troops to torture and kill. Though it was sold to Castle and the rest of the drafted soldiers as an unconventional tactic to end the war in a bloody but quick manner, it was actually a terrorist military cell all along, apparently responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people. The organization drew in both Castle and his best friend Billy Russo as the two leading agents in its ranks, but Castle finally learns the truth about Operation Cerberus after returning to America to find his wife and two children murdered.
We don't know much about Rawlins at the beginning of the series either, other than that he's the man who put Operation Cerberus together by assembling the most effective members of each branch of the U.S. military, as he says. As we see in a video clip obtained by both former CSA analyst Micro and Homeland Security agent Dinah Madani, Rawlins commanded his soldiers to kill at least one innocent man, who says he was an Afghani police officer who was trying to keep peace.
There actually is a comic book precedence for the character of Rawlins. Williams Rawlins was a corrupt CIA agent in the Punisher comics from the mid-2000s. As in the series, Rawlins was an extremely manipulative operative who used his position in the CIA to breed chaos and terror in war zones for his own gains. He is also shown to be very partial to backstabbing, constantly changing sides between the U.S. and the Russians whenever it best suits him. It's unclear how much of the comics The Punisher will remain true to when it comes to Rawlins, but if they do portray his full comic storyline, he won't be around for much longer. After the Punisher left Rawlins' operation in the comic books, he finds and kills his former commander in an airport bathroom.
Rawlins may be carried over from the comics, but the term Operation Cerberus is totally original to The Punisher series. Now that Frank Castle has the help of Micro, he's starting to find out more and more about the evil truths of Operation Cerberus and the horrible things he was made to do while in Afghanistan. Clearly, this is leading up to the Punisher hunting down and facing off against Rawlins at the climax of the series. It also looks like he and Micro might wind up teaming up with Dinah Madani, who's also hunting Rawlins, if they ever clear things up with her about Castle's role in that video.