For some time now, countries around the globe have seen the need to have soldiers capable of fighting in unconventional warfare scenarios. And the war on terror has brought that requirement into even sharper focus. In fact, the origin of the world’s special forces can be traced back to World War II, with the British SAS being one of the first of these elite fighting outfits. Here we take a look at ten of the most feared special forces units in the world.
10. Special Air Service (United Kingdom)
The British SAS traces its roots back to WW II with the formation of a unit called L Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade in 1941. On the surface its mission sounded simple enough: to get behind German lines in the North African desert and cause as much mayhem as it could. But in fact this first operation was an unmitigated disaster – of the 66 men who parachuted in behind enemy lines, only 44 returned. From that inauspicious debut, though, the regiment was to go from strength to strength.
In modern times, the SAS has won a reputation as one of world’s most efficient fighting machines. Fighters from 22 SAS Regiment have seen combat in many modern theaters including Iraq and Afghanistan. International attention was focused on the SAS during the Iranian Embassy siege in London in the spring of 1980. SAS soldiers successfully ended the siege, killing all but one of the six terrorists.
9. Navy SEALs (United States)
The United States Navy Sea, Air and Land Teams, to give the Navy SEALs its full name, is another unit that can trace its origins back to World War II. The U.S. Navy needed a special force to gather information about potential landing spots and Japanese defenses in the Pacific, and so was born the Amphibious Scout and Raider School (later to become the Navy SEALs) in 1942.
The SEALs participated in the invasion of North Africa in 1942 and then went on to fight in Sicily and France. The SEALs had a number of specialist branches, including underwater demolition. After WW II, the unit’s fighters saw action in Korea and Vietnam, and in more recent times in hotspots such as Kuwait and Somalia. The SEALs also took a leading role in Afghanistan, including in the operation that saw the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011.
8. Sayeret Matkal (Israel)
This Israeli special forces unit came into being in 1957 with the role of infiltrating the territory of Israel’s enemies to gather intelligence. Taking as its inspiration the British SAS, the outfit soon began operations in nearby Arab countries. Ironically, Sayeret Matkal troops were trained in the art of tracking by Bedouin Arabs.
As the frequency of terrorist incidents increased in the late 1960s, Sayeret Matkal became expert in fields such as hostage rescue. Its personnel played an active part in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 when Israeli troops defeated forces from Egypt, Jordan and Syria. In recent years it’s believed that the secretive unit has been involved in the kidnapping of Arab leaders and in the war in Syria.
7. SSG (Pakistan)
Pakistan’s Special Service Group is part of the country’s army, with other special forces units attached to the air force and navy. It comprises eight battalions, each 700 strong. Founded in 1956, the SSG’s tactics were heavily influenced by U.S. Special Forces as the two countries collaborated during the Cold War.
The SSG has been heavily involved in the conflicts between Pakistan and its Indian neighbor, fighting in the wars of 1965 and 1971. In more recent times, the regiment has seen action in eastern Pakistan along the porous border with Afghanistan, fighting Islamic fundamentalists. In December 2014, within Pakistan, SSG fighters cornered and killed Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah, al-Qaeda’s head of global operations.
6. JTF2 (Canada)
Canada’s Joint Task Force 2 is the principal special forces unit of the Canadian Armed Forces. Founded in 1993, its first 100 personnel were recruited from other Canadian military units, including the Canadian Airborne Regiment. Following 9/11, the Canadian military expanded the force to 600 men.
JTF2 has seen action in a number of conflict zones, among them Bosnia, Haiti and Afghanistan, where its soldiers were secretly deployed in December 2001. Some commentators alleged that not even the Canadian prime minister of the time knew about the operation in the south of Afghanistan. The unit saw combat in the country when it carried out joint operations with U.S. Green Berets. It also helped the Afghan military to target leading members of the Taliban.
5. COM FST (France)
France’s Army Special Forces Command, COM FST, traces its origins to the Groupement Spécial Autonome force founded in 1997. COM FST has its headquarters in the French city of Pau in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The unit has been deployed in operations in the African countries of the Ivory Coast and Mali.
Operation Licorne was a mission to keep the peace in the Ivory Coast, a country torn apart by civil war in 2002. Intervention by French forces was said to have saved many lives in the former French colony, which gained independence in 1960. COM FST also saw action in Afghanistan in Mission Héraclès.
4. Spetsnaz (Russia)
Spetsnaz is actually a catch-all name for the various special forces in Russia. In fact, the same term is widely used in countries once part of the defunct Soviet Union. But we’ll concentrate on one of the most potent Russian units, Spetsgruppa ‘A.’ It was founded in 1974 in the days of Communist rule and its prime purpose was and is anti-terrorism.
The unit’s personnel train for underwater, mountain and airborne operations. They were heavily involved in the Soviet Union’s operations in Afghanistan, including in 1979’s Operation Storm-333. This saw the Afghani president, Hafizullah Amin, assassinated in the Tajbeg Palace near Kabul. The Soviets then replaced Amin with their own man, Babrak Karmal.
3. MARCOS (India)
The Indian navy’s special forces unit MARCOS was formerly known as the Marine Commando Force (MCF). The MCF got going in 1991, although an earlier guise had existed since 1987. Nowadays MARCOS has a wide remit including reconnaissance, hostage extraction and anti-terrorist operations.
Much of MARCOS’ activities have involved counter-insurgency operations in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in northern India, measures which continue to this day. The unit often operates undercover to curtail the activities of Kashmiri militants. Taking a leaf out of the Israeli special forces’ strategy book, MARCOS soldiers dress in local costume to blend in with the Kashmiri population.
2. SASR (Australia)
Given the country’s strong links with the U.K, it’s little surprise that Australia’s Special Air Service Regiment is styled after the British SAS, even sharing that regiment’s motto “Who Dares Wins.” The SASR was founded in 1957 and initially comprised 160 men. Its first mission was on the Malaysian island of Borneo in 1965, where it worked with British and New Zealand forces to repel incursions by Indonesian fighters.
From 1966 to 1971, SASR troops saw action in Vietnam fighting alongside the Americans and the South Vietnamese against the North Vietnamese Communists. SASR soldiers built a formidable reputation among the Viet Cong during their deployment. Moreover, their impressive skills led to the enemy nicknaming them Ma Rung which translates as “phantoms of the jungle.”
1. Green Berets (U.S.)
The official designation of the elite headgear is “beret, man’s, wool, rifle green, army shade 297” and only those who have passed the unit’s punishing training course can wear it. Unconventional warfare is the Green Berets’ stock in trade, with the outfit honing its skills during the Korean War. Since that conflict, Green Berets have played important roles in many conflicts including those in Vietnam, Somalia and Afghanistan.
It’s no surprise that in recent years, the Green Berets have been extensively deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In a July 2018 operation in Afghanistan, its members proved their deadly efficiency in combat. Troops killed 167 ISIS fighters without loss to their own forces or the Afghan soldiers they were supporting.