Special Forces soldiers are not your regular soldiers. The soldiers who become part of these teams are selected to be as intimating as possible in order to carry out the world’s toughest, most complicated operations. NATO describes special forces as “military activities conducted by specially designated…forces, manned with selected personnel, using unconventional tactics…” These units definitely go above and beyond the normal military activities. Check out the toughest special forces from around the world!
1. British SAS
While special forces were introduced in the beginning of the 20th century, they didn’t become really prominent and widespread until World War II and the British SAS was one of the first.
The British SAS (Special Air Service) was created in 1941 during World War II and started out as a regiment before becoming a corp. They became especially well-known in 1980 for rescuing hostages during the Iranian Embassy siege, which was televised. The respected special forces are still active today, working heavily in counter-terrorism.
2. Irish Army Ranger Wing
This special forces unit was formed in Ireland in 1980 to deal with terrorism but eventually branched out to special operations as well and has been involved in many international peacekeeping missions.
The Army Ranger Wing takes recruits from the Irish Army, Naval Service, and Air Corps, where prospects must pass a number of physical and mental tests. Basically, if you are not tough and can’t handle extreme stress, you can’t be part of this unit!
3. French Special Forces
They are known as the COS (Commandement des Opérations Spéciales) and the unit was created in 1992, after the Gulf War. They trained in preparedness, which means they can jump into action at a moment’s notice!
They are operated by the Special Operations Command and people in Paris have been seeing them a lot more of them since the recent wave of European terrorist attacks. The COS is based in Pau, Pyrenees-Atlantiques and is made up of Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel.
4. Canadian JTF2
It was the British special forces unit that inspired Canada to do the same and one of their best forces is their Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) elite special operations force of the Canadian Armed Forces.
The JTF2 is based at Dwyer Hill, near Ottawa, Ontario and they specialize in immediate response, chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear warfare but mainly focus on counter-terrorism. We don’t know much about their operations because most of them are classified and the government doesn’t talk about them very much!
5. French Commandos Marine
Here is another French special forces unit and this one is part of the French Navy, where they mainly operate outside of Brittany in North-West France. The unit was created around the same time as the British special forces in World War II.
It remains one of the oldest special forces units in the world. The Commandos Marine consists of about 650 soldiers and they have the nickname Bérets Verts (Green Berets), referring to the caps they wear.
6. Israeli Shayetet 13
Shayetet 13 of the Israeli Navy is one of the main special forces units of the Israel Defense Forces and they are also one of the most secretive. Most of their missions are highly classified, but nonetheless, they are considered one of the best special forces in the world.
Their motto is “as the bat emerges from the darkness, as the blade cuts through with silence, as the grenade smashes in rage” and they are as tough as can be. Those who join the force have to stay on for at least four years and their training consists of Krav Maga, where they learn how to turn their bare hands into weapons!
7. Russian Spetsnaz
Those who play “Call of Duty” or have seen movies like “Hitman” and “Predators” have heard of the Russian special forces, the Spetsnaz. They are as tough in real life as they look on screen!
The Spetsnaz is actually an umbrella term for Russia’s special forces and it used to indicate special military units controlled by the military intelligence service GRU. They are active in many places around the former Soviet Union.
8. U.S. Navy Seals
The U.S. has one of the largest militaries in the world and one of their most important units is the Navy Seals. “Seal” stands for “Sea, Air, and Land.” They are the Navy’s main special operations force and it is not easy to join.
Considering they have to be the best of the best, one must to go through extensive training to become a Navy Seal. These are the guys that raided Osama Bin Laden’s compound and took him down and they have certainly done a lot more dangerous raids, but not all are made public.
9. French GIGN
The French GIGN (National Gendarmerie Intervention Group) is a special operations group of the national police force, National Gendarmerie, and is considered to be an elite law enforcement group.
Since they were formed in 1974, the GIGN have been deployed for situations such as counter-terrorism operations, hostage rescues and surveillance of national threats. They are allowed to operate anywhere in the world but mainly stay in France and have such a good rap sheet that they are said to be one of the most experienced counter-terrorism units in the world.
10. German KSK
Leave it to the Germans to have an intense elite special forces unit! The German KSK is made up of soldiers from the ranks of Germany’s Bundeswehr and they are organized under the Rapid Forces Division.
Once someone is selected to be a part of the special forces unit, they are sent to 17 different schools around the world for specific training. The NATO has given the KSK many awards and decorations, so they are internationally recognized as a great special forces unit.
11. U.S. Military Special Forces Snipers
People may know the US Special Forces as the Green Berets, but the enemies know them as pure terror. They’re as good as they get in terms of getting the most precise shots in the world and it definitely wasn’t an easy journey to get that way.
After someone passes the Special Forces Qualification Course, they have the opportunity to take advanced classes including the Special Forces Sniper Course. Snipers can spend hours upon hours waiting for their target to come into sight. One thing’s for certain though, you do not want to get caught in these guys’ crosshairs.
12. Serbian Gendarmerie
This Serbian armed police force is relatively new, having been created in 2001 as a branch of Serbia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, but now, it consists of a Special Operations Unit and a Special Police Unit.
The Serbian Gendarmerie deals with both civilian and military duties with their main objective being to secure the ‘Ground Safety Zone’ and be disaster rescue teams. They also deal with counter-terrorism and putting an end to riots in prisons as well.
13. Iraqi Special Operations Forces
The Iraqi special forces are known as the Golden Division and were created after the 2003 U.S. invasion by coalition forces. They are directed by the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service.
This unit consists of about 18,000 soldiers and their motto is “May you sleep peacefully in your bed tonight for a mighty sword stands ready to strike fear in the hearts of those who would terrorize us.” Just last year, they became the first Iraqi unit to enter the Mosul neighborhood of Gogali, which had been taken over by Islamic State.
14. Danish Hunter Corps
The Hunter Corps of the Royal Danish Army is an elite special forces unit that has been around since 1961 but they weren’t deployed until 1995, when they were sent to Bosnia as a counter-sniper reconnaissance team.
As an ode to their name, their insignia consists of a hunting horn and after completing one year of service, a soldier is given the maroon beret with the symbol. The unit only consists of 150 members but they are all highly trained and specialize in a variety of skills.
15. German Kampfschwimmer
Here is another German special forces group and the Kampfschwimmer, which translates to “combat swimmers,” is the only special-purpose force of the German Navy.
These members have to go through rigorous training and they won’t even accept anyone younger than 17 or older than 25. Every soldier has to be able to pass every single one of their grueling physical tests including swimming 1,000 meters in less than 23 minutes and holding one’s breath for at least a minute!
16. Indian MARCOS
The Indian Navy special forces unit, the MARCOS, is one of the most well trained special forces in the world and they are specifically trained to conduct special operations in a maritime environment.
They have been around since 1987 and have such a great reputation that enemies fear them, calling them the “Dadiwala Fauj,” which means “Bearded Army” (they disguise themselves with beards). While their exact numbers are classified, it’s well known that not many people get accepted into their program because it is so hard to pass their tests.
17. Taiwan Republic of China Armed Forces
Basically, they are the armed special forces in Taiwan, which includes the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Military Police Force. They have actually been around since 1924, when they used to be called the National Revolutionary Army.
In the ’70s, they were tasked with retaking mainland China from the communist People’s Republic of China but now they deal with defending the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, and others from the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
18. Austrian Jagdkommando
If you translate Jagdkommando into English, it means “Manhunt command” and they certainly live up to the name with their highly trained members who keep the country safe.
The Austrian Armed Forces’ Special Operations group specializes in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency and is made up of of three task forces. While lots of people try to join, only about 20-25% make the cut because they only pick the best of the best, which are those who greatly excel in their tough training program.
19. Peruvian Armed Forces
The Peruvian Armed Forces are known for their painted faces and they have been doing that since they were founded in 1821. They consist of members from all four branches: the Joint Command, Army, Navy, and Air Force.
They mainly deal with domestic issues as they are tasked with keeping their country safe and free of conflict. Their leader, just like in the U.S., is the president but they also report to the Ministry of Defense and Chief of Defense.
20. Pakistan Special Service Group
The main special forces unit of the Pakistan Army is the Special Service Group (SSG), also known as the “Black Storks,” and it was formed in 1956, when they based much of their initial training and orientation on that of the U.S. Special Forces.
The SSG is headquartered at Tarbela Cantonment and is divided into eight battalions with their leader being a major-general. Their most recent operation has been Operation Zarb-e-Azb, targeted terror groups in the region, including Islamic State and al-Qaida.
21. U.S. Delta Force
The Delta Force’s official name is the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta and they are one of the most secretive U.S. forces, performing missions we may never learn about.
This elite Special Mission Unit was created in 1977 and was actually modeled after the British SAS because of their high rate of success. They specialize in hostage rescue and counter-terrorism and have recently been involved in the Mexican Drug War.
22. Polish JW GROM
JW GROM is Poland’s elite counter-terrorism unit. JW stands for Jednostka Wojskowa (Military Unit) and GROM stands for Grupa Reagowania Operacyjno-Manewrowego (Group for Operational Maneuvering Response).
They are actually one of five special forces units in the Polish Armed Forces and they specialize in unconventional warfare. They are actually named after Poland’s World War II elite special-operations unit that resisted the Nazi occupation and they still have that same determination to keep their country safe.
23. British Special Boat Service
The UK’s Royal Navy has a special forces unit known as the Special Boat Service and it was formed during World War II. It specializes in maritime counter-terrorism operations.
They are considered to be the UK’s most highly-trained special forces unit and they aren’t in the news very often because they prefer to keep their activities under the radar. The SBS work a lot with Surveillance Reconnaissance, Offensive Action, and Support and Influence.
24. Australian SAS
While they are similar to the British SAS and have followed greatly in their footsteps, the Australian SAS has its own place in history and are a major part of the Australian Military.
It was formed in 1957 and since then, it has been deployed in Borneo, Vietnam, Somalia, East Timor, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They also handle domestic issues when they come up, but mainly deal with covert long-range reconnaissance and surveillance missions, working in small teams.
25. German GSG 9
The GSG 9 is another special forces group in Germany and they are basically like highly-trained cops. They are considered to be a counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, and special operations police unit.
This unit was formed after the Munich Olympic bombing because, at the time, police weren’t prepared to deal with terrorist attacks and did not know what to do. The GSG is deployed when there are incidents of hostage-taking, kidnapping, terrorism, and extortion and they make sure to put an end to it.
26. U.S. Air Force Pararescue
As trained as a special forces soldier may be, they still may find themselves in need of a rescue and that is why the U.S. Air Force Pararescue task force was formed.
Basically, they deal with recovery and medical treatment of people in humanitarian and combat environments. They also have been known to assist NASA missions and rescue astronauts after their water landings. They are trained to be able to rescue people no matter what the situation or environment.
27. Turkish Special Forces Command
The Maroon Berets are very well known in the military world as they have won NATO’s Special Forces Competition four times in a row. That is a pretty distinct honor to have.
Members of the Turkish Special Forces Command come from all branches of the military but are only eligible to officially join after a four-year training period. The special forces unit is one of the few special operations teams that still does the “trust shot” to get soldiers to trust each other. The training period is so intense up until that point that many people actually drop out.
28. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was established as a separate branch of Iran’s Armed Forces after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They are tasked with a very specific mission, protect the regime’s Islamic Republic system. Meaning, they play an enormous role in Iranian society, politics, economy and military.
The Revolutionary Guards jumped into action in 2009 during the protests against the presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, helping to silence dissent. Protesters argued that the elections had been manipulated and rigged. The Revolutionary Guards censored the news and internet, made mass arrests and killed around 70 protestors. Opposition leaders claim that the prisoners are tortured and raped, and some have even died while in prison.
29. Indian Parachute Regiment
The Parachute Regiment is another special forces unit in India and this one is part of their Army as an airborne infantry regiment. They’ve been keeping their country safe since the unit was formed in 1945.
Their colors are maroon and blue, with their nickname being “The Paras” which means the red devils, so you know they are a tough group. Their motto is “Shatrujeet” which translates to “The Conqueror” and they helped India gain its independence in 1947.
30. Malaysian VAT 69
This elite multi-tasking unit of the Royal Malaysian Police special forces certainly lives up to their full name of “Very Able Troops” 69, as they are known for their high-risk missions.
They carry out counter-terrorism missions, hostage rescues, intelligence gathering, and counter-insurgency missions, utilizing their 1,900 members to do so. These members are highly trained and even conduct jungle warfare, which is something not a lot of special forces are skilled in.
31. Philippine Scout Rangers
Their name may not sound like someone you would be afraid of but they are actually a Special Operations Command unit of the Philippine Army that specializes in anti-guerrilla jungle warfare, raids, ambushes, and sabotage.
The Scout Rangers were created in 1950 to deal with the Hukbalahap guerrillas and later, they were a big part of the capture of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebel camp. Like the VAT 69, they are trained to fight in the jungle and track down enemies.
32. Serbian Special Brigade
Serbia may be a tiny country but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a powerful military. One of their best special forces units is the Special Brigade, which was formed in 2006.
The elite unit of the Serbian Armed Forces carries out special operations for the Serbian Army, including special reconnaissance and counter-terrorism. Their squads are stationed in Niš and Pančevo and consist of about 1,000 members.
33. Sri Lankan Special Forces Regiment
The most secretive unit in the Sri Lanka Army is the Special Forces Regiment, which is one of their two special operations units. Their headquarters is in Seeduwa.
When they were first formed in 1986, they were known as the “Combat Tracker Team” and then went on to become a reconnaissance group before eventually becaming their own special operation group. They are so secretive that it is unknown to the public exactly what they do or how they pick their members.
34. The “Night Stalkers”
With a nickname like Air Force Night Stalkers, you know they must be frightening, especially since they do most of their missions at night to avoid the risk of being seen.
The 160th SOAR is a special operations force of the U.S. Army that was formed in 1981 because, at the time, the U.S. had no helicopter units trained to deal with short-notice night missions. Their missions consist of attack, assault, and reconnaissance.
35. Indonesian Kopassus
The Kopassus is the special forces unit of the Indonesian Army and their name is a blend of the words Komando Pasukan Khusus, which means “Special Forces Command.”
Though they were created in 1952, they didn’t become well known until after the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in the 1970s and gained notoriety once again when they helped release the hostages of the 1981 Garuda Indonesia Flight 206. Their members are very well respected, especially by the media and they are brought in to help with government military campaigns.
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