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.
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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 .
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.
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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!
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!
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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.
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.
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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!
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.
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!
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!
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
The Egyptian special forces team and counter-terrorism unit is known as Unit 777 and Task Force 777. It was created in 1978 to deal with the increasing terrorist threat.
They are considered to be one of the best-trained forces in the world and they train every day to deal with all kinds of situations. While their size is classified, they are known to work in small teams and they are picky about their selection process.
From 1967 to 2009, Spain’s Unidad de Operaciones Especiales (UOE) formed the elite force of the Spanish Navy and Marines to perform special operations. Since 2009, the special forces unit merged with the new Naval Special Warfare Force.
In order to join the UOE and attain the much-coveted green beret, candidates need to run through extensive physical, psychological, and medical basic and advanced tests to secure their place in the special forces unit. It is no easy feat to pass the selection courses, and sometimes the failure rate of candidates is up to 100%. The motto of UOE is “He who can enters, not he who wants,” proving how high profile this naval and military unit really is.
The Alpha Group is an elite counter-terrorism unit of Russia’s special forces. The unit is officially called the Directorate “A” of the FSB Special Purpose Center or Spetsgruppa “A” because they deal hands-on with all terror-related missions for the FSB (Federal Security Service).
The Alpha Group took the reins when the Russian government needed to combat the mass hostage crises when proxy militant groups and the Chechen took hostages near Chechnya in the years 1995, 1996, 2002, and 2004. Since 2013, eight Alpha officers were bestowed the Hero of the Russian Federation title for their relentless dedication.
Probably the Israeli Defense Forces’ most famous special unit forces is the Sayaret Matkal, otherwise termed the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit 269. This corps is responsible for counter-terrorism operations, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance behind enemy lines, as well as hostage rescue efforts.
This formidable unit’s motto is “Who Dares Wins” because only a select few are chosen for this elite group. Anyone can volunteer for the demanding selection process which involves extensive medical, physical, and psychological examinations and tests, even resulting in sleepless nights. In order to join, one needs a passing grade, and only then can the recruit participate in the training for 18-19 months.
The all-female Jegertroppen special forces unit forms part of the Armed Forces’ Special Command and the Norwegian Special Operation Forces, whose prime focus is special reconnaissance. The corps was actually the product of a one-year experimental program in 2014, but after three years it was made permanent because of its tremendous success.
The Jegertroppen is the first special forces in the world to be all-female. In order to join this prestigious unit, women are tested based on physical aptitude and their mental attitude. The selection process is divided into a pre-selection course which lasts three weeks, and then “hell week,” which is the final selection course which tests one’s physical and mental skills. During the last week, candidates do not get much food, water, or sleep.
The South African Special Forces Brigade, nicknamed the Recces, serves as the country’s elite combat reconnaissance and counter-rebellion unit. Unlike other special force units in the world, the South African Recces are not part of the South African Army and Navy; instead, the unit reports to the Joint Operations Division.
Out of all the recruits who train for the special forces Ultimate Challenge course, which is also only a select few based on age and skill, only 8% pass the course. This training course is known as one of the most challenging selection tests incorporating a pre-selection test, parachute selection course, and the final special forces selection test. Once recruits pass the last stage, they are placed on a training cycle in order to develop all the necessary military skills.
The Indian Army’s special forces unit goes by the name of Ghatak Platoon or Commandos, which means “lethal” or “killer” in Hindi. The function of this infantry squad is to lead as shock troops ahead of enemy assaults, as well as to conduct raids, special reconnaissance, and air attacks.
The Ghatak Force usually comprises of 20 men who are physically and mentally fit. The recruits also previously outshone all other soldiers in an infantry battalion and passed the Commando Training Course. The recruits usually undergo training in rock climbing, demolition, navigation, close quarter battle, and air assault.
These troops, otherwise known as the Commandos, serve with the motto “Luck Protects the Bold” and are often heard singing their war cry. This special forces unit was originally formed to act as a counter-guerrilla force in the Portuguese Colonial War.
As most training and selection courses for special forces units go, the Portuguese Commandos have to prove their physical and mental might in order to make the cut. The training uses what’s called psychological training to test the willpower of recruits whereby none of the soldiers are told what the physical training will entail, but have to preserve until the very end, however long that may be.
The Greek’s strength and might traces all the way back to the Greek Empire, and nothing has changed with the 32nd Marines Brigade, or more aptly put, the Hellenic Marine Corps whose motto is “Courage is Necessary.” This unit operates near the Greek islands with its base in Volos, Thessaly.
The Hellenic Marines Corps carries out operations on the ground and under water and can be identified by its green berets and the insignia of the first ever documented Greek marine excursion which has the Argo ship that Jason and the Argonauts used to sail from Iolcos to Colchis.
This special forces unit, formed in 1983, was actually created as a specialized police corps and not a military unit to combat insurgency and terrorism in Sri Lanka. Most of the recruits are posted in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, while some are stationed in the Vavuniya and Mannar Districts.
The Sri Lankan Special Task Force also specializes in providing VIP security, so much so, that foreign law enforcement organization employed the force’s expertise to assist in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and other events with high-alert terrorist threats.
“Any mission, in any place, at any time, by every way,” is the name of the game for the Brazilian Special Operations Command. This elite fighting force was originally formed as a parachute rescue unit for missions deep in the Brazilian jungle.
Today, the unit functions all over Brazil and is trained for conventional and unconventional combat against any type of enemy. One of the unit’s discerning capabilities is its ability to counter and destroy guerrilla warfare groups, not to mention its counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capabilities.
When the Dutch want to be all elite, all they need to do is point right at their special forces unit called the M-Squadron or Unit Interventie Mariniers, which consists of specially-trained marines from the Dutch Marine Corps.
The unit forms part of the Maritime Special Operations Forces (MARSOF) and is tasked with conducting special missions on land and sea in and out of the Netherlands. This elite unit combats terrorism and maritime intervention and joins the Dutch Police, Navy, and Army in joint counter-terrorism and law enforcement excursions.
When the Federal Republic of Somalia needs to attend to pressing issues of national interest, the Somalia Special Forces Unit Alpha Group steps in with its counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering capabilities. The main function of this unit is to detect and impede threats against the safety of the state and its citizens.
The unit places special emphasis on counter-terrorism and in 2014, the force established the Alpha Group Gaashaan corps (“Shield”) to form a strategic part of the National Intelligence and Security Agency of Somalia. Only the top 40 soldiers from the Somali National Army are selected for this unit.
In order to form part of this elite air and infantry combat unit, recruits need to graduate from the U.S. Army Ranger School. This unit is renowned for its role during the wars in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as well as the conflicts in Grenada and Panama.
These rangers are tasked with direct action raids, special reconnaissance, site exploitation, and air attacks against hostile people that pose high-value threats around the world. The special characteristic about the Rangers is its rapid deployment formation, meaning the unit can get a ranger division up and running within 18 hours of notice warning.
The Armed Forces of Guatemala’s special forces unit is called the Kaibiles and specializes in tactics for jungle warfare and counter-rebellion. The troops receive maroon berets decorated with a patch embroidered with a blazing sword to distinguish them from all the other units.
The mission of the training course for this unit is to produce elite commando troops who can endure long and arduous physical activity and metal tests. The training lasts eight weeks and is open twice a year to volunteers. 1250 soldiers have joined the Kaibiles, with 85% joining directly from the Guatemalan Army and others volunteering from the U.S., China, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Peru.
The name might give it away, but this special forces unit is a maritime corps forming part of the special operations force of the Danish Defence. Until 2015, the Frogman Corps was part of the Royal Danish Army, but then it moved under the Special Operations Command umbrella.
Recruits need to complete several courses, namely: an advanced scuba diving course, a rescue swimmer course, a three-week combat swimming program, and a survival course. All in all, the duration of the training is nine months and only 12 out of 500-600 applications make it through the whole course. Only 311 men have completed the course since the unit’s establishment in 1957.
Every Navy needs a special forces unit, and therefore the Portuguese established their very own formidable marine corps to lead amphibious operations, maritime raids, coastal reconnaissance, and maritime operations with rapid-reaction force.
To join the Portuguese Marine Corps potential recruits need to train for 42 weeks at the Marines School in Vale de Zebro. The training course is extremely challenging that there’s only a 15%-35% pass rate. With no room for rest and constant pressure from the instructors, candidates are really pushed to the limit.
In order to join the British Royal Marine Commandos, one needs to undergo the longest training program for infantry in any of the Commonwealth countries and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Potential candidates need to take psychometric tests and are then interviewed by the Armed Forces Careers Office.
If the interview goes well, several physical and mental examinations are run followed by several training modules. The culmination of all these courses is the commando course. Those who pass everything successfully are awarded the Green Beret, but that doesn’t mean the training stops there; in order to be considered a commando, a soldier need special permission by the training team based on overall performance.
With 3000 soldiers ready for all kinds of operations, this elite unit forms part of the special forces of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The soldiers of this regiment are coined the royal arm of the country because of the special training and missions they receive.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Ground Force consists of many special forces branches, and while not publicly confirmed, it is estimated that up to 14,000 fighters make up all these units. The unit’s first mission to become public was in 2008, when three Chinese warships helped the UN to protect and accompany commercial ships that were in enemy lines of Somali pirates.
The U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance gather strategic military intelligence for the U.S. Marine at large by using special equipment, such as submarines and parachutes, and helping the task force commanders lead subordinate units. In short, the unit has two different mission types, namely: Key Hole and Sting Ray.
The Key Hole operations deal with deep reconnaissance missions, while the Sting Ray operations focus on direct action against enemy offensives. The recruits are trained on all fronts and master both these missions because a Key Hole operation can rapidly turn into a Sting Ray effort without much warning.
Established in 1955 on the blueprints of the British Special Air Service, the New Zealand Special Air Service selects the top recruits to join the regiment during a tough selection course prior to which applicants spend two days preparing and learning about military skills.
The key function of this corps is to ensure a small group of men that can cope under harsh conditions for significant periods of time, but still work as efficiently as possible. This unit provides support to the New Zealand Police Force and stepped in during the conflicts in Rhodesia (1979-1980), Bosnia (1995-1996), and the Solomon Islands (2000). The regiment also aided in relief efforts after the Papua New Guinea tsunami in 1998.