Special forces, or special operations forces are highly trained military units which are well equipped to perform unconventional or unorthodox covert missions concerning a nation’s political and economic interests.
There have been many accounts of unique forces throughout the history of warfare, which specializes in covert operations rather than conventional combat. For instance, the Romans used fast, small and camouflaged ships with specially trained soldiers for scouting and commando operations.
Then, during the War of Crusades, Muslims deployed many camouflaged ships to gather intelligence and raid passing enemy ships. In Japan, ninjas were recognized as a special force, entitled for espionage and assassins.
It is clear that they are no ordinary military personals, and so is our list. Below, we have compiled 16 most dangerous special forces in the world based on their training, weapons, and achievements.
16. SSG – Pakistan
Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited the Headquarters of Pakistan Army’s elite SSG | Credit: Business Recorder
Special Services Group or SSG Pak was formed in 1956, by uniting two Pakistani regiments, namely 19 Baluch and 312 Garrison Company. Their initial training and field tactics were based on the US Special Forces methods with whom they closely operated during the Cold War against the Soviets.
The operation Gibraltar, which led to the Indo-Pak war in 1965, was the first major deployment for SSG. They have also executed multiple counter-terrorism operations inside Pakistan borders. SSG conducts periodic joint exercises with the Chinese military and interacts with other foreign special forces on a training field.
They are equipped with an array of high-end, modern weaponry like Steyr AUG, M4 Carbine etc.
15. GIS – Italy
GIS in desert camo for overseas operations | Credit: Massimiliano Mariani
Initially established as a tactical counter-terrorism unit for the Italian military police in 1978, the Special Intervention Group gradually become one of the elite special forces in the country. Over the years, the unit has taken part in numerous counter-terrorism operations and high profile dignitary security details.
This special force unit is renowned for its marksmanship. A GIS sniper team usually includes two operators, who carry Mauser 86SRs, and one scout or a guard, who carries a semi-automatic rifle, Heckler & Koch PSG1.
GIS along with other Italian special forces units, namely 9th Paratroopers Assault Regiment and COMSUBIN have been deployed in the Middle East and Afghanistan for multiple rescue and special operations.
14. GIGN – France
GIGN operators during a demonstration in June 2018 | Credit: Wikimedia Commons
After the Munich massacre in 1972 and a prison mutiny in Clairvaux the year before, the French government felt the need for a permanent solution to terrorist attacks and hostage situations. As a result, the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group was formed in 1974 under the French Armed Forces.
The organization is renowned for its swift responses and special combat capabilities in hostile situations, hostage rescue, and anti-terrorism operations. GIGN displayed these qualities in one of the most successful hostage rescue mission, where its operatives successfully rescued a hijacked Air France flight carrying more than 200 passengers by killing 4 terrorists in 1994.
GIGN has two command centers; administrative and operational and a total of six units. The main assault unit consists of four platoons each with twenty-four operators. Intelligence gathering, surveillance, etc are done by other units in supporting role.
13. EKO Cobra – Austria
An officer of the EKO Cobra handling a rifle during an airborne operation | Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The EKO (Einsatzkommando) Cobra is Austrian counter-terrorism, special operations unit formed in 1978 as a response to the 1972 Munich Olympics attack. It is a semi-autonomous body, directly under the control of the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior.
The EKO Cobra has been involved in many hostage rescue operations. It’s the only special force unit to register a successful rescue operation of a hijacked aircraft while flying in the air in 1996.
Most of the weaponry used by EKO personals are Austrian made, such as Glocks and Steyr. Wiener Neustadt, in southern Austria, serves as the headquarters of EKO with sub-offices in Graz, Linz, Salzburg, and Innsbruck.
12. GSG 9 – Germany
GSG 9 operators rappel on a German building | Credit: Wikimedia Commons
On 5th September 1972, a group of terrorists operating under the name ‘Black September’ (Palestinian terrorist organization) disrupted the Summer Olympic Games held in Munich as they abducted and killed 11 athletes along with a German officer.
The situation was extremely critical since the German police had neither prior training nor equipment necessary for counter-terrorism operations. A year later, the German government commissioned the Border Protection Group 9 or GSG 9 in order to thwart any similar situation in the future.
Since their formation, GSG 9 has been deployed in numerous counter-terrorism and hostage rescue operations both at home and abroad. They are also known for developing new tactics and methods for such missions.
Most of the weapons used by GSG 9 are either German or American manufactured.
11. JW GROM – Poland
US Navy SEALs and GROM and US Navy SEALs warfare team practicing boarding skills in Poland | Credit: GROM
JW GROM, meaning “thunder,” is Poland’s finest counter-terrorism unit and one of the five special forces operating under Poland’s Special Troops Command. It was established in the year 1990. During its initial years, GROM took inspiration from other elite forces like British SAS, American Delta Force, and SEALs.
From 1991 to 2004, JW GROM has been involved in more than twenty different counter-terrorism and peace missions all over the world, including Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti and in the invasion of Iraq.
10. Sayeret Matkal – Israel
Image credit: IDF
Sayeret Matkal is a special force unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The unit was established after the Qibya massacre and subsequent dismissal of Unit-101, IDF’s only dedicated special-force at that time other than the Navy’s Shayetet 13. It is modeled after the British Army’s Special Air Service.
Members of the unit are specially trained by semi-nomadic groups known as Bedouin, in order to obtain a better understanding of their adversaries in the desert regions of North Africa.
The operation Entebbe, demonstrated the reach and capability of Sayeret Matkal to the world, when a group of nearly 100 Israeli commandos, including an assault force of Sayeret Matkal, thrashed several terrorists with hostages onboard an airliner which was flown to Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
9. MARCOS – India
HAL Dhruv helicopter of the MARCOS on Navy day 2013 at Kochi | Credit: Indian Navy
MARCOS, formerly known as the Marine Commando Force, is the elite special force unit of the Indian Navy. It is solely formed for regulating various special operations including underwater warfare, counter-terrorism, special reconnaissance, and unconventional warfare. After establishing in 1987, MARCOS gradually gained vital warfare experience.
The unit actively participates in high octane training exercises with special force units of other countries such as US Navy SEALs, the British Special Air Service (SAS) and Russian special forces.
They acquired a very distinctive name from terrorist groups, who call them “Dadiwala Fuji”, meaning the “Bearded army”, because of their bearded disguise in civil areas.
8. JTF2 – Canada
A member of the JTF2 participates in a demonstration in Manitoba | Credit: Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press
The Joint Task Force 2 or JTF2 is an elite special force operating under the Canadian Special Operations Force Command for the Canadian Armed Forces. It was instituted in 1993 solely for counter-terrorism purposes, however, it has evolved since then and incorporated other responsibilities.
JTF2 had successful deployments in Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Their operations in Afghanistan were so secret that even the then Canadian Prime Minister was unaware of the fact that the Joint Task Force 2 was involved. Despite its recent origin, JTF2 has managed to create its place in one of the top special forces in the world.
And of course, the Force is equipped with all kinds of modern, high-tech weapons and gadgets.
7. New Zealand Special Air Service – New Zealand
NZSAS Headquarters Troop with the squadron’s mascot (1955) | Credit: NZ History
New Zealand Special Air Service or NZSAS is the “premier combat unit of the New Zealand Defense Force.” Its responsibilities lie in performing special tasks and counter-terrorism operations. NZSAS was formally established in 1955, but its roots can be traced back to the legendary Long Range Desert Group, a Commonwealth unit which operated in the North African desert during the World War II.
Since their establishment, NZSAS have been deployed in Malaya (1955), Thailand (1962), and Borneo (1965). They played a crucial role in the Vietnam War alongside the Australian Special Air Service Regiment. Back in 2009, the New Zealand Special Air Service conducted counter-insurgency operations in Kabul with the help of Afghanistan Police.
6. Special Air Service Regiment – Australia
SASR candidates take part in team building exercises | Image credit: LAC Leigh Cameron
Unlike most of the special forces, the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) is an integral part of the Australian Army rather than its Navy. Established in 1957, the SASR draws early experiences of the Australian Services Reconnaissance Department Unit which were disbanded soon after World War 2.
SASR operators are trained to conduct far-fetched covert missions and surveillance assignments with small teams, and at the same time for conducting raids in large groups. Over the years, SASR has been involved in various peacekeeping and anti-terrorist operations both domestically and overseas.
Alongside warfighting during conventional conflicts, the regiment is also tasked with maintaining a specialist counter-terrorist capability. SASR’s other responsibilities include training indigenous forces, recovery of Australian citizens and humanitarian assistance.
5. Delta Force – USA
Delta Force bodyguards provide close protection to General Norman Schwarzkopf | Credit: Staff SGT. Dean W. Wagner
Delta Force, also known as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta is a U.S. Army unit for counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, and reconnaissance against high profile targets. It was formed in 1977, after multiple terrorist attacks in the mid-1970s.
The idea of such a force was suggested by Charles Beckwith, a Special Force officer, who had served as an exchange officer with the British Army’s Special Air Service (22 SAS Regiment) during the Malayan Emergency. He proposed a highly adaptable and completely autonomous small group, that specializes in covert counter-terrorism missions.
In an interview, former Delta Force operator Paul Howe stated about the high attrition rate of his Delta selection course: out of his 2 classes totaling 240 men, only 12 to 14 candidates completed the course.
4. Alpha Group – Russia
Vladimir Putin (Russian Prime Minister) shakes hands with Alpha officers during a visit to Chechnya | Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Alpha Group, officially known by the name of Directorate “A” of the FSB Special Purpose Center, is an elite unit of Russian special forces. It was established by the Soviet KGB in 1974 to carry out paramilitary and covert operations. The Alpha Group is considered one of the most aggressive forces in the world.
Some of you might be wondering what about ‘Spetsnaz’? Well, you should know that Spetsnaz is a general term used for all the Soviet/Russian special-forces.
During the Soviet era, the Alpha Group took part in armed interventions in Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the Baltic region. Domestically, it has been involved in most of the major anti-terrorist/hostage operations, most notably in the Moscow theater siege (2002) and the Beslan school siege (in 2004).
3. Shayetet 13 – Israel
Shayetet 13 Operatives during training | Credit: Israel Defense Forces
Shayetet 13 is a veteran special force unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. Established in 1948, Shayetet 13 carried humongous tasks throughout the latter half of the 20th century. One of their most notable operations took place in 1972 when they successfully eliminated those who were responsible for the attack on the Israeli athletes (Munich Massacre).
Over the years, Shayetet 13 has mastered their abilities in maritime intelligence gathering, maritime hostage rescue, counter-terrorism act, sabotage, and boarding. It is often compared to the likes of Britain’s Special Boat Service and US Navy SEALs.
2. Navy SEALs – USA
Officers participating in a training program with SCAR rifles | Credit: U.S Navy SEALs
This distinct American Special Forces was created in 1962 as an integral part of the Naval Special Warfare Command and the United States Special Operation Command. Although one can trace the roots of the Navy SEALs from the World War 2, the Vietnam war of 1961 saw the actual birth of modern day SEAL.
In the last few decades, Navy SEALs have been deployed in active war zones including the Iraq invasion in 2003. Operation Neptune Spear was without a doubt the greatest achievement of Navy SEALs.
Their training methods are extremely harsh, and often described as ‘brutal.’ An average SEALs candidate spends more than a year in a remarkable physical and mental training program before getting enlisted.
1. SAS – United Kingdom
SAS patrol in North Africa during World War 2 | Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Special Air Service (SAS) is one of the oldest and perhaps the best special forces that serves Britain. It was formed in 1941 as a regiment, and later as a corps.
The Special Air Service comprises of three units: 22 SAS the regular unit, 21SAS (Artists)(R) and 23 SAS the reserve unit. 22 SAS regiment has four active squadrons: A, B, D, and G.
Each squadron contains more or less 65 men, categorized into four troops. Each troop has its own headquarters section that is guided by a captain.
The importance of the British SAS can be judged by a single fact that many of the powerful special forces overseas were initially based on SAS principles. One good example is the American Delta Force.