16 Most Dangerous Special Forces in the World | 2020 Edition

Special forces or special operations forces are highly trained military units that are well equipped to perform unconventional or unorthodox covert missions concerning a nation’s security 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.

It is clear that they are no ordinary military units, and so is this list. Below, we have compiled 16 most dangerous special forces in the world based on their training, weapons, and achievements.

16. GIS – Italy

GIS in desert camo for overseas operations | Credit: Massimiliano Mariani

Nickname: “Leatherheads” (Teste di cuoio)
Role: Counterterrorism, law enforcement

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.

15. Special Service Group – Pakistan

Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited the Headquarters of Pakistan Army’s elite SSG | Credit: Business Recorder

Motto: I am valiant (Man Janbazam)
Role: Unconventional warfare, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense

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.

14. EKO Cobra – Austria

An officer of the EKO Cobra handling a rifle during an airborne operation | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Type: Police tactical unit
Role: Counterterrorism, law enforcement

The EKO (Einsatzkommando) Cobra is Austrian counter-terrorism, special operations unit formed in 1978 as a response to the 1972 Munich Olympics attack.

EKO Cobra, a semi-autonomous body, is under the direct control of the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior. It has been involved in many hostage rescue operations. It’s the only counter-terrorism unit to register a successful rescue mission of a hijacked aircraft in mid-air in 1996.

Most of the weaponry used by EKO personals are Austrian made, such as Glocks and Steyr.

13. MARCOS – India

HAL Dhruv helicopter of the MARCOS on Navy day 2013 at Kochi | Credit: Indian Navy

Motto: “The Few, The Fearless”
Role: Amphibious warfare, direct action, counter-terrorism, combat search, and rescue

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 necessary 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 civilian areas.

12. New Zealand Special Air Service – New Zealand

New Zealand Special Air ServiceNZSAS Headquarters Troop with the squadron’s mascot (1955) | Credit: NZ History

Motto: “Who Dares Wins”
Role: Direct action, unconventional warfare, counter-terrorism, special reconnaissance

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 World War II.

Since their establishment, NZSAS has 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 the Afghanistan Police.

11. JTF2 – Canada

A member of the JTF2 participates in a demonstration in Manitoba | Credit: Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press

Motto: “Deeds not words”
Role: Counter-terrorism, special operations

Joint Task Force 2, or simply JTF2, is Canada’s special operations unit known for its secretive nature. It was instituted in 1993 solely for counter-terrorism purposes. However, it has evolved since then and incorporated other responsibilities.

The group has multiple 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 JTF2 was involved.

JTF2 was believed to have conducted joint operations with British SAS and SBS during the Libyan civil war in 2011.

10. GSG 9 – Germany

GSG 9 operators rappel on a German building | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Type: Elite tactical unit
Role: Counterterrorism, specialized law enforcement

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 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.

9. GIGN – France

GIGN operatorsGIGN operators during a demonstration in June 2018 | Image Courtesy: Bruno Domenjod

Type: Elite police tactical unit
Role: Special operations, counter terrorism, law enforcement

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 daring hostage rescue missions, in which its operatives successfully rescued a hijacked Air France flight carrying more than 200 passengers by killing four terrorists in 1994.

The central assault unit of GIGN consists of four platoons, each with twenty-four operators. Other units carry intelligence gathering and surveillance in a supporting role.

8. JW GROM – Poland

JW GROMUS Navy SEALs and GROM and US Navy SEALs warfare team practicing boarding skills in Poland | Credit: GROM

Nickname: The unseen & silent; The Surgeons
Role: Counter terrorism, unconventional warfare, direct action

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 the invasion of Iraq.

7. Sayeret Matkal – Israel

Image credit: IDF

Nickname: “The Unit”
Role: Counter terrorism, hostage rescue, special reconnaissance, direct action

Sayeret Matkal is a special force unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) modeled after the British SAS. The united was created 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.

The Operation Entebbe in 1976, demonstrated the reach and capability of Sayeret Matkal to the world. About a hundred Israeli commandos, including Sayeret Matkal operators, stormed Uganda’s Entebbe airport on July 4 and rescued more than a hundred hostages kept in a highjacked grounded plane.

Read: 15 Most Secret and Experimental Military Aircraft

6. Special Air Service Regiment – Australia

SASR candidates take part in team-building exercises | Image credit: LAC Leigh Cameron

Nicknames:Snake eaters,” “chicken stranglers.”
Role: Counter operations, Special reconnaissance

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 and surveillance missions 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 war-fighting 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 ForceDelta Force bodyguards provide close protection to General Norman Schwarzkopf | Credit: Staff SGT. Dean W. Wagner

Nicknames: CAG, Task Force Green
Role: Counterterrorism, special reconnaissance, hostage rescue, direct action

Delta Force, also known as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, is a U.S. Army unit for counter-terrorism activities. It was formed in 1977, after multiple terrorist attacks in the mid-1970s.

The idea of such a unit was suggested by Charles Beckwith, a Special Forces 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 autonomous force that specializes in covert missions.

In an interview, former Delta Force operator Paul Howe stated about the high attrition rate of his Delta selection course. Out of his two classes totaling 240 candidates, only 12 to 14 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

Nickname: Alpha Group (Alfa)
Role: Counter-terrorism, law enforcement, hostage rescue, direct action

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.

Alpha Group, officially known as Directorate “A” of the FSB Special Purpose Center, was established by the Soviet KGB in 1974 to carry out paramilitary and covert operations. It’s now committed to counter-terrorism activities. The Alpha Group operators are considered as one of the most aggressive in the world.

During the Soviet era, the Alpha Group took part in armed interventions in Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the Baltic region. Domestically, it has taken part in almost every major anti-terrorist/hostage operations, including the Moscow theater siege in 2002 and the Beslan school siege in 2004.

Read: 15 Coolest And Latest Military Gadgets

3. Shayetet 13 – Israel

Shayetet 13 Operatives during training | Credit: Israel Defense Forces

Nickname: HaShayetet (The Flotilla)
Role: Special operations, sabotage, counter-terrorism

Shayetet 13 is a veteran special force unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. Established in 1948, Shayetet 13 has carried some of the most dangerous counter-insurgency missions. Perhaps the most notable of them occurred in 1972 when they successfully eliminated those who were responsible for the attack on the Israeli athletes during the 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 and at par with the likes of Britain’s Special Boat Service and US Navy SEALs.

2. Navy SEALs – The United States

Officers participating in a training program with SCAR rifles | Credit: U.S Navy SEALs

Nickname: “The Teams”
Role: HVT raids, counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, counter-narcotic operations

This distinct American Special Forces was created in 1962 as a part of the Naval Special Warfare Command and the United States Special Operation Command. Although one can trace their roots from World War 2, the Vietnam war of 1961 saw the actual birth of the 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 achievements of the Navy SEALs.

Their training methods are incredibly 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 

Nickname: “The Regiment”
Role: Counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, special operations

The Special Air Service (SAS) is one of the oldest and perhaps the best special forces that serve Britain. It was formed in 1941.

The Special Air Service is composed of three units: 22 SAS Regiment (the regular unit), 21SAS (Artists)(R), and 23 SAS the reserve unit (reserves). 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 a separate headquarters section that is guided by a captain.

Read: 13 Top Secret US Military Intelligence Programs

British SAS played a significant role during the War in Afghanistan. During a joint rescue operation with U.S special forces, code-named Jubilee, the SAS operators successfully rescued the hostages without any casualty from Badakhshan Province in Afganistan.

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.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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31 comments
  • What about the SBS they undergo almost exactly the same training as the SAS except towards the end of the UKSF training they do more water relayed training.

  • Im from uk can say if a list like this doesnt contain the SBS its not accurate. SBS and SAS are almost skilfully identical hence their long standing rivaly.

  • Kopassus?
    They are trained with ultra dangerous training and you didnt think they are ‘The most dangerous special forces’???’

  • These westerns think they are only strongers,and make survey videos of showing their strengths . bastards let them come to Asian countries and their asses will fucked off.

    • Envy is a terrible trait…..Western special forces need to be strong and are much stronger because of the threat from numpty’s like you!

  • Whether you like it or not, NAVY SEALS is RED!!! They are HYPEREXTRATRAINED!!!, unlike the dummy bustards like SAS,etc.

  • Got some salty fuckers in here haven’t we? The SAS along with the SBS are by no stretch of the imagination, second to none. The best of the best.

    Who dares Wins.

    • Pssst…. the 1940s called… they want their motto back.

      SAS can’t hold a candle to SEALs, Delta, MARSOC, or several other outfits this side of the pond. Period.

  • what about the Golden Division whom beat ISIS ?! should be in this rank since its all american equipped and trained also they got the field experiences unlike some of forces in ur rank ?!!

  • Open your eye and your ear,see how they training…have you heard DENJAKA or KOPASSUS?all those team you mention…are all nothin’ compare with them

  • In your article “16 Most Dangerous Special Forces in the World | 2019 Edition” dated: February 1, 2019; there was an omission (I’m sure many folks had suggestions!). It is unclear how the list was developed, sources/citations were not present. If the list is revived for another year – please consider looking into the USMC “Force Recon”.

  • British SAS, SBS are the blueprint for SF work.
    They set the bar others try to reach and yes, I’m from hereford.
    Shout out to Aus SAS and NZ SAS also.

    • They were the originals…. yes. Let me ask you this… does the first car eve made hold a candle to today’s automobiles? Of course not. Being first does not mean being best. British SAS is several steps below many of these outfits… if for no other reason than it’s staffed by Brits… now known as some of the most fragile and weakest people on the planet.

  • Lots of European bias here. Kinda ridiculous honestly. To assert that British SAS is a step above the SEALs and several steps above Delta is patently absurd… and only a European nutswinger would think that.

  • Typical indians, always putting out false info and upgreading india. Those morcos, australia and New Zealand are not even in the top 20 and he has put them in top 10

  • Gurkha,realy……one of the best fighting forces of all time ,a great friend to the British and a brother and sister to our great commonwealth, people don’t realise that India is now a superpower and I as a ex serving soldier feel proud to be part of our great family.

  • HAHA! Marcos above the GIGN, The Grom, and the SSG. Can you please tell which major military experience does MARCOS have? Oh! You are an Indian. Absolutely rubbish!

  • hahahah…gorkhas who
    were beaten by NLI Pakistan in 1999… and ssg should rank first as they are battle harded and dont forget ssg had occupied 22000ft height in siachen after capture that we pushed back indian from agra an taj like many posts …

  • Many of the special forces has tasted their speciality in warfare in Afghanistan , such as Uk’s , US , Germany , Poland , France and more . What was the outcome ? Any great achievements?
    Not at all . They all ended up in zero outcome .
    But the Afghan special forces such as APU
    They are highly trained but not really well enough equipped .
    They have shown many good progressive actions against international terror groups . And the outcome is excellent .
    Why their name is not included in here ?
    I need your fed backs .
    Kindly
    No bad language .

  • Yeah sure 3rd most dangerous israeel force is killing innocent childs and womens in palestine …. woooww just woow