special warfare operators

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Naval Special Warfare Development Group
The Navy’s Tier 1 Special Missions Unit

The United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG), or DEVGRU, is a U.S. Navy component of Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOCThe primary mission of the Joint Special Operations Command is ostensibly to identify and eliminate terror cells worldwide. JSOC is a component command of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and is charged to study special operations requirements and techniques to ensure interoperability and equipment standardization, plan and conduct special operations exercises and training, develop joint special operations tactics and execute special operations missions worldwide). 

It is often referred to as SEAL Team Six, the name of its predecessor which was officially disbanded in 1987. DEVGRU is administratively supported by Naval Special Warfare Command and operationally commanded by the Joint Special Operations Command. Most information concerning DEVGRU is classified and details of its activities are not usually commented on by either the White House or the Department of Defense. Despite the official name changes, “SEAL Team Six” remains the unit’s widely recognized moniker. It is sometimes referred to in the U.S. media as a Special Missions Unit.

DEVGRU and its Army counterpart, Delta Force, are the United States military’s primary counter-terrorism units. Although DEVGRU was created as a maritime counter-terrorism unit, it has become a multi-functional special operations unit with several roles that include high-risk personnel/hostage extractions and other specialized missions.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s highly secretive Special Activities Division (SAD) and more specifically its elite Special Operations Group (SOG) often works with—and recruits—operators from DEVGRU. The combination of these units led to the most significant special operations success in the Global War On Terror.

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US Navy Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Kyle Milliken. 5 MAY 2017.

Died while deployed in support of a Somali National Army-led operation with U.S. Africa Command, during an operation against al-Shabaab in a remote area approximately 40 miles west of Mogadishu. Milliken was assigned to an East Coast based special warfare unit.

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US Navy SEALs | “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday”

The World's Deadliest Special Forces
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U.S. Navy SEALs emerge from the water during a training exercise in the 1980s.

 

They are the toughest, best trained, and most feared fighters in the world. Highly skilled commandos capable of launching rapid and aggressive assaults from land, air, and sea. They are known as special operations forces (SOF) or special forces, elite combat units comprised of military or paramilitary personnel who are called upon to carry out a wide range of missions that require the use of unconventional warfare.

Conventional warfare involves the standing armed forces of two or more nations engaging each other in direct confrontation on the battlefield with regular troops, tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, aircraft, and warships. Special forces, on the other hand, are lightly-armed troops who operate in small mobile units within hostile territory, often deep behind enemy lines. They employ unconventional tactics such as ambush, raids, hit-and-run attacks, sniping, sabotage, and booby traps. This is also known as guerrilla warfare, a method in which combatants seek to avoid direct confrontation with the enemy and instead rely on the elements of stealth, surprise, and mobility to wage war.

Because of their small size and low profile, SOF play a critical role in gathering intelligence by conducting reconnaissance and surveillance missions. Special operations can be conducted independently or in conjunction with conventional forces. Since guerrilla warfare is a tactic widely employed by terrorists, insurgents, paramilitaries, and irregulars, special forces are perfectly suited to counter these elusive adversaries because they operate on a similar level.

The ultimate purpose of special operations is to exploit the enemy’s vulnerabilities and to accomplish a political, humanitarian, or military objective which cannot be achieved by conventional means.

 

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From the Hokusai Manga, volume six, published in 1816, this drawing features an example of a Ninja. These highly skilled assassins and mercenaries first appeared in Japan sometime around the 14th or 15th Century. Ninjas relied on the element of stealth and surprise to accomplish their missions, which included assassination, espionage, and sabotage. They are widely regarded as one the precursors of today’s special forces.

 

The modern day special forces were forged during the dark days of World War II. In September 1939, Nazi Germany began raising an elite special operations force to conduct raids, sabotage, and surveillance deep behind enemy lines. This unit became known as the Brandenburger Battalion. These commandos were well versed in speaking foreign languages and they would often dress up in civilian clothing or disguise themselves as Allied servicemen to infiltrate hostile territory. During the Nazi campaigns in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, the Brandenburgers played a key role in capturing strategic objectives, gathering intelligence, suppressing partisan activity, harassing Allied forces, and creating chaos behind enemy lines.

In June 1940, the United Kingdom began raising specially trained commando units after Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered the creation of an elite force tasked with conducting raids, reconnaissance, and sabotage in German-occupied Europe. Allied leaders realized that it would take time to gather the resources necessary to liberate the continent, so special operations became the most effective way of undermining Nazi rule. The British Commandos went on to serve with distinction in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. They were responsible for some of the most daring raids of World War II, and their success would help inspire other nations to raise their own special forces units.

The importance of special operations became more prevalent during the Cold War, as the United States and the Soviet Union sought to provide covert military support to their mutual allies around the globe. The possibility of nuclear war prevented both sides from directly engaging in a conventional conflict. Special forces personnel often found themselves in Third World countries from Latin America, Africa, to South East Asia supporting communist or anti-communist forces.

 

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Laos, 1969: A U.S. reconnaissance team from the Studies and Observations Group (SOG) secretly photographs North Vietnamese troops marching down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During the Vietnam War, this covert unit was often assigned to conduct top secret missions across the border into Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. To conceal their origins, SOG operators did not wear dog tags and they wore various military fatigues without any markings or identification.

 

The increasing use of terrorism in modern conflicts has led to a greater emphasis on unconventional warfare, as many federal and law enforcement agencies have raised their own military-style special forces to combat this growing threat. The attacks carried out against the United States by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, initiated the Global War on Terror, a massive U.S.-led effort to eradicate al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, placing a far greater emphasis on the employment of special forces than ever before. These elite units operate in a culture of secrecy, and because of the politically sensitive nature of modern conflicts, they are often called upon to carry out some of the most highly classified missions. Many of the operations which the special forces have undertaken are deemed as top secret, their exploits unknown to the public.

While their specialties may vary depending upon which nation or branch they serve, special operations forces generally have several key purposes:

• Counter-Insurgency (COIN), a series of operations designed to contain and suppress an armed rebellion against a ruling authority. This involves a combination of military, diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian efforts aimed at eliminating the root causes of an insurgency. From a military perspective, special forces play a major role in combating an insurgency through raids, ambushes, reconnaissance, and killing or capturing insurgent leaders. On the diplomatic front, they can help win local support by providing security, humanitarian assistance, and civil services.

 

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A British Commonwealth officer questions an elderly man regarding the location and activity of communist insurgents while on a routine patrol with the Malaysian Police on April 23, 1949.

  

• Counter-Terrorism, a combination of strategies, tactics, and procedures implemented by military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies as part of a comprehensive effort to thwart or neutralize individuals motivated by extremist ideologies to commit acts of terrorism.

 

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During the Bastion Anti-terror maneuvers in Belarus, special forces from the former Soviet Republics take part in a joint training exercise simulating the rescue of hostages held captive by terrorists onboard a hijacked airliner on September 11, 2008. 

 

• Unconventional Warfare (UW), a term used by the U.S. Department of Defense to describe clandestine efforts of supporting an insurgency or resistance movement in overthrowing a hostile regime or occupying force. Special forces are often employed as military advisors to provide equipment and training to indigenous guerrilla fighters.

 

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A U.S. Army Ranger in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam is seen here training a group of indigenous guerrilla fighters known as the Montagnards to assist in counter-insurgency operations against the Vietcong in 1966. Unconventional warfare is often just another term for guerrilla warfare, but the U.S. military defines it as a doctrine of providing support to an insurgency or resistance friendly to U.S. interests.

   

 

• Direct Action (DA), a small-scale offensive or rapid assault carried out by special forces to seize, capture, destroy, damage, or recover an assigned target in a hostile or politically sensitive environment. These type of operations require speed, surprise, and overwhelming force to achieve a specific objective.

 

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U.S. Army Rangers practice fast-rope insertion techniques from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during a training exercise at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on April, 28, 2010. Direct Action is a raid carried out by special forces to accomplish a specific objective within a short-duration of time. These operations can be broken down into three critical phases; Infiltration, assault, and extraction.

 

 

• Special Reconnaissance (SR), operations in which small covert military units are sent to gather intelligence on the battlefield. The purpose of these missions is to locate an assigned target, observe enemy strength and activity, assess the situation, and coordinate artillery, missiles, and airstrikes if necessary.  

 

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A U.S. Navy SEAL in Afghanistan conducts a reconnaissance mission for suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda activity on January 24, 2002. Operating in small teams to avoid detection, special forces are capable of infiltrating deep behind enemy lines to gather information critical for supporting larger military operations.

 

 

• Foreign Internal Defense (FID), a term often used to describe a coordinated political and military doctrine of providing aid to foreign nations in combating terrorism, lawlessness, and insurrection. Special forces are often deployed as advisors to help train indigenous military and security personnel of the host nation.

 

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Malian soldiers undergo training with a Green Beret from the U.S. Army 10th Special Forces Group (SFG) on March 8, 2004. Foreign Internal Defense (FID) is part of a greater diplomatic effort by nations to support a foreign ally in combating insurgents and terrorists. This involves deploying specialists in counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, and unconventional warfare to assist in training and advising the armed forces of the host nation.

  

 

• Manhunts, a concerted effort to track down, identify, capture, or kill individuals designated as high-value-targets (HVT). These are often persons of strategic interest such as field commanders, intelligence operatives, terrorists and crime lords.

 

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Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) personnel escort General Manuel Noreiga onto an aircraft destined for the United States to stand trial for charges of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering. During the U.S. Invasion of Panama, Navy SEALs and Delta Force launched a covert plan of action called Operation Nifty Package. This mission led to the capture of the Panamanian dictator on January 3, 1990.

 

 

• Personnel Recovery, an attempt to locate, identify, and recover military or civilian personnel who are captured, detained, isolated, or missing in a hostile environment.

• Hostage Rescue, an operation undertaken by military or law enforcement agencies to safely recover an individual or group which is being held captive by belligerent or hostile forces.

 

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April 13, 2009: After hijacking the U.S. merchant vessel Maersk Alabama off the Horn of Africa, four Somali pirates attempted to escape on a lifeboat with Captain Richard Philips held hostage onboard. While the pirate leader had been lured off the boat, A team of U.S. Navy SEALs stationed on the nearby destroyer USS Bainbridge shot and killed three of the remaining pirates during the dramatic rescue of Captain Phillips.

 

Special forces are trained and equipped to operate anywhere around the globe, including arctic, desert, jungle, riverine, mountain, and urban environments. As a global combat-ready force, they are often trained to conduct airborne and air-assault operations, thus they are capable of being inserted by helicopters or parachuting from aircraft.

SOF are also capable of conducting maritime operations, which requires training in scuba diving, boarding, underwater demolition, riverine assault, and amphibious warfare. Special operators are trained in various disciplines including firearms use, marksmanship, sniping, patrolling, breaching, small-unit tactics, close-quarters combat (CQC), hand-to-hand combat, martial arts, explosive ordinance, infiltration, surveillance, reconnaissance, escape and evasion, navigation, communications, survival skills, and medical aid.

 

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Close Quarters Combat (CQC): Utilizing live ammunition, Green Berets from the U.S. Army 10th Special Forces Group enter a room simulating a potential hostage situation as part of a kill house/shoot house training exercise at Fort Carson, Colorado. These simulations allow military and law enforcement personnel to realistically train for close contact engagements typically associated with urban combat.

 

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Hand-to-Hand Combat: U.S. Army Rangers conducting combative drills during the African Land Forces Summit on May 13, 2010. Special forces receive extensive training in hand-to-hand combat, martial arts techniques, knife-fighting, and melee weapons for close contact engagements.

 

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“Hearts and Minds”: A medic from the U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group hands a coloring book to an Afghan child during a meeting with village elders in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan on September 12, 2008. Winning hearts and minds is a term commonly applied in a counter-insurgency strategy to gain the support of the local population. Without popular support, insurgents find it increasingly difficult to recruit followers or conduct operations.

 

Applicants for the special forces must undergo a stringent selection process. Since they are often tasked with carrying out the most dangerous missions, SOF training is notoriously grueling. Every program is designed to push its recruits physically and mentally beyond the normal limits of human endurance. They are conditioned to operate through extreme pain, discomfort, and stress. They are taught to adapt and overcome, to never give up in the face of overwhelming odds, to never leave a fallen comrade behind, never break if captured and, above all, to accomplish the mission. The purpose of SOF training is to gradually eliminate the weakest candidates so that only the strongest, brightest, bravest, and most disciplined troops are accepted. In most cases, the dropout rate is over 90%. Those who successfully pass join the ranks of a rare breed of elite warriors.

The following are fifteen units widely regarded as the deadliest special forces in the world.

 

15) GIGN

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Special operators from an elite French counter-terrorist unit known as the Groupe d'intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (National Gendarmerie Intervention Group), more commonly referred to as GIGN; March 16, 2016.

 

The Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (National Gendarmerie Intervention Group) is an elite special forces unit currently based at Camp de Satory, just outside Versailles, France. The GIGN serves as part of the National Gendarmerie, the military police branch of the French Armed Forces responsible for enforcing public safety and security throughout the French Republic. The Gendarmeries often work side-by-side with federal and local law enforcement, and while the GIGN carries out most of its missions within France, as part of the military they can operate anywhere around the globe.

Their primary specialties include counter-terrorism, direct action, hostage rescue, manhunts, intelligence and surveillance, counter-narcotics, and national security. They are also called upon to provide security for political officials, VIPs, and government installations. Some members are chosen to serve on the security detachment that is assigned to protect the President of France. These elite police commandos are trained and equipped to neutralize every potential threat from violent criminals to fanatical terrorists.

Due to the covert nature of this unit, the identities of those who are actively serving in the GIGN are highly guarded. In fact, it is against French law to publish pictures of their faces. Up until 2014, the GIGN had been defined by its longtime motto, Sauver des vies au mépris de la sienna (To save lives without regard to one’s own).

 

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GIGN regional SWAT commandos conduct a training exercise on June 17, 2015.

The National Gendarmerie Intervention Group was created in response to the kidnapping and murder of eleven Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany. The tragedy demonstrated to many nations across Europe the need for specially trained units capable of combating terrorist threats, apprehending dangerous criminals, and managing high-risk crisis situations. The GIGN was formed in 1973 under the command of Lieutenant Christian Prouteau, and became fully operational by March 1974.

What started out as a small SWAT unit has since grown into an elite counter-terrorist and law enforcement organization numbering almost 400 men. The main Intervention Force is comprised of 100 personnel divided into four platoons, two of which specialize in parachuting and the other two in combat scuba diving. At least two platoons are always on alert, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

The Intervention Force is supported by several other units within the GIGN: The Operational Support force specializes in sniping, breaching, and engineering; the Observation & Search force is geared towards reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence; the Security and Protection force is responsible for protecting persons of special interest and government installations; the Presidential Security Group serves as part of the joint Gendarmerie-Police detachment that is responsible for protecting the French President; and the Training Force is responsible for the training and selection of new operators. To this date, only three members of the GIGN have been killed in the line of duty, while seven others have died in training incidents.

All applicants for the GIGN must have prior service in the National Gendarmerie and be no older than thirty-two. Candidates must first complete an intensive week-long screening process in which they must complete a series of physical, psychological, and intelligence examinations. It is reported that one of these tests is to demonstrate the ability of swimming with both hands and feet bound. Those with the highest aptitude scores are accepted into a grueling fourteen-month training program in which recruits are a taught a diverse set of combat-related skills, such as covert surveillance, intelligence gathering, marksmanship, weapons training, breaching, rappelling, combat scuba diving, parachuting, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), CQC, hand-to-hand combat, martial arts, and combat survival training.

The GIGN have what many consider to be the best sniper school in the world, which has produced some of the deadliest and most skilled sharpshooters. Trainees are also taught negotiating skills, psychological profiling, interrogation tactics, investigative techniques, and various foreign languages. One of their most notorious training methods was a scuba diving exercise in which potential GIGN operators laid on the bed of the Seine River in Paris while barges passed just a few feet overhead. Due to the physical and mentally stressful nature of training, on average, only 7-8 percent of trainees successfully complete the program to become members of the GIGN.

On February 4, 1976, a joint task force of the GIGN commandos and Foreign Legionnaires rescued twenty-nine French school children held hostage by Somali terrorists in Loyada, Djibouti. When Islamic militants seized control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on November 20, 1979, France sent three GIGN officers to help train and advise Saudi troops in recapturing the mosque, but since non-Muslims were forbidden to enter the holy city, the Frenchmen briefly converted to Islam in order to carry out their mission. On May 5, 1988, the GIGN helped rescue thirty-five hostages held captive by separatists on the island of Ouvéa, French-controlled territory near New Caledonia in the South Pacific. During the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, GIGN operators were assigned to help provide security for the games.

 

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February 4, 1976: GIGN operators, French Foreign Legionnaires, and Somali Army troops launch a daring rescue mission to free French school children held hostage by Somali terrorists on board a hijacked bus in Loyada, Djibouti.

 

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Saudi troops trained and equipped by the GIGN and Pakistani Special Forces battle Islamic militants beneath the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia after a deadly two week siege that lasted from November 20 to December 4, 1979.

 

On September 28, 1995, a coup d'état led by famed French mercenary, Bob Denard, overthrew the government of the Comoros, a small group of islands off the coast of Mozambique. Four days later, GIGN commandos landed on the East African Islands during Operation Azalee, where they arrested Denard and removed his group from power.

In recent years, the GIGN has been deployed to war zones in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Mali. On April 12, 2008, GIGN operators and French Naval Commandos carried out a daring raid in Somalia, capturing six pirates responsible for hijacking the French luxury liner Le Ponant several days earlier. On January 9, 2015, GIGN commandos neutralized two of the terrorists involved in the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris. Since its creation, the GIGN has taken part in over 1,800 operations, rescued over 600 hostages, arrested over 1,500 suspects.

 

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September 28, 2005: GIGN commandos flying in by helicopters prepare to board the French merchant vessel Pascal Paoli after it had been hijacked by disgruntled sailors from of the Corsican Trade Union (STC).

 

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General Denis Favier was commanding officer of the GIGN from 1992 to 1997 and 2007 to 2011. He is best remembered for the leading the 1994 raid which liberated passengers held hostage on Air France Flight 8969. Favier currently serves as the General-Director of the National Gendarmerie as of 2017.

 

Greatest Mission: Air France 8969

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1994: GIGN operators breach Air France Flight 8969 in an attempt to liberate passengers and crew held captive onboard by Algerian terrorists. The raid was captured on live television and broadcasted to millions around the globe.

 

December 26, 1994: An elite team of thirty GIGN operators led by Major Denis Favier launched a daring raid to free passengers being held hostage on Air France Flight 8969 at Marseille Provence Airport. Two days earlier, a group of terrorists from the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria (GIA) had hijacked the aircraft at Houari Boumedienne Airport in Algiers. Thirty-nine hours later, the plane was allowed to leave Algeria for France after three passengers were brutally murdered. Ultimately the hijackers intended to blow up the airliner over the Eiffel Tower in Paris with most of the hostages still onboard. While making a brief stop for fuel at Marseille Airport, GIGN commandos stormed the aircraft, killing all four hijackers after an intense twenty-minute gun battle. The 166 passengers and crew onboard were rescued without any further loss of innocent life. Sixteen of the hostages only received minor injuries, and nine GIGN operators were wounded. The Raid on Air France Flight 8969 has been widely hailed as one of the greatest rescue missions of all time.

 

14) GSG-9

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Special operators from Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (Border Protection Group 9), an elite counter-terrorist unit of the German Federal Police also known as GSG-9, are seen here during an operational demonstration in Bonn, Germany on September 14, 2012.

 

Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (GSG-9), meaning Border Protection Group 9, is an elite counter-terrorist unit currently based in Sankt Augustin-Hangelar, Germany. A unique mix of law enforcement and military-style special forces, GSG-9 operates as part of the Bundespolizei (Federal Police) in a similar manner to a SWAT team. They specialize in counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, manhunts, counter-narcotics, executive protection, intelligence and surveillance.

GSG-9 was originally created in the early 1970s as part of the Cold War era Bundesgrenzschutz (Federal Border Guard). At the time, this organization had eight regular border guard units when GSG-9 was formed, which is how the commandos got their name. On July 1, 2005, the Federal Border Guard was radically expanded and renamed the Federal Police, but GSG-9 chose to keep its name due to its legendary reputation.

The unit currently operates in three main sub-groups; Regular Operations for land-based missions, Maritime Operations for amphibious assaults, and Airborne Operations for parachuting and helicopter insertion. There are also several sub-units for administrative duties, technical support, and training. Controlled by the Federal Ministry of the Interior, GSG-9 is called upon to manage high-risk crisis situations, apprehend the most dangerous criminals, and defend Germany from threats of terrorism anywhere around the globe. Due to the covert nature of this unit, the exact size and strength of GSG-9 is unknown, and the identity of its members is highly guarded.

Established on April 17, 1973, GSG-9 was created in response to the tragic events of the 1972 Olympics in Munich, West Germany. A group of Palestinian terrorists from the Black September movement managed to infiltrate Olympic Village, killing two Israeli athletes and taking nine hostages. An ill-fated rescue mission by the German police, who were neither trained or equipped for counter-terrorism operations, resulted in the deaths of all the hostages, along with five of the eight terrorists, and one police officer. The incident revealed how poorly prepared law enforcement was in dealing with a situation of this magnitude.

 

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September 5, 1972: A member of the Palestinian terrorist organization known as “Black September” emerges on the balcony of Building 31 at Olympic Village in Munich, West Germany. The kidnapping and murder of eleven Israeli athletes by Black September during the 1972 Summer Olympics led to the creation of GSG-9 just six months later.

 

Military personnel were not called in to help manage the crisis since German Federal law strictly forbids the use of the armed forces among the civilian population. Even after the Munich massacre, many within the West German government were strongly against a military counter-terrorist force because of bitter memories of the infamous Nazi-era Schutzstaffel (SS). It was later decided that a highly trained special forces unit comprised of police officers would be formed to combat the growing threat of terrorism.

The man chosen to create this new unit was Colonel Ulrich Wegener, a long-time member of the Federal Border Guard who had witnessed first-hand the disastrous rescue mission that took place at Munich. In laying the foundation for GSG-9, Colonel Wegener received extensive training with the British Army’s Special Air Service (SAS) and the Israeli Sayeret Matkal. He adopted their methods, tactics, and doctrine as the basis in forging Germany’s premier counter-terrorist force.

 

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September 8, 1978: GSG-9 personnel demonstrate their skills in hand-to-hand and close-quarters combat.

 

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GSG-9 operators conduct a fast-rope insertion from a helicopter during a training exercise at Sankt Augustin, Germany on May 22, 2005. While the exact size and strength of this unit is still unknown, GSG-9 is estimated to have 200-300 personnel.

 

Applicants for GSG-9 are required to have at least two years of police or law enforcement experience. Potential candidates must first pass a four-day screening process known as the Suitability Selection Procedure, or EAV in its German abbreviation. This consists of a medical and psychological evaluation, along with an intensive series of marksmanship and physical fitness tests. Those who successfully pass the EAV are accepted into rigorous 22-week training program in which recruits are taught various skills such as marksmanship, sniping, weapons training, rappelling, helicopter insertions, parachuting, combat scuba diving, maritime security, breaching, explosives, CQC, hand-to-hand combat, and criminal psychology.

As training becomes more advanced, emphasis is increasingly placed on Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP) employed in combat. Over the years, GSG-9 has continued to evolve by cross-training with other elite counter-terrorism forces from around the world, such as the Yamam, a special unit of the Israeli Border Police, the French GIGN, and various U.S. SWAT teams. Throughout their history, GSG-9 has been renowned for constantly adopting and developing new skills and techniques. They are held in high regard throughout the Special Forces and law enforcement community for their discipline, professionalism, and adaptability. On average, only one out of every five applicants succeed in completing training.

 

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GSG-9 operators stationed at Sankt Augustin, Germany on July 27, 2007 (Photograph by Sasha Rheker).

 

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GSG-9 operators rappel down a building of the Federal Criminal Police Office as part of an operational demonstration in Wiesbaden, Germany on June 19, 2010.

 

During the 1980s and early 1990’s, GSG-9 was responsible for capturing several high-profile terrorists from the left-wing German militant organization known as the Red Army Faction (RAF). On August 16, 1993, KLM flight 110 from Tunis to Amsterdam was hijacked by an Islamic extremist and forced to land at Düsseldorf Airport. All onboard were released except for two crew members who were later freed after GSG-9 stormed the aircraft and arrested the hijacker. In 1999, the police commandos arrested Metin Kaplan, leader of a radical Islamist movement based in Cologne, Germany.

Following the events of September 11, 2001, GSG-9 arrested several individuals related to the terrorist attacks against the United States. During the Iraq War, GSG-9 was tasked with providing security for the German Embassy in Baghdad and protecting German nationals working in Iraq. In 2005, GSG-9 won all eight events during the SWAT World Challenge, defeating seventeen of the best teams from around the globe. On September 4, 2007, GSG-9 arrested three Islamic terrorists planning to carry out a deadly series of bombings across Germany.

In the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, GSG-9 was sent to help train India’s counter-terrorist unit, the National Security Guards (NSG), and help raise a SWAT team for the Mumbai Police. Most recently they were deployed to the Olympia Shopping Mall in Munich to help neutralize a gunman on a mass shooting spree on July 22, 2016. As of today, GSG-9 has successfully completed over 1,500 missions.

 

Greatest Mission: Operation Fire Magic

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1977: GSG-9 operators returning home from Somalia are greeted to a heroes welcome at Cologne-Bonn Airport for rescuing passengers and crew held hostage by terrorists aboard Lufthansa flight 181.

 

October 18, 1977: An elite team of thirty GSG-9 operators, led by Colonel Ulrich Wegener, launched a daring raid to free passengers held hostage on Lufthansa Flight 181 at Mogadishu International Airport in Somalia. While en route from Mallorca to Frankfurt five days earlier, the aircraft had been hijacked by four terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The airliner went on to make stops in Rome, Cyprus, Bahrain, Qatar, Aden, and finally Mogadishu, where the hijackers demanded that the West German government release several key members of the Red Army Faction.

Chancellor Helmut Schmidt responded by authorizing the deployment of GSG-9 to Somalia. The rescue operation, code-named Feuerzauber (fire magic), was carried out successfully within just seven minutes as GSG-9 personnel stormed the aircraft, rescuing all eighty-six hostages onboard. Three of the hijackers were killed and one was arrested during the raid. Operation Fire Magic has been hailed as one of the greatest rescue operations of all time and is considered a textbook example of how to recapture a hijacked airliner.

 

13) Joint Task Force 2

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Members of an elite covert unit of the Canadian Armed Forces known as Joint Task Force 2 (JTF-2).

 

As the premier special forces unit of the Canadian Armed Forces, Joint Task Force 2 (JTF-2) has quickly established a reputation as one of the best in the world. Currently based out of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Joint Task Force 2 was a small and relatively unknown group until the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. As part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) comprising dozens of nations across North America and Europe, Canada deployed its forces in support of the U.S.-led invasion to overthrow the Taliban regime which had long harbored al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The ensuing War on Terror led to a dramatic increase in the size, strength, and capabilities of JTF-2.

These ultra-secret commandos specialize in counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, direct action, special reconnaissance, hostage rescue, manhunts, surveillance and intelligence, and foreign internal Defense. Similar to other elite units, such as the British SAS, the U.S. Navy SEALs and the U.S. Army Delta Force, JTF-2 is often tasked with conducting covert and clandestine operations. Since 2006, they have been the centerpiece of the Canadian Special Operations Force Command (CANSOFCOM), a unified command of the armed forces responsible for missions involving unconventional warfare and counter-terrorism. While some estimates put their numbers between 200 and 600 personnel, the exact size of JTF-2 is still unknown as most of the information regarding this unit is highly classified. These Canadian special operators are best defined by an ancient Latin term which has become their motto, Facto non Verba (Deeds, not Words).

The Canadian special forces can trace their roots back to July 9, 1942 with the establishment of the First Special Service Force, an elite joint U.S.-Canadian commando unit. Modeled after their British counterparts, they conducted raids, reconnaissance, and intelligence gathering missions deep behind enemy lines. This unit fought with such distinction in Italy and Southern France during World War II, that they became famously known as the Devil’s Brigade and the Black Devils. These commandos would inspire and influence future Canadian special operators.

 

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April 1944: American and Canadian commandos from the First Special Service Force prepare for a nighttime reconnaissance patrol near Anzio, Italy. This unit quickly became legendary for penetrating deep behind enemy lines, striking without warning, disappearing as quickly as they appeared, and leaving scores of dead German soldiers in their wake. They became famously known as “The Devil’s Brigade.”

 

Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Canada’s primary counter-terrorist force was the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT), a highly-trained SWAT unit of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). During that time, there had been ongoing controversy over the use of lethal force, which went completely against the RCMP doctrine to save and protect lives. In 1992, the Deputy Minister of Defence, Robert Fowler, announced that SERT would be disbanded and replaced by a new unit of the Canadian Armed Forces to provide a more robust counter-terrorism force. Ironically, many former members of SERT would go on to help train the operators who would replace them.

Joint Task Force 2 was officially established on April 1, 1993. They started out with over 100 personnel drawn mostly from highly distinguished units such as the Canadian Airborne Regiment and Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. While the Department of National Defence (DND) acknowledges the existence of JTF-2, they are not at liberty to discuss any of the activities pertaining to this unit.

 

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Special operators from Joint Task Force 2 conduct a visit, board, search, and seizure drill (VBSS) during Operation Nanook, a joint training exercise involving American, Canadian, and Danish naval forces in the Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada; August 24, 2012.

 

Any member of the Canadian Armed Forces, including women, can apply to join Joint Task Force 2. At least two years of service in the regular armed forces or three years in the reserves is required. Those accepted into the program are sent to the Dwyer Hill Training Centre in Ottawa. All applicants must first pass the JTF-2 Physical Fitness Training Program which consists of an intense battery of exercises over the course of several days designed to weed out the weakest candidates so that only the strongest and most highly motivated can proceed. This includes a combat swim test where trainees must complete a 25-meter swim in combat gear and an eight-mile march with seventy-seven pounds of equipment, which must be completed in less than two and twenty-six minutes respectively. Candidates must also undergo a thorough medical evaluation and a psychological screening process to ensure that they possess the mentality to be in the special forces.

The next phase of training is a four-day assessment program in which trainees must prove that they can operate at extreme heights, in water, harsh climates, and confined spaces. They must also display an aptitude for teamwork, problem solving, analyzing and recalling information, identifying potential threats, making tactical decisions under stressful conditions, adapting to the fluid nature of combat. Those who pass move on to the final phase of the selection process, an intensive seven-month combat training program known as the Special Operations Assaulter Course (SOAC). On average, only two out of ten trainees succeed in becoming members of JTF2.

 

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April 28, 2013: JTF-2 counterparts from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) conduct a free-fall jump from a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during a joint-training exercise over Hurlburt Field, Florida. Like CSOR, Joint Task Force 2 personnel are qualified in airborne operations.

 

During the Bosnian War (1992-1995), members of Joint Task Force 2 were deployed to Sarajevo to help track down and neutralize Serbian snipers who were targeting UN personnel in an area of the city known infamously as Sniper Alley. They would later be utilized as personal security to protect high-ranking VIP’s during conflicts in Rwanda and Kosovo.

In December 2001, JTF-2 operators arrived in Southern Afghanistan where they played a major role in hunting down al-Qaeda and Taliban militants during the opening phase of Operation Enduring Freedom. They distinguished themselves in combat throughout the course of the War in Afghanistan (2001-2014), conducting numerous counter-insurgency operations against the Taliban, particularly in the volatile Kandahar Province.

When a coup d'état overthrew the government of Haiti in February 2004, Joint Task Force 2 was sent to protect the Canadian Embassy and safeguard the International Airport during the crisis. On March 23, 2006, JTF-2 played an instrumental role in the rescue of three Christian missionaries who had been held hostage by insurgents in Iraq for four months. It was confirmed that they helped provide security for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. JTF-2 was rumored to have taken part in NATO operations during the Libyan Civil War in 2011. Recently they have served in Iraq advising and training Iraqi forces fighting against militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

 

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A Canadian soldier provides security for a meeting with village elders in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan on August 26, 2008. As part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Canada deployed troops to Afghanistan along with American and European allies following the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001. Joint Task Force 2 would play a major role in counter-insurgency operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda throughout Southern Afghanistan.

 

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In May 2017, JTF-2 made headlines when one of their covert operators set a new world record for the longest confirmed sniper kill. Utilizing a Canadian version of the McMillan Tac-50, a JTF-2 sniper in Iraq shot and killed an Islamic State militant from a distance of 3,871 yards (3,540 meters), shattering the previous record set in 2009 by over 1,100 yards.

 

Greatest Mission: Task Force K-Bar

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January 21, 2002: In this rare photograph taken in Afghanistan during the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, Canadian operatives from Joint Task Force 2 arrive at Kandahar Airport with three enemy detainees.

 

October 2001- April 2002: Forty elite commandos from Joint Task Force 2 were deployed to Afghanistan as part of a joint multinational special forces unit designated Task Force K-Bar. This was one of the first U.S.-led ground units deployed into Afghanistan at the start of Operation Enduring Freedom. Under the command of Captain Robert Harward of the U.S. Navy SEALs, Task Force K-Bar played an instrumental role in overthrowing the Taliban during the U.S.-led invasion. They conducted over seventy-five missions, with an unprecedented 100% success rate, killing 115 Taliban and Al- Qaeda leaders and capturing 107. They had also destroyed numerous cave and tunnel complexes, along with over 500,000 pounds of enemy munitions.

Harward later stated that the Canadian JTF2 team was his first choice for most direct-action missions. The highly covert nature of these operations meant that the Canadian public was unaware of the role their special operators played in the invasion. For their service in Operation Enduring Freedom, Joint Task Force 2 was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation by the U.S. Government.

 

12) U.S. Army Rangers

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A squad of U.S. Army Rangers from the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment equipped with night-vision goggles and a multi-purpose canine conduct a nighttime operation in Afghanistan on March 6, 2012.

 

The United States Army Rangers are an elite light infantry and airborne unit capable of deploying to war zones anywhere around the world within just eighteen hours. The Rangers have existed in many forms since their foundation in the late seventeenth century. Over the course of American history, Ranger units were raised for combat during the Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In each case, these distinguished units were disbanded in peacetime, but this all changed in the 1970s.

With the ongoing Cold War and the growing threat of terrorism, the U.S. Army decided to create a rapid deployment force comprised of specially trained troops who can immediately respond to an international or domestic crisis. On January 31, 1974, Army Chief of Staff, General Creighton Abrams, authorized the creation of the largest Ranger unit since World War II. On October 3, 1984, the last of three Ranger battalions were raised, forming what would become the 75th Ranger Regiment. A Special Troops Battalion was added on July 17, 2006 to assist in reconnaissance, intelligence, and maintenance operations.

Currently based out of Fort Benning, Georgia, the 75th Ranger Regiment is one of several units that operate as part of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM). Their key specialties include direct action, airborne and air assault operations, special reconnaissance, manhunts, personnel recovery, and counter-insurgency. Comprised of 3,500 personnel, these elite troops have come to be defined by their iconic motto, Rangers Lead the Way.

The first Ranger Company was formed in 1676 by Colonel Benjamin Church of the New England Militia. This unit was unique in that they adopted the same guerrilla tactics utilized by the American Indian tribes, against which they fought. Church went so far as to recruit Indian warriors into his company so that the rangers could learn how to conduct raids, ambushes, long-range patrols, and tracking.

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Captain Benjamin Church is widely hailed as the forefather of the U.S. Army Rangers. As an officer in the colonial militia, Captain Church raised the first company of Rangers to combat hostile Indian tribes in New England during King Philip’s War (1675-1678). The exploits of the Rangers and their tactics are detailed in Church’s memoirs, “Entertaining Passages relating to Philip’s War”.

 

During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Major Robert Rogers recruited and trained nine companies of Colonial Rangers for service with the British Army. These men came to be known as Rogers Rangers. As a skilled American frontiersman who had served in the New Hampshire militia, Rogers combined the American Indian style of warfare with his own innovative techniques, establishing a series of guidelines called the 28 Rules of Ranging.“ These rules outline the conduct of guerrilla warfare which have served as the basis for every generation of Rangers that has followed. While their tactics and equipment have evolved over time, their basic function as an unconventional fighting force remains the same.

 

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Rogers’ Rangers: A renowned Colonial American light infantry company that fought for the British Army during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Led by Major Robert Rogers, this unit adopted the same tactics of guerrilla warfare employed by the American Indians against the French and their allies. During the war, Major Rogers developed a series of guidelines known as "The 28 Rules of Ranging”.

 

 

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During the American Revolutionary War, British Imperial forces in South Carolina were terrorized by a rag-tag militia led by General Francis Marion (Center). Despite being outgunned and outnumbered, Marion’s Men managed to avoid capture by hiding deep in the swamps from which they used as a base of operations to launch deadly raids and ambushes against British troops. Known as the “Swamp Fox”, Marion was highly influential in the development of guerrilla warfare and the U.S. Army Rangers.

 

The modern Rangers were forged during the early days of World War II, when the U.S. Army sought to create an elite fighting unit similar to the British commandos. On June 19, 1942, Lieutenant Colonel William Orlando Darby began recruiting volunteers for the 1st U.S. Ranger Battalion. Utilizing the “28 Rules of Ranging” as inspiration, Colonel Darby designed a rigorous training regimen for his troops in Northern Ireland and Scotland similar to the British commandos. Darby’s Rangers performed with such distinction in North Africa, that several more Ranger battalions were raised for combat in Europe and the Pacific. While the Rangers would see action again in Korea and Vietnam, they would not become a permanent standing formation in the U.S. Army until 1974.

 

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A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Colonel William Orlando Darby was tasked with raising the 1st U.S. Ranger Battalion for combat during World War II. He was later killed in action near Trento, Italy on April 30, 1945. Darby is widely credited with forging the modern U.S. Army Rangers.

 

Potential candidates for the U.S. Army Rangers must score at least 107 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a three-hour exam designed to evaluate their knowledge on various subjects, such as math, science, electronics, mechanics, and verbal skills. They must also score a minimum 240 out of 300 points on the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) to qualify. Those aspiring to join the 75th Ranger Regiment are required to complete Basic Combat Training (nine weeks), Advanced Individual Training (four weeks), and the U.S. Army Airborne School (three weeks), before attending a grueling eight-week course known as the Ranger Assessment & Selection Program (RASP), all of which take place at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The first phase of RASP 1 is designed to push enlisted personnel to the ultimate limits of endurance through a punishing series of physical and mental exercises while under constant food and sleep deprivation. The second phase focuses on more combat-oriented training. Officers attend a separate 21-day course known as RASP 2, which focuses on leadership skills, tactics, and procedures as much as physical training. There is also the option of attending Ranger School, a 61-day combat leadership course, considered by many to be the toughest combat course in the world.

Ranger School is broken down into three phases. The Benning Phase is primarily designed to evaluate every soldier’s physical stamina and mental toughness. The Mountain Phase is geared towards mountain warfare training, and the Florida Phase focuses on jungle and riverine warfare. Ranger School is open to personnel from all branches of the U.S. military and foreign armed forces. More than half of the trainees fail to complete the course; several have died during training. While the school is voluntary, graduating is mandatory for all officers and non-commissioned officers in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Those who successfully graduate from the school are awarded the distinguished Ranger Tab, which is widely regarded as a badge of honor.

 

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A Ranger trainee with full combat load struggles to rappel down the side of a 60-ft rock during the second phase of Ranger School, also known as the “Mountain Phase” at Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega, Georgia; February, 20, 2011.

 

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A Ranger trainee with a full combat load attempts to cross a river using only a single line rope during the “Florida Phase” of Ranger School at Camp Rudder, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Also known as the “Swamp Phase”, Florida is the third and final stage of a grueling 61-day combat leadership course known as Ranger School; July 7, 2016.

 

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Troops from the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment conduct an urban warfare training exercise at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on April 21, 2009.

 

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April 28, 2010: U.S. Army Rangers descend from an MH-6 Little Bird Helicopter flown by pilots from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) during a combat demonstration at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

 

In World War II, the U.S. Army Rangers distinguished themselves on the battlefields of North Africa, Italy, Normandy, and the Pacific. Ranger companies were once again raised during the Korean War, where they carried out ambushes, long-range patrols, scouting and reconnaissance, and raids deep behind enemy lines. The legendary reputation of the Rangers continued to grow during the Vietnam War, where they formed small heavily-armed teams known as Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP or “Lurps”). Their most memorable action was the Battle of Signal Hill in April 1968, when a LRRP company captured a strategic position in the A Shau Valley after heavy fighting with the North Vietnamese Army.

 

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April 1944: The 5307th Composite Unit led by General Frank D. Merrill rest along a jungle trail near Nhpum Ga, Burma. In just five months of operations, Merrill’s Marauders had traversed 750 miles of jungle terrain, more than any other U.S. Army unit during World War II. They carried out raids, reconnaissance, and sabotage deep behind enemy lines, and battled the Japanese on thirty-two separate occasions. The U.S. Army Rangers consider the marauders part of their historic lineage.

 

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June 6, 1944: U.S. Army Rangers demonstrate how they scaled Pointe du Hoc, a 90-foot cliff overlooking the coastline of Normandy, France. During the D-Day invasion, the Rangers used these ropes and ladders to climb to the top of Pointe du Hoc in support of U.S. troops landing on Omaha and Utah Beaches. Despite heavy resistance, they managed to destroy five artillery guns, and repel several German counter-attacks, until being relieved by troops advancing off the beaches. Of the 225 Rangers in the assault force, 135 were killed, wounded, or captured.

 

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April 17, 1951: A squad of U.S. Army Rangers from the 3rd Ranger Company, 3rd Infantry Division prepare for a reconnaissance mission to probe Chinese Communist defenses just north of the Imjin River during the Korean War.

 

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April 7, 1968: A Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) team comprised of U.S. Army Rangers from E Company take a brief rest at Landing Zone Stud before conducting a combat patrol near Khe Sanh, South Vietnam during Operation Pegasus.

 

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July 26, 1968: Two LRRP Ranger teams assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division in Quang Tri, South Vietnam.

 

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April 1968: A Long-Range Penetration (LRP) team positioned on Signal Hill direct American artillery onto North Vietnamese trucks moving through the A Shau Valley in South Vietnam. In one of their most memorable actions of the Vietnam War, Rangers from Company E, 52nd Infantry (LRP), 1st Cavalry Division captured this strategic hill after several days of heavy fighting with the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).

 

Since its formation in the early 1980’s, the 75th Ranger Regiment has seen combat in Iran (1980), Grenada (1983), Panama (1989-1990), Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1990-1991), Somalia (1993), Kosovo (1998-1999), Afghanistan (2001-2014, and Iraq (2003-2011).

The Rangers were immortalized in Black Hawk Down, a best-selling novel and Academy Award-winning film that chronicled the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3, 1993. Over 100 U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force operatives fought off thousands of Somali militias during a dramatic raid, which turned into daring rescue mission to recover the survivors onboard two downed Black Hawk helicopters.

 

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October 25, 1983: U.S. Army Rangers parachute into Grenada during Operation Urgent Fury. Within weeks U.S. troops had overthrown the communist regime, expelled Cuban military forces from the island, and restored the constitutional government.

 

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December 1989: Rangers from Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment fight for control of La Comandancia in Panama City. During Operation Just Cause, U.S. Army Rangers spearheaded the Invasion of Panama with a dramatic airborne assault, capturing Tocumen International Airport, General Manuel Noreiga’s beach house, and the headquarters for the Panamanian Defense Force at La Comandancia.

 

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October 3, 1993: U.S. Army Rangers engage Somali militia loyal to General Mohamed Farrah Aidid in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. In Operation Gothic Serpent, Rangers and Delta Force operators were inserted by helicopters into the city to capture Aidid’s top lieutenants. During this raid, two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters were shot down, forcing the assault troops to fight their way through hostile city streets to rescue the crews of the downed helicopters.

 

In the first major U.S. ground combat of the War in Afghanistan, elements of the 3rd Ranger Battalion took part in Operation Rhino, an airborne assault which captured an airstrip near Kandahar on October 19, 2001. The Rangers once again made headlines during the Iraq War on April 1, 2003, when they took part in the dramatic rescue of Private First Class Jessica Lynch from captivity in Nasiriyah, Iraq. The Rangers have since fought with distinction during counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March 2017, a company of U.S. Rangers were deployed to Northern Syria in support of Kurdish-led efforts to combat ISIL.

 

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March 31, 2003: A large explosion can be seen during an intense night-time battle between U.S. Army Rangers and Iraqi troops for control of the Haditha Dam. In the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, elements of the 3rd Ranger Battalion and Delta Force conducted a daring air assault mission to capture this strategic facility on the Euphrates River before Iraqi troops could destroy it. Despite heavy resistance, and several counter-attacks, the Rangers and Delta Force held control of the dam until they were finally relieved on April 8.

 

 

Greatest Mission: The Raid at Cabanatuan

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January 28, 1945: Troops of the 6th Ranger Battalion carefully maneuver through the countryside deep behind enemy lines to rescue Allied Prisoners of War held captive at a Japanese prison camp near Cabanatuan City, Philippines.

 

January 30, 1945: During the U.S.-led invasion of the Philippines in World War II, 133 men from the 6th Ranger Battalion, led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci, traveled thirty miles on foot behind enemy lines to free Allied Prisoners of War held in captivity at a Japanese prison Camp near Cabanatuan City. A month earlier, 139 POWs had been massacred by Japanese troops at the Puerto Princesa Prison Camp on Palawan Island. With Allied troops under General Douglas MacArthur advancing into Luzon Island, many feared that the POWs at Cabanatuan would face a similar fate at the hands of their captors before the Allies could arrive.

Commanders of the U.S. Sixth Army and the Philippine Resistance decided that an audacious rescue mission would be carried out by a small attack force comprised of troops specialized in long-penetration raids and reconnaissance. Aided by local Filipino guerrillas and U.S. Army Alamo Scouts, the Rangers carried out a daring night-time assault on the camp. During the raid, 500 to 1,000 Japanese troops were killed and 522 POWs were liberated from captivity. While two Rangers were killed during the operation, all prisoners were safely escorted back to Allied lines. Inspired by the incredible success of this operation, the Allies carried out several more raids across the Philippines, liberating thousands of POWs from Camp O'Donnell, Santos Tomas, Bilibid Prison, and Los Baños. To date, the Raid at Cabanatuan has been hailed as the greatest rescue operation in U.S. Military history. Many have referred to this event simply as “The Great Raid.”

 

11) JW GROM

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March 28, 2003: Polish commandos from Jednostka Wojskowa GROM secure the port of Umm Qasr during the U.S.-led Invasion of Iraq.

 

Currently based in Warsaw and Gdańsk, Jednostka Wojskowa (Military Unit) GROM is the premier counter-terrorist unit of the Polish Armed Forces. GROM, which in Polish means thunder, is an acronym for Grupa Reagowania Operacyjno-Manewrowego (Group for Operational Maneuvering Response). This unit inherited its lineage from the Cichociemni (Silent Unseen or Dark and Silent), an elite unit of Polish paratroopers trained and supplied by the Western Allies during World War II to wage guerrilla warfare against German forces in Nazi-occupied Poland. The Polish GROM are nicknamed Cichociemni in honor of this legendary unit.

During the Cold War, the Polish People’s Republic was one of several communist states in Eastern Europe that joined the Soviet Union in forming the Warsaw Pact. During this period, Poland raised several special operations forces of varying capabilities, trained to carry out raids, sabotage, long-range reconnaissance, and espionage into Western Europe in the event of a war between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. However, the country lacked an established counter-terrorist force.

In 1989, with the Cold War coming to an end, communist rule throughout Eastern Europe collapsing, and the Soviet Union in decline, Poland began to pursue closer ties with NATO. During its formation in the 1990’s, JW GROM was modeled after other elite units, such as the British Army’s SAS, the U.S. Army Delta Force, and the U.S. Navy SEALs. Since then they have developed a reputation as some of the toughest and fiercest fighters in the special forces community.

 

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The Cichociemni (“The Silent Unseen”/“The Dark and Silent”): An elite Polish paratrooper unit formed in Great Britain as part of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. These commandos were dropped into German-occupied Poland during World War II to aid the Polish resistance in waging a guerrilla war against the Nazis. Their name refers to how they operated, coming silently in the night to kill enemy soldiers, and disappearing as quickly as they appeared.

 

In 1989, Poland participated in Operation Bridge, a multinational humanitarian effort to assist in relocating thousands of Jews from the Soviet Union to Israel. During this endeavor, an incident occurred in Beirut where two Polish diplomats were shot by terrorists in reprisal for aiding the Jewish State. In response, the Polish government sent Lieutenant Colonel Slawomir Petelicki, a decorated army veteran and high-ranking intelligence officer, to oversee security and diplomatic efforts in Lebanon. Regarded as an expert in counter-intelligence, Petelicki had served various posts around the globe as a member of the Security Service (Służba Bezpieczeństwa: SB).

After the successful completion of Operation Bridge, Colonel Petelicki returned to Poland and submitted a proposal for the formation of an elite commando unit specialized in counter-terrorism, unconventional warfare, and clandestine operations to defend Polish citizens against foreign threats from abroad. Colonel Petelicki had long advocated for the creation of such a unit, but the old communist regime rejected the idea because the Soviet Union feared that one day the Polish republic would attempt to break away from the Warsaw Pact. With Poland free from communist rule in 1989, the new democratic Polish government fully endorsed Petelicki’s proposals and promoted him to Brigadier General. Originally known as Military Unit 2305, JW GROM was established on June 13, 1990, with General Petelicki as commanding officer, a position he would hold until December 19, 1995.

 

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Brigadier General Slawomir Petelicki was the founder of JW GROM. He had served in the Polish Armed Forces since 1969, and was a high ranking member in the Intelligence Department for the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In 1989, Petelicki presented a plan to the new democratic government for the creation of a covert special forces unit after Polish diplomats were attacked by militants in Beirut, Lebanon.

 

JW GROM is open to applicants from all branches of the Polish Armed Forces and law enforcement, including women. Potential candidates are put through a rigorous psychological screening process and a battery of physical tests designed to weed out those who do not possess the physical and mental fortitude to join the special forces. Trainees are taken deep into the Carpathian Mountains in Southern Poland, where they undergo a grueling program of physical fitness and survival training. Much of their basic special operations training takes place at the Swedish Navy’s Special Command for Tactical Operations in Karlskrona, Sweden.

GROM operators receive specialized training in parachuting and combat scuba diving to prepare them for all possible environments. They are also extremely well versed in marksmanship, sniping, surveillance and intelligence, breaching, explosive ordnance, CQC, hand-to-hand combat, martial arts, and medical aid. About 75 percent of those serving in GROM are trained paramedics. They are also proficient in at least two foreign languages.

In order to carry out joint operations with NATO allies, GROM operators regularly cross-train with elite special forces units, such as the Navy SEALs, Delta Force, the Green Berets, SAS, JTF-2, and GSG-9. GROM typically operates in four-man teams, and each operator is taught to assume the specialized role of his/her comrade if he/she is killed or injured. As one of the toughest combat units in Europe, on average, only 1-5% of trainees succeed in joining GROM.

 

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U.S. Navy SEALs and JW GROM practice boarding a naval vessel in the Baltic Sea as part of a joint training exercise near Gdansk, Poland; February, 2009.

 

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GROM operators conduct a training exercise in rescuing passengers held hostage by gunman on a commuter bus; June 12, 2006.

 

Originally known as JW 2305, the existence of GROM remained a secret for many years until 1994, when they were deployed to Haiti as part of Operation Uphold Democracy, a successful U.S.-led effort to overthrow the military regime which had seized power from the democratically elected government. In the late 1990s, GROM was deployed to the Balkans where the unit successfully captured several individuals responsible for war crimes committed during ethnic conflicts in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.

Following the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, JW GROM joined the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Afghanistan in the opening phase of Operation Enduring Freedom to remove the Taliban regime and eradicate the Al Qaeda terrorist network. At the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the Polish commandos captured critical oil installations on the Al-Faw Peninsula, along with the strategic port of Umm Qasr during the U.S.-led Invasion. After the fall of Saddam’s regime, JW GROM remained in Iraq to combat enemy insurgents until December 2004.

The unit returned to Iraq for a second tour of duty, which lasted from 2007 to 2008. GROM was deployed back to Afghanistan in 2007 as part of a renewed counter-insurgency effort by NATO. For the next several years, the Polish commandos would battle Taliban insurgents in the volatile Ghanzi Province as part of Task Force White Eagle. Since its creation, JW GROM has been called upon numerous times to provide executive protection for high ranking officials. They also provided security for the 2012 Euro Football Championship in Poland.

 

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April 7, 2009: Polish troops serving as part of Task Force White Eagle in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. Poland was part of the NATO-led coalition that went into Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. The Polish contingent that operated in Ghazni Province included elite commandos from JW GROM who were involved in counter-insurgency operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

 

Greatest Mission: Operation Little Flower

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November 29, 1991: A destroyed M-84 tank lies amidst the ruins of Vukovar, Croatia following heavy fighting between Croatian separatists and the Yugoslav People’s Army. JW GROM was deployed to Croatia in 1996 as part of United Nations peacekeeping operations following the end of the war. The Polish commandos hunted down and captured several wanted war criminals, including those involved in the infamous Vukovar Massacre.

 

June 27, 1997: In the aftermath of the Croatian War (1991-1995), JW GROM carried out a daring operation to arrest Slavko Dokmanović, a wanted war criminal infamously known as the “Butcher of Vukovar.” A Croat of Serbian decent, Dokmanović was the former mayor of Vukovar, Croatia. He was implicated in aiding Serb forces in the massacre of at least 200 people on November 20, 1991. This occurred during a brutal campaign by the Yugoslav People’s Army and Serbian paramilitaries to crush an insurgency by Croat rebels during the Battle of Vukovar. It was the worst mass murder committed in Europe since World War II.

GROM was deployed to the war-torn region in 1996 as part of the United Nations Transitional Authority for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja, and Western Sirmium (UNATES). Their mission was to help provide security, humanitarian assistance, and apprehend those responsible for crimes against humanity. During Operation Little Flower, foreign intelligence services managed to lure Dokmanović from Serbia back to Croatia, where the Polish commandos tracked him down and neutralized his armed security contingent. The elusive fugitive was successfully taken into custody by GROM and sent to face a UN tribunal for crimes against humanity in The Hague, Netherlands. Dokmanović later committed suicide on June 29, 1998.

 

10) MARCOS

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Marine Commandos (MARCOS) from the Indian Navy conduct a VBSS drill aboard the destroyer USS Mustin (DDG-89) during a joint training exercise in the Philippine Sea on April 7, 2007.

 

An abbreviation for Marine Commandos, the MARCOS are an elite special forces unit of the Indian Navy. Their main base is located just outside Mumbai at INS Abhimanyu, but they also operate out of naval bases in Goa, Kochi, Vishakhapatnam, and Port Blair. Originally known as the Indian Marine Special Force (IMSF), and the Marine Commando Force (MCF), the MARCOS are considered by many to be the equivalent of the U.S. Navy SEALs.

This unit is primarily oriented towards conducting seaborne operations, such as amphibious assault, maritime security, coastal reconnaissance, and underwater demolition. But the MARCOS are just as deadly on land whether they are fighting in jungle, desert, mountain, or urban terrain. They also receive extensive training in parachuting and helicopter insertion, making them capable of conducting air assault operations.

The Marine Commandos are widely known throughout India as Magarmach (crocodiles), and Jal Murgi (water hens). They are also known as Dadiwala Fauj (bearded army), a nickname which was given to them by militants in Kashmir. During the 1990s, MARCOS teams went undercover by growing their beards and dressing in traditional Kashmiri clothing to infiltrate hostile territory and root out insurgents from their key strongholds along the Jhelum River and Wular Lake. The MARCOS are still the only non-Sikh personnel in the Indian Armed Forces allowed to grow beards.

As of today, there are at least 2,000 Marine Commandos in active service with the Indian Navy. They are regarded as one of the toughest and most feared combat units in Asia, earning them their famous motto, The Few, the Fearless.

 

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A VBSS team comprised of MARCOS from INS Ranvijay conduct a maritime security exercise on July 23, 2014.

 

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Russian Marines and MARCOS pose for a photograph during INDRA 2014, a joint training exercise between Russian and Indian naval forces; July 24, 2014.

 

During the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, the Indian Navy supported the amphibious landings of troops in Bangladesh as part of Operation Jackpot. In preparation for the assault, Bengali insurgents trained by the Indian Navy in underwater demolition were employed to destroy key targets before the landings. While India had emerged victorious, and Bangladesh was successfully liberated after sixteen years of Pakistani rule, Operation Jackpot revealed key flaws in the amphibious and special operations capabilities of the Indian Armed Forces. Seeking to incorporate lessons from the 1971 conflict, Indian military leaders underwent efforts to improve training, tactics, and equipment.

In 1983, the Army began converting the 340th Independent Brigade comprising three infantry battalions into an Amphibious Assault unit. Meanwhile, the Navy decided to raise an elite special forces unit comprised of men specially trained in amphibious warfare, maritime security, counter-terrorism, unconventional warfare, direct action, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, personnel recovery, hostage rescue, and covert operations.

In April 1986, the Indian Naval High Command authorized the recruitment and training of volunteers for the Marine Commandos. The first three officers who would form the foundation of this new unit were sent to receive extensive training with the U.S. Navy SEALs and the British SAS. The Indian Marine Special Force was officially established on February 18, 1987. Four years later, it was renamed the Marine Commando Force. Since then this unit has gone on to serve with distinction in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Jammu and Kashmir, and Somalia. They have also played a major role in counter-terrorist operations against communist insurgents and Islamic militants within India.

 

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During the annual Navy Day celebrations, a squad of MARCOS are extracted by a HAL Dhruv helicopter as part of an operational demonstration near Kochi, India on December 14, 2013.

 

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MARCOS rappel down the Gateway of India in Mumbai as part of a rehearsal for the annual Navy Day festivities on December 2, 2015.

 

MARCOS training is notoriously grueling. Applicants must be males in their early twenties and actively serving in the Indian Navy. The pre-training selection process is comprised of an intense three-day physical training course in which 80 percent of the candidates usually fail to meet the required standards. Those who pass must then endure a brutal five-week training period known as Hell’s Week, consisting of a continuous series of physical exercises averaging twenty hours per day with little to no sleep. Those who survive this initial phase can begin the actual training for the Marine Commandos, which can last from two and a half to three years.

Each day begins with a twelve-mile run and ends with a twelve-mile march at night carrying a 132-pound load. They are also expected to complete a 74-mile timed march once a week. The MARCOS are not only trained to operate in every environment, they are taught to utilize every weapon in their arsenal from firearms, explosives and knives to bow and arrows. They are extremely well versed in hand-to-hand combat with an emphasis on death blows. MARCOS also attend courses in studying foreign languages, such as Arabic and Chinese.

MARCOS attend several specialized schools across India, such as the Indian Special Forces Training School just north of Delhi, the Parvat Ghatak (Mountain Strike/Mountain Warrior) Commando School along the Indian-Tibetan border in Tawang, the High-Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg, the Desert Warfare School in Rajasthan, the Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Vairengte, the Navy Diving School in Kochi, and the Paratrooper Training School near Agra. On average, over 90 percent of applicants for the Marine Commandos drop out during training.

 

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A MARCOS in amphibious gear armed with an MP-5 submachine gun.

 

From 1987 to 1990, the IMSF took part in several operations against Tamil separatists during India’s intervention in the Sri Lankan Civil War. On November 3, 1988, the Marine Commandos were deployed to the Maldives as part of Operation Cactus to help Indian troops put down a coup d'état by rebels backed by Tamil separatists from Sri Lanka. The separatists attempted to escape back to Sri Lanka on a hijacked freighter with twenty-three hostages onboard after the coup had been put down, but the Indian Navy intercepted the ship and sent the Marine Commandos aboard. All hostages were rescued, and forty-seven Tamil militants were taken into custody.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the MARCOS distinguished themselves in numerous counter-insurgency operations against separatists and Islamic militants in the volatile Jammu and Kashmir region. In 1998, Marine Commandos participated in Operation Leech, a campaign against Burmese rebels operating along the Indian border. During the Summer of 1999, the MARCOS fought in the Kargil War, a brief but bloody conflict between India and Pakistan over disputed territory in Jammu and Kashmir region.

From 2008 to 2013, the commandos were involved in several successful operations against Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. During this period, they thwarted attempted hijackings of the MV Jag Arnav from India, the MV Gibe from Ethiopia, and the MV Elinakos from Greece. On November 26, 2008, the MARCOS took part in Operation Black Tornado, a series of raids which killed several terrorists during the Mumbai attacks.

 

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November 28, 2008: Members of the National Security Guard (NSG) and MARCOS battle Islamic militants during the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India. 166 people were killed in the attacks including ten terrorists, and fifteen police officers, with over 600 wounded. Ultimately the attackers were put down by the combined forces of the Mumbai Police, the NSG, and MARCOS.

 

 

Greatest Mission: Operation Pawan

October 21-25, 1987: During Operation Pawan (wind), the initial campaign launched by India against Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka, an elite team of eighteen IMSF commandos, led by Lieutenant Arvind Singh, quietly paddled into Jaffna Harbor under the cover of darkness in a pair of inflatable rafts. Several commandos then disembarked with explosives and swam over a mile underwater towards the Guru Nagar Jetty. They proceeded to place demolition charges on several speedboats used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The militants were taken completely by surprise when their boats suddenly exploded in spectacular fashion.

With the LTTE now alerted to their presence, the commandos came under intense enemy fire, but they managed to escape from the harbor with no casualties. For his heroism in leading the raid, Lieutenant Arvind Singh was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, India’s second highest award for gallantry in battle. Two nights later, the IMSF destroyed eight more speedboats at the Guru Nagar Jetty in another daring raid against the Tamil Tigers. The actions of the Marine Commandos would help play a critical role in the capture of Jaffna and Trincomalee Harbors during Operation Pawan.

 

9) Special Boat Service

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Members of the Special Boat Service (SBS) conduct a maritime counter-terrorism exercise. Formed during World War II, the SBS is now the elite special operations force of Her Majesty’s Naval Service. They are also one of several elite units in the British Armed Forces that comprise the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF).

 

The Special Boat Service (SBS) is an elite naval warfare unit currently stationed at the Royal Marine Base in Poole, England. The SBS serves as part of Her Majesty’s Naval Service, also known as the Senior Service, a unified branch of the British Armed Forces comprised of both the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. It is also one of several elite British units that operate as part of the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF), a directorate for the unified command of special operations under the Ministry of Defence.

While the SBS has traditionally been geared towards amphibious warfare, maritime security, direct action, special reconnaissance, sabotage, and explosive demolition, their role has expanded over time to include counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, personnel recovery, manhunts, and intelligence and surveillance. Despite an impressive combat record that dates to World War II, the Special Boat Service is regarded as the lesser-known sister unit of the Special Air Service (SAS).

SBS personnel are regarded as experts in combat scuba diving, but they have proven that they are capable of more than just maritime special operations force. They receive extensive airborne training, and have shown an aptitude for land-based combat as demonstrated in recent conflicts from the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan. As of today, the Special Boat Service is equivalent to a full regiment with four active duty squadrons (C, X, Z, M) and one in reserve ®.

 

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Special Boat Service operators head to shore on a pair of Inflatable Raiding Craft (IRC). Despite its small size, the IRC is widely used by the Royal Navy for it’s speed, mobility, and versatility. These are often the craft of choice utilized by the SBS for carrying out special operations.

 

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Members of the Special Boat Service undergo airborne training at RAF Brize Norton near Carterton, England.

 

Originally established during World War II as the Special Boat Section in July 1940, the SBS was founded by Captain Roger Courtney of the British Commandos. His concept was to create a specialized naval assault force that utilized specially designed folding kayaks for raiding and reconnaissance missions. Unfortunately, Courtney found little support from the Royal Navy. Determined to prove his concept, Courtney paddled through the River Clyde in Scotland on a folding kayak and snuck aboard the landing ship HMS Glengyle. He inscribed his initials on the door of the Captain’s cabin and took a cover from one of the deck guns before escaping in his kayak completely undetected. High-ranking officers of the Royal Navy were so impressed by his amazing feat, that Courtney was promoted to Captain and given permission to raise two squadrons of naval commandos.

Initially known as the Folbot Troop for the folding kayaks they utilized, the unit was renamed the No. 1 Special Boat Section in early 1941. Assigned to the Mediterranean and Middle East Theater of operations, the SBS became renowned for their resourcefulness and cunning audacity. This was demonstrated in 1942 during a daring series of raids against German airfields on Crete and Rhodes, which destroyed or damaged numerous aircraft and installations. Their roles gradually expanded from raids and reconnaissance to sabotage, demolition, covert insertion and extraction. Since then the unit has continued to evolve, becoming the Special Boat Squadron in 1977, and finally renamed the Special Boat Service in 1987.

 

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October 13-14, 1944: SBS commandos from L Squadron visit the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. This small unit of 200-300 British Commandos became such a nuisance that the German Army maintained six divisions in the Mediterranean Theater in an effort to contain them.

 

While the Special Boat Service is open to applicants from all branches of the British Armed Forces, the vast majority of volunteers come from the Royal Marines. At least eighteen months of active duty service is required for application to the SBS.

Volunteers spend the first two days learning what is expected of special operators, followed by basic skills tests, such as swimming, map reading, and physical fitness. Four weeks of exhausting physical training takes place in the Breacon Beacons of South Wales. The final week consists of a series of timed endurance marches in full combat gear, each one becoming progressively longer and more difficult. This test culminates in a forty-mile march which must be completed within twenty hours while carrying fifty-five pounds of weights.

The next four weeks of training focus on combat tactics, techniques, and procedures relating to direct action, reconnaissance, demolition, and close quarters combat. This is followed by fourteen weeks of courses in escape and evasion techniques, resistance to interrogation, combat survival training, parachute training, jungle warfare training in Belize, navigation, concealment, counter-terrorism, and counter-insurgency. Once accepted into an SBS squadron, the trainees attend the Swimmer and Canoeist Course. For seven months, they will train in long distance swimming, diving, and kayaking in the open sea, often in rough weather.

During World War II, the Special Boat Section carried out numerous raids across the Mediterranean Theater against German and Italian forces. These operations proved to be such a scourge to the Axis Powers that Nazi Germany maintained six divisions and thousands of troops in the Mediterranean Theater to contain a force of only 200-300 British Commandos.

 

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July 13, 1944: A British Corporal with the Special Boat Section (SBS) prepares for a commando raid against a German-Italian garrison on Symi, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. The operation was a resounding success as the SBS and the Greek Resistance captured the entire garrison, taking 151 prisoners, destroying all enemy facilities, and sinking several vessels.

 

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Major Anders “Andy” Lassen was a Danish sailor who joined the British commandos after Nazi Germany invaded his native Denmark. He would go on to become a highly decorated member of the Special Boat Section during World War II. Major Lassen was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for leading a daring SBS raid against German positions at Lake Commachio, Italy on April 9, 1945.

The No. 2 SBS Squadron was later transferred to Southeast Asia where they helped Allied forces drive the Japanese out of Burma. During the Korean War, the SBS conducted coastal raids, sabotage, and reconnaissance missions deep behind communist lines, attacking bridges, tunnels, railways, communications, and supply lines. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the SBS participated in the Indonesia-Malaya Confrontation (1963-1966), the Northern Ireland Conflict (1969-2007), the Falklands War (1982), the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991), the East Timor Crisis (1999), and the Sierra Leone Civil War (2000).

 

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December 12, 1951: British commandos from the Special Boat Section paddle a two-man canoe in the Sea of Japan during rehearsal for a night-time raid along the coast of North Korea.

 

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British Royal Marine Commandos patrol the Serudong River in Borneo during the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation. The Special Boat Section was deployed to North Borneo (East Malaysia) in support of Operation Claret, an effort by the British Commonwealth to aid several states that sought to join the Federation of Malaysia. The SBS played a major role in counter-insurgency operations along the border, preventing Indonesian troops and communist guerrillas from infiltrating East Malaysia.

 

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April 25, 1982: British Royal Marines from M Company, 42nd Commando successfully recapture South Georgia Island from Argentina during the Falklands War. In preparation for the Marine landings, SBS commandos were sent in to conduct covert reconnaissance of the island. One month after the Battle of South Georgia, the SBS captured Argentine positions on Fanning Head, a strategic Hill overlooking the main British landings at San Carlos Bay on West Falkland Island.

 

During the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the SBS served as part of Task Force Sword, a highly covert joint American-British special operations unit assigned to kill or capture numerous high-valued targets. In this phase of the war, the unit fought in key battles at Qala-i-Jangi and Tora Bora. In 2003, the SBS participated in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and would remain until 2005 to help combat the Iraqi insurgency that arose following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

 

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November 2001: Covert operators from the Special Boat Service arrive to help quell an uprising by Taliban prisoners at Qala-i-Jangi, an old fortress near Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. With the aid of American and British special forces, the Northern Alliance had recaptured Qala-i-Jangi after six days of heavy fighting.

 

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December 2001: Three Members of the Special Boat Service with the Northern Alliance near Tora Bora, a cave complex in the White Mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The SBS was one of several SOF units that took part in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden during the Battle of Tora Bora.

 

From the Spring of 2006 onward, the Special Boat Service became the principle unit of the UKSF operating in Afghanistan. SBS commandos were responsible for killing two high-profile Taliban leaders, Mullah Dadullah on May 12, 2007, and Mullah Abdul Matin on February 18, 2008. They were also instrumental in the rescue of two Italian intelligence officers near Farah on September 24, 2007, and New York Times journalist, Stephen Farrell, near Kunduz on September 9, 2009.

In recent years, the SBS has taken part in operations against Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa, and they have been involved in combat against ISIL militants in Libya, Iraq, and Syria.

Greatest Mission: Operation Frankton

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December 7, 1942: The start of Operation Frankton, British Royal Marine Commandos begin to paddle their way from the submarine HMS Tuna towards the German-occupied city of Bordeaux, France. The objective was to infiltrate the harbor and use demolition charges to destroy as many enemy cargo vessels as possible. It would go down as one of the most daring Commando raids of World War II.

 

December 7-12, 1942: In one of the most daring raids of World War II, a team of thirteen Royal Marines, led by Major Herbert “Blondie” Hasler, were inserted into Nazi-occupied France to cripple or sink German merchant ships docked at Bordeaux, a port city along the Bay of Biscay. Operation Frankton began on the night of December 7 when the submarine, HMS Tuna, surfaced about ten miles outside the mouth of the Gironde Estuary leading to Bordeaux.

The assault team disembarked from the submarine with six folding canoes dubbed “cockles,” but one of the canoes was damaged while being carried out. Of the five cockles that set off from HMS Tuna, two were separated from the group and lost due to rough seas and crosswinds. Another capsized forcing its two occupants to swim to shore, but both would die from hypothermia. The two remaining cockles managed to infiltrate the Gironde Estuary, and the surviving raiders slowly made their way towards the objective while avoiding German patrols.

On the night of December 11, the raiders paddled through the port of Bordeaux in their canoes and planted limpet mines on several vessels. Ensuing explosions caused severe damage to six German ships. Of the ten raiders who set off from the HMS Tuna, two died before reaching France, six were captured and executed, and only two managed to escape to Spain with the aid of the French Resistance. One of those survivors was Major Hasler, who went on to help forge the Special Boat Service. Despite the losses of most of the assault team, Operation Frankton was a success. The raiders came to be known as the “Cockleshell Heroes”, and the tactics they employed played a key role in the development of the SBS.

 

8) Special Service Group

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A member of the Special Service Group (SSG) during a training exercise in North-West Pakistan. Over the past several years, this elite covert unit of the Pakistan Army has consistently ranked as one of the best special operations forces in the world.

 

The Special Service Group (SSG) is the elite special operations force of the Pakistan Army. Known as the Black Storks and the Maroon Berets due to their distinctive headgear, SSG commandos are considered to be the toughest and most feared operators in the world. They have often been compared to the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets), the U.S. Army Delta Force, and the British SAS.

Based out of a military garrison near Tarbela in North-West Pakistan, the Special Service Group is a regiment-size unit consisting of eight battalions, each comprised of 700 men divided into four companies. They are capable of operating in units as small as ten-man teams. The SSG also includes two special purpose companies that are independent from either battalion: the Musa Company which is primarily oriented towards amphibious warfare and the Zarrar Company, which deals specifically with counter-terrorism.

Theses commandos are trained and equipped to carry out several types of missions: counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, unconventional warfare, direct action, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, counter-proliferation, manhunts, personnel recovery, and hostage rescue. They have been employed to provide security for various nuclear facilities across Pakistan, from espionage to terrorism. Some of their most classified missions have been carried out in conjunction with the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Since its creation, the Special Service Group has fought in several armed conflicts with neighboring India, but in recent years, the unit has played an instrumental role in combating Islamic militants within Pakistan as part of the ongoing War on Terror.

 

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Commandos of the Special Service Group marching in the annual Pakistan Day parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2015. The SSG can be identified by their Maroon Berets, headgear typically worn by airborne troops.

 

 

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The insignia of the Special Service Group just outside their former headquarters in Cherat, Pakistan.

 

Almost immediately after gaining independence from Great Britain in 1947, India and Pakistan were torn apart by ethnic, religious, and territorial disputes, particularly over the Himalayan region of Kashmir. Inspired by the success achieved by commando units in World War II, the Pakistan Army sought to forge its own elite special operations force.

On March 23, 1956, the 17th Battalion, Baluch Regiment and the 312 Garrison Company were selected for integration and conversion, becoming the 19th Battalion, Baluch Regiment, Special Service Group (SSG). The man appointed to command this new unit was Lieutenant Colonel Aboobaker Osman Mitha, a decorated army veteran and a special forces pioneer who was instrumental in the development of the SSG. He would serve as their first commanding officer until 1961 and is still hailed as a legend within the Pakistan Armed Forces.

During the 1960s, the 19th Baluch developed their tactics, doctrine, and training methods by working closely with Green Berets from the U.S. Army Special Forces. The 19th Baluch officially dropped its original name in 1965 and simply became known as the Special Service Group. The current insignia and traditions of this unit were inspired by its past ties to the Baluch Regiment. The maroon beret, which is often worn by elite airborne troopers, was adopted as their official headgear.

The SSG continued to grow and evolve during the Cold War as the unit gained valuable training, weaponry, and equipment from the United States and China. To date, the unit maintains strong working relations with American, Chinese, British, and Turkish special forces.

Training for the Special Service Group lasts nine months and takes place at Cherat, a historic military fort in North-West Pakistan. Candidates undergo a grueling physical conditioning program which includes a fifty-mile march that must be completed within fourteen hours, a twelve-mile run within one hour and fifty minutes, and a five-mile run within forty minutes, all of which must be achieved in full combat gear.

 

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SSG Commandos conduct training in the rugged terrain of North-West Pakistan. Widely known as the “Black Storks”, the Special Service Group was created during the Cold War, and modelled closely after the U.S. Army Special Forces.

 

Airborne training takes place over a four-week period at the famed Parachute Training School in Peshawar. Commandos earn their highly coveted jump wings and maroon berets after successfully completing five daytime and two nighttime jumps. The prestigious skydiver tab is awarded to those who complete twenty-five free-fall jumps in a HALO (High Altitude, Low Opening) parachuting course.

At the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbotabad, SSG commandos take part in an intensive mountain warfare training course. In Khappalu, SSG commandos attend high-altitude mountain-warfare training which simulates the experiences in the Siachen Conflict in Kashmir. There, Indian and Pakistani troops fought on snow-covered mountain peaks in minus-thirty degree weather.

Over the course of nine months, commandos learn various skills and subjects, including small unit tactics, sniping, explosive demolitions, combat survival, CQC, martial arts, hand-to-hand combat, espionage, foreign languages, and criminal psychology. They also have the option of earning the combat diver badge by completing a course held in Karachi by their naval counterparts, the Special Service Group Navy (SSGN). On average, only 5% of candidates successfully complete SSG training.

In the prelude to the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War, the Special Service Group infiltrated Jammu and Kashmir as part of Operation Gibraltar, a covert effort to instigate an armed insurgency against Indian rule. In 1971, SSG commandos were deployed to East Pakistan (Bangladesh) to suppress a growing insurgency by Bengali nationalists. India’s support for the insurgents led to the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, in which the SSG fought with great skill and tenacity, but they were simply too few to prevent the fall of East Pakistan to Indian and Bengali forces.

The SSG continued to solidify its reputation as an elite fighting unit during the Siachen War (1984-2003) and the Kargil War (1999), both of which were fought between India and Pakistan over disputed territory in volatile Kashmir region. In November 1979, around fifty SSG operators were sent to train and advise Saudi troops during the terrorist siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. During the Soviet-occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the SSG actively provided covert support to the Afghan Mujahideen and were rumored to have directly fought Soviet troops on several occasions.

 

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Jammu and Kashmir: A volatile region of the Himalayans which has been bitterly disputed between India and Pakistan since 1947. It has been the epicenter on the ongoing Indo-Pakistani Conflict where the Special Service Group has fought several major wars.

 

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Hill 3234, Afghanistan: In one of the most memorable battles fought during the Soviet-Afghan War, a small company of Soviet paratroopers stationed near the Afghan-Pakistan border were besieged atop Hill 3234 by hundreds of Mujahideen on January 7, 1988. It is widely speculated that some of the Mujahideen who fought at Hill 3234 may have been SSG Commandos sent by Pakistan to train and advise the Afghan resistance fighters.

 

The SSG has carried out several daring rescue operations. These include the liberation of 359 hostages from Palestinian terrorists on Pan Am Flight 73 at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi on September 5, 1986, and the rescue of sixteen hostages held captive at the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad on February 21, 1994.

Since the start of the War on Terror in 2001, the SSG has killed and captured thousands of Islamic militants. This escalated in 2004 with the war in North-West Pakistan, where SSG commandos have played a major role in driving out militants from their strongholds along the Afghan border. They were also involved in counter-terrorist operations during the Siege of Lal Masjid in July 2007 and the Pakistan Army General Headquarters attack in October 2009. Most recently, the SSG carried out a raid in North-West Pakistan on December 4, 2014, which resulted in the death of Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah, chief of global operations for al-Qaeda.

 

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May 22, 2009: Pakistan Army troops successfully capture the highest point overlooking the Swat Valley from the Taliban during Operation Black Thunderstorm. On the third day of the offensive, SSG commandos captured the town of Daggar, a major Taliban stronghold in the Swat Valley. This operation was a decisive victory against the Islamist insurgency in North-West Pakistan.

 

Greatest Mission: The Peshawar Army Public School

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Three members of the Special Service Group stamp a contract agreement with their blood, renewing their commitment to defend Pakistan. The first commando of the far left is Captain Abid Zaman, an SSG sniper who shot and killed three of the seven terrorists during the Peshawar School Massacre.

 

December 16, 2014: In retaliation for military operations in North-West Pakistan, seven heavily armed Taliban militants stormed the Army Public School in Peshawar. During the ensuing carnage, 141 people were killed, including 132 schoolchildren between the ages of eight and eighteen. Within just fifteen minutes after the call for assistance went out, elite commandos from the Zarrar Company, Special Service Group based in nearby Cherat arrived at the scene of the attack. SSG commandos entered the school, methodically working their way through the buildings and killing all seven terrorists in the ensuing battle. The commandos also succeeded in rescuing 980 children and faculty members who were trapped throughout various parts of the school. Three of the terrorists were killed by Captain Abid Zaman, a highly skilled sniper and team leader who was hailed as a national hero.

While this tragedy is remembered as the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of Pakistan, had it not been for the quick, courageous, and decisive actions of the Special Service Group, the casualties could have been much higher. Far from weakening morale, the attacks unified the country against the Taliban and strengthened national resolve to fight terrorism.

 

7) Spetsnaz

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Russian Airborne Troops (VDV) from the 45th Detached Guards Special Purpose Regiment conduct a training exercise on July 20, 2011. Throughout the former Soviet Union, elite troops serving as part of the military, law enforcement, or federal government are simply known as Spetsnaz.

 

An abbreviation for Voyska spetsialnogo naznacheniya (Special Purpose Forces or Special Purpose Military Units), Spetsnaz is a term widely used throughout Russia and the former Soviet Union to describe any special forces unit that operates as part of the military, federal government, or law enforcement. Traditionally the term refers to units that operate under the control of the Main Intelligence Directorate (Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye - GRU). Established after the fall of the Soviet Union, GRU is the department of the Russian Armed Forces responsible for foreign military intelligence. Following the reforms of 2008, Spetsnaz were established in almost every division of the Russian Army, but for the most part, these units are still controlled by GRU.

During the Cold War, the Committee for State Security (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti - KGB) utilized its own elite special purpose forces, such as Spetsgruppa A, also known as Alpha Group or Alfa, and Spetsgruppa B, also known as Vympel (pennant) or Vega Group. In 1995, Alpha Group and Vympel were inherited by the Federal Security Service (Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti - FSB), the post-Soviet successor to the KGB in modern Russia. These units are primarily geared towards combating terrorism and organized crime within the Russian Federation. Other former Soviet Republics such as Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan also employ Spetsnaz as part of their own armed forces. It is the Russian special forces, however, which are regarded as the most fearsome and ruthless commandos in the world.

 

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Special operators from Spetsgruppa A (Alpha Group) conduct a training exercise on April 9, 2009. Alpha Group was established in 1974 under the directive of KGB chairman Yuri Andropov to combat terrorist threats against the Soviet Union. Today Alpha Group is the elite counter-terrorist unit of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

 

The concept of Spetsnaz was first proposed by Mikhail Svechnykov, a Russian military theorist who suggested the idea of creating small units of highly trained troops specialized in guerrilla warfare to harass, subvert, and weaken an opposing army. Unfortunately, he was executed by Joseph Stalin’s regime during the Great Purge in 1938. His concepts were later implemented by Colonel Ilya Starinov, a highly decorated officer in the Red Army, who is known today as “the grandfather of Spetsnaz.”

When the Axis Powers invaded the Soviet Union during World War II, Colonel Starinov coordinated a highly effective guerrilla campaign carried out by Soviet partisans against German forces behind the front lines. The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del - NKVD) and the Red Army further augmented this effort by establishing specialized units for conducting raids, reconnaissance, and sabotage deep into enemy territory. These efforts played a critical role in the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front.

 

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Colonel Ilya Starinov was a longtime veteran of the Red Army who organized and commanded Soviet partisan units which operated behind enemy lines against German forces during World War II. Starinov was influenced by Mikhail Svechnykov, a Russian military theorist who proposed the creation of small combat units specialized in guerrilla warfare to carry out surgical attacks to cripple a conventional army. Starinov is now considered a key figure in the development of Spetsnaz.

 

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September 1943: Soviet partisans in a forest just outside Polotsk, Byelorussia. During the Nazi Invasion of the Soviet Union in World War II, local resistance movements comprised of military personnel and civilian volunteers emerged throughout the occupied territories to wage guerrilla warfare against the invading German forces. The tactics and strategies implemented by the Soviet partisans were instrumental in the development of Spetsnaz in the later years.

 

In 1949, the first Spetsnaz companies were formally established by the Red Army. By 1957, these units had grown to the size of battalions and were reorganized into brigades by 1962. In response to the Munich Massacre and the creation of elite units like GSG-9, the KGB under Yuri Andropov established the now legendary counter-terrorist force known as Alpha Group on July 28, 1974. Today, there are at least seven Spetsnaz brigades in the Russian Army, two brigades with the Navy, and one regiment with the elite Russian Airborne Troops, along with several companies and detachments serving as part of the FSB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Justice.

Spetsnaz is notorious for its brutal training methods and harsh discipline. In 1978, a Soviet military intelligence officer named Vladimir Rezun defected to the United Kingdom, revealing to Western intelligence for the first time how Spetsnaz train and operate. He described in detail a series of exercises known as “pain management training,” where recruits would absorb full-force punches to the chest by their commanding officers without flinching and have burning cinderblocks smashed on top of their stomachs with a sledgehammer. Spetsnaz trainees were regularly subjected to severe verbal abuse and punishing physical exercises which occasionally led to serious injuries and even death. One of their most infamous training methods was to drag recruits out of bed in the middle of the night and force them to crawl through a pool of blood filled with animal intestines and organs with barbed wire strung from above.

Spetsnaz are not only conditioned to endure pain and discomfort, but to embrace it. This forges a ruthless, almost cold-blooded mentality with near superhuman strength, stamina, and endurance. These days, training for Spetsnaz has changed little since the end of the Cold War. Russian special forces are taught to conduct a wide variety of missions in the harshest conditions on land, air, and sea. Among their many skills, Spetsnaz are well versed in a Russian form of martial art known as Systema (the system), which consists of grappling, knife-fighting, and firearms training. They are taught to perform extraordinary acrobatic maneuvers, such as throwing a hatchet at a target accurately while doing a backflip over a barbed wire fence.

The final day of training is broken into three continuous phases: a six-mile endurance march and obstacle course which recruits must complete while wearing over fifty pounds of gear, a weapons demonstration of the various firearms utilized by Spetsnaz, culminating in “12 Minutes of Hell,” a combination of four brutal full-contact bouts where recruits must face-off against their instructors in hand-to-hand combat.

 

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Spetsnaz conduct hand-to-hand combat drills using a form of martial art known as Systema (The System) during a demonstration on October 22, 2014. These commandos are from the 604th Special Purpose Center, an elite paramilitary law enforcement unit of the Independent Operational Purpose Division (ODON). They are trained to deal with national security threats such organized crime, terrorism, border control, and political unrest.

 

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On the final day of training for Spetsnaz GRU, students must complete a brutal 6-mile march and obstacle course with 50-pounds of combat gear. At the end of the march, they must endure four rounds (“12 minutes of hell”) against a series of instructors who mercilessly attempt to knock them out. The students must prove that they can defend themselves in hand-to-hand combat, and if they remain on their feet at the end, they will earn the coveted Maroon Beret worn by Spetsnez.

 

Spetsnaz established its reputation as an elite fighting unit in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989), where they conducted numerous counter-insurgency operations in an effort to crush the Mujahideen. With its armed forces weakened and demoralized following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia struggled to defeat a rebellion by armed separatists in Chechnya during the First Chechen War (1994-1996). The most effective Russian fighting force in the conflict were the Spetsnaz. When militants from Chechnya attempted to invade neighboring Dagestan in 1999, Spetsnaz took part in a successful Russian counter-offensive which defeated the insurgents after a month-long campaign.

 

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1986: Spetsnaz interrogate a captured Mujahideen fighter during the Soviet-Afghan War. These elite troops were responsible for conducting a wide range of operations, including counter-insurgency, direct action, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, manhunts, and personnel recovery. Helicopter-borne air assault operations allowed Spetsnaz to operate deep into the most rugged and hostile areas of Afghanistan.

 

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1988: A squad of Spetsnaz troopers at Kabul Airport prepare for a mission in Afghanistan during the final months of the Soviet-Afghan War. These elite units fought with distinction in numerous operations across the country, but ultimately Soviet and Afghan government troops failed to quell the Mujahideen. After nine years of occupation, the Soviet Union withdrew it’s forces from Afghanistan on February 15, 1989.

 

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August 25, 1999: Spetsnaz GRU in the Republic of Dagestan, Russian Federation. On August 2, militants from neighboring Chechnya invaded Dagestan in support of local separatists attempting to gain independence from Russia. The conflict ended a month later with a decisive victory for Russian forces.

 

During the Second Chechen War (2000-2009), Spetsnaz carried out an aggressive series of counter-insurgency operations which proved instrumental in Russia regaining control over Chechnya. They have also been involved in combating Chechen militants and Islamic extremists in several terrorist incidents, such as the Budyonnovsk Hospital Crisis in 1995, the Moscow Theater Crisis in 2002, and the Beslan School Crisis in 2004. Today, the Chechen separatists’ movement has been largely dismantled, but Spetsnaz continues to carry out counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations against Islamic militants in the Russian Caucasus.

 

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October 26, 2002: After a tense three-day standoff, Spetsnaz from the FSB Alpha Group and Vega Group (Vympel) storm the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow to free hostages being held by a group of Chechen terrorists. All forty militants were killed during the raid, and over 700 hostages were rescued. But tragically, 130 hostages were killed due to the adverse effects of gas that was pumped into the theater to incapacitate the terrorists.

 

September 3, 2004: Russian Spetsnaz troopers with the body of a Chechen terrorist lying in the background during the Beslan School Siege. On September 1, a group of heavily armed militants seized control of a school in Beslan, taking over 1,100 civilians hostages, including 777 children. After a tense three-day standoff, Russian security forces fought their way inside, killing thirty-one militants. Tragically, 334 hostages, mostly children, were killed in the fighting, along with a dozen Spetsnaz .

 

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Russian Spetsnaz from the FSB conduct counter-terrorist operations against Islamic militants in Makhachkala, Dagestan. During the Second Chechen War, Spetsnaz played an instrumental role in dismantling the Chechen separatist movement, killing important leaders such as Aslan Maskhadov, Abdul Sadulayev, and Shamil Basayev. While the Islamist insurgency in the Russian Caucasus has been weakened, Spestnaz regularly conduct counter-terrorism operations across the region.

 

In August 2008, Spetsnaz played a significant role in the Russo-Georgian War, which saw the pro-Russian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia achieve de facto independence from Georgia. These elite troops were allegedly deployed to Ukraine during the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. They have also been rumored to be training and advising pro-Russian separatists fighting against Ukrainian troops in the ongoing War in the Donbass. Recently, an unknown number of Spetsnaz have been deployed to Syria to aid the government of Bashar al-Assad in combating Islamist insurgents.

 

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Special Battalion Vostok in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia during the Russo-Georgian War in August 2008. This Spetsnaz unit was comprised almost entirely of ethnic Chechens loyal to the Russian Federation, many of whom were veterans of the Second Chechen War.

 

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Spetsnaz GRU stand in front of a destroyed enemy tank during the Russo-Georgian War in 2008. In just five days, separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia supported by the Russian armed forces had defeated the Georgian military.

 

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March 9, 2014: Masked soldiers wearing uniforms with no markings or insignia guard the entrance of the Perevaline military base near Simferopol, Crimea. Known as the “Little Green Men”, these troops were widely rumored to be Spetsnaz sent by Moscow to seize control of the Russian-speaking region of Crimea following the collapse of the Pro-Russian government in Ukraine. These unknown soldiers have also been allegedly supporting Pro-Russian separatists fighting against Ukrainian troops in the Donbass.

 

Greatest Mission: Operation Storm-333

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The Tajberg Palace in Kabul was the sight of the first major battle of the Soviet War in Afghanistan, when elite Spetsnaz troopers were sent to capture President Hafizullah Amin, and overthrow his unpopular regime.

 

December 27, 1979: During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, an elite task force of Spetsnaz and Russian paratroopers were sent into Kabul to carry out a daring raid against the Tajberg Palace and apprehend the Afghan President, Hafizullah Amin. At the time, Afghanistan was in a state of civil war as the socialist government struggled to suppress an armed insurgency by guerrilla fighters known as the Mujahideen. Despite military aid from the Soviet Union, the Afghan Army proved incapable of defeating the insurgents, and Moscow grew dissatisfied with President Amin. Soviet leaders decided that the only way to save Afghanistan was through direct military intervention, but Amin had to go.

In Operation Storm-333, nine armored vehicles drove up towards the Tajberg Palace carrying 54 KGB Spetsnaz operators from Alpha Group and Zenith Group, along with 87 paratroopers from the 345th Guards Airborne Regiment, supported by crews from the 154th Spetsnaz Battalion. In the ensuing battle, at least 20 Soviets and over 100 Afghans were killed, with many of the Spetsnaz wounded. Despite being heavily outnumbered by hundreds of Afghan troops and Presidential Guards, the Spetsnaz succeeded in capturing the palace along with over 150 prisoners, including President Amin, who was immediately put to death. Babrak Karmal was installed by Moscow as the new president. Soviet forces would occupy Afghanistan for the next nine years. To date, Operation Storm-333 is still widely regarded as the most successful achievement in the history of Spetsnaz Alpha Group.

 

6) U.S. Army Special Forces

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Green Berets from the 3rd Special Forces Group (SFG) patrol the Gulistan District of Farrah, Afghanistan on April 12, 2009.

 

They have been called “the quiet professionals, soldier-diplomats, snake eaters, and the bearded bastards.” Based on their distinctive headgear, the United States Army Special Forces are more famously known as the Green Berets. During the height of the Cold War in the early 1950s, the U.S. Army created an elite special operations force to assist foreign allies around the globe in combating the spread of communism. In the event of an invasion by the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact into Western Europe, the special forces would have been expected to wage a guerrilla war against communist forces behind enemy lines. They have since gone on to play an instrumental role in the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.

The Green Berets are tasked with carrying out five types of operations: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, direct action, special reconnaissance, and counter-terrorism. Other specialties include counter-insurgency, counter-proliferation, counter-narcotics, covert operations, personnel recovery, hostage rescue, manhunts, and humanitarian assistance. Currently based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the U.S. Army Special Forces operate as part of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM). There are over 6,500 Green Berets organized into seven Special Forces Groups (SFG), each comprised of four battalions. While the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 10th Special Forces Group consist of regular army personnel, the 19th and 20th Special Forces Group are part of the Army National Guard (ARNG). The famous motto of the Green Berets is De Oppresso Liber, Latin for “From an oppressed man to a free one,” a term meant to reflect the global mission of the U.S. Army Special Forces.

 

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Green Berets representing each of the seven units that comprise the U.S. Army Special Forces attend a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in honor former President John F. Kennedy on November 17, 2011.

 

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May 17, 1998: Green Berets from the 1st Special Forces Group instruct members of the Royal Thai Special Forces on proper safety techniques during fast-rope training. Since the U.S. Army Special Forces operate with foreign troops around the globe, language and cultural training are essential skills to becoming a Green Beret.

 

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September 4, 2007: A Green Beret from the 3rd Special Forces Group assisting Malian troops inspect their weapons at a military base in Timbuktu, Mali. While the 3rd SFG is oriented towards operating in Sub-Sahara Africa, The 1st SFG is oriented towards in the Pacific region, the 5th SFG is oriented towards the Middle East, the 7th SFG is oriented towards Latin America, and the 10th SFG is oriented towards Europe.

 

The Green Berets can trace their roots to several elite units formed during World War II: the 1st Special Service Force (The Devil’s Brigade), Merrill’s Marauders, the 6th Army Special Reconnaissance Unit (The Alamo Scouts), and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). These units were all disbanded after World War II, but the escalating Cold War and the war in Korea made the U.S. military realize the need for special forces.

On January 15, 1951, the U.S. Army established the Office of the Chief of Psychological Warfare (OCPW). The head of this new department was Major General Robert A. McClure, the former chief intelligence officer for General Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II. As Chief of Psychological Warfare, General McClure recruited several prominent veterans with expertise in guerrilla tactics. To direct planning for the Special Operations Division, he selected Lieutenant Colonel Russell W. Volckmann, an American officer who led Philippine resistance fighters in a guerrilla war against the Japanese. He was later joined by another legendary Philippine resistance commander, Colonel Wendell Fertig, and a former OSS operative who fought with the resistance in Nazi-occupied France, Colonel Aaron Bank.

Relying on their wartime experiences, Volckmann and Fertig developed the first official doctrine for the conduct of unconventional warfare, which became the foundation for the Green Berets. Colonel Bank was chosen by General McClure to become the first commanding officer of the U.S. Army Special Forces when it was established at Fort Bragg on June 19, 1952. That same year, a new school for teaching the concept of unconventional warfare was opened at Fort Bragg. This later became known as the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Inspired by the British Royal Marine Commandos of World War II, the U.S Army Special Forces adopted the now famous Green Beret as their official headgear in 1954.

 

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February 1944: Soldiers of the 6th Army Special Reconnaissance Unit on Los Negros Island in the South Pacific. Also known as the “Alamo Scouts”, this unit performed at least 110 missions from New Guinea to the Philippines, often deep behind enemy lines, including the Raid at Cabanatuan. Over the course of the war, they had captured 84 Japanese prisoners, liberated hundreds of Allied POWs, and not a single Alamo Scout was killed.

 

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April 20, 1944: American and Canadian commandos of the First Special Service Force prepare for a reconnaissance patrol behind German lines during the Battle of Anzio. The Green Berets can also trace their lineage to this elite commando unit.

 

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1945: The head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), General William J. Donovan, reviews members of an Operational Group (OG) in Bethesda, Maryland before their deployment to China. The OSS was a military intelligence organization in World War II that served as predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). OSS Operatives were sent into Axis-occupied territory to aid local resistance efforts against German and Japanese forces. Many of the first Green Berets were former OSS operatives.

 

To become a Green Beret, potential candidates must first complete Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training, and the U.S. Army Airborne School, all of which take place at Fort Benning, Georgia. Those who achieve the highest scores on the General Technical and Combat Operational part of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) and the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) stand the best chance of being accepted into special forces training. Aspiring Green Berets must then pass the Special Operations Preparation Course (SOPC) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This nineteen-day course focuses heavily on physical fitness and important basic skills needed to prepare candidates for the rigors of special forces training.

Next comes the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS), a grueling nineteen-day combat survival course. Students are expected to complete a series of rigorous day and night navigation courses within a set time limit, numerous obstacle courses, a swim assessment, and several psychological exams. Those who pass move on to the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), also known as the Q Course, which lasts almost one year. During that period, students learn small unit tactics, survival skills, escape and evasion techniques, language and cultural training, and unconventional warfare.

Months of training culminate in “Robin Sage,” a month-long exercise covering fifteen rural counties in North Carolina. Dubbed “the People’s Republic of Pineland,” this exercise simulates a real-world environment of political instability utilizing civilian and military volunteers. Students must employ all that they have learned to lead local guerrilla fighters against hostile forces and confront realistic social issues. Those who complete the course will have earned the right to graduate and wear the coveted Green Beret.

 

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ROBIN SAGE: Two Special Forces trainees lead a group of ROTC cadets who are playing the role of guerrilla fighters. ROBIN SAGE is a four week period that represents the culmination of the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC or Q Course). In this final phase of the program, candidates for the Green Berets must train and lead their guerrilla army in an environment which simulates the political and social instability of a war-torn nation.

 

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Green Berets from the 20th Special Forces Group conduct a nighttime parachute jump from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during a training exercise at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin on August 8, 2014. These operators are unique in that they are part of the Army National Guard, serving as special forces reserves.

 

In June 1957, the first Green Berets arrived in the newly formed Republic of Vietnam to help train and advise South Vietnamese forces in combating the Vietcong insurgency. The U.S. Army Special Forces played a prominent role in the Vietnam War, establishing a series of bases and outposts across South Vietnam for conducting counter-insurgency operations. They also formed a major part of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), a joint multi-service special forces unit assigned to carry out clandestine operations throughout Southeast Asia.

 

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Two Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group serving with soldiers from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in 1968. First deployed to South Vietnam in 1957, the U.S. Army Special Forces saw extensive combat during the Vietnam War. From 1961 to 1971, sixteen Green Berets from the 5th SFG earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

 

During the Cold War, Green Berets were active across Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East, where they undertook missions mostly involving foreign internal defense, unconventional warfare, and covert intelligence. On October 9, 1967, Bolivian Rangers trained by U.S. Army Special Forces tracked down and killed the famed communist revolutionary leader, Che Guevara. The Green Berets would also see action in Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, and Bosnia.

 

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June 29, 1985: Colombian paratroopers are instructed by a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces on the proper techniques and equipment utilized in Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction (SPIE), a method of employing helicopters to insert or extract troops from terrain unsuitable for landings.

 

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February, 1991: An eight-man team of Green Berets designated Operational Detachment-Delta (ODA 525), prepare for a reconnaissance mission into Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.

 

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, U.S. Army Special Forces were deployed to Afghanistan where they worked side-by-side with rebel fighters of the Afghan Northern Alliance in overthrowing the Taliban regime. The Green Berets were instrumental in coordinating coalition airstrikes in support of the Northern Alliance, advising rebel commanders, gathering intelligence, and killing or capturing high-ranking enemy targets. They would spend over a decade in Afghanistan conducting counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, and foreign internal defense operations across the country.

 

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October, 2001: Green Berets from ODA 595, 5th Special Forces Group ride on horseback with fighters of the Northern Alliance led by Abdul Rashid Dostum through the Dari-a-Souf Valley in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. These soldiers were part of Task Force Dagger, a unit comprised of U.S. Army Special Forces, U.S. Air Force controllers, and CIA operatives inserted into Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to aid the Afghan Northern Alliance in defeating the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

 

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November 2001: Members of the U.S. Army Special Forces coordinate American airstrikes against Taliban positions just west of Kunduz, Afghanistan in support of the Northern Alliance during Operation Enduring Freedom.

 

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January 28, 2005: Iraqi Soldiers receive hand-to-hand combat training from a Green Beret with the U.S. Army Special Forces.

 

Since 2002, the Green Berets have been working with government forces in the Philippines to combat Islamic insurgents as part of the War on Terror. At the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, U.S. Army Special Forces were dropped into Northern Iraq to support Kurdish militias fighting troops loyal to Saddam Hussein. The Green Berets would spend the next several years fighting insurgents across the country and rebuilding Iraqi security forces. In the recent war against ISIL, these men have been deployed to Iraq and Syria to train, advise, and support allied forces as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

 

Greatest Mission: Operation Ivory Coast

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November, 1970: Elite soldiers of the U.S. Army Special Forces onboard a HH-3E Helicopter prepare for the start of Operation Ivory Coast, a daring raid into North Vietnam to rescue American prisoners of war held at the Sơn Tây Prison Camp just west of Hanoi.

 

On the night of November 20, 1970, the Green Berets led a U.S. Task Force deep into North Vietnam to carry out one of the most daring rescue missions in military history. Six months earlier, U.S. Intelligence estimated that there were sixty-one American prisoners of war at the Son Tay Prison Camp just west of Hanoi, several of whom were in need of urgent medical care. On August 8, the Joint Chiefs of Staff authorized the creation of a mission task force under Brigadier General Leroy J. Manor and Colonel Arthur D. Simons, with the objective of recovering the Son Tay prisoners. Over 200 personnel were selected to take part in this top secret operation, including fifty-six Green Berets from the 6th and 7th Special Forces Group.

After weeks of intensive planning, training and preparation, General Manor ordered the commencement of Operation Ivory Coast on the night of November 20, 1970. With Typhoon Patsy heading towards North Vietnam from the west and a cold front moving in from China, mission planners realized that they only had a small window of opportunity to execute the mission. At 2:19 a.m. on November 21, the raiders landed outside the prison compound, killing over forty guards in the ensuing battle, only to discover that the POW’s had been moved to another location. U.S. Intelligence had failed to discover that the prisoners had been relocated from Son Tay to Dong Hoi several months earlier, on July 14.

Despite the failure to rescue the POWs and the loss of two aircraft, not a single American was killed during the raid. The mission itself was considered a tactical success, executed with a high level of proficiency, while 12,000 North Vietnamese troops were stationed nearby. Operation Ivory Coast is still hailed as one of the most daring operations of the Vietnam War.

 

5) Sayeret Matkal

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The Sayeret Matkal, which in Hebrew means General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, is a highly covert special forces unit from Israel. These elite troops serve as subordinates to the Directorate of Military Intelligence (Agaf HaModi'in), which is often know by its abbreviation, the “Aman”.

 

Widely regarded as the deadliest special operations force in the Middle East, the Sayeret Matkal (General Staff Reconnaissance Unit) is an elite unit which operates under the Directorate of Military Intelligence for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Since its creation in 1948, Israel has been in a constant state of war with its Arab neighbors. Surrounded and outnumbered by various enemies in a volatile region, the Jewish State depends on the strength of its armed forces for survival. Inspired by the British Commandos of World War II, the Israelis quickly recognized the importance of unconventional warfare. Special forces provide the Israelis with the capability of infiltrating hostile territory, operating behind enemy lines, gathering intelligence, conducting sabotage, eliminating terrorist threats, and harassing larger conventional forces through guerrilla warfare. Of all the Israeli Special Forces, none are as legendary as the Sayeret Matkal, also known more widely throughout Israel as “The Unit.”

Regarded as the equivalent to the U.S. Army’s Delta Force and the British Army’s SAS, these elite Israeli commandos are primarily tasked with carrying out special reconnaissance, direct action, counter-terrorism, manhunts, hostage rescue, personnel recovery, along with other covert and clandestine operations. Since its creation, the Sayeret Matkal has fought in several armed conflicts, has been instrumental in combating terrorism, and proven capable of successfully carrying out missions thousands of miles from the Jewish homeland.

Israeli special forces can trace their roots back to the Palmach (Strike Forces), an elite combat unit established on May 14, 1941, by a Jewish paramilitary organization in British Palestine known as the Haganah (Defense). Comprised of male and female volunteers, the Palmach were trained and equipped to wage a guerrilla war against Axis Powers had they invaded Palestine. This unit was also employed to defend Jewish settlements from attacks by Palestinian Arab nationalists. Since the late nineteenth century, sectarian tensions had been escalating between Arabs and Jews over the sovereignty of Palestine, a region which was viewed by each side as their ancestral homeland.

After World War II, the Palmach took part in an armed insurgency against British rule for Jewish Independence. As the United Kingdom began withdrawing from Palestine in 1947, a full-scale civil war ensued between Arab and Jewish communities. The elite Palmach fighters not only played a critical role in the Israeli victory over the Palestinian Arab militias, they were also instrumental in defeating an invasion by several Arab League nations in 1948, which secured independence for the Jewish State. These veteran guerrilla fighters would go on to form the backbone of the IDF.

 

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The Sayeret Matkal can trace their roots back to the Palmach (Strike Forces), an elite Jewish paramilitary unit from British Palestine. Originally established in 1941 to help the United Kingdom fight against the Axis Powers during World War II and defend Jewish settlements, the Palmach are regarded as the precursor to the Israeli Special Forces, and many of these guerrilla fighters went on to form the backbone of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

 

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October 21, 1948: Palmach fighters of the Israel Defense Forces on the offensive against Egyptian troops during the Battle of Beersheba in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

 

One of the first Israeli special forces, Unit 101, was disbanded in January 1954 after an incident in which commandos killed sixty-nine Palestinian civilians in the West Bank village of Quibya during a reprisal operation against Arab raids into Israel. This left the IDF with Sayeret 13, a naval commando unit as their only dedicated special operations force.

In 1957, Palmach veteran Avraham Arnan recommended to the IDF General Staff the creation of an elite military unit for long-range reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and clandestine operations. The Sayeret Matkal was formed later that same year. Members of this new unit were carefully selected from the IDF so that only the strongest and brightest troops could join. Inspired by the British SAS, they adopted their famous motto, Who Dares, Wins (HaMe'ez Menatzeakh in Hebrew).

Special forces in Israel are unique compared to other nations in that applicants are not required to have prior military service to join. Even recruits straight out of high school can join elite units such as Sayeret Matkal. Volunteers must first pass a notoriously grueling training camp known as Gibush (selection). Held only twice a year, Gibush is a program of intense physical fitness over a period of several days with little to no sleep. This also includes a series of exams and a thorough interview with IDF officers. Due to the physically and mentally stressful nature of this program, trainees are constantly monitored by doctors and psychologists throughout the process. Those who complete Gibush with the highest scores are admitted into a special forces unit where they train for eighteen to nineteen months before becoming fully-fledged members.

The first four months consist of basic infantry training, followed by two months of advanced infantry training, a three-week course at the IDF Parachuting School, and a five-week course in counter-terrorism. The rest of training focuses on various disciplines, such as long-range reconnaissance, intelligence and surveillance, navigation, camouflage, combat survival training, weapons training, marksmanship, and hand-to-hand combat, including a unique form of martial art known as Krav Maga (Contact Combat).

The final four days of training culminate in the Beret March, an exhausting 75-mile trek across the country which ends at Masada, an ancient Israeli fortress. Those who complete the march are greeted by the Chief of Staff for the IDF and former members of the Israeli Special Forces. A ceremony is held at the fortress where graduates are awarded with the highly coveted red beret worn by Israeli paratroopers and special forces.

 

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1955: Israeli Paratroopers practice Krav Maga (Contact-Combat), a popular form of self-defense developed by Imi Lichtenfeld, a famed martial artist who served in the Palmach and the IDF. As professional boxer and wrestler living in Bratislava during the 1930s, Lichtenfeld created Krav Maga as a form of street-fighting against anti-Semitic gangs threatening Jewish neighborhoods. He later incorporated techniques from other martial arts such as aikido and Judo. Krav Maga is now widely utilized by Israeli Special Forces such as the Sayeret Matkal.

 

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The final four days of training for the Israeli Special Forces culminates in a brutal 75-mile march in full combat gear known as the “Beret March.” The journey ends at Masada, an ancient fortress located on the edge of the Judaean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea in Southern Israel. Trainees who succeed in completing the march are awarded with the prestigious Red Beret worn only by elite Israeli troops.

 

After Israeli forces had occupied the Sinai Peninsula following the Six-Day War, the Sayeret Matkal conducted a series of raids and reconnaissance missions across the Suez into Egypt during the War of Attrition (1967-1970). On December 28, 1968, the unit successfully carried out Operation Gift, a covert raid which destroyed fourteen aircraft at Beirut International Airport.

On May 9, 1972, the Sayeret Matkal liberated ninety-six hostages held by Palestinian terrorists onboard Sabena flight 571 at Tel Aviv-Lod Airport during Operation Isotope. On the night of April 9, 1973, the unit played a prominent role in Operation Spring of Youth, a dramatic series of raids in Lebanon which killed dozens of militants, including three key leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in retaliation for the Munich Massacre. During the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, the Sayeret Matkal conducted raids and long-range reconnaissance into Egypt and Syria. They also played a vital role in the recapture of Mount Hermon on October 22 from Syrian forces in the Golan Heights.

 

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Operation Isotope: On May 8, 1972, Sabena Flight 571 was hijacked by four Palestinian militants demanding the release of 315 convicted terrorists held in Israeli prisons. The next day, sixteen Israeli commandos from the Sayeret Matkal approached the aircraft disguised as aircraft technicians in white coveralls. They proceeded to storm the aircraft, taking the hijackers completely by surprise, and liberating 96 hostages who were being held onboard.

 

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April 11, 1973: The apartment of Kamal Adwan, chief of operations for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), following an Israeli commando raid in Beirut, Lebanon. During Operation Spring of Youth, the Sayeret Matkal took part in a series of commando raids against Palestinian terrorists in Lebanon. The commandos infiltrated Beirut disguised as tourists, some of whom were even dressed as women. Adwan was one of three high-ranking members of the PLO killed along with dozens of other militants.

 

During the Lebanon War (1982-1985), the Sayeret Matkal conducted operations in support of the Israeli invasion and subsequent occupation to eradicate Palestinian militants from Southern Lebanon.

On April 16, 1988, the Sayeret Matkal launched a covert raid which killed Khalil Ibrahim al-Wazir at his home in Tunis, Tunisia. Known famously as Abu Jihad, he was a prominent Palestinian terrorist leader responsible for organizing, funding and supplying militants in carrying out attacks against Israel.

During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, as the IDF conducted an aggressive air and naval campaign against Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants, the Sayeret Matkal conducted covert operations inside Lebanon against Hezbollah. In Operation Orchard, members of the unit secretly collected soil samples from an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria which was later destroyed by an Israeli airstrike on September 6, 2007.

 

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The Second Lebanon War: The aftermath of an Israeli airstrike against a suspected Hezbollah target in Baalbek, Lebanon on July 31, 2006. The Israelis initiated an aggressive air campaign against the Shia Lebanese militants after a series of rocket attacks and raids into Northern Israel. The Sayeret Matkal’s most well known mission in this conflict was Operation Sharp and Smooth, a covert raid against a hospital in Baalbek used as Headquarters for Hezbollah.

 

Greatest Mission: Operation Thunderbolt

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Entebbe International Airport in Uganda, East Africa. On July 4, 1976, an elite task force of 100 Israeli troops, including members of the Sayeret Matkal, had secretly flown 2,500 miles from Israel to rescue passengers and crew from Air France Flight 139 after their aircraft was hijacked by a group of Palestinian and German terrorists supported by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. To this day the old terminal building is still pockmarked with bullet holes from the raid.

 

June 27, 1976: Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by a group of Palestinian terrorists and German communist revolutionaries. The hijackers rerouted the aircraft to Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where President Idi Amin supported the Palestinian cause and the far-left German movement. For the next several days, the hijackers demanded the release of fifty-three convicted terrorists held in four nations. Over time most of the hostages were released except for 106 passengers and crew. With efforts for a diplomatic solution exhausted, the Israeli government secretly authorized a rescue operation.

At 11 p.m. on July 3, four C-130 Hercules transport aircraft landed at Entebbe Airport. When the cargo bay doors opened, a black Mercedes, similar to President Amin’s, rolled out along with several land rovers, which typically comprised his security detail. When the convoy drove up to the main terminal, elite members of the Sayeret Matkal suddenly jumped out of the vehicles and stormed the building in a hail of gunfire, while Israeli paratroopers from the other aircraft helped secure the airport.

Due to intelligence provided by the Mossad, the Israelis had accurate information regarding the layout of the airport and the location of the hostages. In the ensuing battle, all seven terrorists were killed along with forty-five Ugandan soldiers. A dozen Soviet-built MiG fighters were also destroyed at Entebbe by the Sayeret Matkal to prevent to Ugandan Air Force from intercepting the rescue aircraft. Only one commando was killed in the raid, Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu, a commander in the Sayeret Matkal, and brother of future Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While four hostages were killed in the crossfire, the rest were safely evacuated onboard the C-130s with the commandos and flown back to Israel. Today, Operation Thunderbolt is regarded as one of the most daring and influential rescue missions ever carried out.

 

4) Shayetet 13

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Commandos from an elite special forces unit of the Israeli Navy known as Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13), emerge from the sea in their combat scuba diving gear during an Over-The-Beach training exercise on September 2, 2013.

 

Considered one of the most feared special operations forces in the world, Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) is an elite covert unit of the Israeli Navy similar to the U.S. Navy SEALs and the Special Boat Service. Formed after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Shayetet 13 holds the distinction of participating in almost every major conflict involving the State of Israel. This unit is currently stationed at the Atlit naval base, a classified military facility on the Mediterranean coast near Haifa, Israel.

While the exact size and strength of Shayetet 13 is unknown, it is estimated that there are roughly 300 commandos organized into three company-sized groups: The Raiders Company (Plugat Haposhtim) is the main assault force which specializes in direct action, special reconnaissance, maritime counter-terrorism, and hostage rescue; The Underwater/Diving Company (Hat’zolelim) specializes in underwater demolition, hydrographic reconnaissance, and amphibious warfare; and the Surface Company is responsible for operating small maritime combat vessels. Collectively, S-13 commandos specialize in missions involving counter-terrorism, special reconnaissance, direct action, counter-proliferation, maritime security, amphibious warfare, and sabotage. Shayetet 13 can conduct airborne, air assault, and land-based missions.

They have been called “bats” and the “people of silence.” The warrior ethos of the S-13 is best described by its motto, “As the bat emerges from the darkness, as the blade cuts through with silence, as the grenade smashes in rage.”

Shayetet 13 can trace its roots back to the Palyam, an abbreviation in Hebrew for Plugat HaYam (Sea Company). Formed in April 1945, the Palyam was one of several elite companies of Palmach fighters established by the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary defense organization based in British Palestine. What made this company unique from other Palmach units was that it was dedicated primarily towards naval warfare. While they were specially trained in conducting sabotage, underwater demolition, and coastal raids, the Palyam also operated in a similar manner to Marines. From 1945 to 1948, a group of roughly seventy Palyamniks were responsible for protecting immigrant ships on sixty-six total voyages, bringing nearly 70,000 Jewish immigrants from Europe and North Africa to Palestine. They also helped escort shipments of arms for the Haganah.

 

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Israel 1949: Palmach fighters training to become members of Shayetet 13. In this drill, two Israeli naval commandos practice setting a limpet mine to the hull of an enemy vessel.

 

For the next three decades, much of the leadership in the Israeli Navy was comprised of former Palyamniks. When Shayetet 13 was established in 1949, it was comprised mostly of Palyam veterans, including the founder of the unit, Commander Yohai Ben-Nun. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Ben-Nun piloted an explosive motorboat into the flagship of the Egyptian navy, Emir Farouk. At the last moment, he dove from the boat before it exploded into the ship, sinking it off the coast of Gaza on October 22, 1948. Utilizing his experience with the Palyam, Commander Yohai Ben-Hun helped establish Shayetet 13 for the newly formed Israeli navy. For many years, the activities of the S-13 had been kept a closely guarded secret until 1960, when the Israeli government finally acknowledged the existence of this unit.

Training for Shayetet 13 is considered one of the toughest in the IDF. Besides the Gibush training camps, which are held biannually, Shayetet 13 operates a summer program for Israeli teenagers interested in becoming S-13 commandos, where they acquire basic skills in diving, navigation, boating, and raiding. Those who successfully pass Gibush with the highest scores move on to the next phase.

Potential operators must first complete six-months of basic infantry training before moving on to advanced infantry and weapons training, known as Hamachin (Preparation). This phase lasts three months and includes courses in firearms, explosive ordnance, long-range swimming, operating small maritime craft, and three weeks of parachute training at Tel Nof Airbase. This is followed by four weeks of combat scuba diving and water survival training. Those who remain in the program move on to the Dedication Phase where they are taught critical skills, such as underwater demolition, boarding, parachuting into water, amphibious warfare, maritime security, counter-terrorism, marksmanship, sniping, and hand-to-hand combat. Like any Israeli Special Forces unit, S-13 commandos are well versed in the art of Krav Maga, making them particularly deadly in close contact engagements.

 

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Israeli naval commandos of Shayetet 13 during an Over-The-Beach training exercise along the coast of Israel on July 5, 2011.

 

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Special operators from Shayetet 13 conduct a VBSS training exercise aboard an Israeli Navy Sa'ar 5-Class Corvette on March 19, 2012.

 

In total, cadets train for at least twenty months before becoming full-fledged members of Shayetet 13. Even after their indoctrination, S-13 commandos regularly cross-train with other elite units from around the world, including the U.S. Navy SEALs.

Shayetet 13 first saw combat during the Suez Crisis, when British, French, and Israeli forces invaded the Sinai in 1956 in an attempt to reclaim control of the Suez Canal from Egypt. In later years, the S-13 would be employed to carry out raids, reconnaissance, and sabotage operations in Egypt during the Six Day War, the War of Attrition, and the Yom Kippur War.

 

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The Sinai, 1969: Israeli troops at the Firdan Bridge look out over the Suez Canal during the War of Attrition. That year Shayetet 13 had carried out a number of daring raids across the canal into Egypt, such as the destruction of an Egyptian Radar station and signals intelligence facility on Green Island during Operation Bulmus 6, and the destruction of enemy torpedo boats which allowed Israeli forces to destroy twelve Egyptian outposts during Operation Raviv.

 

On the night of April 9, 1973, Shayetet 13 participated in Operation Spring of Youth, the raid on Beirut, which killed dozens of militants, including three high-ranking members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in retaliation for the Munich Massacre. In March 1978, the S-13 participated in Operation Litani, a brief but successful military campaign against the PLO in Southern Lebanon. From 1979 to 1981, Shayetet 13 carried out twenty-two successful raids against Palestinian militants in Lebanon. They would distinguish themselves again during the Lebanon War, and the ensuing war with Hezbollah during the South Lebanon Conflict (1985-2000).

 

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June 6, 1982: Israeli naval commandos of Shayetet 13 onboard fast-attack craft in the Mediterranean Sea at the start of the First Lebanon War.

 

In the late 1980s, Shayetet 13 helped evacuate thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel during Operation Moses. They also took part in the famous Tunis Raid which killed Abu Jihad on April 16, 1988. Shayetet 13 would see heavy combat in suppressing Palestinian militants during an intense period of violence between Israel and Palestine known as the Second Intifada (2000-2005).

On January 3, 2002, a Palestinian cargo ship known as the MV Karine A was captured by Shayeyet 13 in the Red Sea during Operation Noah’s Ark, along with fifty tons of weapons and munitions worth an estimated $15 million, which were hidden onboard. During the Second Lebanon War, S-13 commandos carried out a covert nighttime raid in Tyre, where they claimed to have killed a number of Hezbollah militants and destroyed several rocket launchers. In recent years, they have fought against Hamas during the Gaza War in 2009, and the Israel-Gaza Conflict in 2014.

 

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August 5, 2006: During the Second Lebanon War, Shayetet 13 conducts a nighttime raid against Hezbollah militants in Tyre, Lebanon.

 

Greatest Mission: Operation Four Species

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Illegal weapons and munitions seized from aboard the MV Francop are displayed at the Israeli port of Ashdod. Shayetet 13 intercepted the Francop in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, leading to what became the largest weapon seizures in Israeli history.

 

On November 4, 2009, Shayetet 13 intercepted a large cargo ship in the Mediterranean Sea, approximately 100 miles off the coast of Israel, near the island of Cyprus. Based on intelligence reports, the Israelis had reason to believe that the MV Francop, a German-owned freighter from Antigua and Barbuda, was attempting to smuggle weapons from Iran to Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist militant organization based in Lebanon. The Israeli Navy managed to intercept the Francop before it could reach its destination in Latakia, Syria. Shayetet 13 boarded the freighter but the crew offered no resistance, claiming that they knew nothing of any illegal weapons onboard. As the commandos inspected the shipping containers below, they discovered a cache of firearms and munitions carefully hidden amongst the civilian cargo.

With the vessel under their control, Shayetet 13 directed the Francop to port in Ashdod, Israel. What they had uncovered onboard was shocking. Approximately 320 tons of weaponry, including 9,000 mortar shells, 2,150 Katyusha rockets, 690 Soviet 122-mm rockets, over 21,000 grenades, and over 566,000 rounds of AK-47 ammunition were uncovered, all of which were traced back to Iran. It was the largest arms shipment seizure in Israeli history.

The IDF displayed their record haul at a press conference the next day, where it was viewed by foreign dignitaries, military attaches, and numerous media outlets, much to the embarrassment of the Iranian regime. For Shayetet 13, Operation Four Species was a far greater success than the Karine A affair (Operation Noah’s Ark) in 2002.

In the following years, the Israeli Navy commandos continued to intercept shipments of illegal arms destined for terrorist groups. Most notable of these affairs was the seizure of MV Victoria during Operation Iron Law on March 15, 2011, and the seizure of MV Klos C during Operation Full Disclosure on March 5, 2014.

 

3) Delta Force

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Somalia, 1993: MH-6 Little Bird helicopter pilots from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) at Mogadishu International Airport with elite members of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), a top secret counter-terrorist unit of the U.S. Army known more popularly as Delta Force.

 

Regarded as one of the deadliest and most feared counter-terrorist units in the world, the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment- Delta (1st SFOD-D), also known as Delta Force, is an elite covert outfit of the United States Army currently based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Since its formation in the 1970s, this top-secret military unit has gone by several alternative names: Combat Applications Group (CAG), Army Compartmented Elements (ACE), and Task Force Green. Past and present members of the 1st SFOD-D often refer to their outfit as “The Unit.”

Delta Force serves as part of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a component of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM) responsible for studying, developing, planning, and executing operations between the various special forces of the U.S. military. Delta Force specializes in counter-terrorism, but their other responsibilities include counter-insurgency, unconventional warfare, direct action, special reconnaissance, manhunts, personnel recovery, hostage rescue, counter-proliferation, counter-narcotics, and executive protection. The unit is trained and equipped to operate in regions of the world that are considered highly volatile or politically sensitive.

Delta operators will often disguise themselves to blend into the civilian population, especially when working undercover in a foreign environment. They can have civilian hairstyles, grow facial hair, and wear civilian clothing on and off duty. Combat uniforms worn by Delta operators do not have markings, insignias, or name tags.

While the exact size and strength of Delta Force is unknown, reports indicate that the unit is comprised of four assault squadrons (A, B, C, D), an aviation squadron (E), a reconnaissance and surveillance squadron (G), and a combat support squadron. Due to the clandestine nature of their activities, much of the information regarding this unit is under strict control of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Delta Force was founded by Colonel Charles Alvin Beckwith, a highly decorated Green Beret who had served in Korea and Vietnam. In 1958, Beckwith joined the U.S. Army Special Forces and became a member of the 7th Special Forces Group. He went on to serve in Laos for two years as a military advisor. He was later assigned as an exchange officer to the British Army in Malaysia, where he commanded a squadron from the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment. During the Malayan Emergency, Beckwith participated with the British in numerous counter-insurgency operations against communist guerrillas. He was deeply impressed by the SAS and their proficiency in direct action and counter-terrorism. Based on his experience, Beckwith came to believe that special forces needed to be more active and aggressive in combating unconventional adversaries.

When he returned to the United States, Beckwith submitted a detailed proposal for the creation of an elite unit that employed small teams of highly skilled commandos operating with complete autonomy and flexibility to carry out direct action and special reconnaissance operations against hostile guerrillas, but the U.S. Army felt that raising another special operations force was unnecessary. Despite this, Beckwith successfully implemented his doctrine as commander of Project DELTA, a joint Green Beret-Ranger unit assigned to hunt down, kill or capture high-ranking VC and NVA leaders during the Vietnam War. He also instituted more realistic training for the Green Berets and Army Rangers based on his years of experience in Southeast Asia.

In response to the growing number of international terrorist incidents in the 1970s, the Pentagon finally appointed Colonel Charles A. Beckwith to form what would become the elite counter-terrorism unit of the U.S. Army. Using the SAS as his model, he would spend the next two years recruiting and training volunteers. The 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta was officially established on November 17, 1977 with Colonel Beckwith serving as commanding officer until 1980.

 

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Colonel Charles Alvin Beckwith, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran, and a longtime member of the U.S. Army Special Forces. He was inspired to forge an elite counter-terrorist unit after working in Malaysia with the British Army’s Special Air Service (SAS). Colonel Beckwith led Delta Force into Iran during Operation Eagle Claw in 1980, and his recommendations after the mission played major role in the creation of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

 

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Fall, 1978: The second class of candidates for the U.S. Army Delta Force at the Operator Training Course (OTC).

 

To qualify for Delta Force, applicants must be at least twenty-one years old, possess a rank between E-4 (specialist/corporal) and E-8 (master sergeant/first sergeant), serve a minimum of four years in the U.S. Army, and achieve a minimum score of 110 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). Officers who wish to join require a college degree and must have successfully held a command position for at least one year. According to most recent reports, the vast majority of recruits for Delta Force come from the 75th Ranger Regiment and the U.S. Army Special Forces.

The selection and assessment process is a three- to four-week period of physical and mental exercises designed to evaluate strength, stamina, and mental fortitude. These tests include a land navigation course where recruits must complete an eighteen-mile trek while carrying forty-pound rucksacks within a specific time limit and a second navigation course covering forty miles of rough terrain while carrying 45-pound rucksacks within the allotted time.

Psychological examinations consist of interviews by a panel of instructors, psychologists, and commanding officers who carefully analyze their responses and mannerisms to a series of questions. According to former Delta operative, Paul Howe, of the 240 candidates who made up his group, only twelve to fourteen passed the selection and assessment process.

Those who complete this phase are accepted into the Operator Training Course (OTC), an intensive six-month program where recruits are trained in numerous disciplines, such as marksmanship, sniping, explosive demolition, breaching, CQC, hand-to-hand combat, tactical driving, espionage, counter-intelligence. Delta operators drill extensively in hostage rescue and counter-terrorism operations, especially in close quarters combat. Much of their espionage and intelligence training is based off work with advisors from the CIA, FBI, and Secret Service. In fact, the CIA often recruits Delta Force operators for their elite and highly secretive Special Activities Division (SAD).

On April 24, 1980, Delta Force saw its first action in Operation Eagle Claw, an ill-fated attempt by the U.S. military to rescue Americans held captive in Tehran during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Afterwards the unit became highly active throughout Latin America, conducting special operations during conflicts in Grenada, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, and Colombia.

 

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April 24, 1980: This aerial photograph captures the scene after a U.S. Navy RH-53D Sea Stallion Helicopter cashed into a U.S. Air Force EC-130 Hercules at a staging area near Tabas, Iran codenamed “Desert One” during Operation Eagle Claw. This ill-fated mission to rescue U.S. hostages held captive in Tehran was the first known operation involving Delta Force.

 

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December 20, 1989: In Operation Acid Gambit, Delta Force operators launched a daring raid on Carcel Modelo Prison in Panama City to rescue CIA agent Kurt Muse during the U.S. Invasion of Panama. While Muse was freed from captivity, the MH-6 Little Bird helicopter carrying him and several Delta operators crashed. All onboard survived and took cover in a nearby building until U.S. troops from the 5th Infantry Division arrived to retrieve them and secure the crash site.

 

In the Persian Gulf War, Delta Force operated deep behind enemy lines to locate and destroy Iraqi mobile scud missile launchers. During the mid-1990s, Delta operators were deployed to war zones in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. In Operation Enduring Freedom, Delta Force served as part of Task Force Sword, a covert operations group assigned to kill or capture high-value targets during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. These operators also distinguished themselves in the Battle of Tora Bora and Operation Anaconda. In 2003, Delta Force conducted direct action and special reconnaissance missions deep behind enemy lines during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

 

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Saudi Arabia, 1991: U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf (Center), the Commander-in-Chief of Coalition forces during the Persian Gulf War exits from a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. The armed men in civilian clothing are actually members of Delta Force. They served as personal security to General Schwarzkopf throughout the course of the war.

 

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February 1991: Delta Force operators in the deserts of Western Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. After the start of Operation Desert Storm, Coalition special forces were inserted deep behind enemy lines into Iraq to search and destroy mobile scud launchers firing missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia. On the final day of Desert Storm, Delta Force neutralized twenty-six Iraqi scud missile launchers aimed towards Israel.

 

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Disguised as Afghan civilians, top secret U.S. Army soldiers from Delta Force hunt for Osama Bin Laden in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan during the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom in November 2001.

 

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December 2001: British and American special forces disguised as Afghan civilians who were tasked with hunting down Osama Bin Laden during the Battle of Tora Bora. The men in this photograph were identified as members of the Special Boat Service, and the U.S. Army Delta Force.

 

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July 22, 2003: U.S. troops of the 101st Airborne Division and Special Operators from Task Force 20 raid the hideout of Saddam’s fugitive sons Uday and Qusay Hussein in Mosul, Iraq. Members of Delta Force can be seen wearing black helmets to the lower left.

 

For the next several years, they would be instrumental in counter-insurgency operations across Iraq. They fought in key battles at Fallujah and Ramadi. On September 11, 2012, two Delta operators were part of a small team which reinforced a CIA compound that was attacked by Islamic militants in Benghazi, Libya. In recent years Delta Force has been active in combating ISIL as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Since its inception, the 1st SFOD-D has been involved in several successful manhunts. During the invasion of Panama, Delta operators were part of the operation that captured Panamanian dictator, General Manuel Noriega, on January 3, 1990. They were also rumored to have aided Colombian security forces in the manhunt which killed the legendary drug lord, Pablo Escobar, in 1993. On December 13, 2003, Delta operators captured former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, at his hideout near Tikrit, Iraq. Intelligence gathered by Delta Force in a series of raids around Baghdad led to the operation which killed the notorious leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi on June 7, 2006. Recently it was confirmed that on January 8, 2016, Delta Force took part in a joint U.S.-Mexican raid which captured the infamous drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

 

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May 15, 2015: Delta Force operators are inserted by helicopters into Al-Amr, a remote village in the Deir ez-Zor Province of Syria. This daring night-time raid resulted in the killing of Abu Sayyaf, a high-ranking leader with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the capture of his wife Umm, and the deaths of thirty militants. Delta Force also rescued a Yazidi woman who was being held as a slave, and recovered a large cache of documents and computer data which provided invaluable intelligence to the United States.

 

Greatest Mission: Operation Gothic Serpent

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Master Sergeant Gary I. Gordon (Left), and Sergeant First Class Randall D. Shughart (Right). These two Delta Force snipers were killed in action trying to defend injured helicopter crewmembers at the second Black Hawk crash site during the Battle of Mogadishu. For their heroism, Shughart and Gordon were the first U.S. servicemen to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

 

During the Somali civil war, a joint task force comprised of 160 elite U.S. troops from Delta Force, the 75th Ranger Regiment, the 160th SOAR, SEAL Team 6, and the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, carried out a daring daytime raid in a hostile district of Mogadishu, Somalia on October 3, 1993. Their mission was to capture the top lieutenants of General Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the most powerful warlord in the country.

With the Rangers providing perimeter security, Delta operators stormed the target building and apprehended key members of Aidid’s organization. Thousands of Somali militia converged on the scene, and in the ensuing battle, two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters providing air support were shot down. Rangers and Delta operators then proceeded to fight their way across the city to rescue injured crew members.

At the first crash site, two Delta Force snipers who were onboard the helicopter, Staff Sergeant Daniel Busch and Sergeant James Smith, defended the downed Blackhawk and its injured crew from hostile Somali militia until the task force arrived to help establish a defensive perimeter.

At the second crash site, two Delta Force snipers, Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and First Sergeant Randy Shughart, were inserted by helicopter onto the scene after volunteering to defend the downed Blackhawk and its injured crew. Shughart and Gordon inflicted heavy losses upon the enemy, but both were killed when their position was overrun by hundreds of Somali militants. U.S. troops besieged at the first crash site held out until they were rescued the next day by a joint American-United Nations relief force.

Known as the Battle of Mogadishu and Black Hawk Down, Operation Gothic Serpent resulted in the deaths of eighteen U.S. troops, two UN peacekeepers (one Malaysian, one Pakistani), and hundreds of Somali militia. While the Rangers and Delta Force had accomplished their objectives, the political fallout from the raid gradually led to the withdrawal of all U.S. and UN personnel from Somalia by 1995. For their heroism in battle, 1st SGT Randy Shughart and MSG Gary Gordon were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming the first American servicemen to receive the medal since the Vietnam War.

 

2) U.S. Navy SEALs

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United States Navy SEALs armed MP-5 submachine guns emerge from the water during an amphibious warfare training exercise on January 15, 2004.

 

There is no other special operations force as legendary or iconic as the United States Navy SEALs. This highly decorated unit has a distinguished combat record dating from Vietnam to Afghanistan.

The term SEAL is an acronym for Sea, Air, and Land, encompassing the wide range of environments in which they are trained to operate. The SEALs are renowned for their amphibious capabilities and are highly skilled combat scuba divers, which earned them their famous nickname, “Frogmen.” During the Vietnam War, these commandos were so widely feared that the Vietcong called them “the men with green faces,” a reference to their intimidating camouflaged face paint. While this unit is specialized in conducting missions at sea, along rivers, and coastal terrain, the SEALs have demonstrated their proficiency for land-based combat during recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Currently there are eight SEAL teams, each comprising six platoons of sixteen men. SEAL teams 1, 3, 5, and 7 form Naval Special Warfare Group One (NSWG-1) based out of Coronado, California, while SEAL teams 2, 4, 8, and 10 comprise Naval Special Warfare Group Two (NSWG-2) based out of Little Creek, Virginia. NSWG-3 is primarily configured around the SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team (SDVT), which specializes in operating a fleet of mini-submarines for conducting covert missions undersea. The Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen (SWCC or Swick) serve in NSWG-4, operating a fleet of small watercraft used to insert, extract, and provide fire support for the Navy SEALs.

All these units operate under the United States Naval Special Warfare Command, which is the naval component of USSOCOM. The Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), known more famously as SEAL Team 6, is a highly covert counter-terrorist unit assigned to carry out the most classified missions. Regarded as the Navy’s equivalent to Delta Force, SEAL Team 6 is primarily directed by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

 

 

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May 7, 1984: Special operators from SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Two (SDVT-2) inside a Dry Deck Shelter onboard a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, USS Hyman G. Rickover (SSN-709), somewhere underneath the Atlantic Ocean. A Dry Deck Shelter or DDS, is part of a submarine built to allow these vessels to transport, deploy, and recover SEAL teams even while submerged.

 

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U.S. Navy SEALs emerge from the ocean during an Over-The-Beach training exercise on May 25, 2004.

 

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Special operators from SEAL Vehicle Delivery Team Two fast-rope from a Navy MH-60 Seahawk helicopter onto the deck of the Los Angeles-class attack submarine, USS Toledo (SSN 769), somewhere off the Atlantic Coast of the United States on January 17, 2005.

 

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Special Boat Team 22 maneuver through the Salt River near Fort Knox, Kentucky onboard heavily armed Special Operations Craft- Riverine (SOC-R) during a live-fire training exercise on August 24, 2007. Like the SEALs, the special warfare combatant craft-crewmen (SWCC or “Swicks”) are part of the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command. Their purpose is to operate small watercraft in support of special operations, including the insertion and extraction of Navy SEALs in combat zones.

 

The U.S. Navy SEALs can trace their roots back to several elite maritime units that were formed during World War II. One such unit was the Amphibious Scouts and Raiders, a joint Army-Navy reconnaissance unit established to probe enemy coastal defenses, locate key objectives, secure beachheads, and coordinate incoming landings of assault troops. This unit participated in amphibious operations in North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, Normandy, Southern France, the Pacific, and China.

In preparation for the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the U.S. Navy raised forty-three special teams of combat engineers and salvage experts known as the Naval Combat Demolition Unit (NCDU). During the landings on June 6, 1944, the NCDUs went in under heavy fire using explosive charges to demolish German defenses that were obstructing the assault troops.

In November 1943, U.S. Marines suffered such heavy losses during the amphibious landings on Tarawa that the Navy began recruiting and training personnel to form the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT). Armed with a combat knife, a bag of explosives, and wearing nothing more than swimming trunks, UDT swimmers played an instrumental role in clearing coastal and underwater obstacles in preparation for amphibious landings on Japanese-held islands. They were also employed to disarm naval mines and plant explosives on enemy ships.

The SEALs also owe their existence to the Operational Swimmers from the OSS Maritime Unit who pioneered the use of many innovative techniques and equipment, such as flexible swim-fins, diving masks, oxygen rebreathers, and underwater delivery vehicles. While most of these units were disbanded after World War II, UDTs were successfully re-employed during the Korean War.

 

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Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT), also known as the “Frogmen” and the “Naked Warriors.” Employed to conduct covert reconnaissance of beaches and coastlines, they also utilized explosive charges to destroy enemy defenses in prelude to amphibious landings. The Navy SEALs can trace their lineage to several units such as the UDTs.

 

With the escalating conflict in Vietnam and President John F. Kennedy’s commitment to strengthening America’s unconventional warfare capabilities, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke, authorized the creation of an elite special operations force capable of operating from sea, air, or land. This unit was designed to be the naval counterpart of the U.S. Army’s Green Berets. Comprised mostly of former of the UDTs, the United States Navy SEALs were formally established on January 1, 1962.

Those aspiring to become Navy SEALs must be male between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine, hold U.S. citizenship, and have no prior criminal record. Potential candidates must not only be in excellent physical condition, they must also be of strong moral character, mental fortitude, and intellect. To qualify for a SEAL contract, Navy personnel must achieve a minimum score of 220 on an entrance aptitude test, the ASVAB. They must also pass the SEAL Physical Screening Test (PST), an intensive series of exercises which must be completed within a limited time: a 500-yard swim in eight to twelve minutes and a 1.5-mile run in nine to ten minutes.

After proper medical and psychological evaluations, recruits spend eight weeks attending boot camp at the Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School in Great Lakes, Illinois. Those who meet the high standards set at boot camp move on to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S or Buds), a grueling 24-week program held at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, California. The class begins with indoctrination (INDOC), a three-week period where students are introduced to their instructors, oriented on the training curriculum, and complete daily physical exercises and obstacle courses.

BUD/S is composed of three distinct phases: Physical conditioning, combat diving, and land warfare. Each phase lasts seven weeks. The ultimate test of physical and mental endurance comes during the third week of phase one, when trainees undergo a continuous series of drills and exercises which last more than five days. Known as Hell Week, SEAL candidates accumulate only four hours of sleep during this entire period as they train for twenty hours per day. On average, over 80 percent of candidates drop out of BUD/S training, 75 percent occurring during Hell Week.

Those who graduate from BUD/S move on to receive three weeks of airborne training at the parachute jump school in San Diego, California. The final stage of the process, SEAL Qualification Training (SQT), is a twenty-six-week course in advanced tactics and procedures. Once the candidates have completed SQT, they are awarded the hard-earned SEAL trident badge and receive assignment to a SEAL team.

 

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Basic Underwater Demolition-SEAL (BUD/S or “Buds”): SEAL candidates on a small inflatable boat paddle through the waves off Coronado, California on February 2, 2007. BUDS is widely regarded as one of the most intense and grueling training programs in the U.S. Armed Forces.

 

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SEAL Qualification Training (SQT): Four trainees breach a room during a kill house training exercise to practice their CQC tactics in Campo, California on October 19, 2007. On average students spend two weeks learning how to breach and clear a room.

 

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U.S. Navy SEALs practice special warfare insertion techniques on a rigid-hulled inflatable boat at the Naval Amphibious Base at Coronado, California on March 4, 2012.

 

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U.S. Navy SEALs conduct winter warfare training at Mammoth Mountain in Northeast California on December 9, 2014.

 

The U.S. Navy SEALs were first deployed to South Vietnam in March 1962 as advisors to help train commandos for the Army of Vietnam (ARVN). By 1963, the CIA was employing SEALs as part of the Phoenix Program, a covert initiative to kill or capture high-ranking NVA and VC personnel. They were also tasked with conducting clandestine operations into North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as part of MACV-SOG. As American involvement in the Vietnam War escalated, the Navy SEALs became more active in counter-insurgency operations. They excelled in riverine warfare, coastal raids and reconnaissance, and jungle warfare, becoming the most effective and decorated combat unit in Vietnam.

In the years that followed, the U.S. Navy SEALs would see action in Grenada, Panama, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Somalia, Bosnia, and Haiti. They played a key role in protecting oil tankers from Iranian attacks in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War.

 

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March 13, 1967: U.S. Navy SEALs rappel from a Bell UH-1B Iroquois helicopter into the jungles of South Vietnam to set up an ambush against the Vietcong.

 

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Special operators from SEAL Team One, patrol the Bassac River in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam in November 1967.

 

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South Vietnam, 1969: U.S. Navy SEALs capture a Vietcong insurgent near My Tho, South Vietnam.

 

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December 1989: Special operators of SEAL Team Four right before the start of the Operation Just Cause, the U.S. Invasion of Panama. This unit was later involved in Operation Nifty Package, the mission which led to the capture of General Manuel Noriega.

 

Following the events of September 11, 2001, SEAL teams were inserted into Afghanistan to conduct special reconnaissance prior to Operation Enduring Freedom. These teams would form key components of Task Force Sword and Task Force K-Bar. The SEALs were instrumental in the U.S.-led invasion, gathering vital intelligence and killing or capturing high-value targets. Throughout the War in Afghanistan they would be at the epicenter of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations.

In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Navy SEALs carried out direct action and special reconnaissance missions during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. They were instrumental in combating insurgents and terrorists in Iraq over the following years, particularly in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad. As part of the War on Terror, Navy SEALs have been deployed to combat Islamic militants in the Philippines, Somalia, and Yemen.

 

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January 14, 2002: While searching for Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in Eastern Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, U.S. Navy SEALs exploring a cave complex in the Zhawar Kili region discover a large cache of weapons and munitions. This was one of over fifty caves that were discovered and subsequently destroyed by U.S. forces.

 

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U.S. Navy SEALs in Afghanistan, from left to right; Sonar Technician 2nd Class Matthew Axelson, Senior Chief Daniel Healy, Quartermaster 2nd Class James Suh, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell, Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Shane Patton, and Lieutenant Michael Murphy. All were later killed in Kunar Province during Operation Red Wings on June 28, 2005, except for Marcus Luttrell who was the “Lone Survivor.” Lieutenant Murphy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary acts of heroism.

 

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U.S. Navy SEALs using smoke to conceal their movements from insurgents in Ramadi, Iraq. The SEAL featured prominently on the left is Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor. During the Second Battle of Ramadi on September 29, 2006, Monsoor jumped on top of an enemy grenade right before it exploded, saving several nearby SEALs and Iraqi soldiers. He died thirty minutes later from his traumatic injuries. In 2008, Petty Officer Monsoor was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism.

 

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September 3, 2007: U.S. Navy SEALs help provide extra security at Al Asad Airbase as President George W. Bush and high-ranking members of his administration arrive in Iraq aboard Air Force One to attend a meeting with leaders of the Iraqi government and tribal sheikhs from Anbar Province.

 

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Senior Chief Special Warfare Officer Edward C. Byers Jr. is an active duty U.S. Navy SEAL and a member of the elite unit known as SEAL team Six. On December 8, 2012, Senior Chief Byers took part in the daring rescue mission of Dr. Dilip Joseph, an American physician abducted by the Taliban in Laghman Province, Afghanistan. For his extraordinary heroism he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2016. 

 

On April 12, 2009, members of DEVGRU rescued Captain Richard Philips from Somali pirates after the hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama. On September 11, 2012, former Navy SEALs serving as security contractors in Benghazi, Libya, helped defend U.S. facilities during a deadly siege by Islamic militants. As part of Operation Inherent Resolve, roughly 100 SEALs have been deployed to aid Iraqi forces combating ISIL.

 

Greatest Mission: Operation Neptune Spear

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A photograph taken by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2011 provides an aerial view of a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where the leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, was believed to be hiding. A daring raid carried out against the compound by U.S. Navy SEALs and CIA operatives killed the world’s most wanted terrorist after an intensive decade-long manhunt.

 

May 2, 2011: In one of the most daring raids in recent history, elite covert operatives from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, also known as SEAL Team 6, and the CIA Special Activities Division, raided a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was believed to be hiding. The elusive leader of al-Qaeda had been the target of an intensive manhunt for his role in orchestrating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

By late 2010, the search for bin Laden had led U.S. Intelligence to Waziristan Haveli, a private mansion built less than a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy. On March 29, 2011, a plan developed by the CIA and JSOC was presented to President Barack Obama for a covert raid on the compound. The planning and preparation for this mission fell under Vice Admiral William H. McRaven, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command.

The men who were selected to carry out this raid were the most skilled and experienced Navy SEALs from DEVGRU’s Red Squadron. In preparation for the raid, the assault force conducted extensive mission reversals at locations in North Carolina and Nevada, where models of the Waziristan Haveli were built.

Operation Neptune Spear began just before midnight on May 1, 2011, when helicopters flown by the 160th SOAR carrying the assault force took off from bases in Afghanistan. At about 1 a.m. local time, the assault force arrived over its target in Abbottabad. One of the helicopters crash landed just outside the compound due to mechanical failure, but none onboard were injured. SEAL Team 6 managed to breach the compound, where they encountered the families of Osama bin Laden and his courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. The SEALs encountered bin Laden in his bedroom and fatally shot him; al-Kuwaiti and bin Laden’s adult son, Khalid, were also killed. There were no Americans fatalities.

Thirty-eight minutes after entering the compound, the assault force was flown by helicopters out of Pakistan with the body of Osama bin Laden along with hundreds of documents, computer disks, hard drives, and personal items. Confiscated cell phones helped U.S. Intelligence track down, kill, and capture other high-ranking members of al-Qaeda.

 

1) Special Air Service

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A recruitment poster for the Special Air Service (SAS), an elite special operations force of the British Army. Established during World War II, this unit helped pioneer many of the tactics which are now employed in various special operations from Direct Action to Counter-Terrorism.

 

This legendary unit of the British Army is world renowned as one of the greatest and most influential special operations forces. Established during World War II in the fall of 1941, the Special Air Service (SAS) was originally conceived as an elite airborne commando unit for parachuting behind enemy lines, but the unit quickly evolved and expanded its capabilities to accomplish a wide variety of missions, from direct action to rescuing POWs.

The SAS fought with distinction across North Africa and Europe, establishing a reputation as an elite fighting force capable of undertaking the most dangerous assignments. This inspired their now famous motto, Who Dares Wins.

The British Government saw no further need for Special Air Service after World War II, so the unit was disbanded on October 8, 1945. This quickly changed with the emergence of the Cold War. The British Army reformed the 21st SAS “Artists Rifles” Regiment in 1947, followed by the 22nd SAS Regiment in 1952, and the 23rd SAS Regiment in 1959. While the 21st and 23rd SAS are reservist units in the Territorial Army, the 22nd SAS is part of the regular army and a key component of the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF).

The 22nd SAS Regiment is comprised of four squadrons (A, B, D, G), each consisting of about sixty-five men. Each squadron is typically composed of four fifteen-man troops which are oriented towards a particular field of expertise. The Air Troop consists of the elite parachute specialists; the Boat Troop specialize in operations dealing with maritime and amphibious warfare; the Mobility Troop utilize a series of light military vehicles for direct action and special reconnaissance; while the Mountain Troop is comprised of experts in mountain and arctic warfare.

The SAS also includes several smaller units, such as the Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) Wing, also known officially as the Special Projects Team, which is a highly covert counter-terrorist force that was created after the 1972 Munich Massacre. Since its formation, the Special Air Service has served as a model for inspiring the creation of other elite units around the world, including GSG-9, JTF-2, JW GROM, MARCOS, Sayeret Matkal, and Delta Force.

The Special Air Service was founded by Sir David Stirling, a Scottish Major serving with the No. 8 Guards Commando in North Africa. After his unit was disbanded on August 1, 1941, Major Stirling wanted to raise an elite force of airborne commandos for long-range special operations. Convinced that his proposal wouldn’t even make it up the chain of command, Stirling traveled to Cairo in hopes of speaking directly with General Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in the Middle East.

Despite walking on crutches due to an earlier injury, he managed to infiltrate headquarters for the Middle East Command, eluding security guards long enough to reach the office of Deputy Commander Neil Ritchie. Stirling presented a paper he wrote detailing his proposal, which Ritchie read and passed on to General Auchinleck in the next office. Despite widespread resistance within the British Army, Auchinleck and Ritchie approved the creation of the Special Air Service under the command of Major Stirling.

To carry out missions behind enemy lines, the SAS acquired American jeeps and mounted them with machine guns. This allowed them to maneuver across the Sahara Desert with great speed and mobility. They attacked enemy airfields, ports, supply depots, railways, and communication lines. The SAS also helped gather intelligence critical to the Allied war effort by undertaking long-range reconnaissance patrols, often deep behind enemy lines for days, weeks, and months at a time.

 

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Sir Archibald David Stirling was the founder and commanding officer of the Special Air Service. Stirling was regarded as a maverick and a rogue by his superiors. Under his command he would mold the SAS into an elite fighting unit. German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel famously referred to him as the “Phantom Major.” Stirling was captured while leading a commando raid into Tunisia in January 1943. Despite several escape attempts, he remained a POW until the end of the war.

 

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January 18, 1943: British Commandos from the Special Air Service return from a three month patrol behind enemy lines in North Africa. Utilizing American jeeps mounted with machine guns to navigate the Sahara, these desert raiders attacked Axis airfields, fuel depots, ports, and supply lines. The SAS would destroy over 250 German and Italian aircraft by the end of the North African Campaign.

 

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October 2, 1945: The commandant of the Special Air Service Brigade, Brigadier Mike Calvert, reviews French volunteers who comprised the 3rd and 4th SAS Regiment (Regiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes) during a ceremony at Tarbes, France transfering both regiments from the British Army to the French Army. From 1941 to 1945, the SAS had grown from a platoon of sixty men, to a Brigade comprised of six regiments; three British, two French, and one Belgian.

 

In 1950, a squadron from the 21st SAS had spent three months preparing for deployment to Korea, but was instead reassigned to Malaysia where it would form the core of a new special operations force dubbed the Malayan Scouts. Led by Lieutenant Colonel Mike Calvert, a veteran commando of World War II, the scouts became experts in jungle warfare, conducting patrols, raids, ambushes, and covert reconnaissance against communist insurgents. They also helped earn the trust and support of the local population by providing medical services to rural villages across the country. With over 900 personnel in their ranks, the Malayan Scouts became the 22nd SAS Regiment in 1952.

 

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September 23, 1955: British Paratroopers from the 21st SAS Regiment after a night-time airborne drop near Slagelse, Denmark during a NATO exercise codenamed, STRONG ENTERPRISE.

 

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November 1957: Commandos from the 22nd SAS Regiment in Malaysia. During the Malayan Emergency, the Special Air Service helped develop a strategy to defeat Soviet and Chinese-backed Communist insurgents. The success of the British campaign in Malaysia has since served as a model for counter-insurgency operations.

 

While the Special Air Service is open to applicants from all branches of the British Armed Forces, the selection and training process is regarded as the toughest in the world. Due to the rigorous nature of the program, only men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-two are accepted. The SAS holds an annual selection course twice a year during the summer and winter. Initial screening takes place at the SAS headquarters in Hereford, England, where candidates undergo a thorough series of physical and medical tests, including the Battle Fitness Test (BFT). Candidates must be in perfect physical condition, but 10 percent usually fail to meet these standards. Those who pass are accepted into a training program specially designed for members of the UKSF.

The first week starts with the Special Forces Briefing Course (SFBC) where recruits learn basic skills in navigation, first aid, swimming, and daily physical fitness. Next comes the Aptitude Phase (Hill Phase), a brutal four-week period of physical exercises and survival training in the Brecon Beacons of South Wales. This is followed by four weeks of Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) in which recruits are taught how to utilize various weapons and conduct a variety of special operations. In the next phase, recruits are taken to Belize for several weeks of intensive training in jungle warfare.

The final stage of the program consists of Survive, Evade, Resist, and Extract (SERE) training in which remaining candidates work in small teams moving quietly across hostile terrain and living off the land to accomplish a series of objectives while being hunted by personnel from the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG). This culminates in a simulated interrogation where the candidates experience what it’s like to be a POW. For 36-hours they must endure physically and mentally uncomfortable situations without cracking or giving away any sensitive information to the interrogators. On average, only 10 percent of candidates successfully complete the program. Those who pass are awarded the coveted beige beret worn by the SAS. These men will still spend months developing all the skills they have learned during a period known as Continuation Training.

During World War II, the Special Air Service demonstrated a proficiency for parachuting, amphibious assaults, and land-based combat. This allowed them to carry out a wide range of operations, including direct action, special reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, sabotage, and personnel recovery. After the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa, the unit would go on to play a major role in the Italian Campaign, the Battle of Normandy, the Siegfried Line Campaign, and the Invasion of Germany.

 

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October 1944: Members of the 2nd Special Air Service Regiment stand for inspection during a visit by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. These men had fought with distinction during Operation Devon, an amphibious operation which captured Tremoli, a strategic seaport on the Adriatic coast of Italy.

 

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November 18, 1944: Two SAS troopers from the 1st Special Air Service Regiment ride a jeep equipped with three Vickers Machine guns, armored shields, and bullet-resistant glass near Geilenkirchen, Germany.

 

After the unit was reactivated in 1947, the SAS went on to develop and employ a series of counter-insurgency tactics against communist guerrillas during the Malayan Emergency and the Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation. In the Jebel Akhdar War (1954-1959), the Sultanate of Oman struggled to defeat Saudi-backed rebel forces until the arrival of two SAS squadrons in 1958 turned the tide in favor of the Omani Royal Army. During the Aden Emergency (1963-1967), SAS troopers undertook counter-insurgency and foreign internal defense operations in what is now Yemen. In 1970, the SAS returned to Oman during the Dhofar Rebellion (1963-1976) where they helped the Sultanate defeat a communist insurgency.

At the start of Operation Banner in 1969, SAS squadrons were deployed to Northern Ireland during “the troubles.” They would spend the next three decades conducting counter-terrorism operations in support of British forces fighting against the Provisional IRA. During that same period, the Special Air Service would see combat in the Falklands, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Sierra Leone.

 

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Northern Ireland, 1981: A Land Rover carrying British Army troops patrol the streets of Belfast during a period of political and social unrest known as “The Troubles”. The SAS was regularly deployed to Northern Ireland as part of Operation Banner (1969-2007), a British counter-insurgency effort to aid loyalists in combating militants from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA).

 

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May 25, 1982: During the Falklands War, four SAS troopers from B Squadron parachute from a Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules down to the HMS Cardiff in the South Atlantic, just 1,000 miles from the exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands.

 

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The Falklands, 1982: An Argentine Air Force IA 58 Pucara destroyed by SAS troopers during the Pebble Island Raid. Despite being outnumbered, the British caught the Argentinians completely off-guard, destroying a dozen aircraft, along with the fuel and ammunition depots, rendering the airfield at Pebble Island all but useless.

 

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Bravo Two Zero: The call sign of a British Army patrol comprised of an eight-man SAS team during the Persian Gulf War. On the night of January 22, 1991, Bravo Two Zero was inserted behind enemy lines to search and destroy Iraqi Scud missile launchers moving between Baghdad and Western Iraq. The patrol was compromised after the team was discovered by Iraqi forces. Three members of the unit were killed and four were captured but released after the war. Corporal Chris “Gordie” Ryan (Far left) managed to walk across the Iraqi desert and escape into Syria.

 

 

In 2001, the SAS participated in the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and would play a major role in counter-insurgency operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. According to one senior British officer in 2011, the SAS was killing or capturing 130 to 140 Taliban commanders every month. In Operation Jubilee, SAS troopers rescued four aid workers abducted by bandits in Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan, on May 28, 2012. Elements of the 22nd SAS Regiment were part of the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003. Over the next several years, SAS troopers fought in Iraq as part of Task Force Black, a covert British and American special operations group that killed or captured 3,500 Iraqi insurgents by 2008. As part of the ongoing War on Terror, the SAS has carried out covert operations against Islamic militants in Somalia, Yemen, and Libya. According to numerous reports, they have been actively involved in Operation Shader, codename for the British military campaign against ISIL.

 

Greatest Mission: Operation Nimrod and Operation Barras

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May 5, 1980: The Iranian Embassy in London, England with visible damage from fire. This was the aftermath of Operation Nimrod, a daring rescue mission carried out by the Special Air Service to liberate hostages held captive by Iranian-Arab separatists.

 

The Special Air Service gained worldwide fame and recognition for two operations largely considered among the greatest rescue missions of all time. On April 30, 1980, six heavily armed gunmen took twenty-six hostages after storming the Iranian Embassy in London, England. The terrorists belonged to the Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan (DRFLA), an organization seeking greater autonomy for Arabs in the Khūzestān Province of Iran. Their demands included the release of political prisoners in Khūzestān and safe passage out of the United Kingdom.

Over the next five days, British authorities had managed to negotiate the release of five hostages, but tensions continued to mount as the terrorists had grown increasingly frustrated over the lack of progress. On day six of the siege, an Iranian hostage was executed, and his lifeless body was thrown out the front doors of the embassy. If their demands were not met soon, the terrorists threatened to kill all remaining hostages.

At 7:23pm on May 5, 1980, two teams from B Squadron, 22nd SAS Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Michael Rose, launched Operation Nimrod, a daring rescue mission which they had been planning for the past four days. While one hostage was killed in the ensuing battle, the other nineteen were rescued. Five terrorists were killed and a sixth was arrested. The dramatic six-day siege was broadcast to millions on live television, including the climatic rescue operation which is now considered a defining event in British history.

 

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September 10, 2000: A diagram depicting the events of Operation Barras. During United Nations Peacekeeping Operations in war-torn Sierra Leone, the Special Air Service spearheaded a daring mission by the British Army to rescue five soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment who were being held hostage by a hostile militia regarded as one of the most dangerous groups in West Africa.

 

Twenty years later, during UN peacekeeping operations in the war-torn West African nation of Sierra Leone, a patrol comprised of eleven British soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment was abducted on August 25, 2000, by a notoriously violent militia known as the West Side Boys. While the British Army had negotiated the release of six soldiers, talks began to break down as the militia leaders issued increasingly outrageous demands. Fearing that the remaining POWs would be killed or moved to another location, a daring rescue mission, codenamed Operation Barras, was launched by D Squadron, 22nd SAS Regiment.

On the night of September 10, 2000, British helicopters inserted the troopers into the militia base camp at Gberi Bana. In the ensuing raid, the SAS rescued the five POWs along with twenty-one local civilians who were also held captive. At least twenty-five West Side Boys were killed and eighteen were captured, including the infamous warlord, Foday Kallay. Operation Barras not only led to the disintegration of the West Side Boys, it played a major political and military role in bringing an end to the Sierra Leone Civil War in 2002.


 

© Daniel Ramos. June, 2017. No part of this article shall be reproduced in any manner without attribution to the author.

A SOG (Studies and Observations Group) “Hatchet Force” prepares for jump-off during Operation Tailwind. This operation, conducted in April of 1970, was intended to clear the way for a Royal Laotian offensive against NVA forces in southeastern Laos. It became highly controversial in 1998 when famous reporter Peter Arnett helped produce a joint-venture report entitled “The Valley of Death” that proposed that the operation was actually a cover for US Special Forces to use sarin gas on a deserting American unit fleeing the Vietnam War. The flawed report lead to legal action against Arnett and the head staff at CNN, as all twelve supposed “A-Team” Green Berets mentioned stepped forward and declared that sarin had never been used.