The 10 Most Elite Special Forces In The World

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The following are the 10 best of the best most elite special forces units in the world. These troops have been through rigorous training exercises designed to weed out those who can’t hit their exacting standards:

10. Special Boat Service (SBS), Royal Navy, United Kingdom

Most Elite Special Forces
Royal Marines taking part in an invasion exercise at Browndown Beach, Gosport, in 2015 Image credit: Steve Parsons/PA

Motto: By Strength and Guile.

Founded: 1940, United Kingdom.

Less well-known than their army counterparts, the Special Boat Service (SBS) is the elite special forces unit of the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy. The SBS can trace its origins back to the World War II when the Army Special Boat Section was formed in 1940. The SBS is now part of United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF), along with the SAS, SRR, and SFSG.

SBS operators tend to come from the Royal Marine Commandos although the SBS is tri-service. Their rigorous training involves parachute exercises, helicopter training, and boat training, and all SBS commandos are experts in swimming, diving, parachuting, navigation, demolition, and reconnaissance.

The principal roles of the SBS are Surveillance Reconnaissance (SR), including intelligence gathering, counter-terrorism operations, disruption of enemy infrastructure, and direct action in foreign territory. In other special roles, they are also involved exclusively for the close protection of senior politicians and military personnel on foreign territories.

In 2011, during the Libyan civil war, SBS operators evacuated 150 oil workers in three flights by RAF C-130 Hercules. On 15 April 2012, during the Taliban attack on Kabul, SBS members cleared Taliban militants from a central location overlooking foreign embassies.

Moreover, on 8 March 2012, a small Special Boat Service (SBS) team, rescued two hostages being held in Nigeria by members of the Boko Haram terrorist organization loyal to al-Qaeda. SBS remain an integral part of military intervention against ISIL and on War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.

9. Shayetet 13, Israeli Navy, Israel

Most Elite Special Forces

Motto: People of Silence.

Founded: 1949, Israel.

Shayetet 13 is an elite special forces unit of the Israeli Navy and one of the primary naval commando operations units of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The unit was formed in 1949, shortly after the creation of the State of Israel.

It is widely regarded by military experts as one of the world’s best elite units and has conducted numerous complex operations behind enemy lines, such as the capture of the Iranian weapons ship KLOS-C in international waters and played a major role in all of Israel’s previous conflicts, hidden from the eyes of the public.

The Shayetet 13 commandos are specialists in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue, and each team member goes through 20 months of rigorous training that includes maritime warfare, advanced training in combat diving, and navigation. During their training, cadets train extensively in Krav Maga, a hand-to-hand combat system which is Israel’s national martial art and also participates in cross-training with foreign special forces units such as the US Navy SEALs.

During the mid-1980s, Shayetet 13 played an active part in Operation Moses, which brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

8. 75th Ranger Regiment, United States Army, United States

Most Elite Special Forces
U.S. Army Rangers, 75th Ranger Regiment, prepare for extraction from their objective during Task Force Training on Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., Jan. 30, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock)

Motto: Rangers Lead the Way.

Founded: 1943, United States of America.

The 75th Ranger Regiment is U.S. Army’s premier direct-action raid force, capable of conducting many complex joint special operations missions. Their capabilities include conducting airborne and air assault operations, seizing key terrain such as airfields, destroying strategic facilities, and capturing or killing enemies of the nation.

The regiment remains an all-volunteer force with an intensive screening and selection process followed by combat-focused training. 75th Ranger Regiment is part of Global War on Terrorism and is conducting sustained combat operations in multiple countries, deploying from multiple locations in the United States.

These commandos were involved in the infamous Black Hawk Down incident in Mogadishu in 1993. They also were among the first U.S. forces on Afghan soil during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Some of the other notable engagements include the Kosovo War, Operation Enduring Freedom, Iraq War, the war with Taliban in North-Western regions of Afghanistan, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, and Operation Inherent Resolve.

7. Delta Force, United States Army, United States

Most Elite Special Forces
Delta Force bodyguards in civilian clothing providing close protection to General Norman Schwarzkopf during the Persian Gulf War, 1991. Image credit: Wikipedia

Founded: 1977, United States.

This highly secretive Army group, also known as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, is based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Their missions are often clandestine, and, to conceal their identities, they rarely wear a uniform.

Delta Force was formed after numerous, well-publicized terrorist incidents in the 1970s. These incidents led the U.S. government to develop a full-time counterterrorism unit.

The Delta Force unit is tasked with specialized missions primarily involving hostage rescue and counter-terrorism, as well as direct action and special reconnaissance against high-value targets.

Most Delta Force operators are selected from the United States Army Special Operations Command’s elite Special Forces Groups and the 75th Ranger Regiment, as well as from other special operations units.

The majority of the operations assigned to Delta are classified and may never be known to the public. However, details of some operations have become public knowledge. For service during Operation Urgent Fury, Delta was awarded the Joint Meritorious Unit Award.

6. Spetsnaz, Military Intelligence Service (GRU), Russian Federation

Most Elite Special Forces
Spetsnaz GRU Operative. Image Source: Russian Military

Founded: 1949, Soviet Union/Russian Federation.

The elite special forces of Russian Army have a long history going back to the Red Guards, but little is known about them because of the unit’s secretive nature, until the 1970’s, when the Cold War was at its height, and the West became aware of the existence of Soviet Union special forces troops known as the Spetsnaz.

After the fall of Soviet Union, Spetsnaz was reestablished under the command of Russian Military Intelligence Service (GRU) and is now known as Spetsnaz GRU.

Numbering around 15,000-17,000 (although exact size is classified), most Spetsnaz is comparable to US Army 75th Ranger Regiment. About 1,000 of them, however, are on par with the US Army’s Delta Force or Navy SEALs.

Spetsnaz operatives are highly trained and professional special operations warriors known for their superior combat training and customized weapon systems.

The primary function of Spetsnaz troops in wartime was infiltration and insertion behind enemy lines (either in uniform or civilian clothing), sabotage and the assassination of key government leaders and/or military officers.

To complete such clandestine operations, Spetsnaz GRU snipers play an important role in the elite force, as they carry a variety of customized weapons and are especially trained.

They were also tasked with specialized missions that include counter-terrorism operations, specialized air assault operations, direct action and special reconnaissance operations.

From cold war conflicts to War in Afghanistan in 1988, Spetsnaz is involved in all military conflicts of the Soviet Union and Russia. The Spetsnaz GRU inspired additional Spetsnaz forces attached to other Soviet intelligence agencies, such as the Vympel and Alpha Group of the KGB.

5. Green Berets, U.S. Army Special Forces, United States

Most Elite Special Forces
Hamid Karzai with U.S. Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 574 during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. Image Source: U.S. military

Motto: De Oppresso Liber.

Founded: 1952, United States.

The United States Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets are the most elite warriors whose specialties are impressive, to say the least. In the 1960’s President, Kennedy requested they wear the distinctive headgear that they are named for.

Green Berets are known for their exceptional skill and professionalism in modern warfare and were tasked with five primary missions: unconventional warfare (the original and most important mission of Special Forces), foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, and counter-terrorism.

Each Green Berets operators went through extreme physical and mental training and to qualify requires exceptional endurance and mental skill. They work in 12-man teams, known as an “A-Team,” with each member having a specific job.

The ranking officer is the team leader, the weapons sergeant knows just about every weapon in the world, the communications sergeant tees up ordnance or extract, and the medics can take lives as quickly as saving them.

Alongside the CIA, they were the first Americans on the ground in Afghanistan only one month after 9/11. There they linked up with the Northern Alliance and brought Hamid Karzai into Kabul. Since their establishment in 1952, they have operated in all U.S. military operations and engagements.

4. Special Service Group (SSG), Pakistan Army, Pakistan

Most Elite Special Forces
Pakistani SSG Commandos clearing the area during military operation Rah-e-Najat against terrorist in South Waziristan (near Afghanistan-Pakistan border). Image source: Pakistan Army.

Motto: Man Janbazam.

Founded: 1956, Pakistan.

The Special Service Group (SSG) is the elite special forces unit of Pakistan Army and are some of the best-trained and most formidable commando units in the world. Also known as Black Storks (because of their unique headgear) is currently the most active special operation forces in the world along with U.S. CIA’s Special Activities Division and U.S. Navy SEALs.

The training of SSG troops consists of rigorous training exercises designed to weed out those who can’t hit their exacting standards. Training reportedly includes a 36-mile march in 12 hours and a 5-mile run in 50 minutes in full gear.

The SSG (along with Pakistani ISI and American CIA) was active in Afghanistan in the 1980s during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and also believed to have fought Soviet special forces (Spetsnaz) in direct combat. In recent years, SSG has been active inside the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan targeting al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives. These strikes have led to what has been described as highly successful counter-terrorism operation in the world.

In addition, to several covert operations in United Nations military missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia and Sierra Leon, SSG has also conducted several operations against India in Siachen – the world’s highest battlefield – situated at an average altitude of 18,000 ft above sea level.

In October 2009, SSG commandos stormed an office building and rescued about 40 people taken hostage by suspected Taliban militants after an attack on the army’s headquarters.

Another notable operation was in December 2014, when Taliban raided a public school in Peshawar – armed with a number of handguns they opened fire indiscriminately mostly on school children aged between 12-16.

However, due to the timely arrival and quick action of the SSG commandos saved hundreds of lives because the terrorists planned to hold off school premises for as long as they could and spill as much blood as they could.

3. Special Air Service (SAS), British Army, United Kingdom

Most Elite Special Forces

Motto: Who Dares Wins.

Founded: 1941, North Africa, (Great Britain).

The Special Air Service (SAS) is the British Army’s most renowned and elite special forces unit. They are also the longest active special missions unit in the world and has remained one of the best. In 1980, the SAS were involved in a dramatic hostage rescue during the Iranian Embassy Siege, and since then became celebrities both at home and overseas.

In order to thin out the herd, the SAS holds one of the most arduous and rigorous selection and training programs in the modern special operations community. Out of an average intake of 125 candidates, the grueling selection process will weed out all but 10. The SAS are constantly training – learning new techniques and honing existing ones.

The Special Air Service was born in the African desert during World War 2 and has since carried out many operations and has carried out many operations over the years, including everything from counter-terrorist assaults in the glare of the media spotlight to covert operations against Republican terrorists in Northern Ireland.

In 1982, the SAS troops conduct several covert surveillance operations of Argentine positions prior to the British landing and attack the Pebble Island airstrip.

SAS units served during the Gulf War (1990-91) where they were assigned to hunt down and disarm mobile missile units. The regiment returned to Iraq in 2003 after being deployed on hostage rescue missions in Sierra Leone (2000). The SAS was also heavily engaged against the Taleban in Afghanistan (2001-14).

SAS operatives are highly trained men and are renowned for their skills in covert surveillance, sabotage and, and target attacks. They are also trained in Close Quarter Battle (CQB), sniper techniques and specialize in hostage rescue in buildings or on public transport.

2. Special Activities Division (SAD), CIA, United States

Most Elite Special Forces

Founded: 1995, United States.

The Special Activities Division (SAD) is a division of the United States Central Intelligence Agency responsible for covert operations. Within SAD there are two separate groups: SAD/SOG for tactical paramilitary operations and SAD/PAG for covert political action.

SOG is generally considered the most secretive special operations force in the United States. The group selects operatives from other special mission units such as Delta Force, SEAL Team Six (DEVGRU), Green Berets and 24th STS (U.S. Airforce Special Tactics Squadron), as well as other United States special operations forces.

Whereas, The Political Action Group (PAG) is responsible for covert activities related to political influence, psychological operations, and economic warfare. The rapid development of technology has added cyber warfare to their mission.

CIA SOG operatives were the first American forces to deploy into Afghanistan in September 2001. In 2003, CIA SAD teams worked closely with the U.S., Pakistani and British Special Operations Forces to capture numerous terrorist, including the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed considered to be an architect of 911 attack in New York.

Similarly, in 2003, months before the invasion of Iraq began, CIA SAD operatives had covertly inserted into Iraq in order to gather intelligence on Saddam’s WMD programs and on indigenous terror group, Ansar al Islam.

One of the significant achievements of the CIA SAD team is Operation Neptune Spear that resulted in the acquisition of extensive intelligence gathering of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan which ultimately results in the death of Osama Bin Laden.

In short, CIA SAD is a unit consisting of only the very best special operation teams from the United States JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) – and their joint efforts, working under extremely dangerous conditions with little to no support, led to several very successful covert operations for CIA and United States government.

1. Navy SEALs, United States Navy, United States

Most Elite Special Forces
Navy SEALs conduct training on land and in water. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Martin L. Carey.

Motto: “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday”, “It Pays to be a Winner”.

Founded: 1962, United States.

The United States Navy SEALs are the U.S. Navy’s primary special operations force and a component of the United States Naval Special Warfare Command. This group also includes SEAL Team Six (an elite within an elite, a unit made up of existing SEAL Teams), which took down Osama bin Laden.

The entire operation, which lasted only 40 minutes from start to finish, was the culmination of years of calculated planning and training and SEAL Team Six was credited with carrying out a nearly flawless mission.

The Navy’s SEALs are expertly trained to deliver highly specialized, intensely challenging warfare capabilities that are beyond the means of standard military forces. Their missions include direct action warfare; special reconnaissance; counterterrorism; and foreign internal defense.

When there’s nowhere else to turn, Navy SEALs achieve the impossible through critical thinking, sheer willpower and absolute dedication to their training, their missions and their fellow Special Operations team members.

Navy SEAL training has been described as “brutal”, preparing you for the extreme physical and mental challenges of SEAL missions. Preparation consists of more than 12 months of initial training that includes Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL BUD/S School, Parachute Jump School and SEAL Qualification Training (SQT), followed by an additional 18 months of pre-deployment training and intensive specialized training.

Their basic training includes collecting information and intelligence through special reconnaissance missions, carrying out small-unit, direct-action missions against military targets and performing underwater reconnaissance and the demolition of natural or man-made obstacles prior to amphibious landings.

Each SEAL operative is expert in conducting Special Warfare and Special Operations missions. They especially worked very closely with CIA’s highly secretive Special Operations Group (SOG) for joint operations and are specially trained in capturing high-value enemy personnel and terrorists around the world.