The days of standing armies diving into trenches or marching down a city’s square have long since passed. Now, we live in an era where special tactics, unconventional warfare and joint military-police forces are required to keep the world a safe place for all. Here, we count down the top ten special forces units in the world. Those considered for this list were rated with consideration put into operational capacity, historical use, training, funding and renown. Only officially recognized military and police units of internationally recognized agencies have been considered for this list.
10.Special Force: India’s Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA)
Starting off the list of the top ten special forces units is the Indian Central Reserve Police Force COBRA unit. Specifically trained for counter insurgency operations and jungle warfare, COBRA operatives are required to have at least 6 months of experience with another Army unit making them among the highest trained officers of the CRPF. Furthermore, some of the operatives are trained in High Altitude Low Opening parachute training. They are typically deployed within India to counter Naxal (communist groups who hold Maoist beliefs) activities, including reconnaissance to full on assaults on Naxal sites. COBRA units are extremely well equipped compared to their peers, using equipment that originate in Europe ( PSG-1 sniper platform), the Middle East (Tavor X-95 carbine), and their own INSAS rifles.
9. Special Force: Austria’s Einsatzkommando Cobra (EKO Cobra)
Austria’s own EKO Cobra unit holds the distinction of being the only counter terror unit who has been able to stop a plane hijacking mid-flight. Despite being headquartered in the far eastern region of Austria (Wiener Neustadt ), due to their unit dispersion they can be at any site in the country in under 70 minutes, making them one of the most rapid emergency response forces in the world. This is even more impressive considering the EKO Cobra unit only consists of on average 500 operatives at any given time. As per training, individuals wishing to join this elite unit must first serve in the Austrian Federal Police. Then after application and passing a full battery of tests including both physical and psychological health checks, those accepted train an additional 6 months in specialized training. During this time, they can take on further training in sniping, explosive ordinance disposal and parachuting. In regards to equipment, Cobra primarily relies on Austria’s premier firearms company, Steyr.
8. Special Force: Iran’s Sepāh-e Qods (Quds Force)
When it comes to clandestine tactics, Iran’s Quds Force doesn’t only implement them, but see them as a way of life. Often seen in the West as a sponsor of terrorist cells, Quds is active in over a dozen countries and often use their advanced training to “advise” groups from Iraq to Venezuela. With an estimated unit strength of somewhere between 800-1,500 operatives, a vast majority of the strength of this unit is their secrecy and ability to recruit local groups to accomplish their aims in return for supplies and training. However, this does not mean that they are far from their operations. In fact, there is a long list of operations and potential operations against Israeli, Saudi, Indian and United States locations that could be attributed to this shadowy group. Many of these have been either assassination plots or destruction of embassies or important structures; This is somewhat ironic, as the current Quds headquarters is the previously abandoned American Embassy in Iran. In regards to equipment, it is speculated that operatives familiarize themselves with weaponry which is common to the area of operation, and specialize in the use of improvised weapons and explosives. Allegiances, much like those of their country of origin, are enigmatic at best. While during the Iraq war, Quds forces were often blamed for the more sophisticated IEDs used to kill American soldiers, they have also been seen fighting against ISIS in the battlefields of Syria in 2015 and 2016.
7. Special Force: Russia’s Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii Spetsgruppa “A” (Spetznaz FSB- Alpha)
The Spetznaz have long held a reputation as an elite special forces group. This holds especially true with their counter-terror and urban warfare specialist unit, FSB-Alpha. With a long standing conflict in Chechnya, involvement in the Soviet-Afghan War, and countless operations within Russia as a result of hostage situations and national discontents, FSB has had plenty of practice to refine their skills. Created as a direct response to the 1972 Munich Games massacre by the KGB, FSB-Alpha was also a direct counter to the formation of the West German GSG9 counter-terror unit. Among their most public achievements have been the result of counter-intelligence work which in 1985 led to the capture of a CIA spy, and one of the only claimed assassinations of another country’s head of state, the death of Hafizullah Amin alongside his family. With both domestic and international operations a common occurrence for this unit, intense and controversial training often accompanies new recruits. Among the most extreme of these exercises is a pistol drill which, after being shot in the ballistic vest by a more experienced operative, the recruit is instructed to fire upon a target directly beside the assaulter’s head, making it an exceptionally dangerous learning experience. As per equipment, FSB-A is typically outfitted with highly altered Russian weapons (among the most common being the AK-107) which best suit the need at the time.
6. Special Force: France’s Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN)
Perhaps the only unit to surpass the French Foreign Legion within France is the GIGN. With a recruit graduate rate of 7%, and one of the toughest (and best) sharpshooting instruction courses in the world, this unit has stood as the standard for Special Forces world wide. A quality that is enforced in a unique way, and with a special sort of emphasis is the preservation of human life in any possible instances. In fact, as a graduation gift given to all who pass the program is a MR73 revolver with six shots, which is to serve as a reminder to pull the trigger only when all other options are off the table. The preservation of life as a core value is also demonstrated in the remarkable success of their hostage rescue operations, which has among the highest numbers of hostages rescued by a single unit in the world. Unfortunately, given the nature of war in 2016, GIGN operatives have found themselves without any other options when facing off against those who have been claiming allegiance to ISIS.
5. Special Force: Germany’s Grenzschutzgruppe 9 der Bundespolizei (GSG9)
The formation of this elite counter-terror police unit was the result of a truly tragic event. In the wake of the Munich Olympics hostage crisis, Germany realized they needed two very specific things: A force to fight against those who use non combatants as both shields and bargaining chips, and equipment designed specifically for such operatives. The GSG9 is one of the most highly trained units in the world, and yet amazingly, there are only 5 known instances where this force has opened fire in over 1,500 successful missions. With a 22 week training schedule, and only a 20% pass rate of recruits, GSG9 does not have the highest selection benchmarks; But they are often seen as the go-to for counter-piracy missions and have a long history of sharing operations and equipment with outside agencies. Among the agencies the GSG9 has served alongside the most are Israel’s Yamam (Special Police), the British SAS and units from the United States Army Rangers, all of which carry a deep respect for this team of highly specialized police.
4. Special Force: Israel’s Sayeret Maktal Reconnaissance Unit
Touted as Israel’s equivalent to the British SAS (and also borrowing their motto: “Who Dares, Wins”), the Sayeret Maktal unit specializes in not only counter-terror tactics, but also espionage and unconventional warfare. Having been in every major operation in some capacity since 1957, this recon unit has a significant amount of experience and expertise to fall back on, and has only recently come out of the shadows to recruit those willing to be put to the test. The average operative in Sayeret Maktal spends around 18 months in training after basic, most of that spent in advanced tactics and hand-to-hand training. At the end of this training, the new recruits march over 120 km to Masada, where they receive a red beret. This is one of their few identifying features, as members of this unit are often instructed to not wear their insignia. They also have a close relationship with one of the first helicopter units within the Israeli armed forces, Unit 157, which allows them quick and discreet access to their objectives. With many of the higher ups in the Israeli political and military worlds having past membership to this unit on their resume despite their classified nature, Sayeret Maktal has one of the worlds largest rosters of big names, including Benjamin Netanyahu and his brothers, Iddo and the late Yonatan.
3. Special Force: United State’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (Delta Force)
First officially denied to have ever existed, and then the subject of countless books, movies and video games, Delta Force is now among the most recognized special forces units in the world. Despite having few officially recognized missions available for mention, Delta’s training regimen alone is enough to warrant their high placement on this list. First, nearly 70% of the recruits for Delta are experienced Rangers of the famed 75th regiment, whose training is equivalent to many of the premier special forces units in the world. Then once selected, recruits are put through a 6 month training and testing period which includes schooling from the FBI, FAA, CIA, and Secret Service. Much like their Israeli counter parts who were previously mentioned in this list, both on and off duty, Delta members lack any insignia and often do not even wear standard issue military uniforms; Likewise military style hair and facial grooming is not required. With their high level of training and low profile, operators from this unit have been seen in Afghanistan hunting Taliban members, helping Peshmerga forces in Syria fight off ISIS forces and assisting in evacuation, and even in 2016, aiding in the tracking and capture of the Mexican Cartel lord, El Chapo.
2. Special Force: United Kingdom’s Special Air Service (SAS)
The special forces unit that has trained with or directly developed at least half of this list, the British SAS has an amazing amount of prestige worldwide, especially among other Tier One groups. One of the longest lived special forces groups, SAS started as the 21st Special Artists Rifles and has seen action in World War II, Korea, Malaysia and elsewhere up to the modern day. With a force of around 400 men, there are four unique groups within the SAS, specializing in airborne operations, arctic warfare, desert warfare and a naval force. Each of these is trained extensively both within the United Kingdom as well as in allied countries such as Belize and Brunei. Out of an average of 200 annual recruits, most classes end with only 20 to 30 being selected for service. In terms of operations, the SAS is renowned for intelligence operations far behind enemy lines as well as working jointly with other NATO and EU units to handle hostage and terror situations.
1. Special Force: United State’s Navy SEAL Team Six (DEVGRU)
Topping our list as the best special forces team in the world, Seal Team Six/ DEVGRU earns this distinction due to their unit being consistently relied upon to take the world’s hardest targets. From going blind and securing a Grenadian Governor with only 6 members against a military force including a pair of heavy attack vehicles, to the execution of Osama Bin Laden, to the rescue of civilians from terrorist elements, the SEALs have proven they can handle a mission even when the intelligence is at the absolute minimum. Much like their Army counterparts, Delta, SEALs receive specialized training from multiple agencies and allied forces before being deployed, and have a notoriously high death rate within training. As a result, Team Six is often the most covert and feared force on the battlefield, and is given free reign in terms of equipment selection, tactics and appearance.