Special Report

The 17 Most Elite US Military Special Forces

usasoc / Flickr

There are dozens of special forces groups throughout the U.S. military. Almost all of the separate branches have at least one elite, highly exclusive squad tasked with only the most difficult and high-priority missions. The United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has more than 50 distinct units. Each has its own focus, be it asymmetric warfare units, special vehicle units, psychological warfare, special reaction teams, and more. But while each of  these teams is extremely selective, there are some that are considered the absolute best of the best. (Also see: 20 of the world’s most elite special forces)

To determine 17 elite U.S. special forces units, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed several lists, including from Armed Forces History Museum, CBSNews, Special Ops Magazine, Military.com, and Business Insider. Information about the units came from their websites or American Special Ops site. Our list mostly includes units whose roles include direct action, hostage rescue, counterterrorism, covert operations, and reconnaissance. We also included the Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Center — the CIA’s paramilitary special operations unit.

The U.S. Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets, are known for unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance, and counterterrorism skills. Delta Force is the Army’s elite counterterrorism unit. It is highly skilled in sniping and close-quarters combat ability. 

The Navy SEALs are renowned for their versatility on sea, land, and in the air. Naval Special Warfare Development Group, also known as DEVGRU or SEAL Team 6, is a counterterrorism unit overseen by U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command. This team, known for taking out 9/11 terrorist attacks mastermind Osama bin Laden, is the elite of the elite, made up of operators chosen from SEAL teams. (Here are 50 of the most decorated war heroes in American history.)

The Marine Corps has several elite units, including Marine Force Recon, a unit of the Elite Reconnaissance Marines that conducts deep and amphibious reconnaissance operations in support of Marine operations. 

The Air Force has several air commando units, including a few on the list, as well as various Special Operations Squadrons within Air Force Special Operations Command that operate a variety of specialized aircraft. Resupplying  ground units and conducting airborne reconnaissance are among their missions. The units on this list, such as the Pararescue Jumpers, or PJs, are tasked with retrieving injured personnel from a hostile or otherwise unreachable area.

The Coast Guard utilizes various special operations forces, or deployable specialized forces, organized under its regional commands in the Atlantic and Pacific areas. One unit is the Maritime Safety & Security Teams, a security unit created following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Its role is to protect sea ports and maritime facilities from terrorist attack. 

Click here to see 17 of America’s most elite special forces

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Special Activities Center
> Service branch: Central Intelligence Agency
> Also known as: Formerly Special Activities Division (SAD)
> Type: Covert paramilitary operations unit
> Role: Counterterrorism, deniable covert operations, direct action, espionage, targeted killing, hostage rescue and more

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Intelligence Support Activity
> Service branch: Army
> Also known as: Gray Fox, ISA, USISA, The Activity
> Type: Army intelligence unit
> Role: HUMINT (human intelligence), SIGINT (signals intelligence), direct action

Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
> Service branch: Army
> Also known as: Night Stalkers, 160th SOAR
> Type: Special operations aviation
> Role: Insertion/extraction of special operations forces, reconnaissance

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Special Reconnaissance (formerly Special Operations Weathermen)
> Service branch: Air Force
> Also known as: Formerly SOWT
> Type: Special reconnaissance airmen
> Role: Commando unit for multi-domain reconnaissance and surveillance

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Maritime Safety & Security Teams
> Service branch: Coast Guard
> Also known as: (MSST)
> Type: Maritime security unit
> Role: Counterterrorism

US Army Special Forces
> Service branch: Army
> Also known as: Green Berets
> Type: Special operations forces
> Role: Counterinsurgency, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, direct action, special reconnaissance, counterterrorism, security force assistance

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Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen
> Service branch: Navy
> Also known as: SWCCs
> Type: Special operations forces
> Role: Insertion and extraction of personnel from Naval vessels, direct action, mobility in shallow water areas

Source: usairforce / Flickr

Combat Controllers
> Service branch: Air Force
> Also known as: CCTs
> Type: Special operations force
> Role: Specialized airmen providing air control and combat support

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

DEVGRU / SEAL Team 6
> Service branch: Navy
> Also known as: Naval Special Warfare Development Group, DEVGRU, ST6
> Type: Special operation forces, special missions unit
> Role: Special operations, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, direct action, special reconnaissance

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Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company
> Service branch: Marine Corps
> Also known as: ANGLICO
> Type: Allied and foreign support
> Role: Direct support to Joint, Allied, Coalition and Special Operations forces and coordination and deconfliction required in air to ground support

Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team
> Service branch: Marine Corps
> Also known as: FAST
> Type: Security force
> Role: Part of Marine Corps Security Force Regiment (counterterrorism) and capable of rapid deployment

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta
> Service branch: Army
> Also known as: Delta Force, 1st SFOD-D, Combat Application Group (CAG), “The Unit”
> Type: Special mission unit
> Role: Special operations including direct action, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, urban warfare, reconnaissance

Source: Stocktrek Images / Stocktrek Images via Getty Images

Navy SEALs
> Service branch: Navy
> Also known as: SEALs
> Type: Special operations force
> Role: Special operations, special warfare, direct action, counterterrorism, special reconnaissance, amphibious reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, hostage rescue, underwater reconnaissance and demolition

Source: usairforce / Flickr

Pararescuemen
> Service branch: Air Force
> Also known as: Pararescue Jumpers (PJs), STTs – AFSOC’s Battlefield Airmen
> Type: Special operations force
> Role: Combat search and rescue and medicine

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

75th Ranger Regiment
> Service branch: Army
> Also known as: Army Rangers
> Type: Light infantry special operations unit
> Role: Airborne / air assaults, direct action raids, counterterrorism

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Marine Raiders Special Operations Command
> Service branch: Marine Corps
> Also known as: MARSOC
> Type: Special operations
> Role: Direct action, special reconnaissance, counterterrorism, foreign internal defense, security force assistance, counterinsurgency, support to combating weapons of mass destruction, support to unconventional warfare

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Source: marine_corps / Flickr

Force Reconnaissance
> Service branch: Marine Corps
> Also known as: Force Recon
> Type: Special operations
> Role: Amphibious reconnaissance, deep reconnaissance, direct action, maritime interdiction, visit board search and seizure

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