Special Report

The World's Top 20 Most Elite Special Forces

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An investigation earlier this year found that the death of a Navy SEAL during the fighting force’s famously difficult BUD/S training program was due to a lack of oversight and medical training. It remains to be seen what effect, if any, the investigation will have on one of the most legendarily elite and selective special forces units on Earth. 

World War II was the origin of many of the world’s most legendary military special operations teams. One of these is Great Britain’s Special Boat Service and Special Air Service, or SBS, which is comparable to the Navy Seals. (Also see: The US Military Special Forces With the Most Brutal Training.) The motto of the SAS is “Who dares wins.” The SAS gained worldwide fame in 1980 when in less than 20 minutes, they saved hostages being held by terrorists at the London Iranian Embassy, eliminating six terrorists and capturing one more in the process. Every hostage survived.

To determine the world’s 20 top elite special operation forces, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed lists of such units from RankRed, Spec Ops Magazine, Edudwar, Business Insider, and the veteran-led digital publisher The Mighty. Further information on the type of unit and their principal roles was taken from the unit’s website or from Wikipedia,.

Given the clandestine nature of their activities, and the fact that the tasks between the units can vary, these forces cannot be ranked. But we know from media accounts and some declassified materials which ones are the best of the best in the world. 

The original special forces date at least from the Roman Empire, which used small, speedy, camouflaged boats with specially trained soldiers for scouting and commando missions. 

Click here to see 20 of the world’s elite special forces

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

EKO Cobra
> Country: Austria
> Also known as: Einsatzkommando Cobra, Task Force Cobra
> Type: Police tactical unit
> Role: counterterrorism, law enforcement

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New Zealand Special Air Service
> Country: New Zealand
> Also known as: 1st New Zealand Special Air Service Regiment, 1 NZSAS Regt.
> Type: Special forces
> Role: Surveillance and reconnaissance; combating terrorism; direct action, support, and influence

Source: Juergen Schwarz / Getty Images News via Getty Images

GSG 9
> Country: Germany
> Also known as: Border Protection Group 9
> Type: Police tactical unit
> Role: Counterterrorism, law enforcement, hostage rescue

Source: Ian Hitchcock / Getty Images News via Getty Images

Special Air Service Regiment
> Country: Australia
> Also known as: SASR
> Type: Special forces
> Role: Special operations, counterterrorism, special recovery operations, training assistance, long-range reconnaissance, precision strike, direct offensive action

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Source: Public Domain / Israeli Defence Forces Spokesperson's Unit / Wikimedia Commons

Shayetet 13
> Country: Israel
> Also known as: HaShayetet (The Flotilla)
> Type: Maritime Sayeret (reconnaissance), special operation force
> Role: Counterterrorism; maritime sabotage; special reconnaissance; visit, board, search, and seizure; hostage rescue; sea-to-land incursions

Snow Leopard Commando Unit
> Country: China
> Also known as: 3rd Group, 13th Detachment, People’s Armed Police Beijing General Corps
> Type: Police tactical unit
> Role: Special forces, counterterrorism, law enforcement

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Gruppo di Intervento Speciale
> Country: Italy
> Also known as: GIS
> Type: Special forces
> Role: Special operations, counterterrorism

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

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

MARCOS
> Country: India
> Also known as: Marine Commando Force (MCF)
> Type: Special operations forces
> Role: Counterterrorism, airborne force, amphibious reconnaissance and warfare, direct action, hostage rescue, clandestine operations, unconventional warfare

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Joint Task Force 2
> Country: Canada
> Also known as: JTF 2
> Type: Special operations forces
> Role: Special operations, counterterrorism, hostage rescue

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Delta Force
> Country: USA
> Also known as: 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, 1st SFOD-D, Combat Applications Group (CAG), The Unit, Task Force Green
> Type: Special mission unit
> Role: Special operations including direct action, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, urban warfare, reconnaissance

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Unidad de Operaciones Especiales
> Country: Spain
> Also known as: Naval Special Warfare Force, Special Operations Unit, UOE
> Type: Special forces
> Role: Maritime special operations, long-range reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, direct action, personnel recovery

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Special Boat Service
> Country: UK
> Also known as: SBS
> Type: Special forces
> Role: Special operations, counterterrorism

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

JW GROM
> Country: Poland
> Also known as: Jednostka Wojskowa GROM im. Cichociemnych Spadochroniarzy Armii Krajowej (Military Unit GROM Named in Honor of the Silent Unseen of the Home Army)
> Type: Special forces
> Role: Special operations, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, direct action, unconventional warfare

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Special Air Service
> Country: UK
> Also known as: SAS, The Regiment
> Type: Special forces
> Role: Special operations, counterterrorism, close combat, hostage rescue, covert surveillance

Special Services Group
> Country: Pakistan
> Also known as: SSG Pak, Black Storks, Maroon Berets
> Type: Special forces
> Role: Special operations, counterterrorism, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, hostage rescue, personnel recovery

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GIGN
> Country: France
> Also known as: Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (National Gendarmerie Intervention Group)
> Type: Police tactical unit
> Role: counterterrorism, law enforcement, special operations, hostage rescue,

Sayeret Matkal
> Country: Israel
> Also known as: General Staff Reconnaissance Unit 269 or 262
> Type: Sayeret (reconnaissance) field intelligence-gathering unit
> Role: Special operations, special reconnaissance, direct action, hostage rescue, counterterrorism, military intelligence, sabotage, counterintelligence

Alpha Group
> Country: Russia
> Also known as: Directorate “A” of the FSB (main successor to the KGB) Special Purpose Center, Alfa Group
> Type: Spetsnaz (special operations forces)
> Role: Special operations, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, law enforcement, special reconnaissance, sabotage, military intelligence

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Source: Stocktrek Images / Stocktrek Images via Getty Images

Navy SEALs
> Country: USA
> Also known as: The Teams; Sea, Air, and Land Teams
> Type: Special operations force
> Role: Special operations, special warfare, direct action, counterterrorism, special reconnaissance, amphibious reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, hostage rescue, underwater reconnaissance and demolition

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