Here’s the truth:
We’re all aware that every country has its own military force. Often times you can see them operating on domestic as well as foreign grounds.
But what you don’t know is that each military has a super-skilled, secret (mostly) special force that operates deep undercover.
These special forces gather intelligence, conduct raids, rescue hostages and perform all sorts of dangerous missions beyond the scope of regular soldiers.
The Most Lethal Special Forces Units From Around the World (Video)
We’ve made a list of some of the most lethal and dangerous special forces around the world. In it, you will also find what these groups of soldiers are best at and the cruel training and selection they go through.
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So if you’re ready, let’s hop into it!
8. Israel’s Sayeret Maktal
If there’s any force that’s best at deep reconnaissance and gathering intelligence behind enemy lines, it’s Israel’s Sayeret Maktal special force.
The Sayeret Maktal is the primary special force of the Israel Defense Force and is tasked to carry out missions beyond Israel’s borders. It was formed during the mid-1950s realizing the need for a special force that could smoothly conduct intelligence-gathering missions in foreign territory. This led to the formation of the Sayeret Maktal based on the model of the British Special Air Service.
Soon after during the 1960s, the Sayeret Maktal expanded it’s range of operations to counter-terrorism and hostage rescue as well. They executed some very important missions both on domestic as well as foreign territory in cooperation with foreign special forces. However, after a failed hostage rescue attempt in 1974, the Sayeret Maktal was restricted to handle foreign counter-terrorism and hostage rescue missions only.
In its initial years, because the force was classified, there wasn’t any proper recruitment. Soldiers were secretively selected based on their capabilities and previous experiences. However, the recruitment program was made open to the public in the 1970s. The selection camp known as Gibbush is held twice a year just like the SAS. It involves several days of hardcore training and physical tests without sleep that pushes recruits to the limits. Doctors and psychologists keep a close check on candidates during this time to avoid any incidents.
After the selection, the recruits go through another phase of training that lasts for around 18-20 months. This includes training in martial arts, navigation, reconnaissance, camouflage and small arms. The training program includes a basic infantry training school, parachuting school, counter-terror warfare school and other minor skills and aspects. Candidates must also complete a 120-kilometre march in the final stage of training that lasts for 4 days before they receive their red beret.
7. Spain’s Special Naval Warfare Force
One of Europe’s best, Spain’s Unidad de Operaciones Especiales, now known as the Special Naval Warfare Force is one of the best maritime special operations forces in the world.
The origins of the UOE can be traced back to the 1950s when a small special unit was formed to undertake coastal and maritime infiltration missions. Over the years, the UOE developed and improved through the guide of the SAS and Navy SEALs and expanded its range of operation to combat diving, direct action and underwater assault missions. In 2009, the group was absorbed with the Special Naval Warfare Force.
The nature of operations of the Special Naval Warfare Force is similar to the Navy SEALs and Special Boat Service. The group specializes in amphibious, coastal, and land operations. This includes reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, direct action and assault, military assistance, hostage rescue, counter-terrorism, combat diving, and coastal infiltration operations to name a few.
Mission history and information regarding the UOE and SNWF is kept highly classified which only a few known events have come to the knowledge of the general public. One instance was during 2002 when UOE operatives infiltrated a North Korean vessel that was transporting missiles to Yemen during Operation Enduring Freedom. The special force has also known to rescue a hostage from Somalian pirate ships. Currently, UOE operatives have been known to be operating in the Middle East in unknown locations.
Selection is just as difficult as it’s for other maritime special forces like the SBS. It involves psychological testing and medical examinations to make sure candidates are eligible to participate in recruitment training. The selection involves extreme physical trialling such as long marches while carrying as much as 50 kgs of weight. More advanced selection phases include passing sea and amphibious courses that increase in intensity and difficulty with each step.
After recruitment, commandos receive training in a variety of fields that prepare them for maritime warfare. These include marksmanship, combat swimming, survival courses, hostage rescue, ship boarding, and navigation training. One thing about recruitment is that trainees are free to drop out of the course whenever they wish to. The dropout rate is usually around 80% but can also be as high as 100%, which means that no candidate is selected. Once recruitment ends, successful trainees are moved to parachuting and other schools where they receive further naval warfare training.
6. U.S. Delta Force
When it comes to specialized counter-terrorism missions, you won’t find anyone better than the U.S. Delta Force.
The 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D) which is commonly referred to simply as Delta Force, is one of the most skilled groups of soldiers assigned to handle some of the most difficult missions which involve very high-value targets.
The formation of Delta force began during the 1970s when the threat of terrorism was disturbing the peace of U.S. Realizing the absence of a specialized force dedicated to dealing with counter-terrorism missions, Charlie Beckwith jumped on-board and took the responsibility of arranging a team of highly skilled soldiers. The inspiration also partly came from the British S.A.S. as Beckwith himself had served as an exchange officer in the force.
The creation of Delta force was kept highly secretive and all of the mission information had been strictly kept as classified. During the late 1970s, the initial recruitment took place and was named as “Robert Redford Paper”. Mission information had always been kept a secret but some came to the knowledge of public due to awards given to the forces.
Operation Just Cause is one of their most famous missions in which Delta Force captured Manuel Noriega in a joint effort with Navy SEALs. Others include Operation Urgent Fury for which they were awarded the Joint Meritorious Unit Award. More recently, Delta force was involved in the raid on the compound of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his death.
Today, U.S. Delta force is one of the most dangerous special forces on the planet. It’s one of the Tier 1 Special Mission Units along with the Navy SEALs Team 6 (DEVGRU) that are tasked with some of the most difficult important and technical missions that involve most wanted targets and circumstances that threaten peace beyond the borders.
Keeping in mind the importance of this special force and the complexity of the tasks they perform, the recruitment stage for Delta force is just as hard. The basic physical tests involve basic pushups and pullups, a 2-mile run and a 100-meter inverted crawl. One of the most difficult parts of physical training is the marches that soldiers have to perform with weighted rucksacks. The terrain is rough and has to be navigated properly, and probably the most difficult and gruesome part of physical testing.
After that, the candidates must also pass a series of psychological testing. These tests involve bombarding candidates with difficult questions and causing mental stress and exhaustion. If candidates successfully pass this stage, they carry on to the recruitment stage where real training begins. According to an interview by former Delta operator Paul Howe, only 12 to 14 candidates out of a combined 240 from 2 classes pass the recruitment stage.
5. French National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN)
There might be many skilled counter-terrorism forces around the world, but none is as skilled and coveted as France’s National Gendarmerie Intervention Group.
Known as Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale or GIGN, the force has established itself amongst the best in the world. Similar to other special forces, the GIGN was founded in wake of the Munich massacre of 1972 which gave realization to the need of a counter-terrorism force. Although the group’s purpose is to serve as a special operation force that would handle foreign and domestic counter-terrorism and hostage rescue missions, it is also part of the French Armed Forces which means they’re part police special force as well.
Over the years since its founding, the GIGN has been involved in several operations both domestic and abroad. Around 1800 of those are publicly-known, almost all of which have been successful in making them one of the most experienced special force in the world. The GIGN has carried out multiple missions worldwide, but the one which gave them the most prominence was the hijacking of Air France flight 8969 in December 1994. 229 passengers were on board and 4 of the terrorists had been shot while 3 passengers were killed and another 16 wounded.
As of yet, the GIGN constitutes of almost 400 operators divided into six forces, each responsible for a different duty. The main duties of the GIGN are counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, protection of officials and special military operations. The unit remains secretive to this day with many of its operations being classified.
Recruitment program for the GIGN is spread throughout 14-months. During this period, soldiers are trained in different schools each of which sharpens a different set of skills. These include a combat shooting course, airborne course, long-range marksmanship course, hand-to-hand combat course, underwater assault course, infiltration and escape course, survival course and more. The training is known to be extremely difficult and has a failure rate of almost 93 – 95%.
4. Britain’s Special Boat Service
The SAS might be one of the best special forces on the planet, but the British have another lesser-known force under their belt which only a few know about.
And that’s the Special Boat Service. The SBS is the special force of the Royal Navy and the sister unit of the 22 Special Air Service Regiment (SAS). Its roots can be traced back to the Second World War around the same time the SAS was formed. Initially, the force carried out maritime reconnaissance missions and amphibious raids on ports. The SBS went through several name changes and was even absorbed at a time with the SAS. During the late 1980s, the special force was renamed the Special Boat Service who was made responsible for maritime counter-terrorism missions.
Although the mission information and operations involving the SBS are kept highly classified by the British government, there is some information about missions they carried out in the past. Apart from conducting hostage rescues in different parts of the world, the SBS also played a major role in the Afghanistan war and Iraq invasion. The SBS conducted airstrikes on Taliban locations and regularly carried out raids, clearing al-Qaeda bases one at a time. During the Iraq invasion, the SBS also took part in many counter-terrorism operations in Baghdad alongside the Navy SEALs.
Today, the Special Boat Service is the primary maritime special force of the UK Special Forces. Both the SAS and SBS operate under the command of the HQ Directorate of Special Forces. The main functions of the SBS include Special Reconnaissance and Direct Action, but they also carry out maritime and military counter-terrorism missions. SBS operatives usually require more training than SAS due to the additional equipment and skills required to conduct missions in maritime and amphibious environments.
Recruitment for the SBS is divided into two phases and is conducted twice annually. The SBS selection course is truly gruesome and pushes the mental and physical capabilities of recruits to the limits. The selection program which lasts 4 weeks involves progressive physical training that includes long marches and swims. Candidates must perform consecutive marches which last for days of anywhere between 20-28 km and a 64 km final march which must be completed in under 20 hours. Not only this, but candidates must also carry a weight of 18 kg during regular and 25 kg during the final endurance march. Volunteers must also pass the UKSF swimming test which involves swimming for 500m wearing gear and a final swim of 10 m which marks the end of the test.
And this is only the selection process. Out of all the candidates, only an estimated 10% go on to continuation training which further involves courses like combat training, airborne training, a counter-terrorist course, reconnaissance training and others. The majority of SBS operatives come from the Royal Marines, but volunteers are welcomed from all branches of the British Armed Forces. However, before being recruited into the SBS, candidates must complete two years of regular service after which they are eligible to apply for the selected course.
3. Russian Alpha Group
Most people recognize Spetsnaz as the special force of Russia, but few know about the much deadlier branches of this special force, the Alpha group in this case.
The Spetsgruppa “A” which is otherwise known as the Alpha group, is an independent sub-unit of the Russian special forces. It was created in 1974 by the Soviet KGB to handle counter-terrorism operations.
The group came into being in 1974 as per the order of the KGB chairman, Yuri Andropov after the Munich Olympics Massacre. Its main purpose was to prevent and handle public terrorism incidents and hostage situations due to the rising threat of terrorist attacks in the Soviet Union. One of the first few important operations of the Alpha group included the 1983 hijacking of Aeroflot flight 6833 after which the group began becoming involved in more both foreign and domestic conflicts.
Alpha group came to the limelight particularly in 1979 when they invaded the presidential palace as part of a surprise regime change. The group notoriously eliminated Hafiz Ullah Amin, then Afghan president, along with his wife and son and most of the security. Also, another incident took place in 1985, where 4 soviet diplomats were taken hostage by Hezbollah, the Alpha group was dispatched to deal with the situation. The Alpha group countered the hostage attempt by taking hostage the relatives of the Hezbollah members. After making an example out of them, no Soviet or Russian official was taken captive for almost 20 years.
More recently, the group was also involved in an unsuccessful and one of the worst massacres of the 21st century. During the 2004 Beslan school hostage and massacre situation, the Alpha group was criticized for using excessive gun power which leads to the death of almost 334 people. The Alpha group was also recently involved in the Syrian war and the civil war in Ukraine.
Little is known about the training and recruitment program of the Alpha group due to the highly maintained secrecy by the Russian government. However, the group is without a doubt one of the most lethal special forces around the world and are known for handling hostage-operations very well. To give a general idea, the Russian Spetsnaz special force itself is deemed as one of the most dangerous special force in the world, one can only imagine how fatal the more revered Alpha group’s commandos must be.
2. Britain’s SAS
All the militaries in the world might have a special force unit these days, but the British were the first to do this with their Special Air Service which dates back to around 1941.
Not only is SAS the longest in-service special forces, but it’s also arguably the best in the world.
The SAS came into being in 1941 during World War II as a special force that would operate behind enemy lines and conduct skilled missions. The 1st SAS was short-lived and it was dissolved in 1945 seeing no further need after the second World War ended. However, later in 1947, the dissolved SAS regiment was reunited as the new 21st SAS Regiment and a part of the Territorial Army. A few years later, the 22nd and 23rd Regiments were also found recognizing the need for a force of highly skilled commandos to perform technical missions instead of entire armies.
Since then, this special force has evolved and has been involved in several notable operations. This includes the Iranian Embassy Siege in London, the Gulf War in which the 3 Squadrons were deployed, Operation Trent and both the Afghanistan and Iraq war in which they worked alongside Navy SEALs as well.
The idea behind SAS was to form a team of super soldiers that could conduct swift missions to extract intelligence, rescue hostages, perform counter-terrorism and dangerous missions behind enemy lines. SAS has made an influence on many special forces around the world. This includes the Canadian Special Air Service, New Zealand Special Air Service as well as the Australian and Rhodesian SAS forces which were all started from the influence of the British SAS. The American Delta Force was also formed based on the British SAS by Colonel Charles Beckwith who was an exchange officer at the 22nd SAS.
The British SAS have some of the toughest selection and training programs of all special forces around the world. It includes a series of rigorous physical and psychological tests that make it extremely hard for many candidates to even pass the recruitment stage. It’s estimated that only 10% of the 150-200 applicants each year make it through to earning the beige beret and becoming a ‘Blade’.
The selection process includes a physical test which involves a series of marches through the Brecon Beacons, swimming in full gear and jungle survival courses that push the commandos to their absolute limits. These physical challenges push the endurance, stamina and strength of the candidates to brutal limits. The march through the Brecon Beacons is especially infamous for taking the lives of 3 soldiers who were attempting the feat.
Not only this, but the candidates are also trained to resist capture and harsh interrogation to pass selection. Intelligence and creativity are also tested to make sure their decision-making skills are up to the mark, which is a crucial skill in the battlefield. Only after the candidates have passed these tests are, they selected for further training, which further polishes the skills of these soldiers.
1. U.S. Navy SEALs
When there appear some circumstances that threaten domestic or foreign peace, the Navy SEALs are usually one of the first to be looked upon.
The Navy SEALs are some of the most lethal special forces around the world, and for good reasons.
First established during the time of World War II, the need for the Navy SEALs arose when someone was required to handle some technical reconnaissance and coastal operations. This led to the creation of the joint Army and Naval Amphibious Scout and Raider School in Fort Pierce, Florida in 1942. In 1962, the Navy SEALs were first unofficially formed as teams that would operate on the sea, air, and land.
Since then, the SEALs have performed some incredible missions throughout the world. From the Vietnamese and Korean war, Operation Prime Chance during the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Just Cause in Panama, Operation Desert Shield during the Gulf War to the Somalian Intervention, the SEALs have endured some of the most dangerous circumstances of all special forces in the world. The Navy SEALs have also played a crucial role in both the Afghanistan and Iraq war, but perhaps there most recognized achievement of the 21st century was the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
These days, the Navy SEALs are an important component of the Naval Special Warfare Command and are the primary special operation force of the U.S. Navy. The SEALs perform operations in small-units on all environments. Although these are mainly on maritime environments, they also perform operations on deserts, mountains, arctic regions and jungles. Their duties are concentrated on direct action warfare, eliminating high profile targets, reconnaissance and gathering intelligence, counter-terrorism and foreign internal defence missions. The operations are quick entry/exit missions and require years of long, rigorous training sessions to be conducted as swiftly as possible.
Navy SEALs training regime is one of the most difficult in the world and only an estimated 25% of applicants pass on to become SEALs. Training includes Naval Special Warfare Prep School, Basic Underwater Demolition, Naval Recruit Training and Parachute Jump School amongst others. To be even considered for the first part of BUD/S training, one has to swim 500 yards in under 12.5 minutes, do 42-pushups and 50 sit-ups in under 2 minutes each, perform 6-pullups and then run 1.5 miles in under 11.5 minutes. And this is the easy part, the actual SEAL training is much more difficult than that. And a SEAL must train for at least 30 months before they can be deployed. Doesn’t sounds too fun.