Elite special forces are some of the best-trained and most formidable units a country can boast.
They go where other troops fear to tread, scoping out potential threats, taking out strategic targets, and conducting daring rescue missions.
These really are the best of the best.
Though it’s extremely difficult to rank these forces relative to one another, there are some units that rise above the rest in their track record and the fear they instill in their adversaries.
These troops have been through rigorous training exercises designed to weed out those who can’t hit their exacting standards.
In a world in which the sheer size of a country’s military is no longer the only guide to its effectiveness, these troops are the ones that states look to in order to get the job done.
Tomas Hirst contributed to a previous version of this post
8. The Special Services Group, SSG, in Pakistan is better known in the country as the “Black Storks” because of the commandos’ unique headgear. Training reportedly includes a 36-mile march in 12 hours and a 5-mile run in 50 minutes in full gear.
7. Spain’s Unidad de Operaciones Especiales, or the Naval Special Warfare Force as it has become since 2009, has long been one of Europe’s best-respected special forces. Originally established as the volunteer Amphibious Climbing Company unit in 1952, it has since followed the SAS’ example to become an elite fighting force.
6. Russia’s Alpha Group is one of the best-known special forces units in the world. This elite antiterrorism unit was created by the KGB in 1974 and remains under its modern-day counterpart, the FSB.
5. Few of the world’s counterterrorism forces can compete with France’s National Gendarmerie Intervention Group, or GIGN. The group is 200 strong and trained specifically to respond to hostage situations. It claims to have freed more than 600 people since it was formed in 1973. It is against French law to publish pictures of its members’ faces.
4. Israel’s Sayeret Matkal is another of the world’s most elite units. Its primary purpose is intelligence gathering, and it often operates deep behind enemy lines. During the selection camp (Gibbush), would-be recruits endure hardcore training exercises while being constantly monitored by doctors and psychologists. Only the strongest get in.
3. The British Special Air Service, known commonly as the SAS, is the infantry counterpart to the Special Boat Service. Their insignia bears the phrase “Who dares wins.” Asked about the importance of the SAS’ role in the fighting that followed the Iraq war, US Gen. Stanley McChrystal responded: “Essential. Could not have done it without them.”
2. The UK equivalent of the Navy SEALS is the Special Boat Service. The selection process involves a grueling endurance test, jungle training in the rain forests of Belize, and combat survival training, which involves intense interrogation of candidates. And you get only two attempts to pass.
1. The US Navy SEALS might one-up even the Marines. To join their ranks, you have to be able to do a minimum of 42 push-ups in two minutes, 50 sit-ups in two minutes, and a 1.5-mile run in 11 minutes. And that’s before training starts.