MAKICHUK: Lifting the curtain on the world's special forces

The death toll in the Nairobi hotel siege could've been higher if not for an SAS operator, who happened to be on scene.
The death toll in the Nairobi hotel siege could've been higher if not for an SAS operator, who happened to be on scene.The Drive

They are the best of the best, the bravest of the brave.

Men who live by a different code than we do. Men who show no fear.

Nothing seems impossible to them.

And their exploits are often legend.

Just one of these men can make a difference on any given mission. In any given situation.

When lives are at stake and time is often crucial.

They are the Special Forces of the world.

Take for example: on January 21, 2019, four gunmen stormed the DusitD2 hotel complex in Nairobi, Kenya. Immediately, Kenyan Special Forces were dispatched to the scene including an SAS operator who happened to be there as a supervisor.

During the 19-hour siege, 21 men were killed including a British charity worker.

The death toll could’ve been higher if SAS operator Christian Craighead didn’t kill two of the four gunmen, leading to the evacuation of 700 locals.

The long-serving member of the SAS — motto Who Dares Wins — was on a mission to train and mentor Kenyan Special Forces.

“Within minutes he’d dropped the first terrorist. It turned the tide, there was a surge of confidence through the mission,” said one UK official.

The SAS don't miss. They simply don't miss. And you will never see or hear them coming.

And so, with that in mind, we present the nations with the highest number of military forces in the world and what they do.

According to a report from financial website Insider Monkey, these are the top-notch units of the armed forces made up of the finest soldiers.

What sets these operators apart from the rest is their high-level of rigorous training and strong personality traits.

Only called in for critical missions, over time their role has expanded throughout the world, especially because of the global war on terror.

Special forces in the US for example under the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) grew from 38,000 personnel before the 2001 9/11 attacks to 73,000 by 2020, with their budget also seeing a 495% spike from US$2.3 billion to US$13.7 billion during this period.

So, without delay, here are the Top Ten Special Forces in the world, by size.

10. Spain

Special Forces: 3

Spain has three major special operations groups — the Fuerza de Guerra Naval Especial, or the Special Naval Warfare Force, which is the special operations unit of the Spanish Navy.

It mainly comprises the members of the Marines and specializes in operations in land, sea and air.

The Unidad de Operaciones Especiales, which is regarded as one of the best special forces in the world, merged into the Fuerza de Guerra Naval Especial in 2009.

There is also the Escuadrón de Zapadores Paracaidistas (EZAPAC), which is the special forces unit of Spain’s elite paratroopers and works under the Spanish Air Force.

Lastly, commandos of the Caballero Legionario Maderal Oleaga or 19th Special Operations Group, are capable of maritime and mountain warfare, counter-terrorism and sabotage. 

9. Pakistan

Special Forces: 3

Pakistan’s Special Services Group, or SSG, is among the best military special forces in the world. Due to the unique headgear worn by its commandos, it is also often referred to as the Black Storks.

The SSG is a battle-hardened force that has expertise in search and rescue, hostage rescue, psychological operations, direct action, reconnaissance and taking out high-value targets.

Training reportedly includes a 36-mile march in 12 hours and a five-mile run in 50 minutes in full gear.

The country’s navy also has a special forces group with the same name — the Pakistan Navy Special Service Group, which is also often called the Navy SEALs and Navy SSG.

Lastly, the Special Services Wing is the special operations branch of the Pakistan Air Force.

8. France

Special Forces: 3

The Commandement des Opérations Spéciales, or the Special Operations Command (COS), in France is equivalent to the USSOCOM and UKSF and oversees the operations of various special forces of the French military.

The National Gendarmerie Intervention Group, or GIGN, is the most prominent special operations unit in France that is responsible for counter-terrorism, hostage rescue and the protection of VIPs in the country.

According to a report in The Independent, the GIGN has freed up more than 600 hostages since it was unveiled in 1973. It is against French law to publish pictures of its members' faces.

One of the most extraordinary episodes in the GIGN's history was the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979.

The mosque was besieged by up to 600 militants under the leadership of Juhayman al-Otaybi.

Because of the prohibition on non-Muslims entering the holy city, a team of three GIGN commandos briefly converted to Islam before helping the Saudi armed forces plan the recapture of the mosque.

Another potent military special force is the Commandos Marine, which works under the French Navy, while the French Air and Space Force has a special forces group in Air Parachute Commando No. 10.

7. Canada

Special Forces: 4

The Canadian Special Operations Forces Command is responsible for all special operations conducted by the country to respond to terrorism, as well as threats to Canada.

There are four main special forces working under the command. The Joint Task Force 2 (JST2) is the most prominent military special force in the country and is regarded among the best in the world, having worked on several counter-terrorism operations at home and abroad.

The second military special forces group in Canada is the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, which is the special forces unit of the country’s armed force and has expertise in undertaking direct raids, reconnaissance and capturing strategic buildings.

The 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron provides tactical aviation support to Canada’s special forces command, while the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit works diligently to defend Canada from threats.

6. Russia

Special Forces: 4

Russia's Alpha Group is one of the finest elite military units on the globe and specializes in counter-terrorism. The unit is believed to be operating under the direct control of Russia’s top political leadership.

Another prominent group is Spetsnaz, which is the special forces unit of Russia’s foreign military intelligence unit, GRU, and is known to operate in covert operations across the world. 

The 45th Guards Independent Reconnaissance Regiment, on the other hand, is the special forces unit under the Russian Airborne Troops, whose primary responsibility is reconnaissance and kinetic operations behind enemy lines.

Lastly, Vympel special forces are tasked with protecting strategic installations in Russia.

Pakistan's 'Black Storks' are among the best in the world.
Pakistan's 'Black Storks' are among the best in the world.Courtesy SSG

5. India

Special Forces: 5

India has five military special forces. The Marine Commandos, or MARCOS, is the most widely acclaimed unit in the country. Commandos undergo three years of extensive and rigorous training before they join the group.

MARCOS has expertise in counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, direct raids and amphibious warfare.

The Para Special Forces (SF) is the special operations unit of the Indian Army that was launched in 1966 after India’s war with Pakistan a year earlier. The Garud Commando Force works under the Air Force and is responsible for tactical aerial operations.

Another prominent special forces unit in India is the National Security Guard (NSG), which is tasked with keeping a check on activities of sabotage, protecting VIPs and securing key national installations.

Lastly, the Special Frontier Force is responsible for defending India’s border with China and also undertaking covert operations.

4. Poland

Special Forces: 6

Mr. Putin should take note, because Poland has announced its fourth branch of military, the Wojska Specjalne — also known as the Special Troops Command. The branch is tasked with creating a unified command structure of all special operations groups to eliminate threats.

JW Grom is the most famed Polish unit, with expertise in anti-terrorism and unconventional warfare tactics like infiltration.

JW Komandosow is the specialized infantry wing of the Special Troops Command, while JW AGAT is the specialized light infantry unit of Poland’s special forces.

Other prominent special forces in the country include JW Formoza (naval unit), JW NIL (military intelligence unit) and the 7th Special Operations Aviation Group (transportation unit).

3. United Kingdom

Special Forces: 6

There are six military special forces in the United Kingdom.

The Special Air Service (SAS) is the most notable unit, which works under the British Army and specializes in a variety of roles, including hostage rescue, direct action, reconnaissance and counter-terrorism.

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."

Once asked to test security at Buckingham Palace, SAS units managed to skirt the impregnability, shocking The Queen's staff by leaving their business card on a table.

The Special Boat Service (SBS) is the special operations unit of the Royal Navy. It is the sister unit of SAS, and the equivalent of the US Navy SEALs.

The selection process involves a gruelling endurance test, jungle training in the rainforests of Belize and combat survival training, which involves intense interrogation of candidates. And you get only two attempts to pass.

Special Reconnaissance Regiment, Special Forces Support Group, 18 Signal Regiment, and Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing are the other four special force groups of the UK military.

2. Israel

Special Forces: 13

Israel has one of the highest numbers of military special forces units in the world. 

Sayeret Matkal is its most well-known and respected elite forces unit, with the group taking part in nearly every Israeli special forces operation since the founding of the country. It is Israel’s primary unit for hostage rescue and intelligence gathering operations.

Applicants go through rigorous training and only the strongest get in.

Another prominent Israeli military special force is the Shayetet-13, which is the country’s equivalent to the US Navy SEALs.

Shaldag is the special forces unit of the Israeli Air Force, while Egoz specializes in guerilla warfare. Duvdevan, on the other hand, is noted for conducting undercover operations. 

Other notable units include 669 Search & Rescue, Yahalom, Choshen C4I, Oketz, Alpine Unit, Depth Corps, Meitar Unit and Underwater Special Missions Unit.

1. United States

Special Forces: 20

The United States special operations forces are components of the American Army, Navy and Air Force and work under the United States Special Operations Command.

America's famed Green Berets are among the most elite special forces in the world. Their personnel go through the toughest initial round of training among all other units in the US military.

The training lasts for 24 days, and includes physical tests, language training, map training, land navigation, long distance trekking and first aid.

Delta Force is the elite special operations force under the operational control of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Its operators are responsible for complex missions related to counter-terrorism, direct action, hostage rescue and recon.

The Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) performs similar activities such as Delta Force, but on the naval side, while the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron is tasked with tactical aerial special ops.

— with files from Insider Monkey

The US boasts 20 Special Forces units.
The US boasts 20 Special Forces units.DoD

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