Elite special forces are some of the best-trained and most formidable units a country can boast.
They go where other soldiers fear to tread, scoping out potential threats, taking out strategic targets, and conducting daring rescue missions.
These really are the best of the best.
Although 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 soldiers have been through rigorous training exercises designed to weed out those who can’t hit their exacting standards.
In a world where the importance of the sheer size of a country’s military forces is no longer a guide to their effectiveness, these soldiers are the ones states look to in order to get the job done.
8. 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's example to become an elite fighting force.
7. 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.
6. Of all the counterterrorism forces in the world, few can compete with France's National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN). The group is 200 strong and trained specifically to respond to hostage situations. They claim to have freed over 600 people since they were formed in 1973. It is against French law to publish pictures of their faces.
One of the most extraordinary episodes in the GIGN's history was the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979. 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 to plan the recapture of the mosque.
5. 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.
4. The UK equivalent of the Navy SEALS is the Special Boat Service. 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.
2. The US Army's Delta Force is even more elite that the SEALS. The counter-terrorist unit, which was formed in the mid-1970s, is highly secretive and tough on recruits. Former Delta operator Paul Howe said only 12 or 14 recruits qualified out of 240 men he tested.
1. The British Special Air Service (or SAS as they are more commonly known) are the infantry counterparts to the SBS, dating back to 1941. The unit is often thought of as the 'original' special forces unit and has inspired similar units around the world. Their insignia bears the famous phrase 'Who dares wins.' Asked about the importance of the SAS's role in the fighting that followed the Iraq war, US Gen. Stanley McChrystal responded: 'Essential. Could not have done it without them.'
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