The 35 Toughest Special Forces Units Around the World

By: Past Chronicles Staff Last updated: Apr 06, 2022

The men and women that represent these elite units are some of the toughest people on Earth. They’re highly trained in combat tactics which allows them to operate anywhere in the world. From Russia’s Spetsnaz to America’s Navy SEALs, these are the most formidable military units on the planet. We will tackle everything from their training regimens to what they actually do during combat operations. You’ll soon understand why these men and women are considered to be the most dangerous people to come up against.

These days, many people are living in dangerous environments. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a comprehensive rundown of the special forces from all over the globe. Though they may seem scary, these are the people who provide us with protection from enemies and other attackers.

1. The Russian Spetsnaz

The Spetsnaz is a Russian military unit that has been around since the Soviet era. They were initially formed in 1941 as an elite force responsible for guarding high-ranking officials, but now they are used for overt and covert operations. Their duties include counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism, ground reconnaissance, sabotage, and other types of missions.


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The Spetsnaz have had involvement in many global conflicts, including World War II, where they played a heavy role in defending Stalingrad against Nazi forces. When it comes to the performance of the Spetsnaz in combat, they were keen on tactics and had great intuition and instinct.

2. The US Navy Seals

The US Navy Seals are one of the most elite military forces in the world. They serve as an indispensable force for our country, but many people don’t even know what they do or how they came to be. In fact, they were the joint forces of the Army, Marine Corps, and Navy Amphibious Scouts and Raiders in 1962.


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The Navy SEALs are the cream of the military crop. Utilizing their agile nature and unparalleled skill set, these elite troops can take on any mission, no matter how extreme or unconventional – usually without leaving a trace behind.

3. The British SAS

The British SAS (Special Air Service) was founded in 1941 as a special forces unit. The SAS played an instrumental role in the battle of Monte Cassino and the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Few candidates earn the coveted beige beret and the Blade title that formalize membership of the SAS.


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Today, they are one of Britain’s most elite military units, with duties including counter-terrorism, direct action operations, and hostage rescue missions. As a member of this elite team, you would be expected to keep your cool under pressure and demonstrate indomitable courage on the battlefield.

4. The Irish Army Ranger Wing

The Irish Army Ranger Wing comprises elite soldiers who are part of Ireland’s defense force. The Rangers have seen action in many wars and conflicts, including World War II, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon.


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Today, they carry out combat missions at home and abroad, including counter-insurgency warfare, peacekeeping missions, and airborne and seaborne interventions. To earn a place in the Army Ranger Wing, candidates must be medically fit and have attained the rank of at least 3-Star Private.

5. French Special Forces

The French Special Forces are known for their courage and skills, carrying out operations in the most difficult terrain on the planet. They have fought in many wars, including World War I, where they were involved in countering German troops.

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The French Special Forces work closely with the GIGN (National Gendarmerie Intervention Group), protecting France from terrorist attacks. When it comes to their tactical capabilities, weapons, and operational conduct, they are well-disciplined, highly trained, and well resourced. The two groups also help train other foreign military units in how to use special forces tactics effectively during combat.


6. The Canadian JTF2

The Canadian Armed Forces’ Joint Task Force Two was formed on April 1, 1993. The unit is more than capable of countering terrorist threats to Canada. This military group is distinguished as a highly secretive, world-class special operations unit. They can also act as bodyguards to Canadian officials traveling abroad.

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Canada’s JTF2 is one of the most elite special forces in the world. They are tasked with counterterrorism, direct action, and escort detail missions. JTF2 also specializes in hostage rescue and special reconnaissance. Their motto is “deeds not words.”


7. The French Commandos Marine

French Commandos are elite warriors who can mobilize in an instant, whatever the mission. The French Commandos Marine can be traced back to World War II and their formation in 1942 after a merger between different specialized units of the Free French Forces.


They are known for their quick reflexes, shooting skills, and flexibility. The role of a commando is to protect the deployed force by destroying or neutralizing enemy targets. Candidates who wish to enter the modern Naval Commandos must be Fusiliers Marins (Navy Riflemen) with at least 9 months of service.


8. The Israel Shayetet 13

Israel Shayetet 13 is a special operations unit of the Israeli Navy. It was formed in 1949 and has been operating with great success ever since. The Israel Shayetet 13 is best known for its daring assassination missions, but it also carries out intelligence and hostage rescue operations.

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This unit is the most respected among the special forces. Like JTF2, it is also the most secretive unit in Israel. The missions and identities of active operations are highly classified. Israel Shayetet 13 is also known as the “people of silence.”


9. The GIGN (National Gendarmerie Intervention Group)

The GIGN (Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale) is a special forces unit of the French National Police, probably most famous for taking down the terrorist Carlos the Jackal. They are also responsible for defending presidential candidates and heads of state during election seasons.


Many of GIGN’s missions are classified, and its members are not authorized to be photographed in public. GIGN has been involved in over 1,800 missions and freed more than 600 hostages, making them one of the most experienced counter-terrorism groups in the world today. There’s no doubt – GIGN is one of the world’s toughest special units.


10. The German KSK

The German KSK is a special operations unit created in response to the plight of German citizens who were stuck in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. Though this event put the wheels in motion for the creation of the KSK, the unit wasn’t formed until 1996.

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The members of the KSK wear maroon berets as a symbol of their roots in airborne units. In June 2020, German defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced that the unit would be partially disbanded due to growing far-right extremism within the ranks.


11. The US Military Special Force Snipers

Special Forces Snipers are usually deployed in combat zones that require infiltration by air or ground. Snipers are an invaluable asset around mountainous battlefields due to their ability to engage targets at great distances. The ability to blend in with the environment, remain still for long periods, and fire with absolute precision are all key for snipers.

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What makes them so dangerous? Well, they don’t have any backup during missions because they’re going solo. They take out targets from long distances with high-powered weapons equipped with telescopic sights and suppressors for stealth purposes, often using the M107 .50 caliber rifle as their weapon.


12.  The Serbian Gendarmerie

The Serbian Gendarmerie was formed on the 28th of June 2001 after the disbandment of the Special Police Units (PJP). The special forces of Serbia existed in the previous form from 1860 to 1920 as a unit within the Serbian police. As of 2017, the Serbian Gendarmerie consists of about 2,800 members.


The Serbian Gendarmerie is the uniformed civilian police force in Serbia. They are tasked with patrolling rural areas and smaller towns that do not have their own local police forces. They also carry out other duties such as combating crime and maintaining public order.


13. The Iraqi Special Operations Forces

The Iraqi Special Operations Forces, also known as the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (ICTS), is a special unit that operates under Iraq’s prime minister and defense minister. The ICTS was created in 2004 to combat terrorism and insurgency after the 2003 invasion of Iraq by United States forces.


With new threats from ISIS, the mission has expanded to include counter-terrorism training for other armed forces across Iraq. The unit comprises around 8,000 troops and was supported by the United States. Of all the institutions that America birthed in Iraq, only the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism is well-conceived and effective.


14. The Danish Hunter Corps

The Danish Hunter Corps is a special unit of the Danish military. It was founded in 1785 and has been on duty ever since, protecting Denmark from invasion by sea. It comprises 150 highly trained soldiers with special expertise in counter-terrorism, demolitions, parachuting, combat swimming, and more.

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Their slogan is “I prefer to be than to be seen,” implying that a soldier’s talents do not need to be publicly acknowledged or talked about; they are more effective if undiscovered. The selection process to become part of this unit is demanding, both mentally and physically.


15. The German Kampfschwimmer

The German Kampfschwimmer are elite naval specialists that have been trained in underwater warfare and combat. The role of the Kampfschwimmer is to clear mines, destroy enemy ships and submarines, attack harbors and other coastal installations, and conduct sabotage missions on land targets like bridges.

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A big part of what a Kampfschwimmer does is clearing mines so vessels can safely get through an area without getting damaged or destroyed by them. They call themselves “fighters” because they not only fight at sea but also fight against enemies who try to invade their homeland from the sea.


16. The Indian MARCOS

The Indian MARCOS (Marine Commandos) is one of the world’s most elite and specialized units. They were founded in 1987 to undertake missions in a maritime environment, conducting raids, reconnaissance, and counter-terrorism operations.


The selection process of the MARCOS is exceptionally high. All of them are males in their early 20s who have been recruited from the Indian Navy, and they must go through strict selection and training. Indeed, the course for new recruits goes for a full two years. The MARCOS unit is equipped with some of the best weapons in the world.


17. The Austrian Jagdkommando

The Austrian Jagdkommando was created in 1961. However, the name harks back to World War I when the Austrian assault squads went by this name, which translates roughly to “manhunt command.” The Jagdkommando is a voluntary armed service that protects Austria’s natural resources and borders. The team rapidly earned the respect of other nations’ special forces.


The Austrian Jagdkommando soldiers are highly trained professionals whose training is thorough and rigorous. To be part of this unit, you need to pass “Grundkurs,” a 27-week training course. Most of their missions are classified, but the Jagdkommando usually operates where regular Austrian troops are also located.


18. The Peruvian Armed Forces

The Peruvian Armed Forces have a long and illustrious history. Since their independence, they have been involved in numerous conflicts, including the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) and World War II (1942-1945). More recently, they fought against Sendero Luminoso during the 1980s and 1990s.

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They are the protectors of Peru’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. As a secondary mission, they participate in economic development and civil defense tasks to ensure that their people can continue living safely, despite the natural disasters and other threats that may arise from time to time.


19. The Pakistani Special Service Group ( SSG)

The Pakistan Special Service Group, or SSG, is an elite special forces unit that has been in operation since 1956. The SSG has 10 battalions and is headquartered in Cherat, Pakistan. The group is also known as “Black Storks” due to their unique headgear.


The SSG’s primary duties are to protect the president and other high-ranking officials of Pakistan. They also conduct counter-terrorism operations against groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban. According to Global Firepower, the Pakistan Armed Forces are ranked as the 10th most powerful military globally.


20. The Taiwan Republic of China Armed Forces

The Taiwanese have been involved in wars for over 200 years, so it’s no wonder they have such a strong military. Taiwan’s armed forces, the Republic of China Armed Forces (ROCAF), is a military unit that has been officially recognized as Taiwan’s national defense organization by the United Nations and other international organizations.

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This military unit includes land, naval, and air branches. It is one of Asia’s oldest militaries. The mission statement for the army component is to defend the islands of Taiwan against invasion by the People’s Liberation Army of the PRC, which is seen as the predominant threat to Taiwan’s people and nationhood.


21. The US Delta Force

The US Delta Force is the elite military unit of the United States Armed Forces that specializes in counterterrorism operations, hostage rescues, and direct action against enemy forces. They were established by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 and have been deployed on many high-risk missions, including Operation Eagle Claw (Iranian Embassy), and Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

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The Delta Force executes these tasks with extreme precision due to their extensive training programs. These programs cover water survival skills, combat diving skills such as SCUBA gear operation, and HALO/HAHO parachuting skills.


22. The Polish JW GROM 

The Polish GROM is a special forces unit that operates within the Polish Armed Forces. They are trained to handle hostage situations, counter-terrorism, and other dangerous missions. The GROM was founded as an answer to Polish people returning from Iraq with traumatic stories of violence against them during the invasion by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army.

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Nowadays, they work to protect Poland from terrorism and any other threats. This unit is one of five special operation units within the Polish Armed Forces. GROM soldiers train with other elite forces to ensure they’re always at the top of their game.


23. The British Special Boat Service

The British Special Boat Service (SBS) is an elite special forces unit operating in the Royal Navy. The SBS was formed during World War II to carry out raids on occupied Europe and North Africa. The SBS motto is “By Strength and Guile.”

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The Special Boat Service was created as a direct result of lessons learned from Operation Frankton. Nine men were left behind enemy lines without support following their failed attack on German ships at Bordeaux harbor. The nine men captured by the Germans after Operation Frankton became known as “the Cockleshell Heroes.”


24. The Australian SAS

The Australian SAS is a special forces unit of the Australian Army. It has been involved in international conflicts such as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and East Timor. The motto of the SAS is “Who Dares Wins,” and they have also conducted many domestic security operations.

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The SAS was founded on the 22nd of November 1957 when four officers were sent to British Malaya to form an intelligence-gathering group known as “Z Special Unit.” The SAS has high standards and a tough recruitment process. Only about 64% of applicants pass the initial tests.


25. The German GSG 9

As a result of the mismanagement of the Munich Olympics disaster, the West German government established the GSG 9 under the direction of Oberstleutnant Ulrich Wegener in order to respond appropriately and professionally to similar crises in the future.

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The first mission they took part in was called “Operation Feuerzauber” (Operation Fire Spell). After completing the operation, they established their reputation as an elite unit. Since then, they have received numerous requests from nations around the world to train their respective special operations units.


26. US Air Force Pararescue

US Air Force Pararescue is a specialized unit that handles high-risk rescue missions and provides medical care to injured personnel in combat zones, hostile environments, and areas otherwise inaccessible by conventional means.

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Since their first mission on June 10, 1947, they have been responsible for saving hundreds of lives around the world. The process of becoming a “PJ” is known informally as Superman School. The training lasts over two years, with around 80% of hopeful recruits failing to meet the standards, it has one of the highest attrition rates.


27. Turkish Special Forces Command

Turkish Special Forces Command, established in 1952, is a branch of the Turkish Armed Forces responsible for conducting unconventional warfare and special operations. After graduating from Special Operations Training, commandos are tested before officially becoming a Maroon Beret officer.

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They have to survive in all manner of tough conditions and be prepared for any crisis that may arise on their journey. In the final testing stage, they are left without equipment or help for two weeks; this last month is called “hell week,” and it’s a big part of what makes a commando battle-ready.


28. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the elite military force of Iran. Founded in 1979, they are tasked with protecting the country’s Islamic system and have been involved in many conflicts, including the current Syrian Civil War. IRGC soldiers wear a green uniform while on duty to identify themselves as part of this elite force.


They also conduct economic activities such as transporting weapons and other goods. The IRGC has about 190,000 active personnel. As a special force with great economic assets, some observers call them the “untouchable elite” as they are somewhat isolated in Iranian society.


29. The Indian Parachute Regiment

The Indian Parachute Regiment has an interesting history dating back to World War II. There are several battalions in the regiment, but they all have their own individual duties, ranging from guarding important government officials to helping during natural disasters.

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The Indian Army’s parachute troops are among the world’s oldest airborne units. Each Indian paratrooper is a volunteer. Some join the Para regiments immediately after being recruited, while others transfer from regular army units. They endure the longest recruitment process of any of the units on this list, with approximately 3.5 years of continuous training.


30. Malaysian VAT 69

The 69 Commando, also known as Very Able Troopers 69 (VAT 69), is an elite multi-tasking special forces unit of the Royal Malaysia Police. They’re primarily tasked with the war against communist terrorists in the Malaysian jungle. The Commando 60 motto is “Warisan Darah Perwira” (Inheritance of the Blood of Warriors).


The parachute wings on the left arm of their uniform are there to identify the wearer as a qualified parachutist, airborne unit member, and air assault operator. The Basic 69 Commando Course is open to all Malaysian police officers with two years of service.


31. The Philippine Scout Rangers

The Philippine Scout Rangers is a branch of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The Scouts are trained to be elite light infantry officers with specialized skills that allow them to excel in reconnaissance and combat. They must maintain peace and order by conducting law enforcement operations against national and local criminals.


They are also called upon during war or emergency for military operations, including raids on enemy positions, patrols, ambushes, and sabotage missions. Each Scout Ranger must go through 6 to 7 months of hard training before being put to the test on a dangerous mission.


32. The Serbian Special Brigade

The Serbian Special Brigade, also known as the “Hawks,” was founded in 2006. It’s a combination of the elite special forces units of the Military of Serbia and Montenegro, 72nd Special Brigade, 63rd Paratroop Brigade, the Cobra Anti-Terrorist Squad, and parts of the 82nd Marine Center.


Their motto is “Who dares – can, who knows no fear – goes forward!” The Special Brigade is made up entirely of professional troops. To apply for a position in the Special Brigade, you must first serve in another unit of the Serbian armed forces for at least two years.


33. The Sri Lankan Army Special Forces Regiment (SF)

The Sri Lankan Special Forces are one of two special operations units of the Sri Lankan Army, alongside the Sri Lankan Army Commando Regiment. The unit was initially known as the “Combat Tracker Team,” with two officers and 38 men carrying out small group operations deep inside Tamil Tiger (LTTE) territory.

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The Sri Lankan Special Forces mottos are “To the target with determination and bravery” and “Determined, Dared and Done.” Their basic training is said to be the toughest of its kind in Sri Lanka. To be successful, candidates must make it through 10-12 months of training.


34. The “Night Stalkers”( Task Force Brown)

The Night Stalkers are the most elite special operations force in the world. They are also known as Task Force Brown or TFB. The mottos of this clandestine unit are “Death waits in the dark” and “Night Stalkers don’t quit.” There are approximately 2,700 members of the Night Stalkers, and they take their responsibilities very seriously.

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The Night Stalkers have been involved in some of America’s most covert missions, including Operation Neptune’s Spear and the capture and execution of Osama bin Laden. The missions we know about have all been deemed a success.


35. The Indonesian Kopassus

The Indonesian Kopassus is an elite Indonesian force that has traditionally emphasized its small size and quick-strike potential. Kopassus operatives are trained in intelligence-gathering, various special operations techniques, sabotage, and airborne and seaborne landings.


They were involved in 1981 in freeing hostages from flight 206, a hijacked Garuda plane. Kopassus education and training lasts for approximately seven months. They participate in bilateral training exercises with international partners, and their motto is “Brave, Rightful, and Successful.”