The list of the world’s most elite special forces in 2023 is based on the unit’s missions, numbers, training, and history. It is hard to decide who is the best among elite special forces. These guys are often the best that one country may offer in military view. They are some of the best-trained and most formidable warriors in the world. They usually go where other soldiers fear to tread or don’t have the required skills to accomplish needed objectives.
Special Operations Forces operators are scoping out potential threats, taking out strategic targets, and conducting daring rescue missions, often in the most dangerous and unfriendly environments worldwide. These are the best of the best that you can find worldwide.
Although it’s challenging to judge and rank these special forces relative to one another because their mission is almost the same, some units rise above others. Elite soldiers rise in their track record and the fear they instill in their enemies. These warriors have been through rigorous selection and training exercises to find the best candidates and weed out those who can’t hit their exacting standards. And their standards are high, for many people too high.
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 warriors are the ones states look to get the job done. In one way or another.
The list of the top 10 most elite special forces globally is based on the research conducted in 2020.
Unidad de Operaciones Especiales
Spain’s Unidad de Operaciones Especiales, or the Naval Special Warfare Force, has been renamed since 2009. They had for long been one of Europe’s best-respected special forces units, publicly relatively unknown. Naval Special Warfare Force was initially established as the volunteer Amphibious Climbing Company unit in 1952. Since then, they have followed the British SAS’s example to become an elite fighting force ready to perform all given tasks.
To become a member of UOE (Unidad de Operaciones Especiales), you need to earn the green beret. However, it looks almost impossible because the failure rate of candidates averaged between 70% and 80%, which means that only two are accepted for every ten candidates, only two are accepted. It’s not uncommon to reject all would-be new candidates in one year.
The Special Service Group (SSG)
The Special Services Group, abbreviated as SSG, is Pakistan’s most elite special forces unit. They are better known at home as the Black Storks. That nickname comes because of their unique headgear. Their Commando selection training reportedly includes a 36-mile march in 12 hours and a five-mile run in 50 minutes in full gear, and that is only one part of overall selection and training.
Their most successful action was in October 2009 when SSG commandos stormed an office building and rescued 39 people taken hostage by suspected Taliban militants after an attack on the army’s local headquarters.
Polish JW GROM
Polish JW GROM is one of five special forces units of the Polish Armed Forces. GROM was officially founded on July 13, 1990, and its name in Polish stands for Thunder. Their primary tasks are in various special operations and unconventional warfare roles, primarily counter-terrorism actions.
Candidates applying to serve in JW GROM have to pass various psychological and durability tests, along with the so-called truth test, a physically and psychologically exhausting field test designed to filter out the weaker applicants.
Russia’s Alpha Group is one of the best-known and best-trained special forces units in the world. This elite counter-terrorism unit was founded as a support unit for the KGB in 1974, and it remains under its modern-day counterpart, the FSB, until these days.
In particular, Russian special forces and the Alpha Group came under criticism a few times in the last decade. First, during the 2002 Moscow Theater hostage crisis, when 129 hostages lost their lives in the efforts to save hostages. The hostages died from the effects of the unknown gas used to knock out terrorists who had seized a theater building. Another criticism comes after the Beslan school hostage crisis because a large number of hostage casualties, but it doesn’t mean they did something wrong.
Delta Force (1st SFOD-D)
Among all the assets related to special operations of the US military, the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta or shortly 1st SFOD-D, more commonly known in public as Delta Force, is undoubtedly covered by the strictest confidence, especially when it is about direct action and urban warfare.
The 1st SFOD-D is a unit of “black,” and the Department of Defense Tier 1 unit (along with SEAL Team Six, the 24th Special Tactics Squadron and Intelligence Support Activity CIA) is placed directly under the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC ). To become their member is often told to be “hard as hell.” There are plenty of candidates on every selection course, but only a few accomplish the course.
In 2019, Delta Force just completed a glorious mission: the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, at Barisha, north-western Syria, on October 28 2019. They blasted a hole in a wall while the inhabitants were asleep. Al-Baghdadi ran down a tunnel—in his panic, he picked the wrong one—at a dead-end, he detonated his suicide vest, exploding himself and two children. His body parts were dumped at sea, and the entire compound was reduced to rubble:
National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN)
Of all the counter-terrorism units in the world, related only to law enforcement tasks, only a few can compete with France’s top special forces team. The National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN) is a group official belonging to law enforcement. GIGN is around 200 men strong and trained specifically to respond to hostage situations and barricaded suspects. They claim to have freed over 600 people since they were formed in 1973 in more than 40 hostage-taking situations. Since their training, equipment, or members are protected by French law, which forbids publishing their pictures and identities.
One of the most extraordinary episodes in the GIGN’s history and the world of special forces and special operations was the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 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 plan the recapture of the militants’ mosque. In 2015, they had a few interventions which made headlines all over the World (Charlie Hebdo).
Sayeret Matkal is Israel’s most elite unit. Their primary purpose is intelligence gathering, and their members often operate deep behind enemy lines. During the selection camp (located in Gibbush), would-be candidates endure hardcore training exercises while being constantly monitored by a special team of doctors and psychologists. Only the fittest and toughest get in.
One of their most successful operations happened in 2003 when Israeli taxi driver Eliyahu Gurel was kidnapped after transporting four Palestinians to Jerusalem in his cab. But the Sayeret Matkal unit located and rescued him from a 10-meter-deep pit in an abandoned factory in a suburb of Ramallah.
Special Air Service (SAS)
The Special Air Service worldwide, known as SAS, is the infantry counterpart to the Special Boat Service (SBS). Their motto, often found on 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.”
They got their name written in history books after Operation Nimrod, when they stormed the building of the Iranian embassy in London, killing all terrorists except one and rescuing hostages. National TV directly broadcasted the operation.
Special Boat Service (SBS)
The UK equivalent of the US Navy SEALS is the SBS which stands for Special Boat Service. Their primary work area is water, but they are not restricted to it. The challenging selection process involves a grueling 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. Sounds hard?
US Navy SEALs
As you might presume, the first place is reserved for the US Navy SEALS. They might one-up even the Marines. To join their ranks, you have to do a minimum of 42 push-ups in two minutes, 50 sit-ups in two minutes, and run 1.5 miles in 11 minutes. And that’s before training starts. Shortly after, they are directed to BUD/s, where the wanna-be candidates are driven through one of the most demanding military training in the world.
US Navy SEALs accomplished most US Special Operations publicly known in the recent decade. Their top mission was Operation Neptune Spear in 2011 when they eliminated the most wanted terrorist in the world, a leader of notorious Al-Qaeda, Usama Bin Laden.