Special Forces: The Elite Warriors of the World
Special forces or special operations forces (SOF) are military units trained to conduct special operations. NATO has defined special operations as “military activities conducted by specially designated, organized, selected, trained and equipped forces using unconventional techniques and modes of employment”.
Special forces have played an important role throughout the history of warfare, whenever the aim was to achieve disruption by “hit and run” and sabotage, rather than more traditional conventional combat. Other significant roles lay in reconnaissance, providing essential intelligence from near or among the enemy and increasingly in combating irregular forces, their infrastructure and activities.
Special forces capabilities include the following:
- Special reconnaissance and surveillance in hostile environments
- Foreign internal defense: Training and development of other states’ military and security forces
- Offensive action
- Support to counter-insurgency through population engagement and support
- Counter-terrorism operations
- Sabotage and demolition
- Hostage rescue
Some examples of special forces units around the world are:
- The United States Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets, are guerrilla warfare experts who use unconventional techniques to fight terrorists abroad.
- The Russian Spetsnaz, an acronym for “special purpose”, are strategic formations and units of the armed forces, whose role is to conduct sabotage, reconnaissance, subversive and other special operations on the territory of foreign countries.
- The British Special Air Service (SAS), which is widely regarded as one of the most elite and secretive special forces in the world. The SAS operates in small teams of four men, known as sabre squads, and specializes in covert operations behind enemy lines.
Special forces are often considered the elite warriors of the world, who are capable of performing missions that conventional forces cannot. They require a high level of physical fitness, mental toughness, and specialized skills to succeed in their challenging and dangerous tasks.
Some of the most famous and infamous special operations in history are:
- The Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, when a CIA-backed force of Cuban exiles attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro’s regime, but failed miserably and suffered heavy casualties.
- The Munich Olympics massacre in 1972, when a German police commando unit tried to rescue 11 Israeli athletes taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists, but ended up with all the hostages and five of the terrorists killed.
- The Raid on Entebbe in 1976, when Israeli commandos flew more than 2,000 miles to Uganda and rescued 100 Jewish passengers of a hijacked Air France plane, killing all the hijackers and dozens of Ugandan soldiers.
- The Iranian hostage rescue in 1980, when a U.S. special operations team attempted to free 53 Americans held captive at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, but aborted the mission after a helicopter crash that killed eight men.
- The arrest of Manuel Noriega in 1989, when U.S. forces invaded Panama and captured the dictator who had been indicted on drug trafficking charges.
- The killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, when a U.S. Navy SEAL team raided his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and shot the al-Qaeda leader who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
These are just some examples of the many special operations that have shaped the course of history and demonstrated the courage and skill of special forces around the world.