5 U.S. Special Operations Forces Terrorists Should Fear

These U.S. special operations forces are what keep terrorists awake at night.

Special operations forces (SOF) have always held a certain mystique. Often working in the shadows, the exploits of these specially selected troops have sometimes attained near mythological status.

But while often depicted as super soldiers, SOF units are often tailored for particular mission sets—such as strategic reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense and counterterrorism. Other units specialize in direct action missions—like raids and ambushes—but each force is different and trained for their particular job. There is no apples-to-apples comparisons—much of it comes down to the individual commando and the units particular mission set.

In the United States, a number of the most elite SOF units trace their origins back to the 1980s when they were formed or revamped to deal with the growing threat of terrorism in places like Iran and Lebanon. This proved extremely valuable two decades later when the United States was forced to confront an even more malign terrorism threat following the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. In the more than a decade since those attacks, America’s special forces— many of which are now part of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)— have time and again proved instrumental in combating terrorism.

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Here are the five U.S. SOF units that every terrorist fears:

Seal Team Six

In the murky and highly classified world of special ops, no unit enjoys the notoriety of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), better known as Seal Team Six (its previous name).

Like many of the most elite U.S. SOF units, Seal Team Six was formed in the aftermath of Operation Eagle Claw, the botched attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980. Seal Team Six was officially established the following year and primarily tasked with conducting counterterrorism operations in maritime environments. Its first commander, Richard Marcinko, once claimed that despite having only 75 shooters at its inception, the unit was given more training ammunition than the entire Marine Corps.

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The training appeared to pay off as Seal Team Six conducted a number of daring operations during its first decade, including rescuing and evacuating Governor Sir Paul Scoon from Grenada during Operation Urgent Fury. Similarly, in 1991, the unit was reportedly responsible for recovering Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after he had been overthrown in a coup.

Although it has reportedly become a rare multi-functional SOF unit, Seal Team Six continues to carry out its original counterterrorism mission as part of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). In fact, it is believed to be “one of only a handful of US military units authorized to conduct preemptive actions against terrorists and terrorist facilities.” In this role, it is most famous for conducting the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011.

1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta

While not nearly as well known as its Navy counterpart, the Delta Force is perhaps America’s most capable special operation forces when it comes to direct action missions. Originally formed the 1970s, Delta Force has regularly spearheaded operations against global terror networks since 9/11. Indeed, together with SEAL Team Six, Delta forms the core of JSOC. One of Delta Force’s most famed missions in recent years was capturing Abu Anas al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative wanted for the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa, during a raid in Libya in October 2013.

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While Delta’s exact composition is a closely guarded secret—technically, the unit’s very existence is secret—the unit is thought to have three squadrons of about 120 operators each. There are also intelligence specialists and other support staff that bring the total complement of the unit to about 1,000 (this might have changed since 9/11).

Delta operators— who usually come from the 75th Ranger Regiment of the U.S. Army Special Forces Groups—are picked during a gruelling selection course where the entire recruiting class is sometimes rejected. Those who do make the cut undergo a rigorous six-month training course before they are allowed to take part in operational missions.

160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment