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Special Reports

The best elite U.S. special forces

Navy SEALs

The United States military is one of the largest in the world and has several special forces groups. Each of the six branches has at least one elite squad that is highly selective and reserved for sensitive missions of the highest priority. The United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) oversees more than 50 unique units, each with its specialization, ranging from special vehicle units to psychological operations groups, reaction teams, and more. Some of these groups are considered the best of the best.

To identify the most elite American special forces units, CEOWORLD magazine reviewed several lists from reputable sources, including the Armed Forces History Museum, CBSNews, Special Ops Magazine, Military.com, and Business Insider. Information about the units was gathered from their websites or the American Special Ops site. The list mainly includes units that perform direct action, hostage rescue, counterterrorism, covert operations, and reconnaissance. The Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Center, the paramilitary special operations unit of the CIA, was also included in the list.

The Navy SEALs are known for their exceptional adaptability across sea, land, and air domains. The Naval Special Warfare Development Group, also known as DEVGRU or SEAL Team 6, operates under the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command. This unit is famous for taking down the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, and is considered the epitome of excellence. The members of this team are selected from among the SEAL teams.

The U.S. Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets, are known for their expertise in unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance, and counterterrorism skills. Delta Force, the Army’s top-notch counterterrorism unit, has exceptional skills in sniping and close-quarters combat ability.

Elite units like Marine Force Recon are a part of the Elite Reconnaissance Marines within the Marine Corps. They specialize in deep and amphibious reconnaissance missions to support the Marines.

The Air Force has various air commando units, which include several specialized aircraft and distinct Special Operations Squadrons within the Air Force Special Operations Command. They perform roles such as supplying ground units and conducting aerial reconnaissance. The Pararescue Jumpers (PJs) are a notable unit that are responsible for rescuing injured personnel from hostile or inaccessible areas.

The Coast Guard also has special operations forces that are categorized under regional commands in the Atlantic and Pacific sectors. One of these units is the Maritime Safety and Security Teams, which was established after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Its main purpose is to protect seaports and maritime facilities against potential terrorist threats.

  1. Special Activities Center
    Service branch: Central Intelligence Agency
    Also known as: Formerly Special Activities Division (SAD)
    Type: Covert paramilitary operations unit
    Role: Counterterrorism, deniable covert operations, direct action, espionage, targeted killing, hostage rescue and more
  2. Intelligence Support Activity
    Service branch: Army
    Also known as: Gray Fox, ISA, USISA, The Activity
    Type: Army intelligence unit
    Role: HUMINT (human intelligence), SIGINT (signals intelligence), direct action
  3. Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
    Service branch: Army
    Also known as: Night Stalkers, 160th SOAR
    Type: Special operations aviation
    Role: Insertion/extraction of special operations forces, reconnaissance
  4. Special Reconnaissance (formerly Special Operations Weathermen)
    Service branch: Air Force
    Also known as: Formerly SOWT
    Type: Special reconnaissance airmen
    Role: Commando unit for multi-domain reconnaissance and surveillance
  5. Maritime Safety & Security Teams
    Service branch: Coast Guard
    Also known as: (MSST)
    Type: Maritime security unit
    Role: Counterterrorism
  6. US Army Special Forces
    Service branch: Army
    Also known as: Green Berets
    Type: Special operations forces
    Role: Counterinsurgency, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, direct action, special reconnaissance, counterterrorism, security force assistance
  7. Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen
    Service branch: Navy
    Also known as: SWCCs
    Type: Special operations forces
    Role: Insertion and extraction of personnel from Naval vessels, direct action, mobility in shallow water areas
  8. Combat Controllers
    Service branch: Air Force
    Also known as: CCTs
    Type: Special operations force
    Role: Specialized airmen providing air control and combat support
  9. DEVGRU / SEAL Team 6
    Service branch: Navy
    Also known as: Naval Special Warfare Development Group, DEVGRU, ST6
    Type: Special operation forces, special missions unit
    Role: Special operations, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, direct action, special reconnaissance
  10. Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company
    Service branch: Marine Corps
    Also known as: ANGLICO
    Type: Allied and foreign support
    Role: Direct support to Joint, Allied, Coalition and Special Operations forces and coordination and deconfliction required in air to ground support
  11. Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team
    Service branch: Marine Corps
    Also known as: FAST
    Type: Security force
    Role: Part of Marine Corps Security Force Regiment (counterterrorism) and capable of rapid deployment
  12. 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta
    Service branch: Army
    Also known as: Delta Force, 1st SFOD-D, Combat Application Group (CAG), “The Unit”
    Type: Special mission unit
    Role: Special operations including direct action, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, urban warfare, reconnaissance
  13. Navy SEALs
    Service branch: Navy
    Also known as: SEALs
    Type: Special operations force
    Role: Special operations, special warfare, direct action, counterterrorism, special reconnaissance, amphibious reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, hostage rescue, underwater reconnaissance and demolition
  14. Pararescuemen
    Service branch: Air Force
    Also known as: Pararescue Jumpers (PJs), STTs – AFSOC’s Battlefield Airmen
    Type: Special operations force
    Role: Combat search and rescue and medicine
  15. 75th Ranger Regiment
    Service branch: Army
    Also known as: Army Rangers
    Type: Light infantry special operations unit
    Role: Airborne / air assaults, direct action raids, counterterrorism
  16. Marine Raiders Special Operations Command
    Service branch: Marine Corps
    Also known as: MARSOC
    Type: Special operations
    Role: Direct action, special reconnaissance, counterterrorism, foreign internal defense, security force assistance, counterinsurgency, support to combating weapons of mass destruction, support to unconventional warfare
  17. Force Reconnaissance
    Service branch: Marine Corps
    Also known as: Force Recon
    Type: Special operations
    Role: Amphibious reconnaissance, deep reconnaissance, direct action, maritime interdiction, visit board search and seizure

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Special Reports - The best elite U.S. special forces
Anindita Banerjee
National Reporting Fellow at CEOWORLD magazine. I am a determined writer and editor with a combination of "old-school" journalistic instincts from the pre-web days and the savvy digital journalism of the 21st Century. I have the ability to connect with the audience through transparent and effective prose. My natural storytelling abilities have been recognized and praised by a newspaper association. My career mission is to build profitable newsrooms that empower journalists to create their best work.