Africa’s Best Special Forces

Best Special Forces in Africa can be said to be the most accomplished military unit with exceptional combat record, training, and equipment. The Special Force branch of a country is usually the tip of the spear, trained to conduct the most difficult and challenging aspect of military operations.

A country’s Special forces and special operations forces (SOF) are ususally called upon to achieve a military objective in scenerious where conventional military units cannot realistically handle. Employment of Special Forces even in tactical levels can affect the overall strategic outcome of a war.

The Best Special Forces in Africa are usually highly-trained, well-equipped, organized, reticent. In order to maintain their optimum combat performance, SF/SOFs are specially designated and they employ unconventional tactics, techniques, and modes of employment. This years Best Special Forces in Africa would look at the very best Africa has to offer.

Historical Context of Special Forces in Africa

Special Forces, as they would come to be recognized, emerged in the early 20th century, with a significant growth in the field during the Second World War.

In 1940, the British Commandos were formed following Winston Churchill’s call for “specially trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down the enemy coast.” A staff officer, Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke, had already submitted such a proposal to General Sir John Dill, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Dill, aware of Churchill’s intentions, approved Clarke’s proposal and on 23 June 1940, the first Commando raid took place.

Role of Special Forces and Special Operations Forces

The role of Special Forces and Special Operations Forces is predominantly dependent on the country, Special Forces and Special Operations Forces may perform a wide variety of duties and functions which consists of (but not limited to);

  • Unconventional/Asymmetrical warfare.
  • Airborne operations
  • Counter-insurgency and Counter-terrorism (COIN/CT)
  • Foreign and Internal defense
  • Covert operations
  • Direct action (alongside regular troops)
  • Hostage rescue
  • High-value targets kill/capture (HVTK/C)
  • Manhunt
  • Intelligence operations
  • Mobility operations
  • Sabotage and demolition

Special Forces in Africa

The Top 10 Best Special Force in Africa 2019 are:

1. Egyptian Army Unit 777

Role: Hostage Rescue, Assassination, Sabotage

Egyptian Army Unit 777

The Egyptian Army Unit 777 is also referred to as Task Force 777. The Unit 777 is primarily tasked to conduct Special operations and Counter Terrorism operations within Egypt and around its sphere of interest.

Unit 777 was established in 1978 following a disastrous Egyptian commando raid in Larnaca International Airport, Cyprus in response to the hijacking of a Cyprus Air passenger aircraft by terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). During the raid, Cyprus security forces mistaken the Egyptian Commandos for terrorists as they approached the tarmac and opened fire on them killing 15 members out of the 79 member commando team.

Subsequently, Unit 777 was later called into action after three armed terrorists from the Abd Al-Nasir Movement hijacked the EgyptAir Flight 321 heading to Luxor. After a brief negotiation with the terrorists, two Unit 777 operatives disguised as maintenance workers went inside the aircraft and neutralized the terrorists with no loss to the passengers. With such capabilities, the Unit 777 is one of the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa .

Unit 777 is a division of the Sa’ka forces, an elite Egyptian military commando force. Unit 777 is currently engaged in anti-terror operations in the Sinai region. Its previous engagements includes:

  • Operation Badr (1973)
  • Shdwan Battle
  • Battle of Ismailia
  • EgyptAir Flight 321
  • Operation Sinai
  • Operation Martyr’s Right

2. South African Special Forces Brigade

Role: Direct action, Manhunt, Reconnaissance

South African Special Force Brigade (Recce) operatives during a training
South African Special Force Brigade (Recce) operatives during a training

South African Special Forces Brigade also known as the Recce, it specializing in long-range combat reconnaissance as well as unconventional airborne operations.

The South African Special Forces Brigade was formed from the then Hunter Group mainly for counter-insurgency operation within the South African Army. In 1970, the success of the South African Special Forces Brigade brought about five other reconnaissance units, later referred to as the “Recces”.

The South African Special Forces Brigade has undergone several broad restructuring. Presently, the South African Special Forces Brigade has the unique distiction of not being part of the South African Army or the South African Navy as is the practice in similar special forces structure worldwide, it is directly under the command of the Joint Operations Division.

South African Special Force Brigade (Recce) operator

The South African Special Forces selection process sometimes called ‘The Ultimate Challenge‘ is regarded as one of the most difficult special forces selection courses in the world

As matter of pride and bravery, the Recce always the first unit into any combat and the last one’s out of the conflict zone. As their motto rightly explains: WE FEAR NAUGHT BUT GOD

During the Border/Bush War, F Zeelie was the first person killed, while H. Carstens was also the last person killed in the Border/Bush War. Both operators were from the of the 1st Recce.

The Recce undertook several daring missions during the Bush War with Angola, some more prominent missions includes Operation Mebos, Operation Askari and the controversial Operation Argon. In Operation Askari, a few South African Special Forces soldiers entered Angola in order to disrupt the logistical support and command & control capabilities of PLAN. Operation Askari prevented a planned large-scale invasion of the SouthWestern Africa by the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN).

More recently, An operator of the South African Special Forces made the 7th longest recorded sniper kill in history with a confirmed distance of 2,125 m (2,324 yd) using a South African-made 14.5 mm Denel NTW-20 anti-materiel rifle during operations as part of the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade. Which is why the SANDF Special Force Brigade is one of the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

SANDF Special Forces Organigram
SANDF Special Forces Organogram

The South African Special Forces Brigade (Recce) has taken part in various engagements which are;

  • South African Border War
  • Rhodesian Bush War
  • Angolan Civil War
  • Mozambican Civil War
  • Séléka rebellion
  • M23 rebellion

3. Algerian Army Special Intervention Group

Role: Hostage rescue, Direct action, Counter Terrorism

Algerian Special Intervention Group
Algerian Special Intervention Group operator

The Algerian Special Intervention Group also known as the Groupe d’Intervention Spécial (GIS) in French has long been one of Africa’s most-feared special forces. Better known in Algeria as the ‘Ninjas.’ Mainly skilled in Counter-terrorism and Hostage Rescue.

They have a reputation for cold-blooded ruthlessness, often times killing both the terrorists and hostages in order to deter would-be terrorists from using hostages as a bargaining chip.

Since 1987, The Special Intervention Group (GIS) forces have been the bulwark between Algeria and rampaging violent Islamic militants. For many years, Algeria has been in a brutal tug-of-war with domestic Islamist extremists coupled with the ever troublesome border areas with neighbors including Libya and Mali, and also the fact that Algeria is actively supporting the Western Saharan independence movement the Polisario Front.

A controversial incident occurred on 16 January 2013 in a gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria. An Algerian gas field operated jointly by Sonatrach, an Algerian state-owned company, British firm BP and the Norwegian firm Statoil. The gas field supplies 10% of Algeria’s natural gas production, a vital asset to Algerian survival.

Algerian Special Intervention Group

al-Qaeda-linked terrorists affiliated with a brigade led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar attacked the oil installation, demanding an end to French military operations against Islamists in northern Mali, in return for the safety of the hostages. According to U.S. officials, in the over 800 hostages, 132 were foreign nationals including British, French, Japanese etc.

The terrorists tied explosive cords around some of the captives, after four days of gruesome waiting, in a daring attempt the Algerian Special Intervention Group -GIS raided the oil facility using helicopter gunships and heavy weapons, in an effort to free the hostages. As a result, 39 foreign hostages from nine different countries lost their lives however, a total of 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners were freed while 39 terrorist were killed. Three surviving terrorists were also apprehended, making the Algerian Special Intervention Group on of the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

Algerian Special Intervention Group

During the siege, the Algerian communications minister, Mohamed Said Belaid, said that “The objective is clear: to destabilize Algeria.” and that the terrorists wanted “to destroy the national economy” and the state, he further announced that “there would be no negotiations or blackmail” and Algeria would be “relentless in the fight against terrorists“.

The rescue operation brought a bittersweet response from the international community. Several Western countries complained about Algeria’s failure to minimize casualties while some praised the decision by Algerian special forces to storm the site on time. According to Anouar Boukhars of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, that “Algerians are jealous of their sovereignty”, which fits with their general pattern of acting independently, and a policy of no negotiation with terrorists.

In retrospect, soldiers from the GIS are taught the fierce art of the Japanese Ju-Jitsu and the ancient Korean Kuk Sool Won art, but in a purely practical military aspect. The Algerian ancient training regime have been copied by various special operations forces globally. As a testament to their fighting art, the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) recommended that the Algerian Special Intervention Group be used as a template by several European and African countries.

4. Tunisian Army Special Forces Group (GFS)

Role: Tactical operations, Hostage rescue, VIP protection

Tunisian Army Special Forces Group (GFS)
Tunisian Army Special Forces Group (GFS) operator

Definitely one of the most highly trained and well equipped Special Forces in the world. The Tunisian Army Special Forces Group is widely know for its use of the most sophisticated infantry weapons available globally. Their main mission is the protection of the Tunisian national territory and to deter any attempt of foreign aggression.

As a testament to their training, the Tunisian Army Special Forces Group have not failed in any assigned task and has contributed immensely in foiling terrorist attacks. They are also trained to handle heavy weapons, this unit as the whole army suffered from marginalization on the part of the old regime.

This mask wearing Tunisian Army Special Forces Group or Groupe des Forces Spéciales (GFS) in Spanish has been on the frontiers defending Tunisia from being overrun by terrorists. They are trained to defend the homeland and to intervene in a cold-blooded manner to protect human lives.

Tunisian Army Special Forces Group (GFS)

Since the 2011 Arab-spring, Tunisia has been confronted by an ever-increasing terrorism and militant insurgency which has been responsible for the deaths of dozens of soldiers, police, civilians and foreign tourists.

Furthermore, Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since November 2015, when an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked and killed 12 Presidential Intervention Group (a sister Special Operations Forces unit) in Tunis.

In March 2016, Islamic State, which has been taking advantage of the raging Libyan Civil War in the neighboring country to recruit soldiers and increase its strength, began a series of tactical offensive into the Tunisian town of Ben Guerdane.

Tunisian Army Special Forces Group (GFS)
Tunisian Army Special Forces Group (GFS)

During the attack, about 50 Islamic State militants launched a dawn attack on army and police posts, The Tunisian Defense Minister quickly deployed the Tunisian Army Special Forces Group which immediately counter-attacked and killed 36 of the attackers.

After the successful operations, the Tunisian governments began considering air strikes and special forces operations against the group in neighboring Libya, confirming their the Tunisian Army Special Forces Group as one of the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

5. Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service (NNSBS)

Role: Maritime security, Direct action, Hostage rescue

A Tavor wielding Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service (NNSBS) soldier wearing a MARPAT (short for Marine pattern) digital camouflage pattern and skull balaclava

The Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service is one of the best special forces units in Africa. This elite antiterrorism unit was created by the Nigerian Government in 2006. Highly qualified for the full-spectrum of all special Operations in any terrain or weather. They are considered the very best in this region.

The NNSBS was modeled after the celebrated British crack unit, the SBS. This little-known unit has been on the forefront of the fight against maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea. The Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service has also been deployed in several internal security duties especially against the notorious Boko Haram sect and Niger Delta militants.

In 2011, during a training in Senegal together with Army Amphibious Forces, US Marines and Senegalese Marines, the NNSBS were praised for their dexterity in small boat operations and littoral warfare which the Americans attributed to years of fighting militants in the Niger Delta creeks.

As a sign of their combat prowess, in August 2016 a distressed call was made to the Naval Regional Maritime Awareness Centre (RMAC) through the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), about a pirate hijack on a British-flagged vessel, ‘MT VECTIS OSPREY.’ Following the swift deployment of a naval patrol ship NNS NWAMBA to the scene, NNSBS operatives quickly engaged the pirates who were about boarding the vessel. Resulting in the rescue of all the crew members without any casualty, making the Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service (NNSBS) as one of the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

In 2017, during the ECOWAS military intervention in the Gambia, the Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service were amongst the first units to enter the country, providing VIP protection for the Gambian Presidency.

The duties of the Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service includes Naval intelligence, Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency (CTCOIN), enforcing maritime security, anti-piracy, littoral operation and facilities/VIP protection.

The SBS operatives were actively involved in Operation PULO-SHIELD in Niger Delta, Operation SAFE HAVEN in Plateau State, Operation RESTORE ORDER in Kano State, Operation IRON FENCE 2 in Kogi State and Operation ZAMAN LAFIYA in the North East. The SBS elements are currently involved in Operation LAFIA DOLE in the North East and SAFE HAVEN in Plateau State. 

6. Tunisian National Guard Special Unit

Role: Hostage rescue, Counter-Terrorism, Direct action

Tunisian National Guard Special Force trooper

The Tunisian National Guard Special Unit, commonly abbreviated USGN or Unité Spéciale de la Garde Nationale in French is one of the most elite special forces unit and also one of the finest and most formidable special warfare combat unit in the North African and Middle-Eastern region.

Directly under the control of the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior, the USGN is officially based in Bir Bouregba. This unit recruits its members of the National Guard directly and train them independently.

The USGN specializes in special operations such as counter-terrorism, Hostage rescue, as well as reconnaissance and raid behind enemy lines. Their main mission is to intervention within Tunisian territory, especially in non-urban areas (mountains, forests, beaches, deserts). The USGN is structured on the model of American Navy Seals with which it has a sustained collaboration.

The unit serves as the Tunisian governments premier counter-terrorism unit, providing a tactical resolution in hostage and high-risk law enforcement situations. This rather small albeit highly specialized special operations force was established in the early 1980s, and is based in Hammamet.

In January 2018, Tunisian National Guard Special Unit killed a senior member of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) who was wanted by Algeria since 1993.

In more recent time, the USGN has been involved in several training missions outside the country, in cooperation with the United States Delta Force and other special forces from European countries.

In 1985, the USGN was invited to Austria by the Einsatzkommando-Cobra (EKO Cobra) to participate in international special force exercise, attended by several international elite forces like the EKO COBRA GSG-9, French GIGN and United States Delta force. The USGN came fourth all exercises and also ranked number one special force in Arab and Africa, as well as sixth in the world after the United States, Russia, Britain, France. This reinstates their position as one of Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

7. Nigerian Armed Forces Special Forces (AFSF)

Role: Counter-Terrorism, Direct action, VIP protection

With a gung-ho attitude towards adversity, the Armed forces Special Forces (AFSF) are one of the most elite personnel in the entire Nigerian Armed Forces, they consist of personnel from the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Air Force Regiment and the Department of State security personnel (DSS).

Members of the Nigerian Armed Forces Sniper Unit stand in their ghillie suits at the African Land Forces Summit (ALFS) military demonstration held at General Ao Azazi barracks in Gwagwalada on April 17, 2018.

Trained in Nigerian Special Forces Training Institutions and also underwent CT/COIN training in Belarus, an Eastern European.

In 2017, 26 officers and 440 soldiers of the unit also underwent training in Pakistan, under the Special Services Group (SSG), the Pakistani Army’s SSG, famous in the international military community for their successful CT/COIN operations in Afghanistan and the northwest regions of Pakistan.

Over there, the AFSF troops trained at Tarbella, home of the SSG’s elite counter-terrorist unit, the Zararr Battalion. Since their commissioning, They are deployed to almost all troubled area in Northern Nigeria. Their duties are mainly Direct action alongside regular troops, HVT’s hunt and capture, Quick Response in tactical situation (QRF) and VIP protection.

The AFSF are kitted with the most advanced and exotic weaponry and gadget unlike regular infantry soldiers. They have consistently been on the war-front since 2016, battling the Boko Haram insurgent group as well as the various armed groups and bandits in the Sahara. The AFSF is clearly on the position of being the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

On account of their known doggedness and insistence on pursuing, even hunting the insurgents, Boko Haram commanders often issue warnings to their fighters to avoid engaging with the AFSF. Confirming their position as Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

The AFSF, now with a reputation for being a scourge of Boko Haram, participated in the recapture of Bama, Baga, Damboa, Marte, Kangarwa and more. The AFSF commandos are “always leading the way”. In one operation, their vehicle was hit and disabled by a buried Improvised Explosive Device (IED), but the AFSF Commandos simply jumped onto new vehicles and completed their mission.

8. Kenyan Army Special Operations Regiment (SOR)

Role: Counter-Insurgency, Close Target Reconnaissance, Asymmetric Warfare

The Kenyan Army Special Operations Regiment (SOR), is made up of the Rangers Strike Force identified as 40 RSF and Special Forces (SF) known as 30S. Both the Ranger Strike Force (RSF) and the Special Force (SF) were relatively unknown until their deployment to Somalia for Operation Linda Nchi was launched.

The Rangers Strike Force takes 63 days to train while the training for Special Forces lasts for six months. One of the major differences between the two is that Rangers are trained by Americans and the Special Forces by the British.

During a recent joint training with Jordan’s Quick Reaction Force, the Jordanians were surprised by the Kenyans’ superior skills.

The Kenyan Special Force (SF) has mostly been involved in reconnaissance and infiltration missions behind enemy lines while Rangers are being used as fighters strike force.

In the battle for Kismayu, code-named Operation Sledge Hammer, a team of Kenyan special forces, spearheaded the vanguard unit of an amphibious assault operation, quickly secured the landing zone and captured the port city with no casualty.

Their performance at the war front was so brilliant that President Mwai Kibaki, during the recent Jamhuri Day celebrations, and as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, rewarded a number of the outstanding fighters with the Silver Star, one of Kenya’s highest awards. Making the Kenyan Army Special Operations Regiment as one of the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

The Kenyan Army Special Operations Regiment has been used very aggressively over the past five years. They have been actively engaged in Somalia the past several years. The SOR operators are highly trained, experts in special operations, and well-equipped. The Kenyan Army Special Operations Regiment (SOR) are without a doubt, one of the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

9. Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGR)

The Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie Intervention Group or the Groupe d’Intérvention de La Gendarmerie Royale (GIGR) in Spanish is an elite Special Force regiment within the Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie, specially trained for special operations within Morocco.

This special force group is composed of several combat units including a Commando Group of the Guard, an airborne assault battalion, a mountain infantry battalion and a Rapid Intervention group (GIR) amongst others.

The Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie Intervention Group is a highly secretive group, in charge of maintaining public order. They are viewed as the main pillar in the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces. The GIGR is undoubtedly one of the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

They spearhead most major military operations in Morocco and the environs, confirming its status as one of the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

During the 2017 Operation Flintlock held in Tifnit, Morocco, the US Military Information Support Operations (MISO) instructors were duly impressed with the quality of the Moroccan operators they have been tasked with training, commenting on their adaptability. The Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie Intervention Group is still one of the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

10. Tunisian Anti-Terrorism Brigade (BAT)

Role: SWAT, Hostage rescue, VIP Protection

Commonly called the ‘Black Tigers’ in Tunisia, this elite Special Operations unit is one of the best-trained and most formidable units a North Africa can boast of. Basically a Tunisian National SWAT, and one of the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

The BAT is the elite of the Tunisian National Police, under the Ministry of the Interior. It is based in the capital, more precisely in Bouchoucha. This unit recruits its members directly from the national police. Intervening in the field only in extreme cases, their main mission is the intervention in Built-up areas and against hostage taking in tactical situations such as in airports.

Other notable Forces on the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

This are other elite special forces in the Top 10 Best Special Forces in Africa.

  • Nigerian Air Force Quick Response Group (NAF QRF)
  • Kenyan Police General Service Unit (GSU)
  • Somalian Army Special Forces (Alpha Group)
  • Cameroonian Army Rapid Intervention Brigade (BIR)
  • South African Police STP
  • Kenyan Navy Special Boat Unit (KSBU)
  • Ivory Coast Special Forces

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