Monday, June 12, 2006

Burst of World Cup Patriotism

God Save The Queen!

Following my post on 'the hardest dog in the world', which seems to have attracted lots of mad comments from American pitbull owners (sorry guys, but I did give you second place for breeding the most rabidly lethal Nazi attack dog, which ain't bad), I thought I'd have another go at finding at which is the hardest thing in the world. The thing this time is... special forces.

The Hardest Special Forces in The World

The Contenders

Britain: 22 SAS
USA: Delta Force
Israel: Sayeret Mat'kal
France: GIGN

Start at the beginning?

Britain: the Special Air Service first saw the light of day in the autumn of 1940, when a 'seaborne commando unit' called No 11 Special Air Service Battalion was created to harass otherwise omnipotent continental Nazi forces.

USA: the US Army's 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment was brought into being by Vietnam Vet Colonel Charlie Buckwith in the early 70s, in direct imitation of the SAS. Buckwith even chose as HQ a part of the US, inland Virginia, whose terrain he felt matched the SAS's Brecon Beacons proving ground.

Israel: the highly secretive Israeli counter-terrorist unit was created in 1957, although its lineage can be traced back to the embryonic Jewish state's anti-British terrorist group, ETZEL, and the first Israeli intelligence service, Hagana.

France: the Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale, France's crack special operations outfit, was created in the mid 70s out of the French Army's oldest regiment, and was designed to prevent such perceived humiliations as the seizure of the Saudi Embassy in Paris in 1973. The GIGN was also designed to end rivalry between other specialised French army units.

Tough training?

Britain: the toughest. The four week initial selection procedure involves a twenty hour long forced march across 60km of Welsh mountains while carrying 25kg. This is followed by weeks of jungle training, parachute training, and 'psychological resistance' training.

USA: pretty nasty, and closely modelled on the SAS's. Delta Force also demands its applicants be able to handle poisonous snakes, insects, and other predators. There are reports of DR trainees being obliged to bite the heads off rattlesnakes.

Israel: in keeping with the group's supersecret ethos, nothing is known about the Sayeret's selection process, apart from the fact that only 1 in 300 qualify.

France: frankly weird. GIGN selection procedure involves, amongst other strangeness, sitting immobile at the bottom of the river Seine for several hours.

Famous exploits?

Britain: too many to recall - the SAS have been heroes in all arenas of war, from Malaya to Oman to the Falklands. Perhaps the most celebrated of their operations - because televised - was the famous 'bombs and balaclavas' rescue of 26 hostages from the Iranian Embassy in London in May 1980.

USA: rumour has it Delta Force was responsible for the startlingly efficient, startlingly speedy - four hours - snatch and grab of the first US airman downed in hostile Serbia in the Balkan Wars.

France: in Xmas 1994 the GIGN stormed a hijacked Air France plane in Marseilles Airport, successfully rescuing all hostages while terminating with 'le prejudice extreme' all the Algerian terrorists.

Israel: perhaps the greatest special forces operation of all time was Operation Thunderball, the Sayeret's bold and wholly triumphant attempt to save 103 Jewish hostages being held at Entebbe airport, Uganda, by Arab terrorists.

All very impressive. Any cock-ups?

Britain: arguably the worst moment for the Hereford-based supersoldiers was their 'murder' of three 'unarmed' IRA terrorists in Gibraltar in March 1998. Mind you, the Provos had been planning a massacre.

USA: undoubtedly the most shaming moment of the DF's history was the 1980 debacle that was Operation Rice Bowl, when the Force tried to rescue the US Embassy hostages in Iran. The result was eight US soldiers dead, fifty wounded, and two aircraft burnt out in the Persian deserts. The hostages weren't released for another six months.

France: a traditionally French lack of co-operation between the GIGN and France's MI6 - the DST - led to two DST operatives being needlessly rubbed out in the 1975 Paris airport attempt to arrest global master-terrorist Carlos 'the Jackal'.

Israel: May '74 saw the Jewish soldier-heroes' lowest point, when an operation to rescue 100 child hostages in a school in Ma'alot in northern Israel went disastrously awry: 23 children died, 70 were wounded.

Any other interesting stuff?

Britain: some regiment veterans, like the late 'SAS vicar' Frank Clark, have claimed the SAS's selection and training is so brutal it permanently damages the fitness of all involved, even those who succeed.

USA: Delta Force is the most Hollywoodised of all the world's special forces. Amongst many other B-list actors, Kurt Russel, Steven Segal, Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin have in their time played DF tough guys.

Israel: the Sayeret is not universally popular in its homeland - indeed some allege Sayeretr complicity in the 1997 assassination of peace-mongering Jewish premier Yitzhak Rabin.

France: in 1985 the French Government admitted GIGN involvement in the blowing-up and sinking of Greenpeace eco-ship Rainbow Warrior, a plainly illegal action that resulted in the death of a Greenpeace photographer and the scandalising of the world. The agents responsible got two years' 'imprisonment' on a Tahitian islet.

So who are the hardest of hardnuts?

Britain: a daring, winning 10/10.
USA: a so-far unproven 7/10.
Israel: a don't-mess-with-these-guys 9/10.
France: a bottom-of-the-Seine 6/10.

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