The KSK Kommando Spezialkräfte (Special Forces Command, KSK) is an elite military unit composed of Special Operations soldiers from the ranks of Germany’s Bundeswehr and organized as such under the Division Spezielle Operationen (Special Operations Division, DSO). This group is considered by many to be one of the best Special Operations Forces in the world, and as a result, the unit has received many decorations and awards from both NATO and its affiliates. Modeling itself on the British Special Air Service (SAS) and the US Army Special Forces, KSK operators are frequently requested for joint anti-terror operations, most notably in the Balkans and Middle East.
Until the KSK’s formation in 1996, the West German (and later German) government assigned all counter-terrorist and special operations activities to the famed GSG 9; a highly trained police force created shortly after the tragic events that transpired during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Up until this time, the army’s Fernspäher and the navy’s Kampfschwimmer groups were the only military units comparable to anything that other nations may have seen as dedicated Special Forces units. Following the KSK’s activation on April 1, 1997, all but one of the Fernspählehrkompanie have been either disbanded or merged into the newly constituted unit.
Just like all German military units, KSK deployments require authorization from both the German Bundestag and the German Federal Government. The unit has engaged in numerous anti-terror campaigns both in Europe and abroad; known engagements include operations inside Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia, and most recently in Afghanistan. As is to be expected with such units, specific operational details such as success and casualty rates are deemed top secret and withheld even from the highest-ranking members of the Bundestag. This practice, however, has drawn heavy criticism that has resulted in future plans to increase transparency and accountability by relaying mission details to selected members of the parliament in regards to actions taken by Special Operations commandos.
Combat ready units are divided into four commando companies of approximately one hundred men. The Special Commando Company is normally staffed with veteran members, taking on various supporting rolls. Each of the four commando companies have five specialized platoons, each with a unique specialty and ability that can be adapted to both the terrain and situation, depending on type action(s) required:
1st Platoon: land insertions
2nd Platoon: intelligence gathering and airborne operations
3rd Platoon: amphibious operations
4th Platoon: operations in special geographic or meteorological surroundings (e.g. mountains or polar regions)
5th Platoon: reconnaissance gathering and sniper/counter-sniper operations
There are four commando squads in every platoon. Each of these groups consist of about four equally skilled members that have been hand-picked from the German Army into the platoon that best suits their abilities. Each group member is specially trained as either a weapons expert, medic, combat engineer or communications expert, respectively. Additionally, some groups may contain other specialists, such as a heavy weapons or language expert.
Selection and Training
Initially, only officers and non-commissioned officers of the Bundeswehr could apply for service with the KSK and the subsequent evaluation period. As a pre-requisite for entry, the Bundeswehr Commando Course (“Einzelkämpferlehrgang”) must have been completed by the applicant. Since 2005, however, applications have also been opened to civilians and enlisted personnel who must complete an 18-month Long Range Surveillance training cycle before the intense KSK selection process begins.
The selection process is divided into two phases: a three-week-long physical and psychological training regimen (normally garnering a 40% pass rate), and later a three-month-long physical endurance phase (normally garnering a 8-10% pass rate). During latter phase, the KSK use the Black Forest as their proving grounds for prospective operators. In this time, candidates must undergo a grueling 90-hour cross-country run, followed by a three-week international Combat Survival Course at the German Special Operations Training Center’ (formerly the International Long Range Reconnaissance School) in Pfullendorf.
Upon successful completion of the selection process, candidates may be allowed to start their 2-3 year training cycle with the KSK. This training includes roughly twenty jungle, desert, urban, and counter-terrorism courses at over seventeen schools worldwide; in Norway for Arctic terrain, Austria for mountainous terrain, El Paso, Texas or Israel for desert and/or bush training, San Diego for amphibious operations, and Belize for jungle experience.
According to press releases from May 2008, the Bundeswehr aims to advance the attractiveness of service in the KSK to women. This is in part due to the fact that the KSK could never reach its targeted number of troops in the past. Although the KSK was not explicitly restricted to male troops since the Bundeswehr opened all units to women in 2001, so far, no woman has been able to pass the physical requirements of the KSK.
Mercedes-Benz G-Class utility vehicles
AGF (Light infantry vehicle)
Yamaha ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) KODIAC 4×4
Enduro Type KTM 640 LC 4 (Motorcycle)
Hägglunds Bandvagn 206
Snowmobile LYNX GLX 5900 FC/E Army
Round parachute and HALO/HAHO equipment
Badge worn on beret.
Green Waffenfarbe worn by infantry units.
Map marking symbol for special forces.
Beret and badge
Members of the KSK wear maroon berets as a symbol of their roots in airborne units. A metal badge is worn which consists of a sword surrounded by oak leaves. The flag of the Federal Republic of Germany is depicted on the bottom of the sword.
The Kommandoabzeichen (Commando badge) is a cloth patch worn on the left pouch of the uniform. The commando badge’s design is similar to the metal badge worn on the beret. It depicts a silver sword on light green background surrounded by oak leaves. The badge was permitted to be worn in 2000 by Federal President Johannes Rau.
KSK units wear green as their Waffenfarbe, similar to infantry units. Before becoming an independent military force the KSK was a part of infantry units.
Map marking symbol
In international map marking symbols a rectangle frame with the letters SF are used to units such as the KSK. The SF stands for special forces. This example shows a special forces unit in company size.