KSK Kommando Spezialkräfte (Special Forces Command, KSK) is an elite special operations force composed of special operators handpicked from the ranks of Germany’s Bundeswehr and organized under the Rapid Forces Division. KSK has received many decorations and awards from NATO, the United States and its affiliates and KSK operatives are frequently requested for joint anti-terror operations, notably in the Balkans and Middle East.
From 1973, until the KSK’s formation in 1996, the West German (and later German) government assigned all counter-terrorist and special operations activities to the GSG 9, a highly trained police force created shortly after the hostage-taking that transpired during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Prior to 1973, the army’s Fernspäher (Long-Distance Reconnaissance), the navy’s Kampfschwimmer (Combat Swimmers/”Frogmen”), and the Special Weapons Escort Companies 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 Fernspähkompanie have been either disbanded or merged into the newly constituted unit.
Like those of all German military units, KSK deployments require authorization from the German Bundestag (Federal Assembly). The unit has engaged in numerous anti-terror campaigns both in Europe and abroad; known engagements include operations inside Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and most recently in Afghanistan. As is to be expected with such units, specific operational details such as success and casualty rates are considered to be top secret and withheld even from the highest-ranking members of the Bundestag. This practice has elicited some serious concerns, resulting in agreement to increase both transparency and accountability, by disclosing mission details to selected members of the Bundestag, in relation to the future deployments of KSK forces.
Combat-ready units are divided into five commando companies of approximately one hundred men. The Special Commando Company is normally staffed with veteran members, taking on various supporting roles. Each of the four Commando Companies has 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 squads consists of about four equally skilled members that have been hand-picked from the German Army into the platoon that best suits their abilities. Each squad member is specially trained as 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 & 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 prerequisite for entry, the Bundeswehr Commando Course 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 for the combat positions is divided into two phases: a three-week-long physical and psychological training regiment, and later a three-month-long physical endurance phase. 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-led multinational Special Operations Training Center 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.