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Delta Force

1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D)

Delta Force
Delta Force operators in Afghanistan.
[Photo: US DoD.]

Unit Profile

The 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment - Delta (Airborne) or 1st SFOD-D (A) better known as Delta Force is the US Army's primary abroad counter terrorism unit. The unit was created by Colonel Charles Beckwith in 1977 following the lines of the British Special Air Service. Delta Force members (who have no distinctive items of uniform wear) are utilised in hostage rescue roles, as well as in other special counter-terrorism actions, most of which are.

The organisation and training of Delta Force personnel is classified. Besides the operational squadron, the unit reportedly maintains an intelligence unit, known as the funny platoon. They grew out of a long-running dispute/rivalry with Intelligence Support Activity. They will infiltrate a country ahead of a Delta intervention to gather intelligence. They are the only US Special Operation Force to employ woman in a combat role. Another unit within Delta Force is the Aviation Squadron. This unit reportedly consists of twelve AH-6 Attack and MH-6 Transport helicopters. These have been painted in civilian colours and have fake tail number ID's. For larger operations Delta relies on the 160th SOAR and USAF.

Delta Force members are drawn from a variety of sources, including other Special Operations Forces. Delta Force is usually referred to by the US Government as either "the 1st Special Operations Detachment," or "the 1st Combat Applications Group." The group is small (estimates generally run to less than 800 members), and operates in small teams deep inside hostile territory, often with orders to terminate with stealth and impunity.

Having had their traditional missions muddied considerably by political necessity, military misuse and new threats. That is why you find SFOD-D hunting SCUDs in Desert Storm (a political necessity to keep Israel from broadening the war) or assisting in Peacekeeping Operations in Somalia (a new threats environment). SFOD-D itself has grown from a hostage rescue force into a covert/clandestine special operations force with many missions outside of hostages.

Domestically, the involvement of Delta is trickier but far from unlikely. Having them attached as observers, advisors or liaisons can get them involved in any domestic operation. In any case where the threat of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and so on are involved, military personnel from this unit will be involved in these roles. SFOD-D is barred from performing domestic hostage operations (that is the responsibility of the FBI's HRT) but since the inception of Presidential Decision Directive-25 (PDD-25), Delta is exempt from the Posse Comitatus Act in other areas.

All operators in Delta have been issued Federal Weapons Permits, which allow them to travel anywhere armed. The unit maintains relaxed grooming standards (long hair, earrings, etc.) to assist in undercover operations. All members of Delta and their families are given cover stories to prevent their unit affiliation from leaking out.

There are indications that Delta no longer goes by this names. They are left on for dealing with the public but are referred to by some other designation in official communications. This is however unconfirmed.


  • Direct action
  • Strategic reconnaissance
  • Unconventional warfare
  • Foreign internal defence
  • Counterterrorism
  • Theatre search and rescue
  • Activities specified by Government

Raised and Disbanded

  • Raised: 1977


  • A squadron
  • B squadron
  • C squadron
  • D - Command and Control squadron
  • E - Communications, Intelligence and Administrative Support squadron
  • Medical detachment
  • Aviation platoon
  • Funny platoon


  • Fort Bragg, North Carolina, USA
1st Special Forces Operational Detachment - Delta (Airborne)
Picture of an alleged Delta Force team during the operation Desert Storm with a Desert Patrol Vehicle.
[Photo: unknown source.]


In the early 1960s an unusual exchange took place across the Atlantic. A Green Beret lieutenant and sergeant, Charlie Beckwith and Dick Meadows, made the journey to Bradbury Lines, the SAS base in Hereford. The visit had lasting effects on them. Meadows even married the daughter of an SAS sergeant major. At the same time, two SAS men were sent to Fort Bragg, the US army special forces headquarters in North Carolina.

Both Beckwith and King put the SAS’s lessons to work in the Vietnam war. Along the lines of the SAS Beckwith created the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment - Delta (Airborne). The unit was hardly operational before it was put to use in April 1980. When Iranian students took the personnel of the US embassy hostage a daring plan was developed to free them. This plan evolved in Operation Eagle Claw.

After this tragedy the unit was reorganised.


Of the period after the Iranian Embassy is little known. It is known that members of Delta took part in operations in South America fighting the war on drugs and communist revolutionaries. There is also evidence that members of Delta were in Lebanon for longer periods of time. They were part of Operation Urgent Fury the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. They took part in Operation Just Cause the US invasion of Panama on December 20th 1989 (Operation Acid Gambit).

War on terror, Afghanistan

Even after the attacks of September 11 2001, the American high command tried to use US special operations forces for conventional warfare. Delta commanders were furious when, in one of the first ground raids in Afghanistan, they were ordered to attack a Taliban compound as a large scale force, in what they saw as a photo-opportunity for audiences back home. They demanded that the SAS – who had been kept on the sidelines by General Tommy Franks, the allied commander – should be brought in to help. The vain hope was that British special forces commanders might make Franks see sense. Both MI6 and Brigadier Graeme Lamb, then Britain’s Director Special Forces, saw SAS operations in Oman during the 1970s — when they organised local tribesmen to crush an insurgency — as the perfect model for Afghanistan. Eventually, this strategy worked. But throughout the operations inside Afghanistan, both Delta and the SAS repeatedly found themselves used in a role for which they were never intended, carrying out large-scale assaults on enemy positions.

Task Force Sword, comprising more than 2,000 men from Delta, DevGru and the Activity, augmented by two SAS squadrons and members of the SBS, was ordered to pursue high value targets and to cut off al Qaeda troops attempting to flee into Pakistan.

Bin Laden was located by British signals intelligence experts in a series of caves at Tora Bora in the White Mountains, 40 kilometres southwest of Jalalabad; but the assault on the caves was badly botched. Allied commanders on the ground wanted a sizeable number of conventional forces deployed to block any attempt by Al Qaeda fighters to flee across the border into Pakistan. But the US generals feared this might produce many more casualties and the risk aversion mentality won the day. Bin Laden himself, who was heard speaking personally to one of his lieutenants in an intercepted message, slipped through the disjointed allied lines into Pakistan in the second week of December. He could have been stopped. A combined force of SAS and SBS commandos tracked him down and was just twenty minutes behind him, but they were pulled off to allow US troops to go in for the kill. It took several hours for the Americans to get there, by which time he had escaped.

Delta Force Afghanistan
Delta Force and British Special Boat Service commandos at Tora Bora, December 2001.

War on Terror, Iraq

During the first stage of Operation Iraqi Freedom the members from Delta were back operating behind the Iraqi lines. Collecting information, hitting key elements and directing smart bombs. But as soon as the war declared over they started searching for high ranking Iraqis.

From an Iraqi agent inside the Sunni triangle north-west of Baghdad, the Activity received a tip-off that Uday and Qusay were hiding out in the town of Mosul. A 30-man SAS detachment was based in Mosul alongside Delta and Activity operators. British special forces had proven adept at merging into the local population. On the evening of July 21, 2003, a small SAS team was sent in to carry out close target reconnaissance of the three-storey villa. The SAS detachment commander was confident that his team could storm the building and kill the occupants swiftly that night. It was the sort of operation they trained for routinely at their close-quarter battle training facility at Pontrilas, ten miles south of Hereford, and they had a track record of success. But US commanders decided that American soldiers had to be involved if there was a major success against Saddam. Word came up from Baghdad that this operation was to be carried out by Delta.

The next morning, with the temperature already well above 100 degrees, “shooters” from the Activity and Delta stormed the ground floor, but they were forced back by gunfire. In a spectacularly over-the-top assault on the villa armour-piercing missiles, 18 anti-tank rockets and thousands of bullets were unleashed on those inside. The US troops even fired a surface-to-air missile through a window. Only after four hours of intensive fire did the shooting from inside the house tail off, and the special operations shooters were ordered back in, only to be engaged by automatic rifle fire from an AK47 held by Qusay’s son, who was hiding under a bed at the rear of the house. The 14-year-old was shot dead. Army doctors later found that his father’s and uncle’s internal organs had been battered to the point of disintegration by the shock waves from the barrage of missiles.

Soon afterwards, the SAS and SBS combined with Delta, DevGru, the Activity and the CIA to form Task Force 121, whose sole purpose was to capture or kill America’s main enemies in the region. In Afghanistan, that meant Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. In Iraq, a British special forces officer said, Force 121 had one role alone: “pure and simple to find Number One”. When Saddam was cornered, however, the British found themselves excluded once more. Task Force 121 received so many unsubstantiated sightings of the former dictator that they had taken to referring to him as ‘Elvis’. But by early December 2003, they knew they were right on his tail near Tikrit, his home town. One British member of Force 121 said: “They’ve been so close at times that they have picked up his slippers and they’ve been warm.”

The British then blotted their copy book with poor security. A Foreign Office official attended a meeting at which it was disclosed on a “Secret Close Hold” basis just how near the task force was to Saddam. That information should not have left the room, but the Foreign Office official telephoned London, setting off a series of phone calls that compromised the operation. A decree came down from on high: the capture of Saddam had to be 100% “made in the US of A”. An SAS team was on standby to provide back-up but they were unable to share the glory when the Americans found “Elvis” down his hole like a rat in a trap. Following this success, the bulk of Task Force 121 moved to Afghanistan to search for Bin Laden. Finding and finishing the al-Qaeda leader remains the most important mission for US special operations forces, who have received a massive 81 per cent boost in funding since 9/11 to do just that.

Delta Force Iraq
A Delta Force soldier (right) and a British Special Air Service soldier (left) in Iraq, 2008.
[Photo: unknown source.]


1980 Operation Eagle Claw, Iran
1982 POW rescue operations in Vietnam
1982 Organising and training of the Special Purpose Detachment of the Saudi National Guard
1982 - 1985 South America
1982 - War on Drugs
1983 Operation Urgent Fury, Grenada
1983 - 1985 Lebanon
June 1985 TWA Flight 847
October 1985 Achille Lauro
1989 Operation Just Cause, Panama
1990 Operation Desert Shield, Iraq
1991 Operation Desert Storm, Iraq
1991 - Opetaions in former Yugoslavia
1993 - 1994 Operation Restore Hope, Somalia
2001 Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan
2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq
Delta Force
Delta Force at their temporary HQ in Nangarhar, Afghanistan, November 2001.
[Photo: taken by member of US Military - Public Domain.]


Not much is know about the organisation of Delta Force. Everything inside this section is based on unconfirmed reports and rumours.

There are indications that the size of the unit is about 800 members, with about 225 operators. Of the 225 operators, 1/3 are believed to have sniper qualifications. They are reportedly divided over three operational squadrons, broken down into an unknown number of troops. Each Troop has 16 men. These are further broken down into four 4-man squads. Each squad is colour-coded for organisational and control purposes.

Command Structure

  • SFOD-D Commanding Officer: Colonel
  • Deputy (XO): Lieutenant Colonel
  • Squadron Commanders: Lieutenant Colonel
  • Administrative/Intelligence/Logistics/Operations/SupportDirectorates
    Commanders: Lieutenant Colonels
  • Troop Commanders: Captains or Majors, plus a Sergeant Major
  • Squad Commanders: Senior Sergeants
  • All members of SFOD-D are either Sergeants (E-5) or higher for enlisted or Captains or higher for officers.

Organisation 1999

Since the was organised along the lines of the British Special Air Service The organisation of the unit is believed to be as followed.

  • A Squadron
  • B Squadron
  • C Squadron
  • D Squadron Command and Control (Headquarters)
  • E Squadron- Communications, Intelligence and Administrative Support (Includes finance, logistics, medical detachment, research and development, technology and electronics, etc.)
  • F Squadron - Operational Arm
    • The medical detachment maintains special doctors at Fort Bragg and various other bases around the country secretly, to provide medical assistance as needed.
    • "The Funny Platoon": This is the in-house Intelligence arm of Delta.
    • Aviation Squadron for limited in-house use.


Future team members are allowed to compete in the selection after being selected on their military record and their compliance to basic rules.

  • Older than 22;
  • Written recommendations by two officers;
  • Minimum service time of 4 years and two months;
  • Be between the ranks of E-5 (Sergeant) and E-7 (Sergeant First Class) for enlisted;
  • Be either an O-3 (Captain) or O-4 Major with at least 1 year of command experience at the company level for officers;
  • Able to complete the physical test for Rangers/ Special Forces;
  • Airborne-qualified or able to attend airborne training;
  • A score of 110 on the standard psychometric test;
  • Officers must have either a BS or BA degree;
  • No convictions by a court martial or repeated disciplinary problems.

Delta is almost all US Army, but members of the Reserves, National Guard, and the other services can also apply. After being allowed into the selection the candidate has to complete the selection at Fort Bragg successfully. This selection consists of four phases;

  • Ranger/ Special forces Physical test;
  • Pre-selection phase;
  • Stress-phase;
  • Psychological exam;
  • Selection commission,

The Ranger/Special Forces test the candidates basic fitness level. It has six different test. The maximum score for each test is 100 points. Candidates have complete the test within a certain time limit. The test used are:

  • Obstacle course;
  • Backwards crawling over 40 metres;
  • Sit up test;
  • Push up test, 25 push ups;
  • Three kilometres run;
  • One hundred metres swim test with boots and uniform;

The pre-selection phase is intended to discourage and rule out all non fit candidates. It consists of physical training and marches between 25 and 40 kilometres in the proximity of Fort Bragg. This phase lasts for about a week.

The stress phase is the basically the start of the real selection period. The candidates are moved into a desolate area and are equipped for a bivouac. They also receive and old weapon without a sling to carry it. Every day they have to finish a march with at least 20 kilo kilograms of in their backpack. During this march they have to carry their weapon at all times. The candidates have to navigate from Rendez Vous point to Rendez Vous point until they are allowed to stop. They are not allowed to follow roads or paths nor are they allowed to receive help from fellow candidates or outsiders. Afterwards they are brought over to their bivouac area of that day. Here they live on C-rations only. The stress-phase accumulates a 65 kilometres march. After completing the stress phase the candidates return inside Fort Bragg.

At Fort Bragg they are submitted to some psychological tests which are concluded after a conversation with the unit's psychologist.

The final step before becoming a unit member is the selection commission. This commission evaluates the candidates and has one last conversation with the candidate before allowing him to enter the unit. They will be placed on duty with the unit if selected and serve a 3year tour with the unit.

Video: Delta Force

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