The United States Army Delta Force, officially known as the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), is one of the most elite and secretive special operations units in the world. Its origins can be traced back to the tumultuous times of the 1970s when the U.S. military recognized the need for a highly specialized counterterrorism unit. The history of Delta Force is marked by a series of clandestine operations, successful missions, and a commitment to excellence that continues to this day.
Origins and Formation:
The idea for a specialized counterterrorism and hostage rescue unit came to prominence after the failed attempt to rescue American hostages held in Iran in 1980, known as Operation Eagle Claw. The U.S. military realized the need for a dedicated force that could respond quickly and decisively to such situations. In November 1977, Colonel Charles Beckwith, a decorated Green Beret and veteran of the Vietnam War, was tasked with creating such a unit.
Beckwith had been impressed by the British Special Air Service (SAS) and wanted to create a similar force within the U.S. Army. He believed that the U.S. military needed a unit that could conduct direct action missions, counterterrorism operations, and unconventional warfare. With this vision in mind, he began recruiting and training a select group of soldiers for what would become Delta Force.
Selection and Training:
Delta Force candidates are among the best and brightest in the U.S. military. The selection process is grueling and includes psychological and physical assessments, as well as an extensive background check. Candidates must also have at least three years of military experience.
Once selected, candidates undergo a rigorous training regimen, which includes marksmanship, tactics, hand-to-hand combat, and extensive physical conditioning. The training is designed to push candidates to their limits and weed out those who cannot meet the high standards of the unit. Training exercises often take place in remote and challenging environments to prepare operators for real-world missions.
Delta Force’s first operational deployment came in 1980 during the Iranian hostage crisis. Although Operation Eagle Claw ultimately failed due to a tragic accident during a refueling operation in the Iranian desert, Delta Force demonstrated its capabilities and commitment to its mission. This marked the beginning of the unit’s reputation for excellence and dedication.
Over the years, Delta Force has been involved in numerous high-profile operations, many of which remain classified. Some of the publicly acknowledged missions include:
Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury, 1983):
During Operation Urgent Fury in 1983, the U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force played a crucial role in the liberation of Grenada. The mission, triggered by the political turmoil and the threat posed by a communist government in Grenada, marked one of the earliest combat deployments of Delta Force. Tasked with rescuing American citizens and securing key objectives, Delta Force operatives showcased their exceptional skills and adaptability in the face of unexpected challenges. Their primary mission included rescuing Governor-General Paul Scoon, who was held hostage, and securing sensitive documents.
Delta Force operators, working in close coordination with other special operations units, rapidly executed high-risk raids on various targets, including Richmond Hill Prison and the governor-general’s residence. The operation demonstrated their ability to respond swiftly to a crisis, gather crucial intelligence, and execute precision operations with minimal collateral damage. Delta Force’s contributions during Operation Urgent Fury underscored their importance in addressing critical national security threats and their dedication to protecting American interests, setting the stage for their future roles in global counter-terrorism operations.
Panama (Operation Just Cause, 1989):
During the invasion of Panama, known as Operation Just Cause in 1989, the U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force played a pivotal role in the removal of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Tasked with locating and capturing Noriega, who faced drug trafficking and human rights abuse charges, Delta Force operatives carried out a series of high-stakes missions. The operation’s success relied heavily on their expertise in counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, and direct action.
Delta Force teams executed a highly sensitive mission in Panama City, which involved capturing key individuals associated with the Noriega regime and neutralizing their ability to resist. Their actions contributed significantly to the operation’s success, as they helped secure vital objectives, gather crucial intelligence, and ultimately pave the way for the restoration of democracy in Panama. The invasion of Panama marked another instance where Delta Force demonstrated its exceptional capabilities in unconventional warfare and counter-terrorism, reinforcing its reputation as one of the world’s premier special operations units.
Somalia (Operation Gothic Serpent, 1993):
Delta Force took part in the mission to capture a Somali warlord, which became the basis for the book and film “Black Hawk Down.”
During the infamous Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, often referred to as the “Black Hawk Down” incident, Delta Force played a crucial and heroic role in the United States’ military operation in Somalia. Task Force Ranger, which included elite Delta Force operators, was tasked with capturing key Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The operation aimed to apprehend Aidid’s lieutenants during a raid in the heart of Mogadishu. Delta Force was an integral part of this operation, providing specialized skills and expertise in counter-terrorism and direct action missions.
Delta Force operatives played a pivotal role in the extraction and protection of American soldiers during the fierce and prolonged battle that ensued. Despite encountering overwhelming adversity and intense urban warfare, Delta Force operators demonstrated extraordinary courage and resilience. Their ability to adapt to the chaotic and unpredictable environment of Mogadishu, along with their unwavering commitment to their fellow soldiers, exemplified their dedication and unwavering professionalism. The Battle of Mogadishu remains a testament to the extraordinary valor and determination of the Delta Force operators and the entire Task Force Ranger during this harrowing and ultimately tragic mission.
Iraq (Various Operations):
Delta Force played a significant role in counterterrorism and special operations missions during the Gulf War and subsequent conflicts in Iraq.
The hunt for high-value targets (HVTs): Delta Force was tasked with locating and capturing or eliminating key individuals, including Saddam Hussein and other senior members of the Ba’athist regime.
Hunt for Saddam Hussein
The U.S. Army Delta Force played a pivotal role in the relentless hunt for Saddam Hussein, the deposed Iraqi dictator, during the early stages of the Iraq War. Tasked with capturing or eliminating high-value targets, Delta Force led a determined and highly secretive effort to locate Saddam Hussein, who had gone into hiding following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. This mission was of paramount importance, as Hussein’s capture symbolized a significant milestone in the coalition’s efforts to stabilize the country and dismantle the remnants of the Ba’athist regime.
Delta Force operators utilized their unmatched skills in intelligence collection, surveillance, and direct action operations to track down Saddam Hussein. Working in close coordination with intelligence agencies and special operations units, they relentlessly pursued leads, analyzed information, and conducted raids on suspected locations. The culmination of their intensive efforts occurred on December 13, 2003, when Delta Force, in cooperation with other units, successfully captured Saddam Hussein near his hometown of Tikrit.
The capture of Saddam Hussein was a major achievement and a turning point in the Iraq War, significantly impacting the course of the conflict and the morale of the Iraqi population. Delta Force’s role in this operation underscored their exceptional capabilities in high-stakes, high-profile missions and their unwavering commitment to achieving critical military objectives.
Afghanistan (Various Operations):
Delta Force operators were involved in numerous missions during the war in Afghanistan, including the hunt for high-value targets like Osama bin Laden. Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-present): Delta Force has been a significant part of the broader U.S. and coalition efforts to combat terrorism in Afghanistan since the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom. Their missions have involved counter-terrorism, direct action, intelligence gathering, and high-value target operations.
Operation Red Wings (2005): Delta Force played a vital role in the search and rescue mission following the ill-fated Operation Red Wings, which aimed to capture or kill a high-value target in Afghanistan. They helped recover the bodies of the fallen Navy SEALs and engaged enemy forces in the process.
Operation Neptune Spear (2011): While the Navy SEALs were the primary unit involved, Delta Force provided support and backup during the operation that resulted in the elimination of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Counter-terrorism operations: Delta Force has conducted numerous counter-terrorism operations, often in collaboration with other special operations units, targeting key Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan.
These are some of the known operations in which Delta Force has been involved in Afghanistan. Due to the secretive and classified nature of their missions, the full extent of their activities remains undisclosed to the public.
Syria (Operation Kayla Mueller, 2015):
Operation Kayla Mueller, which took place in Syria in 2015, aimed to rescue American humanitarian aid worker Kayla Mueller, who had been held captive by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). The U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force played a critical role in the mission, providing their exceptional expertise in hostage rescue and counter-terrorism. Operating under extreme secrecy, Delta Force teams conducted a daring nighttime raid on an ISIS compound in Syria, where Kayla Mueller was believed to be held. Unfortunately, the mission did not result in her rescue, as she had tragically lost her life while in captivity.
Despite the outcome, Delta Force’s involvement in Operation Kayla Mueller highlighted their unwavering commitment to saving American lives and their extraordinary capabilities in high-stakes hostage rescue operations. The mission demonstrated the risks and challenges faced by these elite operators in dangerous and hostile environments and underscored their dedication to carrying out the most demanding and critical missions on behalf of the United States.
Delta Force’s operations are highly classified, and the unit operates in secrecy. Even the identities of many Delta Force members are closely guarded secrets. This secrecy is necessary to protect the unit’s capabilities and the safety of its operators.
Delta Force continues to evolve and adapt to the changing nature of global threats. It remains a critical component of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and works closely with other elite units like the Navy SEALs and the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. Its legacy of excellence and commitment to the highest standards of training and professionalism make it a formidable force in the world of special operations.
In summary, the history of the U.S. Army Delta Force is a story of innovation, dedication, and the pursuit of excellence in the face of some of the world’s most challenging and dangerous missions. Since its formation in the 1970s, Delta Force has remained at the forefront of U.S. special operations, serving as a symbol of the nation’s commitment to protecting its interests and countering threats wherever they may arise.