commando, small, elite military raiding and assault unit or soldier. Although the word was coined in the Boer War (1899–1902), the role is as old as battles themselves. In 1940, when the British organized a number of such units, the term came into wide use. Made up of hand-picked volunteers, specifically trained for dangerous work, these units were employed in missions throughout World War II, including the raid on Field Marshal Rommel's headquarters (1941). The U.S. Army's Ranger battalions were also popularly called commandos. After World War II the British army's commandos were disbanded, but the British Royal Marine Commandos were employed in the Korean war and the Suez operation, and the elite Special Air Service has engaged in extensive action against the Irish Republican Army and other nonstate-sponsored commandos. The United States has active commando, or Special Operations, units, including the Navy Seals and the Army's Rangers, Green Berets (Special Forces), and Delta Force. Some of these forces were used in the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, operations in Afghanistan (2001), and numerous counterinsurgency operations. Soviet commandos ( Spetsnaz ) fought in the Afghanistan War. Israel and Vietnam have particularly proficient commando units. Commandos today often use special weapons, such as satellite communications, silenced small arms, exotic explosives, and delicate sensors.
See also guerrilla warfare.
See J. Adams, Secret Armies (1987); M. Klare and P. Kornbluh, ed., Low Intensity Warfare (1987).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.