The 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D) — commonly known as Delta in the U.S. Army, Delta Force by civilians, and Combat Applications Group by the Department of Defense — is a Special Operations Force (SOF) and an integral element of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
Delta Force's primary tasks are counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency and national intervention operations, although it is an extremely versatile group capable of assuming many missions, including, but not limited to, rescuing hostages, raids, and eliminating covert enemy forces. Delta Force conducts missions similar to those attributed to the British Special Air Service (SAS), on which it was originally modeled.
The unit was started by Colonel Charles Beckwith in 1977. Throughout its creation, the unit had the benefit of experience from the British SAS, with which Colonel Beckwith served and trained while on loan through an officer exchange program with the British from 1961 to 1962.
The unit took part in Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue American hostages from the US Embassy in Tehran in 1980. The mission failed due to an overly complex plan, inadequate Special Operations Aviation training for the accompanying aircrews, a collision between a rescue helicopter and a refueling tanker aircraft, and mechanical problems that reduced the number of available helicopters from the initial eight to only five (one less than minimum required) before the mission contingent left the refueling site to stage for the attack.
After that debacle, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), also known as the "Nightstalkers", was founded and made responsible for the transporting of special forces personnel to and from Areas of Operation.
In 1999, writer Mark Bowden published the book Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, which chronicles the events that surrounded the October 3, 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. The book, in a short brief, relates Delta Force's involvement in the operations that occurred before the events leading to the battle. The book was turned into a film by director Ridley Scott in 2001.
In 2006, Bowden published another book, Guests Of The Ayatollah: The First Battle In America's War With Militant Islam, which chronicles the events of the Iran hostage crisis. The book contains first-hand accounts of Delta Force's involvement in the failed rescue attempt. An accompanying piece on The Atlantic Monthly's web site contains pictures and interview videos from some of the participants.
1st SFOD-D has also participated in operations in a variety of foreign locations, including in Beirut, Lebanon and extensively in Central America, fighting the Salvadoran revolutionary group Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front and assisting the CIA-funded Contras in Nicaragua.
The Pentagon tightly controls information about Delta Force and publicly refuses to comment on the secretive unit and its activities.
Delta operators are granted an enormous amount of flexibility and autonomy, similar to their US Navy counterparts in the DEVGRU. They reportedly do not maintain any general uniformed presence and civilian clothing is the norm on or off duty while at Ft. Bragg. This is done to conceal the identities of these "secret soldiers". When military uniforms are worn, they lack markings, surnames, or branch names. Hair styles and facial hair are allowed to grow to civilian standards in order for the force to be able to blend in and not be immediately recognized as military personnel.
This special status that sets the force apart from the "regular army" is mentioned in the book Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden (though less so in the film of the same name). Delta operators are allowed a significant degree of latitude in their personal grooming standards. They are allowed to grow their hair longer than what "normal" army regulations would allow.
According to the book Inside Delta Force by Command Sergeant Major Eric L. Haney (ret.), the smallest unit is a team, consisting of four to five members. Each team specializes in HALO/HAHO, SCUBA, or other skill groups. The next tier is the troop level, consisting of four to five teams. Squadron level (there are three squadrons) consists of two troops (Short gun-assault and Long gun-sniper) which are broken down into troops and teams as needed to fit mission requirements.
In Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda, Army Times staff writer Sean Naylor describes Delta as having nearly 1,000 operators. Naylor wrote that approximately 250 of those are operators trained to conduct direct action and reconnaissance missions. Those soldiers are divided into three squadrons—A, B, and C—with each squadron subdivided into three troops. Two are assault troops while a third troop specializes in reconnaissance and surveillance and is known as the "recce" troop. The remaining soldiers in Delta are highly trained specialists in mechanics, communications, intelligence, and other support activities, on top of a headquarters staff.
Naylor also wrote that Delta maintains an aviation platoon using aircraft painted in civilian schemes and with fake identification numbers, different from the aircraft of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). This aviation platoon allegedly uses as many as twelve AH-6 and MH-6 Little Birds. A Defense Department Web site also refers to an award given to the Aviation Squadron HQ, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-DELTA (Airborne).
Recruitment and training
Most recruits come from the United States Army Special Forces (the Green Berets), the 75th Ranger Regiment, and the 82nd Airborne Division. Not just anyone can become a Delta operator; personnel must be male, in the rank of Sergeant (E-5) or above and attend a Delta briefing to even be considered for admission. Since the 1990s, the Army has posted recruitment notices for the 1st SFOD-D , which many believe refers to Delta Force. The Army, however, has never released an official fact sheet for the force. The recruitment notices placed in Fort Bragg's newspaper, Paraglide, refer to Delta Force by name, and label it "...the Department of Defense's highest priority unit...". The notice states that all applicants must be 22 years or older, have a general technical score of 110 or higher, and be in the ranks of E-5 through E-8, with at least four and a half years in service.
Such recruits are men with skills such as proficiency in a foreign language or other desirable traits. The selection process is based on the UK SAS model. The selection course begins with standard tests including: push-ups, sit-ups, and a three mile run. The recruits are then put through a series of land navigation courses to include an eighteen-mile, all-night land navigation course while carrying a thirty-five pound rucksack. The rucksack's weight and the distance of the courses are increased and the time standards to complete the task are shortened with every march. The physical testing ends with a forty-mile march with a forty-five pound rucksack over very rough terrain which must be completed in an unknown amount of time. It is said that only the highest-ranking members of the Pentagon are allowed to see the set time limits, but all assessment and selection tasks and conditions are set by Delta training cadre. The mental portion of the testing begins with numerous psychological exams. The men then speak to the commander of Delta and others within the unit. If an individual is selected for Delta, then a 6 month training cycle/probation begins, starting with firearms accuracy and training with other types of munitions.
On many occasions, Delta Force will cross-train with similar units from allied countries such as the French GIGN, Australian SASR, British SAS, the Canadian JTF 2, the German KSK and the Israeli Sayeret Matkal as well as helping train other U.S. counter-terrorism and national intervention units, such as the FBI's HRT.
The 1st SFOD-Delta (Delta force) is one the Federal Government's CT (Counter Terrorist) groups. Also known as CAG (Combat Applications Group) the Pentagon manages to tightly control what is known about this Unit. Their soldiers are recruited from the U.S. Army, mainly from the Special Forces Green Berets and Rangers. Their main compound is in a remote area of Fort Bragg and it is rumored that up to 2,500 personnel are present at this facility.
The TO (Table of Order) for Delta consists of three operational squadrons, a support squadron, a signal squadron, an aviation platoon, and what is termed the "Funny Platoon". This funny platoon is reported to be the only JSOC unit including female operators. Selection for all of these units is rigorous with more focus on mental abilities and toughness than physical.
Training involves runs through CQB (Close Quarters Battle) killing houses designed to teach teams and individuals how to assault buildings that have been captured by terrorists. Selective firing (whether or not to shoot a target) as well as the double tap (shooting the target twice to make sure that the target does not get up again) are instilled in the Counter-terrorism specialists.
Their facility at Bragg is reported to be considered the best special operation training facility in the world. The CQB indoor training range has earned the ominous nick-name, "The House of Horrors". The Facility comes equipped with mock-up of trains and buses for practice in tubular assaults, and there is reported to be a section of a wide-body jet in the units "aircraft room".
As a counter-terrorist group, Delta's main function is in hostage rescue. During Operation Just Cause Delta got their chance to do just that. Kurt Muse, an American businessman operating an underground radio station, had been jailed in the city of Modelo. A 160th SOAR MH-6 transported a team of troopers to the rooftop of the jail. The team fought its way down to the second floor and blew the door to Muse' cell, freeing him without injury. As the team and Muse made their way to the roof and the waiting MH-6, Kurt Muse counted at least five bodies. Not all had been killed; one terrified guard had been handcuffed to a staircase railing. Lifting off, the small helicopter was hit by small arms fire and fell to the street below. The pilot slid the aircraft along the ground to a parking lot and attempted to take off again. The aircraft was hit by ground fire again and hit the ground, this time permanently. A passing UH-60 spotted the infrared spotlight held up by a Delta trooper, and soldiers from the 6th Infantry Regiment came to their rescue. Four Delta operators were wounded, but Delta had "officially" validated their existence and saved Kurt Muse' life.
Delta also saw action in Desert Storm, although the full extent of what they did there has not been revealed. Delta Troopers provided security for General Norman Schwartzkopf and also took part in some missions into Iraq to locate Scud missile launchers for destruction. Delta received some unwanted publicity in the disastrous UN Campaign to stabilize the country of Somalia. During their mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, they assaulted different safe houses containing high-ranking members of warring clans and took them prisoner. Unfortunately, during their last mission two of the support helicopters from the 160th SOAR were shot down. Two Delta operators were killed defending the survivors of the second crash, and at least one was killed in an on-foot extraction through a city populated with locals riled up against the Americans.
Operators from the 1st SFOD were crucial to the invasion of Iraq in early 2003. It is reported that they were in place ahead of time in the capital of Bagdhad, building networks of informants while eavesdropping and sabotaging Iraqi communications lines.
Delta works closely with the 160th SOAR for air support, but they also have their own fleet of helicopters (the aviation platoon). Painted in civilian colors and with fake registration numbers, the helicopters can deploy with Delta operators and mount gun pods to provide air support as well as transportation. Delta/CAG also works with the CIA's Special Activities Staff.