Certain special forces groups, such as the American Navy SEALs, British SAS or the Russian Spetsnaz are becoming more widely known due to their appearances in video games and action movies. There is one group however, that remains widely unknown to most people despite the group originating from one of the larger NATO countries in Europe. That would be the German Kommando Spezialkräfte, or KSK.
The KSK, or Special Forces Command, was formed in 1996, and officially activated on April 1st, 1997. Its main purpose was to become the main special forces unit for the Federal Republic of Germany, although the group was not formed until after the Cold War and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, the main enemies of NATO. Prior to the creation of the KSK, special operations were handled by multiple groups depending on the nature of the mission, such as the GSG-9 counter-terrorism unit, the Sonderwaffenbegleitkompanien, or Special Weapons Escort Companies, the Ferspaher, or Long Range Reconnaissance, or the Kampfschwimmers, or Combat Swimmers.
Within the German military, the KSK is referred to as “the elite unit” and the training process for those who wish to join is particularly rigorous. The selection process is over three months long, and one commander stated that the psychological and physical tests exerted on the trainees were the most strenuous “you can ask of people in a democracy.” The screening test for up to 50 applicants (mostly career and regular soldiers, although civilians may also join) who plan on joining is referred to as “the week of hell.” The KSK is based in Calw, located within the Black Forest region of southern Germany and members tend to be within the ages of 28 and 35. The main weapon of choice for KSK operatives appears to be the German G36 assault rifle, which is also used by the Bundeswehr (Federal Defense), as well as many other NATO and non-NATO militaries.
As can be expected, the KSK is extremely secretive. During an investigation as to whether KSK soldiers had abused Murat Kurnaz before his internment at Guantanamo Bay, the German Defense Ministry admitted that a large number of KSK mission files had been destroyed “accidentally.” However, knowledge of their operations is becoming more and more widespread as the group finds itself deployed more frequently. During another scandal, it was reported that the KSK soldiers initially deployed to Afghanistan were treated poorly by their U.S. counterparts, and that eventually KSK soldiers began trading their supply of beer to U.S. soldiers in exchange for anything from socks and supplies to intelligence reports and helicopter flights. In October 2012, the KSK successfully captured high-level Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Rahman in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan, who was responsible for attacks on NATO petrol supply lines and a major bomb maker.
Recently on April 30th, 2014, the Bundestag deputy Florian Hahn requested that the KSK be sent to free OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) inspectors that had been captured by armed men in Slaviansk by pro-Russian separatists. While the Ukrainian special forces were supposedly not prepared for such an operation, the KSK had previous experience handling similar situations in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, serving with KFOR and ISAF respectively. Fortunately, the OSCE inspectors were released safely in early May 2014 and flown to Kiev before being flown to Berlin, Germany.
There is very little official information that can be found regarding the KSK, and even less can be found in English, but clearly the KSK has proven itself as an important part of NATO, and will most likely find themselves called upon more and more in the near future.