Special Operations: The Intimidators

April 8, 2017: In early 2017 Chinese TV broadcast an interesting TV show that featured one of their commando units carrying out an operation remarkably similar to the 2011 American raid on the compound of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. For the TV show China built what appeared to be a replica of the bin Laden compound and showed Chinese commandos going through many of the same moves the U.S. Navy SEALs were known to have made during the raid, plus a few additional stunts apparently added for dramatic effect. The Chinese dramatization was not described as a reenactment of the bin Laden raid but rather a hypothetical operation in Xinjiang province where about half the population is Moslem, most of them Uighurs (ethnic Turks) and generally hostile to the Chinese presence. Xinjiang is where most Chinese Islamic terrorists come from although most Uighur violence in Xinjiang is against Han (ethnic Chinese) rule, which began in the 18th century and was completed, after much bloodshed, in 1884 when the area was designated Xinjiang province. But Han Chinese did not become the majority in Xinjiang until recently and many Uighurs accuse China of trying to erase Uighur culture in order to ensure long-term control over this frontier province. The TV show was sending a message to those Uighurs, reminding them that China had to conquer Xinjiang several times in the 18th and 19th century and that Chinese military capabilities were now capable of handling anything. The TV show did not have to remind the Uighurs that Chinese commandos are now considered world class and one unit, the Show Leopards, has an international reputation, acknowledged by Western nations long known for their excellent commando units.

It was only in 2015 that China began giving its commando forces a lot of publicity. Actually it was in 2015 that China first released details of their commando units. That year Chinese publicists made much of the fact that one of the two National Police special operations units (the Snow Leopards) won the annual International Warrior Competition (the “Commando Olympics”) two years in a row (2013-14). This involved competing with troops from 17 other nations, including the United States. That said, each year the Americans were not able to send their best because most U.S. special operations troops are either in combat, getting ready for operations or recovering from their last tour. Still, the Snow Leopards did well and in other international operations (usually of a counter-terrorism nature) the Chinese operators always demonstrated a professional attitude and mastery of the skills needed to be an effective commando.

The Snow Leopards are one several commando units in the national police and are based in Beijing. Two of the four squadrons of the Snow Leopards specialize in commando operations (like hostage rescue or difficult raids), while another handles bomb disposal and exotic (nuclear, biological, complex bombs) weapons and the other squadron specializes in snipers. The Snow Leopards were formed in 2002 and trained for five years before going to work. There are several similar units in other parts of China. In general, these police commando units tend to be very secretive. Much is known about the Snow Leopards because they were the first and being in the capital are something of a showcase unit for Chinese special operations in general.

The Snow Leopards are, like many commando units, small (under 500 personnel) and very selective. The Snow Leopards are mainly a counter terrorism unit, of which there are several in the national police (called the PAP or People’s Armed Police). In China, the line between the armed forces and the police is sometimes blurred, especially when it comes to paramilitary outfits like the PAP.

Later in 2015 China announced that it had changed its laws to allow Chinese military and police commandos to operate overseas. This came as a surprise to some in American naval intelligence because it was known that for several years special operations teams had been seen on Chinese warships operating off the Somali coast as part of the international anti-piracy patrol. But as far as anyone knows these commandos never saw any combat although they were observed training a lot. China is expected to use this new authority to offer commandos for sensitive peacekeeping emergencies.

China has a lot of different commando units to send overseas. China allows different services (including the paramilitary national police) and military regions to create and maintain their own special operations forces. Thus there are ten separate special operations forces (seven military regions, the navy and the national police have two). The capital (Beijing, also a military region) has the largest force with over 3,000 personnel. Since the late 1990s the total manpower was expanded from about 12,000 special operation troops nationwide to over 30,000.

Each military region has a special operations brigade with about 2,000 troops. In a few cases smaller forces of several hundred operators are organized for about half a dozen combat divisions plus a few more for some armies. The non-army special operations units tend to be smaller, with lots of them in the various provincial and special police forces. Same with the navy and two marine brigades and its equivalent of the American SEALs. The current plan is to form small (platoon or company size, that is 20-150 troops) special operations units in every division and navy squadron (unit of several warships). Thus the army actually has eleven special operations brigades or (smaller) regiments but the troops are scattered all over the army.

These variations also hide the fact that most of these troops, while elite, are more similar in capabilities to Western rangers, paratroopers or SWAT teams. There are few who are as capable as the American Special Forces or commandos (as created during World War II by the British in the SAS and SBS). After World War II there were similar but a bit different SAS variations like American SEALs and Special Forces units that focused on traditional commando ops. The Russians came up with Spetsnaz while the Germans and French and many former British colonies created quite impressive versions of SAS.

China did not get into forming special operations troops until the 1980s and each of the military regions and several major police organizations were allowed to develop their own versions of the basic idea (elite troops performing very difficult tasks). Naturally there is more emphasis on martial arts and physical conditioning, both Chinese traditions admired but not always practiced intensively by the military. Chinese special operations skills involve a lot of work on improving reconnaissance capabilities and the ability to track down and quickly kill or capture small groups of troublemakers (especially separatists or religious fanatics). In the 1990s Chinese special operations commanders began looking into using their elite troops for raiding key enemy targets to paralyze the enemy ability to move and react. Since 2000 China has been putting its commandos to work more frequently, including outside of China. After all that China now sees its commandos as scary enough to intimidate unruly populations.

Source: Strategy Page “Special Operations: The Intimidators”

Note: This is Strategy Page’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


9 Comments on “Special Operations: The Intimidators”

  1. Joseph says:

    Perhaps you should notice that USS Carl Vinson battlegroup is going missing, again. Instead of going to North Korea, they are going to Indian Ocean. They may have mistaken Sri Lanka for North Korea. Apparently they do not teach geography in US Navy, or the American cannot afford to employ bonafide navigators. This explains why nobody saw the USS Carl Vinson when they were supposed to be patrolling the SCS in January. Perhaps they went to Caribbean instead, mistaken that SCS meant South Caribbean Sea.


  2. […] “In early 2017 Chinese TV broadcast an interesting TV show that featured one of their commando… […]


  3. Steve says:

    China’s Commando elite forces are now world’s best as proven in many special forces contest, as in the Warriors contest and lately in Pakistan’s team spirit endurance. Traditionally, China is known for it’s skilled guerrilla warfare.


  4. Joseph says:

    Han Chinese rule in Xinjiang began in 18th century? Think again. American rule in America might begin in 18th century but Chinese rule of Xinjiang was older than 18th century BC, the time of Egyptian pyramids. And to emphasis ‘Han’ rule is quite ridiculous. Han Dynasty Empire was 2000 years ago, about the time when Jesus was supposed to live. There were Han settlements throughout Xinjiang, the most famous was Jiuquan, a huge forward frontier military base as important as American Pearl Harbor, as first line of defense against invaders, and they fought the Xiongnu, not the Uyghurs. There was even Han Imperial Jade Mines in Han city Kashgar. Obviously the name was not Kashgar back then. Did the Uyghurs stay that long in Xinjiang? They weren’t even there during the time of Silk Road. Just as Syrian immigrants swarming Europe today, the Uyghurs are just immigrants. When those Syrian immigrants become dominant in Europe, will the European be happy if Europe to be called Western Syria like those Uyghur immigrants called Xinjiang as East Turkestan? Will they be happy then, to be called European settlers in Europe? French settlers in France, British settlers in Brittain, and Dutch settlers in Netherland? I don’t think they would. So why would we be.


    • Chinese Xinjianger says:

      Good points but the Uyghurs were originally brought in as slaves after the Chinese wiped out the Dzungarian Mongols. They were not even immigrants. To now claim Xinjiang as theirs now and to call it East Turkestan is going too far. Send them all to Turkmenistan or to Turkey since Ankara has been giving them Turkish passports without conditions. Let them call themselves Turks. Why waste everyone’s time in pretending to be Uyghurs. Ingrates.


      • Steve says:



      • Joseph says:

        Actually, the Uyghurs were immigrants that migrated to Xinjiang from the later Silk Road during the Tang Dynasty. Nobody enslaved them. They just came as immigrants or refugees fleeing chaotic homeland in old Turkestan, just like Syrian immigrants fleeing to Europe. Nobody wanted them, nobody accepted them. They walked and walked until they reached Han people territory, because only the HAN, under Tang Dynasty, showed them pity, let them settle. And they repay Han generosity by claiming what they were granted. The Uyghurs were not even Moslem back then as Moslem didn’t even exist. They were not even dominant power for 1200 years. There were dominant Dzungars, Salars and Kazakhs who actually despise and loath Uyghurs. And it is not hard at all to see why. They only get their ‘autonomous region’ because they suck up to Mao Zedong. Xinjiang should be Dzungar autonomous region or Salar Autonomous region as Dzungars and Salars were much more dominant than Uyghurs. But Dzungars and Salars made the mistake of being overly loyal to defeated Kuomintang regime, while the disloyal and traitorous Uyghurs switched side to Communist force immediately, just as quick as they switched side to the British when the British came, and to the Russian when the Russian came. Now they switch side to the American when CIA comes. Such treacherous behavior should not be tolerated.


        • Chinese Xinjianger says:

          A little bit more light on the “Uyghurs”.

          Chinese Uygurs were originally referred to as Mountain Tajiks in China and are different from the Plain Tajiks in Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

          In the 1940s around 9,000 Tajiks lived in Xinjiang. The population of Tajiks in China in 2000 numbers 41,028. Not exactly a big figure by any measure.

          As a people, these Tajiks of Xinjiang practiced slavery, selling their own as a punishment. Such Tajiks if they were submissive were given wives. They were considered property and could be sold anytime.

          In the period before 1940s, most foreign slaves brought into Xinjiang were Shia Mountain Tajiks, they were referred to by Sunni Turkic Muslims as Ghalcha.

          From that small number of slaves grew the 41,028 “Uyghurs”.

          For such a smallish group, the majority of who migrated into Xinjiang as slaves, they sure ask too much today.

          “East Turkestan”? No such thing historically. These political Moslem “Uyghurs” are liars. There was no East Turkestan in those days. Why should 1.4 billion China bend over for these 41,000 Moslem “Uyghurs”?