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Special Operations: China's 50,000 Commandoes

December 14, 2005: The Chinese Army has a significant special operations force (SOF) capability. There are nine SOF groups - termed dadui - each with about 1,000 men. With the exception of the Jinan (Shantung) Military Region, each of the country's seven military regions has at least one dadui, with two in Chengdu (Yunnan and Tibet), Nanjin (on the coast facing Taiwan), and Lanzhou (Central Asia). 


There are also many smaller special operations detachments at the army, division, and even regimental level. Each "group army" (equivalent to a western field army), has a SOF-capable reconnaissance battalion, each division a company of about 125 men, and each regiment a SOF-capable reconnaissance team of some 35 men. Although on paper this means China has over 50,000 troops in its "special operations forces," in general, quality of manpower and training, as well as the sophistication of equipment increases as one moves from the regimental level SOF detachments, which are very specialized for tactical missions, to the dadui.


As with SOF forces world-wide, the dadui and other Chinese SOF forces perform a variety of missions. Their most basic mission is reconnaissance, particularly into the enemy rear, in highly critical tactical or operational situations. In addition, they perform counter-terrorism and internal security missions, a problem in Chengdu (with its restive Tibetans and potentially restive Moslems) and Lanzhou (with its large Moslem population). Commando-type raids and limited size precision strike operations are another common mission, to capture or destroy critical positions or installations, take prisoners, or extract friendly personnel. Finally, China's SOF forces have strong ties to the national military intelligence establishment, for the purpose of conducting strategic reconnaissance. As there has been little information about operations conducted by China's SOF forces, it is difficult to assess their potential effectiveness.