Special Forces of Zimbabwe

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Special Forces of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) are the units of the Zimbabwe National Army that operate as special forces. These forces have been deployed in several African conflicts, including the Mozambique Civil War and the Second Congo War.


In 1980 Prime Minister Robert Mugabe declared integration of Rhodesian Army, which at independence was the existing army, with the two guerilla armies: Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA). This meant Rhodesian Special forces were quickly disbanded and refounded. The Selous Scouts were disbanded and became the 1 Parachute Regiment. 1 Commando Brigade was created based on the Rhodesia Light Infantry and Rhodesian African Rifles. British advisors refounded the Special Air Service. Special Forces selection and training were taken from the ones used by Rhodesian army Special forces.

The first operation of the new Special Forces lasted from December 5 to 9 in 1984. Operation Lemon comprised elements of 3 Brigade, the Parachute Group and Special Air Service. Special Forces were deployed to Mozambique to protect the Beira Corridor railway link between Zimbabwe and the port of Beira.


According to Jane's Special Forces Recognition Guide, Special Forces in the Zimbabwe National Army include:

  • One Commando Regiment (formerly One Commando Battalion, previously the Rhodesian Light Infantry), based at Cranborne Barracks, Harare. The commando regiment is led by Lieutenant Colonel Hwami Vengesai.[1] Selection phase include four-day navigating day and night in the Zambezi Valley while carrying a 30 kg weight on an empty stomach. Further training curriculum include river crossing, mountain climbing, reconnaissance, anti-hijacking, sniping, unarmed combat, tracking and bush craft. Also included is jungle survival on wild fruits and natural remedies for medical treatment. Their operators wear Green beret.
  • One Parachute Regiment (sometimes referred to as Parachute Group) at Andre' Rabie Barracks just North of Harare. The Regiment was originally reconstituted from the Selous Scouts Regiment.[2] The Regiment is led by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mazaiwana.[1] Paras wear Maroon beret.
  • Combat Diving Unit.
  • Special Air Service - based at Kabrit Barracks, adjacent to Harare Airport, under the command of Colonel Panga Kufa.[3] The SAS has recently allowed women to be recruited into the unit.[4] Their operators wear Light brown beret.
  • Zimbabwe Mounted Infantry or Grey's Scouts, a horse-mounted reconnaissance unit. The main unit used to be based at Guinea Fowl. The battalion conducts border patrols and anti-poaching operations. The regiment is commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Bothwell Brian Chigaba [1]
  • Boat Squadron with five sub-units:[5]
    • A Troop, with a strength of 40 men and equipped with a few interceptor craft.[6]
    • B Troop maintained assault boats able to ferry troops ashore
    • C Troop, with a large transporter, the Ubique—a 72 tonne landing craft capable of carrying 30 tonnes of men and equipment including armoured cars. Ubique was also armed with 12.7 and 7.62 mm machine guns for self-protection and covering fire purposes.
    • D Troop—this support group was trained for protecting beach-heads and making assault landings for non-specialised units, employing mortar and support weapons.
    • E Troop was deployed for the purposes of guarding the harbours on Lake Kariba and around the rest of the squadron, as required.

There is also a diving school, equipped with a decompression chamber, operated in conjunction with the commandos. The Police operates patrol boats that include 2 x Rodman 46HJ, 3 x Rodman 38, 5 x Roadman 26, 8 x Type B 79 and an unknown number of Rodman 790s.



Some sources[7] claim Zimbabwean commandos led the final assault on UNITA leading to the eventual killing of Jonas Savimbi.[8] Zimbabwe sent 2,000 troop to help the Angola government end the war.


Special Forces launched several search and destroy operations against RENAMO guerrillas.

  • 5–9 December 1984 the Parachute Group and Special Air Service (SAS) spearheaded Operation Lemon.
  • 20 August 1985 in Operation Grape Fruit the Parachute Group and One Command Battalion supported 3 Brigade in taking over the MNR Muxamba base.
  • 28 August 1985 SAS and Commando Regiment units lead raid on Casa Banana.
  • 24 January 1986 in Operation Octopus, Paras and Commandos were dropped near Marromeu to secure the town and the sugar refinery. 27 January 1986 several Para drops were made in support of the operation.[9]


Zimbabwean commandos defended Kinshasa at the last minute when it was on the brink of falling to rebels to invading Ugandan and Rwandan army units. Due to the river networks in the DRC, the Boat Squadron saw extensive use during the course of Zimbabwe’s involvement.

In August 1998 the ZDF had one SAS squadron supporting a battalion of paratroopers defending N’Djili from Rwandan offensive. The Parachute Regiment suffered a heavy blow when 15 soldiers and together with their CASA 212 were captured after landing on an airstrip already controlled by the invading forces. It is believed the DRC government army unit they were supposed to join had defected to the rebels. [10]

Zimbabwean SAS ambushed a column of rebel Type-59 tanks close to Kinshasa, knocking out the lead tank and creating panic in the rest of crews, that abandoned their tanks and ran away. When the rebels attacked the airport Zimbabweans SAS and paratroopers remained in possession of the military side of the airport plus the control tower and eventually defeated the offensive. The battle of Kinshasa was won by the Air force of Zimbabwe, that could operate from the part of the airport controller by ZDF troops. It played a crucial role in the securing of Kinshasa as the ZNA could not move since the rebels were all over the place. It was the jets of 5 Sqn which played a crucial role together with helicopter squadrons of the AFZ who managed to neutralise the rebels by destroying their tanks and heavy artillery. The AFZ gained a lot of respect for as they showed their expertise as well as professionalism throughout the entire war. Officers like Lt Nyachiwowo showed great courage in the operation. It was them who secured the Matadi corridor, Bukavu and the Inga dam with the support of the Zim commandos, SAS, Paras and Amphibious sqn. POINT OF CORRECTION, The CASA 212 aircraft was not captured but was only fired at after takeoff. The troops who had disembarked from the Casa fought a battle which lasted several hours and only surrendered after they had run out of ammunition. No Zimbabwean aircraft was captured intact in the DRC.[11]

For more on past operations please see the Zimbabwe National Army page.


  1. ^ a b "Special forces mark anniversaries". ZDF News. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  2. ^ Selous Scout
  3. ^ Tichaona Sibanda (14 June 2007). "Zimbabwe: Army Investigates Reports of Coup Plot". allAfrica.com.
  4. ^ "ZNA looking for GI Janes". The Zimbabwean. 18 October 2011. Archived from the original on 28 April 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  5. ^ "Tracking Zimbabwe's political history: The Zimbabwe Defence Force from 1980–2005" (PDF). Archived from the original on February 5, 2012. Retrieved 2007-06-03.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) Knox Chitiyo & Martin Rupiya
  6. ^ Jane's Information Group Ltd. "Navy (Zimbabwe) - Sentinel Security Assessment - Southern Africa". Archived from the original on 14 June 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  7. ^ Rangarirai Shoko (5 November 1999). "Zimbabwe leads assault on Angola". allafrica.com.
  8. ^ Thembinkosi Mangena (8 August 2011). "ZDF among the best forces: Chiwenga". ZBC. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  9. ^ Norman Mlambo. "RAIDS ON GORONGOSSA: Zimbabwe's Military Involvement in Mozambique 1982 - 1992". Defence Digest - Working Paper 3. Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  10. ^ http://iaafrica.com/the-siege-of-manono-zimbabweans-in-congo-war/
  11. ^ http://www.thepatriot.co.zw/old_posts/an-army-with-a-proud-record/

External links

  • Brief history of ZNA's Mounted Infantry & Parachute Battalion
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