Most people familiar with the U.S. Army Special Forces know that currently (mid-2016) there are five active-duty Special Forces groups and two National Guard Special Forces groups. Less well-known are the existence of other Special Forces groups that have long been de-activated. [1] The 8th Special Forces Group was one of these groups. It was established at Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone in 1963 from a nucleus of Green Berets from the 7th Special Forces. It was de-activated in 1972 – coinciding with the withdrawal of troops from South Vietnam (that war ended in 1975) and the subsequent down-sizing of the U.S. military.

Map of Panama - 8th Special Forces Group
Map of Panama – 8th Special Forces Group

The 8th Special Forces Group formed the nucleus of the Special Action Force (SAF) – Latin America. The SAF included the Special Forces Operational Detachment Alphas (SFODAs), as well as medical, Civil Affairs, military police, military intelligence, Army Security Agency [2], and Psychological Operations detachments. This SAF organization provided all the necessary assets for the conduct of a large counterinsurgency or unconventional warfare mission or operation. The Special Action Force would later be renamed as the Security Assistance Force.

The mission of the Special Action Force was:
– To advise, train, and assist Latin American military forces in counterinsurgency activities,
– To develop, organize, and equip, train and direct native forces in the conduct of guerrilla warfare,
– To support the U.S. Armed Forces Southern Command contingency plans,
– To assist Southern Command in developing plans to use the Special Action Force under varying conditions,
– To accomplish civic action projects.

The men of the 8th Special Forces Group were responsible for unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency, mobile training team missions, and special operations in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Some of the notable missions they took part in were the 1969 ‘Soccer War’ between El Salvador and Honduras and the capture (and killing) of Che Guevara. [3]