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In English, the term commando means a specific kind of individual soldier or military unit. In contemporary usage, commando usually means elite light infantry and/or special forces units, specialized in amphibious landings, parachuting, rappelling and similar techniques, to conduct and effect attacks. Originally “a commando” was a type of combat unit, as opposed to an individual in that unit. In other languages, commando and kommando denote a “command,” in the sense of a military unit.

In the militaries of most countries, commandos are distinctive in that they specialize in assault on conventional military targets. This is in contrast to other special forces units, which specialize in counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, and sabotage. However, the term commando is sometimes used in relation to units carrying out the latter tasks (including some civilian police units).

In English, occasionally to distinguish between an individual commando and the unit Commando, the unit is capitalized.[1]

It can also be used as a slang phrase, 'going commando', which means not wearing any undergarments.


The word stems from the Afrikaans word Kommando which translates roughly to "mobile (Originally by horse) infantry regiment" and is notably similar to the word command in English which is where the word commando derives from in those languages. The Dutch word has had the meaning of "a military order" since at least 1652 and likely came into the language through Portuguese influence.[1] It is also possible the word was adopted into Afrikaans from interactions with Portuguese colonies.[2] Less likely, it is a High German loan word, which was borrowed from Italian in the 17th century, from the sizable minority of German settlers in the initial European colonization of South Africa.[1]

The officer commanding of an Afrikaans "kommando" is called a "kommandant", which is a regimental commander like a lieutenant-colonel or a colonel.


After the Dutch Cape Colony was established in 1652, the word was use to describe bands of militia. The first "Commando Law" was instated by the original Dutch East India Company chartered settlements and similar laws were maintained through the independent Boer Orange Free State and South African Republic. The law compelled Burghers to equip themselves with a horse and a firearm when required in defense. The implementation of these laws was called the "Commando System." A group of mounted militiamen were organized in a unit known as a commando and headed by a Commandant, who was normally elected from inside the unit.[1] Men called up to serve were said to be "on commando."[3] British experience with this system lead to the widespread adoption of the word "commandeer" into English in the 1880s.[4]

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