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The Dutch word has had the meaning of "a military order or command" since at least 1652; it likely came into the language through the influence of the Portuguese word comando (meaning "command"). 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.(In Dutch, "commando" can also mean a command given to a computer, e.g., "het mkdir-commando" (= "create a directory").) It is also possible the word was adopted into Afrikaans from interactions with Portuguese colonies. During the "Great Trek", conflicts with Southern African peoples such as the Xhosa and the Zulu caused the Boers to retain the commando system despite being free of colonial laws.In 1944 the SAS Brigade was formed from the British 1st and 2nd SAS, the French 3rd and 4th SAS, and the Belgian 5th SAS.The French Army special forces (1er RPIMa) still use the motto Qui Ose Gagne, a translation of the SAS motto "Who Dares Wins." In addition, many Commonwealth nations were part of the original British Commando units.In the final phase of the war, 75,000 Boers carried out asymmetric warfare against the 450,000-strong British Imperial forces for two years after the British had captured the capital cities of the two Boer republics.During these conflicts the word entered English, retaining its general Afrikaans meaning of a "militia unit" or a "raid". Clarke of the British Imperial General Staff, suggested the name Commando for specialized raiding units of the British Army Special Service in evocation of the effectiveness and tactics of the Boer commandos.However, the term commando is sometimes used in relation to units carrying out the latter tasks (including some civilian police units). After the Dutch Cape Colony was established in 1652, the word was used to describe bands of militia.In English, occasionally to distinguish between an individual commando and the unit Commando, the unit is capitalized. 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.

Some international commando units were formed from members who served as part of or alongside British Commandos, such as the Dutch Korps Commandotroepen (who still wear the recognition flash insignia of the British Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife), the Belgian 5th Special Air Service, or Greek Sacred Band (World War II).

The original US Rangers trained at the British Commandos centre at Achnacarry Castle.

The US Navy SEALs' original formation, the Observer Group, was also trained and influenced by British Commandos.

Robert Baden-Powell recognised the importance of fieldcraft and was inspired to form the scouting movement. During World War II, American and British publications, confused over the use of the plural "commandos" for that type of British military units, gave rise to the modern common habit of using "a commando" to mean one member of such a unit, or one man engaged on a raiding-type operation.

Since the 20th century and World War II in particular, commandos have been set apart from other military units by virtue of their extreme training regimes; these are usually associated with the awarding of green berets which originated with British Commandos.

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