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Legion of Frontiersmen, Edmonton Command, 1915 – a nationalist paramilitary group not officially affiliated with the Canadian Army

A paramilitary is a military that is not part of a country's official or legitimate armed forces.[1] The Oxford English Dictionary traces the use of the term "paramilitary" as far back as 1934.[2]


Though a paramilitary is, by definition, not a military, it is usually equivalent to a light infantry or special forces in terms of strength, firepower, and organizational structure.[3] Paramilitaries use combat-capable kit/equipment (such as internal security/SWAT vehicles), or even actual military equipment[4] (such as long guns and armored personnel carriers; usually military surplus resources), skills (such as battlefield medicine and bomb disposal), and tactics (such as urban warfare and close-quarters combat) that are compatible with their purpose, often combining them with skills from other relevant fields such as law enforcement, coast guard, or search and rescue. A paramilitary may fall under the command of a military, train alongside them, or have permission to use their resources, despite not actually being part of them.[4]


Under the law of war, a state may incorporate a paramilitary organization or armed agency (such as a law enforcement agency or a private volunteer militia) into its combatant armed forces. Some countries' constitutions prohibit paramilitary organizations outside government use.


Depending on the definition adopted, "paramilitaries" may include:

Military organizations[edit]

Law enforcement[edit]

Civil defense[edit]


  • Armed, semi-militarized wings of political parties and similar political organizations.

Examples of paramilitary units[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "paramilitary". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. June 2011 [online edition; original published in June 2005]. Retrieved 2011-09-13. Designating, of, or relating to a force or unit whose function and organization are analogous or ancillary to those of a professional military force, but which is not regarded as having professional or legitimate status.
  2. ^ "paramilitary". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  3. ^ "Wider conflict feared as Sudan's army and rival paramilitary force clash in capital". PBS NewsHour. 2023-04-15. Retrieved 2023-07-28.
  4. ^ a b Böhmelt, Tobias; Clayton, Govinda (February 2018). "Auxiliary Force Structure: Paramilitary Forces and Progovernment Militias". Comparative Political Studies. 51 (2): 197–237. doi:10.1177/0010414017699204. hdl:10654/38817. ISSN 0010-4140.

Further reading[edit]

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