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Members of the paramilitary German SA marching through the Brandenburg Gate on 30 January 1933

Paramilitary designates forces whose function and organization are similar to those of a professional military force, but which are not regarded as having the same status. The term uses the Greek/Latin prefix para- ("beside"), also seen in words such as paramedic. In some countries, the term may refer to official semi-militarized law enforcement, guard, or volunteer organizations. However, sometimes the term is used similarly to "irregular military" and may thus be used to label various completely non-official and even illegal organizations formed on a military pattern.


The term paramilitary is subjective, depending on what is considered similar to a military force, and what status a force is considered to have. The term may indicate an official or a semi-official status or a desire for such a status. Under the law of war, a state may incorporate a paramilitary organization or armed agency (such as a national police or a private volunteer militia) into its combatant armed forces. The other parties to a conflict have to be notified thereof.

The nature of paramilitary forces therefore varies greatly according to the speaker and the context. For instance, in Northern Ireland, paramilitary refers to any illegally armed group with a political purpose, but in Colombia, paramilitary refers specifically to illegally armed groups which are considered right-wing (e.g. AUC), while illegally armed groups considered left-wing, such as FARC, are referred to as guerrillas.


Depending on context, paramilitaries can include:

See also