Of all the members of the RLI, the most famous was probably RF Reid-Daly, founder of the Selous Scouts (chosen to be the first RLI Regimental Sergeant Major). The RLI, formed in February 1961, was an all-white professional unit (all of the older regiments of the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Federal Army were black - but white officered). Initially their behaviour led for calls for the unit to be disbanded, but as the war later intensified, they became a more professional unit, some even parachuting into battle three times in one day. Nicknamed 'The Saints' or 'The Incredibles', the Rhodesian Light Infantry was involved in both internal Fireforce operations in Rhodesia and external operations against bases in Mozambique and Zambia.

Originally formed within the army of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, from a nucleus which had been raised to provide personnel both for a white infantry battalion, the original Selous Scouts (the Federation Armoured Car Corps) and the Rhodesian SAS, the first RLI intake, (trained at Brady Barracks near Bulawayo by instructors seconded from the British Army) included 100 South African recruits; ultimately, whilst the RLI was recruited only " European soldiers", recruits were to include Native Americans, ethnic Chinese, a Seychellois and a Turk. The Rhodesians could maintain that they were not mercenaries, but rather a regular unit of the Rhodesian Army; the non-Rhodesians all had the same pay and conditions of service as the Rhodesian regulars.

As the war intensified, the Rhodesian military was forced to continue using increasingly old helicopter gunships and bombers. However, the "Fire Force" operations were probably the most effective, and best remembered, of the operations carried out. Fire Force saw the use of helicopters both as gunships and troop transports to envelop insurgent groups vertically. Three or more G-cars, (Alouette transport helicopters each carrying a four-man RLI stick) would be deployed with the confirmed sighting of a guerrilla group. Controlled by the Commando's controller in an orbiting K-car (a helicopter mounted with a 20mm Hispano cannon, hence "K", or "kill") the enemy were brought to contact on the ground by the RLI "Stop" groups, and from the air by the helicopters.

When there were confirmed sightings of large groups, up to six RLI sticks might drop from a Dakota aircraft by static line parachute at increasingly low levels. This coincided with both intensified military recruitment (of all eligible white and coloured males between 17 and 60) and increasing pressure on Comops to strike externally into Mozambique and Zambia. Following majority rule, the regiment was disbanded on 31 October 1980. A nucleus of former RLI personnel remained to train and form the First Zimbabwe Commando Battalion of the Zimbabwe National Army

A standard fictionalised "this is how it happened" account of the RLI during the war years is Dick Gledhill's "One Commando", which apparently took a number of years to find a publisher. His account reflects his political belief that British opposition to UDI was founded on a lack of awareness that native Zimbabweans were clearly not ready for self-government. Whilst Britain failed to respond to rising black agitation in Rhodesia (this agitation being aided, and encouraged, by the Soviets and Chinese, who saw Rhodesia as being in a strategically important location), the Rhodesians of all races were apparently generally satisfied with their lives, although being left increasingly vulnerable to any external pressure.