Who Are the G.I.G.N. French Special Forces?

Updated on July 20, 2019
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G.I.G.N. Operator
G.I.G.N. Operator

The French special forces are called "Groupe D'invertervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale" in the French language, which in English is "National Gendarmerie Intervention Group". They are the elite group or special forces of the French military, and they help with counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, fighting organized crime, surveillance of possible threats, and protecting government officials. This group, which is abbreviated as G.I.G.N., was originally established in 1974 after the Munich massacre.

After the Munich massacre in 1974 and other less known events in France at the time, the unit came to formation near Paris. It did not adopt the G.I.G.N. designation until 1976 when it merged with another group. In 1976, the number of members of this elite unit grew to 32, and 120 by the year 2008, and then increased to 380 by 2017. This group has participated in 1800 operations, freed more than 600 hostages, and arrested over 1500 suspects. They have only lost two members to being killed in action. However, they have lost seven in training.

The G.I.G.N. have been called the most experienced and successful counter-terrorist organizations in the world. They use a wide variety of weapons, including:

  • MP5 sub machine gun
  • the Fabarm SDASS Tactical shotgun
  • the Hecate II sniper rifle
  • BREN 2 rifle

Yet, they always carry the Manurhin MR73 double-action revolver. The observation that some carry Glock 17's on occasion has been made. While the MR73 revolver is practical, it is also a status symbol. It was Commissioner Robert Broussard who thought that the revolver was the weapon of choice by American police to take out outlaws in the Wild West and prohibition gangsters. From a historical perspective, the Manhurin MR73 is one of French made firearms that is still used today.

MR73 Double-Action Revolver

Respect of human life and fire discipline have always been taught to group members since inception, and each new member is traditionally issued with a 6 shot .357 revolver as a reminder of these values."

— passage from 2004 issue of the offical Gendarmerie information magazine

Divisions

There are six divisions of the G.I.G.N. and two headquarters (one administrative and one operational). The six divisions are as follows:

  1. Intervention Force: It consists of four platoons that are further divided into teams of operators. They are the main assault unit of the G.I.G.N.
  2. Observation and Search Force: It is composed of forty men and women specializing in counter-terrorism and judiciary police work.
  3. Security and Protection force: It is composed of sixty-five men and women specializing in site and executive protection.
  4. The Gendarmerie detachment of G.S.P.R. Presidential Security Group: Their main job is to protect the French president.
  5. Operational Support Force: They consist of specialized cells like sniping, breaching, or assault engineering.
  6. Training Force: Their job is training and retraining G.I.G.N. operators and selected Gendarmerie or foreign personnel.

Air France Flight 8969

What really stands out in showing how efficient they are is the rescue on "Air France flight 8969" on Christmas Eve in 1994. Four terrorists from the Algerian terrorist group G.I.A. (Islamic Armed Group) got on the plane disguised as secret agents at Honari Boumediene airport in Algeria. They soon pulled out their machine guns and the flight was hijacked. Immediately, two passengers were killed. They also murdered a police officer from Algeria and a diplomat from Vietnam.

It was only fifteen minutes later that the French intelligence notified the government and immediately put the G.I.G.N. on standby. The Prime Minister of Algeria started negotiating with the terrorists and the group agreed to release some of the hostages. The security forces of Algeria would not let the plane leave. However, when the terrorist group threatened to kill more passengers, the French Prime Minister convinced Algeria to let them fly to France. Once the plane was at Marseilles, French negotiators started negotiating with them.

It was a little after five on December 26, 1994, that three teams of eight men stormed the plane and the terrorists barricaded themselves in the cock pit with the pilot and a stewardess. Snipers opened fire and killed all the terrorists while the stewardess and pilot remained unharmed. The four hijackers were killed and three hostages had been executed. Yet, 175 passengers were saved by the G.I.G.N.

"S'engager Pour La Vie"

In conclusion, this group has a cult like affinity as they operate in secret for security purposes. They are not allowed to have their faces photographed in public and not much is known about them and the extensive training which they go through. They have had the motto "S'engager pour la vie" or "To enlist for life" since 2014. Before then, it was "Sauver des vies au mepris de la sienne" or "To save lives without regard to one's own".

Women are allowed to serve in the G.I.G.N except for the Intervention Group. The group has been around for a long time and has earned a reputation as being one of the best in the world. As we progress in our modern times and in geopolitical affairs, it is important to know of their existence and role in fighting crime and terrorism.

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