Overview on the GIGN

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Groupement d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN)

The National Gendarmes Intervention Group, or Groupement d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale, is France’s principle counterterrorist tool based near Paris in Satory. It was created in 1974 following not only the Munich Olympic incident, but more directly as a result of Saudi Arabian embassy in Paris in 1973. Upon its inception, the small 15-man GIGN was divided into two primary commands each with as a distinct geographical responsibility, one in Maisons-Alfort (Northern France) and the other in Mont-de-Marsan (Southern France). This situation changed in 1976 as both units joined, then again in 1979 when the membership increased to two officers and 40 NCOs. By 1984, GIGN fielded four 12-man strike units, including one on call 24-hours a day.


Unlike the majority of units listed in this section, GIGN, while taking its orders from the Ministry of Defense, is a part of the police force, rather than the military. As such, they are endowed with the power of arrest and are often called upon to conduct operations against non-terrorist criminals. This situation poses an interesting challenge for the Gendarmes. On one hand, their rules of engagement are altered with regularity. One set of parameters guides their operations against civilian criminals, while another comes into play when France is confronted by violent terrorists. On the other hand, the unit has engaged in hundreds of operations since its inception in 1973 and has accumulated a great deal of practical experience. Because of this, they are frequent hosts to members of other groups such as the United States’ Delta Force and Germany’s GSG-9. In one well-publicized case, GIGN members advised the Saudi National Guard prior to their assault on the terrorist-held Grand Mosque in Mecca. GIGN commandos are cross-trained in a variety of specialties, including scuba diving, sniping, parachuting, and explosives. GIGN is also known to make use of dogs in certain operations, although details on this aspect of their organization are sketchy. Prior to 1994, GIGN had made its name in Djibouti when, in 1976, its commandos rescued 29 schoolchildren from Somalian terrorists. This accomplishment was overshadowed in terms of publicity when former members of the terrorist group Armed Islamic Group (AIG) hijacked an Air France airliner.


In 1995, France sent some 10 members of GIGN to a forward-deployment base in the Indian Ocean for possible intervention in a coup by white mercenaries in October. This small unit was augmented by the group also included specialists from the army's special operations command and 11 BPC of the DGSE overseas espionage service.

GIGN's primary tasking has been in police operations, such as those involving barricaded suspects, hostage rescue, jail/riot suppression, and high-risk arrests. Since it's inception, GIGN has actively participated in almost 700 operations, which have resulted in more than five hundred rescued hostages. Criminal arrests statistics are reportedly twice that number. GIGN is known to have lost 5 operators, along with dozens injured.


GIGN is currently staffed with 87 full-time operators up from 57 in 1988. These men are led by a five officers, including a commanding officer (commandant), deputy, and three executive officers. The CO is responsible for the activities of the unit, however there is reportedly a great deal of autonomy given to the officers and NCOs under him. The unit consists of a command cell, divided into five primary groups; four operations units and a logistical element. In keeping with GIGN's exacting demands, the members of the logistical element are all former operatives, rather than clerical. Each numbered operations unit consists of 15 men and an officer. Two of these groups (One and Two) have specialized in waterborne operations, while the remaining two (Three and Four) focus on HALO/HAHO insertion. In the case of the latter, reports indicate that small numbers may be deployed to act as long-range advance reconnaissance for an impending GIGN presence, then join the main element during the operation. Two of these groups are on 24-hour alert status at all times. It is reported that GIGN can depart its base ready for action within 30 minutes of a call. GIGN also may be deployed with Regiment de Parachutistes d'Infanterie de Marine ("1 RPiMa") commandos for long range anti-terrorist missions. Another GIGN element of note is the four-man negotiation unit, whose members are selected from operators with six or more years of service with GIGN. Finally, GIGN maintains its own intelligence component Section de Reneignement [SR]) which investigates potential situations which might require GIGN intervention.

Training for GIGN focuses, perhaps more so than any other CT unit, on the prevention of violence. This attitude, to employ all other options before resorting to force, has led to literally hundreds of successful operations. Firearms use is a high priority as well, and approximately 60 of the 87 operators have qualified as sharpshooters. Interestingly, GIGN shooters are trained in placing shots to neutralize suspects, rather than killing if possible. This is a practice disdained by most CT organizations.

It reportedly takes three years before a gendarme is considered a full-fledged operator. Any prospective member must have previously served three years in the regular Gendarme, with most coming from the riot control teams. Upon his approval for selection, he is then sent to  for a difficult selection phase. This involves a commando-style obstacle course, an escape and evasion drill, and other such tests. Finally, a shooting test is administered to determine the marksmanship abilites. Apparently, this final test is a significant portion of the overall grading of the applicant.

For the 10 percent or so who make it through this phase (approximately 8 new members per year), they are then sent on to two months of further training in whcih they are schooled in basic marksmanship (GIGN style), and continued physcial training. In the third month, the recruit is issued his personal weapons and given instruction in long-range shooting. At the end of the six month, the individual is sent on to operate with an actual GIGN unit in the field. Here the most advanced techniques of suspect apprehension, riot suppression, VIP protection, and similar duties. Only at the end of this "probationary" period is the successful operative bestowed his GIGN badge.

During his career, a GIGN operative is expected to maintain his own physical fitness as organized activites are impractical. This is not to say that they are on their own for advanced taining, however. In fact, all operatives are encouraged to learn HALO and HAHO skills (at the French Army's Pau airborne school or with the 11th Abn. at Bareges), high-speed vehicle operation (first at the basic school in Antibes then later at the advanced school run by the French Navy in St. Mandrier and even at Le Mans), skiing (Chamonix), and mountain climbing (Cassis). Additionally, they spend at least two hours each day in firearms training, with the average trooper firing 100 to 300 rounds each day.

It is important to note that GIGN is widely regarded as having some of the best firearms training in the world. It is for this reason that many of the world's special operations and counterterrorist units conduct exchange programs with the GIGN.