El Grupo de Acción Rápida (GAR): The Guardia Civil Rapid Action Group

1.0 Introduction

The Grupo de Acción Rápida (GAR) (Rapid Action Group) is the rural Police Tactical Unit (PTU) of the Guardia Civil (Civil Guard), the Spanish gendarmerie. The unit is integrated within the Unidad de Acción Rural or Rural Action Unit (UAR). 

It was originally intended to counter the terrorist group ETA. Since 1998 it has been reoriented towards international deployment, participating in NATO, UN and EU missions (source).

The GAR motto is Cada vida una batalla (Every life a battle). Its coat of arms consists of a black shield with a dagger in the centre and the letters G and C on the sides (initials of the Guardia Civil). This is surrounded by two branches. Behind the shield are crossed a sword and a Roman fasces. Above the coat of arms is the Spanish royal crown. Below the shield is the name of the unit.

Coat of Arms of the GAR.

The unit’s guidon consists of a red Cross of Burgundy with gold borders and the unit’s coat of arms on each corner. All this rests on a dark green background, the colour of the Civil Guard.

Guidon or flag of the GAR.

2.0 History of the GAR

Patch of the UEI

The origin of this unit dates back to April 1978 with the creation of the Unidad Antiterrorista Rural (UAR) or Rural Anti-Terrorist Unit. The unit was based at the Mobile Command in Logroño (La Rioja) with around 40 members (source). They were trained at the Military School of Mountain and Special Operations in Jaca. The UAR was conceived as a unit especially suited to act in difficult times and situations. This is because its birth, at the end of the 1970s, responded to the need to deal with the high level of activity of the Basque terrorist group ETA. Subsequently, this unit will serve as the basis for the creation of the Grupo Antiterrorista Rural or Rural Anti-Terrorist Group (GAR) (source).

The GAR began its activity in February 1980 as a result of the attack in Ispáster (Vizcaya), committed by the terrorist organisation ETA against a Civil Guard patrol. This attack resulted in the murder of 6 civil guardsmen and two terrorists. The GAR was therefore deployed in the Basque Country and Navarre during the 80s to combat the increase in terrorist activity. This was also a way to strengthen the Guardia Civil activity in rural areas (source).

2.1 A new organisation

In 1991, the Unit was renamed the Grupo Especial de Seguridad or Special Security Group (GES), under the Agrupación Rural de Seguridad or Rural Security Group (ARS). They had the same mission and identical tasks as those carried out until then. The GES  was detached from the ARS in 1997. The acronym GAR was reinstated and the name was changed to the Grupo de Acción Rural or Rural Action Group. After a brief hiatus of one year, in 1998 the name was changed to the current Grupo de Acción Rápida or Rapid Action Group. Together with the Special Training Centre (CAE), it became part of the Unidad de Acción Rural (UAR) or Rural Action Unit (source).

Since its creation, the GAR has been involved in the arrest of more than 360 suspected terrorists and their associates (source).

3.0 The mission of the GAR

GAR operatives in assault mode.

The GAR’s initial mission was the fight against terrorism, supporting the Territorial Units and, if necessary, the Guardia Civil’s Information Service. Nowadays, the unit not only is active in the national territory but also international missions.

3.1 Specific missions

  • Combating terrorist elements.
  • Execution of operations involving high risk and requiring rapid response.
  • Operational measures on public roads.
  • Border protection.
  • Reconnaissance.
  • Protection and security of targets.
  • Intervention in inhabited areas

3.2 Priority missions

  • The execution of operations involving high risk and requiring rapid response in support of the Territorial Units.
  • It constitutes a specialised reserve at the disposal of the Director General for action, within its specific mission, inside and outside the national territory.
  • CBRN (Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence) support unit.

(Source), (Source)

3.3 Capabilities

Its special preparation allows it to carry out missions in a wide range of contexts: 

  • High-risk operations.
  • Situations requiring rapid initiation and execution.
  • Catastrophic and hostile environments.

Likewise, its capabilities allow it to carry out missions in very different contexts. From those typical of a police force to other intermediate missions between police forces and the Armed Forces. The capabilities in this area would be as follows:

  • Collaboration with the Spanish or foreign Armed Forces.
  • As an independent SWAT Unit or as part of a contingent of the Gendarmerie Forces of the European Union, UN or any other organisation.
  • As a Guardia Civil Unit for the protection of high-ranking personalities and the custody of diplomatic representations.
  • Cooperation and technical assistance for the training of police officers from other countries in the different fields of action carried out by the Unit. For example, shooting, protection of persons, territorial control, counter-terrorist actions, etc.
  • In general, in police missions in the field of crisis management operations abroad. For example border surveillance and control, citizen security in destabilised environments, etc.

(Source)

4.0 The organisation of the GAR

GAR operatives with an NH90 TTH helicopter belonging to the Spanish Army in the background.

The UEI is integrated into the Guardia Civil, a gendarmerie and reserve force. The Guardia Civil depends on the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defence. This is because despite not being organically part of the Spanish Armed Forces, it has a military nature. Therefore, its members are considered career military personnel and are entrusted with missions of a military nature (source).

The GAR, based in Logroño (La Rioja), depends organically, functionally and technically on the Rural Action Unit (UAR). The UAR in turn depends on the  Jefatura de las Unidades Especiales y de Reserva or Headquarters of the Special and Reserve Units (JUER).

The command and support bodies are located in the Headquarters, including the Training Department. This department is in charge of maintaining the permanent training of all the components of the Unit and developing its employment doctrine.

(Source), (source)

4.1 Sub-organisation 

The GAR personnel are organised in four Compañías de Acción Rápida or Rapid Action Companies (CAR). Each one of them has three Sections, which carry out their daily service through Patrols or Teams. If needed the unit may set up Fracciones de Acción Rápida o Rapid Action Fractions (FAR). These carry out missions other than the usual and priority missions.

The GAR also has a series of specific resources that can be used in a complementary or independent manner, as required by the mission. Some of these resources are:

  • Drone Unit. Its personnel are centralised in the 1st Company and specialised in the handling of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).
  • Tactical Response and Rescue Team (ETRR). These are small groups of specialists who can act as paramedics.

(Source)

5.0 Training of the GAR

To join the GAR it is necessary to have successfully passed the demanding Special Training Course given by the Special Training Centre of the Guardia Civil (CIAE). To be eligible, you must be under 35 years of age (source).

Most of this course is carried out at the Special Forces Experimental Range of the Guardia Civil (P.E.F.E.). This centre is located near the city of Logroño (La Rioja) and covers an area of 32 hectares. Moreover, it is divided into two parts, a Training and Experimental Centre (CAE) and a Practice Field (CP) (source).

GAR operatives armed with ballistic shields and a canine unit during training. Credits: Justo Rodriguez.

5.1 Requirements and training

Firstly, the applicants must pass a demanding physical test to be admitted to the subsequent Special Training Course (ADE). These tests are scored and have an eliminatory nature. Once these tests have been passed, the candidate is granted access to the Special Training Course (ADE). Normally there is an annual call for applications in May, but sometimes another one is added in October (source).

The training covers the following subjects:

  • Climbing and Abseiling.
  • Parachuting and Diving.
  • HUMINT.
  • Handling explosive devices and firearms.
  • Transmissions.
  • Orientation and Reconnaissance.
  • Shooting.
  • Self-defence and hand-to-hand combat.
  • Apprehension evasion (including techniques for breaking free from handcuffs and escaping imprisonment).
  • Vehicle bridging.
  • Town and forest combat.
  • Ambushes, raids and sabotage.
  • Convoy protection and Prisoner rescue.
  • Sensitive point defence.
  • Topography.
  • Protection of people and installations.
  • Unconventional warfare.
  • Counter-terrorism.
  • CBRN.
  • Equestrian Control.
  • Crowd control.

(Source)

5.2 Training Characteristics

GAR operatives in urban training. Credits: Justo Rodriguez.

In the training of GAR candidates, the aim is to push them to complete physical and psychological exhaustion. This has the objective of revealing any weaknesses that would only become apparent in very extreme circumstances. This resilience required by the candidates would help them not to succumb to any kind of environmental stress when they are on high-risk missions (source). 

Title badge of the course of the GAR.

The ADE training lasts between 3 and 6 months (source). It provides a broad spectrum of training in special operations, standardised with great similarity in military nature. One of the various endurance tests conducted by CAE instructors is to subject GAR trainees to days and nights alone in the open. They have no support other than themselves or their colleagues, in extreme cold or hot weather conditions. Subsequently, operatives gain experience in survival techniques when in wilderness environments. Their training is so demanding that out of 200 applicants, just over 20 pass the tests (source).

5.3 Additional requirements

Personnel wishing to remain in the Group must pass annual physical and technical tests. Operators must also commit to a minimum service of four years (source). Failure to pass the aforementioned annual tests is a general cause for dismissal (source).

Permanent badge of the GAR.

6.0 Equipment

The GAR has around 500 operatives (source). In addition, the Unit is equipped with modern equipment, mostly of European and American manufacture. This equipment follows NATO standards.

6.1 Weapons

GAR operatives posing. The agent in the centre is armed with a G36 assault rifle. The other two agents are armed with MP5 submachine guns. Credits: Ministry of Interior.

Among other weapons, the UEI uses at least the following:

Guns

  • Heckler & Koch USP 9 mm Parabellum semi-automatic.

Submachine guns

  • Heckler & Koch MP5SD3 9 mm Parabellum.

Assault rifles

  • Heckler & Koch G36K 5.56 mm. Some of them integrate a 3x viewfinder.
  • SG 553 5,56 mm.
  • MZ-4P 5,56 mm.

Depending on the particular circumstances and conditions of the mission, they can attach Streamlight’s M6 lasers. In addition, they also have AG36 40mm single-barrel grenade launchers loaded with tear gas or smoke generators.

Sniper rifles

  • SIG Sauer SSG 3000 7,62 mm.
  • Mauser 66SP 7,62 mm.
  • Barrett M95 de 12,70 mm.

Machine guns

  • MG42 7,92 mm. Equipped in the LINCE armoured vehicles. 
  • MG4E 5,56 mm. Equipped in the LINCE armoured vehicles.

They can also attach Trijicon ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight) 4x magnification rifle scopes.

Rocket launchers

  • C-90 90 mm. Equipped in the LINCE armoured vehicles.

Mortars

  • ECIA L-65/120 60 mm. Equipped in the LINCE armoured vehicles.

6.2 Additional elements

  • Night-vision goggles AN/PVS-7.
  • Monoculars type AN/PVS-14.
  • KeScope thermal monoculars.
  • Sophie thermal cameras.
  • Frequency jammers.
  • Steiner binoculars.
  • Peli 9460B RALS portable lighting systems.
  • Dragon T12 100W” torches.
  • UAV “Indago” 2.2. Equipable with day, thermal and infrared cameras.

(Source), (source), (source), (source), (source)

6.3 Vehicles

Iveco LMV (Lince) during simulated exercises. Credits: Justo Rodriguez.

The main vehicles used during the Unit’s interventions are well-capacity MPVs (multi-purpose vehicles) including 4×4 armoured off-road vehicles. 

  • Iveco LMV Lince.
  • Toyota Land Cruiser
  • Nissan Patrol GR.
Nissan Patrol GR during simulated exercises. Credits: RTVE.es.

(Source)

7.0 Notable Operations

It was originally intended to counter the terrorist group ETA. Nevertheless, since 1998 it has been reoriented towards international deployment. The GAR participates in NATO, UN and EU missions (source).

7.1 The fight against ETA

Since its creation, the Unit has arrested 341 people for their alleged links with ETA and its environment. It also carried out 270 searches, including the location of a cave used by ETA for shooting practice in Urnieta (Guipúzcoa) (source).

7.2 Bosnia

The GAR was deployed in Bosnia in 1996 as part of the IFOR and SFOR (source). The GAR assumed military police functions, specifically control, security and order. They were also in charge of controlling military traffic and protecting authorities and special convoys (source). 

7.3  Kosovo

The GAR was also deployed in Kosovo in 1999. The GAR was first deployed to act as blue helmets at the service of the UN in Kosovo (UNMIK). There were 113 volunteers, relieved every six months (source). The GAR was also part of the KFOR, acting as Military Police. Among other duties, they were to act as special police units performing public order functions such as crowd control (source).

7.4 Afghanistan

Hundreds of officers have been stationed there since 2002 with different tasks. The first arrived in Kabul to protect the EU High Representative in the conflict until 2008. In 2005, they served as military police in the cities of Qala-e-now and Herat under the NATO umbrella. Finally, in 2009, they began training Afghan police (source).

7.5 Central African Republic

The GAR was part of the EUFOR RCA in 2015 (source). Its mission in the area was to ensure the security of the people by protecting the civilian population and humanitarian organisations. It was also tasked with reacting to terrorist attacks and participating in special SWAT-type police operations (source).

7.6 Lebanon, Israel and Haiti

The GAR has protected the embassies in Jerusalem (2002) and Lebanon (2006). The GAR also served in Haiti in the aftermath of the tragic 2010 earthquake. It helped maintain law and order during the distribution of food and supplies to the earthquake-affected population (source).

7.7 Iraq

A member of the GAR, in the background in green uniform, instructing Iraqi Ministry of Interior forces. Credits: Defence General Staff.

The GAR began rotations in Iraq in February 2017 in support of the multinational Operation Inherent Resolve to combat Islamic terrorism. The main mission of this contingent is to enhance the capabilities of Iraq’s forces in much-needed security operations (source).

7.8 Sahel

GAR operatives training with the Mauritanian GAR-SI as part of the exercise Flintlock 20. Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

The GAR is actively engaged in the GAR-SI Sahel project (Rapid Action Groups for Surveillance and Intervention in the Sahel). The project aims to create 6 Rapid Action Units in the G-5 Sahel countries, and in Senegal, fully equipped and operational. Their tasks also include combating threats in the area such as terrorism, organised crime, human trafficking and environmental protection (source).

8.0 Summary

The GAR´s history demonstrates that it is a highly trained, effective and lethal elite police unit and also SOF.  Its training and arsenal make it a top unit of the Guardia Civil and among Spain’s security forces. It is therefore natural that senior police and military commanders consider them best suited for international deployments and counter-terrorism operations. Given the importance the Spanish government grants them, the GAR will remain an essential unit for the foreseeable future. It will be prioritised for both internal security and deployments outside the national territory.

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