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    Fuerzas Especiales (FES): Mexican Navy’s Special Mission Unit

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    1.0 Introduction

    The Fuerzas Especiales (Special Forces), also known simply as FES, or Cuachicqueh / Quachics, is a Special Missions Unit (SMU) of the Mexican Navy, officially established in 2001. The FES shares certain similarities with its Mexican Army counterpart, the Fuerza Especial de Reacción or FER, with which they regularly trained and operated together.

    This unit integrated members of an elite unit already disbanded called the Fuerzas Especiales del Alto Mando or FES-AM (High Command Special Forces). It was originally known as the Grupo de Alto Impacto or GAI (High Impact Group). The FES are part of the Naval Special Warfare Command and belong to the UNOPES or Unidad de Operaciones Especiales (Special Operations Unit). 

    The FES motto is “Fuerza, Espíritu, Sabiduría”, which translates to “Strength, Spirit, Wisdom”.

    The emblem consists of an anchor, referring to its status as a naval unit, on a pair of wings. Superimposed on these are a black and blue shield containing a lightning bolt and the initials of the unit. 

    FES Insignia.
    FES Insignia.

    2.0 History of the FES

    Its origins can be traced back to the Batallón Aerotransportado de la Marina (Marine Airborne Battalion) in the early 1990s. The unit’s missions focus on highly secretive special operations and amphibious operations, to protect the nation’s maritime interests.

    In 2001, the Mexican Navy created its Special Forces units. Initially, there were two: FESPA “Fuerzas Especiales Pacifico” (Special Forces Pacific) and FESGO “Fuerzas Especiales Golfo” (Special Forces Gulf). These units were specifically designed to support the newly established Amphibious Reaction Forces. Then, in 2008, the Navy established the FESCEN “Fuerzas Especiales Centro” (Special Forces Central) in the country’s capital. The FESCEN’s primary function is to make a grouping of special troops available to the High Command Headquarters for critical missions.

    2.1 Its Origins: Las Fuerzas Especiales del Alto Mando

    The FES has also integrated other elite Navy units. This is the case of the FES-AM or Fuerzas Especiales del Alto Mando (High Command Special Forces), originally known as the Grupo de Alto Impacto or GAI (High Impact Group). This was a special operations unit of the Mexican Navy, specialising in maritime operations, including counter-terrorism and direct action. Its members were drawn and selected from the regular navy special forces (FES) and trained regularly with some maritime special units from other countries. For example the US Navy SEALs and the MARSOC Marine Raiders, among others. The FES-AM shares certain similarities with its Mexican Army counterpart, the Fuerza Especial de Reacción or FER, with which they regularly trained and operated together.

    This unit is now disbanded and its operators are assigned to different elite FES special forces teams under the joint command of UNOPES.

    (source)

    Video on the FES, as well as its most recent operations. Credits: Univision Noticias.

    3.0 The mission of the FES

    The FES is considered among the best maritime SMUs in the world. This is due to its vast experience in raids against drug trafficking, high operational capabilities and the high degree of training to which its operators are subjected (domestically and through courses abroad). This is usually provided by other counterpart units in different parts of the world. Members of this unit have been trained by their counterparts in the United States, Spain and Israel.

    Operations conducted by the FES are classified, as well as casualties and collateral damage. It has played an important role in the war against drug trafficking in Mexico. They conduct direct action missions, intelligence gathering, reconnaissance operations, seizures of personnel, weapons and facilities, law enforcement arrests and kill-or-capture missions.

    This unit is capable of carrying out unconventional warfare in air, sea and land environments. They use all available means of infiltration, developing a wide variety of raids and operations. These include the use of underwater combat techniques, parachuting, vertical descent, urban combat, sniper and explosives handling. They are very well-organised, trained and equipped units, to have operational autonomy in various scenarios: land, sea and air.

    4.0 The organisation of the FES

    Mexico Navy has a Naval Special Warfare Command called the UNOPES “Unidad de Operaciones Especiales (Special Operations Unit). This command has 5 SOF Units, being the FES Group’s principal SOF units of the UNOPES. FES Groups are divided into 3 groups. FESPA “Fuerzas Especiales Pacifico” (Special Forces Pacific), FESGO “Fuerzas Especiales Golfo” (Special Forces Gulf) and FESCEN “Fuerzas Especiales Centro” (Special Forces Central). This last one is more specialized in urban operations and counter-terrorism.

    Within the FES, there are different elite teams. These are specialised in assault, intervention and direct action, among which the following stand out:

    • Hurón Team
    • Viper Team
    • Tigrillo Team
    • Puma Team
    • Roble Team (dissolved)

    5.0 Training of the FES

    The FES training course can last a total of 4 months, divided into five distinct phases, starting with induction. For four weeks, the trainees carry out various exercises (shooting practice, self-defence, etc.). Then they start the basic parachute course. Those who have already completed it do the parachute folding and maintenance or jump master course. This is followed by the jungle command phase, the most arduous phase of the course. It includes the “stress week”, where the candidates are pushed to their physical and mental limits to test their determination. 

    The demanding level of preparation imposed on FES candidates means that only a small percentage of candidates (usually 20% or less) manage to complete the course.

    To fulfil their tasks and practice their attributes, members of the unit receive specialised training in the following areas:

    • Direct action
    • Counter-terrorism
    • Air and ground logistics
    • Amphibious warfare
    • Anti-air warfare
    • CQB and intervention tactics
    • General support to naval forces
    • Parachuting
    • Mine warfare
    • Military Intelligence
    • Special Reconnaissance
    • Search and rescue
    • Special Operations
    • Submarine and anti-submarine warfare
    • Surface warfare

    (source); (source); (source)

    6.0 Equipment

    Mexican Marines FES Operators armed with M4 Carabines. 

    While the FESGO and FESPA have a membership of about 220 each, the FESCEN has less than 160 members.  

    They count on high-quality equipment from the USA and the EU:

    • SIG Sauer SIG516
    • M4 Carbine
    • FN P90
    • H&K UMP
    • PSG-1
    • M249 Squad Automatic Weapon
    • M1911A1
    • Glock 17
    • FN Five-seveN

    (source)

    7.0 Notable Operations

    The operations carried out by this unit of the Mexican Navy are confidential, which is why they remain out of the public domain. However, it is known that the Roble Team participated in “Operation Black Swan”. This resulted in the capture of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán Loera “El Chapo” (source).

    Furthermore, the Puma Team also carried out “Operation Barcina”. This became public knowledge due to a video recorded by a civilian showing a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter using an M134 Minigun to strafe Beltrán Leyva hitmen (source). The operation concluded with the assassination of drug lord Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez “El H2” (source). 

    In July 2022, they carried out the successful “Operation Legend II”. Here they captured the notorious drug lord “Rafael Caro Quintero”. However, during the final phase of the operation, an accident occurred in unclear circumstances. The Black Hawk helicopter carrying FES operators crashed and 14 people lost their lives (source). 

    7.1 FES-AM operations

    It is worth mentioning that the FES-AM, now integrated into the FES, was also very active in the internal drug war. Especially in the capture and/or killing of high-ranking members or leaders of drug cartels.

    All their operations were classified, but the FES-AM participated in eliminating Arturo Beltrán Leyva, former leader and founder of the Beltrán Leyva Cartel. They stormed the building complex where he was located in Morelos, in 2009 (source).

    They were also part of a large military operation by the navy that killed Antonio Cárdenas Guillen, alias “Tony Tormenta”, leader of the CDG (Gulf Cartel). This happened during an intense confrontation that took place in the border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, in 2010. In this operation, they also managed to successfully neutralise several well-trained assassins from the drug lord’s personal security team, known as the “Scorpion Group” (source).  

    In addition to this, they also carried out an operation in Puebla in the same year. Here they captured the drug lord Sergio Villarreal Barragán (source).

    8.0 Conclusion

    The FES history has demonstrated that it is a highly trained, efficient and lethal elite unit. Their training, arsenal, and the fact that it is a unit made up of the best elite units in the Navy make them a reliable group. Like the Army’s Fuerza Especial de Reacción or FER (Special Reaction Force), this unit is a very dangerous opponent for the Mexican cartels. It’s no surprise that senior military commanders regard them as the most suitable for Mexico’s drug war. Given the importance placed on them by the Mexican government, the FES will continue to be an integral part of SEDENA’s plans for the foreseeable future.

    Javier Sutil Toledano
    Javier Sutil Toledano
    Javier is an Intelligence Analyst specialising in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. He graduated in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, with a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies. He recently graduated from an International Master's Degree in Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies.

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