Grupo Especial de Operaciones (GEO): Spain’s Police Tactical Unit


    1. Introduction

    The Grupo Especial de Operaciones (GEO), is the police tactical unit of the Spanish National Police Corps. The unit is responsible for counterterrorism, VIP protection and also supports the police with other operations when they are required as backup. (Source) The unit is also an important member of the European Police ATLAS Network. The group is made up of 38 specialised intervention teams from 28 different countries. (Source)

    GEO is organised similarly to most other European tactical units. It focuses on dealing with terrorist attacks, including aircraft hijackings, maritime threats, and hostage rescue situations. (Source) The unit also takes an active role in protecting foreign dignitaries during visits, and in protecting Spanish embassies abroad in dangerous countries in a similar manner to the French GIGN. In addition, they often keep their faces covered to maintain anonymity. (Source)

    2. History of GEO

    Spain had been dealing with widespread internal terrorism since the 60s as Basque separatists. Therefore, Spain announced in November 1977 that GEO would be formed to combat terrorism and organised crime. Moreover, the events of the Munich massacre in 1972 left most European states realising they needed a dedicated counterterrorism unit. Furthermore, the very first training course took place in March 1978. (Source

    The first members of GEO were trained alongside the German GSG 9 and arguably GSG 9 had a large impact on the future of the force in terms of training/equipment as their colonel took a personal interest. (Source) In addition, the unit was announced to the general public in 1979 and the first cohort was presented in front of the Spanish monarchy.

    Over the course of the unit’s history, they have dismantled several organised crime groups, arrested 41 armed members of different terrorist groups and freed 424 people who had been kidnapped or taken hostage. (Source) Furthermore, over its history, only five members of GEO have died and only one was a casualty in combat. (Source)

    In 2005 the unit had an issue with retaining enough members to fulfil all its duties. As a result of this specialised Spanish riot police were sent to guard the Spanish embassy in Baghdad instead of GEO as originally intended. (Source)

    GEO officers practicing breaching
    GEO clearing a building

    3. Organisation

    The GEO reports to the General Operative Subdirector of the Spanish National Police Corps. It has 110 members who are split into two main groups:

    • Operative Section
    • Support Section

    The Operative Section is made up of: (Source)

    • Two Operative Action Teams led by an inspector (containing 40-50 men)
    • A Training and Specialities Team (Instructors and Training personnel) 
    • A Techniques and Experiences Team (Test new equipment and look for terrorist objectives)

    The Operative Action Teams are further divided into subgroups made up of three operative commando five-man teams. Each contains two snipers, a lock-picking expert, an explosives expert and a combat diver. Further, allowing them to operate in a number of varied environments (Source)

    GEO rappeling

    3.1 Selection and Training

    As fitting for an elite intervention unit the selection is notoriously tough. To join the unit candidates must have been members of the Spanish National Police Corps for at least 2 years and have a specialised role such as scuba diver or marksmanship instructor. Moreover, only 3% of candidates are accepted, demonstrating the selective nature of GEO. (Source) Furthermore after passing training candidates are sent to a specialisation course in Guadalajara. This involves pursuit driving lessons, explosives training, marksmanship and various other skills the officers might need in the line of duty. In addition, candidates must be of the highest level of physical fitness and able to complete a 3km run in under 11.5 minutes. (Source)

    4. Equipment

    The Equipment of GEO is varied and of a high quality given the nature of the unit and its increased responsibilities. In addition, they also utilise equipment from the Spanish Army. (Source) (Source)

    4.1 Small Arms

     It includes:


    • SG551 SWAT
    • SG552
    • Heckler and Koch G41TGS
    • HK33

    Submachine Guns:

    • Heckler and Koch MP5 (Various models in service)
    • FN P90

    Sniper/Marksman Rifles:

    • Heckler and Koch G3
    • Mauser SP66
    • Heckler and Koch PSG1
    • AMP DSR-1
    • Sako TRG-41
    • Sako TRG-21
    • Sako A-II 


    • SIG P226
    • USP Compact

    Shotguns: (Various models)

    • Remington M870
    • Franchi SPS
    • Heckler and Koch

    Other Equipment:

    In addition, GEO officers also carry a variety of other equipment: 

    • Non Lethal Taser 
    • Gas Masks
    • Night Vision Goggles
    • Radios
    • Bulletproof Vest 
    • Diving Equipment


    The unit often just uses the vehicles of the Spanish Police but also has been seen using:

    • CH-47 Chinooks from the Spanish Army
    • URO VAMTAC assault vehicle

    5. Notable Operations

    GEO has been involved in a number of notable operations over the course of its history. Some of these include:

    5.1 Madrid Train Bombings 2004

    The unit played a decisive role in the response to the 2004 Madrid Train Bombings. Where Al Qaeda set off 10 bombs at peak rush hour across multiple trains in Madrid as revenge for Spain’s involvement in the 2003 invasion of Afghanistan. This attack killed 193 people and injured over 2000 making it the deadliest attack in Spain’s history and the most deadly attack in Europe since 1988. (Source

    GEO tracked down the perpetrators to a flat in Leganes and made the decision to conduct a raid. In response, realising they were trapped, the terrorists detonated multiple explosives in the flat as the unit started their raid killing themselves and a GEO Subinspector. Furthermore, this is the only casualty the unit has ever suffered in operations. (Source) This was likely due to the fact that the GEO officers did not know the terrorist had explosives in the flat at the time of the raid. (Source)

    5.2 Kidnapping of Dr Iglesias Puga

    Another notable operation GEO was involved in was the rescuing of Dr Iglesias Puga (the father of the famous singer Julio Iglesias. In January 1982, was kidnapped by members of the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), the Basque separatist group that plagued Spain throughout the 1970s and 1980s with frequent terrorist attacks. (Source) The men demanded $2 million ransom for him and in addition, Dr Iglesias Puga was the 40th victim of an ETA kidnapping since 1970. GEO raided the flat where he was being held in the early morning of 17th January 1982 and in under 10 seconds freed the Dr. (Source) Furthermore, there were no injuries and all the suspects were arrested making the mission a success for the unit and they demonstrated their capabilities.

    6. Summary

    In summary, it is clear that GEO will continue to play a major role in  Spanish counterterrorism and in assisting the police with tasks that are outside of their capabilities. Furthermore, with the increasing importance of ATLAS cooperation, they are likely to continue training and growing closer with other members of the network in the future.

    Aidan Hickey
    Aidan Hickey
    Aidan is a Third Year War Studies Student at King's College London with a keen interest in the Middle-East and Insurgency.

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