La Fuerza Especial de Reacción (FER): Mexico´s Special Reaction Force

1.0 Introduction

The Fuerza Especial de Reacción (Special Reaction Force) or FER, previously known as “GAFE del Alto Mando” or “Fuerza Especial del Alto Mando” (High Command Special Force) is the Mexican Army’s Special Mission Unit (SMU). This unit is made up of very select personnel from the Mexican Army´s Cuerpo de Fuerzas Especiales (Special Forces Corps). It is also known as “Task Force-Murcielago” (Task Force-Bat).

The FER is one of four highly specialized elite groups within the Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Secretariat of National Defence or SEDENA) Special Forces Corps, as well as the only one of these four units whose existence is officially known to the public. 

The unit has access to high-quality military equipment and is comparable to their US counterparts, Delta Force aka CAG. While not blessed with the same level of funding and experience as its US counterparts. it does have a somewhat comparable mission set, training, weaponry and modus operandi.

The FER motto is “Velocidad, Sorpresa y Violencia de Acción”, which translates to “Speed, Surprise and Violence of Action”.

The emblem is green and includes a helicopter, guarded by bat wings wielding a sword, over the outline of Mexico. 

Special Reaction Force Coat of Arms.
Special Reaction Force Coat of Arms

2.0 History of the FER

Very little is known about them due to their secret nature. However, the origin of this unit dates back to 1 February 1986, with the integration of the “Fuerza de Reaccion del Alto Mando” (FRAM) or High Command Reaction Force, consisting of three task forces. Each force collaborated in its respective tasks to provide anti-terrorist security for the 1986 World Cup (source). 

However, the unit as we know it today was created in 1994, originally called “Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales del Alto Mando” or GAFE (High Command Special Forces Airmobile Group). The name was later changed to “Fuerza Especial del Alto Mando” (High Command Special Force). Currently, it is known as FER or Fuerza Especial de Reacción (Special Reaction Force). The unit was originally inspired by other counter-terrorism units such as the British Special Air Service (SAS), the US Delta Force and Israel’s Sayeret Matkal. 

Hence, it is regarded as one of the most proficient and highly-trained SMUs in Latin America. In addition to this, the FER is also considered one of the best special operations groups globally. They incorporate diverse courses and training programs from countries such as the United States, France, Israel, Germany, Spain, and others.

Mexican FER Operator after a mission
Mexican FER Operator after a mission

3.0 The mission of the FER

Their primary function is national security and counterterrorism to safeguard Mexico’s security in the event of foreign or internal threats. They also carry out special missions and tasks of a highly secret nature and great strategic and national security importance, entrusted directly by the President of the Republic, by the Secretary of National Defence or by senior army commanders. 

However, due to Mexico’s campaign against drugs, they are also summoned to apprehend and eliminate the most wanted and dangerous drug traffickers. 

Its main tasks range from direct action to unconventional warfare. These include:

  • Black operations
  • Clandestine operations
  • Counterinsurgency 
  • Counter-narcotics
  • Counterproliferation
  • Counterterrorism 
  • Covert action 
  • Executive protection 
  • Forward observer 
  • Hostage rescue 
  • Irregular warfare 
  • Long-range penetration 
  • Special operations and reconnaissance

The Special Reaction Force only receives orders directly from the Secretary of National Defence, the high command of the army, and the President of Mexico.

(Source)

4.0 The organisation of the FER

The FER is one of the four specialized units of the SEDENA Cuerpo de Fuerzas Especiales (Special Forces Corps). The other three remain secretive from the public. It falls under the Mexican Army Special Operations Command. Their headquarters are classified given the sensitive nature of their tasks. Most FER Operators are Officers and Senior NCOs (source). 

5.0 Training of the FER

To join the Special Reaction Force, the selected operator must belong to the Special Forces Corps and be a C.O.F.E. (Special Forces Corps Official) or C.S.F.E. (Special Forces Corps Sargent), as well as have one or more courses abroad. Once this is fulfilled, he or she must pass psychometric, IQ and constant physical tests (source).

This training ensures that elements can respond to land, air and sea threats in a variety of ways. Their capabilities include:

  • Direct Action. 
  • Combat and survival skills in all terrestrial environments: jungle, desert, mountain, as well as rural and urban scenarios.
  • Advanced skydiving; ability to perform HALO/HAHO jumps.
  • High capability in urban intervention and CQB.
  • Tactical combat diving.
  • Airmobile operations.
  • Selected Marksmen/Sniper.
  • Amphibious assaults in both littoral, maritime and underwater environments.
  • Officer protection and comprehensive security.
  • Infiltration and sabotage operations.
  • Guerrilla warfare.
  • Personal defence.
  • Handling of explosives and breaches.

(Source)

Mexican Army Special Reaction Force opeator armed in the streets of Iztacalco, Mexico City during an operation.
Mexican Army Special Reaction Force (FER) operator carrying out a high-priority operation in Iztacalco, Mexico City.

They continuously train with other prestigious SOFs and SMUs such as the US Army’s 7th Special Forces Group and MARSOC’s Raider Regiment, French 1er RPIMa, British 22 SAS and Israel’s Sayeret Matkal. Furthermore, they also work together with the Fuerza Especial de la Brigada de Fusileros Paracaidistas, or FE-BFP (Parachute Rifle Brigade Task Force), and the Mexican Navy (through the FES) in counter-narcotics operations (source).

6.0 Equipment

The weaponry and tactical equipment used by the Fuerza Especial de Reacción (FER) are among the best available in places like the US and the EU. Additionally, the unit is formed by no more than 150 operators.

Pistols:

  • Glock 17
  • Beretta 92F
  • Sig Sauer P226 TACOPS

Sub-machine guns:

  • HK MP5A4
  • MP7A1
  • H&K UMP

Shotguns:

  • Mossberg 930
  • Benelli M4 Super 90

Assault rifles:

  • FX-05
  • M16A4
  • M4A1
  • HK416
  • Mk18 CQBR
  • FN SCAR Mk17

Light machine guns:

  • FN Minimi
  • M249 Mk46 Mod 1
  • MG3
  • MG4

Sniper rifles:

  • Barrett M107A1
  • M110 SASS
  • FN SCAR Mk20 SSR
  • AWC

Vehicles:

  • TPS Armoring Black Mamba 
  • Plasan SandCat 

Aircraft:

  • MH-6 Little Bird
  • UH-60L Black Hawk
Video on the capture of Uriel Isaac “N”, known as “El Cochi” by the FER in Iztacalco, 2017. Credits: SPECIAL FORCE OF MEXICAN LAW CONCEPT.

(Source)

7.0 Notable Operations

Little is known about its operations given the secretive nature of its tasks. However, the Fuerza Especial de Reacción (FER) is particularly active in the war against drug trafficking in Mexico. 

The following list includes their most notable missions:

  • Zapatista uprising.
  • Capture of Osiel Cárdenas Guillén.
  • Assassination of Arturo Guzman Decena.
  • Capture of Javier Torres Felix. 
  • Capture of Alfredo Beltrán Leyva. 
  • Assassination of Ignacio Coronel Villarreal. 
  • Capture of Omar Treviño Morales “Z-42”.
  • Capture of José Antonio Yépez Ortiz “El Marro”.
  • Operation Jalisco.
  • Re-capture of Ovidio Guzmán López.

7.1 Zapatista Uprising

Their first significant operation happened during the Zapatista uprising, known as “Operation Rainbow”, They were deployed as part of the counterinsurgency strategy against the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) socialist guerrilla group. The group infiltrated and eliminated hostile targets in the jungle region of the southern state of Chiapas (source).

7.2 The capture of Cárdenas Guillén and hunting down Decena and “Los Zetas”.

The FER successfully apprehended Osiel Cardenas Guillen, head of the Gulf Cartel, in 2003. Osiel Cardenas Guillen was among the most wanted drug lords in Mexico and the United States. 

It is stated that they also identified and subsequently killed Arturo Guzman Decena, also known as “Z1,” who was the initial leader and co-founder of Los Zetas in 2002 (source). Decena was a retired army lieutenant who enlisted the support of over thirty deserters from the elite Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE) to work as his bodyguards and later, as his group of mercenaries. The FER was the unit responsible for pursuing almost the entire first generation of “Los Zetas,” as they were familiar with their tactics and how to counter them (source). These operations at the time, allowed the FER to enter into a very small list of special forces that had fought against other special forces (source).

7.3 Capture of Javier Torres Felix

The FER also conducted a well-known operation to detain the Sinaloa cartel leader Javier Torres Felix, also known as “El JT”, in Culiacan, Sinaloa, on January 27, 2004 (source). 

7.4 Other missions

The FER accomplished several important missions, such as the apprehension of Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, the second-in-command of the powerful Beltrán Leyva Cartel, in 2008. 

In 2010, they were also responsible for the operation that resulted in the death of Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, a well-known Sinaloa Cartel leader, in the luxurious suburb of Zapopan, Jalisco. 

In 2015, after conducting a thorough month-long surveillance, they successfully located and arrested Omar Treviño Morales, a violent leader of the Los Zetas cartel.

On August 2, 2020, the FER captured José Antonio Yépez Ortiz, also known as “El Marro”, the prominent leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (source).

7.5 Operation Jalisco 

In 2015, the FER faced a tragic incident during the unsuccessful Operation “Jalisco” which aimed to capture the leader of the CJNG, “El Mencho”. During the operation, a FAM (Mexican Air Force) EC725 Super Cougar helicopter carrying multiple FER operators was reportedly shot down by El Mencho’s elite security group. All FER operators on board the helicopter died in the incident, marking one of the darkest moments in the unit’s history (source).

7.6 Re-capture of Ovidio Guzmán López

The most recent operation was on January 5, 2023, when the FER participated in a joint operation with SEDENA Special Forces Corps and National Guard troops to capture Ovidio Guzman Lopez, a notorious drug trafficker also known as “El Ratón” (source). FER, SEDENA, and National Guard forces engaged in a fierce battle with Ovidio’s security group, “Los Ninis”, resulting in the deaths of some FER operators.

8.0 Conclusion

The FER’s history demonstrates that it is a highly trained, efficient and lethal elite unit. Their training and arsenal make them a reliable group, and very dangerous opponents of the Mexican cartels. It is no wonder that senior military commanders consider them the most adequate for Mexico’s war against drugs. Given the importance placed on them by the Mexican state, the FER will remain a fixed element of SEDENA’s plans for the foreseeable future.

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