La Unidad Especial de Intervención (UEI): The Guardia Civil Special Intervention Unit


    1.0 Introduction

    The Unidad Especial de Intervención (UEI) (Special Intervention Unit) is one police Tactical Unit (PTU) of the Guardia Civil (Civil Guard), the Spanish gendarmerie. Conceived as a single central elite unit, it specialises in high-risk operations and the fulfilment of its specific missions within or outside the national territory (source).

    The UEI is a Tier 1 special forces unit, like the Grupo Especial de Operaciones (GEO) or Special Operations Group of the National Police Force. The other Guardia Civil elite unit is the Grupo de Acción Rápida (GAR) or Rapid Action Group.

    The UEI motto is Celeritas et Subtilitas Patrio (Speed and Precision for the Homeland). Its coat of arms comprises a golden shield with a red-winged lion in the centre. Behind it, there is a sword and a Roman fasces crossed. Above the coat of arms is the Spanish royal crown. Below the shield is the name of the unit.

    Coat of Arms of the UEI.

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

    Guidon or flag of the UEI.

    2. History of the UEI

    They created the unit on 3 June 1978 under the name of the Grupo de Intervención Inmediata (Immediate Intervention Group). Its main goal was to combat terrorism and increasingly specialised and violent crime. On 3 February 1982, they restructured it as the Special Intervention Unit (source) and, in 1983, began its operational activity.

    In 2001, they took part in meetings sponsored by the Belgian DSU (Directorate of Special Units) which led to the founding of the ATLAS group (source). The UEI is part of the ATLAS Network of European special police units, along with the GEO. This network includes 34 anti-terrorist units from 29 European countries. Their objective is the coordination and cooperation of anti-terrorist units to achieve the highest level in the fight against organised crime and terrorism (source). 

    Since its creation, the UEI has carried out over 375 operations. These operations have led to the release of 563 hostages and the arrest of 640 people, 141 of whom belonged to terrorist commandos (source).

    Patch of the UEI

    Its first location was the premises of the DG of the Guardia Civil in C/Batalla del Salado in Madrid, passing through other premises, including Guadarrama. Its current location is the Colegio de Guardias Jóvenes “Duque de Ahumada”, Valdemoro, Madrid (source).

    3. The mission of the UEI

    Eurocopter EC-135P-2 of the Civil Guard Air Service transporting two UEI agents. Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

    Its mission is to intervene in criminal acts that require immediate and highly specialised action due to their danger and risk. The major cases of intervention are:

    • Kidnapping.
    • Hostage-taking.
    • Counter-terrorism. 
    • Drug trafficking.
    • The arrest of particularly violent or dangerous criminals.
    • Riots.
    • Protection of dignitaries and public figures.

    (Source), (Source)

    4. The organisation of the UEI

    They integrate the UEI 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 career military personnel and are entrusted with military missions (source).

    UEI Structure (translation below). Credits:

    The UEI is an independent unit within the Guardia Civil and is led by an active lieutenant colonel of said police.  

    The unit is organised as follows:

    • Command.
    • Intervention Groups.
      • Each consists of two intervention cells.
        • Each consists of an assault and a marksman team.
    • Technical Support Group.
      • Negotiation.
      • Armament.
      • Transmissions.
      • Video.
      • Special equipment.
      • Training.

    (Source), (source)

    5. Training of the UEI

    UEI operatives during a training exercise. Credits: Ministry of Interior.

    Before joining the UEI, candidates must pass very tough selection tests and, once in, they follow a demanding training programme (source). Candidates must undergo personal physical-technical aptitude evaluations. If the candidate fails, their assignment is terminated (source).

    5.1 Requirements

    All members of this unit must be young people with excellent athletic conditions and perfect shape (source).

    • You must not be more than 29 years old.
    • You must demonstrate absolute self-control for 6 months.
    • You must demonstrate your knowledge and skills.
    • Pass the physical tests.

    5.2 Physical tests

    UEI agent descending from a Civil Guard helicopter. Credits: Ministry of Interior.

    All those aspiring to join the UEI must undergo a week-long series of physical tests and examinations. However, many candidates come from the GAR and therefore have extensive experience in special operations.

    • Run 8,000 metres in less than 35 minutes.
    • Run 1,000 metres in less than 3 minutes and 15 seconds.
    • Run 50 metres in less than 7.10 seconds.
    • Swim 200 metres in less than 5 minutes.
    • Do 39 push-ups and 15 pull-ups.
    • Perform a vertical jump of at least 55 cm in height.

    The test ends with a personal interview.

    (Source), (source)

    5.3 Personnel training

    If you are selected, the training course will start on the first Monday of September. This course is known as the “Course of Adaptation to the Tactics and Techniques of the UEI”. It is an indispensable requirement to pass it (source).

    This course lasts 6 months and the selection of the course takes place once a year during May. During these six months, the candidate will learn a series of techniques that will gradually increase in difficulty, including:

    • Shooting techniques, both combat and precision marksmanship.
    • Sniper training.
    • Abseiling and fast-roping from helicopters and buildings.
    • Skiing and diving techniques.
    • Judo, boxing and kickboxing. 
    • Use of transmissions.
    • Handling of explosives.
    • Surveillance techniques.
    Title badge of the course of the Special Intervention Unit.

    5.4 Urban Combat

    In the last part of the course, they train candidates in “Urban Combat”. This is one of the most physically and mentally demanding tests. However, only 2.5% pass this part (source). During this phase, the instructors push candidates to the limit of exhaustion to test their endurance and capabilities. 

    UEI operatives engaging in urban combat. Credits: UEI.

    After this, candidates have a daily training which starts at 08:00 hours and is divided into three parts:

    • Shooting.
    • Technical-tactical.
    • Physical.

    If candidates are successful, they are given a period of induction before being assigned to the unit. Members of the UEI can, once inside the unit, take other courses of interest, such as Parachuting, Scuba Diving, Tedax, Information and VIP Protection, among others (source).

    (Source), (source)

    5.3 Additional requirements

    Permanent badge of the Special Intervention Unit.

    Due to the characteristics of the UEI and the high need for you to be permanently available, all members of the unit are required to live within 12 km of Valdemoro. This is to ensure that in the event of an alert situation, they can reach the base of operations in less than half an hour. They must also be contactable 24 hours a day, except for ordinary leave days (source).

    6. Equipment of the UEI

    The UEI is equipped with modern equipment, mostly of European and American manufacture. This equipment follows NATO standards.

    UEI operatives visited by HM Felipe VI. Credits: Royal Household.

    6.1 Uniformity

    The uniformity of the agents depends on the nature of the operation. 

    In assault operations:

    • Green assault overalls. Unit’s coat of arms on the right sleeve and the Spanish flag on the left sleeve, both at shoulder level.
    • Black balaclava that gives the unit its informal nickname: “caras negras” (black faces) (source).
    • Bullet-proof waistcoat.
    • Tactical waistcoat, worn over the previous one.
    • Helmet with ballistic visor for urban combat.
    • Elbow, knee and shin guards.
    • Boots and gloves.

    In-boarding operations:

    • Black naval intervention dry suit with a self-inflating life jacket. Shield and flag on sleeves.
    • Black balaclava.
    • Bullet-proof waistcoat.
    • Tactical waistcoat.
    • Lightweight half-head ProTec-type polyethene helmet.
    • Elbow, knee and shin guards.
    • Boots and gloves.

    In riot control operations:

    – Riot control equipment.

    (Source), (source)

    6.2 Weapons

    UEI operatives training an assault. Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

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


    • Heckler & Koch USP 9 mm Parabellum semi-automatic.
    • Glock 17 9 mm Parabellum (Gen 3 equipped with a tactical flashlight).

    Submachine guns

    • Heckler & Koch MP5SD3 9 mm Parabellum.
    • FN P90 5.7 mm.

    Assault rifles

    UEI operatives armed. The one in the middle is holding a G41 assault rifle, while the other two are holding MP5 submachine guns.
    • Heckler & Koch G36K 5.56 mm.
    • Heckler & Koch G41 5.56 mm.
    • Heckler & Koch HK416 5.56 mm.

    Battle rifles

    • Heckler & Koch HK417 7.62 mm.
    • Barrett M82 12.70 calibre.

    Sniper rifles

    • Accuracy International Arctic Warfare L96A1 7.62 mm.
    • Heckler & Koch PSG1 7.62 mm.

    6.3 Vehicles

    The primary vehicles used during the Unit’s interventions are well-capacity MPVs (multi-purpose vehicles). 

    • URO VAMTAC S3 and ST5. Equipped with platform Mobile Adjustable Ramp System (MARS) (source). 
    URO VAMTAC equipped with MARS. Credits: UROVESA.
    • Hummer K12 4×4 off-road. Equipped with MARS (source).
    UEI team with HM Felipe VI and a Hummer K12 equipped with MARS. Credits: Royal Household.
    • Nissan “GR” off-road vehicles, with specific modifications to adapt them to the Unit’s requirements.
    • Mercedes and Iveco buses. These are specially designed and built for the unit.
    • Renault and Man trucks as heavy transport vehicles.
    • Semi-rigid vessels with powerful engines of more than 300 hp for maritime operations.
    Nissan GR. Credits: Martin J. Gallego.


    7. Notable Operations

    During the more than twenty-five years they have been active, they have carried out numerous operations, some of which are well known, while others remain anonymous. Most of its activity has been related, though not limited, to the anti-terrorist fight against the terrorist group ETA (source).

    The most notable operations are the following:

    7.1 Assault and Arrest

    • Operation Romeo (2009): Raid and arrest of a gang of hitmen in Catalonia (source).
    • Operation Alvagar (2009): Raid on a drug traffickers’ laboratory (source).

    7.2 Prison riots

    • Basauri Penitentiary (1983): Members of the UEI reduced five inmates and freed the hostages who were mixed with them (source).
    • Ocaña Prison (1984). Four inmates started a riot, in which they held eight prison officers and five other workshop leaders. UEI officers thwarted the escape attempt (source).
    • Daroca Prison (1992). Five prisoners kidnapped four officials, including two officials from the penitentiary institutions who had come to the centre to negotiate (source).

    7.3 Protection of public figures

    • Visits of John Paul II to Spain in August 1989 and June 1997 (with the GEO) (source).
    • Royal Wedding of H.R.M. the Prince and Princess of Asturias (source).
    • Proclamation of Don Felipe de Borbón y Grecia, as King of Spain, under the name of Felipe VI, (with the GEO) 19 June 2014 (source).
    • NATO Summit in Madrid 2022 (with the GEO) (source).

    7.4 Hostage rescue

    • Operation Octopus (1997): rescue of prison officer José Antonio Ortega Lara. Ortega was kidnapped by the terrorist group ETA and was held hostage in a hole for 532 days (source).
    • Liberation in Lalín (2014): Rescue of timber businessman Abel Diéguez Neira (source).

    8. Summary

    The UEI’s history demonstrates that it is a highly trained, effective and lethal elite police unit.  Its training and arsenal make it a top unit of the Guardia Civil and among Spain’s security forces and corps. Like its equivalent Special Operations Group (GEO) of the National Police, this unit is perfectly suited to carry out the most difficult operations. It is not surprising that senior police and military commanders consider them to be the most suitable for personality protection and anti-terrorist operations. Given the importance the Spanish government attaches to them, the UEI will remain an essential unit 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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