The Gruppo di Intervento Speciale (GIS): Special Intervention Group

The Gruppo di Intervento Speciale (GIS – Special Intervention Group) is a Tier 1 elite special forces unit of the Italian Carabinieri. The GIS, as the Gruppo Operativo Incursori (GOI – Operational Raiders Group) and the 9th Paratroopers Assault Regiment “Col Moschin”, is part of the Comando interforze per le Operazioni delle Forze Speciali (COFS – Joint Special Forces Operation Command).

The GIS badge

History of the GIS

During the 1970s, Italy was affected by various attacks by local terrorist groups. The local Police and the Italian army started establishing various special forces units to counter this wave of attacks and to be ready to face periods of crisis.

In 1977, the General Command of the Carabinieri decided to create a counterterrorism unit and on the 6th of February 1978, it established the GIS, with the role of police tactical.

Drawing from the 1st Carabinieri Paratroopers Regiment “Tuscania”, the new Carabinieri unit was set up.

The Gruppo di Intervento Speciale was the first Italian counterterrorism unit within a police force. It was the first special forces unit part of the “teste di cuoio”, which literally means “leather heads” but it actually represents what is now called the SWAT unit.

This unit has both military and civil responsibilities, as the “Tuscania”, which often provides tactical support to the GIS. The Gruppo Operativo Incursori (GOI), the British Special Air Service (SAS), and the German Grenzschutzgruppe 9 trained the first GIS operators.

Gruppo di Intervento Speciale (GIS)
GIS operatives during training

Their first mission took place in Trani on the 29th of December 1980. In the local prison a revolt led by the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse), a far-left terrorist group, broke out. Since its intervention, the GIS managed to regain control of the prison and free the hostages.

Since 2000, this special unit has operated in many international theatres of war, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2001, the GIS became part of the ATLAS Network, a European association which comprises police tactical units.

In 2004, the GIS evolved to a special forces unit, and it assumed the role of special operations, joining consequently the COFS.

Structure of the Gruppo di Intervento Speciale

The GIS headquarters are located in Livorno.

The unit is part of the second mobile brigade of Carabinieri and depends on the General Command of the Carabinieri.  On the operational level and for missions abroad it relies on the COFS, and for missions regarding the public order, the unit depends on the chief of police.

The COFS, in charge of conducting and planning special operations, consists of:

  • 9th Paratroopers Assault Regiment “Col Moschin”, Italian Army Special Forces
  • Operational Raiders Group (GOI – Gruppo Operativo Incursori), Italian Navy
  • 17th Raiders Wing, Italian Air Force
  • Special Intervention Group (GIS)
  • 4th Alpini Paratroopers Regiment “Monte Cervino”, Italian Army
  • 185th Paratroopers Reconnaissance Target Acquisition Regiment “Folgore”, Italian Army
The organisational chart of COFS

The GIS consists of:

  • Nucleo Comando (Headquarters Unit), which focuses on administrative and bureaucratic tasks.
  • Sezione Pianificazione Operativa (Operational Planning Section), whose task is to produce action plans for complex targets and to develop and revise new equipment.
  • Nucleo Negoziatori (Negotiators Unit), which can also be employed abroad.
  • Sezione Addestrativa (Training Unit), whose task is to train both GIS members and external personnel.
  • Unità Tiratori Scelti e Ricognitori (Sniper and Reconnaissance Unit), which consists of snipers and personnel specialised in reconnaissance and gathering intelligence.
  • Sezione Tecnica (Technical Unit), which is responsible for radio communication.
  • Four Sezioni Operative (Operative Sections), each one of them consists of four military detachments. In each detachment, there is a commander, an explosives specialist, a climbing specialist, and an equipment specialist.

Gruppo di Intervento Speciale: Responsibilities

The Gruppo di Intervento Speciale takes part mainly in high-risk special operations against terrorism.

At all times, there is a unit ready to intervene, whereas a second one is ready to be employed within three hours.

The unit can be employed in three different situations and scenarios.

At a domestic level, the Ministry of the Interior can deploy the GIS for hostage rescue missions. The unit also has the task to guarantee security and protection of sensitive targets and specific events on Italian soil.

In situations of crisis, the Carabinieri can deploy the unit to support the local police forces.

In Italy, the GIS is not the only unit fighting counterterrorism. There are also two other units, which are the Nucleo Operativo Centrale di Sicurezza (NOCS – Central Security Task Group), part of the Police, and the Antiterrorismo Pronto Impiego (ATPI – Counter-terrorism Rapid Rsponse), which is a unit of the Guardia di Finanza (Financial Guard).

In 2015, the Ministry of the Interior re-established the Special Intervention Units (UniIS), which also offer support to the GIS.

Gruppo di Intervento Speciale (GIS)
GIS member during a training session

The GIS can also take part in missions abroad. They are employed to perform hostage-rescue operations, to protect Italian embassies and consulates on foreign soil, and sometimes they also train foreign police personnel.

Regarding special operations, the unit is deployed by COFS, and it specialises in:

  • Direct action
  • Hostage rescue
  • Military assistance and counterterrorism
  • Protection of facilities such as embassies and specific targets
  • Reconquest facilities and targets held by terrorists
  • Special reconnaissance

Since 2016, also the Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Esterna (AISE – External Intelligence and Security Agency) can deploy the unit.

Training of the GIS

As an elite unit, the requirements to join the GIS and the path to then become a member of it is tough and is not for everyone. A high degree of specific knowledge, preciseness and coordination at the operative and tactical level is required.

Before 2011, all the GIS aspiring come from the 1st Carabinieri Paratroopers Regiment “Tuscania”, where they had to have completed at least two years of service. Since 2011, this was not required anymore. A requirement which stood in place is the one regarding the age. All the recruits cannot be older than 33 years old.

Even though the standards are quite high, not all the recruits manage to complete the training and become official members of the GIS.

The first phase of the selection process includes psycho-physical visits and various interviews. Only 40% of the candidates make it to the next phase.

Paratrooper Course

After this, there is the so-called “GIS operator with military patent of raider” course.

This course lasts nine months and it is very similar to the “Tuscania” one. Only 30% of the initial candidates make it to the third phase.

This paratrooper course consists of:

  • Camouflage techniques
  • Combat and patrolling training in urban areas
  • Escape and evasion
  • HUMINT
  • Military parachuting course
  • Military Police techniques
  • Navigation techniques and land guidance
  • Operational first aid course
  • Personal defence course
  • Resistance to interrogation
  • Survival techniques
  • Use of ropes
(Video; GIS Training Exercises; via Arma dei Carabinieri on Youtube)

Basic Course

The “Basic Course” phase lasts around 18 weeks.

It consists in:

  • Break-in techniques
  • Climbing
  • Handling explosives
  • FireArm Training System
  • First aid techniques
  • Martial arts
  • Photographic techniques
  • Police activities
  • Use of electronic surveillance equipment

Specialised Course

The “Specialised Course” lasts 27 weeks. After the successful completion of this phase, the soldier officially becomes a member of the Gruppo di Intervento Speciale.

This course consists of:

  • Advanced techniques with firearms and explosives
  • Assault on aircraft
  • Driving techniques
  • Guerrilla and counterguerrilla tactics
  • Skiing
  • Swimming

At the end of this course, GIS members train every day and they improve their skills with more strengthening courses, such as:

  • EOD (Explosive Ordinance Reclamation Operator) and IEDD (Improvised Explosive Ordinance Reclamation Operator)
  • FAC (Forward Air Controller)
  • Parachuting course with specific techniques, such as free fall (TCL), HALO (High Altitude Low Opening), and HAHO (High Altitude High Opening)
  • Sniper shooting
  • Special Operations Combat Medics

Equipment of the Gruppo di Intervento Speciale

Gruppo di Intervento Speciale

The Gruppo di Intervento Speciale unit is equipped with a variety of weapons including:

Assault rifles

  • Beretta SC 70/90
  • Colt M4
  • Heckler & Koch HK G36, HK416, and HK417
  • Steyr AUG

Sniper rifles

  • Accuracy International AWP and AWS
  • Barrett M82
  • Heckler & Koch PSG-1
  • Mauser SP86
  • Sako TRG-42
  • Stoner Rifle-25

Others:

  • Benelli M3
  • Beretta 92 FS and M12
  • Glock 17 and .45 ACP
  • Heckler & Koch HK MP5
  • M4 Super 90
  • Smith & Wesson Model 28
Gruppo di Intervento Speciale
GIS member

Accessories

  • Aimpoint
  • Holographic sight Red Hot EOTECH
  • Oerlikon

Missions of the GIS

The GIS took part in many missions both in Italy and abroad.

The unit provided security during some main events such as the Torino Winter Olympic Games, in February 2006, and the G7 in Taormina, Sicily, in May 2017.

This elite unit also provided protection for Italian personnel all around the world. In Namibia, during the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG), in 1989, in Cambodia, during the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), in 1992, and in both Israel and Palestine during the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), in 1994 and 1996.

The Gruppo di Intervento Speciale in Italy

Since its creation, the GIS was employed many times in Italy, to either support the local authorities or to take part in counterterrorism missions.

On the 23rd of October 2010, the GIS managed to capture Gerlandino Messina, who was a Mafia boss wanted since 1999. In order to prevent Messina to use his firearms, the GIS, with the help of flash bombs and micro-explosive charges, entered the building and arrested the Mafia boss.

The GIS also intervened on the 9th of February 2014 in Inveruno, close to Milan. At 2.35 am the GIS, with the Raggruppamento Operativo Speciale (ROS – Special Operations Group), surrounded a building in Via Villoresi 23 and managed to arrest Domenico Cutrì, a ‘Ndrangheta boss. Cutrì was freed by his brother while the police were escorting him to court. After five days of freedom, the GIS entered the building where he was hiding and in only eight seconds broke into the flat and arrested him.

Missions Abroad

Between 2003 and 2006, the Gruppo di Intervento Speciale was deployed to Iraq to be part of the Italian contingent that joined Operation Ancient Babylon. Alongside the GIS there was also the COMSUBIN (Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei e Incursori “Teseo Tesei”) and the Col Moschin.

The unit’s goal was to take part in counterterrorism missions and to guarantee security and stability conditions to allow the flow and distribution of humanitarian aid.

Gruppo di Intervento Speciale (GIS)
The GIS in Iraq

The GIS was first sent to Afghanistan in 2002 to escort the then King of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah.

In 2008, for the second time, the unit was deployed to Afghanistan, as part of the Task Force 45. This task force was linked to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and it was formed by Italian Special Forces.

The mission of this task was to counter the insurgents’ activities in the region and to collect intelligence.

In 2015, following the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, the GIS supported the French police in protecting the most important sites in the French capital.

The GIS was also employed in Mali, where the unit joined Task Force Takuba in 2020. Within that Task Force, there were also the Gruppo Operativo Incursori (GOI), the 9th Paratroopers Assault Regiment “Col Moschin”, and the 17th Raiders Wings.

In 2021, the GIS and the 185th Paratroopers Reconnaissance Target Acquisition Regiment “Folgore” trained 62 Nigerien soldiers to be part of the Intervention and Security Group of the Niger National Guard. The training consisted of handling firearms and policing techniques.

In the same year, the Gruppo di Intervento Speciale supported the 1st Carabinieri Paratroopers Regiment “Tuscania” in Afghanistan. Their mission was to evacuate the Italian personnel from the Italian embassy and bring them to safety.

Rachele Momi
Rachele Momi
Rachele Momi is a graduate in Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University and in Middle East Politics at SOAS. Her research is mainly focused on the Middle East region, tradecraft, and defence issues.

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