The French GIGN – S’engager pour la vie (To enlist for life)

This is the forth post of this section (Military Special Forces Throughout the World) and I’m so excited!  First of all, I have never been in the military but I respect anyone who is active duty or is separated military.  I have always been awed by regular military; you know those gun-hoe GI Joe types who rush into a room filled with hostiles and blow the ever living crap out of everything?  Movies like Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), Commando (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Navy SEALS (Charlie Sheen), Delta Force (Chuck Norris) and Heatbreak Ridge (Clint Eastwood) come to mind.


It was only during recent years that I have actually started reading books about Special Forces and have personally met members of some of America’s elite Special Forces units that I have gained an absolute amazing respect for these men.  I say “men” because, as of yet in America, women are not allowed to enter into a Special Forces unit.  See my post: “Women in the Military: Should GI Jane Become a Reality?” to get a better picture of what I mean.

In the ensuing posts, I will give a profile of Special Forces groups throughout the world, describe their history and list a bunch of mind-blowing stuff they’ve done.

South Korean Special Forces during winter training

If you don’t know yet, Special Forces and Special Operations Forces are military components who are specially trained, drilled and educated to carry out un-traditional operations 1.  Special Forces began in the early part of the 1900s, with a large expansion during WWII.  This was a time when “every major army involved in the fighting” fashioned elite units who were loyal to special operations behind enemy lines.

Varying by country, Special Forces may execute some of these wicked, bad-to-the-bone ops: airborne missions, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, foreign interior resistance, clandestine operations, targeted warfare, hostage recovery, high-value targets/man-hunting, surveillance/reconnaissance missions, mobility ops and untraditional combat.

Be ready to be educated and blown away by what you’re about to read…


France is a republic in western Europe that has several provinces and interests throughout the world.  They have some of the best coffee, wine, cheese, museums, vampire movies, traffic jams, customer service and accents in the world.  The French Alps and Pyrenees Mountains are breathtaking and the beaches are magnificent.  Because France is such an old, historic country and is located along the Mediterranean Sea, it is the home of many diverse cultures and ethnicities from European to north African to Jewish and Muslim.

France was overtaken by Nazi Germany during World War II and since then, it has grown its military and has become one of the most effective nations in the world at protecting its borders and citizens, even if they are thousands of miles away.  Every nation has its conflicts and scary hostage situations that must be taken care of immediately.  Since the conception of Special Forces following World War II, France has been one of the leaders in counter-terrorism and unconventional warfare.  It is my pleasure to introduce you to one of the most hard-line, experienced special operations outfits in the world – the GIGN.

The National Gendarmerie Intervention Group is better known as the GIGN.  If I say it in French, it’ll sound more romantic and it will probably land me a date!  Here it goes… Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale…did it work?  Anyways, the GIGN is one of the earliest and most battle-hardened anti-terrorism Special Forces outfits on the planet.  They are qualified in some of the most extreme firearms eligibility programs.  Ski-masks are an every-day part of their wardrobe.  Completely eradicating terrorists are a part of their job description.  These guys are also the only anti-terrorist group that pack revolvers as one of their sidearms.  They will parachute directly into a high-risk location or assault an insurgent-occupied container ship while wielding a Dirty Harry .357 magnum revolver that can shoot through a freaking car door and kill the occupants inside 1.

35e45def30d9f6f0cf5c468362f0f1f2Established in the aftermath of the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972 and the mutiny in Clairvaux, the GIGN  was originally organized as a small SWAT team that specialized in delicate hostage release and negotiation situations.  They have since grown to almost 400 operators and have changed the scope of their mission and responsibilities 3.  The GIGN shares the jurisdiction of France with other National Police quick reaction units like the RAID police unit.  They are based out of Versailles-Satory in the outskirts of Paris.  Even though many of their missions are in France, because they are a branch of the French Armed Forces, they can participate in ops anywhere in the world.  Most of their missions are secret and if you are ever on vacation in France, don’t take any pictures of them or they’ll take out your Common Peroneal, perform an arm-bar take-down and you’ll wake up in a rat-infested alley with a big headache minus your camera.  GIGN operators have participated in 1,800 known operations since they were formed, have freed over 600 hostages, arrested thousands of suspects and have even made it into Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 making them the most experienced and arguably the most successful counter-terrorism Special Forces in the world 1, 4.

If you mess with the French, the GIGN will be knocking on your door within minutes or tail your car or rappel out of a helicopter and surround you.  They will pursue you with ninja Jason Bourne accuracy, assaulting from land, air and sea.  These messieurs in black won’t rest until the job is done and everyone involved has been interrogated, detained or killed 1.

00c49bf86c0243f0e6b84ca90a1e4e04The GIGN, is considered a “gendarmerie” which classifies them as a military element with jurisdiction in civilian law enforcement.  The word “gendarmerie” is a derivative from the medieval French phrase gens d’armes, which translates as “armed men” 2.  This just means that they’re essentially soldiers who can arrest people.  The closest comparison to this in the US is the Coast Guard which is a military branch but they deal largely with overseeing US waterways instead of directly assaulting terrorists and insurgents.  Another good comparison is if the Los Angeles SWAT team married the Navy SEALs, their baby would be the GIGN…only with awesome ski masks and even more awesome accents 1.

Their main duty is performing counter-terrorism operations like intervening during hostage situations, executing tactical assaults, surveilling threats, protecting government officials and VIPs, enforcing the law and dealing with organized crime 3.  They also protect all nuclear facilities inside France, they offered security when France hosted the Olympics and they perform crazy nighttime HALO parachute jumps to hunt down hardcore war criminals from downtown Sarajevo 1.

You might have that picture in your head of French cops only having to worry about when Café Dumont down the road only has two different baguette choices on their menu and is packed with a bunch cigarette-smoking mimes.  In fact, France has one of the highest gun ownership percentages world-wide, their homicide rate is lower per capita than Croatia and almost every time French police raid a Parisian street gang, they seize a hand full of Uzis and AK-47s.  Sometimes, these GIGN operators have no way of knowing what they’re dealing with until they arrive on scene.  They have trained and planned for every situation and are such experts in weapons training that the US Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and some SWAT teams travel over the Atlantic to cross-train with GIGN fireams and hand-to-hand combat specialists 1.

Today, drug casewea2ig3s represent over half of the GIGN’s operations.  According to police experts, seven tons of marijuana (which is still illegal in France) is brought into the country every week.  The drug dealers have adapted and outsmarted local police.  They recon the best routes for transportation and use souped up cars and smuggle drugs in through high mountain passes.  GIGN operators are the most seasoned experts in stopping such drug traffickers.  They usually utilize 3 or 4 of their own high-powered vehicles and are the only unit that can work in these kind of situations 15.


39c73a70e3ac863c8ce5e26630f36504As stated before, the GIGN was established in 1973 following the Munich Olympic massacre and other similar hostage crises in France.  The GIGN was officially sanctioned as a special police SWAT-like unit in March 1974, commanded by Lieutenant Christian Prouteau.  Their first mission was only ten days later.  An additional unit with similar intent was organized inside the gendarmerie parachute squadron in Mont-de-Marsan located in southwest France.  In 1976, both units were consolidated into one group under Prouteau’s responsibility.  The GIGN was originally a small unit of 15 operators.  They grew in number in 1976 to 32 members, then to 78 in 1986.  The 2005 roll-call was 120 operators 5.

Early GIGN training
Lt. Prouteau








Since then in 2007, a major re-organization took place.  Several other military SWAT-like units around France merged into what is today known as the modern French GIGN.  These units include the original GIGN guys, the EPIGN (a specialized parachute group), the GSPR (the security forces that protected the French President) and the GISA (a Special Forces training center).  So now the new and improved GIGN with the additional muscle and expertise of additional special operators is made up of about 380 bad-to-the-bone, ski-mask wearing, .357 Dirty Harry magnum totting Frenchies.  In addition, the new and improved GIGN has revised their goals in strengthening regulation and oversite duties, offering improved assimilation with standard options and instruction and security protection 5.

00a5f93406b0e244b08a1fe7acb611d8With a wider range of talent on hand, the GIGN expanded their role in the special operations arena.  They have kept several of their older responsibilities and have added a few new ones.  Here they are: counter-terrorism, hostage recovery, apprehension of high-risk suspects, prison riot control, surveillance and intel gathering of suspicious subjects, military special missions, VIP and government official security, strategic protection in war-time areas and specialized training 5.


eb9a6275e60b9a0c375cfd18f096ea34These scone eating, night vision goggle wearing, knife wielding Frenchies have an intense diversified skill set where, at a moment’s notice, they can decide to either deprive someone of their life, mediate in other situations, apprehend suspects, eradicate all other options or just look at someone in that that Jacques Lafleur kind of way until they give them what they want.  They are deployed on roughly sixty missions annually (that’s an average of more than one a week!).  Operations usually don’t conclude with dead terrorists, although sometimes they do.  Most of these ops go totally unnoticed by the public and are completely clandestine in nature.  The only news we might hear about could be this: after a French freighter in the Indian Ocean was boarded by some pirates, the situation was quickly brought under control as the crew “took back the ship”.  But that’s not what really happened…1

School Bus hostage incident – Djibouti, Africa- 1976

c2b6b8c772282024259561f8039cfcadIn 1976 members from a Somali terrorist group called FLCS hijacked a school bus packed with 30 French kids in Loyada (near the Somalia/Djibouti border in eastern Africa) and threatened to murder everyone unless France freed some of their members from prison.  The hijackers, however, forgot one thing: France never negotiates with terrorists.  After they arrived, several GIGN snipers picked off the terrorists who were dumb enough to expose themselves.  Remember, this was done on a bus full of children!  Once that was accomplished, additional GIGN operators assaulted the school bus and quickly brought the crisis to a conclusion.  They did this without the loss of a single child or GIGN operator 1.

Hostage Incident – Mecca, Saudi Arabia – 1979

smoke_rising_from_the_grand_mosque_mecca_1979On November 20, 1979, a radical Islamist from the royal Saudi family who thought his brother-in-law was the Muslim equivalent to the Anti-Christ lead a raid on the Grand Mosque in Mecca.  After holding several hundred people hostage, the entire city of Mecca was evacuated.  Saudi military forces attempted to retake the mosque but were met with fierce opposition by the insurgents 1.

Caught in-between decisions to take the mosque by force or to starve out the rebels, the Saudi military made a decision to ask the GIGN for help.  According to author Lawrence Wright, a team of three GIGN operators arrived, converted to Islam in a brief ceremony (what?) and quickly went to work.  They advised Saudi and Pakistani commandos how to flush out a room full of Muslim terrorists but never took part in the actual assault.  In the aftermath, the good guys won and the GIGN returned to France with sticky fingers from baklava and a few more friends in the middle east.  And they probably renounced their newly found religion as well 1.

The Hijacking of Air France Flight 8969 – Algeria and France – 1994

300px-airbus_a300b2-1c_air_france_an1091113Air France Flight 8969 was an Air France flight that was hijacked on December 24, 1994 by an Islamic terrorist group called GIA in Algiers, Algeria.  Four armed terrorists dressed in Algerian presidential police uniforms boarded the Airbus A300 13.  At first, this didn’t cause any alarm as the disguised terrorists checked for passports.  A passenger then noticed one of the “policemen” had a stick of dynamite protruding from his pocket.  Airport officials were also alerted when the Air France flight was delayed and sent a squad of their special forces to investigate the Airbus.  The terrorists then revealed their true identity 14.

They brandished their weapons, which included AK-47s, handguns, Uzis, homemade hand-grenades and several sticks of dynamite.  They were then in complete control over all 220 passengers and 12 crew members.  The hijackers then changed out of their uniforms and donned the uniforms of the flight crew as to confuse any Algerian snipers 14.

The terrorists demanded that the Algerian police unblock the runway and allow them to maxresdefaulttake off.  With their requests denied, they executed two passengers.  French authorities saw that the situation was getting out of hand and asked Algerian officials if they could send a GIGN team to intervene.  The airplane belonged to France and most of the passengers were French.  Their requests were denied and the siege continued well into the night 14.

62d55ab8b1f0284122ae95a012b69074At the same time, GIGN operators arrived in Spain, the closest they could get to Algeria without intervening.  They then began practicing a hostage recovery operation on an empty Airbus A300 that was similar to the Air France airplane 13, 14.

The hijackers released 63 women and children hostages later on the second day.  The siege grew more intense when French officials confirmed through a mole in the GIA that the terrorists planned to take off and blow up the plane above the Eiffel Tower.  The seriousness was further escalated when the terrorists stated they would murder a passenger every 30 minutes if they weren’t allowed to take off.  When the deadline ended, they murdered another hostage 14.

Maj. Favier

Enraged by this event, Édouard Balladur, the French Prime Minister, contacted the President of Algeria.  An agreement was finally reached and the airport officials allowed the airplane to take off.  The lead terrorist planned to stop in Marseilles, France to refuel and then continue on to Paris.  As the Air France flight approached the French coastal town, little did they know that Major Denis Favier’s GIGN team was waiting for them.  These are the same guys who had trained in Spain to assault the Airbus A300 14.

Once the plane had landed, the terrorists agreed to hold a press conference there instead of flying to Paris.  They allowed ground crew to board the plane and resupply them with food and other goods.  The ground crew were actually GIGN operators dressed in airport uniforms.  Now that they were inside, they were able to see the layout of the cabin, count the hostages and hijackers, search for booby-traps and place listening devices in the cabin.  Once this was done, negotiators requested that the front of the aircraft be cleared of passengers in order to hold the press conference.  This would also allow the GIGN to initiate their assault with little risk to the hostages 14.

Sensing that something was afoot, the lead terrorist ordered the airplane captain, Bernard Dhellemme, to move the plane near the control tower and closer to the main part of the airport.  If a bomb was detonated there, it would inflict massive casualties.  Favier knew that the terrorists had the upper hand and had to act quickly.  He placed GIGN snipers on the airport roof so they could have a full view of the cockpit.  The assault would consist of three passenger air-stairs.  These are mobile stairs on wheels to allow boarding and unboarding of passengers.  Two GIGN teams would have 11 operators on two of the stairs and the third air-stair would have 8.  Their plan was to isolate the cockpit where the terrorists were located and enter the rear of the aircraft to evacuate the passengers 14.

The hijackers grew tense after hours of silence from the negotiators and chose a fourth hostage to murder.  When they chose not to shoot him, they began to instead fire their weapons outside the aircraft at the control tower.  With the situation reaching a critical climax and with no other option available, Favier gave his 30 man GIGN team the go-ahead 14.

The three air-stairs containing the operators approached the aircraft.  When one reached the right front door, the operators realized that it was positioned a few feet higher than the entry door.  This was because they had practiced on an empty airplane.  However, the Air France airplane was almost half filled with passengers.  The hijackers realized they were being assaulted and began firing on the GIGN.  One terrorist was instantly taken out as the additional operators in two air-stairs entered the aircraft from the rear 14.

Realizing that they were surrounded, the hijackers began indiscriminately firing hundreds of bullets at their attackers.  They were temporarily incapacitated when the GIGN set off concussion grenades and smoke filled the cabin.  Once the snipers got a clear view of the cockpit, they opened fire on the terrorists.  This allowed the GIGN inside the aircraft to evacuate the hostages and engage the terrorists in the cockpit 14.


Thierry Prungnaud, one of the GIGN operators, was the first to board the airplane.  He remembers, “It was very intense, especially the part when we entered the aircraft.  I went in first, I found myself in the front of four terrorists and the crew.  I neutralized three of them, I was shot 7 times and a grenade went off nearby.  A teammate got me out of there 12 minutes later,” 15

The remaining hijacker kept the GIGN busy for 20 more minutes.  As he was reloading, the operators moved in and eliminated him.  After they cleared the aircraft and realized all hijackers had been killed, they counted the losses.  Prungnaud had been seriously injured but eventually recovered.  Although his right arm was completely disabled, he became a GIGN firearms instructor.  For his valor, he received the Légion d’honneur or Legion of Honor, France’s highest military award equivalent to the Medal of Honor 15.

busyPrungnaud remembered, “All the hostages pulled through safe and sound.  The only wounded were in my group and two guys in the group at the back of the aircraft.  Only GIGN, no hostages.  That was really the goal.  So, we did a very good job,” 15

Le Ponant Somali Pirate Attack – Gulf of Aden – 2008

disaster2008_ponant20On April 4, 2008, the Le Ponant was overtaken by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden located just south of the Arabian peninsula and north of Somalia.  The Le Ponant was a private luxury yacht that had departed Seychelles, an island nation off the coast of east Africa and was headed to the Mediterranean Sea.  No civilian tourists were on board at the time.  However, 30 crew members, 1 from Cameroon, 6 from the Philippines, 22 from France and one from the Ukraine were on board 10. 

The French navy ship Commandant Bouan and a Canadian Sikorsky CH-124 Sea King helicopter from the Royal Canadian Navy HMCS Charlottetown were observing the yacht after it was overtaken 11.  One week later, all hostages were let go and the pirates escaped in their own boats 10.

Immediately, French helicopters from the Djibouti military base began following the 72e8750a76735863d46e173d9eb4fd65pirates to a small settlement in Somalia.  French Marine commandos and GIGN operators were deployed and intervened as the pirates tried to escape in the desert.  A sniper incapacitated their vehicle and the operators seized six men 10.

Local authorities stated that 3 pirates were killed during the assault and 8 more were wounded.  However, France denied this claim.  The commandos were able to regain a portion of the ransom money paid by the yacht owner for the release of the hostages 12.  All of the detained pirates were sent back to Paris, where they awaited trial 10.

Charlie Hebdo Shooting – Paris, France – 2015

On January 7, 2015, two brothers who belonged to a Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda, made their way into the newspaper offices of Charlie Hebdo, a Parisian satirical weekly newspaper.  They were outraged at the paper’s divisive portrayals of Mohammed.  Packing handguns and assault rifles, they opened fire on the employees, killing 12 and wounding 11.  Several related attacks followed in the Île-de-France region, where an additional five people were killed and 11 were wounded 7.

f_ots_paris_cell_150107-nbcnews-ux-1080-600Immediately following the shooting, a massive manhunt was activated and French military was called in to assist.  However, none of the suspects were found.  On the following day, the GIGN was activated to help recover the gunmen.  On January 9, the suspected brothers were spotted still inside Paris and were pursued by police.  Unfortunately, the suspects escaped on foot after abandoning their car just outside the city.  Later that day, they took hostages in a signage company warehouse and were shot dead as they emerged from the building 8.

Although the GIGN played a minor role in this incident, what happened next showed the 6011586-3x2-940x627unity of the French people and the world.  Just 2 days later, almost two million people, including about 40 international leaders, assembled in Paris for a rally of national unity.  Their motto was “Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie”.  3.7 million more people participated in similar rallies in other French cities across the nation.

Charlie Hebdo newspaper continued with their weekly press which printed 7.95 million copies in six different languages.  This was compared to a typical print run of 60,000 copies only in French.  It was a stance of defiance in the face of tragedy.  A way to say to any terrorists that they may try to scare a few but France will bind together with the rest of the world and keep on going 9!


Today, the GIGN is arranged in six units, under the command of two separate administrative and operations headquarters 6.

  1. Intervention Force (in French – Force Intervention – these are the original GIGN les 9f15b32ce586de9ad3fbadacc4895f6bgars): Made up of about 100 male operators, they act as the leading combat unit of the GIGN and are split into categories of troops, two that are always on alert for deployment and two that are on standby or reserve.  These separate troops are again split up into specific squadrons of commandos.  One is for HALO/HAHO parachute jumps and the other specializes in under water ops 6.
  1. Observation and Search Force (in French – Force Observation/Recherche – made up of the original EPIGN): There are about 40 operators of both genders who are experts in observation and surveillance associated with municipal police duties and counter-terrorism 6.
  1. Security and Protection Force (in French – Force Sécurité/Protection – from the former EPIGN and GSPR): Roughly 65 men and women who excel in VIP and government personnel security and site safety 6.
  1. The Gendarmerie Detachment of the GSPR Presidential Security Group (in French – Détachement GSPR– GSPR was formerly a Gendarmerie unit and is currently a combined Police/Gendarmerie unit): Like the US Secret Service, their prime duty is the close security of their Prime Minister 6.
  1. 547145472c1f7263009dc6d38db86d53Operational Support Force (in French – Force Appui opérationnel): A specific support group with smaller specialized teams who are experts in sniper marksmanship, breaching doorways, combat engineering, utilizing special devices and weapons and many more abilities 6.
  1. Training Force (in French – Force Formation): These guys have the job of applicant election, training and retraining (the French call it recycling).  The training force doesn’t only concentrate on GIGN operators but extends to selecting the infamous French Foreign Legion or the Légion Étrangère 6.

Female gendarmeries are allowed in all GIGN units, except for the intervention force 6.

c90adee5653cf7a6ca29fa52d4113883Helicopter assistance is offered by Gendarmerie helicopters and for strategic deployment of large troops by the GIH (in French – Groupe interarmées d’hélicoptères).  The GIH is a collaborative Army/Air Force Special Forces Squadron that uses SA330 PUMA helicopters based in the neighboring Villacoublay Air Base.  The GIH was founded in 2006 and has also assisted the National Police RAID unit since 2008 6.

The domestic GIGN units that operate inside France have six metro locations in large cities.  There are seven GIGN units that are assigned to French provinces and interests worldwide in Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Réunion, Mayotte, French Polynesia and New Caledonia 6.

How do I join?

Every year, around 15 GIGN operators leave the unit, so there is an annual need for replacements. b6fd0018aa931ed0408eead54a9be07d There are normally 120 men who volunteer for selection.  They must be gendarmeries from other French military units for 5 years and be under 34 years old 15.  GIGN training is some of the most extreme of its kind in the world, with a drop-out rate of almost 95%.  For example, in 2011, only 7 out of 120 original recruits survived the hardcore one year GIGN academy 15.  Training is created mainly to scrub out those who are in their right minds without an urge to do daring, insane things and a passionate desire to die for their country (vie à la France!) 1.

34f98404b5790935532b269f2f7b4aa9Candidates must first go through a 3 month pre-selection evaluation.  For those who survive, they enter a 1 year training academy that involves handgun shooting, long-range  marksmanship (GIGN marksmanship training is one of the top in the world), hostage negotiation, ship assault, high-altitude low-opening parachute jumps (HALO), desert operations, Israeli martial arts (Krav Maga), combat skiing (yes, I said combat skiing), desert ops, rope rappelling and how to take a shotgun away from a suspect while only using their bare hands 4, 1.  During training, the GIGN covers more instruction and practice in firearms than any counter-terrorist force worldwide.  One of the principles taught during this training phase is that all GIGN operators should be able to utilize any combination of their own weapons and tools to take out a bad guy, including disarming suspects and turning their own weapons against them 1.

da928631b956f6b3d02d7887b191547aOne of the first tests they do during pre-selection is a bungee jump from a bridge and then a swim through a tunnel.  That seems easy enough, right?  Only the candidate has their hands and feet bound!  If that wasn’t intense enough, they make applicants lay at the bottom of the Seine River in downtown Paris while massive 300 foot barges pass overhead by mere feet.  After several other grueling tests to see what the candidates are capable of, they round them up where they spar against each other to see who is the most savage, roughest dude in the room.  Remember, many of these recruits are experienced athletes and have to have been in the Army for 5 years or more, so they know what they’re doing already.  They also drill all types of mental knowledge, situational decision making and basically crush their brains until there’s nothing left 1.

The few who manage to get past the initial phase must continue on for 12 months of additional specialized training.  During one of the exercises, the recruits are asked to choose two rocks from a large pile.  The ones who chose the smaller rocks are luckier.  They are then asked to constantly lift the rocks above their heads until the instructors have had enough 15.

dc0318bc1d885e9dc2d638b665d5ec85One instructor, who has been in the GIGN for 4 years, is an expert in hostage negotiation and martial arts stated, “In one or two years, they will be in situations far more difficult and riskier with far higher stakes and they will have to make the right decision.  And then, if they don’t make the right decision, the consequence will not be to carry big stones but to lose your life or get seriously wounded,” 15

In the 2011 GIGN academy, after only two months into selection, there were only 15 candidates left.  These men did not join for the money.  To suffer during training and risk their lives during missions, they receive the same pay as Army paratroopers.  Today, to risk his life, a GIGN operator earns 2,000 euros per month (a little over $2100 US dollars) at the start of his career 15.

Another GIGN instructor stated, “When you believe you no longer have any strength left, you realize that your body is still able to do more if your brain asks for it.  What we want here is for them to go beyond their physical and psychological capabilities.  They have to give additional effort.  We don’t want people who give up as soon as they are faced with their first obstacle.  We don’t want people who take the easy option.” 15

ce0d69ad442154b586834e708f3df7b2The next part of selection is boxing.  Many among the GIGN instructors are experienced boxers.  Recruits are encouraged to attack and hit instructors as hard as they can.  They are told that the instructors are used to being hit but they will hit back.  The instructors want to test the determination of the candidates and there will be no holding back.  They spar using only boxing gloves and no other pads.  Some recruits get knocked out and must be checked on by medics.  They get hit in the stomach, the kidneys, the face.  They are kicked in the arms, the legs, the mid-section.  The GIGN calls it “punitive boxing”.  The exercise may look cruel at first but it is only a way to test the recruits and harden them for their time as operators 15.

0653330bff320ba6c7125b8fd188462b“The objective is to make them understand that nothing is acquired forever.  Even when we believe we are capable, you always have to know that there is always someone stronger than you.  Even if you give it your best, you can always give more.  Recruits who are not boxers will technically suffer a lot.  However, if he stands up again, he falls, he stands up again, he comes back – that is exactly what we want to see.  When you are going on an operation, you will most likely get into a physical confrontation.  You pass a door, you take bullets, hits, you need to expect anything. You can’t be a hindrance for your team.  If a guy doesn’t give it his all during a boxing session, imagine how it will turn out during an operation.  It will be 100 times harder.” 15

Candidates can be eliminated during the boxing phase.  Only the most determined will be accepted into the unit 15.

I mentioned earlier that GIGN marksmanship training is some of the most intense and best known in the world.  Here are two examples.  An instructor without a bullet proof vest stands against a backboard surrounded by 9 balloon targets that represent 9 hostage takers.  Nine candidates will then simultaneously shoot the nine balloons.  If all goes well, only one shot will be heard and the instructor representing the hostage will escape intact. This test not only measures teamwork from the snipers but absolute trust 15.

5c3d489f9707822513328eeb1b4ece23Here’s the second insane test in marksmanship training.  A recruit must put on a heavy Kevlar vest with a target in the middle.  The instructor then shoots it with a .357 revolver!  This doesn’t only instill absolute confidence in the recruit but it also puts the recruit in a situation where they are literally facing death 15.

After 1 year of training, the candidates who have passed the tests will enter an official GIGN unit.  It is a special moment of pride.  They are welcomed by the general staff.  Many of the recruits have dreamed of this moment since they were children.  The GIGN chief addresses the new grads from his podium: “I want to tell you, you will begin a great adventure.  Live it thoroughly.  Long live the GIGN!” 15

There is a celebration as the new grads join their squads.  They are hoisted up into the air and treated like VIPs.  Then they are doused in champagne 15.

Weapons and Gear

84425d576e4e29560fc6010d4878d456The GIGN is legendary for their assorted and diverse top-of-the-line weapons and gear.  Many are created with specific alterations to fit the mission.  After a GIGN operator is experienced enough, he can chose the weapon that is suitable for the job.  During a normal mission, operators are equipped with a revolver, a semi-automatic pistol, a pump-action shot gun and an assault rifle!

The Manurhin MR-73350px-manurhin-mr-73

This is a French-made, double-action revolver chambered with .38 Special or .357 Magnum ammo.  It comes in barrel lengths of 4 and 5 1/4 inches and even 8 and 10 inches for long-range accuracy.  This beast has been used by the GIGN since they started.  Many operators still use it just because of its scary size and stopping power.  It is carried in conjunction with a sub-compact simi-auto handgun 16.

The Glock 9mmglock-43-8

The Glock 9mm comes in various models.  There is the full-sized model 17 and the compact model 19.  Both carry 9mm rounds at various capacities.  The 17 usually has a 17 round magazine capacity with one in the chamber, while the 19 holds 15 rounds with one in the chamber 16.

The Heckler & Koch MP52-5921_hk_mp5_kidzweb

The HK MP5 is possibly the most favored of all sub-machine guns used by Special Forces worldwide.  It operates according to the proven roller-delayed blowback principle.  Extremely dependable, with the greatest safety for the user, easy to handle, adaptable, very accurate and remarkably easy to handle while firing 16.

There are now over 100 variations of the MP5 accessible that involve the broad range of specialized tactical requisites for any level of users 16.

The Franchi SPAS-12 Special Purpose Shotgun500px-franchi12

This bad boy is an Italian manufactured shotgun that was made specifically for combat.  It is the only shotgun in the world that can be switched from pump-action to semi-automatic.  Its inspiring physical look is very unique which makes it a favorite short-range weapon choice for Special forces 16.

The Heckler & Koch G3 TGS832570a6ba180a0f38daa46fdb406aa0

This is the only assault rifle that uses 7.62 × 51 mm NATO class ammo.  Its most natural habitat is in open terrain and rural areas where the user has long-range target options.  It comes in several variations like the G-3, which is specially equipped to shoot from helicopters.  The G-3 TGS is an excellent support rifle that is considered “heavy” when measured with other assault rifles because of its caliber.  It is accurate up to 400 meters and can have a 40 mm grenade launcher attached to it 16.

The Elevated Tactical HARAS System36545778aa9ee6a8e982246339430d6a

This system was invented by an FBI SWAT member in 1998 and is used world-wide by special operations forces.  It is simply a vehicle based rapid entry system addition that is placed on an existing vehicle that allows operators to hold on as the vehicle drives toward an operation.  The ladder on the top also gives the operators an advantage compared to traditional ladders.  The HARAS system is simple but yet it is the quickest deployment method for operators to engage in a hostage situation and assault on the ground and in multiple levels.

Well, that’s all folks!  Doing the research for the GIGN has been one of the most exciting and interesting of this series so far (next to the Israeli Sayeret Matkal)!  I am humbled at the capabilities of GIGN operators and awed by their legendary stories.  These men (and women) in black can be scary if you are on their business end.  If there is one thing I’ve learned about them, it’s that you don’t want to mess with France.  It is, however, quite relieving to be on their good side.  If you are, they will protect you at all costs.  I think their original motto sums up what the GIGN stands for: to save lives without regard to one’s own.

Works Cited

  1. Thompson, B. (2015, November 16). The GIGN. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from
  2. Lioe, Kim Eduard. Armed Forces in Law Enforcement Operations? – The German and European Perspective (1989 ed.). Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. pp. 52–57. ISBN 978-3-642-15433-1.
  3. Peachy, Paul. “Who are GIGN? Elite police force formed after 1972 Olympics attack on Israelis”. The Independent. The Independent. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  4. Gend’info magazine (Official Gendarmerie information magazine in French). GIGNs 40th anniversary issue. December 2014.
  5. Collectif (2006). Encyclopédie De La Gendarmerie Nationale (Vol. 3). SPE-Barthélémy.
  6. Jagora, N., & Broissia, P. A. (2012). Le GIGN par le GIGN. Paris: Little big man.
  7. “Charlie Hebdo: Le témoignage de la dessinatrice Coco”. L’Humanité (in French). 7 January 2015.
  8. “Charlie Hebdo attack: Manhunt – live reporting”. BBC News. 9 January 2015.
  9. “Charlie Hebdo ‘survivor’s issue’ to sell outside France”. Business Insider. 10 January 2015. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  10. “Somali pirates seize French yacht”. BBC News. 4 April 2008.
  11. BBC (2008, April 5). France is tracking hijacked yacht. BBC News. Retrieved December 11, 2016, from
  12. BBC (2008, April 12). France raid ship after crew freed. BBC News. Retrieved December 11, 2016, from
  13. Sancton, Thomas (24 June 2001). “Anatomy of a Hijack”. Time. Paris: AOL Time Warner. Archived from the original on 23 May 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  14. “The Killing Machine”. Mayday. Season 2. Episode 3. 6 February 2005. Discovery Channel Canada.
  15. Lavessaur, G. (Director). (2013, August 18). GIGN French Anti Terror Unit [Video file]. Retrieved December 11, 2016, from
  16. GIGN.ORG ARMEMENTS. (2007). Retrieved December 11, 2016, from

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