First of all, the French Foreign Legion is not a Special Operations Force. Yes, they are some of the toughest men on the planet, which for some spend their life training and in operation fighting all over the world and are recognized among warriors for it. Still not a special force.
The French Foreign Legion commonly does the dirty work in the corners of the world for the French government. Many died in Indochina, North Africa, and elsewhere. Today, they still deploy to dangerous areas on occasion, but their role is quieter. Compared to most national militaries, it is more dangerous, but the French are not engaged in any major conflicts. Once they do, the French Foreign legion will likely be there, whether it’s another part of Europe or hundreds of miles from France.
French Foreign Legion vs. SAS, DEVGRU (Seal Team 6) and Delta Force
The French Armed Forces have plenty of Special Forces Units at its disposal, like Commando Hubert, GIGN, and other heavy capable quick reaction forces. Same as in the U.S. military, it can be sorted in a manner of military tiers (Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3).
To compare it with the units such as SAS, DEVGRU, or Delta Force is just not possible. Furthermore, the French Foreign Legion could be more similar to, etc. 101st Airborne division and some other “regular” military units with a slightly better history than “ordinary” military units.
The French Foreign Legion has a very brutal training system. Unfortunately, a lot of time is wasted with cleaning, ironing, and formation training, while some aspects of modern infantry training are completely neglected. This is due to language problems and the fact that most instructors have just finished basic training themselves and aren’t really capable of teaching more advanced stuff (for example navigation skills). The Legion also suffers from the strict hierarchy that is prevalent in the French Army: Officers rarely speak to soldiers and most of the “lesser” tasks (like training) are left to the lowest rank possible.
Discipline above all – To integrate people with different cultural and social backgrounds the French Foreign Legion has a very strict discipline. “La mission est sacrée, tu l’exécutes jusqu’au bout et s’il le faut, en opérations, au péril de ta vie.”(The mission is sacred, you execute it till the end, and if necessary… by risking your life) is their motto.
The French Foreign Legion excels in small unit tactics. Due to the fact that in the beginning most of their soldiers don’t know French, the Legion has drilled their soldiers in the use of nonverbal communication on the battlefield. Legionnaires react very quickly, which is a big plus, especially when it comes to anti-ambush tactics.
French Foreign Legion Special Forces
GCP (Groupement Commando Parachutiste)
However, the Légion got his own special unit, the GCP (Groupement Commando Parachutiste), which is a special force unit with personnel selected among the 2ème REP, an already elite parachutist regiment of the Légion. The best of the best in other words.
This is one of the most basic things that make their specialty. While the rest of the 2ème REP is composed of conventional paratroopers, these men are ” chuteurs operationels “. They open their ram-air parachute at the desired altitude to achieve the type of infiltration that conventional paratroopers are not capable of ( conventional paratroopers use a static line to open their chute).
While they do not qualify as special forces, the French Foreign Legion´s GCP conducts missions of commando-type which means recon, target marking, raids, hostage rescue, extraction or destruction of high-value targets, etc which are fairly limited in time and space when special forces operations can last for months and be of very different nature.
GCM – Dinops
The 1st foreign engineer regiment has a unit called Dinops which are underwater combat divers, in terms of skill they are like the GCP who some consider special forces while others consider them commandos. If you are a member of the 2nd foreign engineer regiment you can attempt GCM training which is a group again like the GCP. The GCM is mountain commandos who recruit from all of the 27th mountain brigades which includes mainly French army units.
Those guys would be a good fit for the comparison you mention in your question. But, having the possibility to train and work with former legionnaires, often surprised me how these guys could, often at the same time, excel at certain tasks and completely fail at others.