Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE): The Portuguese elite counter-terrorism unit

Author: Eric Sof

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The Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE), or Special Operations Group, is a Portuguese police tactical unit primarily established for counter-terrorism operations. The GOE is tasked with performing high-risk missions and is a unit of the PSP (Public Security Police). The unit’s origins can be traced back to 1982 when it was established as one of the first civilian counter-terrorism forces in the world.

History

Grupo de Operações Especiais members during the counter-terrorism training exercise
Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE) operators during the exercise (Photo: XY)

In 1978, the foundation for the Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE) was laid with the acquisition of Quinta das Águas Livres. Construction of the unit’s infrastructure began after that. The necessary arrangements were made to organize instruction activities and accommodate the various elements that would compose the future operational group. To further develop the unit, elements from the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) were brought in to train and form a police group capable of conducting counter-terrorism missions.

The first Curso de Operações Especiais (Special Operations Course) began on March 29, 1982, and ended on November 18, 1982. By the end of that year, the GOE was considered fully operational and capable of conducting interventions. However, the unit was officially created in 1979.

When the first public images of GOE operators were released, it wasn’t easy to distinguish them from their British SAS counterparts. This was due to the similarities in uniforms, equipment, and weaponry used by both units.

Today, as throughout its history, the GOE maintains strong relationships with other special operations units worldwide, such as the British SAS, US Delta Force, Germany’s GSG 9, Spain’s Guardia Civil Anti-Terrorist units, Ireland’s Garda ERU, and Israeli Anti-Terrorist units. The GOE has an active-duty membership of approximately 200 operators.

Mission

The primary mission of the Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE) is domestic counter-terrorism and law enforcement. However, in recent years, the unit has been assigned additional tasks such as VIP protection for visiting dignitaries, working with other PSP units to establish security cordons, and providing specialized sniper support during observation, search, and detection of terrorist sniper operations. The GOE’s responsibilities include:

  • Counter-terrorism
  • Hostage rescue
  • High-risk arrest warrants and searches
  • VIP protection
  • Embassy and diplomatic security in dangerous countries
  • Evacuation of Portuguese citizens from war-torn countries
Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE) conducting live firearms training in Portugal
Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE) operators at the shooting range (Photo: XY)

The Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE) also works with the Anti-Crime Brigades on surveillance missions and the entry of fortified locations associated with weapons or drug trafficking.

Organization

The unit is organized as follows:

  • Command
  • Support Services
  • UEI (Unidade Especial de Intervenção) – Special Intervention Unit, consisting of:
    • Command
    • Three GOI (Grupos Operacionais de Intervenção) – Intervention Operational Group (1st, 2nd, and 3rd), each commanded by an officer and includes 20 to 25 elements
    • One GOT (Grupo Operacional Técnico) – Technical Operational Group (4th) responsible for instruction, handling explosives, police dogs, and other technical instruments, such as cameras and night vision devices.

Operations

  • 1983 Turkish embassy attack in Lisbon
  • 1997 defense of the Portuguese embassy in Zaire
  • 1998 defense of the Portuguese Embassy in Guinea-Bissau
  • 1999 rescue of French citizens held in a cultural center in Bissau
  • 2008 Bank robbery with hostages in Lisbon

Weaponry and Gear

The Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE) primarily uses 9x19mm Parabellum firearms, including the Glock 17, Glock 19, SIG Sauer P226, P228, P230, SP2022, and Desert Eagle in .357 Magnum. Sub-machine guns and assault rifles, such as the Heckler & Koch MP5, FN P90, and Heckler & Koch G36 in various variants, are also commonly used by the unit. GOE snipers are equipped with the Heckler & Koch PSG1 and SIG SG 550 rifles. The weapons used by GOE are similar to those used by other special units worldwide.

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Quick facts

Grupo de Operações Especiais (Special Operations Group)
Country:Spain
Agency:Polícia de Segurança Pública, Unidade Especial de Polícia
Active:March 29, 1982 – Present
Motto:Última Razão (eng. The Last Resort)
Type:Police Tactical Unit
Role:Counter-terrorism, Law enforcement
Headquarters:Lisbon
Size:Approx. 200 members
Notable operations:
  • Turkish embassy attack in Lisbon (1983)
  • Defense of the
Portuguese Embassy in Zaire (1997) Defense of the
  • Portuguese Embassy in Guinea-Bissau (1998)
  • Rescue of French citizens held in a cultural center in Bissau (1999)
  • Banco Espírito Santo branch robbery with hostages in Lisbon (2008)
Abbreviation:GOE
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