Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE): Elite Portuguese Counter-Terrorism Unit

Author: Eric Sof

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Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE) is a Portuguese police tactical unit primarily formed for executing counter-terrorism tasks. Their job is to perform high-risk tasks. The Grupo de Operações Especiais, in fact, means Special Operations Group in Spanish. GOE is a police tactical unit of Portugal’s PSP (Public Security Police). Their origins are from 1982, when they become one of the first civilian counter-terrorism forces in the world.

History

In 1978, the plan started to work out as Quinta das Águas Livres was acquired. After that, the construction works of the infrastructures began. It was necessary to organize the instruction activities and accommodate the distinct elements that would form a future operational group. After the first plans were created, some elements of the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) came to further GOE headquarters to train and start forming a police group to conduct counter-terrorism missions.

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

The first COE – Curso de Operações Especiais (Special Operations Course) began on March 29, 1982. It ended on November 18, 1982, and with that, the GOE was considered to be totally operational and with an intervention capability since the end of 1982, although it was formally created in 1979.

First public pictures of the first GOE operators were hard to distinguish, mainly due to that approach between the British SAS and the Portuguese GOE. It was hard to track British and Portuguese members since their uniforms, equipment, and weaponry were identical.

Today, as throughout history, GOE maintains a strong relationship with the other world’s special operations units such as 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 number of active-duty members in Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE) is approximately around 200.

Mission

Their primary task is marked domestic counter-terrorism and law enforcement. But, in recent years, GOE was assigned on VIP protection missions for visiting dignitaries, co-operating with other PSP units in establishing security cordons, and, especially, as select snipers in missions of observation and search and detection of terrorist snipers. GOE responsibilities are:

  • 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)

Another activity for which GOE is required is in cooperation with the Anti-Crime Brigades, where they are employed in surveillance missions and the entry of fortified installations related to 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

GOE members are issued various firearms to complete multiple mission occasions and tasks. For sidearms, they mostly choose 9x19mm Parabellum. Among them, firearms are issued such as the:

Among primary weapons, Sub-machine guns and assault rifles are often deployed, like the Heckler & Koch MP5, FN P90, and Heckler & Koch G36 rifles in normal、compact and short variants are also stocked in the GOE armory, like some other weapons available as in other world special units. GOE snipers are issued with the Heckler & Koch PSG1 and SIG SG 550 rifles.

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. 210 members
Notable operations:
  • Turkish embassy attack in Lisbon (1983)
  • Defense of Portuguese embassy in Zaire (1997)
  • Defense of 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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