SIPA SSU: Standing strong against terrorism in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Author: Eric Sof

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The Special Support Unit (SSU) of SIPA is a modern, highly skilled, and professionally trained unit specialized in carrying out high-risk tasks. Despite being relatively new (it became operational in 2005), it has achieved a high level of competency, and its police officers have been trained according to the best global practices in this field.

Introduction

SIPA and its Special Support Unit are among the youngest special forces units in the law enforcement of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were established with the goal of countering terrorism and organized crime at the state level. SIPA, or the State Investigation and Protection Agency, is considered the most successful police agency in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

SIPA SSU operators during the tactical exercise
SIPA SSU operators during the tactical exercise (Photo: XY)

Through hard work, dedication, training, and specialized training, this unit has been able to perform its responsibilities professionally. So far, the police officers of the Unit have arrested more than 700 people suspected of serious crimes without ever using excessive force.

Mission

The Special Support Unit provides necessary assistance to other units of the Agency, providing additional police tactics, equipment, and personnel when enhanced security measures are required. It performs the most demanding and complex tactical and operational-technical police actions, applying police powers in high-risk situations where special skills, training, and equipment are necessary. The unit is responsible for resolving all forms of hostage situations and provides specialist support when the use of official dogs is necessary. In accordance with the law, it establishes necessary internal and external cooperation with other law enforcement agencies and performs other tasks as required by law. All of these activities are carried out with the approval of the Director of the Agency.

SIPA’s operations in the apprehension of war crime suspects, successful investigations of offenses such as money laundering, organized crime, terrorism, unauthorized drug trafficking, illicit weapons trafficking, human trafficking, and other criminal offenses, as well as providing witness support and protection, and the successful performance of duties related to the protection of VIPs and buildings, as well as the establishment of the Special Support Unit, are just a few examples of the Agency’s achievements to date.

History

Following the establishment of SIPA, there was a need for a special unit to support the work of various agencies within the organization, such as the Organized Crime Department and the Department for War Crimes. This unit was responsible for handling dangerous individuals, including war criminals, criminal kingpins, and members of organized crime, as well as combating drug dealing and other forms of wrongdoing.

SIPA Special Support unit operator brandishing weapon
The operator from State Investigation and Protection Agency – SIPA Special Support Unit standing guard (Photo: XY)

In 2005, the agency established its own special unit called the “Jedinica za specijalističku podršku,” or “Special Support Unit.” The unit’s first members were trained by instructors from the United States and spent time abroad in the US. SIPA SSU was trained and equipped with the support of Western countries, including joint training with units such as the US Navy SEALs, Green Berets, Maryland National Guard, British Special Air Service, French GIGN, and EKO Cobra.

The unit has become one of the most elite in Bosnia and Herzegovina, boasting advanced training and equipment. Since its inception in 2005, the unit has successfully carried out thousands of raids and arrests of dangerous individuals.

Organization

The Special Support Unit is composed of three teams: Alpha, Beta, and Gama. Alpha and Beta are standard SWAT teams with expertise in offensive tactics, while Gama also has specialized skills such as scuba diving, sky diving, and alpine climbing in addition to their regular responsibilities. All three teams are highly trained and well-equipped to handle a variety of situations.

SIPA Special Support Unit (SIPA SSU) is a Bosnia and Herzegovina's prime counter-terrorism unit
SIPA Special Support Unit (SIPA SSU) is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s prime counter-terrorism unit (Photo: XY)

Alpha Team

The Alpha team is responsible for detecting, preventing, and addressing the consequences of various types of terrorist activity. They take measures to detain individuals suspected of terrorism and hand them over to the appropriate authorities. In accordance with the law and international agreements, the department is also able to engage in tasks related to preventing, suppressing, and eliminating terrorism at the international level. In addition to these responsibilities, the department performs other tasks as required by law.

Beta Team

The Beta Team is responsible for detecting, preventing, and addressing the consequences of various types of criminal activity. In accordance with the law, they detain individuals suspected of criminal offenses and hand them over to competent authorities. The team is also authorized to protect individuals at the request of the competent authority and with the approval of the Director of the Agency. Additionally, they can be called upon to handle high-risk situations requiring specialized skills, training, and equipment such as mountaineering, vertical incursion, overcoming difficult and inaccessible terrain, anti-sniper protection, and underwater skills. The Beta Team also provides support to other members of the unit as needed and performs other tasks as required by law.

Gama Team

The Gama team provides specialized support to other departments within the unit, enabling efficient and effective tactical action in a variety of weather conditions and situations. This includes using service dogs as needed, providing communication, crypto-protection, and logistical support, physically protecting the unit’s facility, and other tasks as required by law.

Today, SIPA’s Special Support Unit is a respected security force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the region, and beyond, thanks in part to the support of their Western partners, including the United States. The unit is dedicated to continuing its development in order to meet future security challenges.

Selection and training

The dedicated work, dedication, training, and specialized training of the unit have allowed them to professionally perform their responsibilities. To date, the unit’s police officers have detained more than 700 individuals suspected of serious crimes without ever using excessive force.

The unit’s leadership and the agency’s management have established partnerships with respected instructors and units from abroad in order to provide high-quality training to the unit’s police officers.

A special officer’s workday consists of morning and afternoon activities focused on physical preparation. In the morning, we work on general and specialized physical training, including running, swimming, cardio, and skiing to maintain fitness for our duties. There are also more demanding exercises such as specialist training, vertical incursions, shooting, and special operations tactics to prepare us for the various tasks and activities we may encounter.

SIPA Operator

New members of the unit are recruited from other law enforcement agencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina and undergo rigorous medical, physical, and mental evaluations during a 7-day course. Only the most qualified candidates are accepted into the unit. Upon joining, new members are referred to as “newbies” and are not involved in operations for the first six months while they undergo basic specialist training in tactics, shooting, martial arts, and other techniques used by the unit.

Operators from Bosnia and Herzegovina's SIPA Special Support Unit and members of the Serbian SAJ during the joint exercise
Operators from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s SIPA Special Support Unit and members of the Serbian SAJ during the joint exercise (Photo: XY)

Their goal is to become specialists and join one of the teams. After completing basic training, new members are assigned to a team where they continue their training and choose a specialty.

According to one of SIPA’s specialists, a typical workday for a special officer involves morning and afternoon activities focused on physical preparation. This includes running, swimming, cardio training, skiing, and other exercises to maintain fitness and readiness for their duties. There are also more specialized training activities such as vertical incursions, shooting, and special operations tactics.

The unit’s efficiency, professionalism, and continuous improvement have made them a valuable asset in the fight against organized crime and terrorism.

Equipment

The Special Support Unit is equipped with the most modern weapons and equipment. Their arsenal includes assault rifles such as the M21 Zastava and FN SCAR, as well as the Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun. They also have access to other weapons such as sniper rifles, shotguns, anti-riot guns, grenade launchers, and similar. The unit’s sidearm of choice is the GLOCK 17. They regularly train with all of these weapons to maintain proficiency.

The unit has a range of accessories at its disposal to assist in successful operations, such as the Libervit Door Raider.

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