Thanks to media and pop culture, the entire world is well aware of the Special Weapons and Tactics teams that take on the most dangerous police work in the United States. They are highly trained individuals who undergo rigorous training. But fewer people know about the special operations teams in other countries, and the kind of work they take on.
GOPE – Mexico
The ‘Grupo de Operaciones Especiales’ (Special Operations Group) is Mexico’s special police force that handles dangerous, high-profile operations. These can include hostage rescue, the apprehension of dangerous criminals, and tasks involving the infamous cartels that prowl Mexico’s cities and countryside.
The GOPE is one of the newest special operations forces in the world, launched in the summer of 2020 in response to a wave of violent crime that resulted in 76 homicides in a single day. Highly funded, they have access to over 60 helicopters outfitted with thermal-imaging cameras, aerial drones that can conduct reconnaissance from 3000 feet, and a fleet of armored vehicles that would not look out of place in a military operation.
Each new member, often selected for their abilities and aptitudes in law enforcement, undergoes rigorous training before they can be sworn in as a member of a GOPE. They must also complete numerous trust exercises to ensure that they can be both reliable and calm in the face of pressure and adversity.
EKO Cobra – Austria
The Einsatzkommando Cobra, originally the GEK (Gendarmerieeinsatzkommando), were formed in 1978 as a response to the attacks on Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics. While they operate much in the same way as SWAT or GOPE, they are not in fact attached to the Austrian police and answer directly to the Austrian Ministry for the Interior.
While the headquarters for EKO is located in the south of Austria, there are outposts all across the country to ensure that a team can be deployed and reach any location within Austrian borders in under 70 minutes. The headquarters is responsible for the training of all new recruits, who must first pass medical, psychological and physical tests before they can begin their intense 6-month training that includes hand-to-hand combat, language classes and marksmanship.
EKO is the only special forces organization to date to have successfully foiled an attempted plane hijacking while the vehicle was still in the air. During a routine prisoner transfer in 1996, one of the prisoners on board escaped his bonds and burst into the cockpit, where he threatened the pilots and demanded a diversion. The accompanying EKO team was able to subdue and disarm the man without any loss of life, allowing the plane to arrive at its destination safely.
GSG 9 – Germany
In much the same manner as EKO Cobra, the GSG 9 was formed in response to the terrorist attack at Munich’s 1972 Olympic Games, when 11 Israeli athletes and 1 police officer were killed due to mismanagement and the lack of a suitable response team. This was met with criticism, as German law expressly forbids the use of military force against civilians. It was then decided that a new task force would be outfitted with police officers instead, although they did use military ranks until 1976.
It only took a single mission for GSG 9 to be recognized globally as an elite force: in 1977, members of a terrorist cell hijacked a plane bound for Frankfurt and took the crew and passengers hostage before demanding the release of several other terrorists in exchange for the lives of their captives. The plane was flown to several locations around the Middle East before coming to rest in Somalia.
It was there that, with the assistance of Somali rangers, GSG 9 stormed the plane, took down all hijackers, and rescued every single hostage, suffering only one minor injury to a member of the GSG 9 team. The entire operation took under 7 minutes and received praise from the international counter-terrorism community.
GSG 9 claimed first place in the SWAT World Challenge two years in a row, coming first in eight challenges in 2005.
SCO19 – UK
The Specialist Firearms Command is the armed branch of London’s Metropolitan Police. While stationed in the capital, they are sometimes called upon to assist in operations across the country. Since police officers in the UK do not carry firearms on duty, SCO19 is called upon when uncommon gun-related incidents occur.
Like all of the above groups, SCO19 was also formed in response to a national tragedy. In 1966, 3 policemen were gunned down during a traffic stop by three assailants, sparking a nationwide manhunt. The murders were widely publicized and caused anger throughout the country, with many calling for the recently abolished death penalty to be reinstated. Almost as a compromise, the then ‘Firearms Wing’ was founded.
The most notable instances of SCO19 needing to be deployed were both in 2017 when, on two separate occasions, assailants drove their vehicles through crowds on London Bridge, killing several people both times. While the perpetrators were all captured, the number of fatalities was tragically significant. As a result, greater numbers of SCO19 have been stationed around high-risk areas (Westminster and Buckingham Palace, for example) in order to protect lives and help deter future attacks.