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Last Updated: 13 October, 2016

This article is structured as follows:

  • Part One: Background to GSG 9;
  • Part Two: Organisation of GSG 9; and
  • Part Three: Miscellaneous, such useful publications and links.

PART ONE: BACKGROUND

1.0     Introduction

GSG 9, German Special ForcesThis article provides an overview of the German Border Guard Group 9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9), better known as GSG 9.

In 1972, the then German Police failed in their attempt to successfully free 11 Israeli athletes who were kidnapped in Munich during the Summer Olympic Games.

One of the lessons learned by the German Police was that they were not properly trained or equipped to handle such threats. Consequently, on 17 April 1973 the German Police officially formed Border Guard Group 9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9) or GSG9. GSG9 was chosen simply because the German Police had eight regular border guard groups at the time.

As part of the reunification process, in 2005 the German Police was renamed from the Bundesgrenzschutz (Federal Border Guard Service) to Bundespolizei (German Federal Police). Due, in part, to its fame the GSG9 abbreviation was kept.

GSG9 is highly regarded as an elite counter-terrorism and special operations unit of the German Federal Police, performing missions similar to the British SAS in regards to hostage rescue and counter-terrorism. Its formation was based on the expertise of the British SAS and the Israeli Sayeret Matkal (both offering support in the forming of GSG 9).

Part One of this article looks at women and GSG 9, then discusses the difference between tier 1 and tier 2 forces and highlights the methods of entry. It then outlines the roles and tasks of the GSG 9 before finally providing a brief history on its origins.

Part Two looks at the organisation of GSG 9, including civilian oversight. Part Two outlines the role of the Commander GSG 9, before moving on to outline the various units within GSG 9.

Finally, Part Three provides some useful links and identifies other articles the reader may find useful.

I apologise if any of the translations are incorrect/imprecise.

1.1     Aim

The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the German Federal Police’s Border Guard Group 9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9), otherwise known as GSG 9.

1.2     Women and GSG 9

Although women are eligible to apply for GSG 9, it is believed that none have successfully completed the training programme (needs verification).

1.3     Tier 1 and Tier 2 Special Forces

If GSG 9 was a military organisation it would be classed as a Tier 1 unit. A ‘Tier 1’ SF unit is usually tasked with direct action. Other special operations forces are referred to as ‘Tier 2’ units as they, usually, fulfil a supporting role for the Tier 1 units.

1.4     Method of Entry

Individuals can join GSG 9 through one of two methods:

  • As a currently serving police officer of the German Federal Police; or
  • As a currently serving police officer of another German police force.

An outline of the GSG 9 selection and training process can be found here.

1.5     Roles and Tasks

As an elite German counter-terrorism and special operations unit, GSG 9 is deployed in a number of roles:

  • Hostage-taking;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Terrorism; and
  • Extortion.

There are also a number of tasks GSG 9 which compliment these four roles, and include:

  • Secure locations;
  • Neutralise targets;
  • Track down fugitives; and
  • Sniper operations.

As well as the above roles and tasks, GSG 9 also provides advice to a variety of domestic and international agencies/organisations, such as the Bundeskriminalamt, the German Foreign Office, the police forces of the country and the Federal Customs Administration.

The law enforcement officers of GSG 9 also:

  • Take part in police missions abroad within the European Union and the United Nations;
  • Provide training support for special units at home and abroad; and
  • Provide advisory and/or expert reports on request.

GSG-9s best known mission is the 1977 takedown of a terrorist held Lufthansa 707 in Mogadishu, Somali. A team of two men and two women hijacked the plane, demanding the release of Baader-Meinhof terrorists held in German jails. After the captain of the plane was killed, the German Government ordered GSG-9 in.

From 1972 to 2003, GSG 9 reportedly completed over 1,500 missions, with shots being fired on only 5 occasions: Mogadishu in 1977; Bad Kleinen in 1993; Aachen in 1999; and two more missions where firearms were used to shoot dogs of the persons being arrested.

The overarching mission of GSG 9 is the protection of the German nation, in particular to save endangered lives (Bundespolizei, 2016).

1.6     Brief History

gsg9-munich-massacre-daily-mirror-1972-09-06In 1972, the Palestinian terrorist movement Black September used the Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany to kidnap 11 Israeli athletes, killing two in the Olympic Village in the initial assault on the athletes’ rooms.

The incident culminated tragically when German police, neither trained nor equipped for counter-terrorism operations, attempted to rescue the athletes. The operation was a disaster and led to the deaths of one policeman, five of the eight kidnappers and the remaining nine hostages (and was subsequently known as the Munich massacre).

As a consequence of the incident’s mismanagement the then West German government, on 17 April 1973, officially formed Border Guard Group 9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9) or GSG9 under the leadership of then Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) Ulrich Wegener. GSG9 was chosen simply because the German Police had eight regular border guard groups at the time.

The government’s plan was to establish and develop countermeasures so that similar situations in the future could be responded to adequately and professionally. At the time, many German politicians were against such move fearing that the creation of GSG 9 would rekindle memories of the Nazi Party’s Schutzstaffel (SS, Hitler’s bodyguard).

As a result, the decision was taken to form the unit from police forces as opposed to the military, as is the model in other countries, on the grounds that German federal law expressly forbids the use of the military forces against the civilian population. Special Forces composed of police personnel would help to reconcile this fear.

As part of the reunification process, in 2005 the German Police was renamed from the Bundesgrenzschutz (Federal Border Guard Service) to Bundespolizei (German Federal Police). Due, in part, to its fame the GSG9 abbreviation was kept and is now the official way to refer to the unit.

GSG9 is highly regarded as an elite counter-terrorism and special operations unit of the German Federal Police, performing missions similar to the British SAS in regards to hostage rescue and counter-terrorism. Its formation was based on the expertise of the British SAS and the Israeli Sayeret Matkal (both offering support in the forming of GSG 9).

In its first mission, codenamed Operation Feuerzauber (Operation Fire Magic), GSG 9 immediately established its reputation as an elite unit. In 1977, Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Landshut, a Lufthansa plane on the way from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt. The terrorists demanded that imprisoned members of the German Red Army Faction be freed in exchange for the passengers and crew who would be held as hostages. The aircraft was then flown to several destinations throughout the Middle East. During this time, the Lufthansa captain Jürgen Schumann was murdered by the leader of the hijackers in Aden, Yemen.

Following a four-day odyssey, the terrorists directed the Boeing 737 to Mogadishu, Somalia, where they planned to wait for the arrival of the Red Army Faction members. The German government had falsely signalled they would be released. During the night, between October 17 and October 18, GSG 9 together with Somalian ranger units prepared for their operation. While the Somalians created a distraction, members of GSG 9 stormed the plane.

The mission was successful, lasting seven minutes and resulting in all of the hostages being rescued, while three hijackers died on the scene, leaving the fourth seriously injured. Only one GSG 9 operative and one flight attendant were injured. The international law enforcement and counter-terrorism community applauded GSG 9 for its excellent and professional handling of the situation; as assaults on planes are considered to be one of the most difficult and dangerous operations that a hostage rescue force is likely to encounter in their career.

An interesting note, GSG 9 was supported by the British SAS during this operation. Two accompanying SAS advisers provided GSG 9 with some newly developed flash bang grenades, although they were not utilised due to the fire risk inside the aircraft cabin.

PART TWO: ORGANISATION OF GSG 9

2.0     Introduction

GSG 9 forms part of the German Federal Police (Bundespolizei) and thus has normal police powers including, for example, the power of arrest.

The GSG 9 is based in Sankt Augustin-Hangelar, near Bonn, and consists of a number of operational and support units. The German Federal Police also provides aerial transportation for GSG 9.

GSG 9 has between 250 and 500 personnel consisting of operators and supporters.

2.1     Federal Ministry of the Interior

The German Federal Police (and subsequently GSG 9) is subordinate to the Federal Ministry of the Interior.

In contrast, regular police forces are subordinate to the various states or Länder.

The decision on the use of GSG 9 is authorised by the Federal Ministry of the Interior.

2.2     Commander GSG 9

The Commander GSG 9, a Polizei Oberrat (roughly equivalent to a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4)), is the professional head of the German Federal Police’s GSG 9.

2.3     Units of GSG 9

GSG 9 is organised into three operational and four support units:

  • GSG 9/1: The first operational unit is utilised for regular land-based counter-terrorism operations, such as hostage taking, kidnapping, terrorism or extortion. The unit may also be used to secure locations, neutralise targets, tracking fugitives and sniper operations. The unit has approximately 100 personnel.
  • GSG 9/2: The second operational unit is utilised for maritime operations, such as the hijacking of vessels or oil platforms. The unit has approximately 100 personnel.
  • GSG 9/3: The third operational unit is utilised for airborne operations, such as parachuting and helicopter operations. The unit has approximately 50 personnel.
  • Technical Unit: The first support unit supports other units in gaining entry to target areas and is responsible for the procurement, testing and issuance of non-weapon equipment. The members of the technical unit are also explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) experts. They are trained in the rendering safe and disposal of improvised explosive devices (IED).
  • Central Services: The second support unit maintains the GSG 9 armoury and is involved in testing, repairing and purchasing weapons, ammunition, and explosives.
  • Documentation Unit: The third support unit handles communications, including the testing, repairing and purchasing of communications and surveillance equipment.
  • Operations Staff: The fourth support unit handles the administration of GSG 9.
  • Training Unit: The Fifth support unit recruits, selects and trains GSG 9 candidates, as well as training existing personnel.

Finally, a special aviation group, the Bundesgrenzschutz Grenzschutz-Fliegergruppe, is used to ferry GSG-9 to their targets. Pilots for this group are considered to be the best in Germany.

PART THREE: MISCELLANEOUS

3.0     Motto

The motto of GSG 9 is: ‘To protect the Fatherland.’

3.1     TV Documentaries

First aired in 2002, Special Forces Untold Stories: German GSG-9: Jihad in the Fatherland details interviews, documentary footage and re-enactments.

3.2     Useful Publications

GSG 9 by Reinhard Scholzen and Kerstin Froese, first published in 2001 by Motorbycuhverlag.

3.3     Useful Links

  • Federal Ministry of the Interior:
    • http://www.bmi.bund.de/EN/Home/home_node.html.
  • GSG9 (German Federal Police Official Website):
    • https://www.komm-zur-bundespolizei.de/entdecken/gsg9-der-bundespolizei/.
  • GSG9 Kameradschaft e.V. (an association of former GSG 9 operators):
    • http://www.gsg9.de.
  • Facebook:
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4tk031QmU8.
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Md5Z_ufN85k.
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUfOkakzNzk.
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzapqKyhW_w.

3.4     References

Bundespolizei (2016) GSG 9. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.kommzurbundespolizei.de/entdecken/gsg9derbundespolizei/. [Accessed: 20 September, 2016].

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