Although they were trained and operated under the command of the Portuguese Army (and Portuguese Air Force for the GEP), the GE were not integrated into the Armed Forces and were considered paramilitary forces. The GE were made up of local volunteers, supported by senior Portuguese military personnel. With the exception of the GEP, each GE was usually fully established by members of the same ethnic African group. The GE received a similar training to commandos and the GEP to paratroopers. The GEP were created and used only in Mozambique.
Each GE or GEP was organized as a combat group, consisting of an officer (commander of group), a sergeant (assistant) and 26 soldiers, organized into 3 sections, each consisting of 2 squads. The commander and deputy from each group were typically military or former military personnel. The remaining fighters were local Africans. Usually four GEs or GEPs formed a company.
While the GEP were part of the Paratrooper Special Groups Battalion, the GE operated together with regular Army units, forming their intervention units.
The GE and GEP had as standard uniform a completely black battledress. However, they often used the camouflaged uniform of the Portuguese Army. As head gear, the GE used a Yellow beret and the GEP a Maroon beret.