One of the most shadowy of all United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) units, E Squadron is a small cell of UKSF operatives hand-picked to work with the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), otherwise known as MI6 (the foreign intelligence service). E Squadron is believed to be available for tasking to both the UK Directorate of Special Forces and the SIS.
The existence of E Squadron is, apparently, well known within the Special Forces community but has not hitherto been discussed publicly. After 9/11, with major military commitments in Afghanistan and then Iraq, MI6 stepped up its intelligence-gathering in many places that had hitherto been off the radar or considered too dangerous.
MI6 was often backed up by UKSF, but the competing demands on them to support special operations in Afghanistan and Iraq eventually led to the creation of E Squadron in 2007 in order “to work closely with the intelligence service MI6, and is mainly involved in missions where maximum discretion is required, say Whitehall insiders.” (Urban, 2012).
On 20 July 2013 the Times, a UK Newspaper, reported that the SAS was creating a new super-elite unit known as E Squadron (Evans & Coghlan, 2013).
2.1 The Increment
E Squadron is said to be the modern day incarnation of a long-rumoured MI6-UKSF unit known as ‘The Increment’.
Tomlinson (2001), a former MI6 officer, suggests the Increment consisted of a cadre of UKSF operators from the SAS/SBS which operated with the General Support Branch of the SIS. The Increment conducted what is known as ‘black ops’ missions (that would be disavowed by the UK Government if compromised) which could include:
- Secret military assistance to foreign powers;
- Clandestine insertion and extraction of intelligence agents;
- Close protection for SIS operatives;
- Burying caches of equipment in foreign countries (e.g. escape packs for SIS operatives); and
- Covert reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.
3.0 Operational Command
E Squadron is not technically part of the SAS or SBS, but at the disposal of the Director of Special Forces and MI6.
Members of E Squadron are thought to be specially selected UKSF veterans (with a comprehensive vetting procedure) and also receive special-to-role training.
The unit is thought to be a composite organisation manned by experienced operators from the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Boat Service (SBS) and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR). The unit is also alleged to be manned by operatives from the Intelligence Corps and Joint Support Group (its role is to recruit and run agents, for example, by turning existing members of a terrorist organisation into double agents).
“Military sources say that E Squadron, an elite within an elite, will exist alongside A, B, D and G Squadrons [of 22 SAS]. It will comprise of nothing but older, highly experienced non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who have been allowed to extend their service from the standard 22 years to up to 35 years. The new unit would include some men in their 50s. It has been drawn from what used to be called the Revolutionary Warfare Wing, or “The Wing”, which consisted only of about 12 SAS sergeants.” (Evans & Coghlan, 2013).
E Squadron’s role is to carry out clandestine operations for the SIS. The SIS is Britain’s foreign intelligence service and its intelligence officers are active in countries around the world. They develop and run agents, form alliances with various factions inside foreign countries and gather intelligence from a wide range of sources. Operating in more hostile regions has become more of a necessity since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and MI6 are more likely to require UKSF escorts on their missions.
It is likely therefore that E Squadron has carried out numerous operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. To what extent the UKSF element of E Squadron would be used in an offensive scenario is not publicly known at this point.
5.1 Supporting Units
It can be speculated that E Squadron receives signals, electronic warfare and logistics support from appropriate attached units such as members of 18 (UKSF) Signals Regiment. Assets, such as air transport from the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing (JSFAW) are available as required.
Dominique (2013) SAS Braves the Storm to Set Up New Elite of the Elite. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?230841-SAS-braves-the-storm-to-set-up-new-elite-of-the-elite. [Accessed: 08 August, 2014].
Evans, M. & Coghlan, T. (2013) SAS Braves the Storm to Set Up New Elite of the Elite. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/defence/article3821080.ece. [Accessed: 08 August, 2014].
Tomlinson, R. (2001) The Big Breach: From Top Secret to Maximum Security. London: Cutting Edge Press.
Urban, M. (2014) Inside Story of the UK’s Secret Mission to Beat Gaddafi. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16573516. [Accessed: 08 August, 2014].