Like real-life James Bonds, they cross borders with fake identities and passports.
They operate in small isolated teams and have access to the full array of 007 gadgets designed by the spies’ Q section.
Its members are famed for not always looking like soldiers. Some speak foreign languages and can pass as foreign nationals.
The standing joke, is that they could fit in at an embassy party or a whorehouse in Istanbul.
And just like Bond, they are all highly trained in firearms and hand-to-hand combat.
In fact, their training is considered “amazing even by SAS standards.”
But unlike the fictional 007 character, these assets don’t work in MI6, the famed British Secret Intelligence Service.
They are an elite section of the SAS, known as “The Increment.”
According to a report in the UK’s The Sun, the existence of the secret unit, “E Squadron,” was inadvertently confirmed this week when bungling Army top brass leaked the personal details of more than 70 Special Forces troops.
Buried deep in a spreadsheet of 1,200 soldiers’ names, trades and military units was a single reference to “22 SAS E SQN.”
It was the first written proof that the unit exists.
E Squadron is the fifth and newest limb of 22 SAS, the world’s most famous Special Forces regiment, whose motto is Who Dares Wins.
But its work is so secret that its troops are kept apart from the other four Sabre Squadrons, A, B, D and G, at their headquarters in Hereford, the Sun report said.
The squadron’s main task is to work with MI6 on top missions all over the globe.
SAS legend Andy McNab spent three years with the unit from 1991 to 1993, after his patrol in the first Gulf War which he wrote about in his book Bravo Two Zero.
He said the unit — which was hand picked from the SAS — was “the closest to what James Bond does” of any British secret service.
But almost 30 years after he left, he said his work was still too secret to reveal, the Sun report said.
Another former member, who asked not to be named, said: “We were moving in and out of countries on different passports. Always in civvies, overseas all the time. It was busy.
“It was the James Bond stuff — use your imagination.”
The ex-member added: “You had to be able to blend in. People were picked for their ability to do undercover work.”
While some MI6 officers are firearms trained, it is never to the same level as their counterparts in E Squadron.
The former soldier said: “MI6 and MI5 are always distancing themselves from James Bond, saying they aren’t really like that. It’s true — spies aren’t like James Bond, they’re eggheads. Give them a gun, they wouldn’t know what to do with it.
“E Squadron solves that problem but they do a lot more as well.”
The places where they often have to work, using civilian cover identities, make it impossible to be armed, so they are all trained in deadly hand-to-hand combat, The Sun report said.
SAS author Chris Ryan served with Andy McNab on the 1991 Bravo Two Zero mission, in which an SAS patrol was deployed into Iraq during the first Gulf War to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s war strategy.
Says Ryan: “To be in the Increment is to be the best of the best.”
According to SOFREP.com, The Increment are strictly black ops — deniable missions that would be disavowed by the British government if compromised.
These could include:
- Secret military assistance to foreign powers
- Clandestine insertion and extraction of intelligence agents
- Covert reconnaissance/intelligence gathering
Today E Squadron’s members are drawn from the three Tier One Special Forces units — the SAS, the SBS and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, The Sun report said.
The SBS provides specialist frogmen and mini-submersibles which can be used to insert teams undetected on foreign shores.
The SRR, whose soldiers specialize in plain-clothes surveillance operations around the world, provides a large number of women.
The unit was formed out of 14 Intelligence Company, which was known as the Det, and operated undercover in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles.
A source said: “Women are often the best at this sort of work. If a group of blokes turns up, it always looks suspicious.
“We haven’t had a female Bond in the films, but there are already lots in real life.”
The Increment’s troops were among the first British soldiers in Afghanistan, ahead of the US invasion in 2001.
They were also involved in the 2011 uprising in Libya which toppled Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, The Sun report said.
A former E Squadron soldier said the unit was heavily involved in Iraq in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.
He said: “E Squadron are military people. They have rules of engagement.
“Is it a licence to kill? It is certainly not carte blanche. But the nature of soldiering means it’s sometimes necessary to take life. Everyone is trained in deadly force.”