The British Ministry of Defense had an unusual security breach recently when an email containing the promotions of noncommissioned officers, some of whom serve in special missions units, was accidentally distributed across the government.

Among the regular promotions of conventional troops were the names of commandos with the Special Air Service, Special Boat Service, and Special Reconnaissance Regiment, as well as the Special Forces Support Group.

Some of those named serve in an elite, classified outfit known as Special Air Service, E Squadron — or “the Increment.”

A secret unit within a secret world, E Squadron works for the British intelligence services in high-risk operations overseas.

When Special Operations Meets Intelligence

A line of transport vehicles filled with troops from the Long Range Desert Group during the North African campaign of World War II.
Long Range Desert Group patrols during the North African campaign during World War II, 1940-1943. (Photo by Lt. Graham/British Army)

The British military is a pioneer in modern special operations forces, creating the first modern units during World War II.

Since then, British special operations units have led the way, establishing doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures that are now in common use across the world, including in the U.S.

The SAS, SBS, and SRR are the British military’s three main Tier One units.

The first two focus on direct-action, counterterrorism, and hostage-rescue operations and are the British equivalents of the U.S.’s Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, with which the British units work closely and even exchange operators.