Small Wars Journal

Security Force Assistance

This week we published Army Field Manual 3-07.1: Security Force Assistance. In it, we seek to capture in doctrine our many years of experience in building partner security forces. Security Force Assistance is derivative of the broader mission of Stability Operations which we have documented in doctrine in FM 3-07.

It's important to note that Security Force Assistance occurs under a variety of conditions, and it is the conditions that will determine how and with what organizations we use to accomplish the mission.

We have military cooperation agreements with more than 125 nations around the world and often provide security force assistance in response to host nation requests. This assistance is generally delivered by Offices of Security Cooperation, always under the control of the US Embassy Country Team, and is accomplished by a mixture of assigned military and civilian personnel, contractors, and mobile training teams. These mobile training teams come from either the General Purpose Forces --- perhaps more appropriately described as Multi-Purpose Forces --- or from the Special Forces depending on the type of training requested.

Under conditions of active conflict where we have direct responsibility for security -- as in Iraq and Afghanistan -- tactical commanders will have a security force assistance mission to train, advise, and assist tactical host nation forces. This mission is accomplished using the resources of the modular brigade augmented as necessary based, again, on conditions. The conditions include the state" of security -- described in doctrine as Initial Stage, Transforming Stage, and Sustaining Phase -- as well as the capacity and capability of the host nation security forces. Security Force Assistance at the Institutional Level will be accomplished by a Security Transition Headquarters organized under the Joint Task Force. This Security Transition Headquarters partners with the US Embassy Country Team and evolves over time into an Office of Security Cooperation as described above.

Finally, we have security relationships with some nations facing significant internal security challenges but which, for many reasons, may not accept a large, visible US military presence within their borders. If they request Security Force Assistance under these conditions, the mission is generally assigned to US Special Operations Forces, potentially augmented by regionally-oriented General-Purpose Forces.

Clearly, the future operational environment will require us to demonstrate as much versatility in Stability Operations as we have in Offense and Defense Operations. Understanding the variety of conditions under which Security Force Assistance occurs is an important first step.

General Martin E. Dempsey is Commanding General of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command.


Rob Thornton

Wed, 05/06/2009 - 12:00pm

Our understanding of Security Force Assistance activities has been increased by our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but must be considered more broadly in terms of history and more importantly the future. To answer the question of what is the total Army contribution to these activities means accounting for capabilities that are resident in, or should be generated in both the operating force and the generating force, the active component and the reserve component, the collective and the individual, general purpose forces and special operating forces. These capabilities might support an Army task of "developing foreign partner security forces".

Fundamental to understanding the range of these requirements begins with understanding that all security forces need to be capable of generating, employing and sustaining. With respect to foreign security force partners, this means that SFA is inherently a "developmental" activity, and that whoever is conducting must understand that they are the "supporting" effort in developing somebody elses capability and capacity. They must have to some degree both a developmental mindset, and understand that they are a "supporting" effort.

As a developmental activity, there are then developmental objectives. These developmental objectives must be balanced between what our partners require (and/or prefer) to have the capability and capacity to do, and what we would like them to be capable of. It starts with developing an understanding what the partners security sector requires of its security forces, what the strengths and weaknesses of the partners security forces are with respect to meeting those requirements, and what are the impediments to the partner being able to do so.

These fundamental assessments might be thought of as a SFA assessment methodology that assesses the organization in terms of functions. You might use the war fighting functions or police security functions because they may support your planning and preparing, but they must be considered in light of the functions the partner uses to assess its requirements. Another fundamental assessment is the operational environment assessment which puts the organizational assessment in the context of the environment it must operate in. You might use a combination of METT-TC and PMESII-PT, but "no" frame work should be applied as a cookie cutter. The third fundamental assessment must consider the institutions that must exist to sustain the security force, because without these institutions you may build teeth, but no sustainability. You might use DOTMLP-F as a framework from a functional perspective, but again it must be understood that not every partner is going to require every part, or wish to replicate those functions we think of as DOTMLPF which allow us to perform our own Title 10 functions - every partners requirements are different.

The institutional assessment and the actions it generates is the Rosetta stone to developing capabilities that support sustainable security. The key is to use some assessment framework which promotes understanding and dialogue with the partner to balance and support those developmental objectives.

After an understanding is created using assessments and objectives, tasks and purposes which "support " developing capabilities and capacities within the partner(s) to allow him to generate, employ and sustain his security forces can be developed. These tasks might be thought of as a DMETL (or directed METL) which is developed out of the understanding provided by the assessment to support those developmental objectives.

These tasks have been described as: Organize foreign/partner security forces; Train foreign/partner security forces; Equip foreign/partner security forces; Rebuild the supporting institution and infrastructure that support foreign/partner security forces; and Advise foreign/partner security forces. These are all developmental tasks. Assist (tactical and operational) is not a developmental task, but may be required based on conditions to support the developmental objective. Assist does not leave a sustainable capability or capacity as do the developmental tasks. The purpose(s) associated with the tasks should be in line with developing specific organization functional capabilities and capacities identified in the organizational and operational environment assessments.

Understanding these fundamentals supports the visualization, description and direction of current and future activities (also known as battle command) to: plan, prepare and organize to conduct SFA; align our developmental efforts to the requirements of generate, employ and sustain, and ultimately to create unity of effort between the foreign/partner security force leadership and other USG participants. The use of a SFA assessment methodology and how they support development of directed METL (mission essential task list) might support a onstruct for a CMETL task of plan, prepare and organize for SFA.

These fundamentals should be considered wherever SFA activities are employed to achieve an end. Ultimately, the Army, and the broader JIIM community require a conceptual framework for how SFA supports policy objectives. It could be in post conflict stability operations, it could be in support of shaping operations where partner capability and capacity are required or desired, it could be in recognition that a partner requires assistance in extending its ability to provide security to all of its population and extend its governance. These must be considered in light of U.S. interests with the adage that just because you may be capable of doing something, you (and others) may not be well served in doing so. Supporting the development of capability and capacity is nothing new, a great example in western literature is Thucydides account of the actions of both Sparta and Athens in the Peloponnesian war, what may be new for the United States is a more methodical application and synchronization of ends, ways and means to do so based on its policy objectives in light of fears, honor and interests.

To return to the opening paragraph, it is good we are moving in a direction - but we must look beyond our immediate experiences and consider how this tool has been applied and can be applied in support of policy objectives. There are a number of DOTMLP-F considerations we must address as the implication of the fundamentals outlined above are considered against our current practices. Conditions and objectives will drive requirements, and every time a condition or objective changes, the requirements must be reconsidered - every situation has the potential to be unique, and as such require a different capabilities and capacities to achieve the end. We must know how and to what ends the "ilities" are to be put use, and to do that we need a conceptual framework. This framework must recognize our policy appetite, our ability to meet demands with capabilities, and the tolerances of our potential partners. As a result there is no one size fits all solution and any organizational structure only has so much versatility. SFA as capability generated to meet operational requirements is ultimately rooted in individual capability, not collective. Formations at any level are useful to serve as nuclei upon which to organize capability, but ultimately any one formation will only get you so far. It is not an issue of capacity but about putting the "right" capability at the right place at the right time, and maintaining understanding in order to retain agility.