Small Wars Journal

Combat Advisors: Longer Deployments Required

Thu, 07/23/2009 - 8:14pm
Combat Advisors: Longer Deployments Required

by Major Morgan Smiley

Several recent articles have cited the growing interest in accelerating the development and expansion of Afghanistan's security forces, which will directly influence the number of US forces sent there to serve as advisors and trainers.

Currently, we have increased the number of advisors by adding a 4000-man brigade to the training element already in place in Afghanistan, and I suspect this will help. But another part of this equation that we ought to consider is how long those advisors remain with their Afghan counterparts. My recommendation....combat advisors need to be on-ground for at least 18, but no more than 24, months. The longer we stay with them, the greater our chances of inculcating in our Afghan allies what we are trying to teach.

While adding more advisors helps to address the issue of expanding Afghan security forces (more advisors means more Afghan forces that can be trained), another equally important area to address is the dynamic created by those advisory teams and how it impacts the Afghans we advise, how our efforts influence their cultural mind-set. We talk of this war as the "Long War" because counterinsurgencies are traditionally lengthy affairs, often taking the better part of a decade to conduct. Despite our acknowledgement of this oft-stated point, we seem to ignore it or brush it aside in favor of our typical "more is better" and "hurry, hurry, hurry" approaches.

The current deployment schedule calls for US units to deploy for 12 months. While this may be adequate for combat units executing traditional combat missions, it is not conducive for the mission of the combat advisor.

Within Afghan culture (& many other non-western ones), relationships are regarded far more seriously than we are accustomed to, and often take quite a bit of time to build. Add to that the fact that we are advising people who may be unfamiliar with our cultural perspective and, may in some cases be hostile to it if they are familiar with it, and it becomes clearer why the building of Afghan security forces is taking longer than many would like & why having advisor teams on-ground longer than 12 months is so important.

For many advisors, the first few months can be filled with frustrations simply because our Afghan counterparts haven't fully accepted us and therefore disregard our advice and counsel. After several months of building that relationship by working to understanding each other's perspective, as well as generating and reinforcing trust through training & shared hardship, we reach a point where we begin to make some progress, however small. By that point, though, our one-year tour is up and we go home. If you're a Guardsman, you go home after 9-months. The incoming team then has to start out at ground zero building that relationship because the Afghans don't know the new team.

By keeping advisor teams on-ground for 18 to 24 months, the team can build, sustain, and cultivate that all-important relationship. A few advisors who have effectively built, and can maintain over a long term, a good working relationship with their counterparts will do more than thousands of new advisors who are there for only a short time.

There are many in our Army who will find this idea asinine to say the least (my former NCOIC comes to mind). After all, who wants to be away from home for more than a year, especially given the environment many advisors have to live in? Having already spent 3 years away from my family, I can fully appreciate that sentiment. However, any war worth executing is worth executing well.

Our leaders have identified as a critical part of our strategy the building of host-nation security forces in an effort to safeguard our country, our allies, and our interests. By doing this, we ensure that terrorists forces are denied failed states in which to incubate like destructive viruses and to use as bases from which to launch devastating attacks in easily accessible parts of the civilized world, to include our own very open country.

If we are serious about the use of our combat advisors and the mission they have been given, we ought to look beyond simply adding more advisors to the Afghan theater and consider the advantage of having advisors on-ground with their counterparts for more than one year. Building strong relationships that generate trust between our two radically different cultures will go a long way in convincing our new allies to accept and adopt the lessons we are imparting. We may also develop a corps of Soldiers who will have a unique cultural insight into a part of the world that we are likely to be involved in for next few decades. In either case, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Major Morgan Smiley an Army infantry officer currently serving as a battalion S3 at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. He served in Afghanistan in 2008 as a combat advisor with the Afghan army and police.



Great post and welcome back. You should consider consolidating your thoughts on to paper and submitting an article for publication to SWJ. We need more active writing by leaders.



IntelTrooper (not verified)

Wed, 09/16/2009 - 3:03pm


It's inspiring to see "maneuver"/battlespace owning units and the MiTTs working so well together. I didn't see this kind of cooperation in any form in Afghanistan, so I hope your template is emulated by other units rotating into theater!

While not entirely in the vein of this thread, I do have some recent experience with BCT-A like operations in Iraq that may help Morgan.

In the spring of 2009, the 2nd Brigade 4th Infantry Division moved from the Diwaniyah Province of Iraq to the Basra Province to conduct a relief in place of the 20th UK Brigade as the British ended their combat mission in Iraq. While assuming this mission 2/4 ID employed and executed many of the tasks and in much the same manner as one of the newly organized Advise and Assist Brigades or BCT-As. I wanted to share some of my thoughts and highlights on how we did it. To do this I will focus on how we were arrayed in the Basra Province for the last six months of our deployment though we did employ many of the same techniques in Diwaniyah during the first part of the deployment.

As a subordinate unit to 2/4, the 2nd Battalion 8th Infantry was tasked with (among other things) to partner with the 14th Iraqi Army Division and its subordinate maneuver brigades operating out of five different camps. We assumed this mission, our decisive operation, with three company headquarters and seven platoons, as well as five MiTTs (external to the BDE,) and our battalion Tac. Our first order of business was to define partnership for our commanders and the MiTTs. We saw our troops as the supporting effort to the MiTTs who were TACON to the battalion and determined that we would need to provide them with security and logistical support, as well as to facilitate their movement and conduct specialty and subordinate unit training.

We linked each company up with an IA BDE and its MiTT Team with one company getting two BDEs as they were almost co-located, and then positioned our HHC and the BN Tac along with the mortars and scouts with the Division HQ and its MiTT. The template we established for partnership would be that we would have a company commander, or senior platoon leader, who would locate with his forces on the MiTT compounds at the various IA BDE HQs. He would serve as the "Camp Mayor," and along with his NCOs and Soldiers would provide security, field feeding, logistical support and maintenance for his equipment and the MiTTs. Each BDE also operated a Joint Operations Center or JOC that was manned 24/7 by IA Soldiers, MiTT reps and our Soldiers. These JOCs were invaluable in battle tracking the dispositions of IA forces especially when they responded to an attack.

In the past the MiTTs were hampered by their lack of mobility-meaning that if one specific advisor wanted to visit a subordinate unit, had to attend a meeting, or was going to observe a training event, it took the rest of the advisors on that 12-15 man team to move him across the battle field. Our partnership aimed to solve this issue by both providing vehicles and crews to move him around and by conducting combined patrols with the IA where a four vehicle patrol might have two US and two IA vehicles.

The biggest area that our partnered elements contributed was in planning, resourcing and conducting Train the Trainer training on individual and collective tasks as outlined in the 14th IA Division Commanders Training Guidance. We assumed the mantle for conducting this training which allowed the MiTT to focus on BDE staff training and operations. The concept behind this training was that each month the MiTT and the partnered unit would sit down with the BDEs Training Officer and the CGs Training Guidance and decide what they were going to focus on for the next month. Our partnered NCOs and Soldiers would then teach a series of week-long classes to a target audience of junior officers and NCOs from each of that brigades subordinate battalions. These leaders were then empowered to return to their parent organizations to share that knowledge with them. In order to ensure that this was happening, the Brigade Training Officer kept records of what leaders attended what training and then kept tabs on the battalions to see who was and who was not executing the training that they had been shown.

Finally we also executed specialty training using our battalion mortars to train Iraqi mortar leaders, our medics worked with the Division Surgeon and his staff and the battalion scouts executed two iterations of an NCO Academy for the Division troops and Commando battalion which was then subsequently undertaken as an IA led school by the Commandos.

Overall I think that the concept worked-we shall see how it goes in the BCT-As, but the key as is oftentimes the case is in the interpersonal relationships and how they are executed. (having multiple LTCs in the BN organization for example)

Does anyone have any experience with the new BCT-Augmented (BCT-A) currently replacing the "independent" FT Riley-trained MTTs and how this idea might affect them were it implemented?

Ken White (not verified)

Thu, 08/06/2009 - 10:44pm

<b>Jim Monroe</b>

Agree on higher than BCTs, Divs/ Corps -- Rotate throughput. Though I'm not sure the BCTs are quite ready for that but it should certainly be a goal (I suspect some can do it well today...).

I erred in not specifying maneuver units in my comment -- and I also believe Advisory Teams / Cells / Elements should rotate as units.

Jim Monroe (not verified)

Thu, 08/06/2009 - 6:16pm

Ken, agree that individual rotation is ill-advised for the maneuver forces, but the BCT HQ and up could rotate as individuals without as much risk. MNF-I does this already as does a large part of MNC-I. USF-I will follow the same model. Individual rotation at the BCT and higher levels would allow for continuity of awareness as well as for the long range, multi-year planning which has been noticeably absent for a large portion of our time in Iraq. Individual rotations would also help level out the schizophrenic changes which occur when new commands rotate in with the attitude of fixing their predecessors' mistakes.

JL (not verified)

Sun, 08/02/2009 - 7:47am

Along the lines of what has already been mentioned in the comments, instead of deploying for 18-24 months, you could do what the 1-4 IN out of Hohenfels has been doing for three years now: rotate a company for 6 months at a time to the exact same location, in this case northern Zabul. Some soldiers are on their 4th rotation, they have a pretty good rapport with the locals, and the villagers know them by name. I'd recommend looking up Sean Naylor's 11 June Army Times article, "Infantry's Future"

Ken White (not verified)

Sun, 07/26/2009 - 2:35pm

Dan M

Good and thoughtful comment with which I agree -- save on a single point. Individual rotation should not be given the slightest consideration.

Based on serving two tours each in two earlier wars, deploying once with a unit and once as an individual in both cases, I'm firmly convinced that individual rotation is a combat detriment leading to less cohesion, significantly reduced performance and higher casualties.

It should be avoided at all costs.

Rotating units back to the same AO and dictating a one week overlap for a few key people would solve many problems.

Dan M (not verified)

Sat, 07/25/2009 - 1:22pm

This is a topic of great contention to say the least. My CGSC Small Group has had an on going discussion on this very subject. Our focus has been on conventional units in general. The argument can be made that a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) spends its first 100 days assessing and "learning" its area of operations. A year later another BCT goes through the same process. Commander from the company level on up must build new relationship with local and regional leaders. Additional friction is added to the situation because each commander (incoming and outgoing) brings a different personality and set of experiences that will affect this relationship building. If we take these factors alone into considerations, longer tours are necessary to create and maintain great strides in COIN, FID, and Stability Ops. Within the scope of a campaign, such a policy could reduce the length of the campaign by years.

The real critical factor is the American Soldier. Studies indicate that Soldier and unit performance peaks at 6-8 months. Although I question the validity of such a study or use of statistics as an absolute to determine length of tours, I concede that the longer the tour (pick your start point) the greater the strain on the Soldier as member of his family, his community, and as an individual. Peak performance is not a function of time - Leadership, Espirit de Corps, and the operating environment have a much greater affect on Soldier and unit performance. It is the "whole person" of the Soldier that is affected by time. Imagine a Soldier deployed for two years - he deploys after the birth of his child and in two years misses their first step, first words, birthdays. For single Soldiers, it often means friends will move on. In all cases it strains relationships and human connections.

Perhaps it is time to look at different methods of how we deploy forces. We currently use the ARFORGEN model which is based on deploying units, typically BCTs, but individual companies in the case of key enabler units. One method is to "permanently" planting guidons in areas of operations and rotate individuals. For example, 1/3ID is deployed to Ramadi, and it remains there as long as that exists as an area of operations. All Soldiers serve a 10 month tour. Every month ~10% of the Soldiers are rotated in and out of the deployment. This is not a simple, one sentence solution. Commanders and key leaders may still have longer tours. When commanders change, they may be a requirement for longer left seat/right seat rides to ensure a more seamless transition. The greatest problem with this solution is training methodology. Who will train Soldiers prior to deployment and how do unit conduct collective training?

None of these are easy questions with easy answers. Ultimately, the solution will require a much more creative solution than setting a specific tour length for units.

George Singleton (not verified)

Fri, 07/24/2009 - 8:03am

In "peacetime," 1963-1965 I served for an 18 month tour of duty as Commander, Det. 2, 6937th Comm Gp, old USAF Security Service (communicaions intel) at the US Embassy then in Karachi.

My counterparts at my higher HQ the 6937th Comm Gp, USAFSS, the "base" at Peshawar, Pakistan all served a 12 month tour of duty as Peshawar was "more remote than Karachi."

In both Karachi and Peshawar we all received the old version of "hazardous duty" pay, a "huge" $36 a month, not $10,000 a month. We in the old USAF were all volunteers, not draftees at that time. *Vietnam saw drafting for all services in late 1965 forward.

In combat today, stress on our troops has to at least allow for R&R frequently to Europe or the Far East, or home, if that be their choice. I was single and took my 18 month tour of duty self engineered R&D three times, always in Europe.

Afghan troops cultural norms and practices include just "taking off" to take home their pay, no system for money wire transfer to home town banks. Soldiers are gone for irregular periods of time and I am told are not charged with AWOL. This certainly interrupts their training "continuity."

I think you guys need to factor in their cultural norms instead of being overbearing on our side. This is and will continue to be a Long War, and even civilian contractors serve no more than a year at a time in Afghan, unless I am misinformed by friends who are such now in Afghan Theater.

Colonel George L. Singleton, USAF, Ret, a reservist who did 10 years reserve duty, ADT and TDYs with HQ USSOCOM. Regular USAF 62-67.

Brandon Friedman

Thu, 07/23/2009 - 10:16pm

I would have no problem with this if the advisors were all volunteers or if they were receiving, say, $10,000 a month in bonus pay. If we couldn't work either of those options, then I'd say no. As Chris said, a year is too long already. Aside from the family/social considerations, units gradually begin losing their effectiveness at around the six-month mark, anyway.

I'd tend to agree with something like Chris said here, with a caveat:

<blockquote>A better solution would be to assign several teams to rotate on the same ANA or IA unit. say three teams rotating for 8 months each with a four month over lap. this places two teams on the ground at all times with a team rotating home every four months.</blockquote>

The problem--and someone check my math--is that three teams rotating for eight months with a four-month overlap would only give each team four months at home after each eight-month tour. Right? That won't work. But if you did four teams, that would allow eight months on, eight months off.

But again, even this is unsustainable in the long term. Units need twice as much time at home as deployed if they're to maintain razor-sharp efficiency. But I guess in this day and age, that's almost laughable.

I'm impressed with the interval between posting and comments.

I believe there is some consideration being given to the rotational idea (teams going to the same kandak/ police district). Not sure how far along it is, if at all. But based on some of the comments I've read on the Transition Team website, someone up at "Starfleet Command" may be looking at this.


Thu, 07/23/2009 - 8:55pm

Having just come off a team in Iraq I think that this is a great idea but your going to have to rotate people. A year is to long for most people to do this job as it is and effectiveness of the teams actually peaks out about eight months in, after that it is diminishing returns. A better solution would be to assign several teams to rotate on the same ANA or IA unit. say three teams rotating for 8 months each with a four month over lap. this places two teams on the ground at all times with a team rotating home every four months.

IntelTrooper (not verified)

Thu, 07/23/2009 - 8:49pm

Major Smiley,

Perhaps instead of keeping a single unit in country for years on end, we could swap out every 6 to 9 months and just have the expectation that we're going back to the same Kandak/Battalion/Brigade/Corps in that same amount of time.

We spend millions cycling our troops back to the States for leave. Almost everyone in theater (as I understand it, anyone serving a tour longer the 8 or 9 months?) goes home for leave; why not swap out completely at that interval and deploy more frequently?

As enthusiastic as I am about deployments, I can't imagine having to spend 18+ months at a shot.