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.