Small Wars Journal

Considerations for Organizing for Future Advisory Missions

Sun, 08/17/2008 - 3:15pm
I offer this in response to Dr John Nagl's recent article on Advisory Operations.

As we consider requirements for advisors in the future I think it is important to look at the doctrinal missions of the US military both past and present and see if there is anything that is relevant to the future of advisory operations.

While most are agreement that the advisor mission is critically important in Iraq and Afghanistan I think it is important to consider the current missions there as well as those both currently outside of OIF and OEF and what we forecast might happen in the future.

I think the most important assumption we have to consider is whether we are likely to be faced with future situations such as Iraq and Afghanistan where we completely depose totalitarian governments, destroy or disband all indigenous security forces as well as the government bureaucracies and are forced to rebuild a nation virtually from scratch. If you see this in our future then I recommend that you pay attention to Dr Nagl's writings and how he believes the Army should organize for the future.

If you do not believe that is a likely scenario then there are two others that must be considered. First is how we will organize for continued operations in Iraq after US combat forces begin to draw down as well as how to organize to deal with the challenges in Afghanistan. Second is how the US will engage throughout the world after OEF and OIF transition to supporting operations that require a minimal presence of US combat and general purpose forces. For the second and third scenarios I believe there is historical doctrine that would be a useful starting point to develop organizations to support our friends, partners and allies in their quest to bring stability and security to their countries and in particular ungoverned and under governed spaces within their sovereign territories. In addition these sovereign nations may need and request assistance in dealing with trans-national threats as well.

Many will say that Special Forces is the force of choice to conduct advisory operations and provide support to counter-insurgencies because of its Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mission. Many will also argue that because FID is a SOF/SF mission that the General Purpose Forces need a new mission to define what it is they are now doing. These have taken various names recently such as Security Force Assistance (SFA), Train, Advise, and Assist (TAA), and Stability Operations, just to name a few. And of course many will say (and I strongly concur) that there is not enough SF/SOF to conduct all the advisory and training requirements in OIF and OEF. But I think it is important to debunk a couple of myths about Special Forces.

First, although FID is a Title 10 SOF core mission by Joint doctrine all Services have the responsibility to provide trained forces for the conduct of or support to FID (I think I have mentioned this a time or two before on SWJ). It is not an exclusive SOF or even SF mission. Whether units choose to add it to add it to their Mission Essential Task List is a function of their mission analysis but the fact is FID is not a SOF exclusive mission.

For reference here is an excerpt from Joint Pub 3-0 (change 1 dated 13 FEB 2008)

(2) FID programs encompass the diplomatic, economic, informational, and military support provided to another nation to assist its fight against subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency. US military support to FID should focus on the operational assistance to HN personnel and collaborative planning with OGAs, IGOs, NGOs, and HN authorities to anticipate, preclude, and counter these threats. FID supports HN internal defense and development (IDAD) programs. US military involvement in FID has traditionally been focused on helping a nation defeat an organized movement attempting to overthrow its lawful government. US FID programs may address other threats to the internal stability of an HN, such as civil disorder, illicit drug trafficking, and terrorism. These threats may, in fact, predominate in the future as traditional power centers shift, suppressed cultural and ethnic rivalries surface, and the economic incentives of illegal drug trafficking continue. US military support to FID may include training, materiel, advice, or other assistance, including direct support operations as authorized by the SecDef and combat operations as authorized by the President, to HN forces in executing an IDAD program. While FID is a legislatively mandated core task of SOF, conventional forces also contain and employ organic capabilities to conduct limited FID.

For further guidance on FID, refer to JP 3-07.1, Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Foreign Internal Defense. For further guidance on SOF involvement in FID, refer to JP 3-05, Doctrine for Joint Special Operations, and JP 3-05.1, Joint Special Operations Task Force Operations.

From Joint Pub 3-07.1 (dated 30 April 2004):

a. Commensurate with US policy goals, the focus of all US foreign internal defense (FID) efforts is to support the host nation's (HN's) program of internal defense and

development (IDAD). These national programs are designed to free and protect a nation from subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency by emphasizing the building of viable institutions that respond to the needs of society. The most significant manifestation of these needs is likely to be economic, social, informational, or political; therefore, these needs should prescribe the principal focus of US efforts. The United States seeks to promote the growth of freedom, democratic institutions, and fair and open international trade. We also support the security, stability, and well-being of our allies and other nations friendly to our interests. The United States will generally employ a mix of diplomatic, economic, informational, and military instruments of national power in support of these objectives. As part of this effort, friendly nations facing threats to their internal security may receive intelligence, materiel, and training assistance from the United States. It is through FID, as an important element of US foreign policy, that this needed assistance is provided. FID is the participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government or other designated organization, to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency.

I think the last sentence sums up what we need to be able to do in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as with our friends, partners, and allies around the world who face complex threats.

Many have said that SF is engaged solely in Direct Action (DA) operations in OIF and OEF. That is not the case. The truth is they are engaged in enabling host nation forces in conducting direct action operations in defense of their country. This is the essence of the SF operations whether in FID or Unconventional Warfare (UW) -- the ability to work "through, by, and with" indigenous forces to contribute to accomplishing US strategic objectives. It is what SF has always been focused on. While everyone has their snapshot in time of their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan the facts are that US SF have rarely conducted a unilateral DA mission since April 2007 in Afghanistan and January 2006 in Iraq. Yes, there was a large requirement for SF unilateral or direct action operations when there were no viable security forces with which to partner in Iraq and Afghanistan but today nearly all SF operations are partnered operations. Again, as we know, the breadth of the advisory mission is beyond the capability of SF to conduct entirely on its own. However, here are a few more facts for your consideration; most important is to note that SF remains engaged around the world in advisory missions.

While SF continues to support the main effort in CENTCOM with the bulk of our forces (4 active duty SF groups doing a 7 month in country and 5 month out rotation, with a battalion being taken out of the rotation 18-24 months -- and the last SF group rotates battalions to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the Philippines -- one is in Iraq now and one is in the Philippines) SF continues to conduct FID missions around the world. In fact SF directly supports six named operations worldwide plus ARSOF (SF and Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations forces) provides other support to some 30 US country teams and MILGRPs/JUSMAGs. Right now, including operations in Iraq and Afghanistan SF ODAs are partnered with some 97 battalion level equivalent infantry, commando, or national level CT forces in 23 countries around the world on a near permanent basis. When all the annual theater security cooperation plan (TSCP) events are added in the number of battalion level equivalent forces that SF is training and advising doubles to nearly 200 in 57 countries (considering there are only 270 active duty ODAs ("A Teams") in the force that is a pretty efficient usage). (SF will grow by a battalion annually between now and 2014) Note also that in that 5 months out of OIF/OEF those groups are deploying ODAs to their assigned region of the world conducting TSCP events as well as conducting advanced schooling, and then conducting 6 weeks of pre-mission training (PMT) before they deploy back to OIF/OEF for another 7 months (and of course trying to take some leave in that time as well).

Again, I think we all can agree that we need an advisor capability beyond what SF can provide as we execute OIF and OEF but I would like to ensure that the facts about the contribution SF is making and the fact that SF is not conducting unilateral direct action missions except in very rare instances is understood. A lot of people like to speak for SF but I think it is important that ground truth is laid out there for everyone's situational awareness.

As stated up front I think it is useful to look to the past as a start point for how we might organize for the future. If we are interested in designing organizations I suggest looking to our history. The below is an excerpt from the 1963 FM U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Forces. The organization below was virtually repeated in 1981 FM 100-20 Low Intensity Conflict with the exception that the Special Action Force (SAF) was renamed the Security Assistance Force (SAF). As we look beyond the scope of OIF and OEF requirements and if we think they are going to be beyond the capability of Special Forces then I suggest we consider adapting from (rather than creating something new) the below organizations.

Note also that it outlines much of what Bob Killebrew argues for in regards to MAAGs (of which I fully agree with Bob).

I wrote about this indirectly in monograph in 1995-96 as an organization for how we might support UN operations as well as COIN. I also wrote about this in a thesis I wrote in 1994-95 "Special Forces Missions: A Return to the Roots for a Vision of the Future." I mention this because of course back then COIN was not regarded as important and few paid any attention despite the ongoing conflicts in the Balkans and in lesser locales around the world.

Below is the excerpt that I mention. Chapter 4 and 5 go into some detail on the responsibilities for organic units of most all disciplines in the Army from Infantry and Special Forces to Military Police, Engineers, Military Intelligence, Medical and Aviation just to name a few as well as the back-up combat and combat support units required for successful COIN. I think that the 1963 doctrine (or at least the 1981 version of the Low Intensity Conflict manual (FM 100-20) is at least a start point with the Special Action Force (SAF -- 1963) or Security Assistance Force (SAF--1981).

And one final point. We have many soldiers who are not SF conducting outstanding advisory assistance missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US Soldier, Sailor, Airmen and Marine are all quite capable of conducting advisory assistance and as per FID doctrine they need to be able to do it. The issue, as Dr. Nagl correctly points out is how to best organize the forces to conduct COIN and advisory assistance missions. I would offer the below historical doctrine offers a point of departure for developing such organizations. Rather than reinventing the wheel let's see if we just can change the tire and update it to current requirements. And of course the rice bowls can be heard breaking if one ever considers subordinating General Purposes Forces to SOF/SF.

Part Two - Responsibilities and Organization

Chapter 3 - U.S. and Indigenous Counterinsurgency Forces

Section I.

20. Purpose

This chapter delineates Army responsibilities and describes the organization and functions of elements of the U.S. Army for counterinsurgency operations. It includes an explanation of the relationships of U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Forces to MAAG's/Missions and other joint or unified commands and the indigenous forces being supported.

21. Army Organization

a. The counterinsurgency role assigned the U.S. Army by the Joint Chiefs of Staff includes the following:

(1) Organize, equip, and provide army forces for joint counterinsurgency operations and for support of country counterinsurgency programs.

(2) Develop, in coordination with the other services, the doctrine, tactics, procedures, techniques, and equipment employed by the Army and the Marine Corps ground forces in counterinsurgency operations. The Army shall have primary interest in the development of counterinsurgency doctrine, procedures, tactics, techniques, and equipment which are employed by the Army and the Marine Corps, but excluding related doctrines, tactics, techniques, and equipment as are employed primarily by landing forces, in amphibious operations for counterinsurgency purposes, for which the Marine Corps shall have primary interest.

(3) Develop language trained and area oriented United States Army forces as necessary for possible employment in training, or providing operational ad- vice or operational support to indigenous security forces.

b. Structurally, the U.S. Army has three tiers of forces upon which the commanders of unified commands, the chief^ of MAAG's/Missions, or in some cases the army attaches, as appropriate, may draw to support or conduct counterinsurgency operations. In the majority of cases, the U.S. elements described below will be employed in an advisory/training role to indigenous forces.

(1) The first tier consists of U.S. Army Special Action Forces (SAF) developed by the Army to support commanders of unified commands. These forces, strategically located, can be provided with trained replacements from a Base Special Action Force in the Continental United States (CONUS).

(2) The second tier is composed of over-seas general purpose TOE units, to include brigade-size backup forces consisting of infantry, armor, armored cavalry, artillery, engineer, psychological warfare, signal, civil affairs, intelligence, military police, aviation, Army Security Agency, medical, and essential support units, which have been designated as back- up forces for the SAF's. Area-oriented, partially language and fully counterinsurgency trained, these backup forces-provide mobile training teams and operational units of sizes and capabilities consistent with mission requirements. Generally, their elements are committed when the capabilities of the MAAG/Mission and/or the SAF are exceeded by the requirements of the country concerned.

(3) The third tier consists of CONUS-based U.S. Army forces, including the base SAF which serves as a rotational base for deployed elements. In consonance with contingency planning, area-oriented and counterinsurgency trained brigade-size backup forces are designated for employment in specific areas as required to assist in pre- venting or defeating insurgency. The third tier satisfies requirements that exceed those of the first and second tiers.

Section II. The Special Action Force (SAF)

22. General

The SAF is a specially trained, area-oriented, partially language-qualified, ready force, avail- able to the commander of a unified command for the support of cold, limited and general war operations. SAF organizations may vary in size and capabilities according to theater requirements.

23. Organization

A SAF consists of a special forces group and selected detachments, which may include civil affairs, psychological warfare, engineer, medical, intelligence, military police, and Army Security Agency detachments. Within the SAF, most of the capabilities of the army as a whole are represented on a small scale in a form specifically designed for counterinsurgency operations. Elements of the SAF are deployed as an advisory/training task 'force to a host country in accordance with requirements stated in the country internal defense plan or to meet the exigencies of an escalading insurgency situation.

24. Command/Control

The organization of the special forces (SF) group is provided with a flexible command and control system which facilitates administration, logistical support and, as required, operations of all elements in the SAF. The SF group headquarters, and the SF operational detachments B and C, each possessing a unit staff, plan and conduct operations as directed within their capabilities. The SAF is commanded by the SF group commander who in turn may be regarded by the commander of the unified command or army component command as his senior counterinsurgency specialist. The SAF augmentation elements, when employed in support of SAF activities, will be either in the SAF chain of command or directly under the MAAG. The establishment of a Special Forces Operational Base (SFOB) with its attendant communications center facilitates operational control of the widely dispersed subordinate elements of the SAF.

25. Characteristics of SAF

a. The SAF is specially trained and specifically available for special warfare missions including unconventional warfare, psychological and counterinsurgency operations. It is area- oriented and partially language trained.

b. It is maintained in a state of operational readiness.

c. Its members are prepared, from the standpoint of training and psychology, to work in remote areas with foreign personnel, including primitive groups, under conditions of relative hardship and danger.

d. It provides a pool of resources from which training assistance and operating teams and forces can be combined on a task force basis to meet the widely varying requirements of counterinsurgency operations.

e. It represents a regional repository of experience in counterinsurgency operations.

f. See FM 31-22A.

Colonel David S. Maxwell, U.S. Army, is a Special Forces officer with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and is a graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College of the National Defense University. The opinions he expresses in this paper are his own and do not represent any US Government, Department of Defense, or US Army Special Operations Command positions.


Ken White

Mon, 08/18/2008 - 9:20pm

Even an old grouchy cynic can agree totally with you on all that, particularly the last two paragraphs which are rock solid right

As you say, we do not need to yet again relearn all this..

Even with the current negatives, I believe that we will be thankful that a politician transcended the excess of caution prevalent today and took a risk.

Rob Thornton

Mon, 08/18/2008 - 5:10pm

A well written article. I may have gotten cynical reading Ken over the last couple of years, but while I'd agree with the assumption that another Iraq or Afghanistan would be unappealing to policy appetite, however I'd not rule it out, nor would I rule out another scenario that while different from the onset, resulted in a similar commitment.

I'd posit that had the full consequences of our activities in Iraq and Afghanistan been recognized before we committed, meaning that we knew the total cost in terms of risks to other policy objectives, the time and resources it would consume, the domestic political impact (individual political futures), the way it would affect our ability to respond to domestic events, and some of the other consequences, we probably not have gone to war in the manner we did - meaning it would have either been a much more risk aversive strategy, or the ends would have been limited as such to placate the perception of risk to those who would be held politically accountable and had to vote.

I say this in light of the fact that I believe it worth the cost in terms of what we are achieving, but after watching the post invasion politics, and the ways in which domestic and foreign support for our efforts have played out, I just cant envision most politicians making that decision had they a clear view of the years that followed.

That is the nature of foreign policy, there are more unknowns given the complex interactions that take place when you take action then there are knowns. There is no FP crystal ball, and the votes are made based on the moment and the immediate future.

Given that, I dont think it a good idea to place our faith in clairvoyance or policy appetite suppressant. It also does not have to be an Iraq or Afghanistan in terms of regime change as the immediate policy objective which results in a larger footprint then we anticipated as a going in position.

The current NDS identifies building partner capacity, and in particular building security capacity beyond the purposes of strengthening an individual partners ability to govern or make them more resistant to coercion and aggression - be it internal or external. Many of the policy think tanks on both sides seem to be in the "mostly" agree category.

While "small is beautiful" with regard to keeping the footprint as small as possible; small is relative to the policy objective in terms of immediacy and importance. As such, the force must be full spectrum in a capacity large enough to meet the need. Determining that scale and where to accept risk elsewhere is a tough call, but the capacity is not developed overnight. It takes years in this case because we are talking more about people skills and less about technical skills - weve had 7 and 5 years respectively to develop those skills, we should think hard about it before we consciously decide to box them up and bury them in the back yard.

While it may be 5 years, 10 or 20 - Id say it is more likely then not that with a FP such as ours, we will have a commitment on the scale of Iraq somewhere down the road - and it will matter. We can either develop the tools and policies which allow us to bring them to an acceptable outcome as quickly as possible, or we can forget what weve learned, and go through this level of pain again.

I dont agree with John Nagls standing advisory corps, but I do agree with his logic that we should be able to do this better then we have, and that it is better to invest some now then later. Whatever we wind up calling it matters far less then being able to do it in a manner that reflects that we have aligned our FP tools in a manner that reflects the objectives we pursue.

Its also worth considering that Iraq and Afghanistan are not done. They will require a level of engagement for some time to come that given other policy objectives in other parts of the world will still require a level of commitment to advising foreign forces beyond that which a select portion of the total force can manage.

Best, Rob

Ken White

Sun, 08/17/2008 - 5:08pm

Good article. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. The old, round one works pretty well, the heptagonal one looks good -- but...

The likelihood of occurrence of the situation in your early statement:<blockquote>I think the most important assumption we have to consider is whether we are likely to be faced with future situations such as Iraq and Afghanistan where we completely depose totalitarian governments, destroy or disband all indigenous security forces as well as the government bureaucracies and are forced to rebuild a nation virtually from scratch.</blockquote>is, I suspect rather slim for a good many years, if for no other reason than the fact that these two attempts were both made more difficult than they needed to be. I suspect both Congress and the American body politic will not be inclined to attempt other such efforts for a while.

Like it or not, full spectrum capability for the general or multi purpose forces will be necessary.