Small Wars Journal

Getting Advising Right: The Army Needs a Fundamentally Different Approach to Building Partner Forces

Getting Advising Right: The Army Needs a Fundamentally Different Approach to Building Partner Forces by Bill Nance – Modern War Institute

The US Army has an advising problem. As we approach the eighteen-year anniversary of the attacks that triggered our post-9/11 wars, the partners we train often still struggle with the basics of military operations while we commit ever increasing resources to assist them. We’ve been through a virtual alphabet soup of different approaches—Military Training Teams (MTTs), Advise and Assist Brigades (AABs), and now Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFAB) have all been committed to make our partnered forces better. Furthermore, outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, we have advisors in dozens of countries ranging from Saudi Arabia to Colombia. Our soldiers have done heroic work and can point to limited local successes with pride. While tactical advising (the training of partner units at brigade and below) has been the main effort in our quest to strengthen our partners, we can safely say after so many years, it is also the least efficient and effective. Unfortunately, the Army is doubling down on this approach through its creation of SFABs, which promise to consume large amounts of personnel and huge amounts of experience, for the sole purpose of tactical advising. Moreover, the SFAB is not even designed appropriately to effectively do its job with lasting effect. The Army must get better at advising or risk damage to the reputation for excellence it enjoys throughout the world.

Before attempting to fix advising, it is instructive to look at what it is supposed to accomplish. Field Manual 3-22, Army Support to Security Cooperation states that “the ultimate goal of security force assistance is to create foreign security forces (FSF) that are competent, capable, committed, and confident and that have a security apparatus that supports US policy related to achieving regional stability.” The manual then provides a table breaking down each of these four characteristics—competence, capability, commitment, and confidence. But the most interesting part is the description of partners that should be competent “across all levels from ministerial to the individual soldier or police officer.” Therefore, by our own doctrine, we should be focusing across our partner’s entire defense capacity, not just its tactical formations…

Read on.