Small Wars Journal

It's Time for an Army Advisor Corps

Mon, 06/11/2007 - 9:24pm

In the linked paper I argue that, just as the new realities of warfare demanded the creation of the Special Forces in the 1960's, winning the Long War will require that the Army develop a standing Advisor Corps.  It has been informed by the experience of many advisors with service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and may prove of some interest to the Small Wars Journal / Small Wars Council community of interest.

"Institutionalizing Adaptation: It's Time for an Army Advisor Corps" was published by the Center for a New American Security.

The most important military component of the Long War will not be the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our allies to fight with us. After describing the many complicated, interrelated, and simultaneous tasks that must be conducted to defeat an insurgency, the new Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual notes “Key to all these tasks is developing an effective host-nation (HN) security force.” Indeed, it has been argued that foreign forces cannot defeat an insurgency; the best they can hope for is to create the conditions that will enable local forces to win for them…

I would like to thank Colonel (retired) Don Snider, Ph.D., whose seminal June 1998 “Army” article “Let the Debate Begin: It’s Time For An Army Constabulary Force” was the intellectual progenitor of this work; Don’s thoughtful mentorship of young Army officers at West Point is a lasting gift to the nation. Dr. Carter Malkasian at the Center for Naval Analysis sponsored the roundtable discussion that was the proximate cause of research leading to this report; thanks to all of those who drew me out at that session, especially those from the Program Analysis and Evaluation element of the Offi ce of the Secretary of Defense. The argument in this report was informed by the experience of hundreds of members of Transition Teams with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and sharpened by dozens more officers and non-commissioned offi cers engaged in training their successors at Fort Riley, Kansas. Thanks to Major General Carter Ham for encouraging such debate and making the Big Red One a true learning organization. Finally, I would like to thank Vinca LaFleur and Christine Parthemore for their masterful editing and Billy Sountornsorn for his leadership and creativity in our production process.

Any errors of omission or commission are my own. The views expressed in this report are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States Army or the Department of Defense.



Fri, 01/20/2012 - 1:49pm

I thought "advising" and FDD was THE Special Forces Mission; I know it is a LOT more fun to practice Kicking Doors in and Sniping, but the TRAINING mission was the original rationale for SF and the money spent on their training, and still recognized as such in the 1970's.

It's a different army.

Patrick Sylvestre

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 12:02pm

Dr. Nagl,

I fully agree with your argument, but I do not think conventional specialized units that focus solely on the advise mission (which I will call Security Force Assistance or SFA) are neither feasible nor required. The fiscal and manpower realities of today and the future will call for a more balanced approach which includes the SFA mission set under the umbrella of Unified Land Operations (formerly "full spectrum operations".) Special Forces cannot train and advise everone and they need the conventional force to take this mission on as a core, mutually supporting task. With the addition of SFA METL specific training, focused staff sections (specific to the Train, Advise, Assist mission set), leadership focus, regional orientation, and IA/IO understanding, BCTs will continue to be the Army’s weapon of choice for expeditionary operations around the globe.


Bill (not verified)

Tue, 10/07/2008 - 5:33pm

The concept of an Army Advisor Corps certainly has merit. Special Forces was created in 1952 for the purpose of conducting unconventional warfare. As you point out, the SF mission evolved in the 1960s to also include counterinsurgency, part of JFK's soft power response to Khrushchev's support of wars of national liberation across the globe (compare with the hard power aspects of the Eisenhower Doctrine). The question becomes, how can we best integrate the FID expertise of SF with the need for a large number of Army advisors? The MTTs used in Iraq have been part of the conventional force structure, not special operations forces. Are you proposing that the Army should create something similar to the Marine MSOAG? What would be the relationship of an Army Advisory Corps to USASOC and Special Forces?

Major Bill Mengel

The views expressed in this report are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States Army or the Department of Defense.

Soldierboy1988 (not verified)

Wed, 08/08/2007 - 12:52pm


Cannot agree more to the need for a professional advisor corp.

Having been in the Battle for Fallujah in 2004, the pound for pound best advantage the coalition forces had was the advisory team assigned to the Iraqi forces. When they arrived, the Iraqis were un-trained and ill equipped; most soldiers didn't even have boots. By the time I rotated out in June 2005, the Iraqi soldiers were conducting independent platoon size combat patrols in southern Fallujah. The reason: the Marine First Regiment aided by the Army Advisory Teams made from Army Reserve Training Division soldiers assigned to the Iraqi units created an ad-hoc 2 week training course and then held the Iraqi soldiers to a professional level of conduct.

By creating a standing advisory team, the Army can reap benefits of an exponential order.

Tom Odom

Tue, 06/19/2007 - 3:42pm


An idea that I have advocated and see as the greatest force multiplier possible. As a FAO I worked in advisor-like capacities with my host nation counterparts. It is a skill set that has to be cultivated and sustained. I cannot train you to be "culturally understanding"; I can offer you the training and background to heighten skills for cross-cultural empathy so you with persistence achieve a level of cultural understanding with your counterparts. Great job, as always! Keep writing!

Katrina (not verified)

Mon, 06/18/2007 - 7:28pm

This is the path that needs to be taken to help implement the changes regarding our Advisory Teams. It will give future advisors the full training they need to carry on this very important mission.

Rob Thornton

Mon, 06/11/2007 - 10:22pm

I think the proposal has merit. It challenges the status quo and causes us to look forward. It is the first discussion on the best use of Army growth I've seen other then to say we need a bigger Army to adjust for the OPTEMPO of the Long War. Given the importance of increasing host nation security capabilities to challenge the agents of destabilization, it seems to fit.

Although beyond the scope of the paper, I also think a detailed discussion of where (and if) Joint and Inter-Agency capability plug-ins/staff functions (ex. a Joint/Inter-Agency HSOC at the Advisor Corps home station) would fit in should also take place.

I think this could be an important part of the debate about force design as it applies to our foreign policy goals and the strategy we develop to meet them.