Six Months in Afghanistan: A Progress Report from the 1st SFAB’s Inaugural Deployment by Rick Montcalm - Modern War Institute
On a remote base in Afghanistan, pinned on the wall above Col. Scott Jackson’s desk, is a pinhole-marked map depicting all the locations where his 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s advisor teams are currently working—often alongside other coalition members—with their Afghan partners. Stacks of charts and reports are organized in piles, describing months of lessons learned and measures taken to either overcome challenges or leverage opportunities. The SFAB is aligned with Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF)—a composite of military and both national and local police forces—across every region in Afghanistan, from the tactical units fighting in rural areas to regional training centers focused on developing individual and collective skills.
As the Army’s first dedicated, permanent expeditionary advisory unit, 1st SFAB now has six months in Afghanistan. In late July, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) published its fortieth quarterly report on progress across the country, with a special excerpt on how things are going for the SFAB so far. The report discusses two areas that are particularly key to the SFAB’s success: the potential impacts of the evolving nature of its mission and whether the gains being made now by the ANDSF are independently sustainable. The two topics are posed as questions for further observation, as SIGAR’s excerpt concludes by clearly stating more time is needed to assess those very topics.
With respect to the first of these, though, it’s important to note that an evolving mission should not be misconstrued as evidence of a flawed model or purpose. In reality, the opposite is true. Expecting Afghanistan to fit into an initial employment concept for the SFAB is backwards thinking. In fact, the SFAB was designed to deliver a service—training, advising, and assisting (TAA) in order to develop capacity within a broader portion of the ANDSF while breaking the cycle of dependence on coalition forces. If the location or level of TAA needed by the Afghans changes over time, then it is paramount that the SFAB adapt to meet that requirement.
The second topic—creating sustainable gains—will ultimately be the measure of the SFAB’s success in Afghanistan. Recognition of that fact is what drove changes the SFAB began making immediately upon arrival at the Regional Military Training Center in Kandahar Province, one of several sites dedicated to individual and collective training similar to the US Army’s Combat Training Centers. The advisors stepped into a setting where all training was delivered by contractors or coalition forces, training was not tailored to the needs of the Afghan units, and there were no plans to drive training once units arrived…