Security Force Assistance Brigades: It’s About Time
A reduced U.S. military footprint around the world coupled with an increase in state and non-state threats, whether it’s Russia, North Korea, ISIS, or AQ, has forced us to reconsider our strategy and posture. We can’t be everywhere, nor do we want to be. But our interests are global so we need friends and allies around the world to assist us in shaping the environment (Phase 0 efforts) in an effort to mitigate regional instability and avoid wide-scale conflict. We’re not going to maintain large formations overseas to do this so smaller elements working with local forces will have to do.
The U.S. Army will soon officially activate its first purpose-built conventional advisor unit, the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (1st SFAB) at FT Benning, Georgia. This brigade will be the first of six designed specifically for security force assistance, deploying elements ranging in size from 10 to 100 or more. In addition to standing up the SFAB, the Army has stood up a Military Advisor Training Academy (MATA) to prepare officers and NCOs for their assignment as SFAB advisors. With a division and corps level advisor headquarters potentially on the horizon as well, it seems that John Nagl’s 2007 recommendation for an “advisor corps” is finally taking shape.
At a recent forum here, a high-ranking officer stated that security assistance (SA) is taking on a more prominent role as our overall force structure (particularly the U.S. Army) shrinks, that the new SFABs will be the way the Army addresses certain concerns related to fewer forward-based forces, and that the United States Army Security Assistance Command (USASAC), now under Army Materiel Command (AMC), may eventually shift and be aligned under the same headquarters as the new SFABs and their higher headquarters.
Were this to take place, I’m curious as to what the results would look like. While shifting USASAC away from AMC makes sense in terms of centralizing advisory and “building partner capacity” (BPC) efforts, it would need to maintain a close relationship with AMC in order to execute and manage its functions related to the foreign military sales (FMS) process through which we help our partners build capacity. The SFABs, though focused primarily on security force assistance (SFA), a sub-set of security assistance, may have to add small FMS teams, or at least have personnel within their organizations that are familiar with the overall process.
If it hasn’t already done so, the Army ought to incorporate the 3-353d BN, the advisor training battalion at FT Polk, and the Security Assistance Training Management Office (SATMO) out of FT Bragg, into the MATA in order to eliminate redundancy and streamline training efforts. Given the differences in SFA and SA, the MATA may need to be broken into two areas, one for Title 10 “combat advisors”, and one for Title 22 “military advisors”. Both training regimens would incorporate a heavy dose of language and cultural training but the Title 22 version would also include courses in FMS and basic acquisitions fundamentals (SATMO currently handles the preparation of Title 22 advisors in a 5-day course that does not prepare them for anything beyond how to avoid offending the HN counter-part).
As demonstrated during our time in Afghanistan and Iraq, many advisor teams ended up training/advising/ assisting police and other non-military security forces as they are essential to overall security efforts. With this in mind, SFABs ought to be able to incorporate subject matter experts (SME) from other agencies and organizations to advise and assist non-military security elements. If Army elements are to be used in this role, let’s hope they’re given the appropriate preparation and not left to use a white board to write down everything they can about every cop show they ever saw on TV to develop a training plan (we did this in Kandahar).
Though our interests are global, mandating that we remain fully engaged with a worldwide presence, doing so with huge formations that local nationals may view as “occupiers” or at least as thoroughly undesirable neighbors, are best avoided when possible. The growing prominence of BPC efforts through SFABs, and other small, advisory elements, should serve as an effective method for maintaining regional engagement without being overbearing, assisting others in improving their security environment, and mitigating (as much as one can) the threat of wide-scale conflict.