Small Wars Journal

Security Force Assistance Operations

Fri, 03/28/2008 - 6:33pm
Considerations for Organizing and Preparing for Security Force Assistance Operations

by COL David Maxwell

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The purpose of this paper is to provide a framework of the problem we face as a nation in terms of enabling friends, allies, and partners to defend against terrorism and insurgency and maintain internal stability, and to provide some recommendations for change.

We not only face a chaotic and complex environment in the post 9-11 world due to the nature of the threat and the interaction of religious and ideological conditions but we also face a complex and confusing national security environment. As we execute OIF and OEF and less visible WOT operations throughout the rest of the world under the rubric of OEF (e.g., OEF-TS, OEF-CCA, OEF-P, etc.) we find ourselves faced with questions of how to organize and train to be able to execute the full spectrum of operations required to be successful in the war on terror (WOT) and to conduct Stability Operations. Current Joint and Army doctrine (JP 3-0 and FM 3-0) recognize that Stability Operations are on par with Offense and Defense and there is general recognition that the emphasis on Offense, Defense, and Stability will shift over time and as conditions change.

There seems to be a major assumption among many planners that the level of effort in Iraq and Afghanistan will need to be sustained indefinitely in areas beyond those two countries and the focus is how to develop a force (some say an "Advisor Corps") to be able to continue such large scale and continuous deployments. Before we develop such a force I think it is necessary to correctly frame the challenge we face, look at existing doctrine, training and organizations, and determine what is appropriate to sustain and what is appropriate for adaptation.

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About the Author(s)


Ryan (not verified)

Sun, 04/20/2008 - 6:48am

COL Maxwell makes several good points. Among them is the point that existing FID doctrine, which calls for a whole-of-government approach to support a Host Nations Internal Defense and Development plan, can serve as the foundation for Security Force Assistance operations doctrine. While it should serve as the foundation, however, it is not overarching, nor adequate in and of itself.
FID is an outgrowth of the Cold War containment strategy. I doubt we are strategically pursuing a strategy that advocates containing extremists until they crumble like Cold War communism. Lets not mislead ourselves into thinking that current strategy is limiting itself to an ideological approach that hinges everything on Westphalian states having the cultural disposition, will and ability to stamp out extremist elements on behalf of US interests. FID, by its definition is focused on supporting development of a state to protect its society from internal subversion, lawlessness and insurgency. So what about operations that provide support for organizing, training, equipping, and advising in exchange for coalition participation, such as the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP)? Or, what about developing regional security forces for areas that are significantly un-/under governed, like the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI)? FID simply does not scratch the itch in either of these scenarios.
As COL Maxwell points out, modern day extremists are using similar methods to mobilize "have nots" in opposition to the perceived "haves." The concept that the WOT is a global insurgency has merits, but does not hold up under close scrutiny; the devil is in the details. For example, one of the planning imperatives for FID is ensuring HN sovereignty and legitimacy. If we accept the global insurgency approach in its entirely, then what government or authority are we legitimizing? Likewise, current FID doctrine states that FID operations can only be as effective as the HN IDAD campaign. What IDAD plan? Certainly one of the weaknesses of accepting FID as an overarching concept is that there are several areas across the globe that lack governance to such a degree and possess such a cultural context that render any approach oriented on Westphalian state structure not viable. Truly, this discussion gets at the root of the issue, but FID is not the entire answer.

The truth is that our terrorist adversaries use the same types of tactics and use similar techniques for hiding among the populations as insurgents, but that does not make them insurgents. They are simply adversaries who use insurgent/terrorist tactics.

Dave aims at the ultimate answer, which is that we need to offer the peoples of the ungoverned and under-governed areas of the world a more attractive alternative and assist them in achieving their developmental goals as long as they support global peace and prosperity. IDAD is the answer, or at least it would be IF there was sufficient governance to establish an IDAD plan. Through our support we need to out perform our adversaries and offer the peoples of the developing regions of the world something better.

The fact is that we are training and equipping Coalition partners who lack the resources. In exchange, they participate in current operations. Everyone wins. While the grass roots individual techniques used by our troops to train, assist, advise and equip these forces are the same as those laid out in Special Forces FID doctrine, the operations possess different focus and have different political aims. There is no internal threat to their sovereignty, no immediate threat of lawlessness. This is a classic exchange of services for mutual gain--Building Partnership Capacity, to use the current vogue term.

Doctrine--holistic doctrine--should guide our planners toward what they need to achieve, what enduring principles they should follow or what imperatives must be achieved regardless of the operating environment or threat level.
This takes us back to the point where the global insurgency argument breaks down. When we look at all types of operations involving the organizing, training, equipping, rebuilding and advising foreign security forces, we find six common, enduring imperatives.
* Understanding the operating environment
* Ensuring effective leadership
* Build legitimacy
* Ensure unity of effort/purpose
* Effectively managing information, and
* Sustaining the effort.
These imperatives are, of course, compatible with current FID doctrine planning imperatives outlined in JP 3-07.1 JTTP for FID, only they apply across a wider range of operational environments. They work for every COIN campaign we can find. These imperatives also work for Building Partnership Capacity operations and they work for reconstruction efforts like Iraq and Afghanistan before legitimate governments were elected by the indigenous populations (accepting that legitimacy is open to interpretation). Additionally, these imperatives work across all phases of the Joint Strategy Planning System, regardless of the threat level, or permissiveness, of the operating environment.
Certainly, FID provides a strong basis upon which DoD and the USG can establish a holistic doctrinal foundation that planners, commanders, and the generating force can all use when called upon to work with and through foreign security forces in any operating environment.

Norfolk (not verified)

Fri, 04/04/2008 - 6:04pm

I'll go one further than Ken and say that that was an excellent article, Colonel, and especially on the three chief points that you made:

1. That existing Doctrine is quite adequate, so long as it is unified, and understood to be so, under the general concept of FID.

2. That U.S. assistance to Foreign Governments is just that, assistance; it's their problem, ultimately, and ultimately they have to fix it themselves. The U.S. is just there to lend a helping hand as needed.

3. That the U.S. Ambassador, as the representative of the President himself, and thus personally embodying the executive power over all aspects of U.S. Government agencies and operations, is the local man-in-charge in U.S. FID assistance efforts. The military is just one of many Government agencies in a common, combined effort. And the entire U.S. Government FID effort is subordinated to the HN Government COIN effort- the U.S. Ambassador of course being ideally situated to offer, arrange, and coordinate assistance with the HN. COIN and FID are civil authority operations, supported where necessary by the military - NOT military operations.

Once again, excellent, excellent article.

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 03/28/2008 - 9:47pm

<i><b>That</b></i> is a very good article...