Small Wars Journal

Afghan Advise and Assist Group

Wed, 06/01/2011 - 7:54pm
Afghan Advise and Assist Group

by Colonel Julian Dale Alford and Major Daniel Zappa

Download the Full Article: Afghan Advise and Assist Group

Successful International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan necessitate a strategic paradigm shift for the future of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). ISAF strategy should move away from wide-ranging, asset intensive counterinsurgency and towards a security cooperation paradigm, reorganizing and down-sizing its structure to create cadres of capable professionals and enduring enablers, specifically manned, trained and equipped to advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). This change in method and structure provides not only an appropriate and sustainable way to continue the gains made over the last several years, but also represents a viable exit strategy.

A realistic exit strategy is at the core of the discussion over the future of the military mission in support of OEF. The debate must focus on what is really required to end the insurgency and what defines an acceptable and sustainable security situation in Afghanistan. To that end, the ANSF must truly become the main effort. Afghan security forces are increasingly ready to take the central role in the security of their country - a role which will only increase the legitimacy of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) in the eyes of its population. Building the capability of friendly networks is a basic tenet of COIN doctrine. The Afghans understand best how to address their needs and the threat. Enduring success will be achieved when the GIRoA has the capacity to provide for Afghans' basic needs, especially security.

Many factors suggest a new design is necessary to resolve the Afghanistan War. The Afghanistan mission continues to progress along the counterinsurgency continuum. As the mission succeeds, ISAF must reposition its forces to best support the end state. This further allows the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces to better face the unstable global security environment and remain ready to respond in other theaters of operations.

Download the Full Article: Afghan Advise and Assist Group

Colonel Julian Dale Alford commanded 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines from March 2004 to May 2006 and deployed in support of both OEF and OIF. He subsequently served as the Director, Joint Advanced Warfighting Program, Institute for Defense Analysis. Colonel Alford is currently the Commanding Officer of The Basic School, Quantico, VA.

Major Daniel Zappa served as the Executive Officer of 1st Battalion, 6th Marines in Iraq. He has 15 years experience as a Marine Corps infantry officer, in combat and peace. Major Zappa is currently an Operations Analyst with the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico, VA.

About the Author(s)



Tue, 06/07/2011 - 3:19pm

As a current SFA Team Leader advising an ANSF kandak, I would say that the AAB or SFA Brigade idea has merit, but the Army needs to provide guidance/regulations for BCT and Division commanders on how they are employed and integrated within the parent BCT.

For instance, piecemealing SFA teams out to other BCTs who didn't have any became a bit of 'if you spread the peanut butter so thin, all you taste is bread'. With one SFA team for an entire BCT for over 1/2 the deployment, certain opportunities were lost. We never realized the wholesale upgrade in the quality of the ANSF in our province, and the 2 or 3 teams in the other provinces probably didn't have a very powerful effect either. Hopefully our replacement, with SFA teams at every ANSF Kandak and higher HQ or C2 center, will have better effects.

Second, BCT commanders should become involved in the actual role of advising, if we are to get them to fully embrace the SFA concept. Otherwise, kinetic operations will still dominate the missions of the BCT. I am colocated with an infantry unit. I would love to have them helping with the training of squads and platoons of the ANSF unit. Unfortunately, due to their OPTEMPO, this is severely limited and has become one area that I have passed to my successors that they need to renegotiate the relationship between themselves and the colocated unit.

If we could ensure that ANSF forces were properly trained, through more robust 'training-partnering', perhaps we could then expect more of them to operate independently/unilaterally. However, instead many maneuver commanders just look for an augmentation to their formation, indigenous proficiency and formation integrity trailing a distant second. What often happens is that a few true warriors among the ANSF bubble to the surface and we lean on these soldiers to the exclusion of the other elements, denying them the ability to learn and emplacing strain on the few competent natural leaders in the formation. With more partnering to help with collective training (a significant shortfall within the formal ANSF training system), perhaps we could generate the ANSF combat power to truly augment the fighting that needs to take place to secure the people and buy the government time to mature.

It is difficult to get a combat arms commander, regardless of level/rank, to change his primary mindset and mission focus from one of seeking out and destroying the enemy to one that is focused on partnership and making FID work. Perhaps that is where the MITT/ETT team had merit - they weren't tied to leading young warriors on the battlefield, with the potential subordination of training indigenous forces. I am not sure a focused CTC experience will fix this either, as 5/2 Stryker demonstrated.

(On a small tangent, while we claim we are partnering with ANSF, I don't think we are living up to the spirit of the term. Maybe we feel ANSF are ready to move on their own, but the development of most ANSF seems to be a fairly fragile process, with progress easily lost, especially with a break in mentorship or a change in indigenous leadership)

The other area that has to be changed: HRC resourcing of SFA team members. We (SFA personnel) arrived to our BCT after the initial elements of the BCT had already deployed to theater. We followed after a very short trainup, consisting of a 2-week COIN/SFA academy and some basic check-the-block survival tasks. I chalked it up to our brigade deploying outside of their expected timeline. However, our replacements will have SFA personnel arriving to their BCT while initial BCT forces are already deploying into theater - HRC does it again.

Progress will occur through the brute force and ignorance of dedicated officers and senior NCOs. The manpower is available in the SFA brigade for the concept to work. However, doctrine, HRC, and the maneuver commander mindset have not matched it.


Tue, 06/07/2011 - 10:02am

Man, this comment makes me grit my teeth all over again:

"No real guidance was issued (that I'm aware of) by DA on how a BCT is supposed to use the STT; no guidance on task organization beyond "enable the STT"; no guidance on C2 (which makes the first few months in particular very frustrating); leaving every BCT to figure it out on their own."

It took something on the order of four months for our HHQ to clarify the COMREL for the BMT working with a Kandak in our AO. In truth, it was just a detachment from the HQ and some under-manned companies, because the kandak commander, staff, and the remaining company strength and ghost soldiers were posted to Lashkar Gah.

We figured it out ourselves and made it work most of the time, but when we were not, as the Iraqis say, "same, same" with the team, the lack of clarity with the COMREL and utter confusion at HHQ staff on what the actual division order meant was terrible. I thought I was going to leave the deployment with an ulcer, and I wasn't even the ANSF coordinator.

What frustrates me is that the first SFAT's just recently finished fully deploying into country last month and this is two years since the ETT's fell by the wayside...two years wasted.

I am not really convinced of the high manpower requirements, one ETT for a Kandak survived with 7 soldiers per COP + 5/6 soldiers for SECFOR...that totaled up to 45-50 advisors for one Kandak. One issue I can see being brought up (especially in the challenging terrain of N2KL) is the security of said advisors because they had the ability to live under our security bubble...this is the main issue.

The way things are being done now, the BCT's deployed are still BSO's that concentrate one killing the enemy rather than "transitioning" responsibility. When I left (and I was part of the disease rather than part of the cure), we were at probably a 80-20 ratio and from those that replaced me not much seem to have changed.


The legacy TTs....MTT/ ETT.....were "nixed" in part due to the high manpower requirements needed to fill the teams. They have been replaced with "advise & assist brigades" (AAB) or "security force assistance brigades" (SFAB) I think they're being called now.

A SFAB is a standard brigade combat team that has been augmented with 48 field grade officers who serve as the advisors or TTs. They are the "stability transition teams" or STT.

No real guidance was issued (that I'm aware of) by DA on how a BCT is supposed to use the STT; no guidance on task organization beyond "enable the STT"; no guidance on C2 (which makes the first few months in particular very frustrating); leaving every BCT to figure it out on their own. Add to this the rather high level of risk aversion evident among many Army leaders and you might get an idea of how disappointing such a tour might be (and has turned out to be).

It is interesting that these two officers think the solution involves going back to something akin to the legacy MTT team least that's how I read it; and they are not the only ones advocating for this.

Gator 2-6

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 1:52pm

First question: What happened to the ETT's? Why were they nixed? Why were they not expanded?

Agreed, there were issues with these initial advisors in terms of battlespace ownership and logistical sustainment. USMC ETT's fell under IBCT BSO command in N2KL until the Ganjagal incident prompted their informal withdrawl and the introduction of the CAP (Combined Action Plan) (sidenote - please know that I'm not placing blame on either side of the Ganjagal issue, this is war and people die). This problem was personal and local and should not have been applied to all ETT-BSO relationships.

Logistically, ETT's had to really on the battlespace owner for all classes of supply due to their team size but really, this was too easy of an issue to fix.

Having been both an ETT and PL in this area, we not only experienced a great void in ANSF cooperation but actually a great loss in combat power due to the fact that we had one less independent unit patrolling the valley. While the latter really isn't the biggest issue anymore because there is total agreement on this side on the fact that ANSF need to take the lead.

I just question the decision that was made to nix the ETT's...

Excellent idea (and not surprising that it comes from Marines, lending support to my belief that Marines are better suited for the advise & assist mission). I propose that a AAAG be built around a Training Support Brigade (TSB) consisting of a bit over 500 personnel, most of whom, including the BDE CDR, BN CDRs, and CSMs, would be geared towards the advisory effort.

In the Army's Active Component/ Reserve Component (AC/RC) program, active duty officers and NCOs (usually CPTs and SFCs) serve as observer-controller/ trainers (OC/T) for guard and reserve units going through annual training and/ or preparing for deployment. In my AC/RC battalion, all officers and NCOs, whether on staff or teams, were trained on how to be an OC/T and teach-coach-mentor units that one had no authority over. Often this was done at the unit but on occasion we were able to send our OC/Ts to the OC Academy at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at FT Polk.

OC/T teams are usually made up of one captain, one E8, and seven to eight E7s. Taking a pre-existing team that already understands how to teach-coach-mentor and adding three or four field grade officers (preferably with relevant combat experience) trained as advisors to foreign security forces gives us a ready-made element with the experience, rank, and credibility necessary to effectively serve as advisors in an environment like Afghanistan. This would become the baseline advise and assist team (and looks similar to the legacy ETT/ MTT).

Because these advise & assist teams are manned with experienced field grade officers and senior NCOs, they can operate with a greater degree of autonomy in planning and executing missions, allowing their parent battalion to reduce manpower at the staff level. While the staff will still have primary responsibility to support their organic teams, they can also participate in the advisory process as well (though in a more limited fashion) because the teams are able to manage many of those staff responsibilities at their level. Furthermore, the battalion commander, CSM, and executive officer can participate in the advise & assist process since, again, the teams are led by senior officers, reducing the amount of oversight & C2 typical of battalion commanders in more conventionally organized units.

A typical AC/RC battalion has roughly 60 to 65 personnel broken down into five OC/T teams of roughly eight to nine men (sometimes 10 men), eleven to twelve on staff, and the top three. Adding 16 field grade advisors (one O5 as the BDE advisor and 15xO4s as kandak and staff advisors), an infantry platoon for security force missions (or team augmentation as needed), requisite support elements, like a communications and maintenance/ logistics element, and we could field an advisor battalion of approximately 145 personnel with the O5-led team advising a BDE, the other four O4-led teams advising kandaks (though an O4 could advise at the BDE level if needed), and, if necessary, the battalion commander advising at the division level. One of these battalions could cover one to two brigades. In areas where an advisory focus needs to be maintained with the Afghan Police (ANP), the kandak teams could focus instead on precinct & district level leaders while the brigade team focuses on the provincial police chief. The battalion command group could work with the city mayor or district governor as necessary. Preferably these teams would be manned by the organic OC/T team members, the field grade advisors, and augmented by National Guard MP troops many of whom are civilian police officers.

Fielding a Training Support Brigade/AAAG made up of two of these advisor battalions would allow for coverage of two to four brigades (equals one Afghan corps) or two cities & their primary police districts, with the brigade commander, if necessary, advising the corps commander or provincial governor. A TSB organized to advise & assist in such a manner would have two battalions of 145 personnel plus a security force company (75-80 troops) to serve as QRF, move brigade assets/ personnel, & augment/ assist US or Afghan elements, as well as a support company (50-60 troops?) to provide logistics and maintenance, for a total force of approximately 500 troops.

Replacing a BCT of 4000 soldiers with a TSB/AAAG of roughly 500 in a wholly advisory role would meet the requirements laid out by COL Alford and MAJ Zappa: a smaller footprint focused on advising allowing ANSF to step up and take on greater responsibility in providing security, which will relieve US forces of this, as well as reduce claims of "US occupation" & minimize our visual signature among the local population. Doing this in areas where ANSF has demonstrated increased capability will allow us to draw down our forces while maintaining a cooperative connection with ANSF as outlined in the article.

As the need for fewer Guard and Reserve forces is realized in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the requirement for Training Support Brigades and OC/Ts to prepare reserve component units for deployment will go down. Additionally, given the experience of many reserve component soldiers, many are able to train and prepare their units far more effectively than pre-9/11, reducing the need for active component OC/Ts to conduct & overwatch their training, freeing these OC/T units for advisory missions.

Good paper.

While I believe there is merit to the approach in this paper, I do have to make a couple of comments. First seems like a pretty Marine centric approach (but where you stand depends on where you sit!) so I must "good naturedly"counter that in Vietnam there are as many lessons to be learned from the CIA/SF CIDG program as there is from the USMC CAP program and second, the majority of the effort in El Salvador was from SF - most of the 55 advisors at any given time were SF.

And I must also make my usual comment about reinventing the wheel. Instead of an AAAG why not work toward establishing a fully resourced Military Advisory Assistance Group (MAAG) vice an Afghanistan Advisory Assistance Group to be put eventually under control of the US Ambassador (note words -"work towards" and eventually by which I mean not immediately). If the concept works like I think it will and since we are always looking for lessons learned and concepts to repeat we ought to make it a MAAG so that we can regenerate this proven historical concept wherever we might need it around the world.

But these are minor and mostly tongue in cheek comments (especially about service parochialism!!!)