We can now dust off those plans to advise and assist that many recommended back in 2009. A recent paper by the Center for a New American Security is advocating a “change of mission” in Afghanistan from the current kinetic counterinsurgency mission, led primarily by US and coalition forces, to an advise and assist mission focused primarily on improving the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) through the use of embedded advisor teams. Similarly, in late November, there was a news story about a possible request for some 1700 advisors for Afghanistan as part of the upcoming transition from US-led to Afghan-led combat missions. In both cases, it appears likely that there will shortly be a return to a pre-2009 Task Force Phoenix-like organization in Kabul managing several hundred advisor teams spread throughout Afghanistan.
In the article noted above, the reporter says, “Marine Gen. John R. Allen, who took command in Afghanistan last summer, wants 1,700 more military personnel — mid-level officers and senior enlisted troops leading hundreds of new advisor teams to be assigned beginning next year to Afghan units battling the Taliban insurgency.” Given the problems experienced from 2004 through 2009 in finding enough officers and NCOs to man advisor teams, or Military Transition Teams (MTT), it is likely we will experience similar difficulty this time around should we follow the same manning techniques.
The Advise and Assist Brigade (AAB) concept, where 48 field grade officers are attached to a standard brigade combat team (BCT), was developed to help address the manpower problem of the former MTT concept. But after serving in an AAB as an advisor, I was unimpressed with the preparation, training focus, and subsequent application of the organic elements and personnel of the BCT, which forced many officers and NCOs into the role of advisor with little or no preparation.
If 1700 advisors are what is needed, then I recommend using training support battalions (TSBn) from Active Component/ Reserve Component (AC/RC) brigades augmented with field grade officers as lead advisors.
One of the policy recommendations in the CNAS paper is, “ To the ISAF/U.S. Forces commander: Design and request a post-October 2012 force structure primarily focused on advising and enabling the ANSF to replace U.S. combat units in counterinsurgency operations.”. Using an AC/RC TSBn and its organic observer-controller/ trainer (OC/T) teams as the force structure around which advisor teams are built provides a ready-made element, manned by a senior captain and 8 to 9 senior NCOs, that already understand how to “teach-coach-mentor” which is fundamental to the advisory mission. Adding to each of these OC/T teams two or three field grade (FG) officers who have the rank and clout ANSF leaders expect of their advisors will help reduce the time needed to train the advisory teams because the basic OC/T team has already developed a strong sense of team cohesion and is capable of integrating field grade advisors to become core team members during the pre-deployment training process. Additionally, this will allow us to field teams that have the leadership experience necessary to advise and assist senior ANSF leaders in the collective employment of battalion and brigade-sized units in combat, and reduce the need to pull hundreds of officers and NCOs from across the Army to fill these billets, though many field grades will still have to be sourced from across the force. But since we are already doing this in filling slots for Advise and Assist Brigades (AAB), or Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFAB), expectations for many field grades should remain the same.
The advisory teams I envision would consist of five OC/T teams from an AC/RC TSBn with each team made up of one captain and eight senior NCOs (E7 ad E8). Each team would then be augmented with three FG officers – one to advise the ANSF commander and XO, one to advise the ANSF S2 and S3, one to advise the ANSF S1 and S4 – with the remainder of the team detailed to assist each FG as necessary as well as serve as tactical advisors at the company (or lower) level either in garrison or on operations. Because TSBn’s are manned with people who are trained to serve as OC/Ts and often have attended OC Academies at NTC/ JRTC (may include BN CDRs and the command group), this allows all of them to actively participate in the advising process as well because they understand “teach, coach, mentor”. The battalion command group can participate in the advisory process (at division/ corps/ provincial level) because command and control from the battalion level is reduced since the advisory teams are capable of assuming much of the necessary staff responsibilities themselves, particularly S3-functions….operational planning & execution, COA development, etc. This can occur because of the FG officers at the team level coupled with the number of senior NCOs. Furthermore, the reduced footprint of a TSBn in this role creates a smaller visual signature for local nationals, reducing the effectiveness of arguments about “US occupation”; reduces bureaucracy by paring down staff personnel &, therefore, staff capabilities thereby forcing the training support battalion (& its higher HQ) to prioritize staff requirements & products.
A standard active duty TSBn has approximately 55 to 60 assigned personnel. This includes the five OC/T teams, the command group, and staff sections. Augmenting each OC/T team with three FG requires fifteen FG officers per TSBn to be sourced from across the Army (were this expanded to include the AC/RC Training Support Brigade and two active duty TSBn’s, the FG requirement would be thirty, eighteen less than the current AAB/ SFAB requirement). The TSBn, in preparing for a combat deployment, would have to be augmented with additional personnel to increase the capabilities of, and provide some depth for, their staff sections; provide additional security force elements to assist the advisory teams if necessary and/ or move battalion leaders around the battlefield; and provide for limited maintenance and communications capabilities. These additions can be sourced from Active Duty units, particularly those not slated for anymore brigade-sized deployments, and/or from Reserve Component units who often have plenty of people willing to volunteer for combat deployments.
Predeployment training can be conducted at AC/RC mobilization sites, or the entire battalion can be sent to FT Polk, the current training center for combat advisors. The advisory teams can go through the full advisory training program, which should include a strong language and cultural orientation block, while the command group and staff go through a shortened training program and then deploy ahead of the teams in order to prepare for the arrival and employment of the teams.
Some have argued that using AC/RC OC/Ts in such a manner would go against their primary mission, that of training and mentoring Reserve Component units preparing for operational deployments or mandated training during weekend drills and annual training exercises, leading some training support units to balk at the possibility of giving up experienced OC/Ts for other missions. A valid concern but our reserve forces are now full of combat-experienced Soldiers and leaders. Given the level of experience in many of these units, coupled with the end of operations in Iraq and upcoming reduction in deployments to Afghanistan, it seems that fewer reserve component units will be mobilized, and those that are will require less “teach-coach-mentor” oversight due to their extensive combat experience, which should free up some AC/RC TSBn’s for the advisory missions.
Based on the CNAS report and the news article indicating a possible request for hundreds of advisors organized into advisory teams, formerly known as Military Transition Teams or Embedded Transition Teams (MTT/ ETT), it seems prudent to learn from our previous, haphazard method of manning such teams and make better use of organizations already in our inventory that understand “teach-coach-mentor”. These elements already exist as OC/T teams. By augmenting these teams with field grade officers as the lead advisors, we can deploy cohesive teams with the rank and experience necessary to deal with ANSF leaders, avoid the clumsy manning process used previously, and “create a force structure primarily focused on advising and enabling the ANSF”.