Security Force Assistance Brigades: A need to develop a Force Employment Model that builds sustained continuity, consistency, longevity, and commitment
By Scott Butler
Having initially been established to support, enable, and grow the investment that was the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the overall Afghan security apparatus, Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFAB) are now increasing their presence worldwide, deploying regionally aligned units in small Advising Teams, in order to compete with other adversaries, and to support US partners. This new six-month deployment model, designed to provide persistent coverage with Foreign Security Force (FSF) partners at the tactical and operational level, is a significant step in the right direction of re-focusing security assistance at the “competition” phase. Furthermore, it addresses the critical need of providing FSF partners with not only the means to accomplish their missions, but also to operational and tactical understanding of the employment of those capabilities. Unfortunately, while the organizational structure is in place, the US Army has still shown an unwillingness to fully commit to security force assistance in the competition and crisis phase, with a model that will create the continuity, consistency, longevity and commitment needed to win at the point of contact.
The US Army’s Foreign Area Officer (FAO) program trains its prospective officers in the language of their regional assignment, while also supporting and funding their candidate’s pursuit of a relevant Master’s Degree. Often times the preparatory phase for FAOs is as long as three years. FAOs are then permanently stationed, usually in and around a US Embassy, for three to four years focusing on advising at the institutional, and strategic level of their assigned country. Unlike the FAO program, SFAB Advisors are not re-branched into a new career field. Rather they are experts in their warfighting functions, and are expected to maintain their proficiency as tactical leaders and warfighting technicians. Regarding education and additional training, an Advisor is only required to attend the Combat Advisor Training Course (CATC) at the Maneuver Advising Training Academy (MATA) in Fort Benning, along with Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) specific training designed to maintain proficiency. Considering SFABs are expected to build the capacity of their FSF partners, establish and maintain relationships, and increase their lethality, the difference between the investment in the base Foreign Area Officer and the Combat Advisor is stark, and an indicator of the Army’s level of commitment, or lack thereof. In order to enforce commitment to Advise, Support, Liaise, and Assist (ASLA) operations, it is necessary to provide initial and sustaining language training to each Advisor. While the pursuit of learning a language is a life-long endeavor, the Advisors ability to communicate, at least on an introductory conversational level, is essential to establishing and maintaining continuity.
The SFAB Maneuver Advising Teams (MAT) and Company Advising Teams (CAT) are specifically task organized and equipped to advise and enable the employment of each warfighting function, while building relationships at the ground level. MATs and CATs were designed to fill the capability gap of advising at the tactical, and operational level, of which the FAO is unable to meet, and of which is essential in order to increase the lethality of US partners. Unfortunately, due to the short length of a six-month deployment, Advising Teams will only ever be able to develop basic, or superficial relationships with FSF partners. While these teams will be handing over these relationships to follow-on elements, the lack of continuity, and consistency, will always serve as an inhibiting factor that prevents Advising Teams from having a sustained, and long-lasting impact. Furthermore, the brevity of the deployments impedes their ability to assess and evaluate our partners over the lifecycle of a unit and its commanders.
This deficiency was seen in EUCOM’s Joint Multi-National Training Group – Ukraine (JMTG-U), supporting the Combat Training Center – Yavoriv (CTC-Y). The 53rd IBCT, who took over responsibility of the mission in November, making the Task Force the 12th unit in roughly seven years, to be supporting the mission. While not an SFAB operation, the amount of turnover had a debilitating effect on US forces ability to advise and assist partners, and could be felt regarding the way US partners view their US Advisors. While their insight and experience was recognized, and appreciated, the host nation commanders knew that in a six to eight months, they would be working with a new Advisor with a different personality, and potentially different goals.
In order to increase the effectiveness of Advising Teams, it is essential SFAC creates force employment model that allows Advising Teams to build authentic and sustaining relationships with FSF partners, while being able to conduct ASLA operations over the lifecycle of the unit. As such, I propose that instead of deploying teams for short six-month rotations, they conduct a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move to the area of which they are assigned. In most cases, this would include Soldiers bringing their families with them to their assigned AOR.
Currently 2nd SFAB has the AOR of AFRICOM and is executing a six-month rotational model. With teams deployed across Djibouti, Ghana, Senegal, and Kenya, the US Army looks to compete with peer adversaries such as China and Russia. To truly compete in continuum, the length of the deployment is simply insufficient and needs to be lengthened to meet US strategic goals. As an example, if a MAT was being deployed to Senegal, that team could be located in the City of Thies, working directly with the Battalions or Brigades that they have been assigned to. Their children would go to schools along-side the children of their counter-parts, and their wives would be integrated into the support groups of that of their counterparts. The members of the MAT would become trusted advisors to their partners, establishing long lasting relationships which would further their ability to influence everything from training plans, to their development of MTOE, to the way in which they fight outside of doctrine, and how they manage their personnel.
Upon completion of the three to four-year tour, each NCO and Officer would indeed cycle back to the operating force. In the MAT Team Leader’s scenario he would transition to Command and General Staff College (CGSC), then serve as a Battalion Operations and/or Executive Officer, just as is currently designed. However, that officer would be earmarked by the Security Force Assistance Command (SFAC) to return to his previous SFAB Battalion as a Company Commander and CAT Team Leader, where his unit would again PCS to Senegal. At this point, his Host Nation partners would in most cases, have transitioned to higher levels of command, allowing that officer to further leverage those relationships.
Furthermore, this model would encourage SFAB Officers and NCOs alike to continue to cultivate the relationships they developed with their counter-parts, while they are back in the United States or on other deployments with the maneuver force, as they would know they are returning to that AOR. For example, if an Advisor was stationed in Jordan, through complete immersion and longevity, he would learn the histories and importance of the various tribes in the region. The Advisor would understand how certain names determine which part of the country and greater Levant that the partner’s family derived from. All of which is essential to understanding the area of operation. This longevity and immersion will enable Advisors to build continuity, and to develop and sustain lethal partners, all of which is “winning at the point of contact.”
In conclusion, by providing more time, and funding to the upfront training of Advisors, ensuring that they are capable of communicating with their FSF, SFAC and the US Army equips the individual Advisor with the tools to build relationships. By adjusting the force employment model, to ensure that Advising Teams are permanently stationed and integrated with their partners, SFAC enables teams to have a sustaining impact, as the Advisors will become experts in their AOR, that are invested and committed to that partner. In doing so, the Army increases the likelihood of defeating its adversaries while in competition or crisis.
 South, Todd; “SFAB soldiers are heading out in smaller teams to more places” The Army Times, October 21, 2021
 Cox, Matthew; “Army’s 5th SFAB preps for new 6-month rotations in the Pacific” Military.com, November 19, 2020; https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/11/19/armys-5th-sfab-preps-new-6-month-rotations-pacific.html
 US Army Human Resources Command; “Foreign Area Officer Program” July 12, 2019; https://www.army.mil/standto/archive/2019/07/12/
 ATP 3-91.1; Security Force Assistance Brigade; September 2020
 Glenn, Mike; “Florida National Guard troops train Ukraine’s military as Russian Forces mass on the border,” The Washington Times, December 7 2021, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2021/dec/7/florida-national-guard-troops-train-ukraines-milit/
 South, Todd; “Long term partnerships with at least six African countries expected, SFAB Colonel says,” May 19, 2021, The Army Times, https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2021/05/19/long-term-partnerships-with-at-least-six-african-countries-expected-sfab-colonel-says/
GEN Garrett, Michael X; “Winning at the Point of Contact,” August 13, 2020