Friday, August 21, 2009

AABs, SFA, and 4/82

As you’ve no doubt heard from a great many people by now, trained and self-sufficient Afghan National Security Forces are our way out of Afghanistan. (You heard the same thing pre-Surge – in the days of the multiple Together Forward operations – in Iraq, and then everyone realized that it’s impossible to create trained and self-sufficient security forces when they’re rife with sectarian division, corruption, disloyalty, and insurgent infiltration, and that you need to do something about the security situation before you can fix all of that. Then after the Surge you started hearing the same message again. But I digress.) I’ve wanted for quite some time to write something about the way that U.S. forces are organizing for and executing the training mission, but it seems like nearly everything I’m exposed to reveals something else that I was either ignorant of or confused about.

In spite of that, I decided to get something down and then seek the input of someone that I consider to be subject-matter-aware, if not a subject matter expert. Tintin is a college student who embeds occasionally with U.S. infantry, cavalry, special operations, and advisory units in Iraq and Afghanistan (and a frequent commenter here). He was in Afghanistan earlier this summer, and was able to shed some light on the specifics of 4/82’s organization and mission. His comments are italicized and bolded.

As I’ve noted in my concluding remarks, there are a lot of people out there who know much more about this than I do, so I encourage them to chime in.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported on the deployment of the Fourth Brigade of the 82nd Airborne to Afghanistan.
The North Carolina-based paratroopers were set to deploy Tuesday, part of a 60,000-troop U.S. surge. They're also part of the first Army unit to go with a mission solely focused on training the troubled country's police. Their combat skills will be secondary to their ability to build rapport with Afghans and teach their students to patrol and gather intelligence.
As I understand it, 4/82 is the first brigade to be deployed as what’s being called a Modular Brigade Augmented for Security Force Assistance. [It's actually not the first. 4/1 AD, which deployed to Maysan and Dhi Qar in Iraq in May, is the official "proof of concept" AAB. See the brigade's PAO blog here. (Gulliver re-comment: as I understand it, 4/82 IS the first “modular brigade augmented for SFA,” which is sort of a confusing and silly distinction, as you’ll see further down, but there ARE differences.)] This is the Army’s new model for the SFA mission, which is pretty much what it sounds like: providing assistance to partner security forces, which usually comes down to training. (“SFA” writ large, as a governmental assistance process, also involves the provision of equipment, security sector reform and other good-governance mentoring, and so on, but the Army restricts its definition to missions where green-suiters – active duty personnel – engage in training of foreign partner units.)

The old model used what were called “Advise and Assist Brigades,” or AABs. This terminology is being replaced with the modular brigade augmented for SFA label, and as I understand it the mission is going to change slightly, as well. I’m not an expert on how the AABs organized or operated, so I’m going to defer to Tintin on this. [Tintin thinks that these are slightly different missions. On the one hand, 4/82 is going to do advising work within the AOs of several standard BCTs and NATO brigades that are engaged in major combat operations; 4/82 will not own its own ground or launch its own major combat operations. The AABs, on the other hand, are intended to replace standard BCTs and own their own brigade AOs -- the idea is just that within those AOs, they will have a much greater SFA capability than standard BCTs. This may be just a difference between the basic situations of Iraq and Afghanistan: 4/82 is deploying into an area where brigades are in the middle of the fight, whereas the AABs going to Iraq are deploying into areas where there will be no standard BCTs and the Iraqis are in the lead.] But my perception has always been that while AABs were in fact training-focused, they also continued to operate in such a way as to be involved in major combat operations and COIN. It may be the case that the sub-units of the AABs remained intact and operated in partnership with their ISF counterpart units, but I’m not sure.

The terminological shift (away from Brigade Combat Teams or “combat brigades” to AABs or “advisory brigades”) struck me as something of a political expediency, intended to emphasize the shift away from combat operations and toward the advisory mission, and further on towards withdrawal. So now we have brigades augmented for SFA. What does that mean? Well, we’re still talking about a normal BCT to start with, so that means 3k-5k bodies. Those guys go through their normal train-up cycle for a deployment, and then a few months before they deploy, you slap on an extra 24-48 majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels. That’s the augmentation part. Depending on the AO and the mission, you might also augment the brigade with some other support elements like engineers, civil affairs, and so on.

Those additional field-grades will then be used to lead training teams, which will be tailored for specific missions and sent out throughout the AOR. These could be as small as team- or squad-sized, or as large as a company, depending on the size of the host nation unit that they’re paired up with. The standard model is for a squad to advise a platoon, a platoon to advise a company, and so on, as I understand it. This is a lot different than the MTT/OMLT model, where you could have a 12-man team advising an entire battalion.

The entire brigade will go through a rotation at Ft. Riley before the deployment to train for the advisory mission; there’s a unit stationed there whose entire job is to train trainers. (Until recently – or perhaps until sometime in the very near future; not sure if the turnover has happened yet – this was the 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division.) And if I remember correctly, everybody over E-6 will get some sort of specific individual advisor training, while the rest of the guys are just going to be working with their standard maneuver training. So you might get a squad sent out with an O-5, an E-7, and a bunch of Specialists without any dedicated individual training on how to work with HN SF.

Now here’s an interesting thing about this model: it’s intended for use beyond the near- to medium-term, and beyond the current conflicts. [This sure IS interesting, and I don't know anything about it.] That means that in 15 years when the U.S. troop commitment to Iraq and Afghanistan has drawn down, we’re talking about every Combatant Command having one brigade assigned to it that’s specifically designated as an SFA unit. This means that training teams will be sliced out of the parent unit and sent out across the AOR, so you could have six guys in Ethiopia, a platoon in Kenya, and a company in Nigeria participating in an exercise.

Current policy for training teams in non-operational theaters mandates the use of contract personnel because of strain on the operating force. Having a bunch of Xe or MPRI dudes training the Paraguayan army on infantry squad tactics is fine and all, but you lose out on a lot of the benefits of the military-to-military relationship, the mentoring and example that uniformed guys can provide, and so on. Not to mention the fact that there are a lot of places in the world where people think you’re not taking them seriously if you send non-uniformed trainers.

Anyway, back to 4/82. As I said, they’re headed for Afghanistan. Back in March, when the additional troops were announced, here’s what the Washington Post (and John Nagl) had to say about what they’d be doing:

The extra 4,000 U.S. troops, expected to deploy in early fall, are to fill that gap. In a sign of the new importance the administration is placing on the mission, a brigade of the Army's vaunted 82nd Airborne Division is being broken up into 10-to-14-member advisory teams, a Pentagon official said. Until now, the military has relied heavily on inexperienced National Guardsmen to fill out the teams.

"The change couldn't be more dramatic," said retired Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan defense think tank. "The 82nd Airborne Division is the nation's shock force."

Now the Post tells us they’re going to be training and mentoring police, but my understanding is that this isn’t correct (or rather, that it’s not complete – the ANSF being trained won’t just be police). Hopefully Tintin can clear up some misconceptions here. [Tintin says: According to the (unclassified) information I got at CSTC-A earlier this summer, 4/82 will be taking over both police and ANA advising from a departing Illinois National Guard BCT in southern and western Afghanistan, while a Georgia National Guard BCT takes on the east and north.

If the Illinois BCT's mission is any guide -- and I think it is, although 4/82 will be executing the mission in a different way -- then 4/82 will be providing both police mentor teams (PMTs) and ANA embedded training teams (ETTs) in some areas, and just ETTs in other areas. It depends on the level of ISAF involvement in ANSF advising in a given area -- in some places the U.S. can just do the police mission, and let ISAF do the ANA mission, while in other areas the U.S. has to do both. In some places, ISAF is providing very few ANA advisor teams (their OMLTs) at all, and 4/82, like the Illinois brigade, will have to step up across the board -- in Zabul and Uruzgan, for instance, the Romanian, Dutch, and Australian contingents just don't have the numbers to provide OMLTs to whole ANA brigades, so 4/82 will have to provide both ETTs and PMTs there. In Helmand, on the other hand, the British brigade has devoted a whole battalion to the OMLT mission, and even has provided a few police advisor teams (POMLTs). So in Helmand, 4/82 will provide only or mostly PMTs. Kandahar is probably halfway between these two cases, and it's anybody's guess what 4/82's level of involvement will be in Herat and Farah.]

I was also told (by people in the Army’s SFA proponent’s office) that the brigade would “maintain its capability for full-spectrum operations,” which is to say that it’s meant to be able to cohere back into a standard BCT and engage in the high-intensity fight if necessary. [That is interesting, and differs from what I had heard in Kabul and Kandahar about how 4/82 would be employed. But they didn't seem too sure themselves. Mostly, the National Guard soldiers at CJTF Phoenix were a little skeptical of 4/82, and were worried that it would come in and throw away the lessons that CJTF Phoenix has learned over the years out of 82nd gung-ho-ness.] It’s difficult to see how this differs from the AAB concept.

Really, what I think is going on with 4/82 is that they’re using a sort of hybrid, transitional model, moving the Army away from COIN-and-training brigades (AABs, or even standard pre-AAB BCTs that were partnered with ISF units) and toward training-only brigades, but caught somewhere in between because they’re operating in a theater where U.S. forces are currently engaged. [Sounds exactly right. The intensity of the fighting in Afghanistan means that 4/82 has to operate in a different way, and it's tricky to say whether it or the seven Iraq AABs are more like what we'll see in the long-view future.] Obviously this isn’t going to be the case in the future with brigades augmented for SFA, which are NOT intended to be “combat advisors” but rather Phase 0 trainers. The Army is clear on this, and the SFA proponent is sort of operating on two different timelines: what do we need SFA-wise in the close fight versus how we’ll organize, train, equip, educate, and so on in the post-2015ish window.

Hopefully this sheds a little light on the way the Army intends to build partner capacity and capabilities into the future (though I fear I’ve just rambled!). Huge thanks to Tintin for his input.

There are a bunch of guys over on SWJ/SWC who work on this stuff in their day jobs, and who are much more qualified to speak on the subject than I am, so maybe they’ll stumble over this way and help us out in the comments.


  1. And the SL Army (yes, Sri Lanka) is to train the Paks.


  2. Great Post Gulliver with excellent insight by Tintin. My experience with trainers boiled down to two things: very inexperienced in combat MOSs and very, very lightly resourced. When discussing this with officers who have been on MTTs or ETTs, they all describe how they had 12 soldiers trying to train a battalion, and half of the soldiers were non-combat MOSs.

    Hopefully, by putting a fully realized, fully logistically supported BCT out there, many of these problems will get solved. If All Americans are living every day in a police station, then the odds of those police going corrupt will slowly vanish. If platoons really can partner with ANA companies the results will be immense.

    By moving away from National Guard soldiers to Active Army, the Army is making a statement and a good one.

  3. My impression is that for at least the last rotation, ETTs/PMTs have been pretty heavy on combat MOS soldiers (and certainly whatever kind of teams 4/82 provides will have to be). The Illinois National Guard PMTs I visited this summer were pure 11B and 19D.

  4. Hmmm, comments around here should come with a key for all of the abbreviations.....

  5. Madhu -- Here's a guide for the acronyms used thus far in the comments:

    MOS -- Military Occupational Specialty; this is a job coding that tells people what functional area you've been trained in, for example 11B: infantryman.

    MTT -- Mobile Training Team

    ETT -- Embedded Training Team

    BCT -- Brigade Combat Team

    PMT -- Police Mentoring Team

    Any others?

  6. I went blog-pimping on SWJ and got Rob (who actually is an expert on SFA and works on it in real life, so to speak) to add his two cents. See it here.

  7. Gulliver -

    You're broadly right in your post - devil is in the execution. 4/82 will do well with it, I know some of the leadership and they have experience partnering before.

    I have some friends who disagree with the overall concept. I think the BCT "owning" the TT's is a fantastic idea, solves a lot of the friction that's happened the next few years. A lot of people are waiting for 4/1 and 4/82's AAR's soon. 4/1 AD is reportedly doing very, very well in southern Iraq.

    Proof will be in the results. Creating the AAB's has been the proverbial building the airplane in flight, so it has been a rough process for the first unit.

    Niel (Cavguy)

  8. Niel -- How about the distinctions (imagined or otherwise) between AABs and Modular Brigades Augmented for SFA? Same thing, or not?

    And future Phase 0 SC missions?

  9. Thx, Gulliver, I actually didn't expect anyone to answer, I figure Le Google would to the job :)

  10. I am active duty Army and on my fourth combat deployment to Afghanistan (I also did 15 months in Iraq). I volunteered for the ETT mission here. The current ETT system is certainly broken, with poor leadership at the higher levels, as well as a lack of experienced ETT personnel. However, it doesn't matter how experienced, resourced or committed the foreign mentors are; without major changes within the ANA itself, let alone the ANP, we are simply building a hollow, corrupt, politically and ethnically disunited ARVN type force that will collapse the moment we leave. I wish I could say that my efforts with the ANA have been worthwhile, but after all the chai and chats I don't have a warm and fuzzy feeling.

  11. Anonymous, thank you for your service.

    If it doesn't violate OPSEC, could you perhaps describe what part of the ANA you were an ETT for, as well as some of your specific critiques (strengths, weaknesses) of the ANA unit you were an advisor to?

    Many thanks in advance.

    I would point out that the Pakistani Army (and the large majority of armies in the world for that matter) all confront many of the same challenges as the ANA. So do many Taliban militias.

    Gulliver, I saw your comment on Mullah Omar at Abu Muqawama. Why do you think Mullah Omar played such a large role in supporting the Chechan militants, Kashmir militants, Uzbekistan militants, and Uighar militants, before 9/11/2001? Why do you think he might not do likewise again if he got the chance?

    Can Mullah Omar get away with renouncing Osama Bin Laden? I hope so, but am not sure how to pull that off. Mullah Omar married OBL's daughter and OBL married Mullah Omar's daughter. Many other connections tie them together.

  12. As a National Guard Officer, I resent the arrogance / ignorance depicted in this dialog. As a former PMT working with CJTF Phx VI & VII at the District, Provincial and Regional level of the ANP. The National Guard has its issues as does the AC, but to depict them as inexperienced with poor leadership is false. The civilian acquired skills and non-traditional approaches these National Guard soldiers brought to this non-traditional mission were superior to the "show me it in the manual" lack of original thought I observed in much of the 4/82 when I worked with then in Afghanistan. Naming your campaign as a football analogy in a culture that has no concept of what a Quarterback is doesn’t make it cutting edge.
    With this said, I observed the very same formation 4/82 execute their operations like a bull in the cultural china shop. The paratroopers I worked with were young 19-20 something’s who were undisciplined and disgruntled with a overt disdain for being forced to work with the Afghans instead of just killing them they would have preferred to play war simulation on x-box on the “Combat Outpost” over a patrol. The mid level leadership was risk adverse with “Force Protection” standards so high the units were incapable of interacting with the people - gathering intelligence or effectively acting on the intelligence they did receive in a timely manner. This premiere light fighting force under these force protection measures was restricted to operate in armor vehicle formations limiting them to be fodder in historical Kill Zones where these same fighters have beat all the greatest civilizations that have fought there. I admit this belief that the National Guard is inferior has as much to say of our own inferiority complex than the Active Component continual discrediting and fear of us. The senior leadership had our guard leadership actually believing they were inferior to the “Professional Army” and bamboozled them with ineffective high technology gadgets that we in the National Guard only dream of.
    The Special Forces are too busy in counter terrorism to conduct this large scale Foreign Internal Defense. The Active Component pushed this mission both in Iraq and Afghanistan to the National Guard who scraped by doing what they could with minimal resources as a secondary effort, because it was just too hard for the AC to figure out and didn’t get the Generals the face time they wanted. Now that the Big Army has realized that working with the HNSF is clearly the correct exit strategy the Active Component has re-invented itself. We finally a dedicated big brain thinker like LTC(retired) John Nagle ( now cashing in as a consultant) to write the doctrine (to give the AC that manual to go off of!) and to provide a two faced discredit the National Guard soldiers he praised so highly as he trained them in the 1/1ID and whose effort built his resume.
    As far as the ANSF goes they suffer the same issues our Military does; political infighting and divisive inter service competition, pervasive corruption with leaders cashing in on the war, self promoting senior leaders trying to move up or get in the lime light, risk adverse mid level leadership unwilling to truly engage the enemy or even get off the FOB, and soldiers on the bottom without any resources being called inexperienced and ineffective patriotically serving to the end of their tour then jumping to the Insurgency /or in our case a contractor who will pay them double. The only difference is we can afford to buy our way out of these issues and overcome this with money and they can’t. And the fight continues! RIP my fallen comrades.

  13. Anon @ 1005 -- As a National Guard Officer, I resent the arrogance / ignorance depicted in this dialog.

    I've got to admit I'm completely baffled by your post. What exactly are you referring to here? I've not seen anyone take shots at the NG, or suggest that 4/82 will certainly be better at the advisory mission. It strikes me that you might be being slightly defensive here.

    With this said, I observed the very same formation 4/82 execute their operations like a bull in the cultural china shop.

    Tintin expressly made this point, noting that many NG guys in Afghanistan felt the same way.

    Poke around here a little more and I think you'll find a lot to agree with. And on this particular subject, I'd encourage you to reread what we've written in a fair-minded way; neither Tintin nor I (nor, I hope, any of the commenters in this thread) have an anti-Guard/Reserve bias.

  14. Thanks for your service Anon. What are some of your ideas to improve the district, provincial and regional AUP (Afghan Uniform Police)?

    Several Afghan Pashtun tribes don't think the ANP can protect them and are taking matters into their own hands:

    Does this concern you? Would you rather these Pashtun tribes contribute their sons to join the ANP and ANA?

    I think Tintin and Gulliver would agree with a lot of what you wrote.