April 1, 2008  

New answers to hard questions

Properly structured adviser teams are key to winning the Long War

Today’s strategic realities outline a world in which many states face internal and transnational threats from terrorist organizations and other violent groups. The past five years in Iraq and Afghanistan present a number of stark lessons, but perhaps chief among them is the need to help our friends and partners provide for their own security. In the words of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, success in the Long War “will be less a matter of imposing one’s will and more a function of shaping behavior — of friends, adversaries, and most importantly, the people in between.” The Defense Department must create specifically designed force structure optimized for adviser and assistance missions to successfully engage partner nations at all levels, from the institutional to the tactical, and help them build the capacity to win the Long War.

The Defense Department has recognized this fact, to a point. The 2006 National Security Strategy envisages working with alliance partners and cooperating with global power centers to reduce regional conflict. The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review acknowledged that we must expand our ability “to train and equip foreign security forces best suited to internal counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations.” Confirming this analysis, the new Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual instructs that successfully defeating an insurgency “requires the host nation to defeat insurgents or render them irrelevant, uphold the rule of law, and provide a basic level of essential services and security for the populace. Key to all these tasks is developing an effective host-nation (HN) security force.” Given these circumstances, the foreign security force adviser and assistance mission has become and will remain a vital pillar of national security policy for the foreseeable future.

But the size and scope of adviser missions have soared. The U.S. must develop a broad array of security institutions, which entails much more than providing tactical instruction to foreign forces. Special Forces, already in short supply, cannot simultaneously support increased counterterrorism requirements and increased adviser requirements. In the words of Gates, “the standing up and mentoring of indigenous armies and police — once the province of Special Forces — is now a key mission for the military as a whole.” The Defense Department needs more than what Army Special Forces alone can provide.

Faced with growing adviser requirements, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway asked: If advice and assistance “is to be our future — and I think in large measure, it is likely to be — do we need to professionalize that capability with regard to training, organization, record book tracking, all those manner of things? We thought initially the answer was yes, and we have created a cadre of an outfit that we call the Marine Corps Training and Advisory Group.” Dedicated, permanent adviser units now exist in the Marine Corps as the Marine Corps Training and Advisory Group and the Marine Special Operations Advisor Group. These units assist in the implementation of standard training, doctrine and force-generation procedures for future Marine Corps advisers. In addition to force structure changes, the Marines established a six-month Marine Special Operations Advisor Course. Adviser students study foreign internal defense and counterinsurgency concepts, infantry tactics and force protection, adviser skills, fire support, and advanced subject matter expert training in logistics, demolitions, weapons, communications, intelligence and medical skills. Following course completion, Marines serve an assignment in the Advisor Group.

Like the Marine Corps, the Air Force has decided to create permanent adviser force structure. The 6th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., is a full-time combat aviation adviser unit. Sixth SOS emphasizes adviser language and cultural skills, and proficiency in a foreign language is a prerequisite for assignment to the unit. The Air Force also built educational institutions to support growing irregular warfare missions, creating the Coalition Center for Irregular Warfare at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and an irregular warfare seminar at the Air Force Special Operations School. The need for a standing irregular warfare wing or group is also under assessment. Efforts to enhance educational opportunities and aviation adviser force structure mark the first step toward institutionalizing the Air Force’s capability to support foreign air forces in current and future conflicts.


The Army, however, has chosen a different route. Initially, Army advisers were selected and trained on an ad hoc basis from active-duty, National Guard and Reserve units at one of several locations scattered across the United States. Training lacked a standard program of instruction, doctrine did not exist — indeed, it still does not exist — and these myriad training programs lacked quality assurance oversight. To provide needed standardization, the Army consolidated all adviser training at Fort Riley, Kan., in late 2006, but problems still plague the effort.

Training and deployment methods reveal several flaws. Termed “transition teams,” advisers train according to one of three training timelines before deploying in support of either Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq or Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. A typical Army infantry or armored division headquarters supervises and coordinates the training, deployment and redeployment of its subordinate forces. But these in-theater ad hoc adviser headquarters do not command and control adviser teams until the teams arrive in theater, which means they do not have authority to direct the training and preparation of their own combat forces. Once advisers complete their yearlong combat tour, they redeploy only to be broken up and scattered across the Army.

The Army also lacks a method to track experienced advisers. Once an adviser returns from deployment and moves to his next assignment, the Army cannot identify that person for future adviser assignments. An additional skill identifier for advisers would help. With a skill identifier, human resource officials could track former advisers and place experienced personnel in the right assignments at the right place and time. The lack of standing force structure results in the loss of valuable, hard-fought expertise for training the next wave of advisers.

Rather than adopting force structure optimized for the security force assistance mission, the Army has placed its faith in brigade combat teams capable of operating across the full spectrum of conflict. In combat, circumstances often call for rapidly shifting from stabilization and reconstruction operations to high-intensity combat. Many within the Army believe that a brigade combat team is the unit most capable of conducting all of these operations. However, stabilization and reconstruction require different competencies than traditional war fighting, and success in counterinsurgency requires adopting a different mind-set than the conventional warrior. Likewise, successful advisers employ tact, cultural awareness and patience — a mind-set vastly different from conventional combat. Gates has echoed such sentiment: “The U.S. Army today is … an organization largely organized, trained and equipped in a different era for a different kind of conflict.” The Army absolutely requires a full-spectrum force, but not all units can or should be full-spectrum units.

Foreign security force assistance requirements have grown considerably, and greater involvement in counterterrorism operations has increased demand for other Special Forces missions such as direct action and special reconnaissance. Special Forces adviser skills focus on tactics. Special Forces detachments were not intended to develop security forces at the institutional level and cannot provide the division- and corps-level planners, personnel and finance specialists, and expert logisticians needed to develop security institutions. Creating permanent units specifically structured for partnering with foreign security forces at the institutional level would address this shortcoming.

A Congressional Research Service report published in January cited two proposals to adjust Army force structure for adviser and assistance missions. First, the Army could establish several stabilization and reconstruction divisions. Initially proposed by scholars at National Defense University and rigorously analyzed by a Congressional Budget Office-sponsored report in 2005, eliminating one heavy division and one light division would free the necessary resources for the Army to grow one reserve and four active-duty divisions optimized for stabilization operations. Brigade combat teams composed of armor, infantry, artillery, scouts and combat engineers contain only small numbers of the necessary specialties required for stabilization and reconstruction. These operations call for military police, civil affairs, psychological operations, intelligence and adviser units. Stabilization and reconstruction divisions would incorporate precisely the military competencies that such operations require in abundance. In addition to military competencies, stabilization demands interagency coordination. Advisers, civil affairs and psychological operations forces can also tap a deep reservoir of experience working in this environment, enabling better cooperation with U.S. country teams.


The second force structure proposal argues for an Army adviser corps of 20,000 members in 750 adviser teams. Advisers would serve a three-year tour in one of three adviser divisions, which, when deployed, could partner with host-nation forces from Ministry of Defense to battalion level. Leveraging the experience of senior American officers and noncommissioned officers, an adviser division would be capable of developing professional institutional practices — the sustainable bureaucracy that keeps security forces fed, paid, trained and equipped. Establishing a corps headquarters would provide an organization responsible for resourcing, training, developing doctrine and employing Army advisers. These standing corps and division headquarters could conceivably fulfill the roles currently assigned to Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan or the Iraq Advisory Group, depending on the size, scope and importance of U.S. involvement with the partner nation.

The Army will successfully engage partner nations at all levels from the institutional to the tactical only by adopting specifically designed force structure. As Gates said, “Arguably the most important military component in the war on terror is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our partners to defend and govern their own countries.”

Besides large-scale adviser deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, since 9/11 the U.S. has contributed advice and assistance to the Philippines, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Niger and Colombia, among others. In each of these locations, advisers have developed and improved host-nation security institutions. These efforts range from a large-scale and long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to small training teams deployed for short periods of time to countries such as Mali. Despite our achievements, military-oriented assistance alone does not always suffice. American adviser and assistance missions must incorporate interagency elements from all relevant elements of the government such as the State Department and USAID, in addition to Defense Department assets. U.S. assistance to Kenya demonstrates that security force advice and training can help prevent terrorist infiltration and anarchy exported from Somalia. But after domestic election tampering accusations stoked latent ethnic animosities, violence exploded across the country. Social and political problems such as these underscore the importance of providing holistic political-military assistance programs that seek to develop judicial, legislative and financial institutions to improve governance and generate local economic growth in addition to building security capacity. Security force assistance supports only one aspect of combined interagency, State-Defense Department political-military cooperation.

The Long War is ultimately a war of ideas. Strong partners with institutions that work toward political and economic development and reflect respect for human dignity present one of the best weapons to wage such a war. Enabling and empowering our partners through security force assistance coordinated within an interagency framework supports national policy goals and national security. Embracing a new adviser force structure and adviser education is the answer we need for the hard questions of this new era.