Once the initial invasion of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) was completed, the United States and its allies found themselves providing for the internal security of the two occupied countries. The defeated security forces of Afghanistan and Iraq melted away. The establishment and fielding of an army and police force in both countries took years to accomplish and ultimately yielded mixed results. At some point in both conflicts, there was a transition from the occupying forces doing the fighting to the host nation forces in the lead. The key to that transition was the training, equipping, assisting, and advising of the newly emerging security organizations through the use of trainers, mentors, and advisors.

Learning From Our Mistakes in Selection and Training of Military Advisors
MiTT advisor training Iraqi soldier. (Photo SPC Mike Molinaro, 2006)

In Iraq, the first attempts at establishing security forces did not go well. The 18 battalions of the Iraqi Civilian Defense Corps (ICDC) that were formed in 2003-2004 were a temporary measure. In many instances, the initial ICDC trainers and advisors were a hodgepodge mix of U.S. Army personnel such as cooks, clerks, and other non-combat personnel. One of the few exceptions was the formation of the 36th Commando ICDC Battalion trained by U.S. Army Special Forces.

The initial effort in 2004 to establish the new Iraqi Army by civilian contractors did not go well, either. Eventually the U.S. Army would deploy military training teams (MiTTs) to train and advise Iraqi Army units while U.S. combat units bore the brunt of the fighting. The initial fielding of MiTTs was from the reserve components—individuals randomly selected, assigned to newly formed teams, ill-trained, and poorly equipped. Within a few years, the MiTTs would improve significantly, but valuable time had been lost. Eventually, U.S. units ‘partnering’ with Iraqi units, the deployment of advise-and-assist brigades (AABs), and proper selection and training of MiTTs would bring about vast improvements in the U.S. Army’s advisory efforts in Iraq.

Learning From Our Mistakes in Selection and Training of Military Advisors
U.S. SFAAT medical advisor reviews battle map for tracking MEDEVACs with Afghan counterpart. (Photo by CPL Mariah Best, Dec 2013)

The training and advisory effort in Afghanistan shared many of the same problems as those in Iraq. In the first few years, Special Forces teams worked with irregular units called the Afghan Militia Force (AMF) as well as training up the initial kandaks (battalions) of the Afghan National Army (ANA). Later, while active duty conventional units were securing the cities and countryside, reserve component conventional units were charged with training and advising the Afghan Army. Training of the ANA took place at central locations in Afghanistan while embedded training teams (ETTs) advised and assisted Afghan units deployed throughout the country.

As in Iraq, the initial stateside selection and training of these ETTs was inconsistent and sometimes lacking; although for the most part the EETs acquitted themselves well. The practice of partnering was introduced to get the Afghan forces to pick up more of the fighting while also continuing the training process. Partnering soon transitioned to security force assistance (SFA) where the U.S. and its coalition partners deployed small teams of advisors at kandak, brigade, and corps level. These security force assistance advisory teams (SFAATs) were sometimes very good, although some SFAATs experienced difficulties in conducting the mission. Two factors were in play that determined how the teams performed: proper selection of the individuals for the SFAATs and the pre-deployment training.

The United States will continue to deploy trainers and advisors worldwide as part of its building partnership capacity (BPC) efforts. It appears that we will be committed to advisory efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan for some time to come. The most important aspects of advising are proper selection of the advisors and pre-deployment training. Forming up advisory teams on an ad-hoc basis, as the need arises, has proven to be detrimental to an advisory effort that needs to field proficient host-nation forces on the battlefield. Factors in considering personnel as advisors include experience, training, age, rank, personality, and previous deployments to the host nation. Training of advisors should always include culture and language of the host nation in addition to battlefield survival skills and how to be an advisor.

Relying on SOF units to do the foreign internal defense (FID) mission on a large scale is unrealistic; the demands across the globe are too great. Conventional forces have proven they can train, advise, and assist, but proper selection and pre-deployment training must take place. It is time to consider the formation of conventional Army units whose primary mission is to train, advise, and assist (TAA) similar to the advise and assist brigades (AABs) deployed to Iraq or the security force assistance brigades (SFABs) deployed to Afghanistan.