General Mark Milley, the Chief of Staff for the United States Army, is bringing a revolutionary concept into being. He is moving forward with the establishment of advisory brigades within the U.S. Army. The United States military has a long history of advisory efforts but for the most part, except for the U.S. special operations forces (SOF), the selection, training and employment of advisors has been an ad hoc enterprise.

Trainers and advisors were sent to Afghanistan very early on in the conflict. Embedded Training Teams (ETTs) operating under the control of Task Force Phoenix worked alongside Afghan army and police units at the tactical level. Many of these ETTs came from the Army National Guard. The advisory effort improved gradually over time in Afghanistan culminating in the deployment of hundreds of Security Force Assistance Advisor Teams (SFAATs) from the United States, Europe and other countries. Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) were also deployed. The SFABs were Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) that went through pre-deployment training (including a few weeks of advisor training) and then deployed with a nucleus of the unit; leaving many lower ranking Soldiers in garrison in the states.

During the latest conflict in Iraq (2003-2011) advisors to the Iraqi army and police came from a variety of sources. In the early days of the conflict the military training teams came from reserve component personnel who were usually from different units. Their training was short and in many cases they didn’t know the other members of their advisor team until their deployment to Iraq. Advisor training and selection improved in the later stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF); especially once the “Advise and Assist Brigades” or AABs were deployed to Iraq.

However, with the withdrawal from Iraq in late 2011 and the significant troop reduction in Afghanistan over the past several years (U.S. troops strength now at 9,800) the AABs and SFABs no longer exist. If a crisis developed where the U.S. Army had to rapidly deploy a brigade-sized advisor force it would once again be an ad hoc affair. An Army Brigade Combat Team (BCT) would likely be deployed to a conflict area in an advisory mission for which it was not adequately staffed or trained to conduct.

General Milley’s plan is to establish five advise and assist brigades – one for each combatant command – whose primary purpose would be to conduct the advisory mission. Some critics say that special operations forces (SOF) and the specifically the Army’s Special Forces (Green Berets) already conduct the Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mission and that conventional units should concentrate on core warfighting tasks. However, in today’s environment the United States has adopted a ‘by, with, and through’ mindset where partner nations are ‘trained, advised, and assisted’ to provide for their own internal and external defense. This requires an advisory effort that far surpasses the capacity of special operations forces to execute.

The establishment of the advise and assist brigades are a step in the right direction for a nation that is downsizing (unfortunately) its military structure. The employment of permanent advisor units to train, advise, and assist our partner nations’ militaries instead of ad hoc advisory units will produce a more secure environment around the world.


Priorities For Our Nation’s Army With General Mark A. Milley, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), June 23, 2016. General Milley is interviewed by Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks of CSIS where, among other topics, he describes his plan for the advisory brigades. General Milley was a former Special Forces officer who, early in his career, commanded a Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (SFODA) as a Captain. You can view this one-hour long video online at the link below. He addresses the AABs at the 18:00 and 50:00 minute marks of the video.