When I was learning about the Army and its division of special tasks, the duties of working to train, guide, and equip local population security forces seemed to belong entirely to the Green Berets. However, two very different insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan made us realize that fighting every battle ourselves is costly at best and grossly ineffective at worst. Enter the Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFAB), the Army’s response to an increased focus on enabling host-nation militaries. What started out as a concept early last year has grown from two brigades to five, with new assignments in Fort Hood, Fort Carson, and JBLM.
Scope and Scale
The difference seems to be mostly in scope and scale. While SF teams are organized around elite groups of ~10 soldiers, each SFAB consists of roughly 800 soldiers and closely mirrors the structure of an Infantry BCT. Initial questions about the SFAB structure mirrored my own concerns at the beginning… didn’t we already have an elite advisory force in the form of Army Special Forces? Apparently, we didn’t anymore. Due to the unconventional nature of the fight, the role of SF in a post-9/11 Afghanistan and Iraq quickly morphed from its original guiding and leading operations in OP ANACONDA to focusing on unconventional warfare in an effort to cope with the hydra-like nature of detached insurgent leadership.
War on the Rocks
I highly recommend reading the entire War on the Rocks commentary by Major Tim Ball for a more complete history. He identifies a “critical capacity gap” where our forces were spread across too many conflicts, a gap that is hopefully being rectified by the creation of the new SFAB. Unlike the conventional units who inherited the work early on in the wars, SFAB members have a rigorous vetting and training protocol that will better prepare them for the work at hand.
This leads to an interesting question: did dumping the advisory role onto regular combat units serve to prolong the conflicts? I’m not claiming in any way that the units sent in on advisory roles didn’t do their best with what they were given. What I am questioning is whether or not we could have or should have foreseen the consequences of mission creep on conventional forces in an unconventional environment. How might things have played out if Army SF focused almost entirely on the role of embedded advisers instead of training conventional forces in unconventional warfare?
No matter how the wars turned out, learning from the unique circumstances of the wars is the only path forward. We’re just watching Army doctrine adjust to fill the gaps that came with a decade of large-scale unconventional warfare. The SFAB is an interesting solution to the problem, one that I hope achieves the resounding success of its early momentum implies it will achieve.
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