Army Creates Security Force Assistance Brigades and Training Academy

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Blanton, center, a trainer with Company A, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Strike, assists Iraqi army ranger students during a room-clearing drill at Camp Taji, Iraq, July 18, 2016. The new Security Force Assistance Brigades will assume these types of missions in the future. (Photo Credit: 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson)

With much of the focus of the defense and national security communities shifting to peer and near-peer challenges, the Department of the Army’s recent announcement that the first Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) will begin standing up in October 2017 comes as an interesting bit of news. The Army will also establish a new Military Advisor Training Academy at Ft. Benning, Georgia to train officers and non-commissioned officers to staff what are projected to a total of six SFABs with 500 personnel each.

The Strategic Role of Security Force Assistance

Security Force Assistance (SFA) is the umbrella term for U.S. whole-of-government support provided to develop the capability and capacity of foreign security forces and institutions. SFA is intended to help defend host nations from external and internal threats, and encompasses foreign internal defense (FID), counterterrorism (CT), counterinsurgency (COIN), and stability operations.

The use of military aid to bolster allies is a time-old strategic expedient; it was one of the primary weapons with which the U.S.waged the Cold War. SFA has assumed a similar role in U.S. policy for countering global terrorism, as a cost-effective alternative to direct involvement in destroying or deterring the development of terrorist sanctuaries. The efficacy of this approach is a hot topic for debate in foreign policy and national security circles these days.

Organizing, training, equipping, building, advising, and assisting foreign security forces is a time and resource-intensive task and the best way of doing it has been long debated. One of the Army’s justifications for creating the SFAB’s was the need to free line units from SFA taskings to focus on preparing for combat operations. The Army is also highlighting the SFABs dual capability as cadres upon which combat-ready U.S. Army Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) can be quickly created in a national emergency with the addition of junior personnel.

Advise and Assist: SOF vs. General Purpose Forces?

The Army believes that dedicated SFABs will be more effective at providing SFA than has been the case with recent efforts. This is an important consideration in light of the decidedly mixed combat performance of U.S.-trained and equipped Afghan and Iraqi security forces. The dramatic collapse of Iraqi Army units defending Mosul in 2014 that had been trained by conventional U.S. forces contrasts with the current dependence on U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF)-trained Iraqi Counterrorism Service (CTS) forces to lead the effort to retake the city.

This apparent disparity in success between the SOF advise and assist model and the more generic conventional force SFA template is causing some angst in the U.S. Army Special Forces (ARSOF) community, some of whom see training foreign security forces as its traditional institutional role. Part of the reason conventional forces are assigned SFA tasks is because there will never be enough ARSOF to meet the massive demand, and ARSOF units are needed for other specialized taskings as well. But the ultimate success of the SFABs will likely be gauged against the historical accomplishments of their SOF colleagues.

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Shawn Woodford
Shawn Woodford

Shawn Robert Woodford, Ph.D., is a military historian with nearly two decades of research, writing, and analytical experience on operations, strategy, and national security policy. His work has focused on special operations, unconventional and paramilitary warfare, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, naval history, quantitative historical analysis, nineteenth and twentieth century military history, and the history of nuclear weapon development. He has a strong research interest in the relationship between politics and strategy in warfare and the epistemology of wargaming and combat modeling.

All views expressed here are his and do not reflect those of any other private or public organization or entity.

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