WASHINGTON — The Army’s experiment in creating units specializing in training, advising, and enabling operations with allied and partner nations is working so well in Afghanistan that the next units may be sent to Africa, Europe and South America, Army officials said.
The experimental unit is called a Security Force Assistance Brigade or SFAB. The 800-member unit is designed to accelerate and optimize training and support for allied and partner militaries without having the dual focus of also conducting military operations.
Brig. Gen. Scott Jackson, 1st SFAB commander, told Pentagon reporters that the ideal combination of personnel and equipment helped make the experiment successful in its initial outing.
“I believe we could only accomplish our mission and reach these milestones and validate the effectiveness of an SFAB because the Army got it right — the Army issued us the right equipment, and provided us the right training to be successful,” Jackson said Wednesday. “But most importantly, we selected the people for this mission … the key to our success is the talented, adaptable, and experienced volunteers who served in this brigade.”
The nine-month deployment of the 1st SFAB ended last November. Jackson said the more time the SFAB spent with an Afghan unit, the more “we are integrating in a nonmilitary environment,” which led to having a better opportunity to make a difference.
He also said that a steady, ongoing presence added to the confidence showed by Afghan troops with whom the SFAB worked. The units that spent more time with Afghan counterparts “made more progress in planning and conducting offensive operations and in integrating organic Afghan enablers like field artillery and the Afghan air force” than units that did not spend as much time, Jackson told reporters.
“As our Afghan partners began to understand the value of 1st SFAB advisers, they asked us for more,” Jackson said. “So our teams partnered with more and more Afghan units as the deployment progressed.”
Ultimately, Jackson said the brigade ran 58 advisory teams and partnered with more than 30 Afghan battalions, 15 brigades, multiple regional training centers, a corps headquarters and a capital division headquarters. “That’s nearly half of the Afghan National Army,” he said.
Advise and assist has been part of Army duty for decades. SFABs are the first time there has been a specific focus with specific units exclusively to accomplish the task.
The Army has announced a goal to have one National Guard and five active-duty SFABs. The 2nd SFAB, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., is now in Afghanistan. The 3rd SFAB, based at Fort Hood, Texas, is preparing for its initial deployment. The others are in stages of planning or early assembly.
During their nine months in theater, the 1st SFAB lost two soldiers — both to insider threats.
“It didn’t derail the mission,” Jackson said. “Despite a brief pause maybe, as we reassessed what happened and what we needed to do both on the Afghan side and the American side, in the end our relationship was stronger.”