Security Force Assistance:

More Detailed Planning and Improved Access to Information Needed to Guide Efforts of Advisor Teams in Afghanistan

GAO-13-381: Published: Apr 30, 2013. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2013.

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What GAO Found

DOD and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have defined the mission and broad goals for Security Force Assistance (SFA) advisor teams; however, teams varied in the extent to which their approaches for developing their Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) units identified activities based on specific objectives or end states that were clearly linked with established goals. SFA guidance states that to be successful, advisors must have an end or goal in mind, and establish objectives that support higher-command plans. Theater commanders have outlined goals aimed at strengthening specific capabilities such as logistics, and it is largely left to the teams to then develop their approach for working with their counterparts. GAO found some advisor teams had developed structured advising approaches drawing from these goals, such as identifying monthly objectives and milestones for their team. Other teams GAO met with used less structured approaches, such as relying on interactions with ANSF counterparts to identify priorities and using this input to develop activities on an ad hoc basis, rather than as part of a longer-term, more structured approach to achieve broad goals. Officials from several teams stated that the guidance they received lacked specificity regarding desired end states for the development of their ANSF counterpart units. Without a more structured approach with clear linkages between end states, objectives, and milestones that are in support of broad goals for ANSF units, theater commanders cannot be assured that the advisor team activities are making progress toward these goals.

The Army and Marine Corps have been able to fill requests for SFA advisor teams, using various approaches such as tasking non-deployed brigades to form advisor teams or creating teams using personnel already deployed in Afghanistan. According to Army and Marine Corps officials, the ability to substitute an individual at one rank above or below the request has helped the services meet rank and skill requirements. The Army's reliance on brigades to provide a portion of their personnel to form advisor teams has enabled them to meet requirements but resulted in leaving large numbers of personnel at the brigades' home stations. To manage these large rear detachments, brigades undertook significant planning to ensure that enough stay-behind leadership existed to maintain a sufficient command structure and provide certain training.

The Army and Marine Corps have developed training programs for SFA advisor teams, but teams varied in the extent to which they had specific information to help prepare them for their mission prior to deployment. SFA guidance states that an in-depth understanding of the operational environment and of foreign security force capabilities is critical to planning and conducting effective SFA. Advisor teams may access such information from a variety of sources such as conducting video teleconferences with the teams they will replace, using secure networks to gather information, or sending personnel on predeployment site surveys, although teams varied in the extent to which they were actually able to gain access to these sources. For example, GAO found that while teams had access to a certain secure network at training sites, only some had access at home station, enabling them to shape their training and mission analysis earlier in predeployment training or after training but prior to deploying. Having limited access to this information prior to arriving in Afghanistan may result in advisor teams needing more time after deploying to maximize their impact as advisors.

Why GAO Did This Study

ISAF's mission in Afghanistan has shifted from a combat role to focus more on preparing ANSF units to assume lead security responsibility by the end of 2014. A key element in advising and assisting the ANSF is SFA advisor teams, provided by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. A House Armed Services Committee report accompanying its version of the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act directed GAO to review DOD's establishment and use of SFA advisor teams. Specifically, GAO evaluated the extent to which (1) DOD, in conjunction with ISAF, has defined SFA advisor team missions, goals, and objectives; (2) the Army and Marine Corps have been able to provide teams; and (3) the Army and Marine Corps have developed programs to train teams for their specific missions. GAO reviewed doctrine and guidance, analyzed advisor requirements, reviewed training curricula, and interviewed Army, Marine Corps, theater command, and SFA advisor team officials in the U.S. and Afghanistan.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that theater commanders take steps to work with brigade commanders and advisor teams to identify end states, objectives, and milestones for the development of their ANSF counterpart units in support of the regional commands’ broad goals, and that the Army and Marine Corps improve availability of mission-specific information prior to advisor teams’ deployment. DOD partially concurred with GAO’s recommendations and identified actions to further prepare SFA advisor teams for their missions.

For more information, contact Sharon Pickup at (202) 512-9619 or pickups@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2014, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in collaboration with United States Forces-Afghanistan released a Security Force Assistance (SFA) Guide that seeks to help advisor teams from U.S. and coalition nations prepare to execute SFA. Specifically, the guide describes eight essential functions for SFA advisors to achieve Afghan sustainability, as defined at the Chicago Summit held in May 2012. The guide emphasizes the importance of integrating each function both horizontally and vertically within the ANSF and outlines a framework for advising and best practices to follow when advisors are providing technical advice to Afghan officials. It also outlines organizational constructs, functional processes, and guidance for training. For example, one of the eight essential functions is concerned with planning, coordinating and executing effective security campaigns and operations. According to the SFA Guide, the end state is reached when the Afghan Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior coordinate, plan, and execute in support of national-level objectives, while strategic guidance and objectives are in turn translated into operational plans supported by effective security campaigns. Overall, the guide also notes that ISAF now uses ANSF generated priorities combined with ISAF SFA priorities to describe development objectives aligned with the campaign plan. As priorities from both the Afghans and ISAF change over time, further information on the current priorities are made available through ISAF Orders. ISAF's new SFA Guide, which fulfills the intent of GAO's recommendation, is a key step in ensuring that the activities of individual advisor teams are more clearly linked to ISAF and regional command goals for ANSF development.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the activities of individual advisor teams are more clearly linked to ISAF and regional command goals for overall ANSF development, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the commander of U.S. Central Command, should direct theater commanders in Afghanistan to work with brigade commanders and advisor teams to identify specific end states, objectives and milestones for developing their ANSF counterparts that are in support of the broad theater goals to guide their advising efforts during their deployment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2017, the Army stated that while U.S. forces have reduced their role in tactical advising in Afghanistan, as the Marine Corps significantly have, they have continued to improve the situational awareness and quality of information available to units deploying in an advisory role. Specifically, officials noted that Army has employed the 3rd Battalion, 353rd Regiment at Fort Polk, LA to provide the latest available theater-specific intelligence information. The battalion conducts the Security Force Assistance Course for each Brigade Combat Team deploying to Afghanistan to provide training in advise and assist tasks. The course, according to officials, includes secure video teleconferences with units in the theater of operations to build depth into the courses taking the doctrinal explanations and adding the current operational picture. Additionally, according to officials, the Army has directed the build of new, purpose-built units to assume advise and assist missions. These units, otherwise known as Security Force Assistance Brigades, are designed solely for advise and assist missions. As part of their development, each Security Force Assistance Brigade advisor will attend training at the Military Advisor Training Academy at the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia. According to officials, the 6-week course provides a more robust training experience for advisors, to include multiple engagements with theater experts either in person or via secure video teleconferences to gain a more enhanced understanding of the operational environment to which the Security Force Assistance Brigades will deploy. The Army's Security Force Assistance courses and secure video teleconferences with units in theater, which fulfills the intent of GAO's recommendation, is a key step in continuing to ensure that advisor teams are more prepared for their mission in Afghanistan.

    Recommendation: To enhance the ability of SFA advisor teams to prepare for and execute their mission, the Secretary of the Army and the Commandant of the Marine Corps should take steps to improve the availability of mission-specific information during predeployment training. Such steps could include: (1) Expanded access to the data and information contained in Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System-ISAF (CENTRIXS-I); and, (2) Increased opportunities, in coordination with U.S. Central Command, for advisor team leaders to participate in predeployment site surveys with the teams they are expected to replace.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: United States Marine Corps

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2017, the Army stated that while U.S. forces have reduced their role in tactical advising in Afghanistan, as the Marine Corps significantly have, they have continued to improve the situational awareness and quality of information available to units deploying in an advisory role. Specifically, officials noted that Army has employed the 3rd Battalion, 353rd Regiment at Fort Polk, LA to provide the latest available theater-specific intelligence information. The battalion conducts the Security Force Assistance Course for each Brigade Combat Team deploying to Afghanistan to provide training in advise and assist tasks. The course, according to officials, includes secure video teleconferences with units in the theater of operations to build depth into the courses taking the doctrinal explanations and adding the current operational picture. Additionally, according to officials, the Army has directed the build of new, purpose-built units to assume advise and assist missions. These units, otherwise known as Security Force Assistance Brigades, are designed solely for advise and assist missions. As part of their development, each Security Force Assistance Brigade advisor will attend training at the Military Advisor Training Academy at the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia. According to officials, the 6-week course provides a more robust training experience for advisors, to include multiple engagements with theater experts either in person or via secure video teleconferences to gain a more enhanced understanding of the operational environment to which the Security Force Assistance Brigades will deploy. The Army's Security Force Assistance courses and secure video teleconferences with units in theater, which fulfills the intent of GAO's recommendation, is a key step in continuing to ensure that advisor teams are more prepared for their mission in Afghanistan.

    Recommendation: To enhance the ability of SFA advisor teams to prepare for and execute their mission, the Secretary of the Army and the Commandant of the Marine Corps should take steps to improve the availability of mission-specific information during predeployment training. Such steps could include: (1) Expanded access to the data and information contained in Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System-ISAF (CENTRIXS-I); and, (2) Increased opportunities, in coordination with U.S. Central Command, for advisor team leaders to participate in predeployment site surveys with the teams they are expected to replace.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

 

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