View Full Version : The Advisor Mission in Afghanistan

06-19-2008, 12:20 PM
Military Review, Jul-Aug 08: Twelve Urgent Steps for the Advisor Mission in Afghanistan (http://usacac.leavenworth.army.mil/CAC/milreview/English/JulAug08/HelmerEngJulAug08.pdf)

....Over the course of the six-year international presence in Afghanistan, the country has become the largest narcotic-producing nation in the history of the world. Moreover, civilian deaths reached an apogee in the past year. Suicide bombings, rare prior to 2005, have increased and have become more deadly. Widely publicized suicide and kidnapping attacks against foreign civilian targets have made international agencies reluctant to work throughout significant portions of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, coalition forces failed to convince the people that they were more discriminating in their use of violence than the insurgents, while casualty rates among coalition and Afghan forces are the highest they have been since the start of the conflict. In the economic realm, instability cut direct foreign investment in half over the past year, after five years of gains. Afghans living in the once quiet center, west, and north of the country have grown increasingly frustrated with the central government’s and international community’s focus on the south and east. In the words of one political correspondent in Mazar-I Sharif, a city in the north, “Our people are today living in a state of disappointment.”

In the wake of such bad news, ISAF and the separate U.S.-led Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A (http://www.cstc-a.com/)) have sought, with limited success, to increase the number of ISAF and U.S. advisors in the country so they can more quickly and effectively transfer security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF (http://www.longwarjournal.org/oob/afghanistan/index.php)). This plan, however, is not working. Without the following 12 major and rapid changes to its structure and execution, the advisory effort will fail to arrest the growing insurgencies in Afghanistan......

Anthony Hoh
06-19-2008, 03:22 PM
... the command needs to bring in assistance for the Afghan Army and Police from those who have worked in similar situations. Instead, it has brought in, at huge expense, civilian advisors on expensive contracts who have moved full steam ahead in creating systems, doctrine, and training appropriate for a developed Western army guarding the Fulda Gap and for police in the U.S. Midwest.Under this tutelage, the Afghan Army is now well on its way to having dozens of military occupational specialties and thousands of pages of word-for-word translated U.S. doctrine for a force that is barely literate.

I am living this, and could not agree more. Although I do not take the exact same position we wrote the contract, we are responsible for the QA/QC its a total lick on us/U.S.

06-19-2008, 06:20 PM
Congrats to the young captain on an insightful article that I hope is read by our senior leaders. Things like this give me hope for the future, when officers like this are colonels and generals.

My own observations from my time in Afghanistan roughly match the views expressed in the article. I think, however, that the major disconnect in the advisor program stems from the fact that tactical commanders (at least at the CJTF/ISAF level) had little control over or investment in the advisory teams. Decisions on the make-up, purpose, and prioritization of advisory teams were beyond the control of tactical commanders for several reasons - all touched upon in the article. As a result they were reluctant to expend resources on them or even spend much time considering them in planning or execution of operations. I never saw a senior advisor in the JOC or in the Joint Planning Groups at either Kabul or Bagram. Certainly nobody from NATO or the Bundespolizei or CSTC-A or any of the other dozen agencies providing advisors asked our advice on their deployment or their training program.

But its not just the advisor program; the fact that police and soldiers aren't paid on time, aren't granted adequate leave, are routinely staked out like Judas goats to isolated outposts, and are often led by corrupt, disinterested, lazy, and/or outright treasonous commanders doesn't help much.

Yeah, it's a mess. We blew a three-year grace period and it will take a long time to recover from the original fumbles.

06-19-2008, 09:32 PM
I admire the author's honesty and this made depressing reading for this armchair observer. The author presumably spent most of his time in the US sectors, what is happening elsewhere? Are there similar commentaries by others? I would be surpised if there was, for example the Italians in Herat.

Will send the link to two contacts who have served there and try to get their comments.


Randy Brown
06-19-2008, 10:04 PM
Will send the link to two contacts who have served there and try to get their comments.

Good technique! I, too, have forwarded Helmer's article for comments from both outbound and inbound ETT personnel within my organization, and will look forward to passing along any relevant revelations, reactions, and/or reality-checks.

As an armchair analyst--one charged with trying to make sense of Afghanistan through the insights of others--I had thought that the CSTC-A had been eliminated and transitioned to yet another structure. In fact, last week at Fort Leavenworth I had coffee with a CSTC-A alumn who swore he'd helped turn off the lights. Yet, a quick fact-check indicates that it's alive and well (http://www.cstc-a.com/) on the World Wide Web.

I'm confused. Perhaps, however, this in itself speaks to the author's point about the need to simplify the chain of command ...

06-20-2008, 12:00 PM
I admire the author's honesty and this made depressing reading for this armchair observer. The author presumably spent most of his time in the US sectors, what is happening elsewhere? Are there similar commentaries by others? I would be surpised if there was, for example the Italians in Herat.

I have been gone from ISAF for a little over a year, so the particulars have undoubtedly changed. However, in general, the picture is even more bleak. There are military advisory teams in other regions provided by our NATO partners. Some do well. Others are hamstrung by the following problems:

1. Shortages. The need for advisory teams far exceeds the number of teams that have been offered up.

2. National caveats. Many nations (including the US) have caveats that restrict the ability of the teams to accompany their units, or even live with them in garrison. Some will not follow their units, for example, if they shift regions, even for a limited period.

3. Rotation periods. Some nations have a four-month rotation, some six-month. This precludes establishing long-lasting relationships.

4. Support. A national responsibility, and some of the smaller nations have real problems providing it.

5. Doctrine. As far as I could tell, there was no common approach to advising, so it is doubtful that Afghan battalions are receiving common advice as to tactics, operational style, organization, or leadership.

6. Quality control. None.

07-06-2008, 08:20 AM
With regards to the several of the points made in the article, there are agencies in theater who are ahead of the power curve, particularly with the embedding of advisor's. The guys fighting in the jungles of Vietnam 40 years ago intrinsically understood this concept. However, trust is a two way street, and often our Afghan counterparts have fallen short on their ability to deliver.

07-15-2008, 12:35 AM
I read the article by CPT Helmer and the postings on this site with great interest. I recently returned from a tour in Southern Afghanistan working as the Operations Officer for the Southern Police Advisory Command. Many of the challenges CPT Helmer outlined in his article are ones I lived. I do however, disagree with his assertion that "This plan, however, is not working." I think the plan for mentoring the Afghans is working, just not as effectively as it could and should. I can not speak to the mentoring of the Afghan National Army (ANA). I can only speak to the mentoring of the Afghan National Police (ANP) as it was between May 2007 (also the month the police mentoring mission began) and April 2008 when I left. The mentoring of the ANP is a quickly evolving program that is implementing complementary training programs aimed at providing the training necessary for the ANP to function and begin a professional policing effort. From my perspective, by focusing on the need to "Simplify the Advisor Chain of Command" and "Ending the Individual Replacement System" the mentoring effort will be a more cohesive and better able to synchronize the many facets of the mission.

As CPT Helmer points out, the main issue confronting CSTC-A, TF Phoenix, and the Regional Commands is the jumbled and confusing chain of command. This problem is challenging enough inside the US Army but when you add the coalition partners and the US Department of States International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Agency (INL) the issue of Unity of Command and continuity of effort expand exponentially. In order to solve this issue on the side of the US Army, whole units should be deployed to support the mission. A case in point the USMC deployed an entire battalion to Southern Afghanistan as a surge force for police mentoring. By deploying a cohesive battalion predeployment training was focused on the not only Afghanistan but the specific region in Afghanistan; the unit deployed with their logistical slice elements; and the intelligence, as well as other staff sections, were intact and trained to perform the enabling functions. This model can and should be expanded to meet the overall mission requirement. By deploying complete units and focusing them on the mentoring missions (ANP or ANA) there will be a more unified mentoring effort and many if not all of the 10 other issues addressed by CPT Helmer will be solved.

I am currently a Major serving in the US Army. I am assigned to the Command and General Staff College at the FT Belvoir satellite campus. The views expressed above are mine alone and are based upon my experiences.

07-15-2008, 08:14 AM
Reed - thanks for the update on the ANP, in Helmand too. There have been thread(s) on the ANP before and they were uniformly pessimistic. The final sentence / caveat is not necessary, we are all opinionated here and many do not readily identify themselves.