Small Wars Journal

No Trainers, No Transition

Wed, 09/22/2010 - 7:29pm
In the past ten months there has been measured progress in the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF); in quality as well as quantity. Since last November, NATO Training Mission Afghanistan has supported the Afghan Ministries of Interior and Defense to recruit, train and assign over 100,000 soldiers and police, an incredible feat. To achieve this, the training capacity was increased, moving from under 10,000 seats for police training alone to almost 15,000.

Quality improved, as well. The instructor to trainee ratio decreased from 1:76 to 1:29, greatly increasing the ability of trainers to give attention to individuals. Improvements like this led to an improved basic rifle qualification rate; increasing from an embarrassing 35% to 97%. To truly professionalize the force, however, will require even more attention to quality in the force -- and trainers with specialized skills are required to accomplish this.

In order to develop the systems and institutions that are required to continue to professionalize and grow the ANSF, specialty training is required. Schools that teach skills like acquisitions, logistics, maintenance, intelligence, and even field artillery are needed to balance a currently infantry-centric force. Additionally, leader development courses like the police staff college, police and army officer candidate schools, and various non-commissioned officer development courses are needed. All of these specialty skills require trainers with the requisite skills -- trainers that can only be found in the international community. Over the next ten months, our requirement for these trainers will double, with needed skill sets ranging from Mi-17 helicopter pilots and maintainers to doctors, police trainers to instructors at the signal school.

The impacts of not sourcing our trainer requirements are that training base expansions to increase capacity are hindered, specialty school development will be delayed, pace of specialty skills development will be slowed, and the professionalization of the ANSF will be hampered. Essentially, the process of transition to the ANSF will be delayed; as the Secretary General of NATO said recently, "no trainers, no transition."

If we do not resource the training mission in Afghanistan, we will not be able to achieve our goals for increased quantity and improved quality. We must not allow that to happen. We need to sustain the momentum we have achieved in the past ten months so that we capitalize on our achievements thus far. To create Afghan capacity that is enduring and self-sustaining we must professionalize the police, army, and air forces; create viable logistics and medical systems; and improve the infrastructure and the institutions that train and educate them...above all, we MUST have the trainers to develop them.

Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, IV is Commander of NATO Training Mission Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan. You can access LTG Caldwell's NTM-A / CSTC-A speeches, interviews, videos, and blog entries here.



Sat, 12/31/2011 - 5:50pm

In reply to by Hubba Bubba

Switch Iraq for Afghanistan and it would still be about 100% spot on.

You can literally live with your partners and see this stuff first hand, but the leadership at BN/BCT/DIV levels just won't listen.

Hubba Bubba

Sat, 12/31/2011 - 1:26am

The entire concept that the Afghans need a 400,000 size security force is both irresponsible, and demonstrates a fundamental inability to make sense of the problem holistically. These are political and strategic decisions and, in my opinion, are utterly divorced from reality.

1. What is the natural state for Afghan security forces? The Soviets tried with a 400k force through 1991 (although 125k were switch-hitting militia characters and the bulk of the uniformed Afghan force were ghosts, or sitting in garrison doing little to nothing)...the Taliban had about 30K 'militia-style' force that accomplished the bulk of their goals within the territory they controlled in the 1990s. Prior to the Soviet invasion in 1978, the existing Afghan 'Shah era' forces were typical of central-Asian forces of the period- large untrained, underpaid, and equipped with symbolic weapons that they purchased but could hardly use effectively. I posit that the 352K Afghan force that ISAF is pushing towards will be too large, too expensive, and too "western" for the Afghans to benefit from.

2. Do the Afghans need an Air Force? Probably as much as they need tanks, fighter jets, and helicopters. They do not- and any aspirations to build an enduring air force is a pipedream for a country that simply has no chance of affording it over the next decade. For starters, the World Bank Report released in November 2011 spells it out clearly- Afghanistan is not going to have any economic prosperity for the near or mid future. In fact, it is likely going to get worse. They cannot afford an Air Force- it is symbolic of something that Afghan leadership wants, but cannot apply. Afghan skilled and educated military-aged personnel are fleeing for obvious reasons, and any assumption that a trained and literate Afghan pilot would not pull pitch and work elsewhere (other Central Asian company, heroin network, etc) is a bad one. As for sustaining the aircraft- the Afghans are incapable of this, regardless of how many Coalition trainers, contractors, and advisors we have turning wrenches for them. Instead of giving them an expensive and inappropriate security tool such as an air force, it would be cheaper to seek alternatives with far lower cost options.

3. Caldwell's position on Afghan logistics is flat wrong; but that is more indicative of how wrong the entire American military misunderstands the logistics problem. We seek a western, modern solution that is automated, and operated by literate and computer-capable logistitians. In fact, that is the only way we know logistics, in a complex and flexible "pull" methodology that works for us. We continue to force upon the Afghans a "pull" model that is largely automated while ignoring the nature of the Afghan system...they prefer the Soviet "push" model that suits Afghan hierarchy, nepotism, the patron-client network, and ethnic strife within a largely illiterate and innumerate society. Instead of forcing computers and western automated 'pull' logistics processes onto a nation that cannot accomplish sustainment in that manner, we should embrace the very things we ignore. Corruption is not necessarily a bad thing- can we use it to our advantage to frame a functional "push" logistics system that uses existing corruption as a corner-stone. It is not going away, so we ought to get used to it and start benefiting. We have a severe literacy problem; the more Afghans we empower with literacy and job skills, the more we have to replace them. This will not work.

Instead, can we use a sustainment system that works on illiteracy? Imagine teaching logistics to a group of 5th graders- they would essentially be your "level 3" Afghans- these are the smallest group of those we train to become literate (not counting those that are truly literate with higher education, whom avoid military service anyway or gain high-level positions). 5th graders are the bulk of your Afghan logistitians- and frankly they may be able to play HALO and skype eachother, they cannot sustain a military in the western sense. Afghans prefer pencil and tablet to computer, and are more adapt at chalkboards than PowerPoint slides. Yet we insist on forcing our ways upon them in every aspect. The 'level 1' Afhgan literate members of the ANSF are essentially 2nd graders. They can read individual words, count to 1,000, and do very simple addition and subtraction. These are also the bulk of your sustainment folks and are unable to use computers or deal with complex "pull" logistics logics. why is the ANSF logistics model not tailored to these phenomenon? Or do we really think that with enough hard work, we can "make them do it our way?"

4. Afghan medical care- yet another waste of resources where western ways are forced upon an Afghan system they simply cannot afford, field with appropriate human capitol, or sustain.

5. When we build the Afghans up with this monsterous, unsustainable force- and we equip them with systems and supplies they cannot enforce resupply of, how will the Afghans pay for this? They won't...and when we (the Coalition and politicians) decide to cut and run, what will happen to this juggernaught of police, army, and air force that suddenly do not have jobs, but have some basic para-military skills, and weaponry? Either civil war, collapse back into failed-statehood, or perhaps worse.

Hubba Bubba


Sat, 12/31/2011 - 1:08am

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I think the answer rests in the following: why do the right thing when there's an alternative that's much easier, doesn't subject you criticism that you must face, and doesn't jeopardize your status within the "system".

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 10/16/2010 - 2:42am

So..... none of this warrants a response from GEN Caldwell?

Clearly, career officers are leveling accusations about leaders in the Army and their refusal to accept advisors as peers to XO's and S3's, yet that appears to go unanswered; the silence is deafening.

Incredible... . Yet, not surprising. Seems the BCT commanders of today have many a mentor still within the ranks.

Am I wrong?

Old Eagle

Mon, 10/04/2010 - 5:46pm

Rec you check out Tony Cordesmann over at Foreign Policy Online:…

I assume it's also at CSIS, but haven't checked.

Bill M --

The peacetime Security Assistance mechanisms are still in place. The trouble with them is, as is the case w/SF, the magnitude of the challenges outstrip capacity.

That said, there are numerous other challenges, but the overall inaction is pathetic.

previous post was mine, don't hire me to be a technology advisor.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 10/03/2010 - 4:04pm

Old Eagle, thanks for the John Nagel quote,

"We only have to do this better if we want to win." Since we refuse to improve our ability to develop the host nation forces that will ultimately determine success and failure, I fear that we are success averse."

Like most I find it painful we can't do better with our train, equip and advisory mission, since that is clearly the only path to a viable security solution (not discounting political and economic efforts, but security first and security provided by host nation forces, which in turns provides legitimacy to the host nation government). I don't disagree jarhed 73's comments that our leadership (outside of Special Forces) doesn't embrace the mission, but that isn't the only shortcoming.

If you dig into this a little more (and I know many of you have) you'll find we have huge policy issues when it comes to what the SECDEF nows calls Security Force Assistance (SFA). Even if the military leadership embraced the mission, we would still be hamstrung by a lack of authorities and interagency turf battles on who is responsible for what.

We don't need advisory BDEs in my opinion, we need a system similiar to what we used to have with SATMO (we can improve on it significantly) to acquire the "right" people, armed with the right authorities, and of course supported by our outdated selection process for promotions (both officers and enlisted).

No disagreements with the comments above, just saying that the problem is bigger.

jarhed73, Advi… (not verified)

Sun, 10/03/2010 - 3:26pm

It is somewhat satisfying to see so many in much agreement, yet frustrating, to see so little action taken in concert. In my view, the contrast is readily observed between those who subscribe to the American Way of War and those who understand what it takes to be effective at irregular warfare. It used to be that Marines excelled at irregular wars, small wars that included small unit activities like advising. Sadly, it appears marine leadership is saddling up along side the approach noted above--that all we need to do is 'train' the Afghans. Marine leadership has also rejected adviser type organizational structure at any level despite the resounding historical and current demand for them. The current attempt at 'partnering' is evidence that we have ignored, or don't undertsand how to conduct effective security force assistance, either in combat(COIN) or in StabOps environment---we still think we can do it all ourselves, and that anyone(marine, soldier) can do it. Like we discovered in Vietnam, advisers have to be selected against a very discriminating set of characteristics/requirements. Marine leaders dont get it either, consequently our deployment policy, our personnel assignment policy and career progression/promotion policy are at odds with the reality of the operating environment.

former advisor… (not verified)

Mon, 09/27/2010 - 5:08pm

On face value it appears we do not have a Military Advisor issue, so much as we have a leader of Military Advisors issue.

The postings above represent a trend in the advising business. This trend seems to go unaddressed. I just finished a tour as an advisor and would gladly go back to Afghanistan if I were promised in writing (perhaps an old document we used not-so-long ago called a DA Form 4856) that I could be rated against my peers, and not the commanders staff for the purposes of career building.

Its more than a bit frustrating to pour your heart into your partnership for a year only to find your BDE CDR cant pick you out of the crowd. Now, before anyone cries sour grapes, the fact is simply this- no board member cares how successful you were as a partner to your foreign security force if your Senior Rater gives you a lukewarm write-up which misses the mark on all the "must haves" in his narrative block.

When will the "Army" (gauntlet tossed at the feet of good men such as LTG Caldwell) hold these leaders (BCT CDRs or their equivalent) responsible for shortcomings such as counseling, officer development, and just general care and concern of the men in their command?

It looks like the Army can solve two problems by addressing one... .. one big ol elephant in the room it seems no one wants to upset. Until it is addressed, the behavior will not change and officers who are considering a position as a military advisor will probably opt out; who needs the stress of working for one of "those commanders" while deployed for a year when you can hang out at a TRADOC assignment as an XO or an S3 and come out ahead of the pack?

Any thoughts?

Old Eagle

Sat, 09/25/2010 - 9:43pm

I am very disheartened that so little improvement has taken place in the 8+ years we've been at this. John Nagl signed off one of his thinkpieces with the missive, "We only have to do this better if we want to win." Since we refuse to improve our ability to develop the host nation forces that will ultimately determine success and failure, I fear that we are success averse.

Been watching Morgan's posts on BCKS for many months now. Support you and your mission.

Now I'd really really really like to see LTG Caldwell get it right. It's one thing to write cheerleading articles and quite another to change the system in order to produce success. Once again, General, good luck.


I, too, am in an AAB. We feel your pain. Hope we won't feel the same OER pain.

Tankersteve, that's disappointing to hear. I'm currently trying to work with Branch on getting to a SFAB heading to A'stan next year thinking they might be a better deal than the Iraq-AABs since there is still a combat advisory mission in A'stan (or so I thought).

I posted on BCKS my (hair-brained) idea about using Training Support Brigades as the optimum unit to build AAB/ SFABs around. They are configured already to train, advise, assist, teach, coach, mentor, etc, etc....& are small enough to do so without worrying about BCT-type predeployment training and BCT "kinetic" ops. Please add your comments if you can get to that site.

I believe Joe and Steve are correct....leaving the advisory mission up to commanders who do not fully understand the value of the advisor and their purpose (favoring the typical BCT role instead) hinders advisors in their efforts to build, maintain, and expand on the relationships they build with their counterparts. Units do this by imposing a multitude of mission-degrading restrictions making movements & KLEs difficult. Add HRC throwing any breathing schmuck (I, too, volunteered) into the advisor postion and it all works to undermine the concept of "the STTs are the main effort".

If the advisors were really the main effort, the Army would likely place people on teams that understood the mission & capabilities that an advisor brings, and ensure that advisor elements were managed by those who understand FID and are not bound by years of "conventional" thinking & constantly looking for the next high-intensity fight. that gripe out.


Thu, 09/23/2010 - 11:59pm

As a member of an 'SFA' Brigade (new name for AAB brigade - somebody needed an OER comment) in Afghanistan, I can attest to the poor mindset of the mid-level Army leadership with regards to the SFA concept.

While our SFA team (about 3 dozen folks) was put together quite late (we missed all of the BCT's trainup and MRE), we felt we had come together as a team fairly well. Then a higher commander decided to disperse the small, 5-man teams throughout his battlespace, nickel and diming us out to various BCT AOs. This completely negated the effect of a brigade having multiple advisor teams working at all echelons of the ANSF in the AO. Instead, the BCT now has one 5-man team. And that 5-man team is now getting parcelled out to fulfill other taskings requiring a field grade officer.

I volunteered for this mission out of ILE but I am definitely beginning to have regrets. Not for the job itself - it is rewarding and the interaction with the partner is often very educational - but with the reality of how the Army will view this year, within the greater context of what I could have been doing (such as not deploying, but hanging out with the family while properly integrating into a different unit).



Sat, 12/31/2011 - 12:54am

In reply to by JustJoe (not verified)

I came across this just now....sorry I missed it.

Also, I returned from Iraq about a month before you did. Won't get into specifics but I have a sneaky feeling we were probably attached to the same patch.

Your post took me back and not to a good place.

AAB as eyewash - yep, definitely. Total scam.
Ignoring the STT members (and MiTTs overall) - yep, most certainly.
OER problems - well, pretty much, although it was awards where the most hypocrisy was evident. BN Cdrs were out there having a contest to see who could downgrade the most BSMs. Absolutely deplorable behavior for officers, leaders, and men, most of whom were over 40 years old and should have had the maturity to know better and to do better for the Army and their units. Had a BCT Cdr offer to give boat loads of MSMs in lieu of BSMs so he could get the BSM count as low as possible. Naturally the MSM is a non-combat award, but he wasn't going to allow a pesky regulation get in the way of his bragging rights. Then other leaders were out there given blanket CABs and CIBs the first time a mortar round impacted within their OE.
Legacy leaders - good term. Saw the Corps Cdr, ten feet away from me, explain his intent. Subsequently watched the Div Cdr tear up the BCT and BN Cdrs in the AO, like they were bald-headed mules. Why? Because they followed through with the Corps Cdr's intent that, oh by the way, the Div Cdr nested his guidance within. But that intent did not produce "metrics" the Div Cdr apparently needed like patrol counts etc. If a 2-star and 3-star can't get on the same page, then we have serious issues in the Army.

Things will never be perfect when we speak about combat. Fog of war truly exists. But dammit, you're not supposed to bring your own fog machines and make it yourself.

JustJoe (not verified)

Thu, 09/23/2010 - 10:30pm

In my humble opinion (certainly NOT the DoD opinion), and based on my recent experiences in Iraq (I returned within the past 60 days) as an advisor in an AAB, the Army is going to continue having problems getting the right folks for these key advisor positions for many reasons, but Ill merely cover a few:

1. If a MAJ/LTC is deploying for his first time and it is as an advisor, the Army has allowed the branch representatives to fill the advisor tasking with any breathing individual they could dig up. That happened more than I expected and 2/3 of my "peers" were told they were deploying to be advisors because there was no one else available with less dwell time. Only a couple of us volunteered for advisor duty and we paid dearly for it when rating time rolled around.

2. Renaming a BCT as an AAB is nothing but eyewash. The leaders within the BDE generally ignore the STT advisors and focus on force protection tasks, gunnery (yep, I said US Army-only gunnery) exercises and the like.

3. No one tracked progress. At one point in time the ISF coordinator left country and was not replaced. A friendly reminder to the BN TF about replacing him was required to let them know theyve failed to replace the sole ISF bubba at the BN, and I think that most aptly captures the importance of the SFA mission to the unit.

So, at the end of the day, the Majors on the advisor teams became the OER builders for the BN/BDE staff officers because "they are the future BN CDRs", and the satisfaction of moving the ball forward with your partner was stifled at each twist and turn because there was no focus on the SFA tasks. These examples (of which I have many, many more) helped me arrive at this conclusion: many Army "leaders" dont get it, and no one is holding them responsible.

Id gladly deploy back to Afghanistan tomorrow (in fact I'd love to go back) as an advisor if I thought the Army really cared about the mission. Unfortunately, I have a years worth of examples and experiences which prove this to not be true. I find a frightening number of what I call "legacy leaders" in our Army continue to dream of a day we can go back to fighting the "Krasnovians". They see Small Wars as a passing fad and because of this misperception, they stack the deck with mirror-images of themselves and thus ensure the promotion boards select the same folks to lead tomorrows BNs which do not fully understand todays operational environment, and quite honestly do not care to.

The Army is losing some of their brightest and most innovative Small Wars practitioners because of many of the reasons stated above. The word is out and peers spread "ground truth" much more effectively than any GO could ever hope for in a policy letter.

Good luck with Afghanistan, been there, done that twice already and have decided today that many leaders in the Army just dont get it, and no one is going to hold them responsible for their actions.


Ditto regarding Old Eagle's comments.

The Army in particular has not taken the advisor mission seriously. This is painfully evident in Iraq now as we muddle our way out of Iraq with AABs.

As for Afghanistan, it has been 2 years since I served there as an ETT/ PMT. Getting back there as a advisor has proven to be difficult. Much of this can be laid on the doorstep of those who manage Army personnel requirements.

Instead of simply talking about what it will take to "fix" the problem with ANSF (assuming this is possible given the timeframe we have locked ourselves into), those with authority to do so (generals have that authority, right?) ought to push for the forces needed. If the situation in A'stan is similiar to what I saw in '08, one could to start by moving US advisor elements out of Kabul, where they "advised" ceremony units, static-site security elements, and MoD "leaders" who were more interested in stealing gasoline, and push them out to where ANSF allies are conducting combat operations.

There are plenty of people ready and able to head there to serve as the advisor/ partner force needed to improve ANSF. Quit making it so difficult to do so.

Old Eagle

Thu, 09/23/2010 - 12:05pm

Good luck, General. But don't call them "trainers". Trainers will not get you far enough along the road to success. After any training phase, partners need advisors to assist with implementation: to transfer classroom knowledge to the real world.

The Army has been assiduously avoiding taking this mission seriously. They stomped all over John Nagl's Advisor Corps proposal, but instead of stepping up and demonstrating how the mission could be better accomplished, they took the attitude that advising was so simple that even a caveman could do it.

Your diagnosis is essentially correct, but you will need to use your 3-star power to make the big green machine respond. OBTW, if they don't respond, then there is no hope of the other services and our allies doing better.

That we need to increase the quality of trainers to create and consolidate ANSF capacity is certainly an oft-repeated part of the mission, particularly for the ADF, in AFG. However, in emphasising this need, we must also be insistent about the kind of security required for trainers in their OA if we are to maximises their effectiveness and capitalise on the momentum Gen Caldwell highlights.