Security Force Assistance
(SFA) in Afghanistan
In late 2011 and early 2012 the coalition forces started to step back and let
Afghan forces take the lead on the battlefield in many regions of
Afghanistan. The intent was to withdraw
all ISAF combat forces by the end of 2014. In an attempt to achieve this
goal the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) introduced the
"Security Force Assistance" or SFA concept. SFA in Afghanistan as a concept was approved
by the ISAF commander, General John Allen, in the later part 2011. This
concept was briefed to and approved by NATO in the early part of 2012. SFA
continued to be a prime factor in the transition to Afghans in the lead
and the departure of almost all coalition forces in subsequent years.
SFA. Security Force Assistance was
the method that was used to establish conditions to support the coalition
force's mission in Afghanistan. SFA tasks include Organize, Train,
Equip, Rebuild, build, and Advise and assist (OTERA). The SFA teams are
designed to improve
the operational effectiveness of the advised security forces.
Functional Security Force Assistance.
As ISAF decreased its troop strength and pulled out combat units from Afghanistan it
left behind an "SFA capable
force". This force was aligned to perform
Functional Security Force
Assistance. This is a new "brand" of SFA where advisors departed from
the unit-based, combat-advising model and adopted functional SFA - providing advice,
assistance, training, and more along functional processes and at critical nodes within
View an online video about
Functionally-based Security Force Assistance
Bibliography for Resolute Support. Afghan War News has
compiled a "Resolute Support Annotated Bibliography" for the use of ISAF
staff and SFA advisors participating in the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
It is an Adobe Acrobat PDF, over 200 pages long, and less than 3 MBs
big. Easy to read online or download and it is available at the link
Functional Areas of SFAAT Team Members.
The SFAATs are supposed to be composed of a variety of personnel with
different functional areas to include operations, personnel,
medical. Although the
requirements for the different types of personnel are clearly spelled out
in ISAF and IJC FRAGOs 1. and NATO and
CENTCOM concept letters many
times the teams lacked the appropriate Military Occupational Specialty (MOS)
and rank structure. This is due to a lack of proper resourcing on the part
of tasked units in the states supplying the SFAAT personnel. In addition, the
Human Resource Command or
HRC has proven its inability to manage personnel (staff the teams
appropriately) during a wartime environment; instead, adopting to stick to
"peacetime" personnel management practices. U.S. Army Forces Command or
to lack the ability to influence the personnel fill for SFAATs; resulting
in rank and MOS inappropriate advisors. MATs and PATs provided by NATO partners (Europe)
usually well staffed with trained and experienced advisors. Learn more
about how the U.S. failed in the
process for the SFA mission in Afghanistan.
SFA in an Afghan Counterinsurgency
Environment. The ANSF is fighting an insurgency. Despite glowing
reports from ISAF about how well the ANSF is doing the basic truth is the
insurgency is just as strong as it ever was. The ANSF is engaged in a
counterinsurgency (COIN) fight. "SFA activities conducted during US
COIN operations in an HN should support HN COIN objectives."
2. Security Force Assistance advisors
need to know the Afghan processes for the functional areas they will be
advising (air operations, fires, logistics, intelligence, etc.). What is
not very apparent to most advisors and senior military leaders is the
great need for the advisors to know
counterinsurgency doctrine and
practices. The advisors should be able to provide advice, assistance,
and support to the ANA (and ANP) within the context of a counterinsurgency
fight. It is worrisome that the advisors selected for service in
Afghanistan don't not know COIN, are not trained up in COIN prior to
deployment, or that they are not advising their ANSF counterparts in COIN
SFA as a Part of COIN. Security
Force Assistance is nested within the Counterinsurgency Model.
"(2) Relationship of SFA to COIN. US COIN doctrine
incorporates a wide range of activities, of which security is only
one. Throughout US COIN operations, the efforts to build HN security
forces are through SFA activities using OTERA tasks. SFA supports USG
efforts to transition responsibilities to the HN. It is the
developmental activity of the security line of effort during COIN
operations that provides the HN a means of defeating future
insurgencies by their own means. SFA activities conducted during US
COIN operations in an HN should support HN COIN objectives."
Page I-3, Joint Doctrine Note 1-13, Security Force Assistance,
29 April 2013
SFABs. In the move from
conducting combat operations and partnering with the ANSF to the Security
Force Assistance mission the basic brigade structure deploying to
Afghanistan had changed beginning in the fall of 2012. Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs)
replaced with a smaller sized unit (a BCT minus) called the Security Force Assistance
Brigade or SFAB. The SFAB was mission tailored by the regional commander
(as in RC East or RC South) to conduct Security Force Assistance. In
addition the SFAB provided enabler support to SFAATs and the ANSF. The
SFAB provided advisory capacity to the ANSF along with enablers such as
communications and logistics. You can learn more about the SFABs at the following
SFATs. Many of the
Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) deployed to Afghanistan in the 2013 era had 48-man
Security Force Assistance Teams attached to the brigade. The sourcing of
these individuals came from Human Resources Command (HRC). These individuals
were supposed to be specially trained for advisory roles and were assigned to advisor
tasks on Stability Transition Teams (STTs). As SFAATs, and later SFABs,
deployed to Afghanistan the number of SFATs diminished. Some SFABs
deployed with attached SFATs and some did not. You can learn more about SFATs
at the following link: SFATs.
STTs. The Stability Transition
Teams or STTs are small teams of individuals that advised ANSF elements.
The STTs came from the SFATs (48-man organization) or were internally
sourced by the brigades. Some units use the term SFAT and STT to describe
the 48-man unit. Other units use the STT term to describe 2-6 man teams
used to advise a specific ANSF unit.
SFAATs. The primary basic
unit that conducted Security Force Assistance during the 2012-2014 era
were the Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams
(SFAATs). The first SFAATs deployed in the beginning of 2012. SFAATs came
from a variety of organizations to include coalition forces, USMC, the
162nd Inf Bde, 1st Army, and from some of the BCTs (such as 2/101st).
SFAATs were small in size - usually 9, 12, or 18 personnel depending on the
type of ANSF unit they are advising. They were usually augmented with a
Security Force team on a permanent, temporary, or by mission basis. RC
South continued to call their advisor teams (structured as SFAATs) SFATs
(not sure why). You can learn more about these teams at the following link:
MATs and PATs. The European
coalition SFAATs were called Military Advisor Teams (MATs) or Police
Advisor Teams (PATs). They were filled with the same type of personnel, had
the same types of equipment, and provided the same capability as the U.S.
Army SFAATs. The training received by the MATs and PATs was generally
better than the SFAATs as a result of going through JMRC at Hohenfels, Germany.
Train, Advise, and Assist Commands - TAACs. Eventually,
in 2014, the Regional Commands were replaced by
Train, Advise, and Assist Commands
or TAACs. Regional Commands North, East, South, and West were replaced
by TAAC-North, TAAC-East, TAAC-South, and TAAC-West. Regional Command
South West was disestablished and no advisory capacity existed for the
205th Corps on a permanent basis. TAAC-Air was established to provide
advisor support to the Afghan Air Force.
Levels of Advising. There are
currently three levels of advising - "Level 1 Contact" and "Level 2
Level 1. Level 1 refers to an
SFAAT or advisory element interacting with a designated ANSF unit on a continued daily and
The advisory team is either embedded at the ANSF location or in close proximity
(an adjacent or nearby COP or FOB).
Level 2. Level 2 or
Level Two advising refers to an
advisory element that interacts with a designated ANSF unit on a less frequent basis
to ensure the continued development of the ANSF unit. Many times the
advisory element will have more than one ANSF unit to advise when conducting Level 2
advising. For the most part, most advisors believe that level 2 advising
is not work the effort or risk for the marginal benefit obtained.
Level 3. This type of advising is the least effective. Usually
it consists of phone calls, email contract, and an occasional visit. Some organizations refer to Level 3 advising as 'touching'
ANSF elements or personnel that attend training events or conferences at
centralized locations where advisors habitually live and work.
News Reports. Read news reports about SFA and SFAATs
at the following link: SFA
and SFAAT News Reports.
Listing of Pubs and Reports. You
can view a listing (with links) of publications, papers, reports, training
documents, military references and manuals (FMs) and various other documents on
SFA and SFAATs at the following link:
SFA and SFAAT Publications
"15 Principles of SFA". In the
spring of 2012 General John Allen, COMISAF, released his principles for
the conduct of Security Force Assistance. You can read these SFA
principles at the following link:
15 Principles of SFA.
SFA Terminology. View a list of
SFA terms here.
CAAT SFA Bibliography. A listing
of books, publications, news reports, and websites about SFA and
SFA FAQs. See a list of
frequently asked questions about Security Force Assistance (SFA) here
Advisor Selection. Unfortunately,
the U.S. military has not excelled in the
selection of advisors for the
SFA mission. Advisors have been assigned to advise Afghans who are senior
to them in age, rank, experience and in training. This puts the advisor in
a difficult position and limits the advisors effectiveness. Even as late
as December 2015 we still had 1LT advisors interacting with Afghan ANA
officers sometimes 20 years older with years of combat experience.
SFA Advisor Training. There are
many avenues to receive training in SFA prior to shipping off to
Afghanistan. Some of those are listed below.
Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace
Program. This organization can be found at
www.ldesp.org. LDESP provides graduate level education for military
and civilian leaders to establish a regional, geopolitical, and cultural
framework for understanding the challenges of conducting full spectrum
operations in unique and rapidly changing environments.
SFA Guide 3.0. Security Force
Assistance in Afghanistan is explained in great detail in this
guide published by ISAF in July 2014.
SFA Advisor Process Maps. ISAF
has developed a number of
process maps for critical functions and systems within the ANSF. These
maps are a graphical depiction of how certain process work. They are
provided in Annex B of the SFA Guide mentioned above.
Guidance on SFA Training. DoD has
published a publication entitled
Common Training Standards for Security Forcer Assistance (SFA), Office
of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, January
Videos about SFA
June 13, 2012. My Job in Afghanistan: Advisory Team Commander, UK Defence Headquarters.
Blog Posts about SFA in Afghanistan
Blog Posts About SFATs
Blog Posts About Advisors in Afghanistan
Team Machete Facebook
1. In regards to staffing personnel on SFAATs with
the appropriate rank and MOS see NATO's concept letter for SFA dated
February 2012 and Appendix 1 to Annex F (SFA) to IJC OPORD 1391 (Operation
2. For more info on SFA within a COIN context see
page I-3, Joint Doctrine Note 1-13, Security Force Assistance, 29
3. For more on advisor selection see "Giving Advising its Due", by
Carl Forsling on Small Wars Journal, January 22, 2014.
4. See what an advisory team looks like in
"How NATO Advises Afghanistan's National Security Forces", The
Diplomat, December 22, 2015. 1LTs advising majors, Guardian Angels,
lack of demonstrated improvement.