Advisor Selection



Afghan War
 News Blog

Current News

Military Websites

Government Websites

General Information

Blogs on Afghan War

Blogs by Military


Books on Afghanistan

Afghan Glossary

Site Map




Afghan War News > SFA > Advisor Selection

Selection of Advisors for Afghanistan

"The decisive point of any SFA mission may very well be the selection,
training, and education of personnel in preparation for deployment".

                                                               SFA Handbook, JCISFA, June 2012

One of the constant shortfalls of the advisory effort in Afghanistan can be found at the very beginning of the advisory process - that of selecting the person to be an advisor. The history of the advisory effort in Afghanistan is filled instances of poorly selected advisors. 1LT's with no previous Afghan or advisory experience were advising Afghan officers of senior rank, who had years of combat experience, and who were more than twice the age of the 1LTs. Too many advisors were miss-assigned; advising outside of their lane of expertise. Artillery officers were advising logistic units, maintenance NCOs advising infantry units, infantry lieutenants advising Afghan intelligence officers, Navy aviation logistics officers advising ANCOP, infantry and artillery Soldiers advising police, and Air Force Colonels advising the commander of Ground Forces Command (GFC).

"A key element in conducting SFA missions is being able to identify the right personnel with the right training, education, and experience to execute SFA activities. The Department of Defense (DOD) established a requirement for the services to identify and track personnel with SFA-related training, education, and experience. Although the Army is able to identify and track soldiers with certain SFA-related training and education, it does not have a mechanism to identify and track SFA-related experience. Moreover, the Army has not developed a plan with goals and milestones on how it will capture this information. As a result, it is unclear how long it will take the Army to implement DOD's requirement and be able to readily identify the right personnel to serve in the SFA mission." 1.

Where Did the Fault Lie? Most of the blame can be assigned to FORSCOM and Human Resources Command for not getting out of the "peacetime mode" and into the "war fighting mode". Commanders and staffs are also responsible for some poor choices made for who would become an advisor.

Wasted Efforts. The tooth to tail axiom for combat troops applies to the advisory effort as well. It takes at least ten Soldiers to support an advisor. If the wrong person is selected to be an advisor then the efforts of ten other Soldiers are wasted.

Important Advisor Selection Criteria

Rank. Sometimes rank matters and sometimes it doesn't. In Afghanistan, it certainly does matter. A captain advising a full colonel or general of the Afghan army or police probably will have a tough time. The captain may be ignored or he could get the 'Come by each day for one half hour of tea and talk then let me get to work treatment'. There are always exceptions to the rule but - unless the captain has something concrete to offer (MEDEVACs, CAS, fires, supplies, fuel, printer cartridges, or good intel) he may find that he is treated politely but has little influence. The wider the rank disparity the less influence the advisor has.

Age. Elders are respected in Afghanistan. They are listened to. If you are older you are considered wiser. If you are younger then you will be proving yourself. The wider the age gap the less chance that the advisor will be effective.

Training. If you are an infantry major and you are advising an Afghan in police matters, communications or logistics you may find you don't have the training to get the job done. Afghans are smart and they will 'find you out'. Advisors should be trained in the area that they are advising.

Experience. If you are advising a kandak, brigade or corps commander in counterinsurgency (yes, the ANSF is doing COIN) then you should have some COIN experience. If you are advising in a functional area such as logistics, maintenance, personnel, finance, or intelligence then you should have worked in that functional field more than a day.

Previous Afghan Experience. Personnel selected for advisor duty in Afghanistan should have done at least a previous Afghan tour. There is so much to learn about Afghan politics, culture, the COIN environment, corruption, etc. that you will spend your entire first tour learning about Afghanistan. The time to learn about Afghanistan is not during your advisor tour - you should already "know" Afghanistan.

Previous Advising Experience. Advising is a tough job - especially in Afghanistan. You may have the rank, age, experience and training but if you don't know how to advise then you will learn on the job - and you may get off on the wrong foot with your mentee. Going to JRTC for their one- or two-week advisor course will help a little but not as much as having spent a previous tour in Afghanistan as a advisor.

Personality. It takes a special person to be an advisor. Not everyone is cut out for it. If you are selecting personnel for advisor positions keep this fact in mind.

Language and Culture Training. It helps if the advisor has had some cultural or language training. But in too many cases the training was not provided or the amount of training was insufficient.

Advisor Team Composition. Each advisor team under the SFA construct developed for 2013-2014 had specific ranks and military occupational specialities (MOS) prescribed. Some countries did a very good job it meeting these ISAF requirements; and some did poorly. The U.S. was hit or miss on this aspect of SFA - some teams were staffed with the right MOS and rank and others were dismal in their ability to conduct the mission as they had the wrong personnel on the advisory team. Some SFAATs came from an organic unit. For instance, a U.S. brigade might be tasked with fielding an SFAAT to advise an ANA brigade. The advisor team would come from an active duty U.S. brigade with a battalion commander as its team leader; who in turn, would hand-pick his best leaders to fill out his team. Other SFAATs would be fielded by the reserve component from geographically dispersed units with personnel that did not know each other. 2.

Advisor Selection for Resolute Support Mission in 2015. So now that we have had several years of advising the ANSF one would think that by 2015 we would have cracked the nut on how to select advisors. Especially since we have some very experienced personnel within the military with successive tours in Afghanistan and one or two tours as an advisor. This advisory experience, coupled with the diminished requirements - we only have 10,000 troops in Afghanistan as of early 2015 - would suggest that finding qualified advisors with the right experience, rank, age, previous Afghan deployments, and previous advisory experience would be a piece of cake. Nope, not so much. In January 2015 the Department of Defense Inspector Generals' office released a report indicating that one of the major problems with the Coalition advisory effort is " . . . some U.S. military and civilian logistics advisors did not have the required skill sets, experience, or cultural awareness to support functionally-based, multi-echelon advising" because Coalition leadership did not adequately identify the qualifications and experience necessary for functionally-oriented logistics advisors, highly-skilled candidates were insufficiently incentivized to serve as advisors, and there was a lack of synchronization on advisor tour lengths. 3.

Lessons Learned on the Afghan Advising Experience

As we reach the final stages of the Afghan War many of the officers and NCOs who served as advisors on ETTs, MTTs, SFAATs, etc. will begin to write about their experiences as an ANSF advisor. The papers wrote during their attendence at military professional development courses should be revealing. It will be interesting to see how they view the advisor selection and training process as it related to their experience. Some have already begun to gather data on this important issue such as this advisor selection criteria survey.

Government and Military References about Advisor Selection
(Listed in chronological order)

GAO, SECURITY FORCE ASSISTANCE: The Army and Marine Corps Have Ongoing Efforts to Identify and Track Advisors, but the Army Needs a Plan to Capture Advising Experience, Government Accountability Office Report (GAO-14-482), July 2014.

July 2014. Security Force Assistance Guide 3.0, ISAF. This guide by ISAF contains information about selection criteria for advisors.

Papers and Publications about Advisor Selection

Armstrong, Nicholas J. A day Late and Many Advisors Short: The Uncertain Future for Afghan Minsterial Development, Security Sector Reform Resource Centre, December 17, 2012.

Axelberg, COL Marc D. Enhancing Security Force Assistance: Advisor Selection, Training and Employment, US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA: 2011.

Chase, Michael B., "Our Own Worst Enemy", Small Wars Journal, August 16, 2014. The author, a former advisor at the ministry level (Afghanistan), says we did not send our "best and brightest" to Afghanistan to advise Afghans at the ministry level.

Clark, Todd J. Selection of Military Advisors, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, December 2007.

Cordesman, Anthony H. Boots on the Ground: The Realities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), February 13, 2015. In this paper Cordesman lists the mix of skills needed by military advisors to be effective.

Forsling, Carl. "Giving Advising its Due", Small Wars Journal, January 22, 2014.

Friberg, John. "Learning From Our Mistakes in Selection and Training of Military Advisors", SOFREP. Two important factors are personnel selection and pre-deployment training.

Glaser, David. "The Strategic Opportunity in our Senior Foreign Official Advisory Mission", Small Wars Journal, February 15, 2012. The author believes that the "selection methodology, pre-deployment training and organizational support provided to senior personnel selected to serve as advisors to senior foreign officials was (and could potentially still be) woefully inadequate".

Hetherington, Richard H. Foreign Military Advisor Proficiency: The Need for Screening, Selection and Qualification, Masterís Monograph, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth 2009

Lubold, Gordon. Training U.S. Advisors, Building Afghan Ministries. United States Institute of Peace (USIP), April 7, 2011.

Phelps, Major Christopher E., Selecting and Training U.S. Advisors: Interpersonal Skills and the Advisor-Counterpart Relationship, MA Thesis for University of Kansas, April 24, 2009.

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, almost 200 pages long, and less than 3 MBs big. Easy to read online or download and it is available at the link below:

News Stories and Articles about Advisor Selection

January 21, 2016. "Top Army general outlines plans for new brigades, new technologies", Army Times. General Milley believes the AAB and SFAB concept should be a permanent structure within the Army force.

January 3, 2015. "Foreign Internal Defense Tips: Rapport Building", SOFREP.

October 28, 2014. "Finding credibility through experience: Australian intel officer brings 30 years of intelligence experience to TAAC-South", DVIDS.

April 18, 2011. "Pentagon program has U.S. civilians advising Afghan ministries to improve cooperation, security". The Washington Post. Ministry of Defense Advisors (MoDA) is explained.

View an online video about
Functionally-based Security Force Assistance



1. For more on the U.S. Army's ability to identify and track SFA qualified advisors see SECURITY FORCE ASSISTANCE: The Army and Marine Corps Have Ongoing Efforts to Identify and Track Advisors, but the Army Needs a Plan to Capture Advising Experience, Government Accountability Office Report (GAO-14-482), July 2014.

2. See "Det. 82, SFAAT completes mission in Afghanistan", DVIDS, December 9, 2014. SFAAT 82 was composed ". . . of 16 Soldiers from 10 different states that first met each other only a few months prior to their Jan. 18 mobilization".

3. See the Department of Defense Inspector General report entitled Assessment of U.S. and Coalition Efforts to Develop the Logistics and Maintenance Sustainment Capability of the Afghan National Police, DoDIG-2015-067, January 30, 2015, pages 63-70.


Return to Top of Page

Afghan War News > SFA > Advisor Selection

All external sites open up in an new window.  Please report any broken links or inaccuracies in content to the webmaster at