Afghanistan Flag Afghan War News



Afghan Report

Daily Read

Kabul NEO



Site Map

Follow @AfghanWarBlog


This website is an Amazon Associate and earns money for qualifying purchases.




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 the ANSF.

View an online video about
Functionally-based Security Force Assistance
January 2014

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 below:

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, intelligence, logistics, communications, fires, and 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 U.S. Army's 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 FORSCOM appears 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) were usually well staffed with trained and experienced advisors. Learn more about how the U.S. failed in the advisor selection 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 once deployed.

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 (2012-2013).  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) were 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 fires, medevac, intelligence, communications and logistics.  You can learn more about the SFABs at the following link: SFABs.

The New SFABs (2017-2018). The above paragraph is providing information about the 'ad hoc' SFABs deployed to Afghanistan in 2012-2013. The Army took steps in 2017 to institutionalize the advisor capability by moving ahead with a program to establish six SFAB. The first SFAB to stand up is the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade. Read news reports about the 1st SFAB.

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: SFAATs.

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 Contact".

Level 1. Level 1 refers to an SFAAT or advisory element interacting with a designated ANSF unit on a continued daily and persistent basis. 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 and Reports.

"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 Afghanistan. See CAAT SFA Bibliography here.

SFA FAQs. See a list of frequently asked questions about Security Force Assistance (SFA) here SFA FAQ.

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 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 Guidance on Common Training Standards for Security Forcer Assistance (SFA), Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, January 2014.


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 Naweed).

2. For more info on SFA within a COIN context see page I-3, Joint Doctrine Note 1-13, Security Force Assistance, 29 April 2013.

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.


Books about Afghanistan

Books about Afghanistan

All external sites open up in a new window.
Please report broken links or inaccurate content to the webmaster at john @
Copyright 2010-2024