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Difference Between FID and SFA

What is the difference between Foreign Internal Defense (FID)
and Security Force Assistance (SFA)?

Not much. By many accounts there is as much as a 95% overlap. Many military leaders and units are having difficulty distinguishing between FID and SFA. In fact, sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. 1.

"SOF does FID". Foreign Internal Defense is a core SOF mission. So it is not surprising that conventional force personnel avoid train and assist missions (when they can; although in Iraq and Afghanistan CF ended up doing advising and training in a big way); defaulting to the common phrase "Not my job, SOF does FID". When it did happen, the default explanation was that training and advising could fall under "Full Spectrum Operations".

"GPF does SFA". It is a common assumption that General Purpose Forces does Security Force Assistance.

Definition of Foreign Internal Defense. 2.

"Participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government or other designated organization to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, terrorism, and other threats to its security".

Definition of Security Force Assistance. 3.

"The Department of Defense activities that contribute to unified action by the US Government to support the development of the capacity and capability of foreign security forces and their supporting institutions".

For many years the Defense Department used the FID term to describe how the U.S. military (or elements of DoD) supported security assistance to friendly nations. In 2006, the Secretary of Defense introduced a construct named Security Force Assistance or SFA.

FID is seen as an effort to improve a foreign nations ability to defend itself from internal threats. SFA can be seen as a peacetime engagement activity or an effort to assist a nation to defend against both internal and external threat. So how does this help us define the mission in Afghanistan? We have an insurgency sponsored and supported in part by an external actor (Pakistan). Are we doing FID or SFA? ISAF says we are doing SFA. Perhaps we are doing both.

Question of FID and SFA in Afghanistan. So here is a perplexing question. What is the difference between a twelve-man Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha advising and training an Afghan Commando kandak and a twelve-man Security Force Assistance Advisor Team (SFAAT) advising and training an ANA Infantry kandak? Is the SFODA doing FID and is the SFAAT doing SFA?

Publications and Papers on Differences Between FID and SFA
(listed in chronological order by year, then alphabetically)

Pirone, Sean R. Security Force Assistance: Strategic, Advisory, and Partner Nation Considerations, Naval Post Graduate School Thesis, December 2010. Pirone's paper focuses on areas of SFA that the U.S. needs to improve to include the capability of the U.S. to influence PNs, establishment of clear goals and objectives, importance of unity and continuity of effort, and a critique on how U.S. advisors are selected, trained, and employed. He also compares FID with SFA.

Jenkins, Major Derek C. "Distinguishing Between SFA and FID", Small Wars Journal, December 10, 2008.

Matelski, Major Thomas R. Developing Security Force Assistance: Lessons from Foreign Internal Defense, School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. AY 2008.



1. Dave Maxwell, retired SF Colonel with an excellent doctrinal background, states that the 5% that does not overlap is the " . . . to build partner capacity to be able to defend against external threats and to develop capacity to conduct external operations . . ." See Dave's comments in the Small Wars Journal posting of the Army Irregular Warfare Fusion Cell's August 2011 Newsletter.

2. Definition of FID from page GL-7, Joint Publication 3-22, Foreign Internal Defense, 12 July 2010.

3. Definition of SFA from page GL-11, Joint Publication 3-22, Foreign Internal Defense, 12 July 2010.


Wiltenburg, Ivor and Martijn Kitzen, "What's in a name? Clarifying the Divide between Military Assistance and Security Force Assistance", Small Wars Journal, November 9, 2020. This article argues that there is a need for doctrinal clarity, allowing both SOF and conventional forces to partake in TAA-operations without unnecessary overlap.



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