Functional Security Force Assistance in Afghanistan



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Afghan War News > SFA > Functional SFA

"Functional" Security Force Assistance (SFA)

Functional Security Force Assistance or Functionally-based SFA is the current method of conducting the advisory effort in Afghanistan. With the rapid withdrawal of coalition forces and advisors during the 2013-2014 timeframe the pool of personnel available to do advising significantly decreased as did the number of bases  from which to conduct advising. As a result, ISAF determined that it had to identify key nodes or processes where the scarce advisor resources needed to be applied. In turn, this prompted an examination of the processes within the ANSF that were (are) still broke and that needed fixing. The intent was, having identified the critical (broke) processes and nodes, ISAF would then allocate advisors against these functional areas.

Functional Advising in Afghanistan. "The cornerstone of the RS mission is functionally based SFA, an advisory effort focused on developing functions, systems, processes, and organizational development connected between the ministry and operational levels."  2. 

What is "Functional SFA?". General Dunford explained this best in a 2013 news release. Part of this news release is provided in the text below. 1.

"To secure these gains, we must continue to build functional expertise into the Afghan forces and security ministries so they may operate effectively after coalition forces leave. Over the past few years, we rapidly fielded Afghan forces with a priority on getting them into the fight. Now, we have shifted our focus to quality and sustainability. In order for the Afghan forces to secure their nation after the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition combat forces in December 2014, we must assist the Afghans in developing the systems, processes and institutions necessary to support a modern Army and police force. They need continued assistance with intelligence, aviation and logistics. This focus on building the sustainability of Afghan forces will require far fewer U.S. troops than we have deployed today. However, it will require continued commitment and resources for some time to come."

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

Shift in SFA Training. In 2013 the COMISAF requested a shift in training emphasis at the various training centers that were preparing SFAAT teams during their pre-deployment training. SFA teams heading to Afghanistan were required to receive  instruction during pre-deployment training and at the training centers that was oriented towards Afghan institutional development and an understanding of the functional processes from kandak and district center up to the ministry level.

Five Functional SFA Areas. ISAF had determined that there were five key areas aligned by function that needed continued attention. These areas were Command and Control (C2), Leadership, Combat Arms Integration, Training and Sustainment. They were commonly referred to as the "Five Functional Pillars". The 5Ps were replaced by the ACDOT methodology.

ACDOT. In an attempt to develop a methodology to implement FbSFA in Afghanistan ISAF HQs conducted a series of planning sessions, meetings, and briefings. The end result in January 2014 was a methodology referred to as ACDOT or ASI/ANSF Capability Developmental Objectives and Tasks. Learn more about ACDOT here. The ACDOT methodology had a very short life - (killed by IJC in early 2014).

Eight Essential Functions. The 8 Essential Functions supplanted the ACDOT (and, for the most part, the "5 Functional Pillars") in the ISAF Functionally-based SFA construct or framework. Learn more about the 8 Essential Functions of FbSFA.

Advisor Selection and Training. Advisor teams organized for Afghan deployments were supposed to be selected and trained with these functional areas in mind. The respective training centers (JRTC, JMRC, NTC, etc.) adjusted their training programs to reflect the shift from unit level advising to functional area advising. It was hoped that the advisor team selection process would reflect the shift from unit advising to functional area advising. (didn't always happen).

Advisor Selection. A significant shortfall in the Afghan advisory effort in recent years has been the selection of advisors without the appropriate rank, military occupational specialty, age, experience, or training. Many advisors who have served in an advisory role were on their first Afghan deployment. This significantly decreases the effectiveness of the advisory and training effort. As the SFA mission in Afghanistan transitions to a functional process orientation with advisors working at higher levels (corps and ministries) it is important the the right advisor is selected.

References on Functional SFA

COMISAF, Transition to Functionally Based Security Force Assistance, Memos to Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander, Central Command (CENTCOM), 15 October 2013. These memos are requests for functionally oriented advisor training for advisor teams during pre-deployment and while at the training centers. The memos are available for viewing on the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance portal.

ISAF, Security Force Assistance Guide 2.0, January 2014. This comprehensive guide was published by the International Security Assistance Force to assist advisors and mentors in the implementation of functionally-based Security Force Assistance in Afghanistan.

ISAF, Annex B - Process Maps to Security Force Assistance Guide 2.0, January 2014. this annex provides a number of process maps to aid SFA advisors in understanding how Afghan systems and processes work.

ISAF, Briefing on Functionally-based Security Force Assistance, December 2014. Briefing is a PowerPoint presentation on the Ministry of Defense Advisor Program website. Briefing will open in PowerPoint at the link below.

Papers and Publications about Functional SFA

SIGAR, Report to the United States Congress, July 30, 2013. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

DoD, Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, Section 1230, July 2013.

ISAF, ISAF Security Force Assistance Guide, May 2013.

Armstrong, Nicholas J. "Afghanistan 2014-2014: Advising for Sustainability", Small Wars Journal, May 4, 2012. Author stresses the importance of ministerial development over force generation, proper advisor selection and training for effective advisory efforts, and programs such as the MoDA, AFPAK Hands, PKSOI, and JCISFA.

Cordsman, Anthony H. Shaping Afghan National Security Forces: What it Will Take to Implement President Obama's New Strategy. Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), December 10, 2009.

News Articles on Sustainability of Afghan Nations Security Forces (ANSF)

May 21, 2015. "Why 'Train, Advise, and Assist' Should Begin with 'Assess'". By Morwari Zafar, Foreign Policy. The author thinks that NATO has done a poor job of assessing and that the 'advisors' are poorly selected and trained for their role.

November 8, 2013. "Afghan Forces Effective While Sustainment Remains a Problem". American Forces Press Service. This article paints an optimistic picture of the fighting ability of the ANSF (somewhat optimistically - it is, after all, a DoD news release) yet cautions that the ANSF is not quite ready to sustain itself over the long-term.




1. September 12, 2013. "Top U.S. general in Afghanistan maps out next phase of war". Air Force Times. General Dunford explains the shift to advising along functional lines in "Resolute Support".

2. This quote taken from page 9 of Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan, DoD 1225 Report, December 2015.


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