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Advisory Teams (SFAAT)



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Afghan War News > SFA > Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams (SFAATs)

Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams
(SFAAT) in Afghanistan

The coalition forces are stepping back and letting Afghan forces take the lead on the battlefield. The intent is to withdraw all ISAF combat forces by the end of 2014. In an attempt to achieve this goal the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has introduced the "Security Force Assistance" or SFA concept. SFA 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 continues to be a prime factor in the transition to Afghans in the lead and the departure of coalition forces in the next few years.

Read current news reports about SFA and SFAATs at the link below:
SFA and SFAAT News Reports

Listing of publications, reports, and documents on SFA and SFAATs at the link below:
SFA and SFAAT Publications and Reports

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:

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Websites Related to SFA
Videos about SFA and SFAATs

Background Information on SFA and SFAATs

As an Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) unit or element achieves a certain level of expertise and competence it is considered "independent with advisors" - meaning that it no longer is partnered with a coalition force but it has a small detachment of advisors that works with it. A NATO media backgrounder describes in detail the SFA concept and how the mission evolution will take place. 2.

Partnering.  In an attempt to season the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) ISAF has been coupling Afghan units with ISAF units so that they can conduct joint operations. This practice had U.S. and other ISAF forces in a "partnering" mode with Afghan forces.  This means that Afghan forces plan and execute missions in conjunction with ISAF forces. These coalition units are called "Partner Units" or PUs.  Once the Afghan unit progresses to a certain stage the partnering ceases and the Afghan unit will be assisted by a Transition Support Unit (TSU). 1.

Advise and Assist.  As ISAF combat troops are withdrawn over the next few years ISAF forces will be doing less combat operations and partnering and more 'advise and assist' operations alongside Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).  Part of this advisory effort will be done by Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams or SFAATs.  An SFAAT team is composed of leaders with various military specialties. While partnering had a U.S. or coalition company element (about 150 men) working with an Afghan kandak (a battalion with about 600 men) the SFAATs are elements of 10 to 20 men performing advisory roles with the kandak headquarters.

Training.  The SFAATs undergo specific training to prepare them for their roles in Afghanistan. The first phase of training takes place at various locations around the country (home unit training) and consists of basic Soldier skills such as weapons qualification, tactical vehicle driving, map reading, first aid, fire support requests, counter IED, and operations in urban areas.  The second phase of training takes place at a Combat Training Center location such as Fort Polk or Hohenfels. 

SFAAT Advisor Selection. The selection process for advisors posted to Afghanistan as members of SFAATs by the U.S. military has been hit or miss. Some teams have the appropriate MOSs and ranks represented and others do not. Some teams come from active duty members of the same unit while others come from the reserve component from different units and geographical areas of the U.S. 6.

Advisory Academy and JRTC. The first ten days at Fort Polk the SFAAT members attend the Advisor Academy where the Soldiers focus on cultural awareness, language skills, relationship building and how to be advisors. Then the Soldiers attend training at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) for a two or three-week practical exercise.

Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC). European (and some U.S.) advisor teams attend training at JMRC at Hohenfels, Germany.

Marine Advisor Training. The Marine Corps sends its advisor teams to a Marine advisor training center that is comparable to JRTC and JMRC. The Advisor Training Group is located in Twentynine Palms, California.

Language Training for Advisors.  SFAAT team members are receiving between ten to twenty hours of language training. Some receive additional training through online courses with the Defense Language Institute (DLI) or through on-post language training facilities. Naturally knowing key phrases is helpful to build rapport but the vast majority of advisors rely on interpreters. A few SFAATs have the foresight to send one or two of their members to a two to four month language training course which helps the SFAAT in quickly building rapport with their advised unit. Read more about one advisors thoughts on the importance of language training here.

Organization of SFAATs.  The SFAAT team members are military members from various units who are formed up for this specific mission.  An SFAT will have nine, twelve, or eighteen members depending on echelon and type of unit they will be advising. Most SFAATs at the ANA kandak, AUP district center, or AUP kandak level are twelve-man teams commanded by a captain or major.  SFAATs at the ANA brigade level are composed of eighteen-man teams and commanded by an LTC. Some of the early units tapped to resource these teams included 1st Army, 162nd Training Brigade (Fort Polk), and 2nd Brigade 101st Airborne Division. Advisor teams from European countries are called Military Advisor Teams (MATs) or Police Advisor Teams (PATs). Many SFAATs are now sourced internally from within the deployed SFABs.

Augmentation with Embedded Police Mentors (EPMs). Some SFAATs are advising Afghan police elements such as the Afghan Uniform Police (AUP), Afghan Border Police (ABP), Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), and the Provincial and Regional Operations Control Centers (OCC-P and OCC-Rs). Police advisor teams are augmented with Embedded Police Mentors or EPMs. The EPMs are provided under contract with DynCorp.

Originally the Department of State ran much of the police advisory and training effort in Afghanistan. This effort was transferred to the Department of Defense recently. 3. The transition of oversight of the contract police trainers and advisors did not go well according to a GAO report. 5. Many reports indicate that the DynCorp contractors under the DoS program did not perform well. According to some reports this has not improved once the DoD picked up the responsibility for the EPMs. When EPMs are compared to the Law Enforcement Professional (LEP) program under the MPRI contract they come up short. Many blame this shortcoming on a huge difference in pay (between EPMs and LEPs) and on the lowering of recruiting standards by DynCorp to fill the positions. Some of the requirements of EPM employment include 7 years of law enforcement and 3 years of military experience; however, many observers believe that some EPMs do not meet these requirements. 4.

Military Police Position on SFAATs. One of the members of the SFAAT advising an Afghan police element is a member of the military police. This military policeman or MP will bring valuable experience to the police advisory team. The police advisory team will have the requisite ability to do police advising should it have its mandated MP and EPM augmentation. Very few Police Advisor Teams (PATs) actually filled the senior NCO with an MP.

Objective of SFAATs.  The SFAATs will work with their Afghan counterparts to improve their logistics, intelligence, maintenance, administration, rule of law, and training capabilities.

SFA Principles. In early 2012 General John Allen, COMISAF, released a memorandum entitled "15 Principles of SFA". These principles provide sound advice on the SFA advisor mindset and are worth reading a few times. See Principles of SFA.

ISAF Security Force Assistance Guide (May 2013). ISAF has published an SFA guide for SFAATs and SFABs. The publication can be accessed here on the Harmonie Ronna CAAT website.

Intelligence Advisor. The Intelligence Advisor has one of the more challenging jobs on the SFAAT - trying to teach Afghan intel officers how to conduct intelligence activities in a counterinsurgency environment. Many Afghans are illiterate and this compounds the intel advisors job.  It is hard to teach advanced targeting concepts such as F3EAD when your target audience does not know how to read or write. It is even more difficult when the SFAATs have a junior infantry officer (LT) in the intel advisor position attempting to teach a topic that he knows nothing about (a common theme).

Fires Advisor. Each SFAAT has one or two fires personnel - whether officer or enlisted (sometimes one of each).  Their mission is to help provide coalition fires to the Afghans, assist in the deconfliction of ANA fires (see D-30 howitzers), and provide or arrange for instruction that will develop the Afghan fires capability.

Insider Threat.  The SFAATs mission requires them to interact with Afghan officers and NCOs on a daily and constant basis. This results in a high level of threat from insider attacks - attacks against coalition Soldiers from members of the ANSF.  Learn more about the insider threat from the ANSF and view recent news articles about the ANSF insider attacks.

Medical Advisor. Most SFAATs have some type of medical NCO or officer on the team. Usually this is a junior medical NCO (E4 to E6) who provides medical assistance internally to the SFAAT. However what usually happens is, in addition to his internal medic responsibilities, the junior NCO becomes an ANA medical advisor to the ANA doctor and PAs assigned to the ANA kandak or brigade. One would think . . . oh, never mind. Some of the junior NCOs make the adjustment well and do a fine job; others struggle to build the rapport and capability to advise and assist a doctor or PA senior in rank, experience, age, and training.

Engineer Advisors. SFA Engineer advisors are found at the MATs advising brigades and corps. There are also Engineer advisory teams matched up with the Corps Engineer Kandaks or CEKs.

Air Advisors to Afghan Air Force (AAF). In addition to the numerous types of SFAATs and advisors described above the Afghan Air Force also has its advisors from a number of coalition countries. Learn more about Air Advisors to the Afghan Air Force.

Counterinsurgency (COIN). The Afghans are fighting an insurgency. Thus they are counterinsurgents. This is an important factor to consider when advising the ANA or ANP.  Not only does the advisor work the functional areas of personnel, intelligence, operations, logisitics, and communications but he also must be advisor on counterinsurgency or COIN. This means being knowlegible in the areas of security, governance, and development and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.

Information Operations. Some COIN "experts" argue that Information Operations is a fourth pillar of counterinsurgency. Whether IO falls under the governace pillar of COIN or it is a fourth pillar is academic. What is important is that the SFAAT advisor recognize the importance of IO in a COIN fight and assists that kandak, brigade, PHQ, DCoP, DGoV, PCoP, PGoV, and others in implementing good IO methodology - to include use of radio (learn about "Radio In A Box" at RIABs), newsprint, and other means of communication. (See recent news articles about IO in Afghanistan)

Dealing with Corruption. The Afghan government is corrupt from the top (Yes, President Karzai is the worst offender) all the way down to the district officials at the local level. The Afghan National Police (ANP) - and to a lesser extent, the Afghan National Army (ANA) - are also corrupt. Advisers will run across corruption among the Afghans they are advising. Sorting out what should be overlooked (retail theft of fuel) and what should be stopped (large bulk theft of fuel) is often difficult.

Levels of Advising. As bases closed and troop levels went down during 2013 the type of advising effort changed. Levels of advising were established. Level 1 advising was constant, persistant, and daily engagement. Level 2 advising was a more standoff approach. Level 3 advising has varied meanings; depending on which document you look at or who you are talking to. Some definitions state that it is the occassional phone call or visit; while other definitions indicated that it is advising that takes place with units that visit a central location - such as a Regional Military Training Center (RMTC).

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Websites Related to SFAATs, SFA

Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance (JCISFA). "The JCISFA captures and analyzes Security Force Assistance (SFA) lessons from contemporary and historical operations in order to advise and assist DoD and the broader US government to generate appropriate organizational structures and processes necessary to develop foreign security force capabilities and capacities in support of US policies and objectives."

Advisor Training Group.  United States Marine Corps.

Counterinsurgency Center.  U.S. Army Combined Arms Center. The mission of the COIN center is to "provide Doctrine, Organization, Training, Material, Leader Development and Education, Personnel, and Facilities (DOTMLPF) solutions applicable to counterinsurgency environments in order to improve ground forcesí capability to execute and succeed in counterinsurgency operations globally."

NATO Allied Command Operations. Security Force Assistance Model.  NATO website provides a definition of SFA and background information on the advisor teams.  Accessed here.

Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC).  Best practices for SFAATs. A wealth of documents of value to SFAATs while conducting pre-deployment and while deployed to Afghanistan. The JRTC SFAAT Best Practices website can be accessed here.

SOLLIMS. PKSOI's Stability Operations Lessons Learned & Information Management System (SOLLIMS) is designed to allow US Military, USG civilian agencies, multinational military and civilian organizations, IOs, NGOs, and private sector organizations to engage in a collaborative process for the collection, analysis, dissemination and integration of lessons learned for Peace and Stability Operations. Read or download a brochure to learn more about SOLLIMS here.


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Videos about SFAATs
(listed in chronological order)

April 22, 2013. SFAAT 6 Trains ALP and AUP in CQB. DVIDS. Advisors mentor police in Ah Band district, Ghazni province. Available here.

April 7, 2013. Security Force Assistance Advisor Team Interview. DVIDS. A SFAAT team leader advising the 2nd Brigade 215th Corps explains how they advise and assist their Afghan counterparts in Sangin district, Helmand province. Available here.

April 7, 2013. Security Force Assistance Advisor Team Combat Service Support interview. DVIDS. An advisor on an SFAAT talks about his job advising 5th Combat Service Support Kandak (CSSK), 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps in Helmand province.

December 6, 2012. Marine Capt. Leland B. Burns, Interview with an Afghan SFA advisor who worked in Helmand province.  Available here.

November 2, 2013. SFAAT OEF Slideshow. A series of photos depicting the deployment of SFAATs from 4 BCT 1AD to Afghanistan. Available here.

September 17, 2012. New SFAAT Teams Train at CSJFTC. Posted on DVIDS. Accessed here on October 6, 2012.

September 15, 2012. 56th Security Force Assistance Advisory Team prepares for Afghan Deployment.  Posted on DVIDS. Accessed here on September 17, 2012.

March 18, 2012.  162nd Infantry Brigade trains SFAT.  Posted on DVIDS.  Accessed here on March 25, 2012.

March 5, 2012.  Afghanistan Security Force Assistance Team Training.  By US Army posted on YouTube.  Accessed here on March 25, 2012.

November 17, 2011.  Security Forces Assistance Team Trains Afghan National Police.  DVIDS.  Accessed here on March 25, 2012.


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1.  For more on definitions of Security Force Assistance (SFA), Partner Units (PU) and Transition Support Units (TSU) see a webpage by NATO here.

2. See a NATO Media Backgrounder, "ISAF Mission Evolution - SFA", October 8, 2012 for more details.  Accessed here on October 8, 2012.

3. See "Department of Defense Effort to Train Afghan Police Relies on Contractor Personnel to Fill Skill and Resource Gaps", GAO, February 23, 2012.  Accessed here.

4. See requirements for DynCorp International EPMs here.

5. See DoD Report No. D-2011-095, a joint audit by the Inspectors General of Department of State and Department of Defense entitled "Afghan National Police Training Program: Lessons Learned During the Transition of Contract Administration", August 15, 2011.  Accessed here.

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


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