Small Wars Journal

Enabling the Success of the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades

Sun, 09/22/2019 - 11:10am

Enabling the Success of the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades

DJ Collier

In February 2017 the Army approved the stand-up of Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) and their supporting Military Advisor Training Academy (MATA). Standing up a completely new type of Army brigade is a complex process, and Army leadership decided to stand up and deploy the SFABs as rapidly as possible to meet the increasing demand for combat advisers around the world. SFABs are the brainchild of Gen. Mark Milley, then Chief of Staff of the Army, who recognized that the Army needs teams of Soldiers to train partner forces outside of the special operations community. Because of the complexity of the SFAB unit and mission support requirements to enable the success of the SFABs and the MATA were initially somewhat unclear; however, they are becoming clearer over time.

One of the issues that has become clearer is the scope and scale of the adviser mission in the coming years. According to the World Bank, “two billion people live in countries where development outcomes are affected by fragility, conflict and violence.” It is estimated that by 2030 half of the world’s population will be living in areas either affected by conflict or where conflict is likely. This indicates that widespread low-intensity conflict is a clear and present danger that necessitates security force assistance and security cooperation remain a priority outlined in U.S. national security policy. While it will take national leadership to address this challenge at the strategic level, there are measures that can be taken to mitigate chal­lenges at the operational and tactical levels. In order to adequately engage and mitigate this threat the U.S. along with our allies must prepare to engage in stability operations in several areas of responsibility (AORs). They must be able to do so with a shared understanding among all Department of Defense (DoD) adviser components, the interagency, private sector, international governmental organizations (IGOs) and national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Advising missions not only need to be joint operations, but they should intentionally integrate allied partners.

Although military doctrine touches on these themes it does so predominantly at the executive level. The “all of government approach” concept which has been applied by the interagency and executive levels of the DoD have fallen short. A significant reason for this shortfall has been the fact that overall knowledge of this approach and training of its application is virtually non-existent at the mid-level officer and noncommissioned officer corps. It is folly to pursue a course of action when the bulk of your forces required to implement a strategy are not trained and not aware of the other players or how they fit in in the overall architecture of the strategy. This shortfall must be addressed and such training can no longer only exist at the level of the war colleges if adviser missions are to be successful. Mission success requires military and civilian personnel to work seamlessly with each other as well as with allies, partners, international organiza­tions and NGOs, each with overlapping mandates and often divergent objectives. Advisers need a more in-depth understanding of the interagency, NGOs and IGOs along with the ability to interact with these organizations.

The MATA is taking steps to fill these gaps, as the Combat Adviser Training Course (CATC) is preparing to expand its curriculum from five weeks to nine weeks of training, which will include entry-level training on the interagency, NGOs and multinational forces. Since 2017 the MATA has formed a growing collaborative network with interagency and academic partners dubbed the Adviser Knowledge Network. In the summer of 2019 MATA launched the Cultural Intelligence Fusion Center in partnership with Auburn and Troy universities. The CIFC will spearhead the coordination of information sharing and technology integration efforts in order to enhance training for the SFABs by providing in-depth intelligence and information about human networks. CIFC will also leverage powerful emerging open-source intelligence (OSINT) technologies and new techniques to employ them in the field with the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at Auburn University, which works to develop innovative strategies addressing current and future challenges related to cybersecurity, force protection and counterterrorism. The MATA and Auburn University will host the first adviser symposium bringing all DoD advising efforts, interagency partners academia and NGOs together in one location to begin joint discussions on collaboration and coordination in February of 2020.

Despite these steps much more needs to be done to develop military advisers. The U.S. military advising effort needs to be more cohesive; advisers from all four branches need to increase collaboration, coordination and train together to form a unified corps of military advisers. Additionally, a collaborative space is required, one uniquely tailored to facilitate unity of effort among necessary partners to enable the success of advising missions extending beyond government partners to include NGOs, IGOs and corporate interest. Historically one of the biggest obstacles of coordination between the military and NGOs and IGOs has been the classification data. Though this will likely always remain an obstacle for major combat operations the advising mission provides the opportunity and reinforces the necessity for real information sharing and coordination enabling successful adviser missions. Advances in technology in the realm of OSINT collection and analysis can enable data sharing, analysis and collaboration on a scale that has never been possible.

These are by no means “new” concepts they have been outlined in studies by think tanks, organizations like the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance and countless military scholars. Effectively implementing these recommendations has proven challenging and difficult, hampered by bureaucratic hurdles, cultural conflicts and the lack of investment of time and resources. To overcome these issues, a neutral partner should facilitate the effort and academia is the ideal partner to assist in building the necessary bridges. An academic institution outside the beltway that routinely works with DoD, the interagency and NGOs would be ideal to house a collaborative space for OSINT research innovation, information sharing and data analysis. The myriad of organizations that work in conflict affected and unstable areas share several common goals. Coordination, communication, or even a shared understanding among these organizations of one another’s mission, capabilities, and structures are lacking. In order for these organizations to work more efficiently, a more comprehensive and shared understanding along with increased communication and coordination is no longer “a good idea” it’s an imperative and a necessity for military advisers to be successful.

Lastly, it is our responsibility to establish and foster a new culture unique to military advisers. A culture built around the small unit construct present in special operations units but ultimately unique. A culture that can enable joint operations, build capacity by identifying indigenous solutions to indigenous problems and who are confident working with partners outside the norm of typical combat operations. Advisers not only need to be trained to do these tasks we need to ensure they are empowered to do these tasks. The responsibility of ensuring that the interagency and other organizations are nested appropriately with DoD can no longer reside at the executive level when it comes to advising missions it has to be delegated and managed by the advisers comprised of our NCO corps and select officers. The tasks laid out in these proposals will be demanding, but if we fail to fill these gaps the most recent iteration of the U.S. advising efforts will join the list of previous efforts that failed to meet the challenge.

The views reflected in this article are the author’s and should not be construed as reflecting the views of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

About the Author(s)

DJ Collier is the senior intelligence adviser at the Military Adviser Training Academy at Fort Benning, Georgia. He has worked in several AORs throughout his career in the intelligence community spanning over 20 years and is a Ph.D. candidate at Auburn University.



Fri, 09/24/2021 - 9:54am

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Sat, 01/25/2020 - 2:55am


Many thanks for posting this interesting and relevant article by Mr. DJ Collier, which present as a, IMPO, long-overdue treatment of this subject of a finally-formalized mission for our Army.

Please send the direct POC data for Mr. Collier, or otherwise, relay this request to him for his direct response to me.

** Have some relevant and perhaps-useful open-source materials available for his consideration and possible integration with the to-be-expanded POI for the MATA's CATC.

** I provide very-similar training support services as Middle East-oriented LREC SME / advisor / trainer / "train the trainer" to a US Marine Corps organization in VA which conducts  country-specific pre-deployment training programs (PTPs) and "military advisor courses" which seem parallel to the MATA's CATC.  

Many thanks in advance for your attention and kind assistance in this matter. Today is Friday, 24 January 2020.


Stephen H. Franke, M.Ed., PMP(P)

LTC, FAO (FA 48G  Middle East) / MI / SOF/

Attaché / Security Assistance / Security Cooperation,

U.S. Army Retired

San Pedro, California

Skype: shfranke - Email: - tel (US): 1-310-832-1037