Small Wars Journal

Letting Them Scrape a Knee: Advising for Third Order Effects

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 5:15am

Letting Them Scrape a Knee: Advising for Third Order Effects

Thomas Doherty

“Their logistics system is completely lacking,” said the G4 advisor. “They lack the ability to get supplies to their troops,” he went on to add.

“Actually they have a very good supply system,” said the Special Forces captain.

“What are you talking about? They are lacking in every class of supply,” said the G4 Advisor.

“Their supply system works great. We go to them and say I want you to do Y mission in X district. To which they respond, “If you want me to defend my country you need to give me food, fuel, water, and ammo.” Then we give it to them. They go on the mission. We report how great they are at unilateral operations and everyone is happy. See? Their system works great!" answered the captain.

The above conversation happened in Afghanistan where the U.S. military has repeatedly violated its own doctrine for more than a decade. During this time the military updated its doctrine stating what was supposed to be done. According to the field manual entitled Advising Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Advising Foreign Forces, "…the advisors must refrain from becoming the logistics planners and coordinators for their FF [Friendly Force] counterparts. The advisor's effectiveness decreases when forced into this role."[i]

If you just give the Host Nation (HN) stuff or do stuff for them you become their system. The US military has done this for over a decade in Afghanistan and until about a year or so ago no one paid serious attention to what happens when that system suddenly retrogrades back home. Even Afghan leadership does not want to face this directly.

“Well, we hope it will not happen. We think the Americans will find a way to stay,” said the governor of the Koh-e-Safi district[ii]

In Afghanistan the US military has mostly conducted what I refer to as first order advising (FOA). Advisors never transition to what I term second order advising (SOA) or third order advising (TOA). This happened for several reasons, it is easier to give the host nation (HN) stuff, to do it for them, and to point HN to where CF commanders want them to go. While this directly violates our doctrine and long term goals, it does insure that our measures of performance (MoP) reports look good. No one wants to tell their senior rater the mission did not happen because “Kandak X” did not order enough bullets or fuel.

FOA, SOA and TOA advising are a description of the style of advising needed to reach a desired endstate of the advised force. U.S. advisors have conducted predominantly FOA in Afghanistan. This is the same form of advising the U.S. military uses during Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) or Counter Narcotic Training (CNT) with other countries. Since the U.S. has different goals for what it wishes to accomplish in different countries the order of advising used should be tailored to the desired endstate for that specific country. In Afghanistan the U.S. wanted to take a country from no legitimate security forces to a self-sustaining effective security force and therefore need to achieve a TOA level. Meanwhile in another country the US may simply desire a long term presence and therefore CNTs that only accomplish FOA will work fine.

In Afghanistan CF filled HN capabilities gaps with CF capabilities, supplies, and know how. This has resulted in ANSF seeing what should be done but rarely having to do it. Basically the Afghans were taught how to ride a bike by someone telling them to watch someone else ride a bike. The advisors never let them fall down and scrape their knee. One of the more blatant examples of violating doctrine is the ANSF logistic system. U.S. advisors told researchers for CNA's Independent Assessment of the Afghan National Security Forces that, "...U.S. SOF routinely provide parts for and repair these items outside ANA logistics and maintenance processes. This enables ANA SOF to continue conducting operations, but does not help build a sustainable logistics process for them."[iii]

Definitions for Orders of Advising

How I propose to break down advising is in three forms that match a desired end state. The forms are called orders of advising because they look into the first, second, and third order effect of the advisors mission. FOA is the easiest for everyone involved. However it does not take into account the second and third order effects of the HN forces not progressing and learning hard lessons. By never being allowed to fall off the bike they never learn how to anticipate and avoid that fall.

Here are the definitions for the orders of advising.

First order advising (FOA) Advising in a form where the Advisors have the primary responsibility for insuring that operations and or training is performed for the HN. Advisors prevent failure and or defeat at all levels.

Second order advising (SOA) Advising in a form where the advisors over watch HN forces missions and or training down to the tactical level. HN has complete responsibility for insuring that operations and or training is performed. Advisors prevent only catastrophic failure or defeat at the tactical level. Advisors allow HN forces to suffer minor failures and or defeats at the tactical level.

Third order advising (TOA) Advising in a form where there are no advisors at the tactical level. Advisors over watch HN forces missions and or training at the operational level and higher. Advisors prevent only catastrophic failure and or defeats above the tactical level. Advisors allow HN forces to suffer minor failures and or defeats at the operational level. Advisors prevent defeats but not failures at the Strategic level.

The most drastic part of the order of advising concept is that it allows for failures such as HN soldiers going hungry from improper supply planning or letting HN instructors be embarrassed from failing to prepare properly. It also allows the HN force to suffer minor defeats in order to learn hard lessons. Although it may sound odious, in the long run it will pay off. It is the forcing mechanism that causes HN to become proficient. When a HN soldier is killed because they would rather go to sleep and not pull security they learn why the advisors keep harping on security. If they do not learn these lessons while the advisor is present they may suffer greater consequences when the advisor is no longer present.

Moving beyond FOA is harder than it might seem. Having graduated the Special Forces Qualification course twice there was nothing I wanted to do more then to tell the G-Chief 'No,  I will not do that for you.' After advising the Afghan Commando School I realized saying no is not the hard part. The hard part is how you say no. In S/TOA the advisor deliberately holds resources back forcing HN to use their own systems. The HN knows you have stacks of halal meals but instead of just giving them to him as previous advisors have, the advisor forces the HN to use the much harder request process. In my experience they will test your will. Almost like a game of chicken, they know you are under pressure to report their success. Therefore, how far are you willing to let them go before you cave? I found that after they hit the wall once or twice they figure it out and start using their systems.

When Should the Different Orders be Used?

FOA works great in two places; Where the US wants constant contact, access, and or dependency by HN security/guerrilla forces. Our coalition partners are an example of this. They are competent. However, by doing a JCET with their forces we learn from each other and build a knowledge base before working together in a country like Afghanistan; When just starting out such as building a new security/guerrilla force for a HN and or initial contact with a guerrilla force. For example, JCETs to specific countries so that US forces can maintain a presence and constantly introduce US themes and messages.

SOA should be used in three situations; After a base foundation for the new security/guerrilla force has been trained and conducted confidence target operations; When conducting an actual train the trainer program; When we actually want to "work ourselves out of a job." An example of this is what Section 8 from the Commando Special Operations Advisory Group (CDO SOAG) accomplished at the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command School of Excellence (ANASOC SOE). Section 8 refused to teach any course once an instructor had been trained. They conducted a train the trainer program and made the Afghan instructors teach the course. Even when the SOE command requested US instructors teach a course it was denied. When the Afghan instructors complained their honor would be hurt if they failed they were told that honor came from accomplishing a task not letting someone else do it for you. Section 8 took their hands off the bike and stood bye to prevent catastrophic failure. As a result the ANASOC SOE had no Coalition Forces (CF) leading any classes within a few months.

TOA should be used in one situation. When a HN security/guerrilla forces are completely capable of conducting unilateral operations. This is where ISAF is saying Afghanistan is today. However if Afghanistan is truly at that point and the ANSF are capable of unilateral operations then advisors would not be needed below brigade or provincial level. The advisors would work with HN operational and strategic level staffs providing advice, alternate courses of action, and maintaining situational awareness of HN progress. 

How to Institute Orders of Advising.

The hardest part will be following our own advising doctrine. After which the doctrine can be adjusted as needed. Currently doctrine and actions on the ground do not align. How many times do you hear it needs to be Afghan sustainable? It follows that issuing the Afghans costly unsustainable equipment is not the correct answer. Yet in spite of the recommendations of the advisors on the ground CF gave the Afghans expensive complicated radio systems while the Taliban report back to their bases in Pakistan using off the shelf commercially available equipment.

The military needs to delink the commander’s evaluation of the advisor from the advisor's evaluation of the advised unit.  Currently advisors tend to feel that the reports they send on HN units capabilities will reflect directly on their performance reports. At a U.S Army Combat Training Centers (CTC) such as the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, the Observer Controller Trainer (OC/T) is not rated based upon the rotational unit’s performance. At the CTC the OC/T is rated based on how he or she performs the job of being an advisor. The OC/T is rated on the ability to give good advice, to explain doctrine and its use in the situation. The OC/T is not rated on whether the rotational unit took the advice. There is a realization that the unit being advised may not perform to a specified standard. An honest set of goals backed by a set of MoEs needs to be given to the advisor. Commanders need to evaluate their advisors on how they advise and not directly on the reports the advisor writes about HN performance. This current connection leads to commanders being told what they want to hear and or the advisor doing it for the HN. One example I have repeatedly seen is Kandak X is rated 'Green: Fully capable of unilateral operations'. Then in the fine print you see that they are still being given logistics support. The Operational summaries of their missions are full of details on how an advisor had to lead them to the objective, push them to clear target buildings, perform medical evacuation, force them to pull security, provide mission essential equipment etc. It was easy to hide this as long as there was another advisor unit following this one. The problems are no longer hidden when HN units are uncovered leaving them without the advisors they are dependent on.

Contracted advisors have a limited window of utility when attempting to create a self sufficient security force infrastructure. I have worked with some great contractors in both Iraq and Afghanistan. However, it needs to be understood that contractors work for companies and these companies are designed to produce a profit. Therefore, they do not want to work themselves out of a job. There is simply no profit in not having a contract. It is in a company's best interest to keep the HN forces dependent on their instructors. As you attempt to reduce civilian staff companies will resist and attempt to defend their bottom line.

If you find yourself saying you will do it for them just this one time or some equivalent you are in the wrong. I call it the “Just this one time syndrome” which takes the easy wrong over the hard right and is very contagious. I have seen this happen a lot when a CF commander wants something done on a CF timeline. The advisor ends up making it happen just this one time. Both the commander and the advisor are in the wrong. It should be on the HN timeline and the advisor will prevent the HN from doing the task and therefore learning to do it themselves. Advisors believe their commanders will view failure of the HN to accomplish the task in time as failure on the part of the advisor.

The advisors should all communicate on issues but not attempt to solve them for the HN. For example, let us say a request for ammunition has been submitted. The advisors may know that the Division G-4 has not been to work for several days. Even though the Corps level advisors have a copy of the request, they do not bypass the HN systems. Instead they would advise their counterparts to follow up on the request, ask leading questions during KLEs such as, “Weren't you supposed to receive the ammo requests from Kandak X a couple of days ago?” Most of us have experienced this type of advising while conducting mission readiness exercises at a CTC. It should be noted that unless the lack of ammo for Kandak X is about to cause the HN to be defeated at an operational level, the advisors should not deliver the ammo for the HN.

As the military moves forward there will be other countries that require different levels of advising. Using the different orders of advising may allow us to better focus our efforts toward a long term goal and not this month’s MoP report. The military will be able to transition itself out of a job via a transition to TOA or maintain a constant tactical presence via FOA. All of which is, of course, METT-C dependent.

End Notes

[i] Advising Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Advising Foreign Forces FM 3-07.10 MCRP 33-33.8A NTTP 3-07.5 AFTTP 3-2.76. 2009 ed. N.p.: Air Land Sea Application Center, 2009.

 [ii] Ahmed, Azam. "U.S. Mentors Prepare to Let Afghan Forces Go It Alone." The New York Times 22 July 2014, New York ed.: A4. The New York Times. Web. 6 Aug. 2014. <>. 

[iii] Schroden, Jonathan, et al. Independent Assessment of the Afghan National Security Forces. Research rept. no. DRM-2014-U-006815-Final. N.p.: CNA Strategic Studies, 2014. CNA Corporation. Web. 6 Aug. 2014. <>.


About the Author(s)

Thomas Doherty has a Master of Arts in Military History from Norwich University and Strategic Security Studies from the National Defense University. He has served in both the enlisted and officer ranks in both the National Guard and active duty Army. Originally commissioned through the Arkansas National Guard OCS program he was re-commissioned via a direct commission. He has served in multiple military occupational specialties. He has served in 3rd Ranger Battalion, 7th and 3rd Special Forces Groups, 51st LRS, JRTC, and other staff and instructor positions. He has deployed to Colombia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Tajikistan, Botswana, and Germany. Currently he is serving as a Special Forces officer. Follow him on Twitter at, @warfarebytom


Thomas Doherty

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 6:19am

A couple of these things are pointed to in the article.

"Examples of untruthfulness in areas as diverse as shortage annexes, assessments of partner forces, storyboards, or Commander’s Emergency Response Program funds are also common." .........."Despite the existence of this mutually agreed deception, all concerned are content to sanction and support the illusion that all is well." ....... "Army leaders are situated between the two identities—parroting the talking points of the latest Army Profession Campaign while placating the Army bureaucracy or civilian overseers by telling them what they want to hear. As a result, Army leaders learn to talk of one world while living in another."


Tue, 12/02/2014 - 2:29am

In reply to by Thomas Doherty


Your continuing contributions to the SWJ community of interest and practice are appreciated.


Thomas Doherty

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 6:23pm

Thank you so far the feed back has been positive. I will give everyone 3 guesses who the SF CPT was. (first 2 do not count)
Morgan I would say yes and not only in Afghanistan or Iraq but around the world.


You are spot-on with your article. After spending 18 months with the program you reference, I was rather surprised at how many in the SF community conduct advising in that manner. It was frustrating enough to work with conventional forces who advised in the manner you describe but I didn’t expect that from SF. But given the short deployment timelines they are under coupled with the OER concerns that everyone has, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising. I think it reinforces comments made previously by several folks about the need for longer deployments. Not popular but more effective for such missions. Also, I’ve read several articles, and spoken to active and retired SF types, about SF being more focused on DA missions VS “combat advising” during OEF / OIF. Could this be negatively impacting advisory efforts?

Your concern about contractors is understandable. I was surprised when, upon arrival in Afghanistan, I heard my team leader caution us about rating our SOB as achieving “full operational capability” ,or FOC, since doing so would “work us out of a job”. I know contractors want to remain employed (I certainly did) but isn’t the whole point of our advisory effort to work ourselves out of a job?

101st Ranger

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 6:47am

Great contribution to several taboo issues. I think we all need to look down at the Army values key chains that we used to be inspected for. In good conscience, how can we report to our supervisors (civilian policy makers or uniformed flag officers) that these units are green? Many of the battalion commanders in Iraq repeated this deception as brigade commanders in Afghanistan. As your article clearly describes, the commanders then use their own US resources to bolster their claims that the Host Nation is fully capable. It is only after Congress and the President decide to go home that reality is exposed. It is hard to blame a politician for bringing the troops home after the politicians have been told that the Host Nation is prepared to stand on their own? Even the Host Nation leaders buy into the stoplight chart assessments that we sell; just ask former Prime Minister Maliki.