It has become increasingly common knowledge that we only pay lip service to the advisor mission as the most important mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have not trained, equipped, or employed advisors in order to allow them to be decisive in both theaters--nor have we task organized the Army in particular or established its personnel management system to support long term advisory efforts. We will have these requirements for some time to come in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Give any officer or senior NCO today who would like to advance his career a choice about whether he would take a standard command or staff position or an advisor position and he would almost surely choose the former (some of us who have advised might choose the latter but we wouldn't believe it would enhance our careers). Several of my next few posts will deal with some less well-known specifics about the advisor mission that will need to be fixed if senior leaders believe, as I believe and they have said they believe, that only the Afghans and Iraqis can, at the end of the day, defeat Takfiris and other anti-government elements within.
The question of who trains US military advisors should seem on its face a simple one. For those who read this blog, serve in the US Army, or have read about the advisor mission elsewhere, the answer would seem the Fort Riley Training Mission in Kansas (subject of a Wall Street Journal piece
in February, an article on NPR
, and various other news stories). Indeed, Fort Riley was stood up to address the ad hoc training of advisors deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq that existed prior to 2006.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps if you've ever been stationed at Riley), the reality remains that many who serve as mentors to the Iraqi and Afghan Army and Police forces come from an utterly confusing array of different training posts with no standardized training nor a standardized conception of what it is that advisors do.
For Iraq, US Army advisors for the Iraqi Army and Iraqi National Police are often trained at Fort Riley. Advisors for the Iraqi Police (the local, as opposed to national force), however, are trained at Fort Leonard Wood with little or no cross talk between the two institutions. Advisors serving at higher levels within the Iraqi Assistance Group are trained at any mish mash of places as more-or-less individual augmentees.
For Afghanistan, US Army, Navy, and Air Force advisors theoretically train at Fort Riley. Unfortunately, since the command in Afghanistan does not identify in what capacity personnel will serve prior to their arrival in theater, many personnel who will be serving in mentor regional commands or TF Phoenix staff with no advisory function are sent to the training to gain tactical skills and advisor instruction totally irrelevant to their job (e.g., the computer network guy for Camp Phoenix in Kabul). Also, many who serve on advisor teams or in leadership positions receive their training not at Fort Riley but instead at Fort Shelby. This includes the current command at TF Phoenix and many of its senior mentors who, despite rebuffed attempts by the current commander to have the 27th trained at Fort Riley, were trained at Shelby.
Others serving in the advisor mission, for example security force personnel accompanying many of the advisor teams and therefore capable of being asked to serve as advisors while on missions, receive their training at Fort Bragg or any number of Reserve mobilization stations. Individual augmentees for Afghanistan can be trained at Fort Dix (about two weeks), Fort Benning (a few days), or any number of other sites.
US Marines, executing the same mission as Army, Navy, and Air Force advisors in both Iraq and Afghanistan are trained separately at Twenty-Nine Palms. Separately trained Marine teams often serve side by side with their sister-service brethren advisors.
Internally sourced training teams coming from Army and Marine Corps regular combat units receive no specific advisor training.
Meanwhile, the PRTs, who serve, when acting most effectively, as advisors to the Iraqi and Afghan governments on governance and economic development train at Fort Bragg entirely separate from those who will be mentoring the Iraqi and Afghan security forces, inhibiting unity of effort.
There is absolutely no cross over between advisor training efforts of components of Special Operations Command, primarily, MARSOC and USASOC and those of the regular forces, even as Special Operations units are working closely with conventionally-sourced advisors on the ground.
And we won't even get too deep into the training of non-US-NATO-sourced Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams which train in their home countries and then may or may not go to US-run JMRC in Germany for additional training.
What does this all add up to? A big mess. JCISFA (the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance) based at Fort Leavenworth was an attempt to fix this, but it lacks any real teeth or control over even the Fort Riley Training Mission, located only a couple hours away in Kansas, let alone, the other advisor training efforts. And even JCISFA does not know all of the training centers that are involved in training advisors today.
Advisors on the ground don't have a common training regimen, let alone doctrine, to fall back on (although JCISFA is trying to fix the latter). Advisor commands, resourced by personnel who generally have never served as advisors and have received little advisor training, have little understanding of the training and capabilities of the teams which serve under them. Advisors with similar missions or working in the same area of operations deploy ad hoc to that area, even if they deploy as individual teams, inhibiting unity of effort at the ground level.
Fixing the situation will require first recognition that the advisor mission is not going to go away and then a push by senior leaders, including Congress, to codify advisor missions and training and to develop long-term, sustainable solutions that train and deploy Joint advisor teams capable of providing support across all counterinsurgency lines of effort. It remains a large question mark whether the leaders within these institutions can overcome bureaucratic inertia and their own prejudices (particularly SOCOM's allergies to supporting the training of conventional advisors) to enact such solutions. Their ability to prevail over the current system may be a large determining factor in just how long we have to fight and bleed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other theaters.