So, what to do next? Kip is hoping you have a bit of time for some professional development. The US military, you see, has learned some lessons along the way on advising. Alas, it has forgotten as much as it has learned...but whether you're a professional soldier or just interested in the most important military mission in Afghanistan and Iraq, here are some selections for you to look at.
Lieutenant Colonel John L. Cook's The Advisor: the Phoenix Program in Vietnam is perhaps the best book Kip has encountered on being a combat advisor. It explains the dynamics of a team, the training received, and gaps in the understanding and knowledge of the advisors. And it offers some true gems as first lieutenant and then captain Cook works with his South Vietnamese counterparts to defeat the political infrastructure of the Viet Cong.
From Cook's Vietnamese counterpart Quy, a lesson for every advisor:
"But you insist on doing it as if my people were not Vietnamese but Americans. All the things that are good for you are not good for them," he explained. "You talk of marketplaces and economy and income. It is all difficult to understand. Why must a rice farmer make much money? Why must people have houses with wooden floors and running water? Why should he make more than he can use? We can only eat so much and sleep in one bed. A good life here is not the same as the good life in America. You must first ask yourself what the Vietnamese need and want. We must answer these questions. If you offer them much in the beginning, they do not understand."The book shares the close tie that successful advisors develop with their interpreters, the men who serve as cultural advisors to the military advisor:
I had grown to know Chi quite well during the time I'd been in Di An. We had walked through the long, hot days and the endless rice paddies together. We had shared the same canteen, the same box of C-rations, the same risks. When we suffered losses, they had been mutual losses, a phenomenon Chi was not able to understand at first ("How can an American care about the death of a Vietnamese or pretend to be sorry when a Vietnamese dies?"), but was forced to accept as being true ("why else would an American risk his life to save a Vietnamese unless he cared?"). All of these things had been vital in building a relationship that was free of deception and dishonesty. We had reached the point where Chi no longer told me only the things he thought I wanted to hear--a common condition that plagues most advisor-interpreter relationships--but everything he thought I should hear.In the book, you can feel the same frustrations that advisors in Afghanistan and Iraq feel today:
Being at the bottom gave me an advantage those above me did not have; I could see the difference between what was supposed to happen and what was actually happening, and the two had very little in common.In its totality the book offers not only a practical view of what effective advising looks like but also offers glimpses into other aspects of the effort ought look like, from the type of training received by advisors to the work done at Combined training centers in which South Vietnamese and US counterparts trained together (and which seem to have been far above what is offered today at Afghanistan's and Iraq's in-theater training centers).
Kip originally found this diamond on advising hidden in another jewel from the Combat Studies Institute, a compilation of articles on advising entitled Advice for Advisors: Suggestions and Observations from Lawrence to the Present. The compilation by Robert Ramsey includes some spectacular observations on what is required to be an effective advisor, not just of the individual, but also of the institution.
From Gregory T. Banner, where Kip found the recommendation on Cook's The Advisor, there is this observation:
It appears to me that our effort in El Salvador was likewise conducted without a serious study of Vietnam or an effort to learn what we could from that or other conflicts....For all the difficulty of conventional operations, they are not even in the same ball-park as far as the need to be innovative, creative, and juggle a host of political, military, social and economic requirements. The fact is that nobody is adequately trained for the work and that makes a complex job extremely difficult. Nevertheless, I feel that the difficulty of the challenge does not excuse poor performance. We get paid to tackle such problems, analyze what is going on and find solutions. I am embarrassed at how little I have accomplished here and only through hearing similar feelings from other advisors have I been able to keep some measure of professional self-respect. I have no doubt that the job could be done better. My one great hope is that we can do it better and take the time to really study the problem and develop workable solutions. We are not there yet and we owe it to our country and those we want to help, to get our act together and figure out how to do this type of mission.Surely to the chagrin of the original author, the observation could easily have been pulled from Kip's After Action Report of his time in Afghanistan.
Lawrence's Twenty-Seven Articles, timeless as ever, are included in the work. Captain James F. Ray, a Rhodes scholar and infantry captain killed in action, reminds us that military personnel learned lessons on political advising during a counterinsurgency from which the members of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) might still learn. Later, Major General John H. Cushman writes that "insight" is the most important quality for any advisor. It is a compilation that ought to be read by both maneuver commanders who employ advisors and the advisors themselves.
This it shares in common with Robert Ramsey's preceding Long War Paper, entitled Advising Indigenous Forces: American Advisors in Korea, Vietnam, and El Salvador and the Commander's Handbook for Security Force Assistance.
Colonel Timothy R. Reese summarizes Ramsey's findings on what we ought to have learned from previous advisory efforts in the introduction:
Among the key points Mr. Ramsey makes are the need for US advisors to have extensive language and cultural training, the lesser importance for them of technical and tactical skills training, and the need to adapt US organizational concepts, training techniques, and tactics to local conditions. Accordingly, he also notes the great importance of the host nation’s leadership buying into and actively supporting the development of a performance-based selection, training, and promotion system. To its credit, the institutional Army learned these hard lessons, from successes and failures, during and after each of the cases examined in this study. However, they were often forgotten as the Army prepared for the next major conventional conflict.The Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance's Commander's Handbook is perhaps more stunning. In writing that mirrors what a doctrinal publication on advising ought look like it offers in view of our advisory efforts to date some spectacular criticism:
2.33. Not everyone is suited for SFA, and not everyone understands SFA. SFA operations usually involve a steep learning curve and extensive experiential learning events. It is important that the goals, objectives, frustrations, and typical phases of SFA operations be laid out for all leaders and their forces setting appropriate expectations up front. This will mitigate misperceptions and unproductive friction between coalition and HN forces.Beyond that the handbook is an excellent tool by which advisors can articulate their roles and responsibilities to Coalition maneuver force commanders--a key friction point discussed poignantly in Greg Jaffe's "Camp Divided," which merits inclusion on reading lists for both commanders and advisors.
2.34. Planners and senior commanders must identify and select leaders who have an affinity for austere environments, are quick to learn, communicate well up and down the chain, and are flexible and adaptive. These individuals, in turn, must instill these same qualities in their subordinates and those they advise. The opposition and threat will evolve when faced by improved security forces. The SFA forces and FSF must evolve faster and more effectively than the threat. This places a burden on the lessons learned sources to accurately capture, analyze, disseminate, and integrate the evolving tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) and character of the threats as they develop. Commanders should consider the following qualities when selecting advisor teams: maturity, professionalism, competence, patience, knowledge, flexibility, innovativeness, motivation, confidence, cultural effectiveness, and situational awareness.
2.35. Effective SFA requires senior political and military leaders who view SFA as critical to U.S. foreign policy and deserving of their fullest support.
Some good tactical articles on advising unfortunately remain behind firewalls in US Army tactical journals such as Infantry and Armor. A number of others, however, are available both in the media and in Military Review. Recently, Candace Rondeaux's "Ragtag Pursuit of the Taliban" covers the challenges of one team in Afghanistan's northern province of Kunduz and gives a good, brief view of the skills of an advisor.
In Transition Teams: Adapt and Win, Captain William C. Taylor offers advice on organizing an ad hoc advisor team for success in the field and then successfully advising with it. Major Mark M. Weber offers in U.S. Military Advisors: a Need for Guiding Principles some thoughts on the bedrock principles by which advisors must abide and which they must also convince their foreign and Coalition counterparts to follow. In Twelve Urgent Steps for the Advisor Mission in Afghanistan, Captain Dan Helmer argues that continued under-resourcing of the advisor mission in Afghanistan will lead to failure of the counterinsurgency effort in that country. Finally, in this month's Military Review (and CAC, Kip is so mad at your re-designed and far less usable website right now after trying to find articles that he would like to launch a new discussion on electronic warfare--sorry, readers, there will be no link this time), both Dr. John Nagl and Major Michael D. Jason offer in seperate articles two close but different views on how the Army should permanently insitutionalize an advisor capability.
Kip would also be remiss in failing to mention the Special Forces Advisor Guide and the emerging ALSA MTTP on advising; the former is available on USAPA and the latter is only in draft. The Center for Army Lessons Learned also offers an advisor guide constructed by transition team members. These documents are only available to our military readers as they are behind firewalls, but they are worth seeking out. For everyone, Kip would be remiss if he failed to mention Chapter 6 of FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency, which covers advising foreign security forces in some detail.
Despite the articles, some of our readers would rather spend their time buried in a book. They could not go wrong by reading carefully Bing West's The Village. West covers the attempt by one US Marine squad to advise Popular Forces in the village of Binh Nghia. Far under the rank of advisors currently undertaking these types of tasks (more akin to what you might find at a compat outpost in Iraq, but not really), this handpicked squad of Marine advisors offers lessons for today. For instance, West talks about what political primacy really looks like:
Trao had complained to McGowan that, although the captain had good motives, his handouts had disrupted the assistance projects of the village council, undercut the authority of the hamlet chiefs and eroded the discipline of parents. Those who lounged around the market drinking and who gathered the scraps others dropped had organized into gangs. They were the ones who clung to the captain's jeep and smiled and pawed at hime while pusing other villagers aside.The Village offers thoughts on how a successful team protects the populace:
Although the Americans were gradually becoming involved in nonmilitary matters in the village, their primary effort and the focus of their attentions remained tactical. But after nine months of some of the hardest village fighting in Vietnam, Binh Nghia was still intact. There was never an air strike called in the war for that village. It was a battle fought with rifles and grenades at such close quarters that both sides used their senses of smell and hearing as much as their eyesight. The villagers did not stroll around at night, and in the firing at sounds, flashes, and shadows, it was usually the participants on both sides, not the villagers, who died. There were exceptions, but they were exceptions.Then there are lessons on why your counterparts might at times might not be as eager for you for non-stop action, or about their need for tactical level advising:
Regular military units--American, Viet Cong, or North Vietnamese--have periods of rest and stand-downs between engagements. For Suong as a village militiaman, there was no rotation, no surcease. Suong completed roughly two thousand patrols. An American soldier with one hundred patrols would be highly respected among his peers. Suong had engaged in the close-in combat of the hamlets for twelve years. In comparison, over a thirty-year career, an American soldier may be in a "combat environment"--near enough to hear shooting--for two or three years. At no time in our history has an American soldier been asked to endure twelve years on the line.It is a book that takes you right into the action and where Bing West weaves the lessons of fighting and advising the tactical level counterinsurgency without you realizing immediately your indoctrination.
Of course, some of our readers may wish to take their lessons from more recent experience. Books by the very nature of the publishing industry are never current, but Marine Captain Eric Navarro offers in God Willing: My Wild Ride with the New Iraqi Army the first long-form account of advising in Iraq (there is no equivalent for Afghanistan).
With no training and an unclear mission, Navarro is thrown into an advisor team. Navarro, who initially suffers acute culture shock that seems to morph into an unhealthy multi-page fascination with where Iraqi soldiers defecate, does the best he can with what he has available to him, and occasionally learns the kind of things that Kip hopes advisors who peruse this reading list can learn before they get to theater, not after:
Once the Iraqis were crowded into the small house, Staff Sergeant Sullivan and I made contact with India's company commander to figure out when we were going out on patrol. Tomorrow was the short answer, which came quickly after making our introductions. The timing was not up for discussion with the Iraqis. Major Ali had no input in how his troops would be used. I had not anticipated the mission going this way. I thought we were supposed to be helping the Iraqis stand up their army so that they could go and fight. As an adviser I was told I was not in charge of the Iraqis. Apparently, the Marines of India Company were under no such restrictions. This put me in a difficult position. I was the bridge between the Americans and the Iraqis, but I had no real power with either side. I could only influence events. My negotiation skills would be tested.Reading these difficult lessons learned from an articulate, hard-charging Marine does still make Kip wonder what we could do if we identified men like him with the ability to figure it out, gave them targeted training as advisors, resourced them for the mission, and adjusted our force structure to support ongoing commitments and future contingencies. Regardless, we will be supporting advisor missions in Afghanistan and Iraq for some time to come, and Kip hopes that readers might discuss further and offer additional suggestions in the comments section.