June 27, 2007

Institutionalizing Adaptation

It’s Time for a Permanent Army Advisor Corps

The most important military component of the Long War will not be the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our allies to fight with us. After describing the many complicated, interrelated, and simultaneous tasks that must be conducted to defeat an insurgency, the new Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual notes “Key to all these tasks is developing an effective host-nation (HN) security force.”1 Indeed, it has been argued that foreign forces cannot defeat an insurgency; the best they can hope for is to create the conditions that will enable local forces to win for them.2

In his valedictory Senate Armed Services Committee Testimony, Chief of Staff of the Army General Peter Schoomaker warned that the Army’s counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan offer “a peek into the future.” In words informed by a lifetime of uniformed service, General Schoomaker stated, “These people that keep saying we’re never going to do this again—I don’t know where they’re coming from.”3

The counterinsurgency campaigns that are likely to continue to be the face of battle in the 21st century will require that we build a very different United States Army than the enormously capable but conventionally focused one we have today. The long-overdue increase in the size of the Army announced by President George W. Bush in December 2006 can play a pivotal role in helping build it. The best way to use the additional soldiers is not simply to create additional Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) as currently planned by the Army. Indeed, demand for such forces is likely to shrink as the American combat role in Iraq diminishes. Instead, the Army should create a permanent standing Advisor Corps of 20,000 Combat Advisors—men and women organized, equipped, educated, and trained to develop host nation security forces abroad.

The United States Army’s signature contribution to the development of host nation security forces is embedded advisor teams. These teams coach, teach, and mentor host nation security forces, training them before deployment and accompa¬nying them into combat; the mission is called “Foreign Internal Defense”—commonly known by the acronym FID. Advisors bring important combat multipliers to the fight: close air and artillery support, MEDEVAC, and, perhaps most important, the culture of leadership and training that is the U.S. Army’s greatest strength. For their part, the host nation forces offer significant cul¬tural awareness and linguistic advantages over U.S. forces, and also are likely to be far more acceptable to the local public whose support is essential to victory in any counterinsurgency campaign.

Recognizing the importance of the advi¬sory mission, the new Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual states clearly that FID is a “Big Army” responsibility: “The scope and scale of training programs today and the scale of programs likely to be required in the future has grown exponentially. While FID has been tradi¬tionally the primary responsibility of the special operating forces (SOF), training foreign forces is now a core competency of regular and reserve units of all Services.”4

Unfortunately, the Army and the nation have rarely given sufficient priority to the advisory teams they embed in host nation forces. The advisory effort in Vietnam has been widely criticized as “The Other War.” Military analysts Peter Dawkins and Andrew Krepinevich have described the often poor quality of Army advi¬sors in Vietnam and the rather slapdash nature of their pre-deployment training.5 In the words of an army officer serving in our last great counterin¬surgency effort, “Our military institution seems to be prevented by its own doctrinal rigidity from understanding the nature of this war and from making the necessary modifications to apply its power more intelligently, more economically, and above all, more relevantly.”6


  • John A. Nagl

    Member, CNAS Board of Advisors, Associate Professor of Warfighting Studies at U.S. Army War College

    Dr. John Nagl is the ninth Headmaster of The Haverford School in Haverford, Pennsylvania and a member of the Board of Advisors at the Center for a New American Security. He wa...