Special Operations News

3rd SFG Develops Special Forces Combat Advisers for Afghanistan

In July 2008, the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, returned to Fort Bragg after serving seven consecutive deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The battalion’s return was its first respite since 9/11 and marked the beginning of an 18-month dwell period.

Shortly after the return, Lieutenant Colonel Donald R. Franklin assumed command of the 3rd Battalion. Upon taking command, he challenged his battalion to take full advantage of the 18-month period to recharge, sharpen individual and collective warfighting skills, and most significantly, to find innovative methods of progressively improving on the battalion’s core competency as combat advisers.

To that end, 3/3 began pre-mission training, or PMT, upon completion of the redeployment, refit and reconstitution of personnel and equipment. The commander’s guidance during the dwell period emphasized achieving the right balance between training the tasks of the directed mission-essential task list and those of the core mission-essential
task list.

The training schedule allocated eight months for individual and collective skills, four months for red-cycle taskings, one month for leave, and five months focused on environmental training in a high-desert environment. The approach would focus on training in individual and collective tasks to attain peak tactical performance before moving to a maintenance period that included academic instruction. Both tactical and academic instruction were combined with a consistent outreach to train and develop Soldiers in general-purpose forces, or GPF.

The 3rd Battalion’s mission in Operation Enduring Freedom XV will include building the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces, or ANSF, specifically the Commando Brigade, to conduct intelligence-driven, precision operations that separate the insurgents from the population in a manner that will enable the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, or GIRoA, to connect with its population. The training guidance directed that developing host-nation capability was not the end state but merely a method of providing the means to a successful counterinsurgency campaign.

If the battalion was to accomplish its training mission, it was imperative that it foster a combat-adviser mindset among the Soldiers who would be conducting the mission of foreign internal defense, or FID. The battalion first set about correcting the misperception that the primary emphasis of Special Forces is unilateral direct action. The battalion created an 18-month battalion PMT plan that emphasized throughout the SF role of combat adviser.

Secondly, the battalion found opportunities not only to train its Soldiers but also to influence the perceptions of other units through an aggressive outreach to other units. By conducting training with a variety of GPF, based at Fort Bragg and elsewhere, the 3rd Battalion’s Soldiers developed their skills as combat advisers while increasing the combat skills of the GPF. Outreach training included capstone exercises at the combined training centers, or CTCs. The CTCs offer a unique environment for realistically demonstrating SF’s competency and capabilities. The CTC coordination was particularly helpful because many of the elements training side-by-side with the battalion were also units with whom the battalion was scheduled to work with during the OEF XV rotation.

A combat adviser develops credibility by consistently setting the example of what “right” looks like. In order to lead the ANSF by example, SF Soldiers must first master the collective warfighting skills that they teach. Then they can responsibly train the ANSF soldiers to the standard required. CTC attendance was timed to put the battalion’s elements in capstone exercises that would challenge SF detachments and SF company headquarters to work out the finer points of operating in a battlespace that belongs to another command. Ultimately, the CTC rotations serve as a mechanism for shaping SF Soldiers’ perception of their role as combat advisers. At the CTCs, the 3rd Battalion’s Soldiers trained on the combat-adviser skill sets they will use with the ANSF by working with a simulated partner force composed mostly of GPF Soldiers, some of them from units that were themselves going through a CTC rotation.

In order to effectively train host-nation forces, a combat adviser must be highly competent in shoot-move-and-communicate tasks. His level of competency must include not only basic individual tasks but also advanced collective tasks. For example, a combat adviser’s individual training should include military occupational specialty, or MOS, task training, language training and training in specialty skills applicable to Afghanistan, such as airborne and air-assault techniques, military mountaineering and military free fall. He should be proficient in shooting tasks, such as employment of joint fires, employment of heavy weapons, close-quarters battle and sniper operations. His movement tasks should focus on the use of ground mobility vehicles; mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles; and nontactical vehicles, with an emphasis on advanced driving techniques for tactical and nontactical vehicles.

The battalion’s approach to movement training included courses run by the 3rd SF Group’s operations detachment as well as outside courses run by contracted experts. Training in shooting employed tank and aerial-gunnery ranges so that Soldiers could practice effective shooting from a nonstabilized moving platform and directing close air support. Joint training exercises with the U.S. Air Force, such as HAVEACE and RED FLAG, provided SF Soldiers the opportunity to conduct advanced mobility training using the full array of air- and ground-mobility platforms. The exercises culminated with the employment of CAS and heavy weapons while maneuvering on ranges that resemble the terrain in Afghanistan. The training program made it mandatory that all 18-series Soldiers achieved certification as combat life savers and received medical training on selected advanced realistic training aids.

The overall battalion training concept began with SF detachments conducting training in individual skills. Once that phase was complete, each SF company conducted training and then deployed for training that emphasized collective skills. Every collective training event requires sending satellite and high-frequency communication that exercises the full plan for primary, alternate, contingency and emergency operations. Finally, all collective training requires the timely submission of media products that exploit or mitigate the potential effects of information operations, or IO. This aspect of collective training includes the integration of combat camera and public affairs assets, operational summaries and storyboards.

As in actual SF operations, this IO mitigation/exploitation places Afghans in the lead. It includes training SF to combat-advise ANSF on how to conduct a comprehensive tactical-site-exploitation report that will adhere to the legal requirements for prosecuting an Afghan citizen in a GIRoA court of law. The process includes acquiring moving and still pictures from Afghan combat cameramen, collecting forensic evidence, and most importantly, conducting key-leader engagements immediately followed by gathering written or recorded statements from local Afghans on the scene during or after any potentially sensitive operations, like the search of an Afghan residence or shop. The most important aspect of combat advisers’ professional development is the concept that Soldiers train as they fight. Soldiers whose primary training has been in direct-action missions are conditioned to think that their wartime role will be to perform DA. However, in Afghanistan, the role of SF is FID. The FID mission requires a definitive skill set that must be practiced during dwell time. In Afghanistan, SF does everything by, with and through the host-nation forces. Because Soldiers training for a DA mission are often more focused on developing their own warfighting skills, they are less likely to invest time and the skills needed to nurture and develop the competency of their host-nation units.

In order to develop as combat advisers, Soldiers need to train consistently with a partnered force. A robust amount of training time must be allocated for developing both the mindset and the skills of a combat adviser. That training will establish the expectations of what combat advising entails and, over time, will enable SF Soldiers to develop and refine their combat-adviser skills.

One of the bedrocks for building the capability of a partnered, host-nation force is ensuring that its operations are nested with the effects of other elements in the battlespace. Nesting effects creates an environment in which outside influences will not cause major changes in focus. Among the other actors, the battlespace owner is the most important, because of his central role in ensuring a full-spe
ctrum unity of effort among all the battlespace elements and the resources that the battlespace owner controls.

The 3rd Battalion worked at every level to develop the nesting relationship. For example, at the battalion level, the battalion staff facilitated integration by participating with GPF in two battle labs that focused on the latest systems and procedures used by GPF in Afghanistan and the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan. The battalion staff also participated in mission-readiness exercises with Task Force 82 as it prepared for deployment to Afghanistan. Moreover, the battalion’s signal center and support center deployed assets for each company event, as well as for all the CTC events. In addition to building the capabilities of the signal and support centers, those deployments gave the combat advisers the opportunity to train with the same capabilities they will use in OEF XV.

CTCs are an excellent venue for building rapport because personal relationships built during training foster the relationships needed for conducting effective operations in OEF. All of the 3rd Battalion will rotate through the CTCs as part of PMT. The CTC exercises were chosen based on the participation of GPF units with whom the 3rd Battalion would have a supported or supporting relationship during OEF XV. The training rotation included the deployment of two SF company headquarters and their subordinate SF detachments to the Joint Readiness Training Center, and the deployment of the entire special-operations task force, with all its centers and cells, and one SF company headquarters and its subordinate SF detachments, to the National Training Center. Each rotation focuses on SF combat-advising a FID force that replicates the Afghan Commandos. Additionally, the GPF participating in the rotation gained experience by working with SF.

Another initiative is training that simulates the creation and operation of joint Afghan-coalition command-and-control centers. During OEF XV, an SF company headquarters from the 3rd Battalion is scheduled to combat-advise the staff of the Afghan Commando Brigade on controlling operations from a joint tactical operations center, or JTOC. The JTOC facilitates the coordination of operations among coalition forces, tribal representatives, and the Afghan national army, commandos, national police and border patrol. JTOCs allow for real-time planning and action on time-sensitive criminal or insurgent threats and issues. Furthermore, through a tip line, locals can call information into the JTOC. The JTOC provides the ability not only to deconflict operations but also to synchronize them, in order to prevent any tribes from playing one element of the security force against another. Finally, the JTOC is an excellent venue for conducting information operations, including providing updates on GIRoA advancements and conducting consequence mitigation.

Combat advisers will begin by helping the ANSF to establish a joint communications center, or JCC, and then, as their capabilities mature, to develop the JCC into a JTOC. During a heavy-brigade-combat-team rotation at the National Training Center, the 3rd Battalion will prepare for the OEF XV mission by working with a partnered force composed of a battalion from an allied Arab country that will also deploy in support of OEF XV. The 3rd Battalion will develop its combat-advising skill by teaching the FID-force staff how to conduct JTOC planning, operations and after-action reviews necessary for controlling a simulated commando company during the NTC rotation

Developing world-class combat advisers requires sustained, realistic training that develops the Soldiers and elements progressively. One of the ways to develop the skill set is by teaching the Special Forces Basic Combat Course – Support, or SFBCC-S, to non-special-operations Soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg. The concept behind SFBCC-S is that support personnel are expected to operate alongside 18-series Soldiers while deployed, facing many of the same challenges, and that they should be taught to the standards needed to support 18-series Soldiers.

Basic Soldier skills are the same for every Soldier, regardless of MOS. For example, all Soldiers should handle, load and clear a weapon the same way. SFBCC-S relies heavily on the use of live ammunition and simmunitions. Its culmination exercise is designed to increase students’ capability to perform complex vehicle and personnel recovery during a live fire; and to react to an IED-initiated direct-fire ambush, to maintain contact and to assault the enemy.

Traditionally, conducting joint combined exercise training, or JCET, is one of the methods used to develop combat advisers.

The 3rd Battalion is participating in three theater-security cooperation plan engagements, or TSCPs, that offer a unique opportunity for conducting FID in an environment closely resembling the OEF mission set, while facilitating the success of the Special Operations Command-Central’s engagement plan.

With only three TSCP engagements, the 3rd Battalion’s SF detachments created JCET-like experiences using elements of the SFBCC-S instruction through SF detachments participating in 12 training exchanges with GPF, in which the battalion provided small-unit tactics and received tactics, techniques and procedures from the GPF in the employment of artillery, sensitive-site exploitation and employment of military police on a target.

Working with the GPF in order to develop combat advisers provides additional benefits. Soldiers develop greater combat-adviser skills; training provides the combat adviser with an increased capability for serving as the host-nation forces’ bridge to 21st-century enablers; the training increases the capability of the GPF; training enhances interoperability and training provides SF with access to some of the GPFs’ excellent training opportunities. One example of the benefits of this outreach, in this case, to the fires brigade, was that it led to use of the joint fires observer mobile training team, or JFO MTT. The battalion fires cell, working with the Artillery Center at Fort Sill, Okla., established a program that imported the JFO MTT. This was the first time that an SF unit has hosted the JFO MTT. The program resulted in 19 Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion becoming qualified and registered to call in Type 1 and Type 2 close air support.

Combat advisers often try to build the capability of a host-nation force that may have been organized, trained and even equipped for 18th-century conflict, while bridging the gap to conflict enablers that are available only to modern forces. Those enablers include joint fires; indirect fires; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and rotary-wing support, including medical evacuation. Knowing how to employ these enablers in a counterinsurgency environment is a key part of the battalion’s PMT. The multifaceted program includes an academic professional-development portion (seminars, readings, writing and focused discussion) and, most importantly, a continuous series of practical exercises.

This portion of the 3rd Battalion combat-adviser training plan aims to provide Soldiers in the battalion with an understanding of the major changes that have occurred in the operational environment since 2001. Training consists of three parts: The first part focuses on gaining a historical understanding of Afghanistan, the application of military history and doctrinal changes that have resulted from the changing operational environment. The second part shifts the focus to current developments in Afghanistan that affect ANSF operations. The third portion of the plan, conducted just prior to deployment, provides an in-depth area analysis.

As part of the program, subject-matter experts lead a monthly seminar. For example, in December the battalion hosted a one-week COIN seminar led by Lieutenant Colonel Mark Ulrich from the joint Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Seventy-five participants attended the seminar, including attendees from throughout the SF, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations communities, and members of the 4th Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. This experience not only imparted knowledge to the Soldiers of 3rd Battalion but also built deeper connections and mutual understanding between the various units that must work together downrange.

The focus of each seminar is the way that a particular subject affects current operations in OEF. Upcoming seminar leaders and topics include Les Grau on the modern military history of Afghanistan; Dave Grossman on combat stress management; and Joe Butta on militant Islam.
Other professional-development training has included education in new COIN doctrine from the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; briefings from the National Ground Intelligence Center; recent developments and experiences in tribal engagement from the CJSOTF-A; and briefings on the changes to Afghan Commando doctrine and employment made by the Ministry of Defense in Afghanistan.

The professional reading portion of the Soldier-education program includes books intended to nurture critical-analysis skills related to past and current strategy and policy goals. The readings serve to provide Soldiers with the tools needed to link current operations to the overall strategic and policy goals in the region and to examine missteps of the past. The books include: Stephen Tanner, Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban; Sarah Chayes, The Punishment of Virtue; and Ahmad Rashid, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. These books serve as a point of departure for discussing the complex political decisions that affect operations on the ground.

The battalion leaders included this facet of the training because they believe that strategically prepared operators who are attuned to the delicate nature of their operational environment can best advise their partnered ANSF leadership to exploit opportunities. Discussions about the books help Soldiers develop a detailed understanding of the agendas of warlords and select tribal chiefs with whom some contend U.S. policy (led by SOF) became entangled in the early years of the post-9/11 conflict. The corruption and favoritism shown by these warlords allegedly undermined the legitimacy of the GIRoA, and that loss of legitimacy was partly responsible for the GIRoA being unable to connect with the population. The reading program is not designed to promote a political theory but rather to make combat advisers cognizant of the strategic issues that play out on the tactical level in Afghanistan. Through the critical understanding gained from this aspect of the combat-adviser program, ANSF combat-advised by SF are more likely to nest their tactical operations with operational-level objectives.

Training for combat advisers also encourages written discussion of topics related to connecting Afghanistan’s population to the GIRoA. Topics include ways of carrying out clear-hold-and-build operations in Afghanistan; measuring effectiveness; synchronizing and integrating with the other battlespace actors, including the battlespace owner; developing an Afghan forensic and investigative element so that the GIRoA has personnel who can testify and present evidence in GIRoA courts; and developing the ANA commandos’ capability for advanced reconnaissance.
During its next OEF deployment, the 3rd Battalion will build select capabilities for missions designed to achieve specific effects in the battlespace. The necessity of the battalion’s professional-development program stems from the fact that the future mission in Afghanistan will be complex and nuanced. SF Soldiers must be competent in the skills required to train the ANSF units with which they will be partnered. Although SF is capable of leading ANSF in combat and ready to bleed alongside them if necessary, SF’s role is to train the ANSF to perform the security mission by themselves. Furthermore, in order to be effective combat advisers, Soldiers must understand the historical and current political, military and cultural environment in which they operate. The multipronged approach that the 3rd Battalion is implementing is meant to address the myriad of issues related to both practical skills and the expectations that SF Soldiers have of the mission they are going to perform in combat.


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  1. As a former USMC Grunt with a boat company at 1/9, I have to say that I have massive respect for all of our Army SF Warriors! Massive respect! Stay Safe brothers.

  2. As a formal grunt also 0311 I have much respect for these guys and what they do. Very advanced warfare. I am very priviledge I work with these guys. Awesome!

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