What is the Army doing in Iraq these days?

Security Force Assistance:
XBradTC here.  With the end of active combat operations in Iraq by US forces, the news has mostly shifted to the war in Afghanistan. But there are still about 50,000 US troops deployed in Iraq. These troops consist of both a large support echelon to provide logistical support to US forces and to our Iraqi allies, but also several brigades that have been mission tailored to  help train and advise the Iraqi National Army. This is a mission that was normally tasked to the Special Forces community prior to 9/11. Given the huge scale of building a new national army, however, there is no way  Special Forces alone could achieve the mission. Further, the SF community is already stretched thin meeting its commitments in Afghanistan and in all the other places in the world where the US helps train and mentor our allies and friendly nations. So the Army solution is to task a brigade to perform the Security Force Assistance mission, augmenting that brigade with advisors and other assets tailored to fit the new mission.
This is a mission wholly outside the scope of my experience, so I’ve asked a friend of mine, MAJ(P) Esli T. Pitts, an Armor officer of the US Army, to share his insights. Esli has served three tours in Iraq,  one during the initial invasion of Iraq, one during the Petraeus Surge, and served six months in an advise and assist brigade on his third tour. He’s uniquely qualified to comment on this mission.


With the advent of “Operation New Dawn” in Iraq, you may be aware that the mission has changed to one of Security Force Assistance, as opposed to the previous model of Full Spectrum Operations (FSO).  But what has really changed? What exactly is Security Force Assistance (SFA)?
As background, prior to September 1st, 2010 (Operation New Dawn), the army was conducting FSO in Iraq. This meant, on any given day, that units might be conducting offensive, defensive, or stability operations in a Counterinsurgency (COIN) environment.   This operational concept is based on Gen Krulak’s “three block war” model from the 1990s, and was formalized in the army’s 2008 update to FM 3-0 (Operations). 
As a result of the 2008 security agreement between the United States and the government of Iraq, we agreed to drastically scale back US-led combat operations, and  allow Iraqi Security Forces to take the lead.  Security Force Assistance is the natural evolution of that agreement. 
The Army’s FM 3-07.1 (Security Force Assistance) codified this capability within the army, and the recently released Change 1 to FM 3-0 (Operations) has standardized SFA as a primary stability task.  FM 3-07.1 defines SFA as “The unified action to generate, employ and sustain local, host-nation, or regional security forces in support of legitimate authority.”  Practically speaking, what does that mean?  The most obvious part of the answer to this question is that, in New Dawn, the Army does not conduct Full Spectrum Operations anymore, but only the stability mission (in the form of SFA), having dropped the offensive and defensive missions.  (This does not preclude providing security for ourselves.)
I served with one of the early brigades assigned the SFA mission and we wrestled with how to form them and train them.  These brigade combat teams were initially designated as Advise and Assist Brigades.  Having been called an AAB for just long enough to get used to it, the army later changed the designation to Brigade Combat Team-Augmented for Security Force Assistance, or BCT-A for short.  No sooner than we got used to this than we deployed to Iraq and our higher headquarters, and every other brigade insisted on using the original, and probably more appropriate, AAB, which resulted in yet another change for us.  (This changes a lot of letterheads, PowerPoint slides and signature blocks, evaluation and award narratives!)  For now, the army has, at least unofficially, standardized the naming convention by designating AABs as those operating in Iraq, while BCT-As are operating in Afghanistan. 
In conference with representatives of both the Department of State and National Security Advisor, we were told that the Advise and Assist mission should feel “like wearing a pair of pants that don’t fit.” That is, it should feel uncomfortable and unnatural to a bunch of war-fighters.  We were warned that we would be paving the way for future US/Iraqi relations at the strategic or national level, and should not “win the fight at the checkpoint” but destroy the future national relationship, with the all-important question of “what happens after the final troop withdrawals currently scheduled for no later than December of 2012?”  By this, I mean that we could not let tensions or animosity (or an impression that US forces did not abide by the security agreement) arising from friction between USF and ISF at the unit level sour impressions at the level of the generals and political leadership.  For example, while US forces might be authorized to travel through a particular check point, it doesn’t mean that we prevail every time some misguided Jundee (Iraqi soldier) tries to stop it.
So what does an AAB/BCT-A do?  What does it look like on the ground?  Well, first off, the BCT itself probably does not actually own ground in the traditional sense.  We consider our battlespace to be the ISF units, and our key terrain is the Iraqi leadership.  There are a variety of ways to skin the advisory cat, but all are built around a core of Stability Transition Teams (STT)s that are currently replacing MTTs, SPTTs, BTTs, and every other Training Team that has appeared in Iraq.  Speaking only of my experiences, these STTs are assigned to the organic American line battalions in the BCT for support, and the battalions themselves are in a supporting role to their STTs.  Each STT consists of a pair of field grade officers (MAJ, LTC, COL) that serve as the primary advisors to Iraqi unit leaders.  They may be from a variety of branches, not necessarily Infantry or Armor.  They are augmented by additional Soldiers, NCOs and Officers from the supporting battalions that  serve to provide functional specialties such as fire support, communications, logistics or other traditional support.  Additionally, each STT has a complete line platoon with which they are habitually aligned for escort and security requirements.  The STTs are responsible for facilitating US-supplied enablers to Iraqi operations, such as MEDEVAC, QRF, military working dogs, and other support.  In addition to the relationship between STTs and Iraqi unit leadership, there is a partnered relationship between ISF and USF units (meaning the US Brigade Combat Team’s organic platoons, companies, and battalions)which provide USF support to ISF combat operations if necessary.  Other brigades have chosen to keep their STTs at the brigade level and task them out on an as-needed basis.  Every brigade has been unique.
Over and above the STTs, the BCT staff itself is able to provide additional training support to the ISF units as requested. This training consists of skills that lie largely in the BCT staff, such as specialized intelligence, communications, engineering and communications capabilities.  Additional specialties include the ability to consolidate training teams to support large scale throughput of Iraqi MOSs such as mortar training or training for the Iraqi’s new M1A1 tank fleet.  Because of our variety of skills, we were responsive to the needs of our partnered units and could tailor specific training plans to meet their needs.
What is the way ahead for SFA?  Well, primarily it is a concept that is designed to be employed in a pre-conflict environment, and synchronized with the army’s force generation cycle.  For example, the army could take a BCT undergoing reset after red
eployment from OIF/OEF and designate them to be a BCT-A, with the intent to subsequently deploy them to an identified friendly nation that has a need for assistance in training its own military forces.  The US BCT could receive its augmented pool of field grade officers and undergo cultural, language and regionally specific training before deploying to provide training and operational support to a host nation. This BCT could be task-organized to provide the right assistance to the host nation.
Traditionally, what I am describing, is called Foreign Internal Defense, and conducted by Special Forces.  SF, however, is fully committed to other missions at this time, and for the foreseeable future.  That said, though the bugs are not all worked out (primarily a VERY limited availability of field grade officers), SFA is an idea whose time has come.

XbradTC again- The use of regular Army Brigade Combat Teams in the SFA mission is a doctrinal shift away from the Cold War days. In my day, we spent a lot of time making sure US units could work well alongside allied nations. But the key there was alongside. The thought of regular US units being tasked to train or advise other national armies was utterly unheard of. In addition to the talents of the STTs and brigade staff, this new mission is going to require  junior soldiers and NCOs to embrace ever larger skill sets, and place them in a position where they can either greatly cement relations, or potentially do them  great harm. It is a testament to the modern US soldier that they can take on such a mission and succeed.

4 thoughts on “What is the Army doing in Iraq these days?”

  1. Thanks Esli and Xbrad. As a non-military moron it takes more decipher this, but you gents do a bang-up job, no pun intended… well maybe just a small pun for fun.

    I won’t succeed in understanding everything but one major learning is realizing the challenge faced by U.S. military forces to make major adjustments in context and content, especially in the area of training non-U.S. forces. Whew! One thing I admired about the Army folk I served with during my time in an Army medical center was the positive attitude and skill I observed to make adjustments on the fly in any given situation. In many of those situations human lives were on the line. I’m still humbled by what I observed.

    I see a number of major challenges you all face: Changes in terminology mid-stream. Shifting of combat operations from offensive to defensive to stability. Training non U.S. forces despite the differences in equipment, technology, language, ability, experience, culture, troop strength, and most likely a whole host of other elements totally unknown to me.

    But I sense the biggest challenge our military face are the talking heads and politicians back home who have no understanding, and prefer we play nice and look good rather than be successful at protecting America and our Allies for the long haul. Sheesh. And there’s no winning with some of our own folks. It seems perception and emotion get more air-time than reality. Kudos to you all. You all have my respect and gratitude.

    I would appreciate a bit of clarification, if possible. Is there a relatively easy way for this civi to understand the differences between “offensive,” “defensive” and “stability” combat operations? Thanks.

    1. Offense=go out and kill or capture people. In a COIN environment like Iraq/Afghanistan, this is about patrols, raids, cordon and search/cordon and knock.
      Defense=Deny the enemy the ability to attack you or the local populace. Sometimes this is done through offensive operations!
      Stability=Those tasks that you do to stabilize the local citizenry. We do this through “Lines of Effort” for planning. Generally they are Civil Security (see offensive/defense, but making the locals do it instead of you), Civil Support (getting the local judiciary and Rule of Law functioning), Economic Development, Essential Services (sewage, water, education, trash, medical, etc), Governance, Information Operations, and the new one Security Force Assistance. Offense + Defense + Stability = Full Spectrum Operations. There is a lot of bleedover in these tasks, though. Hope this helps!
      R/
      Esli

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