Iraq and Afghanistan:

Actions Needed to Enhance the Ability of Army Brigades to Support the Advising Mission

GAO-11-760: Published: Aug 2, 2011. Publicly Released: Aug 2, 2011.

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Developing capable Iraqi and Afghan security forces is a key component of the U.S. military effort in Iraq and Afghanistan and, in 2009, the Army began augmenting brigade combat teams (BCT) with advisor personnel to advise the host nation security forces in these countries. House Armed Services Committee report 111-491 directed GAO to report on the Army's plans to augment BCTs to perform advising missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. This report (1) identifies the key characteristics of the augmented BCT concept; (2) assesses the extent to which the Army has provided augmented BCTs, and what challenges, if any, these units have faced; and (3) assesses the extent to which requirements for augmented BCTs have impacted overall Army personnel requirements, including the Army's ability to provide advisor personnel. GAO examined augmented BCT doctrine and guidance, analyzed advisor requirements, reviewed after- action reviews and lessons learned from augmented BCTs, and interviewed Army, theater command, and augmented BCT officials.

Army guidance identifies key characteristics of the augmented BCT concept, such as how advisors are to be organized, commanded, and supported. For example, BCT commanders are to organize the advisors into teams, with other necessary resources being provided to the teams by the brigade. The theater commander determines the specific numbers and types of advisors based upon the operational environment and mission requirements. BCTs are envisioned to exercise command of advisor teams and provide support such as specialized personnel, equipment, and transportation and security. However, it is recognized that BCTs may have other priorities and must balance the demand for resources between the advising mission and other missions. The Army has deployed augmented BCTs in response to theater commanders' requests, but units have faced some challenges because commanders did not always set clear priorities between the advising mission and other missions or define specific requirements for how the BCTs should support the advising mission. For example, theater commanders did not require that advisor teams include specialized personnel, such as logisticians or intelligence officers. Because the BCTs already have high demand for these personnel, the brigades are challenged to meet the advisors' requirements for those same personnel. As a result, some advising teams told GAO that they were limited in their ability to advise in some specialty areas or that they may be advising Iraqi and Afghan security forces in functional areas where the advisors have little or no experience. Also, theater commanders' requests did not always specify command relationships. As a result, in some cases, advisors were reassigned to the control of a division or a brigade that they had not trained and deployed with, which disrupted the unity of command envisioned under the augmented BCT concept. The use of augmented BCTs has decreased the total number of advisor personnel required for the advising mission, but increased requirements for field grade officers, already in short supply. According to Army officials, as a result of these shortages, the Army has faced challenges meeting the requirement to provide field grade advisors at least 45 days prior to the brigades' mission rehearsal exercise. In many cases, advisors did not join the brigades until after the exercise, hindering their integration into the BCTs and complicating efforts to establish support and command structures. Some officials suggested that it would be helpful if at least two or three of the highest-ranking advisors arrived significantly earlier than currently required in order to facilitate integration. Moreover, GAO found that augmented BCTs are organizing their advisors into smaller numbers of larger teams than envisioned in the theater commander requirements. As a result, augmented BCTs may not need the number and rank of advisors currently required by those requests. GAO recommends that theater commands assess and refine, as appropriate, advisor requirements and define advisor support and command structures. GAO also recommends that the Army provide certain advisor personnel to brigades earlier in pre-deployment training. DOD concurred with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: 7/2013 DOD agreed that theater commanders should assess advisor team needs and that future requests for augmented brigade combat teams (BCTs) should clearly define related advisor team requirements. Since our report was issued, Army forces have left Iraq and, in late 2011, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan shifted from a combat to a security force assistance mission. As part of that shift, theater commanders in Afghanistan established new requirements for security force assistance advisor teams (SFATs), including specifying the number of teams required and the composition and capabilities for those teams. The composition of the teams is tailored to the type of Afghan national security force they are advising and mission essential equipment lists have been developed for each SFAT. In November 2012, the Army began deploying security force assistance brigades (SFABs) to Afghanistan, aligning the advising mission with other missions, such as security, under a single brigade commander. The composition of these SFABs are tailored to meet the advisor team requirements in their areas of responsibility. While the SFATs and SFABs are newer concepts than the augmented BCTs discussed in our report, they have the same mission as the augmented BCTs and represent an evolution in how DOD sources advisor team needs in Afghanistan. As such, the more clearly defined requirements related to the SFATs and SFABs meet the intent of our original recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance the ability of the augmented BCTs to support the advising mission and to facilitate the integration of advisor personnel into pre-deployment training, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with Secretary of the Army and U.S. Central Command, should direct that theater commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to assess their needs for how advisor teams should be structured and supported and, based on this assessment, ensure that any future requests for augmented BCTs clearly define related requirements, including the number of advisors, ranks of advisors, capabilities of advisors, and equipment for advisors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: 7/2013 DOD agreed that theater commanders should clearly define the relative priority of the advising mission, the minimum level of transportation and security support to be provided to advisors, and the command and control relationship between the augmented brigade combat team (BCT) and the advisor teams. Since our report was issued, Army forces have left Iraq and, in late 2011, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan shifted from a combat to a security force assistance mission. As part of that shift, theater commanders in Afghanistan established new requirements for security force assistance advisor teams (SFATs). In November 2012, the Army further refined their advising approach and began deploying security force assistance brigades (SFABs) to Afghanistan. These SFABs align the advising mission with other missions, such as security, under a single brigade commander. Integrating the advisor teams as part of the brigade meets the intent of our original recommendation. Advisor teams are now part of the brigade, addressing the command and control concerns we found between advisor teams and the augmented BCTs. The primary mission of the SFABs is to conduct security force assistance, which clarified the relative priority of the advising mission and eased the ability to access required transportation and security support.

    Recommendation: To enhance the ability of the augmented BCTs to support the advising mission and to facilitate the integration of advisor personnel into pre-deployment training, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with Secretary of the Army and U.S. Central Command, should direct that theater commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to clearly define, in guidance to divisions and augmented BCTs, the relative priority of the advising mission; the minimum level of transportation and security support to be provided to the advisors; and command and control relationships for augmented BCTs and their advisors, including the level of command that has tasking authority over and support responsibilities for the advisors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: 7/2013 DOD agreed that the Secretary of the Army should revise guidance to require the highest-ranking field grade officers of the advisor team augments join the augmented brigade combat teams (BCTs) in time to be present for major brigade leadership planning events. Since our report was issued, Army forces have left Iraq and, in late 2011, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan shifted from a combat to a security force assistance mission. As part of that shift, theater commanders in Afghanistan established new requirements for security force assistance advisor teams (SFATs). In November 2012, the Army further refined their advising approach and began deploying security force assistance brigades (SFABs) to Afghanistan. These SFABs align the advising mission with other missions, such as security, under a single brigade commander. With the advising mission now integrated into the SFAB, it is no longer necessary to bring in the highest-ranking advisor team augment field grade officers to help inform the brigade's leadership planning events because the brigade itself is now responsible for providing that leadership.

    Recommendation: To enhance the ability of the augmented BCTs to support the advising mission and to facilitate the integration of advisor personnel into pre-deployment training, the Secretary of the Army should revise existing guidance to require that the highest-ranking field grade officer advisors join the augmented BCTs in time to be present for major brigade leadership planning events, such as the Leader Training Program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

 

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