Army plans to develop adviser brigades
During his 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama promised he would create a "specialized military advisers corps" to train foreign militaries to take on various threats.
When we last assessed this pledge in 2012, we reported some progress, noting the shift to advisory roles for the military in Afghanistan. Today, most of the U.S. soldiers remaining in Afghanistan have a mission to "train, advise and assist" Afghan forces.
Four years later, the Army is working on make this a more permanent feature of its structure.
The Army is developing several "train, advise, assist" brigades, which would primarily serve to help foreign militaries, said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley in June. The training brigades will be structured so they can quickly take on more soldiers to prepare for combat in the case of a national emergency.
Because these brigades can serve this dual purpose — advising and combat — they are useful as Army troop numbers go down, Milley said in an interview at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The first of the new brigades should be operational by 2018 or 2019, he added.
The plan to put these new brigades in the permanent force structure "is designed to do exactly what Obama intended in his 2008 remarks," said David Barno, a retired Army lieutenant general and practitioner in residence at American University.
"These units will be purposefully built, trained and deployed to provide military advice and training for foreign militaries engaged in a variety of threat environments, but especially to combat terrorist or insurgent groups," Barno said. "That sounds very much like what Obama had in mind in 2008."
We rate Obama's Promise Kept.
Army News Service, "CSA explains how skeletal advisory brigades could regenerate force," June 23, 2016
CSIS, interview with Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark Milley, June 23, 2016
Atlantic Council, "The Future of the Army," September 2016
Email interview, retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, Dec. 14, 2016
After a long delay, signs of movement
It's been a long time coming, but there appears to be movement on Barack Obama's 2008 promise to "create a specialized military advisers corps, which will enable us to better build up local allies' capacities to take on mutual threats."
As we noted in our previous update, this idea grows out of the shifting role of U.S. forces in Afghanistan -- moving away from combat and toward training and advising local police and military forces. The push in this direction stems in part from a June 2007 report for the Center for a New American Security by John Nagl, then an adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, who urged the creation of a dedicated set of troops to train, teach and advise foreign militaries.
"The most important military component” of wars like the one in Afghanistan "will not be the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our allies to fight with us,” Nagl wrote. "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.”
For years, this idea inspired flak within the military. According to a 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times, both then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, then Gates' top military aide, were opposed to the concept, arguing the military didn't have enough resources to spin off a dedicated advisory corps. Special operations forces, Chiarelli wrote in an Army academic journal, should remain in charge of training foreign soldiers.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno floated the idea of having the Army National Guard create specialized training and advisory units, but in June 2012 a group of two-star National Guard officials from seven states wrote Odierno to oppose the idea, arguing that it would create a lack of parallel force structure between the Guard and the Army.
But there now appears to be movement, according to a Nov. 25, 2012, Army Times report.
"Up to eight newly designed units — dubbed security force assistance brigades — will replace an equal number of Army brigade combat teams across the east and south of Afghanistan by next spring, bringing a new focus to the training and advising mission while pushing Afghans to take the lead in security operations,” the newspaper reported. Not only will these brigades focus more on training and mentoring Afghan National Security Forces than on leading combat and counterinsurgency missions, but they will also have about half the strength of the brigades they're replacing, Army Times reported. Each of the new brigades will have 1,400 to 2,000 soldiers, compared to the 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers in a traditional brigade.
"Arguably, the most important thing we have to do now is not the fighting, but instead enabling the Afghans to secure themselves, and we think that this is the best way forward,” Army Col. Randy Lane, the chief of campaign plans at International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Afghanistan, told the newspaper.
After years of being stalled, Nagl told PolitiFact that he's cautiously optimistic that the promise may eventually be met. "The Army is trying hard, and is moving in the right direction,” he said.
What's being planned for Afghanistan falls short of a permanent "corps,” both organizationally and numerically. But it is a move that leans heavily on the vision of Nagl's years-old proposal. We rate it a Compromise.
John Nagl / Center for a New American Security, "Institutionalizing Adaptation: It's Time for a Permanent Army Advisor Corps,” June 27, 2007
Los Angeles Times, "Rethinking the U.S. Army,” Oct. 10, 2007
Army Times, "New units focus on support role in Afghanistan," Nov. 25, 2012
Inside Defense, "State Guard Leaders Oppose Army Chief's Brigade-Design Proposal,” accessed Dec. 11, 2012
Interview with John Nagl, research professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, Dec. 12, 2012
No sign of movement
The idea of a special corps of military advisers has grown in popularity as U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan began playing larger and larger roles in training those nations' police and military forces. While the idea had been around for some time, a June 2007 report for the Center for a New American Security by John Nagl, then an adviser to Gen. David Petraus, led to a lot of press coverage of the concept of a dedicated set of troops to train, teach and advise foreign militaries.
The idea didn't have universal support, though. A 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times said both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, then Gates' top military aide, were opposed to the concept, arguing the military didn't have enough resources to spin off a dedicated advisory corps. Special operations forces, Chiarelli wrote in an Army academic journal, should remain in charge of training foreign soldiers.
After extensive research, we can't find any record of any progress being made toward creating a corps, but we also couldn't find anything indicating the idea was dead, either. There was nothing on the White House Web site, nothing in the 2010 Defense Authorization Act and the Pentagon didn't return phone calls about the issue.
With no evidence of movement in either direction, we rate this promise Stalled.
Center for a New American Security, Institutionalizing Adaptation: It's Time for a Permanent Army Advisor Corps, John Nagl, June 27, 2007
Federal Register, Fiscal 2010 Defense Authorization Act, PL 111-84
Los Angeles Times, Rethinking the U.S. Army, By Peter Spiegel and Julian Barnes, October 10, 2007