September 22, 2021

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Security Force Assistance: U.S. Advising of Afghan National Army Has Expanded since 2015, and the U.S. Army Has Deployed a New Advising Unit

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<div>What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has used a variety of approaches to provide advisors in Afghanistan. For example, the United States has often relied on individual personnel drawn from across the military services to advise Afghan security forces. In 2012, the Army began pulling senior leaders and other personnel with specific ranks and skills from active-duty brigades to form advisor teams. In October 2016, the U.S. Army approved the development of a new force structure to use in advising foreign security forces--the Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB). GAO found that the U.S. advising approach for the Afghan National Army (ANA) under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mission to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces--known as Resolute Support--has evolved since 2015 from advising the ANA primarily at the corps level, ministries, and institutions to include tactical-level advising with the ability to accompany the ANA on combat operations with certain limitations. This evolution of the advising approach since 2015 has included three key changes over time: 1. A geographic expansion of advising, and adjustment to originally planned force reductions. 2. Expansion of expeditionary advising and a related increase of U.S. forces. 3. A shift in strategy to allow U.S. forces to accompany and enable ANA tactical units. To support this expanded mission, the military services provided advisors and other personnel, with the Army providing the largest increases. For example, the U.S. Air Force continued to provide advisors from the ministerial down to the tactical level, and the U.S. Marine Corps returned to an advising role in Afghanistan in April 2017, from which it had previously departed in late 2014. The U.S. Army also provided additional personnel as part of an increase in forces approved in 2017, and in early 2018 deployed the first of its new Security Force Assistance Brigades--the 1st SFAB--as part of the over 1,700 Army personnel provided during the year to bolster the advisory mission. DOD's decision to deploy the 1st SFAB resulted in an acceleration of the new unit's planned deployment timelines by at least 8 months, which, combined with other decisions, resulted in several challenges. These challenges included issues related to manning and training the SFAB and providing sufficient enabling forces to support the SFAB's mission in Afghanistan. According to Army officials, the Army is collecting lessons learned from experiences manning, training, and deploying the 1st SFAB to inform the continued development and institutionalization of the SFAB. Why GAO Did This Study Senate Report 115-125 included a provision for GAO to review U.S. advising efforts. This report describes (1) the evolution of the U.S. approach for advising in Afghanistan under Resolute Support, and (2) actions the U.S. military services have taken and plan to take to meet the additional advisor requirements for Afghanistan, and any challenges they may be experiencing. The scope of this work focuses on U.S. efforts to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces under Resolute Support--particularly ANA conventional ground forces. GAO reviewed and analyzed military plans, guidance, and other documents; interviewed officials from DOD and across the military services; and reviewed documentation and other information pertaining to the development, training, and deployment of the SFAB.</div>

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has used a variety of approaches to provide advisors in Afghanistan. For example, the United States has often relied on individual personnel drawn from across the military services to advise Afghan security forces. In 2012, the Army began pulling senior leaders and other personnel with specific ranks and skills from active-duty brigades to form advisor teams. In October 2016, the U.S. Army approved the development of a new force structure to use in advising foreign security forces–the Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB).

GAO found that the U.S. advising approach for the Afghan National Army (ANA) under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mission to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces–known as Resolute Support–has evolved since 2015 from advising the ANA primarily at the corps level, ministries, and institutions to include tactical-level advising with the ability to accompany the ANA on combat operations with certain limitations. This evolution of the advising approach since 2015 has included three key changes over time:

1. A geographic expansion of advising, and adjustment to originally planned force reductions.

2. Expansion of expeditionary advising and a related increase of U.S. forces.

3. A shift in strategy to allow U.S. forces to accompany and enable ANA tactical units.

To support this expanded mission, the military services provided advisors and other personnel, with the Army providing the largest increases. For example, the U.S. Air Force continued to provide advisors from the ministerial down to the tactical level, and the U.S. Marine Corps returned to an advising role in Afghanistan in April 2017, from which it had previously departed in late 2014. The U.S. Army also provided additional personnel as part of an increase in forces approved in 2017, and in early 2018 deployed the first of its new Security Force Assistance Brigades–the 1st SFAB–as part of the over 1,700 Army personnel provided during the year to bolster the advisory mission. DOD’s decision to deploy the 1st SFAB resulted in an acceleration of the new unit’s planned deployment timelines by at least 8 months, which, combined with other decisions, resulted in several challenges. These challenges included issues related to manning and training the SFAB and providing sufficient enabling forces to support the SFAB’s mission in Afghanistan. According to Army officials, the Army is collecting lessons learned from experiences manning, training, and deploying the 1st SFAB to inform the continued development and institutionalization of the SFAB.

Why GAO Did This Study

Senate Report 115-125 included a provision for GAO to review U.S. advising efforts. This report describes (1) the evolution of the U.S. approach for advising in Afghanistan under Resolute Support, and (2) actions the U.S. military services have taken and plan to take to meet the additional advisor requirements for Afghanistan, and any challenges they may be experiencing.

The scope of this work focuses on U.S. efforts to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces under Resolute Support–particularly ANA conventional ground forces. GAO reviewed and analyzed military plans, guidance, and other documents; interviewed officials from DOD and across the military services; and reviewed documentation and other information pertaining to the development, training, and deployment of the SFAB.

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