US announces a ‘surge’ of military trainers to Afghanistan

The US Army recently announced the next round of unit deployments to Afghanistan. Five brigades and one army headquarters will deploy to Afghanistan between April and August 2012. While deployments are a regular part of normal troop rotations overseas, this deployment differs significantly from previous ones.

  • These units will not be assigned to regular combat operations. Their mission is specifically to train and support the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
  • In the past, full brigades were deployed, each brigade consisting of about 3,500 troops. This time, less than 300 troops per brigade will be deployed; and the troops deploying will be only the brigade leaders, officers, and senior non-commissioned officers.
  • The brigades will be configured to better assist the training and support mission. They will reorganize into small independent teams, each consisting of 18 personnel.
  • Overall, five brigades plus an army HQ of officers and NCOs constitutes quite a large training contingent.

This announcement pertains to US Army units. It is likely that the US Marines, which also has combat troops in Afghanistan, will make a similar announcement.

The new Afghan strategy

This deployment plays an essential part in the new Afghan strategy. The strategy was described in detail in a previous Long War Journal article. In summary, the US plans to draw down its forces by 33,000 (from 100,000 to 67,000 troops) by the end of September 2012, thus ending the surge of US troops that started in late 2009. The goal is to have most US troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The US plans to end combat operations, however, by late 2013. By then, US forces will transition from the leading fighting force to a training and support force primarily supporting the ANSF. At the same time, the ANSF will take over the lead in combat operations, assuming the main role fighting the country’s insurgency. The ANSF goal is to take responsibility for 50 percent of the Afghan population by the end of 2012 and all of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Standing up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)

This strategy places a heavy load on the ANSF. Afghan forces will have to take over combat operations very quickly. The ANSF is still an immature force, however, and will need a great deal of training and support during the transition in order to be successful. A problem that has continued to plague efforts to develop the ANSF is the shortage of military trainers in Afghanistan. The deployment of a large number of US trainers this spring is intended to address this issue.

The organization of the US training teams is another important feature of the upcoming deployment. Until recently, the ANSF’s primary developmental emphasis has been on growing its size. Training resources have been concentrated in centralized training camps where new ANSF units are recruited and trained. However, the growth of the ANSF will end in September when it reaches its end state goal of 352,000 troops. The training emphasis will then shift from the training camps to supporting the existing units deployed across the country. The large number of US training teams will be dispersed across the country, attaching to individual ANSF units in the field. There they can advise and support the ANSF units in ongoing combat operations.

Specialized US training units

Another interesting feature of this deployment is that two of the units are not regular combat brigades. They are specialized training units deploying overseas for the first time.

  • 162nd Infantry Brigade. This training brigade specializes in training foreign security forces combat advisers. Based in Fort Polk, La., it trained the advisers within the combat brigades before they deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan. Now for the first time, the brigade itself is deploying.
  • 1st Army Headquarters. This is not a regular combat HQ. It is the headquarters for the army’s readiness and training units within the US. Now also for the first time, it will be deploying overseas.

Note that this surge of US trainers to Afghanistan was facilitated by the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq in late 2011. Before being reassigned to Afghanistan, several of the US brigades were either already deployed to Iraq or were planning to deploy there.

The US has already announced a drawdown of forces from Afghanistan. The surge of trainers is essential for “Part Two” of the Afghan strategy, standing up the ANSF. By the end of 2012, the US will have reduced its combat strength in the country by withdrawing a number of combat troops. At the same time, the intent is to enhance the capability of the ANSF by increasing the number of training and support troops.

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  • Bill Pletch says:

    As a former staff officer for 1A on many a COADOS CONUS and OCONUS deployments for them it will be interesting to watch this progression as 1A HQ moves down range. Many AGR and other COADOS Soldiers in 1A HQ have never deployed. Should be interesting.

  • Qadeer Ahmed says:

    United States first must defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan instead of making a planing of New rounds. After losing War in Afghanistan and beaten from Taliban, US announces another dilemma. The United States has been pumping billions of dollars into Afghanistan and the result is total Zero. Recently President Hamid Karzai has said the Taliban have regained strength due to repeated mistakes by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
    If they withdraw without finishing the job, the United States would open the door for the Taliban to regain influence in the region and allow insurgents and its affiliate organizations to regroup and re-arm.
    If the US really wanted to defeat the Taliban, why don’t they tackle them in Afghanistan provinces? If they eliminate the Taliban, the US will have no reason to stay here.

  • Paul D says:

    Taliban HQ and leadership are across the border ie Pakistan

  • Michael Berryhill says:

    I agree. if we do not actually defeat the taliban, and leave before the job is finished, we lose all credibility in the region. Guerilla wars/insurgencies are won in generations, not years.

  • Gerald says:

    Now we know why no one ever conquered Afghanistan. It is not worth the effort.

  • Rich M says:

    To those that claim that the US must first defeat the Taliban, I say let the Afghan army fight it’s own war to defeat the Taliban. Allow the US forces train the ANSF to first stand up on it’s own, secure their country & eventually root out the Taliban.

  • It seems to me that Washington’s policies are being overtaken, again and again, by events. It’s simply unsafe to leave American advisors/trainers in Afghanistan, once the large troop cover is removed.
    What’s all it takes is for someone to start a rumour that you know what was burnt by you know whom.
    Another ignominious exit, as it happened in Iraq, appears to be in the offing.

  • Kent Gatewood says:

    Is an open ended use of Special Forces and the CIA expected to continue after the halt in American Forces combat operations late in 2013?

  • Paul says:

    TAPI pipeline will not be built?

  • Chris says:

    Qadeer, you don’t get it. All we want to do is train Afghans to fight the Taliban. If they all kill each other, probelm solved, we have no more work to do. In hindsight, we should have only bombed the place to begin with. The Taliban hid and run to Pakistan where we can’t follow with ground troops. Guerillla wars are a lose-lose, so let those that care about that end of the world fight over it. The U.S has no interest in Afghan from a value standpoint, and we are understanding that democracy is a concept that is too foreign to cave dwellers. If they start Taliban training camps everywhere again whne we leave, we’ll just build more predator drones and take them out the quick and easy way. An of course, we won’t be providing the Taliban any more stinger missiles, like when the Russkies took over.

  • Gerald says:

    The Middle East Wars are similar to the Spanish Dutch Wars in the 16th-17th century. Spain spent 80 years trying to quell rebellion amongst a culture that was diametrically opposed to them culturally and religiously.And at great expense and detriment to their own internal infrastructure.We have already accomplished our mission there. Al Qaeda has been degraded and the Taliban ousted. This is Not WWII.The Afghans don’t need a Marshall Plan. It would take two generations to bring them to their old standards and would not benefit us at all. The nations of the Middle East have never been our friends and probably never will be.We are wasting our time there. Best to leave them to their own devices.

  • mike merlo says:

    re:Paul D
    well said
    to the contrary, when has Afghanistan not been conquered
    re:M Berryhill
    ‘spot on’ with the ‘generational’ observation. Afghan force strength is at or near Advisory/Training & Logistics Support phase. The Afghan forces will do fine as long we don’t totally abandon them as we did with Chiang Kai Shek/KMT, Nguyen Van Thieu/ARVN & what the former Soviet Union did to Najibullah

  • anan says:

    M. Muthuswamy,
    You serially make assertions without any basis. On Iraq, the ISF regarded their international advisors as honored guests. ISF advisors were safer than the ISF they were advising.
    Violence in Iraq has fallen again in February, 2012, to the lowest level in more than a decade. Iraq was a large victory for the Government of Iraq, the Iraqi Security Forces, and their international allies who helped them.
    Similarly in Afghanistan, the ANSF view their embedded advisors as honored guests. ANSF vs. ANSF clashes are three times as common as ANSF vs. ISAF confrontations. Less than a quarter of ANSF attacks on ISAF have an ideological component [Taliban influence is a subset of these attacks.] Three quarters of attacks are personal squabbles. Most ANSF are young men with guns who are apt to use violence against fellow ANSF and ISAF because of personal insults, much the way American High Schools often have many fights between young male students.
    The ANSF attacks on ISAF generally happen against conventional ISAF units that they are “partnered” with, rather than embedded ANSF advisors. As ISAF sends more embedded ANSF advisors, there are likely to be less ANSF/ISAF tension, not more.
    “It’s simply unsafe to leave American advisors/trainers in Afghanistan” There is no evidence for this assertion. There weren’t large number of American conventional forces in Afghanistan before Obama was elected. Yet attacks on embedded ANSF advisors were uncommon.
    This isn’t to say that there isn’t tension between ANSF and ISAF. ISAF often kill ANSF in friendly fire incidents. By far the largest cause of anti ISAF sentiment among Afghans and ANSF are the deeply believed conspiracy theories that ISAF backs the Taliban against the ANSF. Belief in this conspiracy theory has reached an all time high among the ANSF. Unless this is aggressively addressed by ISAF, this conspiracy could threaten the entire mission.
    Of course it is very dangerous to be a member of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. The Taliban kill them in large numbers, and the ANSF in turn kill the Taliban in large numbers. The ANSF and Taliban hate each other. Any ANSF advisors would confront the same extensive risks as their ANSF colleagues.

  • blert says:

    Fracking has ENTIRELY ruined its economics.
    Now you know.

  • Anan:
    My comments were written in the aftermath of the
    so-called Koran burning incident in Afghanistan, and therefore, should be seen in the context of the new reality.
    Whichever way you cut it, it is hard not to see the abrupt American exit and its loss of influence in Iraq for what it is.

  • anan says:

    M. Muthuswamy, it is condescending to Afghans to assume that Afghans don’t put 4 partly burnt Korans into context. Afghans are as smart as Pakistanis, Indians and Iranians. Similar culture too.
    The question is whether the Korans were intentionally burnt by an ISAF soldier. If that is what the investigation determines, then it becomes more serious.
    The biggest strategic threat ISAF confronts among Afghans is not the Koran burning but the widely believed conspiracy theory that ISAF supports Taliban attacks against Afghans. More than 80% of Afghans have a negative view of the Taliban.
    On Iraq, I have no idea what you mean. The mission was to facilitate the Iraqis winning and becoming a free democracy. Iraqis are winning and are a mostly free democracy. The fact that violence is falling to new lows as we speak despite a lack of American help underlines the extent of the victory in Iraq.
    When the US wasn’t willing to keep 6 to 10 thousand trainers/combat enablers in Iraq under terms acceptable to the Government of Iraq [Senator McCain has said that the Iraqis wanted American trainers to stay behind and President Obama didn’t like the Iraqi request], the Iraqi response was to keep winning anyway. What more evidence do you need to acknowledge that the effort to surge the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces succeeded?

  • Anan:
    You are right about Afghans and Pakistanis being as smart as the Indians or as anyone else. That said, the contrasting trajectory of the respective nations tells a different story as to where the smartness has been cashed – with Afghanistan and Pakistan being strongly influenced by Koranic jihad, unlike that of Hindu-majority India.
    This is the context you have regretfully missed.
    That the Korans do have offensive and objectionable material certain Muslims find it very appealing is the very reason, however, the U.S. Soldiers, apparently found it threatening.
    Granted, the involved soldiers could have handled this with more sensitivity. Having been brought up in a liberal democracy and not belonging to Islam likely lead to this honest (intentional) mistake.
    However, that most Muslims have not come forward and acknowledged this sad state of affairs with their holy book, but instead, chose to blame American soldiers is indeed the real travesty.
    If there ever is a trial of any our soldiers involved in this burning event, arguably, the focus should be on how and why the Korans are inciting people into violence and driving them into backwardness and what should be done about it.
    If the Koranic text is overwhelmingly of peaceful intent, do you think the Korans would have gotten burnt in the first place, in this context?
    The answer probably is no.
    Regarding Iraq, my focus is not about Iraqi performance or its democratic mode of governing. In fact, I have published analysis that show that an Islamic democracy, unlike even dictatorships, is much more of a threat to its people and others.
    The problem I was alluding to is our rapid loss of influence in Iraq for the astounding price we have paid to secure it.

  • Lakshmanan says:

    You train Afghans in war techniques but do not leave and let the Afghan defend their nation on their own. The U.S. presence is required to curtail and root out terrorism nurtured in the excuse of Islam/Jihad etc etc.
    The American presence in Afghanistan is not only felt in Pakistan but becoming a burden for Pakistan’s indisciplined Army. They are the policy makers when it comes to Afghanistan and India. They brook no interference from anybody till the other day.
    Slowly, but surely Pak Army is finding to their dismay their invincible power is not all that invincible even inside Pakistan due to American presence in Afghanistan. The puny PM and the President of Pakistan are slowly moving their coins against the Army. Still, the Army is weary of throwing them out. The Govt is seeking interpol help to convict the ex General and Ex President Musharraf. Still their Army wrings their hands helplessly. Why? If they take-over the nation by a coup, for each and every aggression inside Afghanistan, Army has to provide reply to the Americans, which is not possible and now the blame is needlessly borne by their politician. As politicians bear the burden of not only answering the americans but also their images go down in the largely un-educated and fanatic general public. If their is a coup, this lowering of reputation directly would affect the image of the Army and they would be weakened as well as hated.
    Due to the above reasons, Zardaris and Gilanis are rearing their heads. It is important because the roots of world-wide terrorism lies in the hands of Pakistan Army.
    So let the American be present in Afghanistan and slowly strangle the unruly, irresponsible and self-serving Pakistan Army. Good for our planet, much better for South Asia.

  • Mr. Noboy says:

    As previoulsy posted by Michael B. These wars are won in generations, not years. There are no amount of ‘trainers’ that can speed up the reality of the fight we are engaged in now. We don’t need tens of thousands of conventional army units bunkered in their FOBs or riding up and down IED ladden wadis in the latest so called mine resistant vehicle. We need Special Forces and Special Operations forces that are trained to work by with and through their host nation partners.
    Time for the conventional army to realize they aren’t needed except in a support role to Special Operations. They should stick to their role of fighting our conventional wars. It’s past time to return the battlespace to SOF forces and prepare for a couple of decades worth of ‘training’ and advising the Afghans until they can defend their own borders, fight internal corruption and build a government that represents their people and culture.
    The problem is that our civilian leadership and conventional minded military leaders are not conditioned to think in terms of decades or more of building capacity in a foreign country. They are conditioned to think in terms of the next four years and/or battlefield command or quick conflict that will get them their next star.

  • Kyrg says:

    Two observations, after fighting 10 one year wars in Afghanistan we have built a country that is a mile wide in weapons and training and an inch deep in self sustainment and intestinal fortitude to stop corruption. These new trainers will just continue the status quo.
    2nd, has any serious thought been put into a north and south Afghanistan option with the boundary being the ring road from Jbad/ Khyber pass to Kandahar? In my opinion 90% of the fighting would disappear by getting rid of the mostly Pashto south.


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