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Advising team bolsters Afghanistan defense management

By By Lt. Sharon Mulholland, Resolute Support Headquarters

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Aug. 18, 2015 — KABUL, Afghanistan (August 16, 2015) – In late July, the Resolute Support Advise and Assist Directorate deployed a small team to a remote region of Afghanistan on a straight-forward advising mission. Within 48-hours, the focus of their engagement with the Afghanistan National Army’s 215th Corps shifted.

Heavy fighting broke out in Now Zad district, north of the 215th Corps’ headquarters. U.S. Air Force Col. Donald Holloway, Resolute Support Advise Assist Cell (RS AAC) – Southwest team lead, rallied the AAC contingent and quickly made their way to the Corps’ tactical operation center. As the 215th Corps shifted into high gear to engage reinforcements in support of the area of operation, the AAC-SW’s advising and planning effort transitioned to full-on warfighter functional support of the Afghan-led operation.

This is what advise and assist will look like in the near future. RS AAC teams are small, but they are fluid and focused, and the quality of their expertise matters to the integrity of the relationship with Afghan partners as both drilldown on security objectives.

“We came in with the intent to provide updated intel and logistics in preparation for a clearance operation in eastern Helmand,” said U.S. Army Capt. Nicholas Antonio, AAC-SW counter improvised explosive device adviser. “Around the second day of advising, the tempo and focus of the visit changed to accommodate the operational needs of the Corps.”

As the Coalition’s larger Train, Advise and Assist Commands begin to stand down, at a time yet to be determined, the Advise and Assist Directorate (AAD) based out of RS Headquarters in Kabul is streamlining support through Advise Assist Cells assigned to respective regions of Afghanistan.

Resolute Support commands in Afghanistan have moved away from direct combat operations and assumed training and advising as their primary mission, explained U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Paul Lebidine, AAD director. As the scope of the RS mission continues to narrow, the next step for the coalition is to logically reframe the advise and assist construct. For RS expeditionary advising, Kabul-centric teams with the ability to go out and connect with partners at the Corps and ministerial levels are the way ahead.

Advisers are shadowing processes through the complexities of large-scale organizational management, a relatively new concept in Afghanistan. Whether it be managing personnel, pay, recruitment, retention, logistics, supplies, intelligence. You name it. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are responsible for managing it and sustaining it as is any other security force in the world, except this force has had little to no break in conflict for decades; and it is a force under an emerging nation with little experience in multifaceted systems dynamics. The AAD will continue to support the ministries’ strategic work as they mature their security management practices.

“We are the ones that will maintain that touch point with each corps to determine what issues they are having.” Antonio explained.

As Afghan forces move toward increasing independence, it is essential that AAD teams penetrate cultural and political layers to get to the core functions of sustainment as security forces around the country continue to meet the challenge of daily insurgent activity.

Antonio explained that is important for the teams to be sensitive and attentive to the fact that the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior require accurate, timely ground-level information in order to initiate decisive movement and improvement in Afghan defense management.

“What we don’t want is everything to be stagnant at the Kabul level. We want to make sure they understand what is going on—the ground truth across the area of operation,” Antonio said, “I think that is the power of the Advise and Assist Directorate. We still maintain outreach to all the Corps, and not just in Kabul.”

Lebidine reiterated that the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police have become more independent, but there are still issues that Coalition partners must continue tracking to ensure long term ANDSF sustainability. Issues clearly fall in ministerial process management, he said.

“In other words, we know that they can fight. We know that they have the courage. But really, as we look toward the future, [the issue is] long term sustainability, and that requires very detailed processes to run a large scale army or police force,” Lebidine explained. “We are shoring up their ability to sustain themselves.”

While the work is challenging, the AAD maintains an extremely high threshold for measuring success, as they have aligned the metric with that of their Afghan counterparts.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, the security of Afghanistan going to be measured by the progress we've made in protecting the citizens—the men, the women and the children of Afghanistan,” said Holloway. “It’s a big challenge, but it's certainly a challenge worth taking on because the rewards are just enormous."