Advising the Command

Best Practices from the Special Operations Advisory Experience in Afghanistan

by Todd C. Helmus


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Research Questions

  1. What practices can Special Operations Advisory Groups adopt to best accomplish their mission of enhancing the command and control capacity of Afghan Special Security Forces and promoting the long-term sustainability of these forces?
  2. What are the key challenges in operational-level partnering in Afghanistan, and how can U.S. and allied forces address them?

The NATO Special Operations Component Command — Afghanistan/Special Operations Joint Task Force — Afghanistan has tasked Special Operations Advisory Groups with the responsibility of advising headquarter elements of the Afghan Special Security Forces. This report identifies best practices for operational-level advising from this special operations advisory mission. The report also identifies recommendations that are intended to address key challenges in operational-level partnering. Findings are presented on the topics of rapport building, the advising engagement, integration, sustainability, pre-deployment training, and continuity of operations.

Key Findings

Best Practices for Special Operations Advisory Groups

  • Rapport Building. A strong rapport between advisor and counterpart can enhance information sharing, increase the likelihood that advice will be accepted, and reduce coalition force risk. Longer deployment lengths, increased training on language/cultural sensitivity skills, closer proximity to partner offices, and engagement in nontransactional activities can expedite the rapport-building process.
  • The Advising Engagement. Advising host-nation counterparts is a complex and nuanced task. Advisors should use carefully calibrated questions to avoid an overly Western perspective, instill local buy-in, and help develop host-nation problem-solving skills.
  • Integration of Advisors. U.S. and coalition advisors must ensure proper integration and coordination across the advisory force.
  • Integration of Host-Nation Forces. Advisors must also work to facilitate connections between their advisory counterparts and others within the host nation's security force apparatus. Advisors can facilitate relationships among key but reluctant host nation partners by making introductions, arranging meetings, and refusing to play the intermediary role.
  • Sustainability. To help develop host-nation decisionmaking, ownership, problem-solving skills, and other capabilities critical to sustainability, advisors can foster forums that help integrate operations and intelligence, simplify partner-unit operations and equipment requirements, and wean host nation units from coalition-provided enablers that might soon disappear.
  • Pre-Deployment Training. Advisors require substantive training in language and cultural skills, coalition force structure, partner-nation governing institutions, command and control, and logistics processes. It is also critical that advisors learn how to advise.
  • Continuity of Operations. Commanders must actively work to ensure that new staff build on previous advisor practices and relationships and do not "reinvent the wheel."

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two


  • Chapter Three

    The Advising Engagement

  • Chapter Four

    Integration of SOF Advisors

  • Chapter Five

    Integration of ASSF

  • Chapter Six


  • Chapter Seven

    Pre-Deployment Training

  • Chapter Eight

    Continuity of Operations

  • Chapter Nine


This research was sponsored by the NATO Special Operations Component Command — Afghanistan/Special Operations Joint Task Force — Afghanistan (NSOCC-A/SOJTF-A) and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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