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Remote Advise and Assist Operations

Home > Topics > Remote Advise Assist Operations

Special Operations Forces have been training and advising foreign military forces for decades. It is one of their primary missions. The most effective way to train and advise is through personal contact - accompanying foreign units during training and on combat operations.

However, there are times when that is not possible. Physical access, political considerations, force protection, safety (COVID), limited advisory capacity, and other factors are constraints on being physically with the advised unit.

Afghanistan. When the U.S. started to downsize its advisory forces in Afghanistan in the 2013 to 2014 timeframe it began to withdraw the many Security Force Assistance and Advisory Teams (SFAATs) deployed with th Afghan Army kandaks (battalions) and police districts. Later, the downsizing of US and international advisor units would encompass withdrawing SFAATs from Afghan to Army brigade and police provincial units. To manage this reduced advisory capacity the Resolute Support Mission established the concept of levels of advising - with each level determining the amount and type of adviser contact with the advised unit. In many instances, the SFAATs would now be advising several units instead of just one Afghan unit or organization. Special Operations Forces, also being reduced in number, were also using their version of levels of advising as well with Afghan SOF units.

To compensate for this decreased advisory presence the US and other nations began "fly to advise" operations in Afghanistan. This involved an advisory element flying for a few hours or few days to visit a kandak, brigade, or provincial police headquarters to meet in-person with their partner force. In times between the "fly to advise" trips the units would stay in touch by telephone (cell phone), email, and other communications methods. This advisory element was referred to as an Expeditionary Advisory Package (EAP).

During the 2015 to 2016 timeframe the Resolute Support forces downsized even further. Two of the Afghan Army Corps lost their co-located advisory teams - to be replaced by an Advise and Assist Cell (ACC).

Iraq and Syria. Special Forces units sometimes used the concept of 'remote advising' during the campaign against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. In some instances this meant that the SF element would be at a tactical operations center communicating with the partner force via phone, email, VTC, or other means. Many times, at the tactical level, an SF team would accompany the partner unit during combat up until the point of contact with the enemy - staying one terrain feature or a safe distance away.

COVID-19 and Advising. The pandemic of 2020 caused a drastic curtailing of military operations for the United States. Training, exercises, and every-day workflow was affected due to health concerns. This was true of operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Special operations units continued operations but at a reduced level. Advisory activities were restructured so that person-to-person meetings were limited. 'Remote advising' was a common practice - VTCs, phones, and emails saw extensive use in these situations.

Remote Advise Assist Virtual Accompany Kits (RAA/VAK). The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has been purchasing RAA/VAKs for its SOF advisors. The early VAKs were a compilation of off-the-shelf phones, tablets, Wi-Fi, cellular, and satellite communications technologies. This allowed the U.S. and partner nation forces to see the 'same' battlefield - solving the problem of how to effectively assist partners when they cannot accompany them in combat.

Advising from Outside Theater. One aspect of special operations that is quite effective is the continued and persistant relationships between units and individuals of US SOF and the partner nations. Developing long-term relationships over time can significantly increase the effectiveness of advising and training activities. This is best accomplished when a US advisor or unit works with the partner force when deployed to the host nation but then continues the relationship once returned to the United States.

References

"Partnered MDMP: Achieving Shared Objectives Through Remote Advise and Assist Operations", Eunomia Journal, February 21, 2021.

"Global Special Operations: Advising and Mentoring in the Zoom Era", Clearance Jobs.com, December 8, 2020.

"The U.S. Miltary Should Turn to Remote-Enabled Advising", by Gordon Richmond, War on the Rocks, May 20, 2020.

Special Operations Remote Advise and Assist: An Ethics Assessment, By Deane-Peter Baker, Ethics and Information Technology, 2019.

PM MILDEP Partner Nation Tracking. National Defense Industry Association (NDIA), briefing delivered during the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) of 2018, PDF, 9 pages.

Remote Advise and Assist / Virtual Accompany Kit. By Doowan Lee, Cyber Academic Group, Naval Postgraduate School, April 19, 2018.

"Virtual Accompany Kits Return to Baghdad", Special Warfare Magazine, April June 2017.

"Reaching Forward in the War against the Islamic State", PRISM, Volume 6, No. 3, December 7, 2016.



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