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Level Two Advising



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Afghan War News > Level 2 Advising in Afghanistan

SFA Level Two Advising in Afghanistan

SFAATs.  The Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams (SFAATs) are composed of subject matter experts in the fields of operations, intelligence, personnel, fires, communications and logistics. They advise elements of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Learn more about SFAATs here.

Initial SFAAT Employment. SFAATs were initially embedded, co-located or located adjacent to or nearby the Afghan elements that they advised in early 2012. In many cases the SFAAT would live on a U.S. base that was adjacent to an Afghan army base or police headquarters. Some SFAATs had to travel over the roads to visit their Afghan units. In a few instances, the SFAATs were 'embedded' with the Afghans; meaning they would work and live on an Afghan base or facility. In almost all cases, however - whether embedded, adjacent to, or traveling to work - the SFAATs were conducting daily and persistent advising with their Afghan counterparts.

"Thinning Up". As part of the "thinning up process" beginning in the winter of 2012 and spring of 2013 less SFAATs were deployed to Afghanistan - leaving many of the police district centers and some of the ANA kandaks uncovered. As time moved on in 2013 and 2014 there was a shift from Level 1 advising (constant, daily, and persistent advising) to Level 2 advising (less frequent contact) 3 or sometimes Level 3 advising. 9.

Why move to Level 2 advising? There are many reasons provided for the shift to Level 2 advising. One is that the Afghan police and army elements are now able to conduct independent operations without the constant presence of the SFAATs - so the need is less. Another reason put forth by the ISAF press machine is that this is the fighting season (Spring, Summer, Fall 2013) where the Afghans will gain confidence by fighting on their own with minimum assistance from the coalition forces. ISAF says that the advisory teams are shifting from Level 1 to Level 2 advising as the units they advise become increasing capable 1. - an event-driven shift rather than a time-driven process.  Sure . . .

A more likely answer is that there are less and less SFAATs in-country so they have to be moved from just one advised unit to a couple of advised units. In addition, as the combat outposts (COPs) and forward operating bases (FOBs) close in the middle of the 2013 fighting season (is retrograde the primary mission or is Train Advise and Assist?) the SFAATs are forced to either live on their own in "expeditionary" mode as embedded advisor teams or move to the nearest FOB that is going to remain open during the rest of their deployment.

Traveling to Work. In 2013 and early 2014 SFAATs found themselves spending more time coordinating their visits, preparing movement and operations plans (CONOPs), and traveling to their advised unit than actual advising. This cut down on the "contact time" with their counterparts - which had a dramatic effect on  relationship building, effectiveness of advising, and the ability to provide enabler support (intelligence, logistics, MEDEVAC, fires, and close air support).

"Fly to Advise". As the ISAF contingent gets smaller it is harder to cover down on the Afghan National Army. Two of the ANA Corps (215th and 203) do not have full-time advisors - and these are in two of the most critical areas of the country. However, ISAF is attempting to advise from a distance. Some advisors call this "Fly to Advise" - where a contingent of advisors and force protection people fly into an LZ secured by the ANA and conduct a visit to the ANA corps.

"Expeditionary Advisory Packages" (EAPs). Sometimes these visits by advisor teams - called by many "Expeditionary Advisory Packages" or EAPs last a few hours and sometimes a few days. When staying over night the advisor teams stays at a "Cold Base". A cold base is that part of the Afghan installation or compound where the Coalition troops can set up their radios, temporary work area, and sleeping area. When not visiting the Afghan corps the advisors keep in touch by phone and email. The AARs will tell us how that works out.

Decreased Opportunity to Build Rapport with ANSF Counterparts. An important aspect of advising is establishing the proper relationship with the Afghan counterpart. This requires a great deal of rapport building in the beginning of the relationship. Rapport building requires an advisor who has the proper personality, training, experience, age, and rank. It sometimes takes advisors who live and work with their Afghan counterpart on a full-time basis two to four weeks 2. to get to the point where the advisor is accepted by his Afghan counterpart. There are times when it takes a little longer to establish the necessary level of rapport even while working alongside the advised unit full-time. 5. Level two advising puts the advisor at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to establishing that relationship.

Increased Danger to SFAATs While Traveling to Work. Along with the dramatic decrease in advisor effectiveness comes the increased risk of "commuting to work" along IED infested roads. Of course, the risk of traveling along the roads can be mitigated by using helicopters; however, there are only so many helicopters. Rotary wing is a scarce asset that requires lots of planning and coordination and that many times are affected by the weather - particularly during the winter.

SFAAT traveling to work on CH-47 in Afghanistan
SFAAT Archangel boards a CH 47 to conduct a Level Two advisory mission to former
FOB Shinwar, Nangarhar province on July 14, 2013. (
Photo by SPC Vang Seng Thao).

Increased Chances of Insider Threat. A known fact is that the closer you are to your Afghan counterpart the safer you are from an insider threat. So the insider threat problem increases with the Level 2 advisor scheme.

Loss of Situational Awareness. Coalition forces are loosing situational awareness on what is happening on the battlefield as they withdraw from many of the COPs and FOBs and continue to reduce the number of combat operations they conduct unilaterally or with the ANSF. The SFAATs, working closely with their ANA and police counterparts, are in a unique position to receive intelligence reports and keep knowledgeable on ANSF movements and operations. However, as the SFAATs "thin up" this capability will decrease less and less.

Decreased Opportunity to Pass Intelligence to the ANSF. With the lack of daily contact by SFAAT intelligence advisors with the intelligence officers working in the AUP district centers, provincial police headquarters (PHQs), Operations Coordinating Center - Provincial (OCC-Ps), and the S-2s of the ANA kandaks and brigades there will be a decrease in opportunities to pass timely and important intelligence. As everyone knows (see Chapter 3 "Intelligence in Counterinsurgency" of FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency 4.intelligence-based operations are the key to defeating insurgents in a counterinsurgency fight. Certainly ISAF cannot paint a good picture about the ANSF intelligence capability or present the case that the ANSF are conducting intelligence-driven operations.

"Advisor Art and Science".  An excerpt from FM 3-24.2 is telling. 6.

"The most important mission of an advisor is to enhance the professionalism of his counterpart. Rapport, credibility, and legitimacy can only be established through time, proximity, and interaction. Advisors mentor HN leadership at every opportunity . . . "

"Advisors sleep and eat daily with HN security force units. They must 'leave the wire". The closer they operate with the HN security force, the faster the unit will improve'. The social and cultural aspects of the mission are just as or more important than patrolling with the unit".

Functional SFA. As ISAF continues to withdraw and adopts the functional SFA advising model it will be interesting to see if it sticks with the Level II advising methodology; and if it does, how useful Level II advising really is. Perhaps, under the functional SFA model, Level II advising will work based on advisors providing advice and assistance along functional areas up and down the ANA and ANP structure. But, . . . probably not.

Transition from Level II Advising to Level II Advising. In January 2015 the planned troop strength of the Coalition is 12,000. In light of this light footprint it was decided by ISAF planners to conduct Level II advising in the fall of 2014 with the 203rd and 215th ANA Corps and the other Afghan security forces in those corps regions. In early 2016 this advising would go to "Level III" advising by an "Advise Assist Cell" or AAC located at ISAF Hqs in Kabul. 8.

A Look Back from the Future. History will no doubt judge the overall SFAAT mission as important to the security transition of Afghans in the lead; but will likely judge Level Two advising as providing little gain for a lot of risk.

Videos about Level Two Advising

July 20, 2013. "Advising Shinwar - Afghan National Army", video by PAO 1st BCT, 101st Airborne Division. An SFAAT travels to former U.S. Army FOB Shinwar, Nangarhar province to conduct a level two advisor mission with the ANA.

News Articles about SFAAT Level Two Advising

July 25, 2013. "Archangel: Afghan security forces winning local loyalty". DVIDS. An SFAAT working in Nangarhar province conducts level-two advising mission.

July 25, 2013. "SFAAT Blackhorse: 1st Kandak ready to lead". Fort Campbell Courier. An SFAAT from 1st Bn, 327th Inf Regt, 1st BCT, 101st Airborne Division is transitioning to level two advising at FOB Connolly.

June 28, 2013. "Advisory Missions Signal Strategic Shift in Afghanistan". On Patrol. Article provides background info on the SFA mission and the shift to level two advising.



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1. As SFAATs pull off their mission of level-one advising the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police the advised units are deemed 'capable'. See "Honaker-Miracle: In the ANA's capable hands", Regional Command East, July 22, 2013 for a story on an SFAAT working the Pech River Valley that recently transitioned to a level-two advisory mission.

2. One intelligence advisor provides an example of the task of rapport building in this story entitled "SFAAT Blackhorse:1st Kandak ready to lead", The Fort Campbell Courier, July 24, 2013.

3. The commander of Regional Command East, MG Jim McConville, provides a succinct explanation of the switch from level one to level two advising in the seventh paragraph of an update news release - see "Eagle 6 sends update from Afghanistan, July 15",, July 21, 2013.

4. FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency, HQs Department of the Army, December 2006 is available at at the link below.

5. For another example of how long it sometimes take to establish rapport see an article entitled "Advising as We Withdraw From Afghanistan", Army Magazine, August 2013, page 55.

6. For "Advisor Art and Science" see page 8-20, Chapter 8 "Support to Host Nation Security Forces", FM 3-24.2 Tactics in Counterinsurgency, Headquarters Department of Army, April 21, 2009.

7. Read how a medical advisor for the 203rd ANA Corps "flies to advise" her counterpart at FOB Lightning in "Brave Rifles medical officer ensures Afghan medical facilities are sustainable", DVIDS, November 27, 2014.

8. For more on the transition from Level II to Level III advising see "Army, USMC generals talk Afghanistan transition on advisory trip", ISAF News, December 20, 2014.

9. There three levels of advising. Learn more about Resolute Support Mission Levels of Advising.

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