The commander of U.S Central Command said he’s confident the next Army security force assistance brigade, or SFAB, will be ready to take the reins of the Afghan mission.
But the SFAB that’s on the ground now in the war-torn country is slated to pack its bags and head for home sometime in November — potentially leaving a gap of several months, as the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade isn’t expected to deploy until early 2019, the Fayetteville Observer reported.
It’s an uncommon turnover in a war zone where the military traditionally hands over operations to incoming units on the ground — sometimes referred to as a left seat, right seat ride — where new units are familiarized with their battlespace from an outgoing unit.
“The U.S. Army really puts the emphasis on this idea of passing lessons learned and passing information,” Gen. Joseph Votel, the CENTCOM commander, told reporters Wednesday during a Pentagon briefing, about the incoming new SFAB to Afghanistan.
But the Army’s second experimental advisory brigade is still being manned, equipped and trained, and it needs to complete a certification exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, a rotation that isn’t slated till sometime in January 2019, according to the Fayetteville Observer.
Another advisory task force on the ground known as Task Force Southwest — staffed with roughly 300 Marines — is in its second rotation, having completed a successful turnover in mid-January, and has since hit the ground running taking out Taliban leaders and destroying narcotics financing operations with precision rocket artillery strikes.
But the Army’s SFABs are far bigger at nearly 1,000 soldiers, which just packs onto an already complex and highly volatile war zone, meaning any turnover between the two units will need to be informative and in-depth.
But the Pentagon wouldn’t provide figures on a potential 2nd SFAB deployment. “We do not comment on troop levels, the Army provides forces to the Combatant Command and 2nd SFAB will be ready if and or when ordered to deploy,"LTC. Kone Faulkner, a Pentagon spokesman, told Army Times in an emailed statement Wednesday.
“There’s been a steady flow of information from the current SFAB, the 1st SFAB, to the second SFAB that will follow them in theater,” Votel said Wednesday. “So, they’ve been sharing a lot of lessons learned in terms of how they are operating.”
Other discussions between the two adviser units will likely focus on “best locations” for the SFAB to be located in Afghanistan, and lessons learned on working with combat service support groups, Votel said.
The Army is looking at other options to mitigate the turnover gap as well. Some teams with the 2nd SFAB may deploy to Afghanistan early to work side by side with the 1st SFAB, or some soldiers from the first deployment might return to Afghanistan to help the 2nd SFAB get up and running, according to the Fayetteville Observer.
The next SFAB will be headed into what Votel described as a “very complex” situation in Afghanistan.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.