The 1st SFAB was selected as part of the Defense Department’s comprehensive review of each combatant command to align their activities with the U.S. military’s broader focus on competing against Russia and China, Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said in a statement Wednesday.
Africa Command was the first to present findings and recommendations as part of the review. The Army’s SFABs are a relatively new concept designed to take on the train, advise and assist mission that has bogged down other conventional troops over the course of nearly two decades.
“This allows them to perform this important ‘great power competition’ role more effectively and more efficiently than conventional units," Farah said.
The SFAB deployment will also reduce the demand on Army brigade combat teams, Farah added, which have been tasked out to AFRICOM for missions like that of the East Africa Response Force.
The 1st SFAB, which is based at Fort Benning, Georgia, will relieve the 101st Airborne Division troopers from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in the coming weeks, though exact dates have not yet been announced.
This deployment will be 1st SFAB’s second. The unit conducted the Army’s inaugural SFAB deployment to Afghanistan in March 2018, and since that time, other SFABs have followed suit in heading there to train and advise Afghan Army kandanks ― battalion-sized formations.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in January that another SFAB is also going to be made available to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in 2021. A small element will be aligned in the early part of the fiscal year, which could mean as early as November and December. Then the full SFAB will be available by the final quarter, said Lt. Col. Driece M. Harris, a spokeswoman for the secretary.
McCarthy said that the plan is to have SFABs regionally aligned to commands overseeing Africa, Europe and Latin America.
“You can have these units that are right around the country and they line up with a combatant command and they really understand the area of operations and the cultural, professional types of military education,” McCarthy said. “What we’re doing is providing the capability, having it in the queue to be ready to go and ultimately lining them up so there’s consistency in their performance.”
The deployment of an SFAB to Africa is intended to help show commitment to African partners at a time when China and Russia are both investing in the continent, building infrastructure and training African militaries.
Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group — a private military company with deep Kremlin connections — have been active across the continent.
“They’re a quasi-military and as we saw play out in Crimea and Ukraine, little green men running around, not necessarily following rules or behavior we would expect from proper armies,” Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, who helms U.S. Africa Command, said during an April hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“So I have a pretty significant concern for the use of these kinds of forces and the way that the Russians are using them on the continent," Townsend added.
Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, U.S. Army Africa commander, said in an October interview with Army Times that he has seen both Russian and Chinese military personnel on the African continent in different capacities.
But African partners are still interested in U.S. military trainers, even when they have long-term relationships with others, according to Cloutier. He recounted a conversation he had recently with a senior official from an African country, the name of which he said he would withhold.
“He told me, ‘Hey look, we have had a long-standing relationship with another country for a long time. We feel like the world is passing us by,’” Cloutier said. “'We are looking for something new. We are looking for something new to be with the United States.'"
That long-standing relationship was with Russia, Cloutier confirmed.
“There is an example of great power competition in the context of the NDS,” he added.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.