The Army plans to task one of its Security Force Assistance Brigades with counter-narcotics advising in South America, but the service component for U.S. Southern Command hasn’t yet released details on where they’ll be sent.
The tasking comes as the Army gradually realigns each of its SFABs to the U.S. military’s regional commands, and pushes recruitment efforts to add more personnel to the all-volunteer adviser brigades intended to train foreign militaries.
“Due to OPSEC and the ‘official’ announcement not made here nor in the country, we cannot answer the questions at this time,” said Col. Kimeisha McCullum, an Army Southern Command spokeswoman, in response to several queries.
McCullum added that more information will be released when the country the SFAB will be partnering with is prepared to make the announcement.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper mentioned the use of an Army SFAB in South America during an April 1 press briefing at the White House. The SFAB is one part of the President Donald Trump administration’s enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean following a U.S. drug indictment against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
One Army official said on background that the 1st SFAB, out of Fort Benning, Georgia, was previously planned to be tapped for the role. That brigade completed the SFAB enterprise’s inaugural deployment to Afghanistan in 2018, and sent some advisers this March to Africa where they partnered with the Senegalese Armed Forces to teach logistics and vehicle recovery.
“The 1st SFAB is already picking up missions in Central and South America, as well as Africa," Lt. Col. Kevin Field, the SFAB recruiting team lead, said during a livestreamed town hall last week, seemingly confirming the 1st SFAB’s upcoming role.
An imagery product on SOUTHCOM’s website states that the ground component for the enhanced counter-narcotics mission will be made up of one SFAB company. The tasking makes sense, as the 1st SFAB is currently planned to be regionally aligned to SOUTHCOM.
As it stands, the 2nd SFAB will align with Africa Command; 3rd SFAB with Central Command; 4th SFAB with European Command; and 5th with Indo-Pacific Command, according to Field.
“We are already starting to geographically align the SFABs. The 5th SFAB will be the first SFAB that does not deploy to Afghanistan as their first rotation. They’re going to go into the PACOM region,” Field said. “As these geographical assignments take place, language training will pick up.”
“Special Forces is very good at training tactical-type units; They’re very good at accompanying tactical-type units," McConville said. “But SFABs build a professional military force, which is different."
The 3rd SFAB is currently deployed to Afghanistan, with the 4th SFAB preparing to deploy there this summer. And while those brigades are at full manning, other units are still looking for soldiers to fill out their ranks.
“The 5th SFAB is still growing. They’re at about 79 percent projected strength," said Field. "And we also have openings at the 1st and 2nd SFABs there at Fort Benning and Fort Bragg.”
Regionally aligning SFAB units, teaching their troops language skills and dispatching them to train foreign militaries sounds a lot like the job generally relegated to the Army’s Special Forces Groups. But there are differences in capabilities.
“Special Forces is very good at training tactical-type units; They’re very good at accompanying tactical-type units," Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said in February. “But SFABs build a professional military force, which is different. How do you do logistics. How do you maintain vehicles. How do you build a professional military that will provide security.”
Army officials have regularly stated that using SFABs to advise partner nations across the world will also free up Green Berets and the service’s brigade combat teams to focus on training to fight peer adversaries like China and Russia.