Soon after arriving in Afghanistan, Capt. Jordan Smiley of the Army's 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade got the chance to demonstrate his skill to his counterparts.
Smiley was meeting with the leader of a Kandak, the Afghan equivalent of a U.S. infantry battalion, when elements of the unit came in contact with enemy forces, Col. Scott Jackson, 1st SFAB commander told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
"In the minutes that followed, Jordan directed and employed U.S. Army attack helicopters to enable the Afghan infantry to maneuver, killing three insurgents in the engagement," he said, adding that Smiley "later employed U.S. Air Force fighters to suppress another group of enemy, allowing the Afghan Army to close with and destroy enemy force.
"His quick application of his skill established instant credibility and cemented a professional relationship with his counterpart," Jackson said.
The 1st SFAB is approaching its 100-day mark in Afghanistan. It has deployed teams specializing in ground maneuver, engineering, military intelligence, logistics and communication to every region of the country to partner with Afghan Army, police and border force elements, he said.
"In March, we deployed to Afghanistan, intent on showing our partners that we were not business as usual; we represented change and commitment in the form of the people that have volunteered for this mission," Jackson said.
"From the very beginning, our focus has been and continues to be identifying the right people. ... These combat advisers were specially selected, specially trained and specially equipped for this mission," he added.
During training, the unit prepared to go out on joint patrols with Afghan forces and accompany them on mission objectives.
"We trained to the harder standard of being side-by-side with the Afghans and moving out on operations with them," Jackson said. "What we found here in Afghanistan was that is ... not always necessary. Thankfully, no advisers have come under direct fire in any way, shape or form.
"What we have learned and the adjustment we have made is kind of a mental shift of, 'Hey, we are not getting stuck on being outside the wire,' " he said. "We go where we can best do our job."
While the U.S. Army has 243 years of experience, many of the skills the advisers are teaching Afghan forces "honestly are things that the U.S. Army has learned in the last couple of decades," Jackson said, describing new tools such as "effective implementation of systems, computerized tracking tools" and a "new personnel system."
"They are learning every single day," he said. "When we leave, our partners will be more technically and tactically capable, more offensive-minded, more self-sustaining and deserving of the trust of the Afghan people."
In addition to advising Afghan forces, Jackson's unit is testing the SFAB concept for the first time in real world conditions. The unit has a "very robust and systematic means of capturing lessons learned and transmitting them back to the United States," Jackson said.
Overall, "I think the Army got it right with 1st SFAB," he said, praising the "adaptability and the flexibility of our formations."
"You can take a battalion that's in one area with one mission -- and because the priorities on the ground change -- move to another area with a different kind of mission, and it fires on all cylinders. So I am very confident that we are at the 90-plus percent solution," Jackson said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.