MANAMA, Bahrain – About 100 members of a U.S. Army training brigade scheduled to leave Afghanistan next month will take the unusual step of returning in February to help the next unit of advisers coming in, U.S. military officials told The Associated Press.
The advisers' return is intended to help compensate for a monthslong break in the training of Afghan forces, between the time the first unit leaves and the second brigade arrives next year. It comes amid a surge in Taliban violence as Afghanistan enters its 18th year of war, and reflects concerns that progress made by the first brigade of elite Army advisers could be eroded by the pause in training.
Army Gen. Robert Abrams, head of U.S. Army Forces Command, who oversaw the creation of the training brigades, said the initial plan was to "accept the risk of having a gap" during the usually quieter winter season. That way, the units doing a nine-month tour wouldn't eventually have to change over in the peak summer fighting time.
But he said the Army approved sending the advisers back to Afghanistan to serve the first three weeks with the 2nd Brigade when it deploys.
Army Brig. Gen. Scott Jackson, who leads the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade currently in Afghanistan, will return to the warfront with his soldiers. The goal, he said, is to help the incoming unit "understand their areas of operation, see our best practices and, most importantly, personally hand off the relationships with our Afghan partners that are critical to successful conventional force advising."
Some of his advisers, he said, will also help train the new unit in January before it deploys.
Abrams also said some members of the 2nd Brigade will go to Afghanistan next month for a couple weeks to see it firsthand. "It's one thing to read a report, this way they can live it," he said.
"This is fundamentally about knowledge transfer," Abrams told the AP in an interview. He said members of the 1st Brigade volunteered to return to Afghanistan because they want the program to succeed.
"Even though they will have just recently redeployed, they're willing to go back to Afghanistan for a couple more weeks just to help them transition because they've got so much investment in it," said Abrams, who will soon move to take over U.S. Forces Korea.
Development of the new Army advisory brigades began early last year, designed to create permanent military training teams that can be deployed worldwide to help local forces better learn how to fight. It's a reflection of the new reality of America at war: Army soldiers advising and building indigenous security forces, not doing the fighting for them on foreign soil.
There are about 14,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The Army plans to build six training brigades, with about 800 soldiers each, over the next few years.
Already the 1st Brigade has suffered casualties when their Afghan partners turned on them. Two brigade soldiers were killed and three wounded in two separate attacks this summer.
Abrams said the 2nd Brigade has gone through additional security instruction, and overall time at the training academy was doubled to 30 days. Language training has also been expanded.
"The more successful we are, the more desperate our enemy becomes," said Abrams. "So, it's going to be a challenge."