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Army Chief: Train and Advise Troops 'Are Not Special Forces'

Army Gen. Mark Milley addresses the Congressional Staff Breakfast attended by about 300 military legislative assistants at the 2016 AUSA Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C., Oct. 4, 2016. (U.S. Army National Guard photo/Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill)
Army Gen. Mark Milley addresses the Congressional Staff Breakfast attended by about 300 military legislative assistants at the 2016 AUSA Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C., Oct. 4, 2016. (U.S. Army National Guard photo/Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill)

The U.S. Army will continue to build new, non-special forces units for training and advising foreign militaries, despite an ambush that killed four Green Berets in Niger last week, the Army's chief of staff said today.

"It is my assessment, and the assessment of the secretary and the assessment of the Army staff, that we are likely to be involved in train, advise and assist operations for many years to come," Gen. Mark Milley told defense reporters today at the Association of the United States Army's 2017 annual meeting.

Milley's comments come after the Pentagon announced last week that four Army Special Forces soldiers were killed in an ambush while conducting a joint reconnaissance patrol with local forces in the north-central African state of Niger.

Army officials declined to comment on any details of the ongoing investigation into the Oct. 4 attack, but did discuss an effort to create six Security Force Assistance Brigades, or SFABs, which the Army unveiled in February.

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Army officials plan to stand up five such brigades in the active force and one in the National Guard. The first SFAB will be based at Fort Benning, Georgia, home to the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment.

"All the soldiers are volunteers, they are going to be highly vetted; they will approach standards similar to the Ranger Regiment," Milley said. "They will be trained in many ways similar to Special Forces, but they are not Special Forces."

These SFABs will be structured using the non-commissioned and commissioned officers of infantry brigade combat teams to train foreign military units in conventional light infantry tactics, Milley said. Special Force units will continue to train and advise commando-style units in host nations.

Tasking conventional Army units with training foreign military units is not a new concept, Milley said, but it has been done in a "fundamentally ad-hoc" manner.

"We have ripped chains of command out of conventional brigades and on short term assigned them over a change of command into the theater to advise host nation forces," Milley said. "The balance of troops in battalions and brigades are left behind."

SFABs will be institutionalized into the Army and will not impact the service's force structure, Milley said.

"These numbers are really small; the chain of command of an infantry brigade is 500 to 600 people ... we are not looking at huge organizations," Milley said.

"They will be assigned to these units for three years, and they will deploy overseas to do train, advise and assist missions," he said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.