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Planning, Advisory and Training Team

Helps Colombian Army Build Skills
by Lieutenant Colonel Patrick J. Christian
Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006
Municipality of Villagarzon, Department of Putumayo, southern
Colombia Villagers report frantically to the commander of the
Domingo Rico infantry battalion, based outside Villagarzon, that
armed insurgents from the 32nd Front of the Armed Revolutionary
Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are kidnapping everyone passing along
the main road leading south from Villagazon to Puerto Asis. The
guerrillas are taking the travelers hostage and confiscating their cars and
possessions, and the police, outmanned and outgunned, have requested
military assistance
GuerRillas in the mist

The battalion commander dis- are badly wounded. During this week more diverse set of skills and abilities,
patches a reinforced platoon under of continuing confrontation with FARC meshing them into a comprehensive
the command of Second Lieutenant guerrillas, the division commander advisory element. The ARSOF leader
Gomez German-Alonso to break up and key members of his staff (includ- must also be able to teach his team to
the attack by the guerrillas on the ing members of a U.S. military adviso- work in cross-cultural operating en-
populace. As the platoon approaches ry team) move from base to base via a vironments and lead them to success
the site of the reported attacks, a combination of Blackhawk, MI-17 and without pushing U.S. military doctrine
sniper shot strikes German-Alonso Bell Ranger helicopters to coordinate or organization onto a foreign host.
in the chest, killing him. The attack the responses of the brigades as they The Colombian military is wag-
was a baited ambush to take out the continue the fight. ing its counterinsurgency primar-
leader of the patrol and dampen the Welcome to the mission of the ily against the FARC, which is now
enthusiasm of other officers aggres- U.S. planning, advisory and train- considered to be the largest crimi-
sive attacks against the FARC. ing team, or PATT, to the Republic of nal organization in the world and is
Colombia, and the personnel who man responsible for the production and
Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2006 this decentralized operation on behalf transportation of the majority of the
Municipality of Mocoa, Department of the U.S. Army Special Operations worlds cocaine. Most of the senior
of Putumayo, southern Colombia Command and the U.S. Army John F. leaders of the FARC are under indict-
acting upon information from villag- Kennedy Special Warfare Center and ment by both the Colombian and the
ers, soldiers from the reaction platoon Schools Security Assistance Training U.S. justice departments. Under Plan
of the Colombian armys 27th Brigade, Management Organization, based at Colombia, the United States has com-
6th Division, engage an element of the Fort Bragg, N.C. mitted its resources to helping Uribe
32nd Front. In a fierce firefight, the As the Colombian army faces stabilize the country economically and
Colombian soldiers marksmanship off against the 43-year-old FARC, it socially while eliminating the FARC as
and movement techniques win out, receives targeted assistance from a a threat to national sovereignty.

The ARSOF leader must also be able to teach his team to

work in cross-cultural operating environments and lead
them to success without pushing U.S. military doctrine
or organization onto a foreign host.
resulting in six enemy dead, with no growing type of consultancy the U.S. military advisory teams,
friendly casualties. As the unit polices military advisory team. The six em- which make up the PATTs, usually
up the bodies of the FARC soldiers, bedded advisory teams serve as the tip consist of several officers and NCOs
they find significant amounts of am- of the spear in the U.S. country teams from various branches of the U.S.
munition and explosives, leading them effort to support Colombian President military. Successful teams operate
to believe that the intercepted FARC Alvares Uribes drive to eliminate the in a semi-autonomous environment,
unit was on a mission to sabotage threat to his struggling democracy performing an essentially consultant
critical infrastructure near the depart- from one of the longest-running insur- operation in support of a division and
ment capital of Mocoa. gencies in modern history. its brigades in combat. Each team
In Colombia, as in Iraq, Afghani- operates a small PATT station, which
Thursday, Aug. 24, 2006 stan, the Philippines and other loca- is often a house set up with an opera-
Municipality of La Hormiga, tions across the globe, small teams of tions center, signal center, arms room
Department of Putumayo, southern imbedded U.S. military officers and and sleeping quarters. Several of the
Colombia a patrol of Colombian NCOs provide key advisory, training teams have forward locations to which
soldiers from the 13th Mobile Brigade and planning assistance to divisions they frequently deploy in support
approaches the site of an insurgent and brigades. of their host-nation partner the
guerrilla position of the 48th Front This type of mission is most often command and staff of the division or
reported to them by a resident of one led by personnel from the U.S. Army brigade to which they are assigned.
of the nearby villages. As the soldiers special-operations forces, or ARSOF, Perhaps one of the most impor-
move closer, one of the insurgents det- but it is a growing practice to include tant lessons for these teams is that
onates an improvised explosive device joint and interagency personnel who success occurs only when they resist
buried underground. The explosion have a wide variety of training and trying to change the structure or
kills the corporal in charge of the lead experiences. ARSOF leaders of the standard operating procedures of their
fire team as well as the soldier to his future must be able to expand their hosts and instead begin acting as a
right. Two other members of the team concept of advisory teams to include a type of military consultant or adviser.

18 Special Warfare
In Defense A Colombian solider sets up a mortar in defense of the firebase. All photos provided by Patrick J. Christian.

As military consultants, their job is tifying the unique skills and meshing make sure that cooperation, commu-
to help identify critical business ele- them into a continuously evolving nication and coordination occur at the
ments and focus their time and energy plan of military advisory assistance. lowest possible level, with all credit for
to meet their own goals and objectives. Variances in rotations of the vari- successes going to the host unit. Only
Conventional military advisory ous team members cause continuous by performing a realistic assessment of
teams begin their service with the idea personnel changes, but our hosts are our host-units capabilities, compared
that they must reshape the force into surprisingly accepting of the adjust- to the FARC threat they face rather
a model similar to that of the U.S. ments to our advisory plan that those than to a U.S. standard, could we un-
Army primarily because that model changes necessitate. derstand their actual weaknesses and
is the only one they know. Imagine Key to the success of our plan is place available assets against them.
however, a business consultant who our ability to help the Colombians to For this type of military consult-
tries to push an IBM model of busi- identify weaknesses in the FARCs ing to work, the advisory team must
ness onto Google or Microsoft. These critical infrastructure and to develop build a great deal of trust with its
companies have different business capabilities for disrupting, disabling or hosts. The bulk of this trust-building
models based upon their particular destroying it. We learned that our hosts has to do with realistic advisement of
cultural base of employees and cus- are more concerned that the plans we the individual and group capabilities
tomers, and they know that one type bring to the table are effective than they of host-nation forces in the areas for
is not the solution for all. are about whether we have the skills to which the team has training or experi-
The military advisory team that the cover every operational area. ence. The advisory teams claim to a
author leads in southern Colombia When the team receives person- certain type of knowledge or skill must
consists of Army and Marine NCOs nel who specialize in various aspects be backed up by an ability to explain
and Army and Air Force officers. of maneuver operations, intelligence where and how it was obtained, as
Hailing from three different branches or SOF operations, we work to ensure our hosts have been fighting the same
of service, the team members have that their skills and abilities are best enemy for more than three decades.
unique backgrounds and skill sets. aligned with identified weaknesses in Success for the advisory mission is
The success of the team lies in iden- our hosts military structure. We try to predicated upon two (at times conflict-

May-June 2007 19
GuerRillas in the mist

ing) principles: bringing knowledge,

skills and experience to the table, and
demonstrating a willingness to modify
the way that that information is pre-
sented in order to bridge gaps between
cultural operating environments.
Balancing these two objectives often
means the difference between success
and failure. More often than not, ad-
visory teams find themselves helping
the hosts sort through what they had
already tried and the objectives they
were trying to obtain.
The advisory team is finding that
the key to the success is its ability to
leverage the previous training and ex-
perience of its members for the benefit
of its hosts. One example of this type
of approach to military advising was
the Colombians ongoing struggle with
the financial and logistical hub of the
FARCs Southern Bloc.
As our host unit had responsibil-
ity for the departments that harbored
this logistical network, they received
continuous pressure to reduce or stop
the flow of goods, services and finance
moving through this network. Pres-
sure is often exerted at the highest
levels by military and political leaders
trying to implement other aspects of
Plan Colombia and to extend gov- Locked and Loaded A Colombian soldier stands guard over a petroleum well head at
ernment influence into the outlying the military base of Teteye. All photos provided by Patrick J. Christian.
reaches of the country. be required to interdict or disrupt its and individual skill-building as the
As we listened to the host units critical infrastructure. This analysis basis for collective training.
problems and challenges, we were led to interagency cooperation and the This leader-development process
able to teach them about critical development of a new unit. resulted in a training plan in which
infrastructure and the way its ele- Members of two advisory teams the Colombians possessed a vested
ments support each other. While the pooled their resources to create a new interest (because they developed it).
concept of critical infrastructure and SOF strike unit capable of operat- This process was no easy task. Before
effects-based actions are old news to ing deep inside FARC territory, using these future SOF leaders could begin
advanced industrial countries at risk intelligence obtained from regional developing their training program,
from terrorism, these concepts are not interagency partners another valu- they had to demonstrate an under-
always used in understanding and able contribution by various members standing of their mission and the
targeting an insurgency. By showing of the military consultancy team. essential tasks for accomplishing each
the Colombians that the way to com- Our advisory teams organized the designated capability.
bat their assigned targets was to see new SOF strike unit out of existing Showing them how to develop a
them as a set of infrastructure com- units familiar with the planned oper- mission-essential task list, or METL,
petencies and target them with lethal ational area southern Colombia became an interagency tug-of-war,
and nonlethal effects-based fires, we and vetted for human rights by the as the owning division wanted tasks
were able to give them valuable sup- U.S. State Department. The train- different from those of the supporting
port and gain their confidence. ing program developed was seven- regional intelligence center, which was
Gaining the confidence and trust of weeks long, preceded by a week-long to supply the bulk of the actionable
our counterparts opened many doors leader-development session in which intelligence. Finally, using the newly
previously closed to our advisory mis- the PATT officers and NCOs taught established interagency plans and
sion. After helping identify the target, Colombians to develop a comprehen- operations group process, the units
we worked on developing strategies for sive training plan, lay out resources ironed out METL, approved training
tracking it, exploiting its weaknesses and organize instruction modules, schedules, laid on resources and com-
and identifying capabilities that might emphasizing decentralized execution menced the new unit-training process.

20 Special Warfare
Roadblock An explosion on a bus caused by insurgents damages the road and inhibits travel. All photos provided by Patrick J. Christian.

At each step of the way, however, and objectives. Most importantly, In summary, working as an adviser
the members of the PATT had to such a method develops the planning to a foreign military force involves a
sidestep efforts to take responsibility and analysis skills of the host nations change in the way we view success
for the training away from the Colom- junior military leaders. criteria and our expectations of how
bian chain of command. We used the Teaching them to base their military quickly success can be achieved.
Socratic method of teaching asking operations on actionable intelligence Operating in a cross-cultural environ-
questions to ensure that we did not and to plan each combat operation ment means that we actively avoid
step out of our adviser/consultant as an intelligence-gathering operation making clones of the U.S. military
role. The quality of the training was was more difficult than we anticipated. and instead work to help our clients
very important, but more so was the Often this was due to their reverse- develop and achieve measurable goals
ownership of the process and product. engineering of U.S. military processes, and objectives while retaining their
While much of the instruction was which gave them an understanding of cultural methodology of field opera-
based upon standard U.S. training what to do without the requisite knowl- tions. Advisory teams must be suf-
doctrine, the authority for determining edge of why they were doing it. ficiently trained and experienced in
how and why we trained a certain way Also, many of the processes they order to move beyond offering cultur-
stayed with the Colombians, using had been exposed to in their careers ally-dependent templates and begin
their years of experience in fighting were based upon high-intensity-con- training their host counterparts to
the FARC insurgency. Those experi- flict environments rather than on cul- develop their own templates consis-
ences that had worked were adopted, turally adaptive low-intensity conflict tent with their operational cultural
and those that failed were not. involving protracted political violence. environment.
The reason for using this method By encouraging them to develop their Lieutenant Colonel Patrick J. Chris-
was again, simply to keep responsibil- own operational and support tem- tian is a Special Forces officer who
ity for training, planning and opera- plates, based upon their own identi- serves as a field advisory team leader
tions squarely upon the shoulders of fied requirements and operational in southern Colombia. He has served
Colombian officers and NCOs and to environments, we helped them acquire in similar capacities in Ecuador, Sudan
keep them focused on meeting goals skills for effective planning. and Ethiopia.

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