Less than a week before deployment, a new high-profile Army unit designed to train and assist Afghan forces drew its second high-ranking visitor in two days.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis was at Fort Benning Friday afternoon to speak to the soldiers in the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade. Mattis’ visit, which was not open to local media, comes a day after Gen. Mark A. Milley, Army chief of staff, attended the activation ceremony for the unit.
Mattis spoke to the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade at its Kelley Hill headquarters, Fort Benning Public Affairs confirmed. Details of what he said the soldiers were not released.
During a White House briefing on Wednesday in Washington, Mattis said he would be traveling to Fort Benning today and made it clear the Army’s new concept for fighting Afghanistan was a priority.
“To advance to the security of our nation, these troops are putting themselves in harm’s way,” Mattis told the White House press corps. “In effect, signing a blank check payable to the American people with their lives.”
The 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade has gone from concept to the brink of deployment in less than nine months. They trained last month at Fort Polk, La. The unit’s training schedule was shortened to deploy in the spring as part of President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy, Politco and the New York Times have previously reported.
The all-volunteer unit has a lot of military experience and expertise. More than 80 percent of the soldiers have combat experience. The unit is also comprised primarily of carefully selected volunteers. Only about 60 percent of those who wanted into the unit were chosen.
The new unit of about 800 soldiers is drawing a great deal of attention and Milley noted that in his speech on Thursday. He was clear to say what the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade was — and what it wasn’t.
“Our Green Berets are stretched incredibly thin to meet the ever-increasing demands,” Milley said. “To be very clear, the Security Force Assistance Brigade is not and will not be Special Forces. Special Forces is very unique. They are trained, manned, equipped and tasked with the conduct of things like unconventional warfare, advance force operation, operational preparation environment. They are trained as our counter-terrorist operation, strategic reconnaissance and many, many other missions. ... The SFABs will work with Special Forces units.”