Training training training…… how does your training compare?
“What does successful insurgent training entail? Building on the same basic principles of many Western militaries, my research, focusing on organizations in Iraq (2003–present) and Vietnam (1940–1975), finds that successful insurgent training is (1) consistent, (2) realistic, and (3) focused on generating capable small-unit leaders. Consistent training means that at least a core program is required for all new recruits. This provides soldiers with skills, such as weapons handling and camouflage, and builds physical and mental fitness that prepares them to endure intense physical and emotional stress. This ensures that soldiers have a shared vocabulary, set of operational concepts, and competencies, and understanding of the chain of command. While this training may be carried out in as little as weeks, often it is on the order of months.
Beyond consistency, successful training is realistic. Such training includes repetitive collective exercises across teams and units, making the tasks that fighters will be ordered to execute in the field second nature. It includes real-world conditions such as nighttime movements, movement under exhaustion, and adverse weather. This prepares soldiers to fall back on their training during periods of stress and confusion. As a Viet Cong cadre told US interrogators: “Hard field training saved blood in combat.”
Finally, successful training focuses on generating capable small-unit leaders who motivate soldiers during combat and in its aftermath. As US combat thinkers have emphasized, such leaders “master the fundamental skills they are developing in soldiers,” preparing them to plan and manage effective operations. This sustained role for leaders is important because much combat learning happens “on the job” as new recruits join seasoned units.
Such training supports so-called Combat Darwinism—well-trained units survive, gaining greater skill and experience that helps to sustain morale in the face of challenging conditions. Moreover, it is a core component of “force generation” whereby insurgents are able to make up for battlefield losses by turning new recruits into combat-capable fighters. Such force generation separates rebel groups that might have access to similar weaponry and resources. While many of the Sunni insurgents in post-2003 Iraq drew upon vast weapons caches left behind by the Iraqi army, only some translated these resources into successful action on the battlefield that could be sustained over time. I find evidence that the training regimes, and cadre they produced, played a major role in separating successful groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic Army in Iraq, and Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia, from their Sunni competitors.”