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Analysis: IS-M propaganda highlights insurgents’ own deficiencies

By Bill Kondracki and Tom Gould Bill is a senior intelligence consultant at Cordillera Applications Group

A video offering a rare glimpse inside the training camps of Islamic State Mozambique (IS), deep within the forests of Cabo Delgado province, appeared on extremist social media channels on 5 January. Its purpose is clear: to demonstrate the skill and discipline of the insurgent fighters. But a closer look at the footage reveals a notable lack of professional military expertise, especially with their weapons training.

The video, of course, was produced as propaganda so all the depicted exercises were likely staged for the camera. Nonetheless, it is possible to infer some limited, but valuable indications of the level of military training these fighters have received.

The video opens in a glade, where about a dozen fighters are seen doing push-ups, sit-ups and weapons drill, with an IS flag artfully placed in the background of each frame. Although the drill is supposed to be synchronised, each fighter appears to hold the weapon slightly differently, with some carrying it limply in their arms without looking down the sight or placing the stock in the crook of their shoulder to stabilise the weapon. If this is indicative of a real exercise, it is a poor way to train fighters as it encodes bad habits into their muscle memory.

In the next scene, fighters are practising manoeuvres in an open field. One of these appears to be the bounding overwatch fire and manoeuvre technique, as it is known in the US military — a legitimate tactic that involves placing suppressing fire while a unit moves forward. However, the fighters are again seen handling their rifles with sloppy form, failing to look down the sights when aiming or to grip their weapons firmly. This essentially defeats the purpose of the manoeuvre, as the fighters in overwatch will not be able to provide effective fire.

The video also shows off the weapons in the insurgents’ arsenal, but it is not clear that they know how to properly use them. At one point, a fighter is filmed firing a mortar without a bipod, base plate or sight. It is possible the mortars were captured without this equipment but in any case they should be operated with two people to ensure proper firing technique and accuracy. There is visible recoil after the mortar is fired, kicking up dirt which indicates significant movement of the tube, meaning the shell would likely fall far off target in a combat situation.

Several fighters are filmed firing machine guns but again it is obvious they have not been instructed in basic technique. Although they appear to be aiming at targets, they shoot in bursts from the hip, making it almost impossible to hit anything accurately, as can be seen from the dramatic movements of the barrel.

If this video is representative of their training, we can assume they lack professional, ex-military members in their ranks to serve as instructors. The video gives the impression that IS-M is proficient in marksmanship and tactical fire and movement techniques, but upon closer examination we see they fail to employ basic standards that would enhance their combat effectiveness. However, it is important to note that the insurgents’ opponents in the Mozambican Armed Defence Forces may not be much better, and this level of training may be sufficient for IS-M, especially when its main target is often vulnerable civilian villages.