Trained to Kill: Battlefield Participation in Kurdish Fighters

August 2019 No Comments

Trained to Kill: Battlefield Participation in Kurdish Fighters

Speaker: Cancian, M. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Date: 16 August 2019

Speaker Session Preview

SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Mr. Matthew Cancian (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) as a part of its SMA CENTCOM Speaker Series. During his presentation, Mr. Cancian posed the following question: Can US training improve battlefield participation of our partners? He began by defining combat motivation as “the reasons why soldiers under fire believe that they should continue fighting” and explained that combat motivation increases battlefield participation, which he defined as “attempts to defeat the enemy when under fire, as opposed to non-participation by either fleeing or hiding.” This, in turn, will ideally lead to combat effectiveness, which he defined as “the ‘pound for pound’ contribution of each soldier towards achieving victory under enemy fire.” Mr. Cancian then stressed the importance of cohesion, or lateral bonds between people, when trying to increase combat motivation. He further assessed whether combat effectiveness will increase or decrease battlefield participation, as well as whether modern system tactics shape combat effectiveness for contemporary armies. To do this, Mr. Cancian used Iraqi Kurds as a case study. Mr. Cancian conducted surveys on the battlefield in Peshmerga to get a sense of the fighters’ combat experience and tested two hypotheses: 1) Calculations of success will be marginally increased by internal training but dramatically increased by coalition training, and 2) Coalition training will have a greater positive effect on battlefield participation than internal training. He further explained that the majority of these Kurdish fighters’ primary combat motivation was related to their nationalism and desire to fight for Kurdistan, and in this instance, combat participation did not change battlefield motivation. To conclude, Mr. Cancian summarized his findings and identified areas for further research.

Speaker Session Audio File

Download Mr. Cancian’s Biography and Slides


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