Friday, July 5, 2013

Ruminations on Basij Small-Unit Organization

Among the many types of Basij units, the two with the most apparent conventional military posture are the Imam Hussein, and Jerusalem-type battalions. To maintain proficiency, these battalions conduct a number of exercises of varying scale throughout the year. Thanks to open-source coverage of these events, a general sense of organization as the small-unit level can be gleaned to a degree that usually isn't possible with Army or IRGC exercises.

Use of fire-team or squad-sized elements cannot be established.

In November 2012, it was reported that  in Lorestan 320 personnel organized in 18 platoons took part in exercises. Assuming these 18 platoons were the same size, this would translate to 17 soldiers per platoon. In 2013, during the Beit al-Moqdas exercises, imagery confirmed this number. However, during the same time, platoons with 20 soldiers were observed elsewhere.

Basic personal gear includes a four-color digital-pattern uniform, a rucksack, and webbing. Helmets, mostly steel, but occasionally kevlar, are sometimes worn; black and white scarves are common. Soldiers from Imam Hussein battalions appear to be generally better equipped(i.e. a greater prevalence of tactical gear) than those from Jerusalem battalions. In both cases, the kalashinikov-pattern rifle is the most common armament though each platoon has a small number (1-3) RPGs, SVDs, and/or PKMs.Equipment generally appears to be new-production.

Imam Hussein companies are reported, by Iranian media, to be 56-men strong. Imagery from the 2013 exercises shows Jerusalem-type companies with a strength in the high-50s. In another instance, an unknown type of company could be seen on parade with 54+3 personnel. Though the unit-type is unknown, the equipment is consistent the military-orientation of the two described here. A strength in the mid/high-50s would correspond to a composition of three rifle platoons, plus a company HQ. Little evidence exists of a weapons section held at the company-level. If it did exist, it would be the same weapon as those held by platoons (i.e. RPGs rather than ATGMs or mortars).

Razavi Khorasan

An undated photo shows what is purported to be an Imam Hussein battalion at a strength of 113 personnel, a number which includes their commander, a major. This corresponds exactly to a strength of two co/bn, though only when one assumes a complete absence of battalion staff or other support!

The 10th Imam Hussein Battalion from Mehriz in Yazd was seen during an exercise with a strength of ~97, which would also translate to roughly two slightly-understrength rifle co/bn. This number includes their commander, either a Lt. Col, or a Col.

Imagery from the 2013 exercise shows a Jerusalem battalion at eight-platoons strong, translating to an overall strength of ~136 personnel/bn. There may be an additional platoon out of view, indicating a traditional three co/bn organization, and a strength of ~153. It's worth noting that in the parade picture attached above, there are three distinct companies of the same type of unit, suggesting a three co/bn organization.

During this same exercise, in Saidabad, a number of platoons can be seen lined up, including at least three different sets of platoons, possibly corresponding to three different companies. Around 18 non-al-Zahra battalions are in view, though there may be more off camera. Of the platoons whose placards can be read, five 5th platoons can be identified, as can two 4th platoons, two third platoons, and one first platoon. This indicates at least five platoons per company, and the existence of at least three different companies. However, little can be discerned with certainty from these photos.


  1. Galen there is a documentary film taken inside Iran that shows an extended clip of a Basij small unit in Tehran performing routine PT. It's somewhat dated, I saw the film in 2005.

    I couldn't remember the name of the film but doing a search I think it may be: "Iran, veiled appearances.".

    Perhaps you might be interested.

  2. Thanks for the heads up, I'm always on the lookout for training or other garrison videos precisely because they a) tend to show facilities that I would only ever see as GEOINT,and b) give good indicators as to unit size. I've got a few photo collections FNA, MNA and the like showing several army garrisons, which in turn show companies doing PT, and squads receiving basic instruction, that sort of thing. Very helpful!

  3. HEY GALEN!!!!!!!!!!

    Hope you made it home ok. Can you email me your address? The landlords need it for some reason. My emails just my name with a dot in the middle at gmail.