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Some ruminations on the Syrian foreign fighter problem

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  • Some ruminations on the Syrian foreign fighter problem

    • I don't think the Combatting Violent Extremism (CVE) approach is going to help much here, certainly not if the aim is to keep people from going to Syria to fight. I don't see how going to Syria to fight is actually extreme, on either the Sunni or Shia side.
    • Assuming the aspiring fighter actually makes it to Syria and signs on with one of the many outfits training and deploying fighters, then radicalization may well become an issue. Al Jihad fi Sibeel Allah on the one side, and Wilayat al Faqih on the other.
    • On the Sunni side, the fact that the West - led by the United States - has effectively lined up behind Iran against the Sunnis in Syria is certainly unlikely to help matters. I imagine "The West is at war with the Muslim" will quickly morph into "The West is at war with the Ahl as-Sunnah."
    • There may well be an increased risk of terrorism in the West perpetrated by Sunni veterans of the conflict. I would expect it to be of the less organized but not always unsuccessful variety.
    • Regarding either side, exposure to and participation in deadly violence will not make the veterans of the conflict any nicer. An assortment of psychological effects can be expected, and future violent behavior on the part of former combatants will be more likely, though it may manifest in the home or in criminal activity rather than as terrorism.
    • On the Shiite side I would be most concerned with future criminal activity, of a highly organized and profitable nature. To be blunt: ethnic Iraqis, Syrians, and others, will be fighting together with their Lebanese co-religionists. By the time they rotate out, they will all be blood brothers - just the kind of people you turn to if you're putting together a crew or are sitting on a bunch of contraband for which you need to find additional markets.
    • For the IRGC and MOIS, this conflict is undoubtedly a recruiting bonanza, but I would not expect many Shiite foreign fighters to make the cut and actually be brought into the organization. I would, however, expect them to respond favorably should they be called upon to provide logistical support or an extra set of eyes and ears for an intelligence operation or state-sponsored terrorist campaign.
    • One wildcard is whether the sectarian conflict will spread beyond the Levant. The increasing violence in Lebanon doesn't bode well on that count, and again, the concept of extremism doesn't seem to apply. Each community sees itself as being under attack by the other, and they are both correct.
    Asymmetric Warfare: It's not just for the other guys.

  • #2
    The arguments from Britons travelling to the region (the few whose interviews have been aired) seem to focus on the standard themes of (Sunni) Islamic solidarity, and the desire for sharia - the familiar search for Islamic utopias. We have seen these same arguments now for 20+ years - see any of the English language videos which emerged of the Bosnian Mujahideen.

    As they are unlikely to achieve their utopia in Syria, and are not going to achieve it in the west, we do have another brick in the large wall marked 'grievance'.

    Britons who have fought and/or trained in particular combat zones do have a tendency to pop up again, often years later, elsewhere. Babar Ahmed, Moazzam Begg, Andrew Rowe and Shahid Butt being four examples from Bosnia, who ended up in custody in the US, Guantanamo, Britain and Yemen respectively.

    No doubt some Syrian veterans will take the same route.