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Thread: Today's Wild Geese: Foreign Fighters in the GWOT

  1. #81
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default What motivates the fighters?

    In talking to a couple of local community contacts a variety of reasons have been given for the motives of those who fight on the 'rebel' side in Syria. Curiously much emphasis was put on non-ideological reasons:
    It is a humanitarian jihad...The Alawite's are heretics...the conflict is glamourised....people here (in Birmingham, UK) feel helpless as they watch non-MSM footage of the war and simply want to do something physical themselves.
    Talking about the threat of 'returning fighters' one was quite dismissive:
    How many have fought overseas before? Very, very few return to launch attacks....Many having "tasted" real-life battle are not the same, it turns them off. Yes a few can "flip" and others can see that happening if they socialise.
    One remarked that:
    We ask them, the aspiring jihadist fighters, those who claim they must go to Syria to help, what are you doing now to help? The war is two years old. Do you realise most assistance for civilians / refugees come from non-Muslims in the West and their governments? When did you last contribute to a collection?
    Recommended as a source was an American convert, Bilal Abdul Kareem, who now reports from inside Syria. From an interview he explains:
    It has been a long year but one that I think is well worth it. I’ve met some extraordinary people and I really feel that more people need to know who these Islamic fighters are and what they want. That doesn’t mean that my goal is for them to necessarily like them, but my goal is for them to know them and then they can decide for themselves.
    Link:http://passionislam.com/articles.php?articles_id=265
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    In the background of all these efforts, we must also remember that there is the matter of young men and their love affair with male bonding and adventure.
    The ideological justification is obviously there, but this (biological?) urge is not trivial.
    There is probably an extensive literature about such things that I am just too ill-informed to have read. I look forward to enlightening posts.

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    Council Member Firn's Avatar
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    I think it is important to address at least one troublesome statistical bit about the catchy title. Obviously he put it up to get the attention American audience, but still some statistical problems get ignored in the whole article. I will tackle just one.

    It is key to understand that small samples yield extreme results more often than large samples do which means the same as large samples are more precises than small samples.

    A quick look at the last table, estimated fighters per million Muslims shows that the smallest countries tend indeed to give the most extreme results while the large countries tend to cluster around the center. Italy is at the first glance really the only outlier. (Interestingly the topic was and is pretty nonexistent in the Italian media)

    Wikipedia gives a rough overview on muslim numbers per country:

    Austria 475,000
    Belgium 638,000
    Bosnia 1,564,000
    France 4,704,000
    Denmark 226,000
    Germany 4,119,000
    Italy 1,583,000
    Norway 144,000
    Netherlands 914,000
    Spain 1,021,000
    Sweden 451,000
    UK 2,869,000

    The little I have read is that allmost all of the fighters stem from the male age group between 20-34, which usually makes up roughly 15% of the population. Even if we up this to 25% considering the immigration background to be on the safe side some numbers get very small indeed.

    In Norways and Denmarks case we are around a pool of just 35000 and 55000 which make extreme outcomes of such rare events very likely. So no surprise that they are very far away from the mean.

    This goes in doubly so for intelligence work, as they have to estimate their numbers for the whole country based on relative rare information about rare events.

    This is a very tricky&hard thing to do which very likely will lead to considerable differences between the estimation process between countries even if would not take the chance factor in the relative rare informations about relative rare events into account. Even very smart guys in smart organizations will differ. Actually you can see that already to a good degree on their estimates. Some put an absolute number there, sometimes a round one, sometimes even an odd one, others have a bracket but the spread goes from roughly a 1/3 to factor 3!

    To come back to the title it should be now obvious why it is a bad idea to take an extreme outcome from a small sample and to use it as base to get a 'perspective' for a nation the size of the USA.

    The approach take in this short post is mostly based on Kahnemans work on 'small numbers'.
    Last edited by Firn; 12-03-2013 at 09:20 PM.
    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

    General Ludwig Beck (1880-1944);
    Speech at the Kriegsakademie, 1935

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    Default Omarali:

    You might want to take a look at the work of Scott Atran (from the Univ of Michigan; his other job, Directeur de Recherche, Anthropologie, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris). He has a huge literature. Here are some samples, expressing the "band of brothers" approach:

    Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists (2010) (on my book shelf):

    Atran interviews and investigates Al Qaeda associates and acolytes, including Jemaah Islamiyah, Lashkar-e-Tayibah, and the Madrid train bombers, as well as other non-Qaeda groups, such as Hamas and the Taliban, and their sponsoring communities, from the jungles of Southeast Asia and the political wastelands of the Middle East to New York, London, and Madrid. His conclusions are startling, important, and sure to be controversial.

    Terrorists, he reminds us, are social beings, influenced by social connections and values familiar to us all, as members of school clubs, sports teams, or community organizations. When notions of the homeland, a family of friends, and a band of brothers are combined with the zeal of belief, amazing things—both good and bad—are possible: the passage of civil rights legislation, the U.S. Olympic hockey team's victory in 1980, the destruction of 9/11 and the attacks on the London Underground in July 2005.
    PATHWAYS TO AND FROM VIOLENT EXTREMISM: THE CASE FOR SCIENCE-BASED FIELD RESEARCH - Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats & Capabilities (2010):

    Summary: De-radicalization, like Radicalization, is Better from Bottom Up than Top Down

    When you look at young people like the ones who grew up to blow up trains in Madrid in 2004, carried out the slaughter on the London underground in 2005, hoped to blast airliners out of the sky en route to the United States in 2006 and 2009, and journeyed far to die killing infidels in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia; when you look at whom they idolize, how they organize, what bonds them and what drives them; then you see that what inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Koran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eternal respect and remembrance in the wider world that they will never live to enjoy.

    Our data show that most young people who join the jihad had a moderate and mostly secular education to begin with, rather than a radical religious one. And where in modern society do you find young people who hang on the words of older educators and "moderates"? Youth generally favors actions, not words, and challenge, not calm. That's a big reason so many who are bored, underemployed, overqualified, and underwhelmed by hopes for the future turn on to jihad with their friends. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer (at least for boys, but girls are web-surfing into the act): fraternal, fast-breaking, thrilling, glorious, and cool. Anyone is welcome to try his hand at slicing off the head of Goliath with a paper cutter.
    “Band of Brothers”: Civil Society and the Making of a Terrorist (2008):

    Soccer, paintball, camping, hiking, rafting, body building, martial arts training and other forms of physically stimulating and intimate group action create a bunch of buddies, which becomes a “band of brothers” in a simple heroic cause. It’s usually enough that a few of these buddies identify with a cause, and its heroic path to glory and esteem in the eyes of peers, for the rest to follow even unto death. Humans need to socially organize, to lead and be led; however, notions of “charismatic leaders” and Svengali-like “recruiters” who “brainwash” unwitting minds into joining well-structured organizations with command and control is exaggerated. Viewed from the field, notions of “cells” and “recruitment”—and to a degree even “leadership”—may reflect more the psychology and organization of those analyzing terrorist groups than terrorist groups themselves (see Marc Sageman’s Leaderless Jihad, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

    Takfiris (from takfir, “excommunication”) are rejectionists who disdain other forms of Islam, including wahabism (an evangelical creed preaching Calvinist-like obedience to the state) and most fundamentalist, or salafi, creeds (which oppose fighting between co-religionists as sowing discord, or fitna, in the Muslim community). They tend to go to violence in small groups consisting mostly of friends and some kin (although friends tend to become kin as they marry one another's sisters and cousins—there are dozens of such marriages among militant members of Southeast Asia's Jemaah Islamiyah). These groups arise within specific “scenes”: neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and common leisure.
    Regards

    Mike

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    How governments should respond to foreign fighters appears to be on the public agenda - at least in the UK.

    Tonight a short BBC report:
    Two men from Birmingham have been arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences relating to activities in Syria, police have said.
    Link:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25720887

    Days ago the BBC reported:
    Extremists who undertake terrorism training could face life in prison under a new government proposal. The life terms would replace current 14-year maximum sentences for activities including weapons training and making or possessing explosives.
    Link:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25678300

    Amongst the critics of this proposal was King's College's Dr Peter Neumann, of ICSR; which is reflected in the proposals - which emphasis prevention rather than imprisonment - being made by his associate at a parliamentary committee tomorrow:http://icsr.info/2014/01/icsr-insigh...ighters-syria/
    davidbfpo

  6. #86
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Thousands of US Muslims went to Afghanistan (Soviet era)

    Found on a LinkedIn discussion board today and rather startling for me, as I have never heard of such numbers of Americans being involved:
    The US had thousands of Muslims go to Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Many went more than once. Even with bin Laden's rise to leadership of AQ and declared war against America we never saw any violence from the returning jihadists. But I am not saying it won't/can't happen now...
    Anyone able to verify this?
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  7. #87
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default US-resident Muslims joined the "Muj"

    A "lurker" familiar with the history of US-resident Muslims fighting against the Soviet-backed Afghan state has responded:
    This is mostly true. There were actually many folks in the U.S. that went to Afghanistan during the 1980's to fight against the Soviets. In 'Looming Tower' by Lawrence Wright, he discusses in the first 100 pages or so how a guy in Kansas City, MO was recruited via a flyer and called a number in Peshawar which got him into the Muj pipeline.

    Where the quote isn't entirely correct is the notion that all of these Americans fell into Bin Laden or Zawahiri's hands. There were many Americans that went through but then one wasn't there the entire time nor were all Americans processed through him. The same is for Zawahiri. There were many guest house in Pakistan and there's no way that all the Americans were in the grasp of bin Laden.

    Azzam Had set up many guest houses and they were not all controlled by Bin Laden. I'm not aware of any of these stories about lost passports. The bottom line is that not everyone that went to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets became a member of Al Qaeda'.
    If that was the American experience when fighting a Soviet-backed regime was approved of by the US government and many others across the political spectrum, it is clear that very few if any of those who returned continued to wage the violent jihad in the USA. Certainly puts the hype and fear over a possible current threat in a very different perspective.
    davidbfpo

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    A free report from The Soufan Group, the main author being Richard Barrett (Ex-SIS & UN), which has some proper insight. From the flyer:
    The policy response so far has often focused more on prevention and punishment than on dissuasion or reintegration, but as the number of returnees increases, and the resources required to monitor their activities are stretched to breaking point, it will be important to examine more closely why an individual went, what happened to him while there, and why he came back. This paper attempts to provide some general context for answering those questions, and offers suggestions for policy development.
    Link to the report (33 pgs):http://soufangroup.com/wp-content/up...s-in-Syria.pdf

    The flyer:http://soufangroup.com/foreign-fighters-in-syria/
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Firn's Avatar
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    Without any hard facts I would suggest four main reasons why we have so many young Europeans fighting with Islamic extremists in Syria and now in Iraq compared to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

    1) Demography or a far larger recruitment pool: There are considerable more young Muslim living in Europe nowadays then thirty years ago, at least by a factor 2-3 I guess.

    2) Geography or a far more easily reached conflict

    3) Globalization, especially in media terms: Social media, internet sites and various TV stations bring the conflict with far greater intensity into one's new home and mind.

    4) Duration or a mix of enduring conflicts.


    The danger of terrorist strikes within Europe by the new generation is also increased by an additional factor:

    5) Islamic terrorism against Western targets in much more in vogue then thirty years ago with plenty of examples.
    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

    General Ludwig Beck (1880-1944);
    Speech at the Kriegsakademie, 1935

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Then there's those who fight in the IDF

    The actual title is 'FactCheck: what about the Britons who fight for Israel?' by Channel Four's fact checkers:http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/...t-israel/18448

    This is an argument that appears regularly now when 'foreign fighters' are discussed, so this short article does help with some "light":
    The Israeli military runs a programme called “mahal” which allows non-Israeli nationals of Jewish descent to join the ranks of the armed forces for an 18-month tour of duty.....The numbers of volunteers from the UK are small but significant: the IDF told Channel 4 News there are “around one hundred Brits currently serving” in its ranks....apparently with no legal difficulties...

    davidbfpo

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    Default One Dane goes, the stays at home (with short film)

    Three different commentaries today.

    First a short 30 minute Danish documentary 'European Jihadi' about a Danish citizen of Berber & Moroccan descent:
    Gangster and drug dealer Abderrozak Benarabe, or Big A as he's known on the streets of Copenhagen, made a deal with God that if his brother was delivered from cancer he would redeem his criminal ways and go to fight jihad in Syria alongside his fellow foreign fighters and child soldiers under 16.... and back to Copenhagen to amass and smuggle supplies to the fighters across the Greek-Turkish border
    Note the combat scenes are from 2012, gruesome in part; link:http://www.theguardian.com/world/vid...rontline-video

    Accompanying story:http://www.theguardian.com/world/201...rontline-syria

    A comment by a viewer, Rachel Briggs who has long studied counter-radicalisation; which ends:
    There are many theories about why Europeans are travelling to Syria. As ISIS declares itself a caliphate now known as IS and its leader speaks of furthering the Muslim cause, it is worth remembering that not all those who find themselves on the frontline have this kind of focus. Many will be young men and women, bored of life in Europe, in search of adventure. And like Big A, many could be dissuaded given the right deterrents and disincentives.
    Link:http://rachelbriggs.wordpress.com/20...ihadi-paradise

    A short RUSI comment 'The Four Types of the Returning Jihadi':https://www.rusi.org/analysis/commen.../#.U7vw9kCRcdX
    davidbfpo

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    Default Equal treatment for foreign fighters

    One aspect of the current Gaza conflict is the role of foreign nationals serving with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Two US nationals died last week, IIRC both had dual nationality. It is an issue that leads to claims that those Muslims who fight in Syria currently are being treated very differently, usually by law enforcement and steps to discourage them going.

    More recently two weeks during a public exchange in the UK ago we learnt that:
    The Israeli military runs a programme called “mahal” which allows non-Israeli nationals of Jewish descent to join the ranks of the armed forces for an 18-month tour of duty.....The numbers of volunteers from the UK are small but significant: the IDF told Channel 4 News there are “around one hundred Brits currently serving” in its ranks....apparently with no legal difficulties...
    Link:http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/...t-israel/18448

    Today a UK-based blogger, formerly a reporter in the Middle East called for those serving in the IDF to be treated as other foreign fighters:http://www.al-bab.com/blog/2014/july....ae0sZGcY.dpbs

    This is a longer, broader article:http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opi...438651885.html
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 07-26-2014 at 07:52 PM. Reason: Was stand-alone and now merged here
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    Default Foriegn Fighters in Syria

    http://www.economist.com/news/middle...f-hot-here-mum

    Within this long article - with many points made - is this table:
    davidbfpo

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    Default ICSR info for UN Security Council

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    Default The flow to the main conflict zone

    Nice graphic via WaPo:http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/...washingtonpost

    An estimated 15,000 militants from at least 80 nations are believed to have entered Syria to help overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad according the CIA and studies by ISCR and The Soufan Group.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Firn's Avatar
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    Nice graphics indeed.
    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

    General Ludwig Beck (1880-1944);
    Speech at the Kriegsakademie, 1935

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    Default This threat will stay with us for at least a decade

    The industrious Norwegian SME Thomas Hegghammer was interviewed on what kinds of terror attacks do we have to expect in Europe, and how dangerous are returning Foreign Fighters? Link:http://abususu.blogspot.de/2015/01/t...us-for-at.html

    Here is one passage:
    ....we do know is the proportion of people who returned from previous battlefields and then plotted attacks. Before Syria, that rate was 1 out of 15 to 20. If you look at open source data about returnees from Syria who were involved in terror plots across Europe, we have so far seen about 10 plots with roughly 20 returnees involved. That is 20 out of 3000 who left to fight abroad, or 20 out of just over 1000 who have already returned, repectively. So far, it is only a small minority who have become terrorists. The question before us is: How do you stop that minority without over-reacting towards the relatively harmless majority?


    Yes there is a thread on foreign fighters, but IMHO what Hegghammer says has few equals.
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    It was a good interview and he didn't minimize the threat. The current numbers mean little, which is why he didn't focus on numbers. Sleeping cells can sleep, but more importantly those that return can build there their own networks in their home country much like JI did in Indonesia. The threat is serious and there is no reason it will reside in 10 years. It has already existed over 20 years. We need to find the sweet spot between over and under reacting.
    Last edited by Bill Moore; 02-04-2015 at 02:04 PM.

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    Europe used to celebrate their heritage of going off to be foreign fighters in the Levant - they called it "The Crusades."

    There was major civil war and unrest when those fighters returned as well. Radical Christians were far more disruptive than radical Muslims have been to date.

    But then as now, the real problem was not that people went off to fight for religiously motivated causes, nor that they returned with military skills and a global perspective. The problems stemmed from the perceived state of governance they returned to and an enhanced determination not to put up with it any more.

    A very similar effect occurred in the US with the African American population after WWII.

    Europe is evolving culturally, and no amount of neo Nazism is going to change that fact. Many emigrants perceive themselves discriminated against, Muslims in particular, and no amount of rationalization by those who consider themselves true citizens is going to change that.

    Ten years? Only if the people and governments get serious about addressing perceived discrimination and accept the fact that once again, Europe is in an era of major cultural evolution.

    Blaming those calling for radical action is natural, but it is little different than blaming the civil rights movement in the US on men like Dr. King and Malcolm X. They just "saw a parade and leapt in front. We need to think more honestly about why these types of "parades" form
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    WarPorcus,

    I'm not sure what statistics you're looking for, but I'll do a search through my computer tomorrow and see what I have for foreign fighter flow from Southeast Asia. A few reports point to several foreign fighters being disillusioned by ISIL's extreme behavior, so hopefully that trend continues. As for Indonesia and the Philippines (similar but still very different), JI and ASG's initial core were foreign fighters from Afghanistan during the USSR occupation. The vast majority of fighters returning that conflict didn't engage in terrorism, but it only takes a handful to have a strategic impact.

    We can't compare this to the Crusades where Christians go out and fight and return to their Christian homes, nations that were already somewhat extremist on the Christian side. Fighters today are returning to countries that don't embrace their extreme (and illegitimate) beliefs, so some seek to impose their views via violence. Indonesia from what I can gather from a few short trips there, discussions with experts, and reading is that the government is doing a relatively good job of addressing the concerns of their people (within reason in a developing country), so people aren't fighting because they're being discriminating against. They're fighting to impose their extreme and unpopular beliefs. We're talking Martin L. King freedom marches here (lol).

    The Philippines is another issue altogether, since their government does discriminate against their Muslim population. The government does little to address the concerns of their Muslim population, and while President Aquino has a been light of hope, his time is getting short, and not unlike our system their Congress is corrupt and eager to undo much of the progress he has made. I project the situation will devolve for the worse in the Philippines.

    Regardless of the conditions on the ground, the terrorists in these countries will reconnect, or strengthen their existing links with global terrorist networks based on foreign fighter flow to support ISIL. That points to a bigger challenge for security forces. I also think those who were repulsed by ISIL may find al-Qaeda more attractive if they're still looking a group to affiliate with. Reportedly, the jihadist websites/blogs in Indonesia contain a fierce internal debate between jihadists on whether to support ISIL or AQ.

    For one, I see no reason this will go away in 10 years, but hopefully it can be contained to a manageable level.

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