New look at foreign fighters in Iraq
An analysis shows that the bulk of them come from countries allied with the US.
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One of the only other analyses of foreign fighters, conducted in 2005 by an Israeli researcher, did not indicate nearly as many fighters being recruited from North Africa. The revelation that more are from North Africa comes as the US Defense Department sets up a new combatant command in Africa that aims to help African nations make themselves less hospitable to foreign terrorists.Skip to next paragraph
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The Sinjar analysis also offers clues about how the fighters get to Iraq: Most come through Syria, and the fighters, depending upon their nationality, use fairly predictable routes to Syria.
Armed with this knowledge, the US and its allies can attempt to break those "logistical chains" before the fighters even get to Syria.
"There seem to be very established routes," says Brian Fishman, the other co-author of the analysis. "That suggests that there are clear logistics networks based on nationalities to get people there. We need to break those logistics chains not only to Syria, but all the way in Syria."
Any analysis of foreign fighters in Iraq is accompanied by much skepticism since no accounting, even using data obtained from terrorist networks, rarely offers a transparent look at who is behind the violence in Iraq. Lieutenant Colonel Felter and Mr. Fishman acknowledge that the data is only a snapshot.
Such pictures of those entering Iraq only provide insights into that particular group of people and aren't usually representative, says Anthony Cordesman, a senior expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington.
"We have a very rough idea of people moving through Syria," he says. "These numbers are extremely rough, and there is no real way to know who is an Iraqi and who is not an Iraqi."
Meanwhile, the dynamics of the violence in Iraq have changed as the security situation has improved. Overall, violence is down. Whereas as many as 1,600 attacks were taking place across the country per week in June, there are now fewer than 600 attacks per week, says Col. Donald Bacon, a spokesman for the US military in Baghdad.
Yet as security has improved, it has forced insurgents and foreign fighters to change the way they operate.
Foreign fighters entering Iraq from Syria typically came through Anbar Province, but as security there has improved – attacks there are down 90 percent from earlier this year – those fighters have had to move their routes farther north, say military officials. As a result, declines in violence have been far more gradual in the American military sector known as Multi-National Division-North, which includes Mosul and Diyala.