Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan

Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan

What Foreign Fighter Data Reveals About the Future of Terrorism

by Clinton Watts

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Recent information on foreign fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan provides an updated picture of future terrorist threats to Western interests. Based on newly-released detainee data from Guantanamo and foreign fighter records captured in Iraq, we can now more precisely identify trends in al-Qa'ida recruiting. Although the data tells us little about fighting inside Iraq and Afghanistan, it reveals a great deal about the modern Sunni mujahid who fights as a volunteer in Middle East conflicts.

In addition to informing the profile of al-Qa'ida's foot soldiers, the data suggests alternative techniques for countering the organization and its foreign fighter recruits in North Africa and the Middle East. This study, which will be released serially, examines the asymmetric nature of foreign fighter recruitment, the utility of smuggling networks for counterterrorism, varying motivations for martyrdom, and trends for future terrorism analysis with the drawdown of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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