On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines have confronted third-party national combatants. Known as “foreign fighters,” these individuals have gained deadly skills and connections that can be exported or exploited to devastating
effect in other locations.1 Over the past two decades, the foreign fighters phenomenon has grown after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979—to the ethnically cleansed fields of the Balkans to Chechnya and beyond. But this is not a new problem.
This report is the second volume of findings from an important series of FPRI conferences on the so-called foreign fighter problem. These conferences have brought together leading experts in the field to examine and discuss this phenomenon from different ideational and disciplinary perspectives. While the first volume dealt primarily with functional areas of the phenomenon, this edition focuses primarily on the case studies of al Qaeda franchises or allied affiliates in Somalia, the Maghreb, Yemen, and Afghanistan/Pakistan.
Today, the outcomes of the geopolitical revolution unfolding across North Africa and the Middle East are far from clear, the problems associated with al Qaeda and its affiliated movement are likely to breed havoc for the foreseeable future across the region. Furthermore, the veterans spawned by such conflicts undoubtedly will present problems for international security writ large, too. The cases and phenomenon analyzed here may well provide important lessons for both those interested in the regions under examination here, but also for others who examine international challenges far removed from the study of radical extremism of the al Qaeda variety.
Edited by Michael Noonan, Managing Director of FPRI’s Program on National Security. This report is the second volume of findings from an important series of FPRI conferences on the so-called foreign fighter problem.