By Major Matt Cavanaugh
While the World Cup gets underway in Brazil, consider taking a few minutes to read through the findings of a recent Soufan Group report, “Foreign Fighters in Syria.” It leads with a strong jab:
“Over 12,000 fighters from at least 81 countries have joined the civil war in Syria, and the numbers continue to grow. Around 2,500 are from Western countries, including most members of the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. There are also several hundred from Russia. But the great majority are from the Arab world.”
These fighters clearly have global roots. The report also found that around 60% of them were from just three countries: Tunisia (3,000), Saudi Arabia (2,500), and Morocco (1,500).
Foreign belligerents are not new on the battlefield – one is reminded of the thousands of volunteers in the International Brigades fighting for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War – but look at the the global diversity documented in this report. Cheap, global communications and travel make it possible for nearly anyone on the planet to (A) learn about a cause and a conflict, and (B) get there. These barriers to “pick-up” combat have been reduced significantly – and are not nearly as reliant on national government support as they previously were. This, I think, qualifies as a shift in the way war is fought – war has become more global.