European fighters in Syria

AR-140329164 (1)My feature for the National (UAE) was published recently. It goes behind the headlines about young men from the west signing up to fight in Syria, asking how big the numbers actually are, and what this means for the conflict, other countries in the region, and for Europe.

The war in Syria is first and foremost a civil conflict involving Syrian fighters. However, the presence of foreign fighters from Europe and elsewhere in the region has the power to influence the dynamics of the battlefield. “Even if the foreign fighters are still a quite small minority of the overall rebellion, as well as a minority of Assad’s forces, they often serve in particular areas and have local influence,” explains Aron Lund, the editor of the Carnegie Endowment’s website Syria in Crisis. “On the rebel side, the foreign fighters have very disproportionately joined the most extreme jihadist groups.

That has empowered these groups and contributed to the growth of Sunni Islamist radicalism in northern Syria in particular.

“Suicide attacks are very important to rebels in Syria,” he says. “They’re a weapon the regime has found it difficult to protect against, despite its vast technological advantage.”

You can read the full piece over at the National’s website, and the clipping is below.



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