In this Lowy Institute Analysis, Research Fellow Dr Rodger Shanahan and Nonresident Fellow Lydia Khalil argue that an increasing number of foreign fighters are likely to leave Syria and Iraq in the coming months and years, especially after the collapse of Islamic State’s caliphate, exacerbating the terrorist threat faced by the international community. Shanahan and Khalil highlight both the scale and nature of the long-term security threat that the foreign fighter cohort will pose, and ways in which the international community can ameliorate the threat. 

Key findings

  • The length and intensity of the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts will mean that those foreign fighters who survive will likely be the most operationally experienced, lethally skilled and highly networked group of jihadis to date.
  • It will be impossible to contain the outflow of foreign fighters given the multiplicity of options available to them, and they will not all follow the same pattern of activity post-conflict. Security agencies will face difficulties in determining the threat each fighter is likely to pose and in allocating resources to deal with these individuals.
  • Given the nature of a globalised society, national approaches to this foreign fighter problem will be insufficient to address the issue. A coordinated global approach, with all the difficulties this entails, is the only effective way in which to contain the threat.
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