Report: Growing number of foreign militants leaving
Stars and Stripes March 22, 2008
A growing number of foreign fighters are leaving or attempting to flee Iraq as U.S. and Iraqi forces have weakened al-Qaida and forced its members from former strongholds, USA Today reported Friday, citing U.S. military officials.
The trend reflects a broad disenchantment among foreign fighters, particularly since al-Qaida has lost sanctuaries in parts of Baghdad and Anbar, an intelligence official told the paper.
“They’re being told in their countries of origin by facilitators that, ‘Hey, we’re basically winning the war against the apostates,’” said Army Brig. Gen. Michael Flynn, intelligence director for Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East. “They go there and find out it’s not quite the case.”
Foreign militants constitute about 10 percent of al-Qaida’s strength in Iraq, but Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, told USA Today they make up about 90 percent of suicide bombers.
The number of foreign fighters entering Iraq has declined to about 40 to 50 a month from a high of about 120 a month last year, according to Multi-National Force–Iraq, the paper wrote. Most enter from Syria. The bulk of the foreigners are from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria.
The foreign militants are usually men in their early 20s who grew up in large families and “found it hard to be noticed, to make their own mark in life,” the paper reported Smith as saying. “In most cases, they were lonely, impressionable young men” seeking “recognition and acceptance.”
Those details, he said, were based on interviews with 48 foreign fighters held in Iraq.