August 25, 2014

Bringing the Fight Back Home: Western Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria

By Anthony Vassalo and Dafna Rand

“Bringing the Fight Back Home” argues that the changing dynamics on the ground in Iraq are accelerating the urgency of the threat from the approximately 3,000 foreign fighters with Western passports, including the over 100 Americans. These individuals, many of whom are young, self-radicalized fighters from Western Europe, are fighting with ISIS, al-Nusra and other Sunni extremist groups in Syria and Iraq. Even before the United States initiated military action in Iraq in mid-August, this threat was growing. This brief lays out the four areas where the United States and its allies are currently focused but where additional creativity, persistence and planning could amplify existing efforts:

  • Elevating the foreign fighter threat in all bilateral and multilateral diplomatic engagements with Turkey and European governments, including a focus on domestic counterterrorism legislation; 
  • Updating counterradicalization messaging campaigns and other efforts to target the motives encouraging Westerners to join the fight;
  • Organizing the national security agencies to focus on this particular threat, and the particular plots that Western foreign fighters are most likely to plan and execute;
  • Designing a multipronged counterfinance strategy to squeeze ISIS, al-Nusra and other groups’ resources, so that it will be harder for the extremists to finance a plot involving the deployment of Western foreign fighters home.


  • Anthony Vassalo

  • Dafna Rand

  • Commentary
    • The Washington Post
    • January 10, 2020
    Why did the Pentagon ever give Trump the option of killing Soleimani?

    Sending the U.S. military to use force is among the most consequential decisions presidents can make. Matters may get out of control even with the most careful and deliberate ...

    By Alice Hunt Friend, Mara Karlin & Loren DeJonge Schulman

  • Commentary
    • The Washington Post
    • January 7, 2020
    War with Iran is still less likely than you think

    In the wake of the U.S. attack that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, many are concerned yet again about the potential for escalation between the Un...

    By Michael Horowitz & Elizabeth N. Saunders

  • Commentary
    • The Washington Post
    • January 7, 2020
    How will Iran respond to Soleimani’s killing — and where will the escalation end?

    After the U.S. drone strike last week that killed powerful Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, many thoughtful analyses have discussed what might come next. Response is inevita...

    By Elisa Catalano Ewers & Ariane Tabatabai

  • Commentary
    • National Review
    • September 12, 2019
    Russia’s Middle East Power Play

    Turkey flouted months of American warnings this summer and took delivery of the Russian-made S-400 air-defense system — triggering Ankara’s expulsion from the F-35 stealth-fig...

    By Vance Serchuk

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia