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
    • 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

  • Podcast
    • May 22, 2019
    In or Out? What Should the U.S. Do in Syria?

    Nicholas A. Heras asks three notable experts on U.S. national security decision making—Frances Z. Brown, Melissa Dalton, and Loren DeJonge Schulman—whether the Uni...

    By Nicholas Heras, Frances Z. Brown, Melissa Dalton & Loren DeJonge Schulman

  • Podcast
    • May 15, 2019
    Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran...Oh My!

    Nicholas A. Heras asks three notable experts on Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah in the Syrian conflict—Anna Borshchevskaya, Hanin Ghaddar, and Brian Katz—how the Unite...

    By Nicholas Heras, Anna Borshchevskaya, Hanin Ghaddar & Brian Katz

  • Podcast
    • May 1, 2019
    The Assad Dilemma

    The Assad regime has been in power in Syria since 1970. For many analysts, the Syrian state could not exist without the regime, and the regime could not exist without the lead...

    By Nicholas Heras, Kaleigh Thomas, Alexander Bick & Faysal Itani

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia