— Defense One (@DefenseOne) September 14, 2014
Depict estimates in numbers and then add graphics and a lot of people treat the results as though they were the findings of hard science.
What I see lacking in the depiction above is anything more specific than the claim that the men (I’m assuming they are overwhelmingly men) came to Syria and Iraq from the named countries. (There is a curious footnote: “Numbers include fighters who have returned to their home countries.”)
I assume they are all nominal opponents of the Assad regime — although an objective count on foreign fighters should include Lebanese, Iraqis, and Iranians fighting alongside the Syrian government forces.
Also, since this is a depiction of “foreign fighters” in Syria and Iraq, does that imply that Iraqis in Syria and Syrians in Iraq are not counted as foreign?
And what about differentiating between fighters who have joined ISIS and those in other militias?
I expect that the researchers who have been compiling this data would acknowledge that they don’t have enough information to fill in a lot of these details.
Add to this the fact that in the space of a few days, the CIA managed to triple its estimate of the size of ISIS and its clear that what are being called estimates should probably be called wild guesses.