ISIS: The downside of foreign fighters

The Soufan Group IntelBrief: Last week, in the northeast Syrian city of Raqqa — the capital of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate — internal violence served as an example of the problems the group faces in managing the unmanageable. A group of Uzbek fighters, who had set up residence in several luxury houses along a lake outside of Raqqa, had gone to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq. Upon their return, they found that the houses they thought they had claimed as spoils of war were now occupied by Chechen and Arab foreign fighters. Uzbek and Chechen fighters are highly regarded for their fighting prowess, as seen most recently in Afghanistan and Pakistan; however, this does not translate into an equally effective ability to negotiate or mediate conflict. The situation escalated and after snipers and assault rifles entered the fray, at least six Islamic State fighters were dead. Leadership became involved, through both the group’s sharia courts and direct intervention.

This incident is significant because it illustrates the downside of Islamic State recruiting efforts. The idea of a global collection of individually-motivated fighters is far from the reality of handling such a diverse group. Twitter helps the Islamic State attract international recruits but it doesn’t keep them from fighting with each other and everyone else. It is difficult enough to manage a fighting group bound by local ties and goals — as seen in the failure of the Free Syrian Army. It is nearly impossible to do so with a group whose goals vary from martyrdom to marriage, in 20 different languages. The same difficulties that beset the anti-Islamic State coalition — competing goals, petty rivalries, language barriers—also beset the Islamic State, which has less of an ability to mitigate those problems as it also deals with airstrikes and ground attacks. [Continue reading…]

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