The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Foreign Fighters in Afghanistan

Patrick and I talked about the scale of the jihadi network in Central Asia. There is some literature about the subject available, with a general consensus that Uzbeks and Tadjiks and even Bosnians and Germans joined the ranks of the Taliban. Whether the network extends to Chechnya seems not to be quite clear. In this article, however, a Canadian "veteran infantryman" points out that Chechen fighters are the toughest enemy confronting the Canadians in Afghanistan.

As nationalities who are involved in the insurgency he mentions Egyptians, Saudis, Pakistanis, and Yemenites. "Asked whether he had personally encountered foreigners on the battlefield, the sergeant (...) replied with a grin and classic military jargon: “I have not interacted verbally with them.” Remains the question how he could determine the insurgent's nationality.

Canada's top ranking general confirms that more and more foreigners are joining the fight. He explains it with the improved living conditions of the Afghans who would prefer to stay home. "This may be because less people from Afghanistan are joining the fight. They are not getting the numbers they need here. They are not regenerating forces. What is their pool? It is not extremists but people who feel they don’t have a choice. And that pool is reducing."

If this depiction is accurate, it could indicate that McChrystal's strategy change bears some fruit.


  1. Frederik, just out of interest, is there much evidence to say what the primary motivation is for foreign fighters that join the Taliban? Is it mainly due to ideology/beliefs or more to do with money (basically mercenaries like a lot of them were in Bosnia)?

    Interesting point about Afghan living conditions.

  2. We know that Europeans (converts as well as born-Muslims) who join the fight have been radicalised ideologically. There is no evidence I'm aware of that they just want to fight as mercenaries.

    Perhaps foreigners coming from poorer countries go fighting for a living. But it is hard to tell what is true or not.

    For instance, the CTC Sentinel article about the suicide bomber training camp said that no compensation would be paid to families who's son blew himself up. However, you read this claim in many publications.

    My personal belief is that most of the Taliban fight for ideological (religious or nationalist) reasons.