Western Fighters Filling IS Ranks in Iraq, Syria

Western Fighters Filling IS Ranks in Iraq, SyriaWestern Fighters Filling IS Ranks in Iraq, Syria

Some 20,000 foreign fighters – including at least 3,400 westerners – have joined the Islamic State militant group and are now fighting on the frontline in Iraq and Syria, according to estimates in a number of testimonies by American intelligence officials.

Of those 3,400 IS fighters coming from the western world, as many as 150 Americans may have reached the battlefield, officials told the House Homeland Security Committee in testimonies prepared for delivery on Wednesday. Others were arrested en route to the war zones, while some died in the area, RT said in a report.

The chief of the US National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, said the number of foreign fighters joining IS in Syria and Iraq is growing at an unprecedented rate in comparison to foreign militants who went to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, or Somalia in the past 20 years.

The overall estimate of 20,000 foreigners in IS’s army has been revised from 19,000, according to Rasmussen’s prepared testimony.

The chairman of the committee, Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, claimed that IS is “the largest convergence of terrorists in world history,” and that continued bombing by the American coalition has not stopped the inflow, he noted.

In another testimony, the Department of Homeland Security intelligence chief, Francis X. Taylor, said Washington is “unaware of any specific, credible imminent threat to the homeland.”

But Michael Steinbach, assistant director of the FBI, will brief the lawmakers that last month IS released a video encouraging “lone wolf” radicals – those who have not yet traveled to Syria or Iraq – to instead attack soldiers, police, and intelligence officers in western countries.

“Once in Syria, it is very difficult to discern what happens there,” according to Steinbach’s testimony. “This lack of clarity remains troubling.” Yet the flow of fighters – who hail from some 90 countries – is irregular, another official who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

  Safe Haven

Afghanistan is in danger of turning into a sanctuary once again for IS and other extremist groups as the west withdraws troops and shifts its attention elsewhere, a former senior CIA official warned.

Robert Grenier, former CIA station chief in Islamabad said the country could become a refuge for IS militants which is now waging war in Syria and Iraq.

Grenier, author of the memoir “88 Days to Kandahar,” recounts his harrowing experience helping to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 after the September 11 attacks. “I would say if anything the future threat of an Afghan safe haven is maybe even greater than it was back before September 11.”

The Afghan Taliban would not be ready to rebuff its allies in the Pakistani Taliban or other extremists -- such as the Islamic State -- if they asked for sanctuary, he said. “There are groups within Pakistan that are dedicated to attacking the regime in Islamabad. They’re not going to go away,” he said.

  Obama’s Limitative Plan

US President Barack Obama proposed to Congress on Wednesday a new three-year authorization for the use of force against IS with limits on US combat troops’ involvement, lawmakers and congressional aides said.

Obama has defended his authority to lead an international coalition against IS since August 8 when US fighter jets began attacking the groups positions in Iraq. But he has faced criticism for failing to seek the backing of Congress, where some accuse him of breaching his constitutional authority.

An outline of that request, could stir debate over how US troops should be deployed and the extent of US engagement in Iraq and Syria.

The proposal would allow the use of special forces and advisors for defensive purposes but bar “enduring offensive ground forces,” lawmakers and aides said. It would not, however, set geographic limits for the campaign against the group.

The new proposal would repeal the 2002 authorization but leave in place the 2001 AUMF, which has been invoked by the White House to carry out drone and missile strikes against suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen and Somalia.