In the days when I spent a lot of timing researching foreign fighters (Parts 1,2,3), I began to gauge AQ’s strength by their ability to persistently recruit new members. AQ’s success arises from its manpower far more than technology. Their ability to recruit, train and deploy foreign fighters and changes in the rate at which they are recruited provide an excellent bellweather of the terror group’s strength. Thus foreign fighter recruitment trends provide a singular measure of AQ’s relative strength. Growth in foreign fighters indicates the resonance of AQ’s ideology, the commitment of resources by benefactors, and the presence of safe havens facilitating operational security.
The recent Guardian article suggests that both sides of this equation are being met. The U.S. steadily eliminates AQ members in AFPAK and globally. But more importantly, foreign fighter recruitment appears down. This dive in recruitment includes a downturn in German recruits who were a particularly troublesome spike in the 2009 time frame.
Continuing from Part 1 and the discussion of The Guardian article, “Al-Qaida leadership almost wiped out in Pakistan, British officials believe“, I noted the quotes about foreign fighter flow into Afghanistan.
The problems for al-Qaida in west Asia have been compounded by a smaller flow of volunteers reaching makeshift bases in Pakistan’s tribal zones. “I think they are really very much weakened,” said the official. “You can’t say they don’t pose a threat – they do – but it’s a much lesser one.”
British and US intelligence sources have told the Guardian they estimate that there are less than 100 “al-Qaida or al-Qaida-affiliated” militants in Afghanistan, of whom only “a handful” were seen to pose a threat internationally to the UK or other western nations.
and this quote;
In Europe, security services say levels of radicalisation have stabilised. Analysis of a list of “recent martyrs” published by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which shares al-Qaida’s ideology and is also based in Pakistan’s tribal areas, appears to show that fewer number of Europeans than feared reached the group, previously been favoured by German-based extremists. Of the near 100 listed, only one was German and most appeared to be local men.
Al Qaeda’s not dead, but they are dying. Foreign fighter recruits still exist, but they are far fewer in number compared to their peak. For young men in North Africa and the Middle East, there are too many opportunities at home amongst the Arab revolutions. AQ is being out paced ideologically, financially and operationally by other competing groups. More to follow on this, but keep an eye on the foreign fighter flow. Without it, AQ will become just one of many groups rather than the group.