Over 40,000 foreign militants from 100 countries fighting in Syria – US State Department
There was “an excess of 40,000 total foreign fighters [that] have gone to the conflict [in Syria] from over 100 countries,” the State Department's Acting Coordinator for Counter Terrorism, Justin Siberell, said at a press briefing.
The most recent data came from the US intelligence community, the official said.
Similar alarming figures were already provided by Russia six months ago, when Defense Ministry Deputy Head Anatoly Antonov revealed that Islamic State (IS, ISIS/ISIL) employs up to 30,000 foreign extremists.
“Today some 25-30,000 foreign terrorist mercenaries are fighting for ISIL, including those from the Pacific Rim countries and, unfortunately, Russia too. Should they return home, carrying the potential for violence and extremism, they will be preaching radical ideas in our countries or will organize subversive activities,” Antonov said in November.
But, according to Siberell’s statement Thursday, foreign fighters now have a harder time crossing the border into Syria and joining the ranks of IS.
“That’s a result of a number of different steps that have been undertaken by governments in source and transit countries, in addition to the deteriorating conditions that have been experienced by ISIL in Iraq and Syria.”
Curiously, he never mentioned the Russian air campaign that started in September and largely ended in March, which Moscow and Damascus say has significantly contributed to IS’s setbacks.
The Syrian war has been raging since 2011, leading to the deaths of an estimated 400,000 people, according to UN estimates. The conflict began when the US-backed opposition started an armed rebellion against President Bashar Assad’s government during the Arab Spring.
Yet by 2013, large portions of eastern Syria and western Iraq had fallen under control of militants from Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, now referred to as IS.
President Assad said in the past that his country will not negotiate with terrorists to end the conflict on their terms.
Assad stressed that a large portion of anti-government forces and terror gangs in Syria have been foreign mercenaries.
“Opposition is a political term, not a military term. So, talking about the concept is different from the practice, because so far, we’ve been seeing that some countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United States, and some western countries wanted the terrorist groups to join these negotiations. They want the Syrian government to negotiate with the terrorists, something I don’t think anyone would accept in any country,” Assad told Spanish News Agency EFE in 2015.
Meanwhile, Russia has maintained that using terrorists for a regime change in Syria is unacceptable. “Russia condemns the use of extremist groups in efforts to change the regime [in Syria],” Lavrov said in 2014.
Lavrov also stated in 2015 that the US-led coalition lacks common knowledge as to who the terrorists are in Syria, referring to US-led coalition’s support of questionable rebel groups.