Foreign fighters are a phenomenon known in most conflict areas of the Muslim world, be it Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Somalia or Yemen. The foreign elements fighting among local, native insurgent groups are a major concern for the enemy party as they are regarded as more ruthless, willing to die in battle or as a suicide bomber and they are further radicalizing local groups. What is described by the U.S. military in Afghanistan as the foreign fighter factor is usually a very small percentage of Jihadi militants of Arab, Central Asian, North African or even European origin. These Jihadi tourists traveled to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region to fight against Pakistani forces in Waziristan and Western NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
To the native Afghan and Pakistani militants the foreigners are very alien, an exotic import by al-Qaeda and other groups, often lacking basic training or even the ability to adapt to the new terrain, culture or just the food of the locals. Because they are isolated, they are unable to speak the local language, communicate with the villagers and many of them even handover their ID documents, money and personal belongings to their handlers as a sign of commitment to receive martyrdom on the battlefield of Afghanistan. Whatever origin the foreign jihadi is – be it Saudi, Tunisian, Indonesian, Chechen, German or French – they are restricted in movement and it poses an almost impossible challenge for them to melt into local ethnic groups. They are lost eventhough they are surrounded by brothers in faith and arms in Waziristan.
But what about those who are familiar with Afghan and Pakistani culture? What about Afghan people living Europe or the Middle East? They are a foreign fighter element that has not come to the attention of counter-terrorism experts and Afghan/U.S. security forces…but they exist and their number might increase.
As a journalist for British Guardian found out earlier this year, Afghans from the UK are spending a very unusual form of vacation in the Afghan mountains. By coincidence the reporter met a cab driver from London fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban in Northern Afghanistan. And the man was not the only European Jihadi he encountered. Other ethnic Afghans from Norway and the UK spent several months on “Jihad vacation”, fighting against the Americans and their Afghan allies.
Read the Guardian piece about these European Taliban here.