Foreign Fighters Play Growing Roles on Both Sides of Syria’s War

Rebel Faction Urges Foreigners to Leave

Relatively small Syrian opposition faction the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change has called on all foreign fighters, whether fighting for the government or the rebels, to leave the country immediately.

The group’s influence is extremely limited, and is unlikely to lead to any exodus, but it points to the reality of Syria’s Civil War, that the war is increasingly being fought by foreigners on both sides.

The rebellion has included foreign fighters in a big way almost from the beginning. Al-Qaeda’s leadership was quick to endorse the fight, and called on jihadists from around the world to join in. We’ve seen huge influxes of fighters from places like Iraq, Libya and Chechnya, and even smaller numbers from Western nations like Britain and the United States. They have openly talked of spreading the war across the region with the aim of creating a new Salafist Caliphate.

Syria’s government was a little slower to get into the “foreign fighters” game, relying on its military at first. That has changed in a big way though, as Shi’ite fighters from Iran and Iraq flock to the nation to defend Shi’ite holy sites, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia is taking a bigger and bigger role on the front lines.

The call for foreign fighters on both sides to leave is certain to be ignored, but if they actually did a large chunk of the war would simply vanish overnight. What is being called a “civil war” is increasingly a regional sectarian war that just happens to be getting fought in Syria.


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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of