While many Western analysts continue to portray them as a series of nationalist struggles, the jihads in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq and elsewhere continue to attract many fighters from other countries, who wish to participate in jihad in the way of Allah — jihad fi sabeel Allah. “Jihadis turn from Iraq to Afghanistan: Western forces offer more inviting targets,” by Sebastian Rotella in the Chicago Tribune:
PARIS — The conflict in Iraq is drawing fewer foreign fighters as Muslim extremists aspiring to battle the West turn their attention back to the symbolically important and increasingly violent turf of Afghanistan, European and U.S. anti-terror officials say.
The shift of jihadis to Afghanistan this year suggests that Al Qaeda and its allies, armed with new tactics honed in Iraq, are coming full circle five years after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban mullahs.
Until Sept. 11, 2001, Afghanistan was the land of jihad, hallowed ground where fighters from across the Muslim world helped vanquish the Soviet Union in the 1980s, fought alongside the Taliban in the 1990s and filled terror training camps overseen by Osama bin Laden. Loss of the Afghan sanctuary scattered the networks and sent bin Laden fleeing toward the Pakistani border region, where many anti-terror officials believe he remains.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, jihadis from the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and Europe flocked to confront the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Although foreigners have been a minority in the Iraqi insurgency, militants such as Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi played a major role in spectacular suicide attacks and kidnap-murders.
But insurgent leaders in Iraq are now mainly interested in foreign recruits ready to die in suicide attacks, anti-terror officials say. Moreover, the conflict is dominated by sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. In contrast, an accelerating Afghan offensive by the resurgent Taliban offers a clearer battleground and a wealth of targets: U.S. and other NATO troops and the Western-backed government.
As Iraqis have solidified control of their insurgency, the movement of foreign jihadis to Iraq has “significantly declined in recent months,” said Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, director of the DST, France’s lead counterterror agency.
“There is less need for them in Iraq because there’s a need above all for kamikazes, and there are not an infinite number of volunteers,” said Bousquet, whose agency works closely with U.S., European and Arab counterparts. “The Iraqi insurgency is now very well organized around Iraqis. Those who want to fight, but not necessarily to die as martyrs, go elsewhere.”
Bousquet said anti-terror agents have detected a new flow of militants heading to Afghanistan, where more than 1,000 French soldiers are among the approximately 40,000 foreign troops deployed.
A leap in violence in Afghanistan this year has featured tactics such as suicide and roadside bombings that are trademarks of the insurgency in Iraq, according to Bousquet and other officials. Despite decades of warfare, suicide bombings were rare in Afghanistan. But the number of such attacks has shot up from 6 in 2004 to at least 78 so far this year.
Jihadis from North Africa make the odyssey to Afghanistan through routes that converge in Pakistan, another senior French anti-terror official said.