Fighters belonging to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) are coming under pressure from forces of President Bashar al Assad in northwest Syria and may scatter to country’s like Turkey and stir unrest there, said Seth Jones, Charles Vallee and Maxwell Markusen in a jointly-authored report for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Many of the fighters will likely be battle-hardened, religiously zealous and skilled in counter-intelligence, presenting significant problems for countries they choose to retreat to, which could also include the Balkan states, Libya and Iraq, they said.
Turkey’s aid to jihadist groups may cause significant blowback, as the Assad regime found when it supported Islamic fighters in Iraq following the U.S. invasion, the authors wrote.
Al-Qaeda is currently “flying below the radar” and is perhaps at its strongest since 9/11, they said. More than 20,000 militants in Syria fight under the Al-Qaeda banner, helping the group transform from a close-knit terrorist group to a vast network of insurgents covering swathes of Africa and southeast Asia, they added.