On April 24, Jacob Walles addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute as part of the Stein Counterterrorism Lecture Series. Walles is a former senior advisor on foreign fighters with the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of his remarks.
When the United States first began to focus on the foreign terrorist fighter problem in 2012, before the Islamic State fully emerged, its objective was to prevent individuals from joining the battles in Iraq and Syria. Now that the flow of fighters to these conflict zones has sharply decreased, Washington and its allies have pivoted to dealing with fighters who have returned, or will return, to their home countries. In Tunisia — which has the dubious distinction of being the top exporter of fighters to Iraq and Syria — security forces are struggling to monitor the high number of returnees. And in the European Union, the freedom of travel in the Schengen Area makes the entire continent vulnerable.
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