US intelligence officials estimate that there are 15,000 foreign fighters in Syria from 80 countries, including 2,000 Westerners.
American intelligence experts have more than doubled their estimate of Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria — from 10,000 previously to between 20000 and 31500 now — even as the Obama administration is struggling to put together a coherent policy and cohesive coalition in its latest war against rabid religious extremism.
The new estimates came from the CIA, which said it was based on a new review of all-source intelligence reports from May to August. “This new total reflects an increase in members because of stronger recruitment since June following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate, greater battlefield activity, and additional intelligence,” CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said in a statement.
The revised estimate came a day after President Obama announced he was taking the battle to Islamic State extremists with military strikes against them in Iraq and Syria because they might strike against American interests, including mainland USA, if they were unchecked. He has also started inducting hundreds of US military advisors back into Iraq in an effort to rebuild the Iraqi army which collapsed in the face of the advancing ISIS hordes.
But what is really worrying American officials is that presence of a large numbers of foreigners, including westerners from US and Europe, among the ISIS extremists. US intelligence officials estimate that there are 15,000 foreign fighters in Syria from 80 countries, including 2,000 Westerners.
Many of them have American and European passports that give them easy access to US and European cities. Of even greater concern is that there are US and European citizens at home who seem to sympathize with the radical cause and are willing to help the ISIS despite its bloody outrages.
That aspect of the problem emerged vividly this week when a 19-year old Colorado teenager pled guilty to a terror charge after she was arrested at Denver airport in April when she was on her way to join an ISIS camp.
Shannon Maureen Conley planned to work as a nurse in a jihadist camp near the Turkish border after she met an ISIS member on the Internet and was reportedly brainwashed. She converted to Islam and named herself Halima ahead of a planned marriage with the militant, identified as Yousr Mouelhi. Her parents reported her to authorities after they failed to dissuade her. She now faces five years in prison after a judge convicted her and ordered her to undergo psychiatric evaluation.
At the policy end of things, President Obama is struggling to put together an international coalition, while there appears to be a surprising amount of support in the US for taking on ISIS. Middle-East and Arab government are leery of a renewed American role in the region; US allies Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, have all been cautious in response to US return to the war theater.
Many Americans are also concerned whether the renewed intervention in the region will result in a Mission Creep, with goals expanding in course of time. When 150,000 American troops could not bring peace to the region, they are now wondering what 1500 military advisors can accomplish.