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Al Qaeda's Foot Soldiers: A Study of the Biographies of Foreign Fighters Killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan Between 2002 and 2006

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This article sheds light on the identity and activities of foreign fighters who were active in Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2002 and 2006. This is done through analyzing a series of “martyr biographies”—short biographical stories of killed militants—issued by the Al Qaeda network in 2008. The study argues that there was little migration of foreign fighters from abroad to Afghanistan and Pakistan in this period, and practically no influx of fighters from Iraq. Al Qaeda's activities in the region were upheld by fighters who managed to flee from Afghanistan during and after the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001. After re-settling in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the main concern for these fighters was to fight a guerrilla war against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, not to plot terrorist attacks in Western countries. The study demonstrates that over time, the foreign fighters became more integrated in local communities. These early developments may help to explain why Al Qaeda continues to enjoy a strong sanctuary in the tribal areas of Pakistan today.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), Kjeller, Norway

Publication date: February 22, 2011

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