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Combating the flow of Foreign Fighters affiliated with the Islamic State

The rapid ascent of ISIS in 2013-16 was fueled by a flow of “foreign fighters” from

across the Middle East, North Africa and portions of Europe and Asia. Foreign fighters in ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known by other names, notably “Da’esh”) numbered up to 40,000 by some estimates. Interdicting the flow of these fighters was a major diplomatic, military and intelligence challenge for the United States and its partners. Thomas Krajeski was a senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015-16 and worked closely with the rest of the U.S. government to counter the movement of these fighters.

Krajeski’s career included appointments by President George W. Bush as ambassador to Yemen, and by President Obama as ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain during the Arab Spring. Krajeski also completed tours in India and the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Ambassador Krajeski is a recipient of both the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, and five Superior Honor Awards. He retired from the State Department in 2016. This interview was conducted by ADST’s Charles Stuart “Stu” Kennedy in February 2016.

Read Tom Krajeski’s full oral history HERE.

“We estimated at one point approximately 25,000 foreigners had gone to either fight or participate; a lot of these were women.”

Working as Senior Advisor on Partner Engagement of Foreign Fighters: “So when I came in in January 2015, there were a lot of things going on. What I focused on was working with those countries we decided were most at risk, who were the largest producers of foreign fighters, who were the transit countries used to get into Syria and Iraq. So we’re looking at the routes people took out of Europe and northern Africa into Syria, and then working with countries on border security. We offered a lot of training through DHS (Department of Homeland Security), through ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), our border security forces . . .”

“A week after I took the job was the attack on the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris in which five or six people were killed and some others were killed in a nearby Jewish bakery. Then there was an attack in Spain, another in Belgium. So countries began to focus more on who were conducting the attacks, how were they being trained and equipped, and how were they being inspired. As we looked at these three attacks, these were all citizens of the country in which the attack occurred. In only one case had we any evidence that one of the attackers had traveled to Syria, maybe undergone some training and had direct contacts with ISIS. What we did discover is that most of these people had been influenced by and were often associated with ISIS or Nusra recruiters in that community in Paris or Belgium. There was a connective tissue there. The great concern among many of these countries as they looked at the number of people who they believed had traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight for one of these groups was that some of those people were returning to conduct attacks in their countries of citizenship.”

“We estimated at one point approximately 25,000 foreigners had gone to either fight or participate; a lot of these were women. I’m sure you remember the stories of the young women who were recruited by ISIS to marry foreign fighters or ISIS fighters, to raise families in some cases. There was a lot of support. People didn’t just go to be fighters; they ran the ISIS computer systems or ISIS garbage pick-up in Mosul. This is when ISIS was claiming to be a government and were administering and ruling fairly large tracts of property in Iraq and Syria.”

Drafted by Tyler Ventura




    BA in Russian language and literature, University of Massachusetts at Amherst            1975

    MA in Russian language and literature, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill     1977

Entered Foreign Service                                                                                                             1979

    Kathmandu, Nepal – Foreign Service Officer                                                                            1980-1982

    Warsaw, Poland – Deputy Chief of Consular Section                                                              1985-1988

    Republic of Yemen –  Ambassador                                                                                             2004-2007

    Bahrain – Ambassador                                                                                                                  2011-2014

    Senior Advisor for Partner Engagement on Syria Foreign Fighters                                   2015-2016