The anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition is making significant progress in its campaign against IS, both in Iraq and in Syria. While this may be good news for people in Syria and Iraq, it may spell trouble for people in Egypt, Libya, Western Europe and South East Asia, as the despondent, defeated, and angry fighters fleeing Iraq and Syria seek to either redeploy and continue the fight, or go back to their home countries. As FBI Director James Comey said before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee in 2016, “They will not all die on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq. There will be a terrorist diaspora sometime in the next two to five years like we’ve never seen before.”

As far as handling fighters who choose to simply change location (and maybe tactics) but remain active, the target countries will do well to formulate a strategy for handling them before or soon after they arrive, but before they have time to “settle in.”

Preparing for this projected wave of decommissioned fighters can take several forms:

  1. Law enforcement (surveillance, prosecution, incarceration, expulsion)
  2. Rehabilitation (community focused, individual approach)
  3. Denial (ignore, expel)

Policy makers, administrators, community leaders, families and communities (both of returning combatants and those surrounding them) should start getting ready now. Trying to react in real time without prior preparation is the surest way to failure. Doing nothing is not an option and will probably have severe consequences.

Let’s try for a change to deal with this impending crisis before it becomes a disaster, before innocent people die, and before communities, populations and economies are traumatized and hurt.

Dr. Doron Pely, an expert on Muslim/Arab conflict management, is the Executive Director of the Sulha Research Center ( He is also an Associate with the Homegrown Violent Extremism (HVE) Studies Program at the University of Southern California (USC) and a Director of Special Projects at TAL Global Inc., in San Jose, CA. Dr. Pely is the author of Muslim/Arab Mediation and Conflict Resolution: Understanding Sulha (Routledge: London, 2016). Read More