Foreign Fighters, the Islamic State, and the Rocky Road Home: Watch PeaceGame Live

Is the violent extremism that's fueling the Islamic State something new?

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469715446crop

In the early months of 2015, the wars in Iraq and Syria may have eclipsed the conflict in Afghanistan in the 1980s in one particularly dubious statistic: the number of foreign fighters that have flocked to play their part in the war. To date, 4,000 people are thought to have traveled from Western Europe to join up with one faction or another of the many-fronted wars that have engulfed the countries. Another 3,000 have trekked from the former Soviet Union and 11,000 from North Africa and the Middle East; the total figure grew from around 15,000 to more than 20,000 between October and January. The numbers, pieced together from government figures by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, a London-based research center, paint a grim portrait — the violence that is tearing the two countries apart has become a draw, and a strong one at that, for thousands around the world.

What makes a person leave their home and travel thousands of miles to fight for a group like the Islamic State, Boko Haram, or al-Shabab? And what should, or can, be done with those fighters who turn their back on the war and come home? Is there any way to stop these fighters from striking out in the first place?

These are the questions at the heart of this summer's PeaceGame — a twice-yearly event hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace and Foreign Policy. Together, we've assembled some of the sharpest minds around, assigned them roles, and set them up to fight it out in search of the best possible solution.

In the early months of 2015, the wars in Iraq and Syria may have eclipsed the conflict in Afghanistan in the 1980s in one particularly dubious statistic: the number of foreign fighters that have flocked to play their part in the war. To date, 4,000 people are thought to have traveled from Western Europe to join up with one faction or another of the many-fronted wars that have engulfed the countries. Another 3,000 have trekked from the former Soviet Union and 11,000 from North Africa and the Middle East; the total figure grew from around 15,000 to more than 20,000 between October and January. The numbers, pieced together from government figures by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, a London-based research center, paint a grim portrait — the violence that is tearing the two countries apart has become a draw, and a strong one at that, for thousands around the world.

What makes a person leave their home and travel thousands of miles to fight for a group like the Islamic State, Boko Haram, or al-Shabab? And what should, or can, be done with those fighters who turn their back on the war and come home? Is there any way to stop these fighters from striking out in the first place?

These are the questions at the heart of this summer’s PeaceGame — a twice-yearly event hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace and Foreign Policy. Together, we’ve assembled some of the sharpest minds around, assigned them roles, and set them up to fight it out in search of the best possible solution.

You can watch the game unfold live below and can tweet at us as it happens using the hashtag #PeaceGame. The day’s full agenda can be found below.

8:30–8:45 a.m. Welcome from David Rothkopf & Nancy Lindborg

8:45 – 9:45 a.m. Morning Framing Session “The Search for an Effective Counter Strategy”

9:45–10:00 a.m. Break

10:00–12:15 p.m. First Scenario Session “What If They Gave a War and Nobody Came?”

Commanding the Virtual High Ground and Other Strategies for Preventing and Defeating Information Age Insurgencies. The first scenario will focus on the flow of foreign fighters leaving their home countries to join the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. It will bring together experts in the roles of key stakeholders who can play an active part in combating the various push and pull factors that are drawing recruits to the Islamic State, with the goal of developing effective counter-strategies to address the growing problem.

12:15–1:00 p.m. Lunch Break

1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Midday Framing Session “Offering Alternatives to Today’s Insurgents: Myths and Realities About What Works”

2:00- 4:15 p.m. Second Scenario Session “Combating Contagion: What’s Next For the Defeated or Homeward Bound Extremist?”

The afternoon scenario will be centered on issues surrounding the return of foreign fighters’ from the conflict zone. In their roles, participants will explore potential avenues for the reintegration and de-radicalization of former fighters, and seek to develop strategies and best practices to adequately prepare the world for when fighters inevitably leave the conflict zone.

4:15 – 4:30 p.m. Break

4:30–5:15 p.m. Concluding Session “Formulating Recommendations: Shaping Strategies and Setting Priorities”

5:15 p.m. Event Concludes

Photo credit: John Moore/Getty Images

Thomas Stackpole is an Assistant Editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @tom_stackpole

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