Marshall Center counterterrorism alumni study how to deal with foreign fighters
By Christine June
Public Affairs Office
George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (Nov. 23, 2015) – Alif Suaidi, the chief of immigration for the biggest airport in Indonesia, was able to get the legal framework started to stop a “bad guy” from entering his country two months ago based on a tip from his fellow counterterrorism alumnus.
“This information from my friend was important enough to set up a meeting with my colleagues from other agencies, and we were able to legally stop this dangerous person from getting into Indonesia, said Suaidi, who is an alumnus from the George C. Marshall Program on Terrorism and Security Studies. “So yes, this counterterrorism network is very useful in my daily job, especially for border security.”
Suaidi is one of the 76 counterterrorism alumni from 44 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East and North America, who came to the Marshall Center Nov. 16 to 19 to examine the current and emerging phenomenon of the foreign terrorist fighters, and the challenges these fighters pose when returning to their countries of origin.
“We recently got a mission here at the Marshall Center from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency to expand our transnational efforts and become a center of excellence for transnational threats and what this event does fits clearly into this mission,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. James Howcroft, who is the PTSS course director.
The Global Counterterrorism Alumni Community of Interest Workshop: “Perspectives on Countering Foreign Terrorist Fighters” was the sixth successive counterterrorism COI event to be held at the Marshall Center since October 2010.
“This is a threat that more than 100 nations around the world face. It’s a threat just recently shown in Paris by the attack carried out there by fighters who had gone to Iraq and Syria and then returned to France,” Howcroft said. “We bought together these alumni, who are practitioners in the counterterrorism field, to talk about what their nations are doing about this threat, to exchange best practices, lessons learned both good and bad, and how to deal with this threat and how to mitigate it.”
The event was planned around not only having alumni as participants, but also having them as speakers and facilitators, said Dean Reed, director of the Marshall Center alumni program, which currently has more than 11,000 alumni from 150 countries with more than 1,400 from 120 countries coming from the PTSS course.
“We solicited all graduates of PTSS to present papers and perspectives on foreign terrorist fighters and received about 50 excellent proposals,” Reed said. “Because we received so many proposals, we were able to build four regional panels - Europe, Asia, Middle East and Americas. This way, participants were able to learn best practices from each other.”
Reed added that this approach was decidedly successful with participants as they were able to develop new contacts among graduates from other Marshall Center PTSS and Program on Applied Security Studies courses, as well as meet counterterrorism alumni from the Marshall Center’s sister regional center - Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.
“This event helped us to build and strengthen our counterterrorism network because as we always say, ‘It takes a network to defeat a network,’” Reed said.
Building up her counterterrorism network was one of the strengths of this COI, said Kamelia Dimitrova, diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Bulgaria, and PTSS alumna from 2011. She added that another strength was the regional perspectives on how to deal with the foreign terrorist fighters’ phenomenon.
“The situation with foreign fighters is very serious and very actual right now, particularly because there were are so many events in Europe linked to foreign terrorist fighters, particularly from Iraq and Syria so this event is very timely, very comprehensive and very actual considering the real situation and conflict in Syria,” Dimitrova said. “We outlined a lot of problems, real situations, and case studies. The main recommendation is to exchange our knowledge information and to prevent our young generations from going and participating in conflicts and becoming foreign terrorist fighters”
Some of the objectives of this COI event was to define the key challenges in confronting the problem and existing strategies in addressing the foreign terrorist fighter threat.
“I think one of the key takeaways from our time together this week was the fact that this isn’t a threat that any one nation can deal with,” Howcroft said. “That all nations in the world need to deal with this both regionally and globally, and it’s important to share information, share intelligence, share best practices both between the U.S. and our allies and among our allies around the world.”