Foreign fighters are continuing to pour into Syria and Iraq at the rate of 1,000 a month in a global movement of jihadists that exceeds even that into Afghanistan in the 1980s, new assessments from the United Nations and US intelligence have shown.
As the Islamic State continues to make advances in Syria and Iraq despite more than 600 coalition air strikes, the total number of foreign fighters is now thought to have topped 15,000, according to a UN Security Council estimate.
Although the majority of fighters still come from the Middle East and North Africa , more than 2,000 have come from European countries, including 500 from the Britain alone since 2011, carrying passports that would allow them to return freely to their home countries.
“Numbers since 2010 are now many times the size of the cumulative numbers of foreign terrorist fighters between 1990 and 2010 – and are growing,” according to advance excerpts of the report obtained by The Guardian.
“There are instances of foreign terrorist fighters from France, the Russian Federation and and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland operating together,” it adds.
European governments including Britain have taken measures to try and stem the flow of fighters into Isil’s ranks as the organisation continues to grow, however it is as yet unclear how effective those measures will be.
“It could take some time for the dampening effect of these measures to start showing up in the foreign-fighter intelligence estimates,” US intelligence officials told The Washington Post.
It has been estimated that that strikes in Syria alone have killed about 460 members of the Islamic State, but the organisation continues to grow, its finances swelled by a reported $1m a day in oil smuggling revenues alone. Bolstering Isis’s treasury is up to $45m in money from kidnapping for ransom, the UN report finds.
Isis now controls a swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria that is home to between five and six million people, a population the size of Finland’s.
The latest estimates came as US jets continued to pound the Syrian-Turkish border town of Kobane, which has been under siege for the last 40 days by an Isil offensive to capture the town and score a major propaganda coup against the US-led strategy to “degrade and destroy” them.
The bombardment came in preparation for a influx of 150 heavily armed Kurdish Peshmerga reinforcements into Kobane from the Turkish side of the border, near the town of Suruc. They are following an estimated 200 fighters from the Free Syrian Army who entered Kobane this week.
Separately, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that preliminary information indicated that at least 21 Islamic State members were killed in coalition air strikes around Kobane, including a Danish jihadist.