We supported Kosovo’s self-proclaimed independence. Why is then Kosovo exporting so many foreign fighters ready to join Jihadi terrorist groups against America?

Kosovo is a very ripe recruiting group for Jihadi terrorist groups.  Nestled in the Balkans between Albania (the native land of most of Kosovo’s inhabitants) and Serbia, of which, Kosovo was an autonomous province until 2006.

Kosovo is recognized as an independent Republic by the US and several other countries, though many in the world do not recognize the Republic of Kosovo, including Russia, Mexico, India, China, Brazil,  obviously Serbia, Spain, Ukraine and many others.

Radical Islamist fighters from Kosovo

With the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria, which involves not only ISIS but many other shifting and ever changing groups with loose ties to Al Qaeda, many of Kosovo’s Albanian population have decided to go join these groups in the fight against America and the West.

According to the research conducted by  Kosovar Center for Security Studies, “Kosovo has 125 foreign fighters per capita for every 1 million citizens, making it the highest ranking country among the 22 listed countries, followed by Bosnia with 85, Belgium with 42, and Albania with 30 cases of foreign fighters per capita for every 1 million citizens.”

Kosovo has the highest number of Jihadi terrorists per capita compared to any country not directly located in the conflict.

So far, the government of Kosovo has been cooperative with the US in the ongoing efforts to defeat Islamist terror groups.  Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.  This figure is just for ISIS and does not include the various other groups that are or have been, linked to Al Qaeda.

The importance of the Extradition Treaty

Given the likelihood of terrorists operating in Kosovo, the US should position itself for a cooperative relationship with Kosovo’s leadership in combatting terrorism.  Until recently, the only treaty for extradition was a treaty that was signed between the US and the former Kingdom of Serbia in 1901.  This treaty has been recognized by all former members of Yugoslavia.  However, there is no guarantee that Kosovo, led by ethnic Albanians would feel the same way.  

As the Albanians are eager to prove that Kosovo is a legitimate, independent state, this treaty does show recognition of that.  Honoring the treaty will further establish Kosovo’s legitimacy in the eyes of the US.  

As self-proclaimed independent Kosovo has signed the extradition treaty, there is no question as to the legitimacy of it.  Therefore, the Albanian leaders of Kosovo know that in the eyes of the world, they must honor it.

Albanian Kosovo does owe its existence in part to the US, but also to the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was supported in part by Al Qaeda.  One must consider then that the Albanian population of Kosovo has reason to be conflicted in their sympathies.  

While the government in Kosovo so far shows its support for the US, it is clear that a portion of the population feels more loyalty to radical Islam, and is willing to go into direct conflict with US-backed governments and groups in Iraq and Syria, even though their independence likely would have never been achieved without the US.

This treaty is likely to play an important role in ensuring that the leadership in Kosovo cooperates with the US in the ongoing war against dangerous Islamist terrorist groups, from the lingering Al Qaeda, to the newer threat from ISIS, and whatever threats may follow.  

Terrorist threats to come

There is already a new terrorist group on the rise in Syria called the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Al-Nusra Front.  Between the start of writing this article, and editing, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham joined with several other militant groups in Syria to form “Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham” (Liberation of the Levant Committee), showing how quickly these groups grow and change.

The Al Nusra (AKA Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) portion of this new group that formed just days ago, was part of the Al Qaeda network, but in 2015 went rogue and claim that they want to form an Islamic State (much like ISIS in 2011).  

In the last days of the Obama administration, the US government was expressing its willingness to work with Russia against ISIS, but made it clear that they would oppose attacks on any other rebel groups.  The largest non-ISIS rebel group in Syria is Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, meaning that the Obama administration was discouraging Russia from attacking them.

Once again, the obsession with deposing the Assad regime has led the Obama administration to ignore a dangerous emerging terrorist threat.  It is likely that the Trump administration will use a very different strategy, and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham will not be able to hide behind the guise of “Syrian rebels and civilians”.  Kosovo is one of many places where some of them may seek refuge, or perhaps recruits.  If that happens, the regime in Kosovo will be expected to honor their treaty, or face severe consequences.

With Serbia to the north and President Trump in the White House, the government of Kosovo will best serve its interests by honoring this treaty.

Richard Wagner is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He conducts independent study on the American conservative movement and foreign policy. When he is...

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