Foreign fighters are a mainstay of the rebellion against Assad. Especially in the extremist factions like al Qaeda’s Al Nusra Front or the even more radical Islamic State of Iraq and al Shams group (expelled from Al Qaeda this winter for its extremism), the foreign volunteers are a major source of manpower for the war. The foreign fighters are often the most fanatical on the battlefield. They probably make up the majority of suicide bombers. In Afghanistan in the 1980s there were no suicide bombers, the mujahedin then did not feel that was a heroic way to fight or die.
The blowback from the Afghan war was massive and enduring. As early as 1991 Algerian veterans of the Afghan war were a critical ingredient in starting the Algerian civil war that ultimately claimed an estimated 150,000 lives. Afghan veterans in Egypt played a role in the wave of terror that swept Cairo and other Egyptian cities in the 1990s. The Who’s Who of the Global Jihad is full of Afghan war veterans from bin Laden to his successor the Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri, who was a doctor in the refugee camps during the war. Of course the most dangerous blowback of the war was the role it played in creating the ideology of global jihad. The father of that ideology was an Afghan war veteran, Abdallah Azzam, a Palestinian who was Bin Laden’s first partner in attracting foreign fighters to come to Afghanistan.