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Rebel Group Attrition and Reversion to Violence: Micro-Level Evidence from Syria


Why might former rebel combatants ever revert to fighting? The purpose of this research note is to inform the scholarly community on rebel incentives to remobilize for violence, a topic which has been underexplored in the literature, using evidence from an ongoing conflict: the case of volunteer ex-combatants in the Syrian civil war. In late 2014 to early 2015, we conducted surveys with 196 ex-fighters who served with different rebel group brigades linked to the Free Syrian Army as well as moderate Islamist and jihadist groups. Interviews were conducted in Gaziantep, Turkey, a common destination for combatants exiting the battlefield in rebel-held territory in northern Syria. We find that ex-fighters who are ideologically committed to the defeat of the Assad regime and/or the establishment of an Islamic state are most likely to want to return to combat. However, rebel group organizational deficiencies and strategies keep many highly motivated fighters away. Our results illustrate how rebel fighters might quickly remobilize when disciplined, well-organized rebel groups emerge on the scene, as evidenced by the rapid ascent of the Islamic State (ISIS).

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Mironoa, Vera, Karam Alhamad, and Sam Whitt. 2020. "Rebel Group Attrition and Reversion to Violence: Micro-Level Evidence from Syria." International Studies Quarterly (January). https://academic.oup.com/isq/advance-article/doi/10.1093/isq/sqaa002/5716907

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