WASHINGTON - The looming collapse of the Islamic State terror group's self-declared caliphate is a welcome development for many Western officials. But even when it happens, many warn of a secondary problem: what to do about the thousands of IS foreign fighters who may survive.
"The most vivid challenge we now face is ensuring that the information and intelligence about the travel, the plans, the intentions and identities of foreign terrorist fighters are as broadly known as possible everywhere in the world, because their travel can be so unpredictable," said Lieutenant General Michael Nagata, director of strategic operational planning at the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center.
Here are the latest U.S. data on foreign fighters, as given by a senior U.S. counterterrorism official:
— More than 40,100 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria and Iraq since the conflict began.
— Foreign fighters come from at least 120 countries.
— Approximately 280 U.S. residents have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria and Iraq.
— Approximately 36 Americans have died after traveling to Syria to partake in the conflict.
The coalition to defeat Islamic State is also getting help from its newest member, INTERPOL, according to a senior White House official:
— INTERPOL now has information about 14,000 foreign fighters from 60 countries.
— In the past four years, there has been "a thousandfold increase" in the amount of information shared on foreign fighters
European countries have also taken steps to cut down on foreign fighter travel, the White House said:
— EU countries adopted passenger name recognition protocols.
— Thirty-one non-EU countries are implementing enhanced traveler screening measures.
U.S. officials have also described accelerated efforts to make travel for foreign fighters more difficult.
"We cannot guarantee that none will trickle out. It's our objective to help ensure that those who are still in [IS leader Abu Bakr al-] Baghdadi's rapidly shrinking caliphate will die there," a senior White House official said.