Foreigners make up a tiny fraction of the Syrian opposition

Despite repeated Syrian government claims that opposition forces are predominantly "foreign terrorists," a new comprehensive report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation finally puts numbers to the nagging question of just how many foreign fighters exist in Syria. The short answer: Not many. The long answer: Not many, but it depends on how generous you want to be.

ICSR's most liberal estimate for the total number of foreign fighters over the course of the two-year conflict is 5,500, while the most conservative estimate for the current size of rebel forces is 60,000. If you crunch the numbers, that means foreigners make up less than 10 percent of the total rebellion and "the actual figure is likely to be lower," says the group, which is a partnership of King's College London, the University of Pennsylvania, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy, and Georgetown University. We graphed the data below:

According to the report's methodology, the "estimate is based on more than 450 sources in the Western and Arab media as well as the martyrdom notices that have been posted in jihadist online forums. As with previous conflicts, the picture is far from complete and will probably remain so for years to come. There is no 'true census' of foreign fighters, and publicly available sources are inevitably incomplete."

The report does not tally the number of Americans fighting abroad, but you can bet the number is much smaller given the geographic barriers to entry. The most prominent American that fought in the opposition, Phoenix native Eric Harroun, has been charged with "conspiring to use a destructive device outside the United States," which carries up to a lifetime prison sentence. Those in the United States who view that charge as heavy-handed might agree with a finding in the report: Not all jihadist groups are linked to al Qaeda and not everyone who joins a jihadist group is motivated by the jihadist worldview.

"The most commonly cited reasons for joining rebel forces are the horrific images of the conflict, stories about atrocities committed by government forces, and the perceived lack of support from Western and Arab countries," reads the report. "In many cases, these individuals fully adopt the jihadist doctrine and ideology only when they are on the ground and in contact with hardened fighters." Sounds like a good report for Harroun's lawyers to keep on hand.


East meets Westeros in Chinese 'Game of Thrones' commercial

With the much-anticipated third season of HBO's Game of Thrones just getting underway, lots of people are rushing to capitalize on the show's roaring success. One of the more bizarre attempts recently surfaced on China's CCTV, which aired a commercial for the liquor brand Jian Nan Chun that draws heavily on (OK, pretty much copies) the TV show's intro. While the Jian Nan version substitutes distinctly Chinese architecture for turrets and castles -- and a very blustery snowscape where The Wall should be -- the commercial still hits pretty close to the mark, as the gaming blog Kotaku points out:

Westeros locations, like King's Landing and Winterfell, were turned into Chinese locations, such as Inner Hangu Pass and East of Yellow River.... The commercial's animation is different, but many of the motifs, such as the swords, the spinning globes, the way the buildings are constructed, and the text, look like Game of Thrones.

The text reads "One of the Chinese Dynasties with the vastest territory ... was divided into districts called Zheng Guan Shi Dao" and then goes on to list the districts before concluding: "A millennium later, the only one we still know is Jian Nan.... Not for administrative reasons, but because of Jian Nan Chun."

The series has an audience in China (see this amazing cover image for a bootleg copy of Season Two), perhaps because it strikes a chord with Chinese viewers. And for good reason. In an article about "China's Game of Thrones," my colleague Isaac Stone Fish took a look at the country's complex and often dynastic internal politics and alliances, which are almost, if not quite, worthy of Westeros.