If you take Defense Secretary James Mattis at his word, the United States in coming years will be doing nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, once the ISIS and Taliban forces are defeated. That was the repeated message Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford gave last week to House ...

President Donald Trump made it abundantly clear at the recent NATO heads of State meeting in Brussels that he wants to see members of the transatlantic alliance boost their military spending. Denmark, the only Nordic country that is a member of both NATO and the European Union, has been a ...

President Donald Trump has to make a decision soon: what will he do in Afghanistan? The U.S. is now in its 16th year in the country, and top military and foreign policy advisors are advocating for an expanded military role. Experts told The Cipher Brief that the President must consider ...

On Thursday, the United States carried out an airstrike targeting ISIS in Afghanistan, dropping a Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb (MOAB) on a tunnel and cave complex. The strike marked the first time the MOAB, nicknamed “Mother of All Bombs” has been used in combat operations. Afghan defense officials announced ...

While al Qaeda’s affiliates in North Africa, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen continue to grab headlines, the terrorist network has surreptitiously expanded eastward, entrenching itself throughout the Indian subcontinent. “Al Qaeda’s reach in South Asia is deeper than what not only the news headlines, but also the U.S. government, may suggest,” explains ...

The Cipher Brief sat down with Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, to discuss the threat posed by al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). According to Kugelman, al Qaeda has managed to “spread its tentacles across the Indian Subcontinent ...

While al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) may be regionally focused, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says “that doesn’t mean AQIS can be divorced from al Qaeda’s aspirations to attack the West.” In an interview with The Cipher Brief, Gartenstein-Ross also said ...

Afghan defense officials announced Friday that 36 ISIS fighters were killed by a U.S. air strike on a tunnel and cave complex, with the possibility of a larger death toll. The strike was carried out on Thursday with a GBU-43 bomb, nicknamed the “Mother of All Bombs,” marking the first ...

Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that ISIS’ leader in Afghanistan, Sheikh Abdul Hasib, was killed in an April 27 joint-operation carried out by Afghan and U.S. Special Forces. The raid, which took place in the Achin District in Afghanistan’s Eastern Nangarhar Province – the same location where the U.S ...

In an exclusive interview with The Cipher Brief, Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan Ambassador to the U.S., emphasized the progress that the Afghan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, and the Afghan National Security Forces, have made in stabilizing the country and to improve Afghanistan’s economy.  Mohib believes the key to ...

The Cipher Brief spoke with Representative Will Hurd, R-Tex., about what more the U.S. can do to improve security and the economy in Afghanistan. Hurd believes that an improved Afghan Air Force and more Afghan Special Forces “would really put the Taliban on the run.” As well, Hurd says, the ...

The new administration must surely be thinking about the challenges of Afghanistan and Pakistan and what to do.  The region has bedeviled outsiders for generations.  Afghanistan perplexed Alexander the Great, got the best of the British, beat up on the Soviet Union, and now it’s befuddled U.S. Presidents Barack Obama ...

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan wants several thousand more troops from the U.S. and its allies to help break the “stalemate” in the 15 year-old war, which he told members of Congress has lately seen increased Russian involvement to bolster the Taliban and undermine the U.S. and NATO. “In ...

One of the most daunting foreign policy tasks facing the Trump Administration is determining America’s path forward in Afghanistan. From the time he launched his campaign until assuming the Oval Office two weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump has shied away from outlining a vision for Afghanistan, which begs the ...

The Cipher Brief sat down with John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, to discuss how the U.S. reconstruction effort should proceed in Afghanistan. According to Sopko, “Oversight has been a problem since day one in Afghanistan,” and “agencies should provide effective and honest oversight as the first line ...

The Afghanistan and Pakistan region is home to 20 UN and U.S. designated terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIS), and the Haqqani network. This is a higher concentration than any other region of the world, and it is why preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven from which these groups can ...

The United States is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yet Americans could still be indicted by the Court for alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan. In a report by the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor released last month, the ICC states it is assessing whether to open ...

A number of countries are pushing back against the International Criminal Court (ICC). South Africa notified the UN-Secretary General in October that it is withdrawing from the Court. Russia may follow suit after finding out the Court plans to investigate Russian actions in Georgia in 2008. Even the U.S., which ...

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has, in many ways, had a strong year. Two new preliminary investigations have been opened, in Burundi and the Gabonese Republic, while eight situations remain under on-going examination, including Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Palestine, and Ukraine, to name a few. The Office of the Prosecutor has ...

President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly said that fighting Islamic extremism is one of his administration's top priorities. Determining the path forward in Afghanistan, where the ongoing battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban was launched 15 years ago, is a challenge Trump’s national security team will face as soon as ...

The Cipher Brief sat down with former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann to discuss some of the challenges that the incoming Trump Administration will face in Afghanistan and the steps the U.S. government can take to reaffirm its commitment to stability in Afghanistan. The Cipher Brief: What are some ...

With the Trump Administration set to take office next month, The Cipher Brief spoke with Robert Grenier, former CIA Chief of Station in Pakistan and Afghanistan and author of the book, “88 Days to Kandahar,” to discuss ways for the U.S. to move forward in its efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. ...

The Taliban is mounting an increasingly deadly insurgency across Afghanistan, including a breakthrough into Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province, earlier this week.  Regional experts and military officials assert that combatting the Haqqani network, one of the largest factions of the Afghan Taliban, is critical to thwarting ...

The Cipher Brief sat down with Bruce Riedel, Director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution to discuss the current threat posed by the Haqqani network. According to Riedel, the Haqqani network “is the most deadly and effective part of the forces opposing American and allied troops in Afghanistan” ...

The Haqqani network’s continued presence in Pakistan, as well as recent Taliban advances in Afghanistan, have resulted in a “steady deterioration in U.S.-Pakistan relations over the past year,” explains Daniel Markey, Senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), in an interview with The Cipher ...

Taliban fighters are pushing towards Tirin Kot, the capital of Afghanistan's southern Uruzgan province, while two other cities – Kunduz in the north and Lashkar Gah in the southern Helmand province – remain under threat. Since the start of summer, the Taliban has ramped up its campaigns across Afghanistan and ...

Things aren’t going so well in Afghanistan these days. The Obama administration plans to reduce America’s presence there by only about half as much as it originally intended, from the current level of 9,800 to 8,400 instead of 5,500 by the end of 2016. The administration also expanded the rules ...

The death of the leader of the Islamic State in Afghanistan last month was another damaging blow to the hardline group seeking to usurp authority from the Taliban while facing stepped-up efforts by U.S. and Afghanistan forces to eradicate them.  Hafiz Saeed Khan and other senior commanders and fighters were ...

With Taliban and ISIS attacks occurring in Afghanistan almost daily, questions surrounding the direction of the country’s security apparatus loom large. Despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement in early July that 8,400 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through the end of his presidency – an increase from the 5,500 ...

As the Taliban and ISIS continue to launch attacks across Afghanistan, U.S. and Afghan forces face the daunting task of bringing stability to one of the world’s most volatile countries. The Cipher Brief spoke with Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, about the current security apparatus in ...

The Cipher Brief spoke with Congressman Will Hurd of Texas about the increasing security challenges in Afghanistan. According to Hurd, U.S. objectives in Afghanistan have remained the same since 2001. Those objectives include creating “a stable and effective government and security apparatus” and preventing “terrorist groups, like al Qaeda from ...

U.S. President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that he will leave 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the end of his presidency, considerably slowing the drawdown he announced last fall.  There are currently 9,800 American troops in Afghanistan, and the President had planned to reduce the number to 5,500 by late ...

This morning, the White House confirmed the death of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Saturday in southwest Pakistan. Mansour had assumed the position of Taliban leader in July 2015, replacing the group’s founder, Mullah Omar. The fallout of his death ...

Last week the Taliban announced the opening of its annual spring offensive. The year ahead is going to be a difficult one for the Afghan government and the small cadre of American and NATO troops that remain in country.  For the past several years, the United States and its NATO ...

One week after announcing the start of its annual “spring offensive” – dubbed “Operation Omari” after the late Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar – the Taliban carried out a suicide attack in the Afghan capital city of Kabul, leaving at least 28 dead and more than 300 injured. This attack demonstrates the ...

As the Taliban causes havoc on the battlefield and with terrorist attacks, The Cipher Brief asked Daniel Markey, a former State Department official and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations to weigh in on the outlook for Afghanistan.   Markey says the Taliban’s car bombing in Kabul on Tuesday ...

The latest devastating attack by the Taliban in Kabul raises the question about the ongoing capabilities of the insurgency.  Jeffrey Eggers, a former assistant to Presidents Bush and Obama and currently a senior fellow at New America, told The Cipher Brief that the car bombing does not mean the Taliban ...

If you attend a Congressional hearing on the state of U.S.-Pakistan relations, you’ll probably hear one of the lawmakers refer to Pakistan as a “frenemy,” sometimes friend, sometimes enemy.   It is one of the more contentious relationships the United States has with a nation that is ultimately so critical to ...

For over six decades, the United States and Pakistan have suffered through a tormented and often tumultuous relationship, one defined at its apex by wartime alliance and at its nadir by stiff U.S. sanctions. In many ways, the period since 9/11 has mirrored that longer history, with expectations inflated and ...

On May 1, 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush delivered his infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech declaring, “In the battle of Afghanistan, we destroyed the Taliban, many terrorists, and the camps where they trained.” Yet almost 13 years later, the Taliban (meaning “the students”) remains alive and well, threatening Afghanistan’s security ...

Although the Taliban organizations in Afghanistan and Pakistan share the same name, they operate as independent organizations under separate leadership structures. Jeffery Eggers, former Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, pointed out to The Cipher Brief that the Afghan Taliban uses Pakistan as a safe haven for ...

A negotiated peace settlement in Afghanistan in 2016 is unlikely. Negotiations have succeeded in other insurgencies when each side determined that victory was not possible and that a significant portion of their goals could be achieved through negotiations.  That situation does not currently exist in Afghanistan. Since the public acknowledgement ...

Conventional wisdom expected the Taliban to pose a security challenge following the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan. The Obama Administration and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani pinned hopes on Pakistan, the Taliban’s traditional backer, in arranging talks with the Taliban to manage the extent of the threat posed ...

By all accounts, the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated sharply since U.S. and NATO troops ended combat operations in December 2014. The Taliban control more territory now than at any time in the last 14 years, and the group was able to temporarily capture a key Afghan city in ...

With the international community focused on the expanding threat from ISIS, the persistent threat the Taliban poses to stability in Afghanistan seems to be getting little attention.  The recent rise in Taliban attacks threatens the fragile state of affairs after more than 15 years of war and calls into question ...

Security in Afghanistan is worsening, and the trend has been downward for over a year.  Afghan military and police force casualties are rising and rapidly reaching a point which makes it difficult to sustain, while morale is impacted as desertions are growing and some soldiers and police go months without ...

Having spent some years living in Muslim countries and fighting terrorism, I always cock an eyebrow when I hear someone like Secretary of State John Kerry speak in the wake of the Paris attacks and say, "This is not about a clash of civilizations..."  Secretary Kerry’s statements tracked closely with ...

Today, the United States arguably contends with one of the most complicated and dangerous “world orders” in its history.  It must maintain a credible nuclear deterrence, defend against unprecedented levels of cyber warfare, compete in the militarization of space, engage in asymmetric warfare against insurgencies and terrorist groups worldwide, and ...

Military security assistance as it is currently applied is an outdated, myopic approach. It is characterized by ambiguous funding timelines, stove piped information, and the lack of unified resource application.  The U.S. can significantly increase the efficacy of security assistance resourcing through a holistic approach, integrating private and federal programs. ...

Nobody likes comparisons with the Vietnam War, but in the case of United States security assistance, the comparison is worth considering. The United States often approaches security assistance the same way it did in Vietnam, with the same results.   Moreover, because the United States has been using the same ...