As Iraqi Army forces enter Mosul proper and anti-ISIS coalition forces encircle the city, the complex and bloody operation to safely wrest a city of approximately one million people from the grip of ISIS militants will continue to dominate headlines. However, for the region’s power players, the question of what ...

Over the past month, the exchange of words between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has reached a bitter crescendo. Focused primarily on the Turkish military base at Bashiqa in northern Iraq, which Abadi says is an unsanctioned violation of Iraqi territory, the diplomatic ...

The Mosul operation, launched on October 17, has once again highlighted the complicated nature of Turkey’s involvement in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). Ahead of the offensive, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made repeated appeals for Turkish troops to partake in the operation, warning against the liberation of ...

In the coming months, and possibly weeks, the Iraqi Security Forces, with the help of a diverse group of fighters spanning the Iraqi political spectrum, will raise the Iraqi flag atop the Ninevah Provincial Government Center in Mosul. This symbolic gesture will signal to Iraq, and to the world, that ...

With the Islamic State (ISIS) having lost more than 40 percent of its territory in Iraq since its height of control in January 2015, all attention has turned to ousting the group from its stronghold in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced in a televised ...

The good news: all signs point to a final attack on ISIS in Mosul by Iraqi forces and the American-led coalition. This struggle has received much media attention, and even presidential campaign play, and for good reason. Both quantitatively (size of coalition forces, size of the city and population) and ...

From victories in Ramadi, Fallujah, and towns and principalities in between, the Iraqi army and its coalition allies have steadily rolled back the territorial gains made by the terrorist group ISIS over the past two years. On Sunday, the Iraqi Prime Minister announced the beginning of the campaign to wrest ...

Forces on all sides of the sectarian divide are aligning against the Islamic State in Iraq ahead of the much anticipated and well-telegraphed effort to retake the northern city of Mosul. Last week Iraqi forces, with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes, retook the northern district of Shirqat, bringing an Iraqi ...

Turkey is claiming its forces, along with Western-backed Syrian rebels, have completely cut off the Islamic State’s access to the 500-mile long Turkish/Syrian border. Though professing complete control of the border is somewhat specious, they have seemingly shut a fair number of previous access points to Syrian territory from Turkey, ...

ISIS’ Amaq News Agency reported that Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, one of the group’s most prominent and longest-tenured leaders, was killed in an air strike on Tuesday while surveying military operations in Aleppo, Syria. Adnani was ISIS’ second in command, behind leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and also served as the group’s ...

The history of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is a tale of 1001 nights that catalogues every dimension of frustration in combatting terrorism: an impoverished failing state, a heavily armed society with a warrior subculture, persistent and resilient adversaries, corrupt and duplicitous governors, shifting tribal loyalties, sectarian divisions ...

The long-awaited report detailing Britain's role in the Iraq War was finally published on Wednesday, with the seven-year inquiry finding the United Kingdom relied "on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments” and turned to military action before “the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.” “It is now clear ...

More than two years after fighters from the Islamic State  (ISIS) captured the city of Fallujah, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) liberated the embattled city last Sunday, paving the way for the long-awaited march against the group’s largest stronghold in Mosul. Although welcome news, the war is far from over. Even ...

The beginning of the end of ISIS’s dominance over the Sunni Arab region of Iraq is at hand, following the Iraqi security forces’ clearance of ISIS from most of Fallujah, the first Iraqi city to fall to the terrorist group. Only one major Iraqi city remains in ISIS’ hands: Mosul. While ...

Last Sunday, Iraqi forces announced that Fallujah, the first major city captured by the Islamic State (ISIS) has been fully liberated. This is a significant win for the coalition fighting ISIS, allowing plans for the campaign to regain control of Mosul to begin. However, victory in Fallujah masks deeper problems. ...

An assortment of Iraqi forces will drive Islamic State from Fallujah. Then the real trouble will start. In addition to army and police, a number of extremist Shia militias are on the scene. They are controlled by Iran, and to underscore that point, Iranian Quds Force commander Qasim Soleimani made ...

Vice President Joe Biden touched down in Iraq on Thursday for a surprise visit to the country as it faces a deepening political crisis that threatens the fight against ISIS. This was Biden’s first trip to Iraq since 2011, and the vice president is the third and highest-level U.S. official ...

More than 200 additional U.S. troops will be deployed to Iraq to help support and intensify the fight against ISIS, a move retired four-star General Jack Keane told The Cipher Brief is an “incremental step in the right direction.” Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the new troop deployment on Monday, ...

With Iraq’s political crisis worsening as chaos erupted in parliament on Wednesday over Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi plan to reshuffle his cabinet and combat corruption, The Cipher Brief sat down with John Hannah, a senior counselor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former national security advisor to Vice ...

President Barack Obama is meeting today with his National Security Council at CIA headquarters to discuss efforts to combat the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). This comes as the administration debates ways to fight recent ISIS gains. On the table: an increase in the number of U.S. ...

Well into its sixth year, it is easy to conclude that there is no end in sight to the devastating Syrian civil war. Warring parties still have plenty of fight, indirect talks among Syrian political factions have made no visible progress, and regional players have shown little willingness to compromise.  ...

When I landed in Damascus in late 2005 as a foreign correspondent, I went looking for the most popular place where young Syrians spend their time. I found the American Cultural Center (ACC) to be one of the more popular hangouts with a staunchly loyal clientele. Housed inside an apartment ...

From its base in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has morphed into a worldwide jihadi network. Casting a vast net is part of ISIS’ grand strategy, which focuses on using terrorist tactics to establish an Islamic Caliphate across Muslim lands and attacking Western targets as part ...

It’s been a rough several months for the Islamic State in its quixotic effort to build a viable functioning nation-state. The Kurds and the Iraqi military keep slicing meaty territorial chunks from its flanks; the group is slashing its fighters’ salaries to make up for financial shortfalls; the U.S. continues ...

ISIS is a terrorist group attempting to become a state. It inherited al Qaeda's strengths, including international networks, battle tested military doctrine and strategy, and a radical religious ideology, Jihadi Salafism. The ISIS ideology has a proven record in recruiting foreign fighters worldwide to support jihadist insurgencies and terror cells. ...

The chaos we’re seeing today throughout the Mideast continues to escalate and shows no signs of subsiding. The United States and the West seem unwilling or unable to take the necessary steps to help bring some semblance of order to the region.    The Russians have entered the fray further complicating ...

In the past five years, the Middle East has suffered from a double collapse.  First, having proven unable to provide capable political institutions or economic opportunity to their citizens, several of the region’s states have effectively collapsed.  Reconstituting them has proven to be a task of immense difficulty, leading to ...

A couple years ago, when the Middle East was in turmoil but considerably less complicated than today, I was at a small gathering of foreign policy specialists, including one eminent Middle East expert who has followed the region for 25 years.  As we speculated about the region's future, this expert ...

In Iraq, the fight to rid the country of the Islamic State (referred to colloquially in Arabic as Daesh) is taking longer than officials and analysts expected. For instance, U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, recently stated that the campaign to eject ...

The alarming spread of ISIS, coupled with competition amongst Iraq’s sectarian groups, has accelerated the Iraqi government’s disintegration. This downfall began during the tenure of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, whose policies triggered significant tensions between Iraq’s three main sectarian groups - the majority Shiites, the Sunnis and the ...

Victory in Ramadi City against ISIS by the Iraqi Army, despite ISIS holdouts, has given a shot in the arm to the Iraqi government and to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.  Strengthening Iraq’s political institution is not only essential to the fight against ISIS but also for larger regional objectives. ...

Labeled as the richest terrorist group in the world, the Islamic State (ISIS) continues to amass substantial funds to bankroll its military, economic, recruitment, and propaganda campaigns. The key sources of ISIS income are grounded in illicit networks, as ISIS utilizes the black market to generate significant revenue streams. ISIS ...

The Islamic State, popularly known as ISIS, is in many ways an innovative economic actor. But its method of bringing oil to market has been anything but cutting-edge. ISIS took advantage of a black market that had been sharpened long ago, when Saddam Hussein’s regime looked for ways to skirt ...

Retired Brigadier General Russell Howard discussed ISIS’s involvement in antiquities trafficking with The Cipher Brief, explaining that ISIS taxes artifacts that are smuggled in territory it controls and even directly sells artifacts to antiquities traders on the black market. According to Howard, as the U.S. continues to target ISIS’s oil ...

The Islamic State (ISIS) and the threat from terrorism has dominated the news for the past 18 months. ISIS emerged from the chaos in Iraq and the Syrian civil war to seize control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria, declare itself a “caliphate,” and become the richest terrorist group ...

With 34 years of service in the CIA now behind me, I was recently asked how our ongoing war with ISIS will end.  My answer that ‘either we will defeat them or they will defeat us’ struck some in the room, I am sure, as overly stark.  I am, however, ...

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 ...

As the world reacts with horror to Friday's terror attack in Paris coming so shortly after the downing of the Russian-operated A321M over the Sinai, it should be clear to even the most casual observer that the piecemeal and divided international effort to deal with violent radical Islam in general ...

Here’s the wicked paradox about terrorism. Long-term responses do nothing about short-term dangers. Short-term reactions feed extremism over the long term. There are no quick solutions and there may be no "solution" as we think of it. This is quite distressing for Americans in particular, I think. Pick your point ...

This weekend, the international talks on Syria will reconvene in Vienna, and a main focus will be the creation of a list of rebel groups deemed acceptable in a transition and postwar government. This process will be extremely divisive; countries like Saudi Arabia will vie to get the United States ...

“We have contained them.”  Those words from U.S. President Barack Obama about the status of ISIS came the day before the Paris terrorist attacks and continues to reverberate around the world.  The President has since said he was referring to stopping ISIS’ march across Iraq and Syria when he made ...

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, U.S. defense officials announced a rare military strike on a senior Islamic State group (ISG) leader in Libya. Wall-to-wall press coverage of events in Europe made the strike on the Iraqi commander Wissam al-Zubaydi (aka Abu Nabil al Anbari) seem relatively trivial, but ...

Osama bin Laden would be a happy man were he still alive. His hopes and dreams have seemingly come to fruition. And, the master plan that one of his closest disciples devised for him a decade ago to reverse al Qaeda’s then waning fortunes and launch it on a trajectory ...

Dr. Sebastian Gorka, an expert in counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and irregular warfare, told The Cipher Brief that ISIS has superseded al-Qaeda as the world’s leading jihadist terror organization. Furthermore, Gorka explained that the U.S. is currently losing the war against ISIS due to its inability to effectively counter ISIS’ strategy. The ...

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 ...

U.S. security assistance and cooperation programs have come under a lot of fire recently.  The failure of the $500 million program to train and equip moderate opposition forces in Syria is the latest example. However, there is a longer history, including the collapse of the Iraqi military in its fight ...

A fifty-year veteran of American intelligence recently told me how once, as a young officer, he had blurted out that a situation he had been reporting on was so bad that it could hardly get any worse.  One of his mentors quietly stared at him and then observed, "It can ...

A fifty-year veteran of American intelligence recently told me how once, as a young officer, he had blurted out that a situation he had been reporting on was so bad that it could hardly get any worse.  One of his mentors quietly stared at him and then observed, "It can ...