In what many expect to be the final national security speech of his presidency, U.S. President Barack Obama reflected on U.S. counterterrorism achievements during his two terms as Commander-in-Chief, saying “We should take great pride in the progress that we’ve made over the last eight years.” “No foreign terrorist organization ...

The Cipher Brief sat down with Bruce Hoffman, Director for Security Studies at Georgetown University, to discuss President Obama’s counterterrorism legacy and the outlook for the terrorist threat in the coming year. According to Hoffman, although the U.S. has achieved “tactical gains” against al Qaeda and ISIS during Obama’s tenure, ...

Should we think of Iraq as a solution rather than a problem? For most Americans, Iraq is immediately associated with words like:  disaster, problem, mess, intractable, resource drain, incubator for ISIS, and worse.  For the Obama Administration, it was a place to disengage from militarily and politically.  And, above all, ...

Drones have traditionally been used by Western militaries as a tool in counterterrorism efforts, but insurgent and terrorist groups are increasingly turning to small hobby drones to bolster their own efforts. The Cipher Brief spoke with Robert Bunker of the Strategic Studies Institute on how insurgents can incorporate this new ...

Last month, Kurdish forces in northern Iraq shot down an Islamic State drone booby-trapped with explosives that later killed two Peshmerga soldiers as they inspected it. The drone was not like the Reaper or Predator drones the U.S. uses to rain Hellfire missiles down in its global war on terror ...

Amid the dizzying array of jihadist groups, rebel militias, umbrella opposition alliances, and state-level actors either directly or indirectly involved in Syria’s conflict, it can be difficult to tell who is fighting whom and why. Headlines have captured the fierce battle for Aleppo’s rebel-held east, pitting Syrian government forces and ...

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s assertion that the battle to dislodge the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from Raqqa “starts in the next few weeks,” caught many by surprise. The Syrian rebels Washington supports are struggling to survive, have lost hope that the Americans will ever supply them ...

Following the aggressive Russian and Turkish interventions in Syria, it can be difficult to tell where the various parties in the conflict stand. Between the U.S.- backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the mix of opposition forces trapped in east Aleppo, it can be difficult to tell where the rebellion ...

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 ...

Fifteen years to the date after the U.S. launched its invasion of Afghanistan, al Qaeda still remains a force to be reckoned with. And with international attention focused on decimating the Islamic State’s (ISIS) capabilities and ISIS continually losing both ground in its self-declared caliphate and strongholds around the globe, ...

On September 10th in the restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwest China, as many as 10 people were killed or injured when police investigated the house of suspected terrorists. While details are scant, it appears a police officer accidentally set off explosives stored at the house. Chinese authorities ...

The United States and its allies need a three-dimensional strategy for beating back the Islamic State and its allies, one that looks beyond the immediate fight to eliminating the grievances that draw people to jihadist movements. That’s the idea laid out by retired U.S. Marine General John Allen in an ...

Since its birth, modern Turkey has occupied a delicate position in the world. Straddling both Asia and Europe, the ancient Ottoman capital of Istanbul captures the blessing and the curse of Turkish geography. On the one hand, it sits at the center of the old world, bordered by western Europe, ...

In the aftermath of 9/11, the American intelligence community (IC) went through one of the most transformative periods in its history. From the creation of the Office of the Director of the National Intelligence (ODNI) to the creation of new agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. national ...

The Cipher Brief sat down with Matthew Olsen, Former Head of the National Counterterrorism Center to discuss the progress that the U.S. has made over the last 15 years in the War on Terror. According to Olsen, “While we’ve been successful in preventing large-scale attacks,” the U.S. must continue to ...

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, ...

Sunday marks the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, the date that altered the trajectory of America’s national security apparatus. The country’s focus turned from defending against hostile nation-states to undertaking significant counterterrorism measures and bureaucratic reforms in the wake of an unprecedented terrorist threat. The concentrated effort to combat terrorism became ...

Reflecting on the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, Congressman Will Hurd of Texas said that there have been both successes and room for improvement as the U.S. campaign against terrorism continues. The efforts of the U.S. intelligence community “should be credited for why there has not been another foreign-planned terrorist attack ...

The “Big Six” of U.S. intelligence on Thursday broke down the major threats facing the next administration and their respective agencies, warning that ISIS will remain an issue long after the group is territorially defeated. During a wide-ranging discussion at the Intelligence & National Security Summit in Washington, D.C., CIA ...

In August, U.S. President Barack Obama reassured the Pentagon that the Islamic State will “inevitably be defeated.” U.S. government officials, generals, and pundits have been debating what could happen when the group is defeated in Iraq and Syria and have been hard at work penning ISIS obituaries.  Based on my ...

The Russians hack the United States’ systems “all the time,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a conference of intelligence professionals on Wednesday. He also tackled concerns about the upcoming presidential transition and major threats facing the United States such as terrorism, climate change, and widespread global instability. During ...

What presidential candidate Donald Trump says on the spur of the moment about foreign events – without understanding, or perhaps caring about its impact overseas -- can create serious and potentially dangerous situations for Americans abroad. Take Trump’s outlandish claim on August 10th that President Obama was “the founder of ...

With the Islamic State (ISIS) facing imminent defeat in its Libyan stronghold of Sirte, questions have arisen over where the group might seek refuge next. As the fight to push ISIS out of Libya intensifies, one country where ISIS has failed to gain a foothold is neighboring Algeria due to ...

On September 21, 2014, a group of Algerian jihadists, named Jund El Khilafa (The soldiers of the Caliphate) kidnapped Hervé Gourdel, a 55-year-old French nature guide, in Djurdjura National Park in northern Algeria. Jund El Khilafa’s leader, Khaled Abu-Suleiman, had pledged allegiance to ISIS earlier that month, and three days ...

Fighting jihadi groups has been compared more than once to whack-a-mole. You thump a group here and it pops up there. You thump it again and it pops up somewhere else. A front is lost but another opens up. The challenging part is anticipating where the jihadis will go next. ...

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 ...

Before Donald Trump speaks out again on the subject of nation-building, I suggest he – or his staff – study what the Pentagon terms “Building Partner Capacity,” which has been expanding over the past decade and serves as what can only be termed the Defense Department’s part in nation-building. Trump’s ...

The run-up to Somali elections, slated to begin in less than a month, has Somalia watchers concerned that the terrorist group al-Shabaab will seize the opportunity to wreak havoc on the process. Sources in Somalia report al-Shabaab troop buildup outside of the capital Mogadishu, raising concerns that the terrorist group ...

As the Syrian civil war progresses with no end in sight, Rob Richer, former Associate Deputy Director for Operations at the CIA and member of the Cipher Brief network, discussed recent developments in Syria. According to Richer, U.S. operations in Syria “will remain focused primarily on ISIS” at least until ...

A fresh wave of Turkish tanks rolled into Syria yesterday, in an effort to both fight the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) and to keep Kurdish forces in check. Concerns about the Syrian YPG – a primarily Kurdish military force operating in northern Syria and viewed by ...

As Tunisia nears the sixth year of its 2011 popular revolution, the most challenging question is whether these massive protests led to a real change in the lives of the people. Although democratization could not come overnight, the unique successful transition in the Arab World, as it is thought of ...

"If you know the enemy and know yourself," Sun Tzu once wrote, "you need not fear the results of a hundred battles." When it comes to the War on Terrorism, unfortunately, we have a lot to fear. The pace of these attacks has become so frequent that we risk gradually ...

A key moment on the Boko Haram timeline occurred in March 2015, when the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS). According to Dr. Raymond Gilpin, Dean of Academic Affairs for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University, both groups felt that they “could gain from ...

There is a leadership struggle underway within Boko Haram, the violent, extremist movement that has claimed more than 20,000 lives since 2011 and destabilized the secular Nigerian state and its neighbors. The personal struggle between Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi reflects in part the rivalry between Boko Haram and ...

As officials in Singapore step up their warnings that the island city-state is a top terrorist target, the global business and finance hub has unveiled a raft of new measures to combat threats at home. The arrests earlier this month in Indonesia of a group suspected of plotting a rocket ...

Last week, the world learned of the unprecedented revelation that Russia was using Iran’s Hamadan military base to launch strikes into Syria. This week, that operation has already come to an end. Tehran announced Russia had stopped using its base. Moscow said it had completed its operation anyway. But it ...

Donald Trump made what was billed as a major speech on his strategy against ISIS earlier this week in Ohio.  It was actually an important speech, even if you had to hack your way through his imputing near criminal conduct to the "Obama-Clinton" team and through a series of self ...

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 the world watching, ISIS deployed chemical weapons in the Iraqi towns of Sinjar and Taza in February and March of 2016, respectively. Since gaining vast amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria and taking over key chemical facilities, ISIS has acquired a substantial quantity of chemical material that it ...

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 ...

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 ...

With coalition forces concentrating efforts against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the militant group continues to fester in Libya with the government struggling to battle its continued presence. This week, Western powers aimed to shift that balance. At the request of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), the United States ...

As government efforts to challenge terrorist propaganda online are often met with distrust by the very people they are trying to reach, the private sector has moved in to help navigate and confront the fraught social media landscape where extremist groups look for individuals to radicalize. Countering violent extremism (CVE) ...

When Father Jacques Hamel was brutally killed at his church in northern France this week, the religious community came together, demanding greater protection. The French government responded by saying it would put more police on the streets and bring in extra security reservists, with French President Francois Hollande announcing a National ...

Like a divorced couple in a bitter custody battle, al Qaeda and the Islamic State’s (ISIS) leaders can’t help but to denounce each other in the ugliest of terms. In the latest salvo, AQ chief Ayman al-Zawahiri said earlier this month ISIS’ leaders are “officers…of Saddam” and anyone who swears ...

Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, is "splitting" from the al Qaeda network. During a news conference earlier today, Nusra leader Abu-Muhammad al-Joulani appeared on television to announce his group’s severing of ties with al Qaeda and the formation of a new independent organization known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.  ...