Bottom Line Up Front Iran is working with key allies in Iraq and Lebanon to forestall political change in the face of significant protests in both countries. Protesters in Lebanon and Iraq are primarily opposing governmental corruption, but are also angered by Iran’s support for key Shi’a factions in ...

OPINION -- President Trump’s sending U.S. military troops to control the oil fields in northern Syria can only be interpreted as introducing financial deal-making into his running of U.S. foreign and national security policies. Trump made clear in his Sunday press conference that he sees control of the Syrian oil ...

More details are emerging about  just how U.S. commandos located and cornered ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi over the weekend as well as questions about how much intelligence was gathered from Baghdadi's compound. Reuters reports that  Iraqi intelligence teams gathered details about Baghdadi's movements from a former top aide in February ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On October 26, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a raid by U.S. forces in northern Syria near the Turkish border. The October 27th announcement by President Trump marks another shift for a group that has persisted as a 'brand' and global insurgency for years. ...

Bruce Hoffman is a professor at Georgetown University and Visiting Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security at the Council on Foreign Relations.  He has served as a commissioner on the Independent Commission to Review the FBI’s Post-9/11 Response to Terrorism and Radicalization, a Scholar-in-Residence for Counterterrorism at the CIA, and ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Earlier in the week, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russia, where the two leaders negotiated the contours of a post-American Syria. While Moscow is one of the clear winners of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria, there ...

President Trump announced this week that the U.S. had brokered a permanent ceasefire in northeast Syria as he also announced that he would be lifting sanctions that were imposed after Turkey launched a military offensive into Syria in early October. A day earlier, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia ...

  Bottom Line Up Front As the United States continues its hasty withdrawal from Syria, Russia has consolidated immense leverage in the country. Acting as Assad’s air force, Russia has helped to reverse the regime’s territorial losses, committing war crimes by targeting civilians and hospitals. Given the recent U.S. withdrawal ...

Cipher Brief Expert Emile Nakhleh is a retired CIA Senior Intelligence Service Officer and founding director of the CIA’s Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program Office. OPINION -- President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the Syrian-Turkish border and the ensuing Turkish offensive against the Kurds have thrown the ...

OPINION – Why is there no Whistleblower in the case of President Trump’s October 6, phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?  Who was on the line with Trump? Anonymous Pentagon sources last Tuesday said Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Milley were on the line, ...

OPINION -- President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the small contingent of United States troops remaining in Syria is a disaster on multiple levels. It illustrates not only his reckless instincts on foreign policy but also the near-total absence of a process for making momentous decisions in his administration. For process, Trump’s style ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On October 9, Turkey launched a cross-border offensive into northern Syria using airstrikes, artillery bombardments, and a ground invasion against Kurdish positions. The United States and Turkey have never agreed on Washington’s strategy of fighting the Islamic State by arming the Kurds. The abrupt decision ...

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is defending President Trump’s decision to withdraw support for Kurdish troops in Northeast Syria, saying Turkey has a “legitimate security concern’.  Meanwhile, other countries, along with both Republican and Democrat members of Congress in the U.S., are condemning the move calling it a betrayal ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On Sunday evening, the Trump administration released a statement from the White House press secretary that signals a major shift in U.S. policy toward Syria. The decision to pull back and allow a Turkish military incursion means that Washington has betrayed its truest allies in ...

The Cipher Brief is bringing you a range of expert perspectives on Syria this week.  General Jack Keane (Ret.), the chairman of the Institute for the Study of War, spelled out The Limits of U.S. Influence in Syria on Monday with a solid assessment of U.S., Iranian and Russian influence in ...

The White House announced Sunday that President Trump will endorse a Turkish military operation near the border with Syria that will target Kurdish forces.  Turkey sees the forces as a terrorist insurgency but many of those forces fight alongside the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) battling ISIS in the region. ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The Assad regime again demanded the immediate withdrawal of U.S. and Turkish troops from Syria, labeling them ‘occupying forces.’ Meanwhile, the United States and Turkey are finalizing a so-called safe zone along Turkey’s eastern border with Syria, which will introduce ancillary issues. The U.S. continues ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On the heels of its suspension from the U.S. F-35 fighter jet program, Turkey is now reportedly considering joint development of its own fighter jet with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin seized the suspension as an opportunity for Russia to capitalize on Turkey’s rift with ...

  Bottom Line Up Front After Israel launched attacks in three different countries across the Middle East last week, Hezbollah responded by firing missiles at several Israeli military targets. Netanyahu is attempting to strike a difficult balance—appearing steadfast and resolute while avoiding a new round of fighting against Hezbollah. Perhaps ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Israel claimed responsibility for a recent airstrike in Syria last weekend, signaling that the long-simmering shadow war between Israel and Iran could escalate further. Iran has used the war in Syria to grow its proxy forces, which now include a Shia foreign fighter army that ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Turkey’s Defense Ministry claims that earlier this week, a Turkish convoy was bombed in Idlib province in northwest Syria. There have been ongoing clashes between Assad’s regime and fighters from the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA). Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria, is a ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Several high-level reports published over the past few weeks reiterate what most terrorism and security analysts have been saying for months—the so-called Islamic State (IS) is alive and well in Iraq and Syria. Over the past several months, IS has waged a campaign of assassinations, ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Iran’s recent responses to U.S. pressure, including to the UK-led seizure of a Syria-bound Iranian oil tanker, have brought the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal to the brink of collapse. The UK and other European countries still seek to de-escalate tensions and avoid a U.S.-Iran military ...

  Many European nations are avoiding the responsibility of taking back their citizens who traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State; this will only fuel the cycle of radicalization and extremism. Ensuring fighters are afforded a fair trial at home and suspected terrorists who have not committed ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Since April, Houthi rebels have conducted at least ten separate missile or drone strikes on Saudi targets, including airports, oil pipelines, and other energy infrastructure. Despite boasting the world’s third largest military budget, the Saudis’ Patriot missile-defense system has performed inconsistently in the face of ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The U.S. government has confirmed that it repatriated eight U.S. citizens—two women and six children—who were with the Islamic State in Syria. The eight had been held by Syrian Kurdish forces, part of the tens of thousands of former Islamic State militants and family members ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Although they are on the same side in the conflict in Syria, Russia and Iran each maintain their own priorities beyond propping up the Assad regime. Russia and Iran have expended massive resources to carve out their own long-term spheres of influence in Syria and ...

President Trump took to Twitter this week, tweeting, "Hearing word that Russia, Syria and, to a lesser extent, Iran, are bombing the hell out of Idlib Province in Syria, and indiscriminately killing many innocent civilians. The World is watching this butchery. What is the purpose, what will it get you? ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Just last week, seven members of the so-called Islamic State, all of them from France, were sentenced to death by an Iraqi court. Many Western countries have refused to take back citizens who traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State. An estimated ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The only consistency in the Trump administration’s Middle East policy has been to support autocratic regimes and strongmen, as it has in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Trump administration’s top national security officials met with Congress multiple times in May to discuss how the President ...

Bottom Line Up Front The Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies are making moves to retake Idlib from the last remaining pocket of rebel fighters holed up in the province. A combination of Russian airpower and Syrian Army ground forces have moved aggressively to retake sections of southwestern ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Most states, particularly those in the West, have refused to repatriate their citizens who joined the Islamic State and who now reside in crowded camps. Thousands of Islamic State family members are being held in the al Hol Camp in Syria, living in fetid conditions ...

Tuesday’s meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Sochi, Russia, was the result of a recent phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.  According to Lavrov, both heads of state directed to their subordinates to intensify the ...

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week in Russia. The talks are expected to focus on the situation in Venezuela as opposition leaders Juan Guaido continues efforts to oust Nicolas Maduro.  State Department officials said ...

The Cipher Brief was recently invited to take part in the University of New Mexico’s Intelligence Symposium, covering a number of national (and international) security issues.    We took the opportunity to speak with UNM’s Director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute (and Cipher Brief expert) Emile Nakhleh, ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The conditions inside camps of displaced persons across Syria and Iraq, including family members of Islamic State fighters, presents an immediate humanitarian threat and a long-term strategic security opportunity. The camps are a mix of people who fled the Islamic State as well as hard-core ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Turkey’s ruling AKP party is asking for a full recount in the mayoral election in Istanbul, making accusations of ‘wide-spread crimes.’ Defeats for the AKP in the nation-wide elections demonstrate that despite Erdogan’s attempt to consolidate power, there remains a very credible political opposition across ...

On 23 March, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced the capture of Baghouz, the last remaining ISIS stronghold in Syria. This may arguably mark the end of the physical caliphate, but the question of whether ISIS is defeated in Iraq and Syria remains a point of heated debate. Too much of ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On March 19, the coalition fighting the so-called Islamic State announced it was finally in control of Baghouz, IS’ last openly held territory in Syria. With tens of thousands of IS fighters and their families now captured, pressure is rapidly escalating as detention centers grow ...

  Bottom Line Up Front A new U.K. law criminalizes accessing terrorist propaganda online, punishable by a prison sentence of up to 15 years. Responding to the ubiquity of this propaganda, the new law updates existing legislation that criminalized collecting or archiving terrorist materials. Proponents claim that these laws will ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Even though President Trump decided to keep a residual force of U.S. troops in Syria, it will not be enough to counter Russia and Iran. The U.S. will keep as few as several hundred troops in Syria, mostly around al-Tanf, focused on intelligence, surveillance, and ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Iran has built leverage over Iraq’s key power centers and its economy through its arming of Iraqi Shia militias and supplies of natural gas. The growing prospects for a U.S. military drawdown in Iraq are causing Iraqi leaders to draw closer to Iran than they ...

  With the so-called Islamic State losing its remaining territory, the focus has pivoted to geopolitical competition between the major powers involved in Syria. Assad has accused Erdogan of having imperial designs on Syrian territory, while Damascus leans on Moscow and Tehran for support. The shifting web of alliances in ...

The recent announcement of plans to keep 200 U.S. “peacekeepers” in Syria has been met with a mixture of relief and confusion. Relief, as the December announcement to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria was almost universally condemned by analysts and politicians, and confusion at the lack of detail that followed ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Even after the collapse of the territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State will live on through its franchise and affiliate groups. Among the most capable affiliates are those in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the Islamic State Khorasan Province in Afghanistan and IS’ branch ...

  Bottom Line Up Front A partially declassified study of U.S. military operations demonstrates the difficulty in accurately counting and mitigating civilian casualties. Disparities exist between official Pentagon estimates of civilians killed and those done by external agencies, leading to assumptions about the former being less transparent. The study reiterates ...

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats released the Worldwide Threat Assessment on Tuesday, with Intelligence Community leaders briefing Senators on the biggest threats facing the U.S. While The Cipher Brief will cover all aspects of the broader threat matrix that includes China, Russia and North Korea, this week we are ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The announced U.S. withdrawal from Syria is compelling Israel to recalibrate its strategy to prevent Iran from further expanding its influence. Israel views Iran’s presence in Syria as an unacceptable threat that must be confronted, despite the risks of doing so. Israeli leaders have secured ...

The Cipher Brief’s new Friday column Cipher Select, is laser-focused on bringing you a range of different perspectives on special operations issues over the next several months. United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) was established in 1987, with a mission to “Organize, train, equip and provide fully capable Special Operations Forces ...

A senior Kurdish official has dismissed the idea of creating a 20-mile wide safe zone in Syria presented by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, something that Erdogan says would require both logistical and financial support from the U.S. and other allies.    The idea of creating the zone comes as ...