It was no surprise when two strategic vectors clashed this weekend on Israel’s northern front: The Iranian determination to build an advanced military force in Syria collided with Israeli determination to prevent that from happening. On a broader strategic level a conflict of this sort was expected, though the timing ...

The U.S. coalition says in defending its own troops, it killed an estimated 100 pro-Assad regime fighters on Wednesday. This clash, which took place in Khusham near the Euphrates River, is the largest reported to date between U.S.-backed forces and pro-regime forces in Syria. Here’s what happened, according to public ...

Bottom Line: While ISIS’s territory has dwindled, al Qaida has managed to build a strong following in Syria, and may use the civil-war-torn country as a base from which to target the West. The group has evolved into the network’s largest global affiliate by strategically positioning itself as a key ...

Sometimes reporters get called to a briefing so an administration can defend what it has done. And sometimes, it’s a warning of what it may be about to do. On Thursday, two senior administration officials warned that the Trump administration could take military action – again – against the Syrian ...

Bottom Line: Multiple rounds of peace talks aimed at ending Syria’s seven-year civil war have failed to yield results or relieve a catastrophic humanitarian crisis throughout the country. While the Trump administration throws its support behind a United Nations-led process that aims to deliver a roadmap for peace, Russia has ...

Does the Trump administration have a viable strategy for Syria -- and the tools and capability to carry it out? Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to articulate his interpretation of the goals in a Jan. 17 speech at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. But when read closely, the ...

Bottom Line: Although the U.S. and Turkey engage in robust cooperation on the political, military, and economic fronts, Ankara has experienced significant changes under the leadership of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which threaten the foundations of this relationship. Ties between the U.S. and Turkey have become increasingly strained in ...

For this last week of 2017, we asked our experts to look back on key topics for this year, and predict what they see for the year ahead. Cipher Brief expert, CIA veteran and Russia hand Steve Hall looks ahead to U.S. relations with Moscow, as Russia gears up for ...

The military withdrawal from Syria that President Vladimir Putin touts is less than it seems. The stakes are high because leaders in Moscow see the intervention as crucial to their nation’s status as a global power. Moscow faces a dilemma, but there is a way out, if it will only see ...

President Donald Trump put Iran on notice in October, declaring that the U.S. would counter the regime’s “destabilizing activity.” Iran isn't listening. Instead, Iran is making gains throughout the region. Since October, Iranian leaders and their forces have used surrogates to launch what Ambassador Haley has just credibly argued are Iranian-made ...

Russia’s annexation of Crimea, intervention in eastern Ukraine, and meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election have escalated distrust and rancor between the U.S. and Russia to levels unprecedented since the Cold War. For two decades, President Vladimir Putin has driven a resurgent Russia to assert its interests globally, often ...

The Trump administration wants you to know that Syrian strongman Bashar Assad isn’t doing as well as he, or his Russian and Iranian allies want you to think, and that’s why they’re going to have to agree to some concessions at U.N.-sponsored talks in Geneva, rather than retaking the country ...

Moscow may increasingly look toward private military companies (PMCs), known in Russia as Chastnye Voennie Companiy (ChVK), to exert plausibly deniable and economically and politically sustainable military influence abroad, according to experts speaking to The Cipher Brief. Unlike relying on proxies such as ragtag local militias or organized criminal groups ...

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday announced their commitment to defeating the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, in Syria and agreed “there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria,” they said in a joint statement. "The Presidents affirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, unity, ...

The U.S. and Russia could soon come to an agreement on next steps in Syria, as the Islamic State, or ISIS, nears defeat in the country. The agreement would focus on “deconfliction” between the U.S. and Russian militaries, reducing violence in the Syrian civil war and reinvigorating UN-led peace talks, ...

As ISIS loses territory across Syria and Iraq, its capacity to generate revenue has declined drastically. Nonetheless, ISIS continues to profit from its oil industry, black market antiquities trading, and taxing and extorting local populations under its control. The U.S. government has worked with allies in the region to try ...

ISIS is rapidly losing territory across Syria and Iraq and, as a result, is suffering significant financial setbacks. Yet ISIS remains driven by its goal of establishing a physical caliphate. To acquire the necessary funds to maintain its bloody campaign, ISIS may turn to more traditional methods of terrorist financing, ...

Once billed the richest terrorist group in history, ISIS’ revenue streams are drying up, which may force it to rely more heavily on criminal enterprises and donations from like-minded extremists to survive. The group has ceded nearly 90 percent of the territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq, according ...

The end is near for the battle for Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS’s self-declared caliphate, but the terrorist group still has ways of raising funds and plenty of cash on hand — and still remains a threat near and far. Although U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Tuesday ...

As the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) squeeze the last remnants of ISIS forces in Raqqa with U.S.-led coalition support, Syrian government and Iran-backed militia forces are also making gains against ISIS in the Deir al Zour region in eastern Syria. With ISIS nearing the end of its rope in Syria, ...

The end of the Islamic state puts the United States in an uncomfortable geopolitical situation. When it comes, the United States will enter a new phase of the conflict. The Syrian regime is back in full force in the east of the country, and the Iranian corridor from Iran and ...

Turkey’s announcement of what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called “a serious operation in Idlib” last Saturday has injected uncertainty into the Syrian civil war, but one thing is clear: militarily, the Syrian government of President Bashar al Assad is winning. The question now becomes: to what extent will the ...

One of the most worrisome trend lines in the Syrian civil war has been the accelerated growth of al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which seized control of Syria’s northwestern Idlib province over the summer and has transformed into the de facto face of the country’s anti-Assad campaign. ...

Al Qaeda’s role in the Syrian civil war drastically increased after the al Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) managed to take control of Syria’s northwestern Idlib province and position itself as the strongest rebel force battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. HTS has built accumulated support in Syria by focusing its ...

As the U.S. focuses its attention on defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq, al Qaeda has managed to expand its presence in Syria and now controls Syria’s northwestern Idlib province with a population of two million people. In Idlib, al Qaeda has emerged as the head of an umbrella coalition ...

President Donald Trump is reportedly about to extend a terrorism designation to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in its entirety. The IRGC is both the dominant force inside Iran and the instrument through which the Islamic Republic projects power abroad. Operating throughout the region, the IRGC is deeply entrenched ...

The U.S.-led coalition’s battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has crossed significant milestones this year, supporting the final liberation of Mosul by Iraqi forces this July, and helping allied Syrian Democratic Forces to make swift gains in Raqqa with nearly 80 percent of the city now cleared. However, there ...

Syria's Kurds – led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military arm the YPG – have received much attention for their role as the cornerstone of U.S.-allied local forces fighting ISIS. However, as their battlefield successes continue, the PYD is building a miniature independent state in northern Syria ...

  Syria’s Kurds are best known for the role that their military arm, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), currently play as the military backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – allies of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition in Syria who provide the majority of ground troops in the campaign. These ...

As the ISIS “Caliphate” in Syria and Iraq faces annihilation in coming weeks, the U.S.  must rethink relations with its highly problematic but effective ally in the ISIS fight – the Syrian Kurdish PYD – which controls the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) –a joint Kurdish-Sunni Arab militia that has ...

Hezbollah – an Iran-backed militia that controls southern Lebanon – boasts a medium-sized army and a whopping arsenal of up to 150,000 rockets and missiles. Since 2011, much of that army has been engaged in Syria supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. While this has thinned Hezbollah’s ...

No terrorist group has capitalized on networked technology more than ISIS, both for recruitment messaging and commanding their fighters on the ground. The internet is their response to asymmetric disadvantage. Where they lack in infrastructure and resources of a state, they use the web to plan attacks, solicit money and ...

On August 15, Israel’s Channel 2 news revealed satellite photos of an Iranian missile production facility near the town of Baniyas in northwestern Syria, capable of producing long-range rockets. Iran’s formidable military presence in Syria is nothing new, but the revelation of this production facility underlines how deeply the war ...

Hezbollah - an Iran-backed militia that controls southern Lebanon - boasts a medium-sized army and a whopping arsenal of up to 150,000 rockets and missiles. Now, as certain fronts of the Syrian civil war begin to stabilize along "de-confliction zones" sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey, the possibility that Hezbollah's ...

With the liberation of Mosul from ISIS and the impending conquest of the “Caliphate” capital Raqqa, the U.S. is at a decision point in the Middle East. But it does not yet have a coherent strategy, as has been pointed out by Emile Simpson in a savvy piece in Foreign ...

President Trump has decided to end the CIA-sponsored program to arm Syrian anti-Assad rebels, according to a Washington Post report on Wednesday.  The newspaper quotes U.S. officials as saying the decision to wind down the Obama-era program was made almost one month ago after a meeting in the Oval Office ...

President Trump has decided to end the CIA-sponsored program to arm Syrian anti-Assad rebels, according to a Washington Post report on Wednesday. The newspaper quotes U.S. officials as saying the decision to wind down the Obama-era program was made almost one month ago after a meeting in the Oval Office ...

The Trump Administration is ending the covert program to support Syrian rebels fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, according to the Washington Post. This CIA program, in place since 2013, armed and trained the moderate rebels in the war-torn country, a dynamic disliked by Assad’s main backer – ...

The territorial battle against ISIS is nearing its final stages in Iraq and Syria. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has already declared that the ISIS caliphate has fallen and, in Syria, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are pushing deep into the ISIS "capital" of Raqqa. However, as victory looms, new and ...

Nearly three years ago, the Islamic State (ISIS) catapulted to the top of the news worldwide after the group seized vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, used Mosul’s revered Great Mosque of al-Nuri to announce the creation of an Islamic caliphate, executed tens of thousands of civilians, and committed genocide ...

There are two schools of thought about the nature of the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Some experts say the group is nearly vanquished as it struggles to hold on to Mosul, Iraq, and prepares for the inevitable fight for its capital in Raqqa, ...

The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel sat down with Michael W.S. Ryan, Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, to discuss ISIS’ recent battlefield losses, the group’s current level of influence, and what to expect from ISIS in coming months. The Cipher Brief: Today, ISIS controls significantly less territory than it did ...

The White House late Monday night released a statement warning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime against launching another chemical weapons attack. The Trump administration said the United States has identified “potential preparations” for an attack that “would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.” “The activities ...

The U.S.-led military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria appears to be nearing its end. In Mosul, Iraqi military forces are now pushing into ISIS’s last pocket of resistance in the Old City as allied militias cut off ISIS forces near Tal Afar. In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces ...

The territorial battle against ISIS is nearing its final stages in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, U.S. coalition-backed Iraqi forces have trapped the remaining ISIS defenders in one tiny pocket of Mosul, and in Syria, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are pushing deep into the ISIS "capital" of Raqqa. However, as ...

The Iraq-Syria border has emerged in recent months as the hottest piece of real estate in the multi-sided struggle between the Islamic State (ISIS), anti-ISIS fighters, and Iran’s militia proxies. Why is this? I’ve stood on the Iraq-Syrian border many times and it is not much to look at. Empty ...

Last Sunday, a U.S. Navy F/A-18E fighter jet shot down a Syrian government SU-22 bomber in the U.S. military’s first air-to-air kill involving manned aircraft since the 1999 Kosovo campaign. In response, the Russian Ministry of Defense has condemned the incident as “a cynical violation of the sovereignty of the ...

On June 18, a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 fighter bomber near the town of al-Tabqa in eastern Syria.  According to coalition sources, the Syrian aircraft had bombed anti-Assad militias fighting Islamic State forces in the region and was shot down as part ...

After a U.S. Navy F/A-18E shot down a Syrian SU-22 bomber on Sunday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly condemned the action, announced that a military hotline between U.S.-led coalition and Russian forces had been shut down, and declared that any U.S. jets flying west of the Euphrates river ...

Moscow ratcheted up its war of words against the U.S.-led coalition in Syria, after the Pentagon said it downed a Syrian military plane for the first time. That came as Tehran took an unprecedented step of firing ballistic missiles into eastern Syria, against what it called ISIS targets, over the ...