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 ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On January 13th, the Turkish military sent reinforcements to the border region with Syria. The move comes as the terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has consolidated control over sections of Idlib Province. The HTS defeat of Turkish-backed rebels threatens the cease-fire brokered by Moscow ...

  Bottom Line Up Front  U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to eight Arab nations from January 8-15, as he attempts to lay out a coherent U.S. approach to the Middle East. Pompeo must assuage the concerns of U.S. allies about Iran’s quest for regional hegemony, reassuring them ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On December 13, 2018, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton detailed the Trump administration's New Africa Strategy. The strategy seeks to counter Chinese influence on the continent and promote U.S. national security interests. In recent years, Chinese investment in Africa has grown exponentially, and the ...

President Donald Trump now says U.S. troops will "slowly" be withdrawn from Syria after his controversial announcement in December, saying that troops would be pulled out within 30 days, led to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis and the accelerated resignation of Special Envoy to Syria, Brett McGurk. The ...

  Bottom Line Up Front As 2019 begins, the U.S. and its allies will continue to deal with crises that started years ago and have now matured into critical threats. The U.S. faces numerous crises that warrant a multilateral response in a time when Washington is increasingly responding unilaterally. Among ...

SPECIAL TO THE CIPHER BRIEF -- There is vast confusion, and much existential angst about the future of the Middle East region if the U.S. withdraws its military presence from Eastern Syria. What is missing from most available expert analysis of the Syrian conflict is historic context. It is a ...

There is considerable debate over whether ISIS in Syria has been defeated to a significant enough degree that it would not be able to quickly rebuild as soon as U.S. troops leave Syria.  As part of our special coverage on Syria, The Cipher Brief spoke with Dr. Kimberly Kagan, the ...

Russian President Vladimir Putin is publicly welcoming President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.  In a press conference on Thursday, Putin said that “The fact that the U.S. has decided to withdraw troops is right,” adding “we have dealt serious blows against ISIS in Syria.” Putin’s comments ...

As part of our special coverage on Syria, The Cipher Brief spoke with expert Emile Nakhleh, former member, CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service, to get his assessment on how the President’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria is likely to be acted on by allies, other countries in the ...

As part of our special coverage on Syria, The Cipher Brief spoke with Norm Roule, the former National Intelligence Manager for Iran at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to get his expert assessment on how Iran might take advantage of a newly uncontested space in Syria, free ...

The 19 December announcement by President Trump to withdraw ground troops from Syria was surprising to everyone but should have come as a shock to no one. Here's why: First, ISIS may not be destroyed, but one is hard pressed to suggest that it remains an existential threat to the ...

  Bottom Line Up Front On December 19, 2018, President Trump unexpectedly announced a full withdrawal of all U.S. troops in Syria within the next 30 days. This pronouncement is at odds with the administration’s current strategy, as well as counsel of top military leadership. The Defense Department has strongly ...

Reports that President Trump has ordered a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria are not inconsistent with prior messages we’ve heard from the President this year.  In April, The Cipher Brief polled a number of our Experts based on the President’s statements that he wanted to ‘bring our troops back ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The U.S. will likely maintain an enduring military presence in Syria for years, in an extremely complex operating environment. Washington sees its force posture as necessary to check the expansion of Iranian influence, yet others, like Turkey, Russia, and the Assad regime, view the situation ...

  Bottom Line Up Front According to its Office of the Inspector General, a top priority for USAID in 2019 is reforming its projects in Syria. The aid agency is attempting to help care for desperate Syrian civilians while ensuring that none of the resources are rerouted to support terrorist ...

  Bottom Line Up Front By October 2019, the U.S. will have spent approximately $6 trillion in efforts related to support of the so-called ‘global war on terror.’ This figure factors in the true costs of a series of seemingly endless military campaigns, to include debt payments and spending across ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Approximately 700 children were born in the caliphate to parents from Western countries, although many European governments are either unsure of what to do next or unwilling to let these children ‘return’ to their parents’ countries of origin. Some children witnessed killings, beheadings, and unspeakable ...