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 ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The armed conflict in Ukraine has received scant attention in the Western media lately, however, tensions have recently increased between the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. is bolstering Ukraine’s armed forces with new technology and joint training exercises, actions interpreted by Russia as provocations. Russia ...

  Bottom Line Up Front  China just recently legalized ‘vocational training centers' in Xinjiang province in the western part of the country, intended to engineer ‘thought transformation’ among ethnic Uighurs, who are primarily Muslim. The Chinese government and security services are utilizing a range of emerging technologies to help track, ...

Bottom Line Up Front Iran’s Shi’a militia allies in Iraq enable the mullahs to exert substantial influence over Baghdad, and will continue to do so no matter the composition of the new Iraqi government. Key Iraqi Shi’a militia commanders are emerging as prominent politicians in their own right, capable of ...

Bottom Line Up Front: On September 26, Danish police arrested two men on charges of trying to send money and drones to the Islamic State in Syria. On September 27, police in the Netherlands arrested seven men in the central Dutch city of Arnhem and accused them of planning a ...

Bottom Line Up Front: On September 27, the U.S. Defense Department reported that 1114 civilians have been unintentionally killed in anti-Islamic State airstrikes since August 2014. The monitoring group Airwars has counted 6575 civilians killed by coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria throughout the same time period. Russia incredulously denies ...

Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin served as chief of Israeli military intelligence from 2006-2010.  He is now director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).  Ari Heistein is special assistant to the Director. OPINION -- That Iran seeks to diffuse advanced weaponry to its proxies in Syria and Lebanon ...

Bottom Line Up Front: On September 17, Syrian air defenses shot down a Russian Ilyushin Il-20 reconnaissance plane over the Mediterranean Sea. The Syrians were targeting four Israeli F-16 fighters that had just struck a Syrian military site in Latakia, but hit the Russian plane by mistake, killing 15. Russia ...

Bottom Line Up Front Hezbollah’s experience in the seven-year long Syrian civil war has been a mixed bag, with both positive developments and negative consequences. While the so-called ‘Party of God’ has suffered significant casualties in Syria, losing nearly 2,000 fighters throughout the course of the war, it has gained ...

Bottom Line Up Front: According to the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, there are perhaps as many as 10,000 al-Qaeda affiliated fighters, and their families, remaining in Idlib Province. These violent extremists are intermingled with an estimated 2.9 million people who are now essentially trapped in Idlib with no ...

Bottom Line Up Front: On September 7, the leaders of Russia, Turkey, and Iran are scheduled to meet in Tehran to discuss the Syrian civil war and the pending campaign to retake Idlib. Turkish President Recep Erdogan hopes the summit can forestall an all-out regime offensive in Idlib, where Turkey ...

While not in the headlines every day, al Qaeda operatives are still the targets of somewhat regular military operations in places like Yemen.  The U.S. carried out a series of air strikes against al Qaeda targets in Yemen over the summer according to U.S. Forces Central Command (CENTCOM). Former Acting ...

From ‘Remain and Expand’ to ‘Adapt and Evolve’ Small pockets of Islamic State fighters have regrouped throughout parts of Iraq and Syria. Jihadists are becoming more brazen, executing coordinated attacks on security services and oil fields. The Islamic State’s remaining war chest could prove to be sufficient for the group ...

The Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization is putting the IAEA on notice that Tehran is likely to begin producing centrifuges that are used to enrich uranium.    According to the Fars news agency, Ali Akbar Salehi says the move does not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ...

Russia. We hear and read about it every day in the mainstream media, but the news seems almost exclusively focused on the various investigations of Russian meddling and the politics surrounding them. Russian meddling, to be sure, merits this coverage since the cyberattacks and spread of polarizing disinformation represented a ...

Following the near destruction of ISIS in Iraq and in the U.S. “zone” in northeastern Syria, and then a call recently by President Donald Trump to pull out of Syria, administration officials, pundits and foreign leaders have all urged the president to keep troops in Syria. As justification, these officials—including ...

With increasingly confusing statements and actions from the White House and the Pentagon on U.S. policy toward Syria, The Cipher Brief presented a live briefing from Amman, Jordan with Cipher Brief Expert and former CIA Chief of Middle East operations, Robert Richer during the 2018 Threat Conference.  Richer talked about ...

Bottom Line: Syria’s chemical weapons program not only contributes to a tragic humanitarian situation, but its uninhibited use and maintenance creates strategic implications for the West and Israel. Limited military response seeking to degrade Syria’s stockpiles and logistical facilities sends a message, but Assad has shown his intent to continue ...

The American strikes last week on Syrian chemical production, storage and delivery facilities amounted to no more than another pinprick and a slap on Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s wrist and were devoid of any long-term strategy. It was a “one-shot” strike to punish the "Butcher of Damascus" for a one-time heinous act, which the regime ...

Bottom Line: The U.S. teamed with Kurdish forces to oust ISIS from its self-declared caliphate in Syria in Iraq, but now Washington’s continued support for Kurdish militias in Syria has strained relations between the U.S. and Turkey, which remains immersed in a longstanding feud with its sizable, domestic Kurdish minority. ...

After days threatening to take action, President Donald Trump announced Friday evening that he'd ordered "precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities," of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Trump said U.S. forces acted together with France and the U.K.,  retaliating for a suspected poison gas attack that killed ...