Editor’s Note: Over the coming days, The Cipher Brief presents some of our most incisive coverage on key issues of 2016 and a look ahead at what is yet to come in 2017. 2016 has been a year of fundamental change for Turkey. In Syria, the threat of ISIS and ...

Russian President Vladimir Putin took to the stage for a marathon end-of-year press conference on Friday, declaring Russian’s military might, denying accusations of hacking in the U.S. elections, and addressing concerns over a new nuclear arms race. At the annual event, just shy of four hours in length this year, ...

The “complete meltdown of humanity” in Aleppo, as recently described by the United Nations, is an indictment of Russian/Syrian/Iranian barbarism, Arab indifference, and American dereliction and policy failure in the Levant.  The horrendous human tragedy, which is barely causing a yawn in the West—and across the Arab world as well—will ...

One day after Russia's ambassador to Turkey was killed in Ankara, foreign ministers from the two countries met in Moscow to discuss the crisis in Syria — and to vow they will keep their delicate diplomatic relationship on track in the wake of Andrey Karlov's assassination. During Monday's attack at ...

As the United States prepares for a new administration, The Cipher Brief's Leone Lakhani sits down with Ambassador Dennis Ross, Counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former senior Middle East Adviser to three U.S. Presidents. Ross gave The Cipher Brief his thoughts about the next ...

As part of our special coverage of Foreign Influence, Domestic Division: Russia, the 2016 Election, and Trump’s Rebuke of the U.S. Intelligence Community, The Cipher Brief’s Executive Editor Fionnuala Sweeney speaks to Rob Richer, former CIA Associate Deputy Director for Operations and formerly chief of Russian Operations. She asked him ...

One of the biggest foreign policy challenges that President-elect Donald Trump will face is Syria. Here are how things look on the ground today and some of the scenarios the new American president may have to deal with. Over the past few weeks, Russia has been moving significant naval assets ...

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 ...

Three months after its “split” from al Qaeda, which in reality is simply a feint, Jabhat Fateh al Sham (JFS), formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra, may pose a more significant long-term threat to the West than the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). While the West targets ISIS, JFS is quietly ...

The battle to liberate Mosul in Iraq from the tentacles of the Islamic State (ISIS) is turning attention away from Syria, where fighting continues to rage. And whenever attention to Syria is given, ISIS remains a key focus. This may be understandable considering ISIS—and not any other armed group in ...

Regardless of its name change and highly publicized “split” from al Qaeda this past summer, Jabhat Fateh-al Sham (JFS), formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, remains firmly on the United States’ terrorist radar. “We judge a group by what they do, not by what they call themselves,” said U.S. State Department ...

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton should tell voters over the next two weeks that if elected, she would seek congressional authorization before ordering the Pentagon to institute a no-fly-zone over Syria. Making such a statement prior to the November 8 election would be a gamble, since it could cost her ...

On July 4 1821, John Quincy Adams gave an historic address to Congress, in which he stated that, while America may support the cause of freedom with “benedictions and prayers…she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” However, from the Spanish-American War of 1898 to the U.S. invasion ...

The conflict in Syria has ground on for roughly five years now, claiming some 400,000 lives, leading almost five million Syrians to seek refuge in neighboring countries, and displacing nearly seven million internally.  The recent collapse of the U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire has been followed by some of the most intense ...

It’s often hard to discern when a tipping point arrives in any international crisis.  For those of us working the Balkan beat in the 1990s, it wasn’t until the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica that U.S. and NATO Air Forces finally bombed the Bosnian Serb Army.  While Srebrenica was horrifying, it ...

President Obama, and therefore the United States, has not faced simple choices when it comes to Syria and certainly none that would satisfy Americans’ traditional demand for instant gratification – or in foreign policy terms, a success. Who is the U.S. to support with money, arms, and perhaps even military ...

As U.S.-Russia tensions escalate, the sharply deteriorating bilateral relationship between the former Cold War foes may be at an inflection point. Experts say that in the wake of a flurry of public statements, accusations, and nixed arms control agreements last week, the United States and Russia have hit another low ...

Heightened concern that some Gulf States and Turkey want to give Syrian rebels in Aleppo more advanced weaponry has Washington warning about the potential for their misuse, as well as experts saying more weapons would prolong the conflict and increase fatalities in the long run. Last week, U.S. officials raised ...

Fighting in Aleppo has intensified with a Russian-backed government offensive to capture the rebel-held sector of Syria’s largest city. The United States and its allies accuse Russia of deliberately targeting civilians. Moscow and Damascus say they only target terrorists. Russia joined the war a year ago, backing up its ally ...

They’re the unsung heroes in Syria who until this summer were relatively unknown to those outside the country’s brutal war. Known as the White Helmets because of their trademark headgear, they grew out of a network of ordinary Syrian volunteers who felt compelled to save their fellow men and women ...

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, ...

The Syrian government is suspected of dropping barrel bombs containing chlorine gas on an opposition-held neighborhood in eastern Aleppo. The Syrian Civil Defence, a rescue workers’ group, said people in the Sukari neighborhood were left suffocating on Tuesday. This comes just after a United Nations investigation for the first time ...

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 ...

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 ...

A United Nations investigation for the first time has laid blame for using chemical weapons on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, according to a new report that found government troops carried out at least two attacks involving chlorine on civilians. The United Nations has never previously pointed to any specific ...

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 ...

The Syrian regime’s bombing of Syrian Kurdish forces in the country’s far northeast is a notable change in strategy, illustrating just how concerned Damascus is about the group’s recent territorial gains.  Regime warplanes targeted Kurdish-controlled areas in the northeastern city of Hasaka for the first time since Syria’s conflict began ...

On July 15, the United States and Russia announced a tentative agreement on Syria which, according to media reports, would establish a joint command center staffed with military and intelligence officers who would initially exchange information on the al-Nusra Front —a terrorist organization that was affiliated with al Qaeda up ...

The complex proxy war in Syria has demonstrated both the reach and limitations of Iran’s strategic influence. By mobilizing a wide range of strategic, tactical, and operational resources, Iran has prevented the collapse of the Syrian state. However, the depth of its commitment notwithstanding, the Islamic Republic lacks both the ...

The recent “cancellation” of Jabhat al Nusra’s operations along with the formation of a new entity independent from al Qaeda, named Jabhat Fatah al Sham, appears to signal the decline of al Qaeda as a global movement. Instead, however, it is al Qaeda’s latest ploy to buy time to set ...

After six years of war, I find it difficult to imagine what Syria will look like after it all ends. Villages resemble ghost towns, while lawlessness and violence allow warlords to thrive. Whether you’re in a rebel-held enclave or a government controlled area filled with thuggish paramilitary forces, the loudest ...

It is now almost six years since the Syrian Revolution began, and to this day, the concept of an “ideal” end state remains vague and out of reach. Will Syria become a democracy or will it remain a dictatorship? Will the country remain technically united but suffer from conflict between ...

Today, five years after democratic protests against Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime turned into open civil conflict, the ebb and flow of inconclusive military campaigns has, according to United Nations (UN), cost roughly 250,000 lives—what many see as a conservative estimate. From this cauldron of conflict, groups like ISIS ...

A slightly different version of this article appeared recently in the Washington Times.  General Hayden has requested that we reprint it in The Cipher Brief following Thursday’s horrific attack in Nice, France.  He believes that it has special relevance for the intelligence community today. I recently joined other former security ...

Once defined by the catchphrase “Zero Problems with Neighbors,” the foreign policy of current Turkish President—and former Prime Minister—Recep Tayipp Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) used to be a model for measured neutrality in regional affairs. But that model began to crack in the lead up to ...

On June 27, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey would be normalizing relations with Israel and Russia. This 180-degree policy shift came after his outreach to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two countries with which Ankara has squabbled over the Arab Spring and the Muslim Brotherhood. Now ...

Strikes and continuous violence have strained the fresh Aleppo cease-fire the United States and Russia brokered this week, leaving experts doubtful any cessation of hostilities will hold. The U.S. on Wednesday announced the “regime of calm” had been extended to the city of Aleppo and its surrounding districts, where a ...

In light of the ongoing military coup attempt in Istanbul, here is The Cipher Brief's recent feature explaining the myriad problems facing Turkey.  We will bring you more analysis on the situation as the story develops. Facing an intensifying cycle of violence, a president seeking to consolidate power, and a ...

In the late 1970s, Turkey experienced a convulsion of political violence between leftist and rightist factions that killed almost five thousand people by the time the military pushed out the government in a September 1980 coup d’état. The respite from violence was relatively brief, however. Since the mid-1980s, the terrorists ...

The recent wave of violence in Turkey can be grouped into three categories. The first is the operations led by Turkish security forces in parts of eastern and southeastern Turkey to clear neighborhoods of their PKK (The Kurdistan Worker’s Party) presence. This strategy emerged as a response to the second ...

President Barack Obama is meeting today with his National Security Council at CIA headquarters to discuss efforts to combat the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). This comes as the administration debates ways to fight recent ISIS gains. On the table: an increase in the number of U.S. ...

Well into its sixth year, it is easy to conclude that there is no end in sight to the devastating Syrian civil war. Warring parties still have plenty of fight, indirect talks among Syrian political factions have made no visible progress, and regional players have shown little willingness to compromise.  ...

When I landed in Damascus in late 2005 as a foreign correspondent, I went looking for the most popular place where young Syrians spend their time. I found the American Cultural Center (ACC) to be one of the more popular hangouts with a staunchly loyal clientele. Housed inside an apartment ...

Russia is playing a game of Bismarckian realpolitik in the Middle East – political maneuvering based on current conditions, rather than on ideological premises, that uses the exertion of power to gain benefits for one’s country. Russian President Vladimir Putin is forming as many alliances as he can, in order ...

Since 2012, there has been a period of diplomatic activity by the Kremlin in the Middle East which is unprecedented since the fall of the USSR. Existing records of diplomatic and political contacts show an increased exchange of multilevel delegations between Russia and Middle Eastern countries. Moscow is attempting to ...

Syria is Russia’s only real ally in the Middle East. A stable and friendly Syria is in Moscow’s best interests. Stability in Syria is also in the best interests of the United States. Yet Moscow and Washington have different ideas on how to rid the region of chaos. Former U.S. ...

It’s been a rough several months for the Islamic State in its quixotic effort to build a viable functioning nation-state. The Kurds and the Iraqi military keep slicing meaty territorial chunks from its flanks; the group is slashing its fighters’ salaries to make up for financial shortfalls; the U.S. continues ...