ISW-CTP Intelligence Estimate and Forecast: The United States will continue to risk its vital strategic interests in the Middle East unless it changes its policies in Syria and Iraq. The U.S. must apply meaningful pressure against the Assad-Russia-Iran axis and regain leverage over it rather than accommodate it.

This fourth report in a series recommends a course of action that represents the best possible path forward for the U.S. that the ISW-CTP team could identify based on an evaluation of American interests, the current political-security dynamics, and forecasts of various actors’ plans. The ISW-CTP team tested 15 different courses of action to destroy both ISIS and al Qaeda without jeopardizing wider American interests or accepting undue cost or risk.

The U.S. cannot drive a wedge between Russia and Iran in the near term. Tehran and Moscow share an overarching objective to expel the U.S. from the Middle East which will likely bind Iran and Russia together into an enduring partnership.

Iranian military cooperation with Russia in Syria is dramatically increasing Tehran’s ability to plan and conduct complex conventional operations.

The 10th symposium in the Asymmetric Threat symposia series explores how the U.S. can combat asymmetric threats that have expanded in prevalence and complexity.

Latest from ISW

Intelligence Estimate and Forecast: The Syrian Theater

The United States will continue to risk its vital strategic interests in the Middle East unless it changes its policies in Syria and Iraq. President Donald Trump and his administration inherited a weakened U.S. position, with Russia imposing constraints on American freedom of action and options. The Trump administration has taken initial steps to advance U.S. prestige in the region by reassuring America’s traditional allies and acting more firmly against its enemies and adversaries. The tactical tasks of recapturing Mosul and liberating Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) are complete and nearly complete, respectively. Nevertheless, its efforts to define and execute policies that secure America’s vital interests are moving more slowly than those of America’s enemies, adversaries, and spoilers who are more agile than the U.S.

ISIS's Expanding Campaign in Europe

ISIS’s attack campaign in Europe is expanding despite ISIS’s losses of terrain and senior leadership in the Middle East and North Africa. ISIS continues to plan, resource, and execute attacks from its remaining safe havens in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. ISIS has successfully expanded its coordinated attack campaign in Europe to target the UK and Spain. Rising levels of ISIS-inspired attacks in Sweden and Finland may signal growing online ISIS activity targeting vulnerable populations in those states and receptivity among those populations to the ISIS message. Coordinated attack attempts could follow.

The Kremlin’s Irregular Army: Ukrainian Separatist Order of Battle

Russian President Vladimir Putin's political-military campaign in Ukraine undermines Ukraine's sovereignty and threatens Europe more than three years after Russia's invasion. Russian leaders will continue to extend and exploit the war to destabilize Ukraine and prevent its further integration with the West until the costs of their campaign change their calculus.