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Category: Middle East and North Africa

May 31, 2022

How the al-Qaeda–Taliban Alliance Survived

Al-Qaeda’s interactions with the Taliban have often been marked by mutual suspicion and mistrust, but both groups have adopted robust and ultimately successful approaches to manage these tensions. In particular, the relationship survived turbulent episodes from 2001 to 2011, and the two groups coordinated during the run-up to the Doha Agreement. This suggests that although al-Qaeda’s relationship with the Taliban may remain fraught, it will endure. It is unclear whether the Taliban will allow the group to use Afghan territory to support transnational terrorist operations. But the Taliban will likely be unable or unwilling to constrain al-Qaeda’s regional and international ambitions, and therefore will probably be a highly unreliable partner in any effort mounted by outside powers to do so.

March 23, 2022

Were Drone Strikes Effective? Evaluating the Drone Campaign in Pakistan Through Captured al-Qaeda Documents

At a time when the United States seems likely to rely heavily on targeted killing as an instrument of counter-terrorism, scholars, policymakers, and other analysts remain divided over its utility. These disagreements have been especially pronounced in scholarship and commentary regarding the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan.

Feb. 17, 2021

Reviving the Nuclear Deal Gives the U.S. More Leverage Over Iran

As officials in Washington consider returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, much of the debate has centered on whether the U.S. government will lose leverage. Some experts and officials argue that if the Biden administration rejoins the deal—also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the United States will squander the leverage

Jan. 31, 2021

A Middle East Forum Can Help Biden Succeed

A Middle East-wide forum could facilitate dialogue and transparency on a range of short-term measures, engendering momentum to then take on other more complex items, such as regional arms control.

Aug. 25, 2020

Tactical Partnerships for Strategic Effects: Recent Experiences of U.S. Forces Working By, With, and Through Surrogates in Syria and Libya

Drawing on interviews with senior policymakers, diplomats, and military officials with knowledge of Operations Inherent Resolve in Syria and Odyssey Lightning in Libya, this paper confronts commonly-held perspectives on the “by, with, through” approach to warfare. It argues that will-to-fight and skillset play important roles in US military partnerships with irregular forces.

July 20, 2020

Al-Qaeda’s Iran Dilemma: Evidence from the Abbottabad Records

Through a comprehensive review of documents recovered from Usama bin Ladin’s Abbottabad compound, this study provides a new periodization of al-Qaeda’s relationship with Iran. The analysis reveals that al-Qaeda often had to reconcile conflicting operational and ideational pressures in its interactions with the Islamic Republic over time. Beyond offering insight into the trajectory of this important relationship and direction for future scholarship, the analysis suggests some ways through which the United States might expand the strategic wedge that exists between these unlikely allies and highlights the need for a more flexible understanding of state sponsored terrorism.

July 14, 2020

Terrorism in Afghanistan: A Joint Threat Assessment (Chapter III)

Chapter III: Afghanistan in the Regional Security Interplay ContextAs it has for centuries, Afghanistan, based on its location, sits at the intersection of many competing regional and international security agendas. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the geostrategic security interplay between the British and Russian Empires provided the backdrop

Feb. 4, 2020

Qassem Soleimani: Moscow's Syria Decision – Myth and Reality

On January 3, 2020, Iran’s Special Forces leader– IRGC Quds Force – Major General Qassem Soleimani, was killed by an American drone strike outside of the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. Commentators noted that Soleimani had been the subject of a United Nations (UN) travel ban and an asset freeze by the United Nations Security Council (UNSCR) since 2007.  Soleimani had, however, traveled frequently to Syria, Iraq and Lebanon in the decade since these prohibitions. Notably, Soleimani also reportedly made a covert trip to Moscow in July of 2015 that was conspicuous for its flouting of UN travel restrictions and for the lore associated with it having facilitated what became a precipitous escalation in Russian intervention into the Syrian civil war.

Oct. 8, 2019

Putin Heads For Riyadh

At their summit later this month, Putin and his Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) hosts will highlight progress on the economic agenda laid out during King Salman’s October 2017 visit to Moscow.  Questions about the American commitment to protect the free flow of energy from the region will play in the background, and Putin will lobby the Saudis to buy Russian air defense systems.  The Russian president will use the September 14 strikes on Saudi energy facilities and the lengthy Yemen conflict to advance Moscow’s Concept for Collective Security in the Persian Gulf and encourage peace talks.  Moscow and Riyadh will underscore their intent to continue working together in OPEC+ to stabilize global oil prices, and use the Riyadh summit to bolster the room for independent action on the world stage of their energy tandem.  

Sept. 1, 2015

Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War

Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War began as two questions from General Martin E. Dempsey, 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: What were the costs and benefits of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what were the strategic lessons of these campaigns? The Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University was tasked to answer these questions. The editors composed a volume that assesses the war and analyzes the costs, using the Institute’s considerable in-house talent and the dedication of the NDU Press team. The audience for this volume is senior officers, their staffs, and the students in joint professional military education courses—the future leaders of the Armed Forces. Other national security professionals should find it of great value as well.