Jennifer Cafarella Profile picture
Director of Strategic Initiatives @TheStudyofWar. 40 under 40 @MidEastPolicy. Fellow @MasonNatSec. Retweet≠endorsement.
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Mar 25 12 tweets 5 min read
The story of #Russia & #ISIS is simple, but it requires some #Syria basics: the war's sides, internationalization, & geography.

TLDR: No, Russia hasn't prioritized fighting ISIS in Syria. ISIS attacked Russia because ISIS is a terrorist group.

Here we go (w/ references)

#Russia came to #Assad's rescue in late 2015 after Iranian support had proved insufficient to halt a rebel & #AlQaeda blitz that threatened Assad's heartland

We warned of a possible breaking point in June 2015. Russian strikes began 3 months later.

Sep 18, 2023 12 tweets 6 min read
I appreciate this question & will endeavor to answer briefly here as a start. This is a worthy conversation.

Evaluating the ultimate success or failure of a major military operation requires multiple lenses.

Most critically, we must consider the battlefield effects achieved & weigh them against the desired outcome (or “objective” in military terms).

We must also understand some things about the design of the operation itself.

In this case, the bottom line is it’s still too soon to call victory but certainly premature to call defeat. The fight is on.

Here’s how to understand where we are:

First you’ll have to indulge me in some war studies foundations.

Operations like the one Ukraine is conducting occur at what we call the operational level of war - in between the tactical level (think troops in contact) & strategic level (think ultimate war aims).

Analyzing the operational level of war is a fascinating, challenging discipline. Especially when a military has operational leaders who can design & prosecute operations & string them together into campaigns with an artistry that surpasses the hard science of men & materiel.

Yes, artistry. It’s a weird word to hear in a military context but it applies.

While there’s much we don’t know publicly about how things are being designed, commanded, & waged, Ukraine’s war effort has had signs of artistry.

Russia’s has not.

Jun 23, 2022 12 tweets 6 min read
#Ukraine is weathering significant attrition in the battle to defend #Severodonesk in the #Donbas.

Given the losses in lives and the relatively static front line, some are beginning to dismay that perhaps the tide is turning to #Russia.

That could happen. But it hasn't yet. 1/ #Ukraine is still winning the war strategically. It survives as a state & a people & has secured its capital. It has denied #Putin his ambition to seize the entire country & has forced Putin to fight extremely hard for a limited goal of seizing the Donbas, at which he may fail 2/
Mar 20, 2022 10 tweets 6 min read
#Ukraine defeated the initial phase of #Russia’s invasion.

On what basis can/should we evaluate Ukraine’s success or failure in this war?

This thread will unpack a few key concepts & arguments

Some point to the siege & bombardment of Ukrainian cities & say this isnt “winning”. We feel it. Deeply.

But evaluating outcomes in war requires a careful analytic framework

We must study the interaction between 2 military campaigns: #Russia’s offense & #Ukraine’s defense

Mar 6, 2022 9 tweets 5 min read
What does Russian "control" of terrain in #Ukraine mean & what are its limits?

Our team @TheStudyofWar & @criticalthreats is mapping Russian advances & publishing these daily.

This thread will unpack our methodology & explain how to read these maps.

1/ Good questions are emerging as anti-Russia activity erupts behind the front line / in areas Russian forces "control"

For ex: should maps only show military infrastructure & roads?

Not if you seek to understand maneuver war as Russia is waging it.

Dec 2, 2019 14 tweets 14 min read
NEW | #Russia's Dead-End Diplomacy in #Syria

My latest @TheStudyofWar w/ Jason Zhou covers:

-A complex power balance b/t #Assad & his backers
-Evolution of Russia's integrated military & diplomatic efforts
-Russian limits in Syria
-A way forward

1/ @TheStudyofWar A meaningful diplomatic settlement in #Syria remains distant despite consistent US efforts to support one

America's core mistake is repeatedly expecting that #Russia can & will solve our #Assad problem(s)

It is a mental block we must overcome to have a more effective policy

Oct 21, 2019 14 tweets 11 min read
Thoughts on the option to retain a few hundred US troops in Deir ez Zour

Mission is still counter-#ISIS but the policy concerns include preventing #Iran, #Assad, & #Russia from seizing the oil fields. Our presence has (so far) had that secondary effect

So what can ~200 guys do? ~200 guys at best gives us a foothold & preserves:

-intel --> high value strikes on #ISIS & #AlQaeda
-some tribal support. At minimum ability to compete 4 it
-some kinetic ability to defend vs #Assad,#Iran,#Russia expansion
-option 2 surge forces again

NOT a long term solution
Oct 17, 2019 18 tweets 9 min read
Turkey confirms it will stop shooting if the #YPG surrenders

And apparently that's a ceasefire Oh Turkey clarifies it is not, in fact, a ceasefire

Oct 13, 2019 10 tweets 5 min read
They are almost certainly leaving the country entirely. US forces depend on a ground supply line via Faysh Khabur in the far northeast, so we cannot withdraw southward into Deir ez Zour Province and sustain that presence A sustainable presence in Deir ez Zour would require a new logistics train from Iraq, probably by air. By land would require traversing lots of terrain that we can't secure from #Iran's proxies.
Jun 28, 2019 11 tweets 3 min read
Our warning that ISIS is likely capable of seizing a major urban center is perhaps the most alarming conclusion of our report. As such, I'll unpack what it does and doesn't mean here

1/ We assess that #ISIS has the forces, commanders, money, weapons/ammunition, and penetration into various urban areas to conduct an urban assault if it chose to do so. This would require ISIS to mass forces and to take a pretty considerable risk, but they could do it. 2/
Jun 26, 2019 19 tweets 15 min read
Its here - the ISW report warning that #ISIS is back in #Iraq & #Syria

From me with @thestudyofwar’s Brandon Wallace & Jason Zhou

Full report available online here:…

Key points & graphics to follow
#ISIS's "remnants" are much stronger than al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI/ISI) was when US forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011

ISIS has ~30K fighters. AQI had ~1K

ISIS has relatively intact leadership; AQIs was decimated

This chart gives a rough overall comparison (sources in report)
Apr 22, 2019 16 tweets 13 min read
ISW's #ISIS sanctuary map provides an unclassified assessment of the geographic contours of ISIS's campaign. We resumed publishing the map in late 2018 w/ a new baseline of the ISIS "remnants".

This thread provides methodological notes about what the map is & isn't. 1/ ISW's collection & analysis during the counter-#ISIS campaign indicated that DoD's assessments were overestimating the effect of U.S.-led operations on ISIS's military capability. In early 2018, we @TheStudyofWar began a rigorous process of evaluating the actual impact. 2/