Turning point in battle against IS?

An Iraqi soldier holds a position on the frontline on the outskirts of Makhmur, about 280 km (175 miles) north of Baghdad Image copyright Getty Images

The international campaign against the so-called Islamic State (IS) group is evolving quickly. As the United States announces a new phase in its campaign, shifting from "degrading" the so-called caliphate to destroying it, the key questions concern what the extremist group will do to thwart the campaign.

"The trend lines which were all going the wrong way are now going the right way," argues Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy or White House point man for the anti-IS battle. I recently spoke to him and Didier Le Bret, France's National Intelligence Co-ordinator, at the Aspen security conference in London. So what indicators convince them that the battle is turning?

Both cite recent territorial losses by IS, financial problems, and more effective sealing of the routes in and out of their "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria.

"It's a lot harder to get into Syria and once these guys get into Syria it's more difficult for them to get out," says McGurk. This impression is backed by Pentagon statistics released this week suggesting there are now about 200 foreign fighters reaching IS in Iraq and Syria each month compared with 1,500-2,000 a month one year ago.

Turkey says it has stopped 44,000 suspected militant sympathisers from crossing into Syria or Iraq, and the impression that domestic intelligence services in France have formed is that includes those who have failed to get in and others who have become disillusioned coming home.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption US Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk believes that the post-IS phase "will be just as challenging" as what has come before

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Would the UK be safer in or out of the EU?

Soldiers from The Royal Tank Regiment in Wiltshire Image copyright PA
Image caption Would a European army spell the end for the British army?

People in the defence and security world express opinions about the United Kingdom's possible departure from the European Union that at times seem hard to reconcile.

Both sides agree key relationships from military cooperation through Nato to intelligence sharing via the so-called "five eyes" arrangements (the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) would remain unchanged - but "remainers" and "outers" each insist their chosen path would be better for national security.

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US and Russia in partnership over Syria

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov US Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN's Staffan de Mistura after the International Syria Support Group meeting in Munich Image copyright EPA
Image caption Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and US Secretary of State John Kerry, centre, have helped broker the "cessation of violence" in Syria

Syria's "cessation of hostilities" is making a difference - whatever the arguments about early violations, the level of violence across the country has fallen - and with this fragile modicum of progress, the United States and Russia find themselves in harness after years in which Syria was a forum for their rivalry.

"My worry is that it is the Russians making the weather," says Lieutenant General Sir Simon Mayall, senior Middle East adviser at the UK Ministry of Defence until last autumn.

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US remains reluctantly tied to global security role

A US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth fighter aircraft Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The US is increasing spending on European defence

America's military finds itself pulled in several directions - and even the $582bn (£403bn) defence budget rolled out earlier this month will not be enough to satisfy all of its needs.

New challenges - from Russia and the so-called Islamic State (IS) group - are forcing the Pentagon to change its plans, and reopening old arguments about whether its allies are doing enough.

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Migrant crisis: Will Merkel be left out in the cold?

  • 27 January 2016
  • From the section World
A young boy covered is registered by German police at the train station in Rosenheim, Germany in September 2015 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hundreds of migrants are arriving every day at Rosenheim train station in Bavaria

On the platform of Rosenheim station, the German police have got the reception of asylum seekers down to a fine art.

Twice hourly, the Austrian authorities put them on trains across the border, and the Germans are there to receive and process them.

Read full article Migrant crisis: Will Merkel be left out in the cold?

Battle lines drawn over migrant crossings

  • 13 January 2016
  • From the section World
A migrant woman holds a child on a beach near the town of Mytilene Image copyright AP

From the waters of the Aegean, to capitals from Athens to Ankara the battle lines are being drawn for 2016's contest between migrants seeking to reach Europe and those who would stop them.

While, even in the first few days of this year, thousands have shown themselves willing to undertake the perilous journey, with dozens of lives already lost at sea, there are signs that a whole battery of measures planned to restrict the traffic in people is starting to have an effect.

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A perfect storm of populism

  • 26 December 2015
  • From the section World
Lightning over Cobham, Surrey Image copyright Stuart Edwards

The coming year is one fraught with challenge for diplomats. Indeed, when it comes to forging international agreements while a perfect storm of populism, identity politics and insecurity roils electorates worldwide, I cannot think of a worse time for diplomacy in 25 years of covering it.

Beset by insecurity (economic and physical), voters in many democracies have moved towards parties rejecting traditional policies or models of co-operation.

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Defence Review: Fighting old battles?

  • 24 November 2015
  • From the section UK
British Soldier on patrol in the green zone in the Helmand province, Southern Afghanistan Image copyright PA

Generals, so the old saying goes, are always preparing to fight the last war.

This Strategic Defence and Security Review, the UK government's attempt to shape the armed forces for the coming five years, to be fair to its authors, doesn't do that.

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Paris attacks: Investigators face huge task

  • 20 November 2015
  • From the section Europe
Abdelhamid Abaaoud
Image caption Abdelhamid Abaaoud died during a police raid on a flat in Saint Denis

News that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, believed to be the ringleader of the Paris attacks, had died during a French police raid came as a welcome win for investigators.

At the same time though, they realise the Belgian jihadist's whereabouts was just one strand in a complex and evolving investigation being pursued under the enormous pressure created by the knowledge that their enemy may launch murderous follow-on attacks at any moment.

Read full article Paris attacks: Investigators face huge task

Russia's Syria intervention: One month in

A Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter jet at the Hmeymim air base, near Latakia in Syria Image copyright Reuters

The deployment of a Russian strike force of 34 combat jets and 21 helicopters showed how billions invested in the armed forces by President Vladimir Putin had paid off. Within days of arriving they were flying attack missions, and have now clocked up something like 1,000 of them.

President Putin wanted to show the world that he would bring a zeal to the battle against militancy in Syria that had been sorely lacking under the American-led coalition.

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