For months, Assad's army has been on the advance across Syria. But its military success has only been possible due to the significant assistance...from Iran and Russia -- and from local Syrian militias. Now, these fighters are taking over control in many areas, committing murder, looting and harassing civilians. And nobody can stop them, not even Assad himself. Indeed, the militias are now more powerful than even the country's leader and have become the real holders of power in Syria.

as the rebels became increasingly radicalized, many began to see groups like ISIS as the bigger threat. Hezbollah morphed from needless aggressor to the only entity standing between Lebanon and a fundamentalist Islamic state ... And while Syria’s brutal civil war isn’t over—and the group faces enemies, both from within and without—Hezbollah has solidified its standing as the most powerful force in Lebanon. Once dependent on Assad for its survival, the group is now stronger than he is.

The Islamic State, which is run by a deviant strain of Sunni fanatics, has been a disaster for all Sunnis across the region. Sunnis account for as much as ninety per cent of the Arab population and almost a fifth of the global population ... Now their world is in ruins. They have suffered the largest losses in lives and property and make up the largest percentage of refugees. They are under attack from other sects and have little to fall back on politically, despite their numbers.

US President-elect Donald Trump has spoken frequently of his interest to work with Russia to fight IS, and he suggested he is inclined to cut US support for Syrian rebel groups that oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. By contrast, the... Obama administration, while avoiding direct escalation against the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian backers, has steadfastly refused... cooperation with the Assad regime and has said it believes he lost the legitimacy to govern Syria.

military campaigns to retake Aleppo and Mosul reveal a strange new paradox of modern combat: the difficulty, if not impossibility, of reclaiming urban terrain from entrenched rebels without paying a high humanitarian price. It is “strange” because at first blush, the offensive firepower of today’s armies would seem to work in their favor. Yet, even in the face of heavy artillery and indiscriminate air strikes, under-armed rebels have consistently been able to hold on to large swaths of cities.

In a kind of jihadi shell game, this summer the Nusra Front rebranded itself as the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or J.F.S., which means the Front for the Liberation of Sham, an area that includes Syria and parts of neighboring countries. It announced that it no longer had ties with any external group. Al Qaeda publicly concurred ... In jihadi-speak, this is known as “marbling”: local groups variegate their formal ties with global movements when strategically or financially convenient.

The Obama administration is giving the elite Joint Special Operations Command...expanded power to track, plan and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe ... it will elevate JSOC from being a highly-valued strike tool used by regional military commands to leading a new multiagency intelligence and action force ... The missions could occur well beyond the battlefields...where Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has carried out clandestine operations in the past.

Trumps... strong stance on fighting Isis and “Islamic terrorism” means he is unlikely to hand control of a country... to a scarcely less hardline group. The Baltic states are nervous about whether a Trump administration would defend them in the event of a Russian attack. Trump’s win certainly makes a president Le Pen more plausible. Trump has promised to reverse decades of US policy by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the American embassy there.

Given the urgency of the humanitarian disaster in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere...the agencies tasked with managing U.S. food aid programs, should strive to use their funds as effectively as possible. Yet...Congress has severely restricted their efficiency. The 2014 farm bill requires that USAID and the USDA source over 90 percent of all food aid from producers in the United States. It also requires that the government hire U.S.-flagged vessels to ship at least half of that aid abroad

Under the Geneva Conventions, ratified by 196 countries, human beings have a right to medical treatment. Doctors and hospitals are also protected under the Geneva Conventions ... But with a number of countries no longer abiding by international law in armed conflicts, this achievement is now under threat. In fact, four of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are currently participating in coalitions that have bombed hospitals in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan