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War in SYRIA:

To understand the criss-crossing interventions and battle lines in Syria today, and how it got this way, it
helps to go back to the beginning of the conflict and watch to see how it unfolded.

The first shots in the war were fired, in March 2011, by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad against peaceful
Arab Spring demonstrators.

In July the protesters start shooting back, and some Syrian troops even defect from the Syrian army to
join them. They call themselves the Free Syrian Army and the uprising becomes a civil war.

In January 2012, al-Qaeda forms a new branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. Also around that time, Syrian
Kurdish groups, take up arms and informally secede from Assad's rule in the north.

That summer is when Syria becomes a proxy war. Iran, Assad's most important ally, intervenes on his

Iran steps up its influence in turn, in mid-2012 when Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia backed by Iran, invades
to fight along Assad. In turn the Gulf States respond, Saudi Arabia really stepping up this time, to send
more money and weapons to the rebels, this time through Jordan who also opposes Assad.

By 2013, the Middle East is divided between mostly Sunni powers, generally supporting the rebels, and
Shias, generally supporting Assad.

That April, the Obama administration, horrified by Assad's atrocities and the mounting death toll, signs a
secret order authorizing the CIA to train and equip Syrian rebels. But the program stalls

In August, the Assad regime uses chemical weapons, provoking condemnation around the world. Obama
said America will respond.

Russia proposed that Syria surrender control over its chemical weapons to the international community
for its eventual dismantling, to avoid a US military strike.

The US ends up backing down, but the whole thing establishes Syria as a great-powers dispute, with
Russia backing Assad and the US opposing him. Just weeks later, the first American CIA training and arms
reach Syrian rebels. The US is now a participant in the war.

In February 2014, something happens that transforms the war: an al-Qaeda affiliate, based mostly in Iraq,
breaks away from the group over internal disagreements. The group calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq
and Syria, or ISIS, and it becomes al-Qaeda's enemy.

That summer, it marches across Iraq seizing territory, galvanizing the world against it. In September, one
year after the US almost bombed Assad, it begins bombing ISIS.

In August, Turkey starts bombing Kurdish groups in Iraq and in Turkey, even as these Kurdish groups are
fight ISIS in Syria. But Turkey doesn't bomb ISIS. This gets to one of the big problems in this conflict: the
US sees ISIS as its main enemy, but the US’ allies like Turkey and a lot of other Middle Eastern states have
other priorities. This makes for a lot of unclear and confusing alliances.
The next month, in September, Russia intervenes on behalf of Assad, sending a few dozen military aircraft
to a long-held Russian base in the country. Russia says it's there to bomb ISIS, but in fact only ends up
bombing anti-Assad rebels, including some backed by the US.

The next year, Donald Trump wins the White House, vowing to stay out of Syria, and signaling that Assad
should be able to stay in power. At the end of 2016, Assad, helped by Russian airpower and Iranian
sponsored militias, retakes the Syrian city of Aleppo, knocking the rebels out of their last remaining urban

Then, in Spring 2017, Assad once again uses chemical weapons against his people, killing 85, including 20

Back in the US, Trump says his attitude toward Syria and Assad has “changed very much” due to the
attacks. He vows to respond and within days the White House launches dozens of tomahawk missiles that
strike an airbase in Syria. This is the first time the United States has directly attacked the Assad regime.

Last year and 2018:

2017 June - US shoots down Syrian fighter jet near Raqqa after it allegedly dropped bombs near US-
backed rebel Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
2017 July - The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the Syrian army launch a military operation to
dislodge jihadist groups from the Arsal area, near the Lebanese-Syrian border.
2017 October - The Islamic State group is driven from Raqqa, its de-facto capital in Syria.
2017 November - Syrian army takes full control of Deir al-Zour from Islamic State. Syrian and Iraqi forces
put IS under pressure in the dwindling areas still under its control.
2017 December - Russian President Putin visits, declaring mission accomplished for his forces in the battle
against Islamic State.

Government troops, with Russian support, continue reclaiming areas from rebels in the north-western
Idlib province.
2018 January - Turkey launches an assault on northern Syria to oust Kurdish rebels controlling the area
around Afrin. It seizes the town in March.
2018 February - Government launches a ferocious assault on Eastern Ghouta, the final rebel-held enclave
near Damascus.
2018 April - Claims of a new chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta's main town of Douma prompt the US,
Britain and France to carry out a wave of punitive strikes on Syrian targets.