U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war has significantly increased since the conflict began over six years ago. Friday the 6th of April, 2017, the United States launched a military strike on a Syrian government airbase in response to the chemical weapon attack on civilians two days ago on April 4th . On President Trump’s orders, US warships launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the airbase which, US officials say, was home to the warplanes that carried out the chemical attacks.
On April 4th Dozens of civilians were reportedly killed in a suspected chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. The Russian Defense Ministry claims that gas was released when Syrian forces bombed a chemical munitions depot operated by terrorists. Activists, however, say that Syrians carried out a targeted chemical attack.
In August 2016, Turkey conducted an offensive with international coalition forces to retake the border town of Jarabulus from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Russia began its military intervention in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in September 2015.
In August 2016, U.S.-backed rebels, with the support of coalition air strikes, liberated the strategic north Syrian city of Manbij from the Islamic State. The rebel victory dealt a major blow to the group, effectively cutting off smuggling routes to the north and supply routes between Aleppo and Raqqa (headquarters of the Islamic State). Syrian government forces have been making advances in the fight against the Islamic State with notable victories like the seizure of Palmyra, an ancient Syrian city that had been occupied by the group for nearly a year.
Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, has been besieged for more than four years as Syrian government forces and rebels fight for control. The fighting has increased recently, with the death toll in the month of August 2016 alone standing at around 448 (including 100 children) as of August 28.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in August 2016 to discuss renewing the cessation of hostilities that was reached in February 2016. Secretary Kerry had previously met with all major external participants in the conflict for the first time in October 2015 to try to secure a nationwide cease-fire and to request that the United Nations oversee a transition of power.
An agreement between the United States and Russia was reached in September 2016, and a cease-fire was held for one week. The UN also temporarily suspended aid convoys in Syria following an air strike that killed approximately twenty civilians and destroyed eighteen trucks, just hours after the cessation of hostilities ended.
What began as protests against President Assad’s regime in 2011 quickly escalated into a full-scale war between the Syrian government—backed by Russia and Iran—and antigovernment rebels groups. This has led to spillover into neighboring states and intervention by outside parties, particularly in response to the expansion of the Islamic State from Iraq into Syria.
Following a series of coordinated Islamic State terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, France expanded its air strikes in Syria and the United Kingdom launched its own air campaign to target the Islamic State. In October 2015, the Obama administration authorized the deployment of fifty U.S. Special Operations ground forces to join Kurdish forces in the fight against the Islamic State and committed an additional 250 forces in April 2016.
Ongoing instability has enabled the expansion of powerful radical elements. The Islamic State has captured extensive territory in Syria, perpetrated shocking violence against Shia, Christians, other religious minorities, and fellow Sunnis, and beheaded captives from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and other countries. The Islamic State has recruited as many as 30,000 foreign fighters to join the battle in Syria.
The United States, the United Kingdom, and France, with the support of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab partners, have conducted over fourteen thousand air strikes against Islamic State targets. After a controversial U.S. train-and-equip program was shut down in September 2015—having successfully trained less than one hundred fighters, some of whom had defected to al-Qaeda—the Obama administration authorized the deployment of fifty U.S. Special Operations ground forces to support Kurdish forces fight the Islamic State. Meanwhile, at the request of the Syrian government in September 2015, Russia began launching air strikes against what it claimed were Islamic State targets. However, it has also targeted other groups opposed to Assad, ranging from moderate rebel groups to the al-Qaeda affiliated Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra Front (now renamed Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and nominally unaffiliated with al-Qaeda).
Efforts to reach a diplomatic resolution have been unsuccessful. Geneva peace talks on Syria—a UN-backed conference for facilitating a political transition led by UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura—have thus far not been successful in coming up with a political solution, as opposition groups and Syrian regime officials struggle to find mutually acceptable terms for resolving the conflict. In October 2015, the United States, Russia, and European countries invited Iran to participate in negotiations, renewing hopes of reaching an outcome. Although the Obama administration expressed willingness to work with Russia and Iran, it has ruled out the possibility of a return to status quo under Assad.
Since the start of the war, more than 400,000 people have been killed, 4.8 million have fled the country, and 6.5 million have been internally displaced. Many refugees have fled to Jordan and Lebanon, straining already weak infrastructure and limited resources. More than 2.7 million Syrians have fled to Turkey, and many attempted to seek refuge in Europe along with other migrants and refugees.
Meanwhile, external military intervention—including arms and military equipment, training, air strikes, and even troops—in support of proxies in Syria threatens to prolong a conflict already in its sixth year. While the Obama administration has ruled out the possibility of using U.S. air strikes to target Assad, the introduction of Russian air power and U.S. special operations forces presents the threat of further U.S.-Russia military escalation and confrontation. Additionally, ongoing violence could allow terrorist groups already active in Syria, such as the Islamic State, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and Hezbollah, to launch attacks against U.S. personnel in the country.
Visual Exploration Of The Conflict
MARCH 22, 2016
The Soufan Group
MARCH 20, 2017
FEBRUARY 17, 2017
FEBRUARY 14, 2016
Liz Sty, Louisa Loveluck, and Missy Ryan
DECEMBER 14, 2016
DECEMBER 14, 2016