Syria, a country of 18.43 million, has now lived almost half a century under the rule of a dynasty of authoritative dictatorship and has, been fighting a civil war since 2011 that has seen over 500,000 casualties and nearly 400,000 of its own people living in siege. As the Syrian people continue to struggle, there is an impending need to establish the history and progress of the war. Recently, the lines of the Syrian War have gotten more complicated as Turkey’s role has shifted and Eastern Ghouta, an area near Damascus, has been continuously targeted for relentless bombings and food shutouts, as it is the last rebel stronghold in the region. Turkey has changed its efforts to fighting Kurdish forces rather than Assad, because they view some Kurdish groups as terrorist groups. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is a U.S. and Turkish-designated terrorist group with similar links to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) which fight on the ground in Syria. The U.S. supports the YPG because it aided efforts to fight ISIS, but Turkey sees them as terrorists equal to the PKK, which has created significant tension between the U.S. and Turkey. However, the muddled roles of these foreign backers can better be understood if the war is looked at from a more historical perspective.
The war is now roughly divided into four sides: Assad and his supporters, the Islamic State (ISIS), the Kurds and the rebels, which are each backed by different and at times, blurry, foreign supporters. However, the first shots of the war were fired in March of 2011 by Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad in reaction to peaceful Arab Spring Protests. Soon after, the protestors began firing back and combined to form what is now considered the “rebel” group.
These rebels obtained a jihadist lens as extremists from the region joined them, making it more challenging for foreign backers to blindly support them. By 2013, other regional nations made alliances within the war, which has been divided between generally Sunni nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, and supporting the rebels and generally Shia powers, such as Iran and independent Lebanese groups, supporting Assad. In 2014, ISIS removed itself from their combined efforts with the rebels due to internal disagreements and formed their own entity.
In August of 2013, Assad used chemical weapons on Syrian people. His first attack killed nearly 1,500 civilians including 400 children in suburbs of Damascus. In reaction, President Barack Obama deferred his right to order a targeted military strike to Congress, a decision that has been widely contested in U.S. politics. In efforts with Russia, who supports Assad, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the U.S. reached an agreement to disarm Syria of all chemical weapons. Most of U.S. debate on the matter stems from a comment made by President Obama threatening Assad with a targeted military strike. Prior to the abuse, President Obama said that the “red line” would be crossed if the Assad regime was to take their abuse directly to civilians through the use of chemical weapons.
In a press conference in Stockholm on August 20, 2012, he was quoted by The Washington Post, saying that the red line would be crossed when the administration would “start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” He went on to to say: “That would change my equation.” Many critics of Obama do not believe he delivered on this process and damaged U.S. credibility by backing down from a direct military strike.
However, in 2016, the election of President Donald Trump, who vowed to the state of Syria, shifted the understanding of the war. His vow changed when in spring of 2017, Assad used chemical weapons on Syrian people, killing 85 people including 20 children. In just a few days, the U.S. launched 20 tomahawk missiles that struck an airbase in Syria targeted at Assad. As the war progresses and the lines of alliance continue to overlap and muddle, the light at the end of tunnel for the Syrian people is still yet to be seen.