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Twelve years on from the start of Syria’s struggle | Syria’s Warfare Information

Twelve years in the past, protesters dared to take to the streets of Syria to protest towards the nation’s authorities and its president, Bashar al-Assad.

The protests rapidly took on a revolutionary nature, demanding the “fall of the regime”, however, after a violent response from the federal government, the rebellion reworked right into a struggle, dragging in a number of outdoors powers, displacing thousands and thousands and killing a whole bunch of hundreds.

Syria’s economic system has deteriorated, with 90 % of the inhabitants now dwelling under the poverty line, based on the World Meals Programme.

The United Nations estimated final yr that greater than 306,000 civilians have been killed – about 1.5 % of the inhabitants – since March 2011 within the nation.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a United Kingdom-based struggle monitor, estimates the full demise toll to be about 610,000.

Even earlier than the earthquakes that devastated northwestern Syria in February, the UN had mentioned that 14.6 million Syrians have been in want of humanitarian help, with 6.9 million individuals internally displaced and greater than 5.4 million Syrian refugees dwelling in neighbouring international locations. A whole bunch of hundreds additionally sought asylum in Germany and different components of the European Union, in addition to additional afield.

The battle within the nation has largely frozen, though combating continues intermittently, significantly within the northwest.

Here’s a breakdown of how the struggle unfolded, how territorial management has modified, and who the gamers are actually.

The way it began

On March 15, 2011, main unrest erupted throughout the streets of Deraa, Damascus and Aleppo, with protesters demanding democratic reforms and the discharge of political prisoners.

Protests have been triggered by the arrest and torture of a bunch of teenage boys just a few days earlier within the metropolis of Deraa over graffiti denouncing al-Assad.

A violent crackdown and repression by the federal government adopted. In July 2011, defectors from the navy introduced the formation of the Free Syrian Military, a insurgent group aiming to overthrow the federal government, turning the revolt right into a civil struggle.

Protests continued into 2012, and by 2013 varied insurgent teams emerged throughout the nation. Later that yr, ISIL (ISIS) emerged in northern and japanese Syria after overrunning giant parts of Iraq.

Interactive_Syria control mapMarch15_2023
(Al Jazeera)

Teams concerned

A wide range of actors are locked in an influence wrestle in Syria.

The Syrian authorities

Bashar al-Assad inherited his rule of Syria in 2000, taking on from his father Hafez al-Assad, who had been in energy since 1971.

He has dominated the nation with an iron fist and has a historical past of crackdowns on dissidents, utilizing chemical weapons towards his individuals and imprisoning and torturing hundreds.

Free Syrian Military (FSA)/Syrian Nationwide Military

The FSA is a free conglomeration of armed brigades shaped in 2011 by defectors from the Syrian military and civilians backed by Turkey and a number of other Gulf international locations.

For the reason that Battle of Aleppo in December 2016, the FSA has remained in charge of restricted areas of Idlib in northwestern Syria.

Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)

HTS was previously Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Jabhat al-Nusra shaped in Syria in 2011 as an al-Qaeda affiliate inside the opposition to the al-Assad authorities.

By January 2017, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham rebranded when it merged with a number of different teams to unite beneath the banner of Hay’at Tahrir-al Sham.

Presently, HTS maintains that it’s “an impartial entity that follows no organisation or social gathering”.


Hezbollah is a Shia armed group and a political pressure based mostly in Lebanon and backed by Iran. It moved into Syria to help al-Assad’s forces and at the moment controls no territory in Syria.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)

This alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias was based in 2015.

Its make-up largely consists of YPG fighters and smaller teams of Arab, Turkmen and Armenian fighters.

Turkey considers the YPG, which kinds the majority of the SDF forces, an extension of the PKK, which has waged an armed marketing campaign for independence towards the Turkish authorities that has killed greater than 40,000 individuals since 1984.

The primary cities beneath SDF management are Raqqa, Qamishli and Hasakkeh.


Predominantly identified for the brutality of its overseas fighters, organised authorities programs, and robust social media presence, ISIL rose to energy within the vacuum in Syria after 2012 as civil unrest grew. By 2014, it had captured vital land by pressure and declared the creation of a “caliphate”.

ISIL’s “caliphate” was destroyed in March 2019 however its re-emergence looms within the area. In 2014, on the peak of its energy, it managed roughly one-third of Iraq and Syria.


Russia has strongly backed the Syrian authorities, significantly following a request from al-Assad to intervene militarily in 2015, with opposition forces getting nearer to Damascus.

Russian forces stopped the opposition’s advance, however at a heavy value to civilians, with air assaults, specifically, killing civilians, and stories of hospitals hit.

Moscow is now deeply entrenched in Syria, with navy bases beneath its management, and a authorities that owes its survival to Russia.


Regardless of previously shut ties between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and al-Assad, Turkey rapidly swung behind the Syrian opposition in 2011 and have become a base for opposition figures.

Nonetheless, its predominant navy interventions in Syria have been aimed toward eradicating perceived threats to its personal inner safety.

The primary operation, in 2016, primarily focused ISIL (ISIS), however since then the main focus has been on the SDF/YPG. The operations have resulted in Turkey controlling giant components of northwestern Syria alongside the border, and Ankara continues to threaten one other operation to create a “protected zone” alongside the Turkey-Syria border.

United States

The US initially supported the Syrian opposition, with the intention of overthrowing al-Assad, however didn’t straight assault the Syrian authorities till a 2017 missile raid following a reported authorities chemical weapons assault on civilians.

Nonetheless, its predominant focus in Syria has been combating ISIL (ISIS), and, together with a coalition of allied international locations, started to assault ISIL, in addition to al-Qaeda affiliate forces, in Syria in 2014.

US forces proceed to patrol northeastern Syria alongside the SDF, which it backs. Forces additionally function out of Al-Tanf base, in southern Syria, the place it has educated opposition fighters.


Iran has been a long-time ally of al-Assad, and swung behind him as quickly because the protests started. Since then, the Iranian navy presence has grown in Syria, together with that of Iranian-trained fighters from international locations corresponding to Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. These forces have been instrumental in supporting the Syrian authorities, and have additionally been accused of human rights abuses.

The US additionally accuses Iran of backing militia teams which have performed assaults on US forces in Iran.

The injury of struggle


Aleppo was an industrial and financial hub in northwest Syria with almost three million inhabitants at its peak.

In December 2016, the Syrian military scored its greatest victory towards the rebels when it recaptured the strategic metropolis. The town had been divided and beneath insurgent management because the starting of the unrest in 2012.

A picture taken during a sandstorm shows destruction in the once rebel-held Karm al-Jabal neighbourhood in the northern city of Aleppo on March 10, 2017
An image taken throughout a sandstorm reveals destruction within the as soon as rebel-held Karm al-Jabal neighbourhood within the northern metropolis of Aleppo in 2017 [File: Joseph Eid/AFP]

Japanese Ghouta

Japanese Ghouta lies 10km (six miles) east of the capital, Damascus.

In 2018, after a fierce seven-week offensive that left a lot of town in ruins, the Syrian military regained management of areas that had been held by opposition fighters since 2012.

A member of Syrian forces of President Bashar al Assad stands guard in front of destroyed buildings in Jobar, eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria April 2, 2018
A member of the Syrian forces of President Bashar al-Assad stands guard in entrance of destroyed buildings in Jobar, japanese Ghouta, in 2018 [File: Omar Sanadiki/Reuters]


Raqqa, located on the Euphrates River in Syria’s north, was the primary governorate capital to fall beneath opposition management after the beginning of the Syrian rebellion in 2011. In 2014, town was captured by ISIL (ISIS), who declared it their capital.

Raqqa and plenty of villages and cities within the province have been devastated by US-led coalition air raids throughout the anti-ISIL operation between 2016 and 2017. In response to some estimates, between 70 and 80 % of town was destroyed and its infrastructure was virtually utterly worn out.

the remains of buildings line a street that was damaged last summer during fighting between U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and Islamic State militants, in Raqqa, Syria.
Raqqa was the scene of intense combating between the US-backed SDF and ISIL [File: Hussein Malla/AP]


A UNESCO World Heritage website in central Syria, Palmyra was captured twice by ISIL – first in Might 2015 after which once more in December the next yr.

The group destroyed a number of historical wonders together with the Temple of Bel, the Temple of Baal Shamin, the Arch of Triumph, and columns within the Valley of the Tombs.

In March 2017, the Syrian military, backed by allied forces and Russian warplanes, recaptured town.

A general view shows ruins in the historic city of Palmyra, Syria March 4, 2017.
ISIL destroyed a number of historical wonders in Palmyra [File: Omar Sanadiki/Reuters]

Deir Az Zor

In 2014, ISIL captured Deir Az Zor, an oil-rich governorate situated within the east of the nation bordering Iraq. The primary metropolis was taken by Syrian authorities forces with assist from the SDF in November 2017. It was ISIL’s final city stronghold within the war-torn nation.

A man walks near the ruins of a medical point south of Idlib. The building has two floors.
A person walks close to the ruins of a medical level south of Idlib [File: Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]


The governorate of Idlib on Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey is at the moment house to greater than three million individuals, the vast majority of whom are internally displaced. Syrian opposition forces have managed a lot of the world because the starting of the civil unrest, however the authorities has tightened the noose on it.

Devastating earthquakes

Compounding the struggling attributable to the struggle, lethal earthquakes, with their epicentre simply throughout the border in southeastern Turkey, destroyed huge swaths of northwestern Syria.

Civil defence employees used the abilities they’d discovered pulling individuals out of the rubble of buildings hit by air strikes to extract survivors within the aftermath of the earthquakes.

To date, greater than 7,200 persons are reported to have died in each authorities and opposition-controlled areas of Syria, though that quantity is anticipated to rise, particularly in opposition-controlled areas, which have been among the worst affected.

Al-Assad’s rehabilitation?

Having been frozen out by a lot of the worldwide group and by most Arab international locations after brutally attacking the Syrian opposition in 2011, al-Assad is slowly being rehabilitated by some Arab international locations.

The United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus in 2018, earlier than al-Assad was welcomed in Abu Dhabi in March final yr, his first official go to to an Arab nation because the outbreak of the struggle.

Many Arab international locations now appear to have accepted that al-Assad will keep in energy, and have stepped up efforts to convey him again into the fold after February’s earthquakes.

Visits to Syria by politicians from international locations corresponding to Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Oman have adopted, and there may be even discuss of Syria being readmitted into the Arab League.

That is an up to date model of an article first printed on March 15, 2021.

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