In Depth

How did the Syrian Civil War start?

Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria hampers the fight against Islamic State

Islamic State are “re-surging” in Syria just months after Donald Trump claimed the terrorist group were “100% defeated”, according to a Pentagon report.

“Despite losing its territorial ‘caliphate’, Isis solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was re-surging in Syria,” the report warns.

Trump told his Cabinet last month “We did a great job with the caliphate. We have 100% of the caliphate, and we're rapidly pulling out of Syria.”

But the part-withdrawal of around 2,000 US troops from Syria has already made taking the fight to the last of Isis hard, according to CNN.

The Independent reports that since March this year, Isis has established “resurgent cells” in Syria and carried out assassinations, suicide attacks, abductions and arson of crops.

The dwindling numbers of US troops has left its regional allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces, with “limited capacity to hold liberated areas”.

At its peak, Isis “held large swaths of Iraq and Syria - an expanse about the size of Portugal”, says CNN.

The Syrian Civil War is now in its ninth year - but how did the bloody conflict begin?

Protests

Inspired by the so-called Arab Spring uprisings in neighbouring countries, thousands of Syrians took to the streets in March 2011 for protests, demanding democratic reform and the release of political prisoners. Demonstrations in Damascus, Aleppo and Daraa were met with deadly force by the authorities. The unrest spread, with police and security forces using physical force, tear gas, water cannon and live rounds against protesters in a bid to crush the dissent. Tens of thousands were arrested amid growing calls for the resignation of Bashar al-Assad, whose family has ruled Syria since 1971, the violence continued to escalate and protesters began taking up arms.

Opposition rises

During the summer of 2011, the opposition became better equipped. The “first significant armed resistance” of the crIsis came in June, when a local insurrection was mounted near the border with Turkey, according to the Institute for the Study of War: angry protesters set fire to a building in the city of Jisr al-Shughour, killing eight security officers, and took control of a police station. The Assad regime pushed the opposition out of the region, using tanks and artillery, but armed resistance continued. Defecting Syrian army officers formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA), with the goal of bringing down the government. However, the armed opposition soon came to be dominated by Islamist militia groups, as Islamic State strengthened its hold throughout the region.

Civil war

On 12 June 2012, the United Nations officially declared Syria to be in a state of civil war, following the failure of an attempted ceasefire in April. The war has grown ever more complicated, and more deadly, over time, with opposition groups mushrooming across the country, and rivalries and allegiances shifting daily. The nine-year conflict has seen the death of hundreds of thousands of people, the rise of Isis, the deployment of nerve agent against civilians and rebel forces, and a series of overlapping proxy wars between world powers.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that as of 2018, 367,965 people have been killed as a result of fighting in the country, and a further 192,035 are missing, presumed dead.

The collapse of Isis has made the war even more complicated, with a higher number of smaller factions now filling the vacuum the terrorist group left behind.

The war has also been exacerbated by external forces with irreconcilable intentions. Russia and Iran have backed Assad’s regime with military strikes, troops, and billions of dollars, reports the BBC.

The UK, along with the US and France, provided support for some groups rebelling against the Assad regime, but have increasingly pulled away over concerns about their links to jihadis.

A global coalition led by US forces has carried out airstrikes against Isis fighters in Syria and helped the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) capture former Isis territory.

Turkey has supported the rebels in an effort to contain Kurdish forces they view as terrorists. Saudi Arabia and Israel have provided arms and finance in a bid to curb Iran’s power in Syria.

With so many competing factions, it is no surprise that this is a war with no end in sight.

What does this mean for Syrians?

As well as an estimated death count of over half a million, the war has left 1.5 million people with permanent disabilities, including 86,000 who have lost limbs, reports the BBC.

As of March this year, around 5.7 million Syrians have been forced out of their country says the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and a further 6.1 million people are displaced within Syria.

And according to a UN report issued in February this year, there are 13 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance, of which 5.2m are in need of acute assistance.

From 2014 to 2017, more than 919,000 Syrians applied for asylum in the EU.

Recommended

Quiz of The Week: 14 - 20 May
Speculation is mounting over the publication date of Sue Gray’s Partygate report
Quizzes and puzzles

Quiz of The Week: 14 - 20 May

Nato’s renaissance: how the world’s most powerful military alliance has taken centre stage
Long table of men at Nato summit
In Depth

Nato’s renaissance: how the world’s most powerful military alliance has taken centre stage

Curtailing abortion rights: will Republicans rue their victory?
Students protest anti-abortion measures
Talking point

Curtailing abortion rights: will Republicans rue their victory?

How the Taliban is rolling back the freedoms of the past 20 years
A burqa-clad woman
In Brief

How the Taliban is rolling back the freedoms of the past 20 years

Popular articles

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths
Vladimir Putin has previously deployed ‘extreme measures’ to crush opposition
Why we’re talking about . . .

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths

Depp v. Heard: what the latest battle has revealed
Amber Heard
In Depth

Depp v. Heard: what the latest battle has revealed

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?
Vladimir Putin
Why we’re talking about . . .

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?

The Week Footer Banner