The Syria conflict is a complicated one, with numerous groups engaged in combat. Their number and composition has changed since the conflict began seven years ago. But the source of the conflict is as old as time: A sectarian struggle for dominance.
Is Syria in a civil war?
It is accurate to say that Syria is in a civil war. Several ethnic groups are fighting to control territory within the country, with the help of international supporters.
Why is Syria in a civil war?
The Syrian conflict began during the pro-democracy "Arab Spring" movement of 2011. Hundreds of thousands of protesters hit the streets in favor of democratic reforms and against the autocratic rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. When Assad ordered police to crack down on the demonstrators, violence erupted. The fighting escalated and quickly became about more than Assad, with four factions fighting against each other, including:
• Supporters of al-Assad and the Syrian government, plus international allies Russia (which already had military bases in Syria) and Iran;
• Moderate Sunni Arab rebels including the Free Syrian Army (FSA), backed by the U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia;
• The mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which organized in late 2015, backed by the U.S., France, Turkey and the UAE;
• Fundamentalist Salafi jihadists including ISIS.
What is the status of the Syrian civil war?
Beginning in 2011, the United States and the United Nations have enacted economic sanctions on Syria to penalize al-Assad from using weapons against his own people. One of those attacks led to airstrikes by the U.S., France and the UK in March.
As of March 2018, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that more than 500,000 people have been killed in the civil war. The group estimates 353,900 deaths, including 106,000 civilians; 56,900 missing and presumed dead; along with 100,000 undocumented deaths. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country as of April 2018. More than 6.1 million people have been displaced but remain in Syria.
Even though ISIS had been nearly eliminated by 2017, there is no end to the conflict in sight. In March, retired NATO commander James Stavridis wrote in "Time" that the U.S. could help end the war by working with other countries to threaten sanctions on Russia and to help establish partitions in Syria. But the U.S. has not shown signs of a visible strategy.
"There will be no winners in the Syrian Civil War, and the reconstruction costs of returning the country to even a minimal level of functioning will be enormous," said Stavridis. "The Syrians will bear the costs of this debacle for decades to come."