The Syrian situation is fascinating. It is the current hot zone for the covert struggle between world leaders. But since our media has, of course, failed to report on anything approaching a balanced or informative breakdown of the situation, an overview of what is actually happening is in order.
The current conflict started with the Arab Spring events of 2011. Rioters attacked government buildings, stealing weapons and engaging in deadly fights with police. The country began splitting along pro-government and opposition lines. Rioters formed armed militias and were joined by large factions of military defectors. These groups were bolstered by outside agents who wanted to see the Syrian government overthrown including Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and later the US. These insurgent groups fight under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and control huge portions of the country.
The Government (SAA) controls the capital and much of the central country. The way things are going things look good for them, and unless something radical happens Assad’s regime will likely not be toppled by its current enemies.
In 2013 ISIS formally entered the fray. Known before simply as ISI, for the Islamic State of Iraq, they then became ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. They entered from Iraq, to the east of Syria and made rapid gains, laying waste to everything in their path.
The fourth major player are the Kurdish coalitions in the north of the country, who largely united under the YPG banner, otherwise known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). They united to defend their territory from ISIL and carve out a state of their own.
With four factions involved, things get murky. The government is fighting against everyone, as is ISIS. The Kurds and opposition forces have achieved an alliance of sorts although it isn’t very rigid, and are both fighting ISIS and the government. This is what the current conflict looks like. Red are SAA (government forces), green are opposition forces (FSA), yellow are Kurdish forces (SDF) and black are ISIL.
To give an idea how things have progressed over the last couple years, here is a comparison map of January 2015 and July 2017:
The Kurds have had great success gaining territory for themselves and were the first group to be able to consistently repel ISIS, their reward being control of the North of the country. The SAA and FSA have continued intensive back and forth of territory. ISIS is swirling the drain as they lose ground in both Syria and Iraq. The blue dots are ceasefires.
In order to better understand the situation a deeper understanding of the various players and their personal motives is necessary.
The president of Syria is Bashar Al-Assad. He is the democratic heir to Syria and attended post secondary education in England where he adopted some Western values. His government considers itself secular. Under his rule Syria allowed women to attend college and kept religious extremism in line. He represents Ba’athist Muslims and religious minorities, which account for about 30% of the country, the rest being Sunni. Some criticize him for war crimes in his actions during the civil war while others claim those were fabrications.
Russia and Iran
Both countries are longtime allies of the Syrian government. In this conflict Iran has given the government over a billion dollars in aid. Russia has been allies with Syria since after the second world war and considers them an important regional friend. Russia has been the primary backer of the government in the civil war, providing them with military and financial support.
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel
Qatar and Saudi Arabia are rich gulf states who benefit from the fall of a regional opponent and its replacement with an ideological ally. Within the first few years of the conflict Qatar had given billions in aid and weapons to Syrian rebels and offered significant rewards to government soldiers willing to defect to the FSA. Saudi Arabia likewise provided weapons to rebels and even offered death row inmates immunity if they would go fight the government in Syria.
Qatar in particular wants to overthrow Syria as the Syrian government blocked construction of an oil pipeline from Qatar which would have given them direct access to the European market. Russia stepped in to protect its monopoly on European sales of fuel, thus creating their current proxy war.
Israel meanwhile wants to become the regional supremacist. They pushed for the war in Iraq and are currently trying to get the US involved against Iran. They want us to do their dirty work because they want their regional opponents toppled. They are working as well to finance the “opposition.”
Turkey has also allied itself with the Syrian opposition, allowing them to operate within their borders and conduct attacks from there as well as supplying them with funding and weapons. This has led to a tense situation between Turkey and Russia, as they are fighting direct proxy wars against each other which sometimes spill over such as Turkey recently shooting down a Russian jet and killing the pilot.
In addition to ISIS there are other radical groups fighting alongside them in the hopes of achieving a fundamentalist Sunni state, the largest being Jabhat -al Nusra. Many are simply ISIS of another name, having been rebranded for public perception. They are being supported by jihadists around the world, with an estimated two thirds of ISIS’s 30,000 Syrian fighters being foreigners. They are being funded by radical Islamic states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. What they have in common is they are all Wahhabists. This is a radical form of Sunni Islam that preaches global jihad and strict Sharia. Anytime you hear about radical Muslims they are likely Wahhabi.
ISIS was formed in the aftermath of the third gulf war. After the US disbanded the Iraqi Republican Guard, local Al Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood, and other extremists grew strong, and Al Qaeda leaders formed an offshoot that became the Islamic State of Iraq.
The United States is nominally at war with both ISIS and in opposition to the government. This has created a difficult situation to balance. Obama’s reaction to ISIS was anything but definitive, and his strategy largely consisted of limited strikes to try to funnel ISIS towards governmental forces, rather than to obliterate them. This policy did little to stop ISIS which continued to advance, claiming more land and enforcing their brutal policies and destruction on all those in their path.
Despite the faults of Assad it was clear that ISIS was the far greater evil. Likewise there’s little cause to think the “moderates” we allied ourselves with are a better solution, themselves having plenty of heinous crimes on their head. It’s not clear at all they are preferable to the present regime.
One problem that would occur should the FSA opposition forces gain control of the counry is that they are almost entirely Sunni, whereas government forces are Sunni, Shia, and minority groups such as Christian, Druze, and Assyrian. The government’s involvement protecting these groups has likely been the only thing keeping them safe and represented against the Sunni majority. Were the country ruled by a united Sunni government the 30% of it that is not Sunni would be in very big trouble.
Because of the complex geopolitical factors at play the USA’s role in this is very muddled. The Deep State has wanted to overthrow Assad because they are in a perpetual proxy war with Russia, because reasons, and because that’s kind of what we do, overthrow democratically elected leaders in the Middle East so we can keep the war machine going.
The US has long known that Sunni gulf states like Saudi Arabia have supported terrorism. This conflict is no different. They have been linked to giving thousands of weapons and millions in aid to ISIS. Another reason why Trump’s push for energy independence isn’t just important but is necessary. These countries have grown immensely wealthy off the sale of oil to Western nations and that money has done much to continue the spread of radical Islamic violence.
Trump has given us a few scares where it looked like he was going to cave to the neo-cons and turn Syria into the new Iraq. However he has done more to fight ISIS and exert pressure against the gulf states (he recently gave a speech to Qatar about how it was time to clamp down on terrorism) as well as establishing much needed safe zones. The safe zones and cease fires are crucial as a beginning to the end in Syria.
Remember, it costs 12 times more to relocate a “Syrian” “refugee” to the West than to a safe zone in the Middle East. So the sooner we can decrease the fighting and maintain cease fires the sooner we can stop this charade of pretending the orc invasion of Europe is in any way related to offering refuge.
Trump has certainly done more to fight ISIS than the former president and his strategy of half assed semi involvement. Compare the maps from September of 2016 to now:
Pressure exerted by Trump against their backers as well as lessening of build up against Assad and increased direct action (MOAB) have all been a good first step. Regardless of who you believe to be the lesser of the evils it is clear who the greatest are.