Who's fighting in the Syrian Civil War?

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

By Talal Arslan and Kyla Kelly

One of the reasons why the Syrian Civil War lingers on is the system of entangling alliances, and the large number of players, local and global, within the conflict. This short article aims at outlining who the main actors are. Keep in mind these are the main groups, and that other regional factions exist.

The main forces fighting in rebellion of the Syrian government include the FSA (Free Syrian Army), the U.S coalition (US, France, UK, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Italy, German, Denmark) , ISIS, YPG (Syrian Kurdish force) and PKK (Turkish Kurdish force)

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is an armed organization that opposes Bashar Al-Assad’s Ba’athist Regime. It was formed in 2011 by a group of military officials who had defected from the Syrian Army. However, members of the FSA now include fighters from Lebanon, Algeria, Jordan, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. Originally, the FSA assembled to defend civilian protesters from the government's repression, and targeted Assad’s command, control and logistics.

The U.S, along with several other members of NATO, have lead airstrikes and sent fighters to combat ISIS (located in Syria). Since 2014 The U.S. coalition has played a large part in fighting the Syrian civil war. In late 2019, U.S. President Trump decided to pull troops out of Syria, claiming to have defeated ISIS. The US coalition worked closely with the YPG, Syrian Kurds, to defeat ISIS in northern Syria. Most of the backlash President Trump received for pulling out troops in Syria was that the absence of American troops led YPG forces, US allies, to be vulnerable in the face of the remnant of ISIS forces as well as the Turkish central government that views the YPG as a terrorist organization. A couple weeks ago, the Turkish government sent troops into northern Syria, forcing many YPG Kurds and civilians to relocate. Fighting led to hundred of deaths.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started in 2013 with its beginning largely contested amongst historians, as to who mobilized them in Syria. ISIS’s main goal was to gain control of Syrian land, and subsequently create an islamic caliphate. By mid 2014, they controlled more than a third of Syria. defeating Jabhat al-Nusra (another islamist extremist group) in Deir Ezzor a small town with large natural resources. At their height, ISIS had control over most of Syria’s oil and gas production. However, in 2019 the Syrian Democratic Forces (a group made up of Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, and Turkmen fighters that want the defeat of ISIS and northern Syrian autonomy, not the defeat of Bashar Al-Assad) declared ISIS defeated after its last territory in Syria was taken.

One of ISIS’s major defeats was by The People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the 2014 Kobane siege. YPG is a group of opposition fighters mainly from the Kurdish territory of Syria. YPG was formed in 2004 after the Qamishli uprising. YPG have joined forces with those who are also in opposition to ISIS such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), based in Turkey and the US coalition.

Fighting on the side of the Syrian Government include Hezbollah, Russia and Iran. Hezbollah is a Iran funded, Shia'a group of forces that have fought in favor of the Syrian Ba’athist Party, ever since the beginning of the Syrian Conflict. It can be suggested that the Hezbollah forces (along with significant help from Russia) have enabled the Ba’athist Party’s regime to stay in power. In 2015, the Syrian government requested military aid from Russia. This aid includes airstrikes from Russia and armed equipment. In 2017, Russian President, Vladimir Putin (who has very strong relations with Bashar Al-Assad) decided to place troops permanently in Syria. Upgrading the Russian Naval Base in Tartus and adding three additional bases in other cities.

The Iranian and Syrian governments have been strong allies since 1979. Iran has given the Syrian government an array of technological, financial and logistical support throughout the Syrian Civil War till present. Overall, although many lives have been lost, forces on both sides are not backing down.

In this next article, writer Marwan Abdelhamid goes in detail about Russian influence in the Syrian Civil War.

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