Syria Map General 230119 CREDIT Bing

Syria - Who's Fighting Who?

A simple guide to understand the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Syria Map General 230119 CREDIT Bing

In March 2011, an uprising against the president of Syria quickly turned into a full-blown civil war.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an estimate of up to 560,000 died as a result of the conflict since 2011.

Millions of Syrian people were also internally displaced and almost as many are now international refugees.

Recently, the US involvement in Syria was discussed by both the US President and the American Vice President, but many other military forces are currently deployed in the region.

Here is our simple guide to the various forces involved in the conflict...

Syrian government

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (Picture: Kremlin).
The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (Picture: Kremlin).

The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad are fighting the Syrian rebels following their uprising in the Arab Spring of 2011.

The President’s initial aim was survival, but it is now to return the entirety of Syria to government control although this is unlikely to happen.


Syrian rebels

The Syrian rebels were trying initially to overthrow the Syrian Government – now they are fighting for their survival in enclaves surrounded by Syrian Government forces.



Kurdish YPG (Picture: Kurdishstruggle/Flickr).
Kurdish YPG (Picture: Kurdishstruggle/Flickr).

The Kurds - as the dominant part of the Syrian Democratic Forces - areusing the absence of an effective Syrian government to carve out the northern part of Syria to create a new Kurdish state.

The Kurds are playing the major role of the destruction of Daesh in Syria with US/UK support.



Islamic State militants (Picture: Picture Alliance / Abaca).
Islamic State militants (Picture: Picture Alliance/Abaca).

Daesh or Islamic State terror group used the power vacuum in Syria to attempt to create their own caliphate.

Daesh fight anyone who gets in their way but they do get support from individuals across some Islamic and Western countries.

The terror group now only control an increasingly small area in the Middle Euphrates River Valley referred to by the UK military as the “MERV”.



Russian President Vladimir Putin (Picture: PA).
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Picture: PA).

Russia is assisting the Syrian Government primarily with air support, bombing Syrian rebel positions.

The Russian air support primarily uses “dumb” bombs which results in higher rates of collateral damage and civilian deaths.



Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Picture: Kremlin).
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Picture: Kremlin).

Turkey supported the rebel forces uprising in 2011.

There is still a large enclave of rebel forces around the Syrian city of Idlib near the Turkish border.

The Turkish government is also not allowing the Kurds to create an autonomous state in Syria as they believe the Kurds will use it as a launch pad for Kurdish opposition groups in eastern Turkey.

The Turks have also shot down a Russian aircraft which strayed over its airspace in 2015 and carried out strikes on Daesh positions.


US and UK

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US President Donald Trump (Picture: UNTV).

The US and the UK (and other coalition partners) are assisting the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces with the destruction of Daesh in Syria.

They have also used ship launched missiles and air strikes against Syrian Government facilities when the Bashar al-Assad regime was suspected of carrying out chemical weapon attacks against Syrian opposition groups.

The key concern of a US military withdrawal from Syria is that Turkey will exploit the situation to attack the Kurds, which would be seen as a failure by the coalition to support its ally in the war against Daesh. 



Iran President Hassan Rouhani (Picture: Kremlin).
Iran President Hassan Rouhani (Picture: Kremlin).

Iran opposes Daesh, who they claim carried out a terrorist bombing on a military parade in the southern Iranian city of Ahvaz in September 2018.

Iran retaliated by firing missiles from the country, over Iraq into Southern Syria. The Iranian’s are also seeking to supply the Islamic military organisation Hezbollah in Lebanon with advanced missile systems via Syria.

Iran has a stated aim of overthrowing the Jewish government in Israel.



Israel President Benjamin Netanyahu (Picture: PA)
Israel President Benjamin Netanyahu (Picture: PA).

Israel sees Iran as the main threat to its existence.

Israel has carried out strikes against Iranian forces in Syria as it considers them as a threat on its doorstep and does not want them strengthening Syrian or Hezbollah military capacity.   

During raids on the Iranians in Syria, Israel has also launched strikes against Syrian air defence systems.

Israel has occupied the Golan Heights in southwestern Syria since the Six-Day War in 1967.