For a more in-depth analysis of stakeholders, please check the Country Profile section
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) aims to regain territory taken by various armed groups since the conflict broke out in 2011 and to strengthen President Assad’s position. They launched a number of offensives and advanced in many areas in 2017 and 2018. They control over half of the country, including Damascus, Rural Damascus, and parts of Aleppo, Homs, and Hama governorates among others. The governmental strongholds include western parts of Syria bordering the Mediterranean Sea and Lebanon, namely Tartous and most of Lattakia, in addition to government-controlled areas in Al Hasakeh, Sweida, Dara, Deir-ez-Zor, and Idleb governorates. ?The Lebanese Hezbollah is fighting alongside the SAA. ?
Free Syrian Army (FSA) is a coalition of dozens of armed groups, with the common objective to oust Assad. This is not a homogeneous group. Some factions seek a secular state, while others are rooted in Sunni Islam. Their differences have caused infighting.?FSA is supported by Turkey and controls areas of Turkish influence in the north (Aleppo governorate) and pockets of territories across the country.?
Ahrar al-Sham (also known as the Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant) is a coalition of Salafist armed groups. They are ideologically close the Muslim Brotherhood.? Their main objective is the creation of an Islamist government in Syria, to replace al Assad's government. They often fight alongside the FSA.? In 2018 they merged with Nour al-Din al-Zinki in the northwest to challenge HTS.?
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) is an Islamist coalition including Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra. It formally split from al Qaeda in 2016, however reports of the group maintaining an allegiance to al Qaeda were raised in 2017. HTS has operations in Idleb, Aleppo, Quneitra, and Dara. They count around 31,000 fighters.?Since the end of 2017, they have been suffering losses in members and territory, due to the ongoing offensive and opposition infighting in Idleb.?
Islamic State (IS), now largely defeated, aimed to build an Islamic caliphate including but not limited to Syria. IS has lost most of the territory in al Deir-ez-Zor and Homs governorates in 2017, but remains in control of pockets of territory in Deir-ez-Zor, al-Hasakeh, and Dara.? IS is not part of any international negotiation.
People’s Protection Units (YPG): The YPG is a Kurdish armed group, and the main force in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). They seek to create an autonomous region in northern Syria, which would include parts of Aleppo, ar Raqqa and al-Hasakeh governorates, and possibly reach the Mediterranean Sea in the west.?It is excluded from the de-escalation agreement. Kurdish groups have been in de facto control of Kurdish zones in large areas of the northern parts of northern governorates since mid-2012. In mid-March 2016, they declared a federal region in northern Syria, reuniting three Kurdish zones in the area. In 2018, they have been challenged by Turkish intervention and ousted from Afrin, which has limited their presence in Aleppo.?
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF): The SDF is a multiethnic coalition of armed groups, led by the YPG.? The SDF has about 50,000 fighters.? With the support of the US-led coalition, they have been successful in taking control of large parts of territory in northern and eastern Syria from IS. SDF controls large parts of Al Hasakeh, ar Raqqa, Aleppo, and Deir-ez-Zor governorates and Raqqa city.?
Other armed groups are predominantly fighting to overthrow the Assad government, although the groups differ in their views of a new state. Islamist groups seek to establish a state based on Sharia law, while other groups are secular. A number of political and military alliances have been formed. ?
Russia and Iran are the main countries backing the Syrian government. Russia launched an air campaign on 30 September 2015. ? Iran has deployed ground troops since 2016.? Iran's involvement in the conflict aggravates the relationship with Israel, with tensions between two countries rising in 2018 leading to airstrikes and casualties.?
Turkey supports the FSA against the SDF and IS, mainly in Idleb and Aleppo governorates in northern Syria. Turkey has been expanding its presence in Aleppo and Idleb governorates since 2016 when they captured Jarabulus and nearby villages from the IS. In 2017, the Turkish army entered Idleb following the de-escalation agreement and has since been expanding its deployment into the governorate. In 2018 Turkish military advanced in northern Aleppo and gained control over Afrin district, ousting the SDF and Kurdish forces. ?
The US leads an international coalition to combat IS, set up in 2014. There are about 2,000 US ground troops to provide support to the SDF in their operation against the IS. The US has declared their intention to stay in Syria until it is certain IS is defeated, that stabilisation efforts can be sustained, and there is meaningful progress in UN-led peace talks on ending the conflict. ? US withdrew their financial support for the opposition in the south of Syria.? The US, France, and the UK conducted a series of airstrikes on governmental military positions in April 2018 in response to accusations of using chemical weapons in fighting against the opposition groups.?
Israel: Syria has been a stage for the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah since the beginning of Hezbollah's intervention in the Syrian conflict. Israel has conducted multiple airstrikes against the Syrian government and Hezbollah positions across the country, particularly in the Golan Heights, Quneitra governorate and in the south of Damascus.?