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. At the beginning of 2018, they control about 55% of the country, including the major cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, and Hama 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, Aleppo, Sweida, Dara'a, Deir-ez-Zor, Hama, Homs, 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, Dara'a and Eastern Ghouta. 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, Homs, and southern Damascus.? 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 al Hasakeh, ar Raqqa, and Aleppo governorates since mid-2012. In mid-March 2016, they declared a federal region in northern Syria, reuniting three Kurdish zones in the area.?
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.? In December 2017, the Russian President announced a significant withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria. Despite this reduction, Russian naval and air bases are supposed to continue operating. Russian authorities had made similar announcement previously, but a significant reduction never followed.?
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.?
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 airstrikes against the Syrian government and Hezbollah positions in the Golan Heights, Quneitra governorate and in the south of Damascus. ?
In March 2017, China deployed troops to Syria to train members of the Syrian army and offer advice on medicine and logistics. This was the first time China has sent troops to the Middle East for any reason other than to protect ongoing commercial projects.?