20:46 GMT29 May 2020
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    The war in Syria with each passing day becomes less comprehensible even for Syrians. To date, there is no united front. There are a few hundred different militant groups fighting the Syrian government and each other. There are also foreign forces who are also involved in the conflict.

    Sputnik takes a look at who is fighting who in Syria and who are the main forces in the war-torn country.

    Half a Kingdom of Assad

    One of the main parties involved in the conflict since its inception, are the legitimate Syrian authorities led by President Bashar Assad. Just a year or two ago, it seemed like the country was on a verge of collapsing: the opposition and extremist groups seized several large cities, controlled all of the oil fields and key infrastructure of the country.

    There were rumors that Assad was negotiating for a political asylum abroad. The government’s army suffered enormous damage, from its pre-war days of having 325,000 soldiers dwindled to only 100,000.

    However, with the support of Russian Aerospace Forces, which began conducting sorties in September 2015, Damascus managed to reverse the situation and take back all key areas.

    Currently, the Syrian Army controls a total of about 40-45% of the country, including all major cities of Damascus, Latakia, Tartous, Homs, Hama, Aleppo (60%), Deir ez-Zor and Daraa (50%).

    Second Life of the “Free Syrian Army”

    Another party to the conflict is the so-called Syria's moderate opposition. At the beginning of combat operations its main striking force was the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), which for a time being united almost all of the anti-government factions.

    Support for the “moderate” Syrian opposition was openly declared by Britain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the US, Turkey and France. The opposition received solid help in terms of weapons, equipment and vehicles. The volume of this aid is estimated to be of several hundred million dollars.

    However, external support has not helped to preserve the unity of the Syrian opposition. Within just a few years of the conflict, the opposition split into separate groups and lost its role as the main combatant against the Syrian government, giving way to various extremist and terrorist groups.

    In fact, with the advent of Daesh and al-Nusra Front the “moderate” opposition and the FSA, in particular, ceased to exist as an independent armed group with a centralized command.

    Rebel fighters from the First Regiment, part of the Free Syrian Army, prepare to fire a Grad rocket from Aleppo's Al-Haidariya neighbourhood, towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stationed in Talet al-Sheikh Youssef, Syria May 29, 2016
    © REUTERS / Abdalrhman Ismail
    Rebel fighters from the First Regiment, part of the Free Syrian Army, prepare to fire a Grad rocket from Aleppo's Al-Haidariya neighbourhood, towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stationed in Talet al-Sheikh Youssef, Syria May 29, 2016

    Today, under the banner of the “Free Syrian Army” there are more than 60 groups fighting. According to the Syrian military intelligence, almost all of them are either under the banner or control of al-Nusra Front.

    Currently, fighters of the Free Syrian Army are participating in the Turkey-led operation in Syrian north. They have recently liberated the city of Jarablus on the Turkish-Syrian border.

    Most Dangerous Terrorist Groups

    The most serious opponent to the Syrian government forces are two groups which have been banned in several countries, including Russia. These groups are Daesh and al-Nusra Front.

    Daesh which was created on the basis of Iraq’s al-Qaeda in 2006 has managed to become one of the major threats to global security. Its terrorists managed to capture large areas of Iraq and Syria.

    Daesh is one of the richest terrorist organizations with a budget of 2.3 billion dollars. The terrorist group replenishes its assets by a million dollars daily via speculation on the black market for oil.

    The exact number of terrorists in Daesh is not precisely known but according to rough estimates, it amounts to 250-400 thousand people. The group controls about 35-40% of Syrian territory. However, for the most part it is a desert (north of Homs, part of Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor, Al-Hasakah).

    No country has expressed open support for Daesh, due to obvious reasons but according to sources, there are a number of countries in the region collaborating with Daesh, in particularly, the oil trade.

    Fighters from Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front drive in armed vehicles in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo as they head to a frontline. (File)
    © AFP 2020 / Fadi al-Halabi / AMC
    Fighters from Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front drive in armed vehicles in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo as they head to a frontline. (File)

    Al-Nusra Front was established in early 2012 also under al-Qaeda’s umbrella. It is known as one of the most aggressive groups against Assad’s government. Numerous suicide attacks, massacres of civilians, capturing of soldiers and other war crimes were carried out by this group over the last few years.

    In the summer of this year, al-Nusra announced that it wanted to separate from al-Qaeda and rename itself to “Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.”

    Kurds on Three Fronts

    One of the most capable local forces of the Syrian conflict are the Kurds. First, they fought in the ranks of the Free Syrian Army, but soon decided to act independently.

    Syrian Kurds make up about 10% of the total population and live mainly in the north of Syria.

    The main military wing of the Syrian Kurds is the People's Protection Units. According to some reports there are about 50,000 people serving in it. One of the biggest successes of Kurdish self-defense forces was the release of the city of Manbij from under Daesh control.

    The Kurds destroyed the largest stronghold of terrorists with air support from the international coalition led by the United States. Currently, the Kurdish forces are on the offensive north of Aleppo province.

    Kurdish Peshmerga fighters pose for a picture during a break in fighting against Islamic State (IS) group on November 8, 2014 in the Syrian besieged border town of Ain al-Arab (known as Kobane by the Kurds)
    © AFP 2020 / AHMED DEEB
    Kurdish Peshmerga fighters pose for a picture during a break in fighting against Islamic State (IS) group on November 8, 2014 in the Syrian besieged border town of Ain al-Arab (known as Kobane by the Kurds)

    The situation of the Kurds is further complicated by the fact that they actually have to fight on three different fronts. They are fighting against the Islamists, Free Syrian Army and simultaneously controlling actions of Turkey, which considers the Kurds as a terrorist unit.

    Russian Presence Yields Results

    Despite the withdrawal of almost all of Russian military, its presence in Syria is one of the determining factors of the crisis. Russia has not abandoned its commitments to supply the Syrian government with weapons, military equipment and training of military specialists who are still working on the Hmeymim airbase and at the logistics center in Tartous.

    Sukhoi Su-25 ground-attack planes of the Russian Aerospace Forces prepare to depart from the Hmeimim airbase in Syria for their permanent location in Russia
    Russian Defense Ministry
    Sukhoi Su-25 ground-attack planes of the Russian Aerospace Forces prepare to depart from the Hmeimim airbase in Syria for their permanent location in Russia

    During the military operation from September 2015 to March 2016 the Russian Air Force conducted more than nine thousand sorties. As a result of these strikes they hindered and in some places completely put an end to the terrorists.

    With the help of the Russian Aerospace forces, Syrian troops liberated 400 settlements, including ancient Palmyra and more than 10 thousand square kilometers of Syrian territory. The operation also forced the opposition to start peace negotiations with the Syrian authorities to resolve the crisis through political means.

    Coalition Predicament

    While the United States prefers to act within the international coalition created by them, the Russian side pointed out that these actions cannot be considered legitimate from an international law perspective because the United States did not receive permission for operations in Syria neither from the UN Security Council nor from Damascus.

    However, the US received support from more than 60 countries. Some of them were mainly states of the regions who are involved in combat missions in Syria.

    Significant funds were allocated for the coalition. As of August 31, 2015, the cost of the campaign against Daesh was estimated at 3.87 billion dollars. However, the real cost remain unclear.

    There is no concrete information with sufficient proof regarding how many terrorists have been killed. It also remains unclear how many civilians have been killed at the hands of this coalition.

    Just once did the allies plead guilty in the deaths of Syrian civilians, when in September 2014, two children were killed in Syria. Independent journalists belonging to Airwars Group in August 2015 published data showing that 450 civilians, including 100 children had been the victims of the coalition airstrikes.

    Likewise, the Guardian newspaper cited data of US Central Command, admitting that in the course of 71 airstrikes there could have been civilian casualties.

    There have been a lot of disagreements within the coalition itself. In recent years, there have been more and more discrepancies between its members, especially between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

    Turkey’s Operation

    At the end of summer, the Syrian territory saw another active independent combatant. The Turkish Army started operation Euphrates Shield in nothern Syria on August 24.

    According to Ankara, within 15 days, the Turkish army eliminated 110 members of Daesh terrorist organization. Turkey also declared its readiness to work together with the US in the city of Raqqa, advocating a no-fly zone over Syria.

    However, the actions of Ankara were not met with understanding in Syria. In Damascus, the Turkish operation was called a violation of sovereignty. It was reported that the Turkish military was aimed mostly against the Kurdish fighters.

     A Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jet
    © AP Photo / Anatolia, Kenan Gurbuz
    A Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jet

    The representatives of the Kurdish forces, in turn, called the actions of the Turkish Army as aggression directed primarily against the Kurds.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry also expressed concern regarding Turkey’s actions in Syria. According to the ministry, Turkey’s actions could further complicate the military and political situation in Syria and uproot the international efforts to work toward a truce in Syria.

    Some experts expressed their view on Turkey’s involvement in Syria. “Statements are statements, but the main thing is what is happening on the ground. Turkey gave up Aleppo. It was their key asset in the non-Kurdish part of Syria. In return, they receive Russian gas, improved trade relations, rejection of Kurdish support and an agreed Turkish security zone. It is a good bargain and Erdogan received some good bonuses,” expert Dmitry Evstafiev commented.

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    Tags:
    anti-Daesh coalition, Russian aerial campaign, crisis, war, Daesh, Al-Nusra Front, Free Syrian Army (FSA), Bashar al-Assad, Syria
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