Syria’s war is a mess, after 6 years the conflict is divided between four sides, each side having foreign backers. These foreign backers do not even agree with each other for whom they are fighting for and who they are fighting against. Now, Syria’s use of chemical weapons has provoked President Donald Trump to directly attack Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. This is a major development as the US for years, has focused only on fighting the ISIS. To understand the criss-crossing interventions and battle lines in Syria today and how US got involved in it, let’s go back and understand how it unfolded.
The first shots in the war were fired in March 2011, by Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad against peaceful Arab spring demonstrators. In July the protestors start shooting back, and even some troops from the Syrian army join them. They called themselves the Free Syrian Army and thus, the uprising turned into civil war. Extremists from around the region started travelling to Syria to join the rebels. – Assad actually encouraged this by releasing jihadi prisoners to tinge the rebellion with extremism, making it harder for foreign backers to support them. In January 2012, Al-Qaeda formed a new branch in Syria called, Jabhat Al- Nusra. Also around that time Syrian Kurdish groups who had long sought autonomy, take up arms and informally secede from Assad’s rule in the north. That summer Syria turned into proxy war. Iran, Syria’s most important ally, intervenes on its behalf. By the end of 2012 Iran was sending daily cargo flights and hundreds of officers. At the same time, oil rich Arab countries on the Persian Gulf begin sending money and weapons to the rebels, mainly to counter Iran’s influence.
Iran steps up its influence in mid-2012, when a Lebanese militia backed by Iran, invades to fight along Assad. In turn the Gulf States respond, especially Saudi Arabia by sending more money and weapons to support the rebels, through Jordan, who also opposed Assad.
By 2013, the Middle East is divided between Sunni powers generally supporting the rebels and Shias generally supporting Assad. That April the Obama administration, horrified by Assad’s atrocities and mounting death toll, signs a secret order authorizing the CIA to train and equip Syrian rebels. But the program stalls. At the same time US quietly urges Arab Gulf States to stop funding extremists, but their request goes unheeded.
In august the Assad regime uses chemical weapons provoking condemnation around the world. ‘Men, women and children lying in rows- killed by poison gas, it is in the national security interest of the US to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a repeated military strike’, responded Obama.
Russia proposed that Syria surrender control over its military weapons to the international community for its eventual dismantling, to avoid US military strike.
US backs down under a Russia brokered deal, but the incident establishes Syria as a great powers dispute, between America and Russia, with Russia backing Assad and America opposing it.
Just weeks later, the first American CIA training and arms reach Syrian rebels. Making USA a participant of the war.