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Syria's Six-Year War, From Arab Uprising To Global Conflict -- WSJ

8 Apr 2017 6:32 am
By Karen Leigh, Raja Abdulrahim and Noam Raydan 

The conflict in Syria has claimed more than 400,000 lives and forced millions to flee their homes since it began more than six years ago. But President Bashar al-Assad has survived, retaining control of strongholds across the country.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday sharply escalated the country's involvement in Syria, ordering direct strikes on a military air base in retaliation for a supposed chemical weapons attack carried out earlier this week by the regime. As the move further complicates the battle, we look at other key moments in the conflict -- and those battling for supremacy.

A TIMELINE OF THE SYRIAN CONFLICT:

March 2011: Antigovernment demonstrations sweep across Syria, inspired by Arab Spring uprisings. Syrian regime violently cracks down on protesters, kicking off six-year civil conflict.

May 2011: The U.S. sanctions Mr. Assad and senior Syrian officials, an attempt to end escalating violence in the country.

August 2011: For the first time, U.S. President Barack Obama says Mr. Assad must step down. "We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way," Mr. Obama said. "He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside."

August 2013: A chemical attack on rebel-controlled Eastern Ghouta triggers calls for military action against Mr. Assad. Mr. Obama considers the move, but ultimately doesn't, triggering condemnation that his administration has been too soft on the regime.

September 2013: Mr. Obama says his oft-cited "red line" on Syria isn't a personal red line, but one established by the international community after banning the use of chemical weapons. "I didn't set a red line," he says. "The world set a red line."

October 2013: Syria officially joins the Chemical Weapons Convention, vowing to relinquish its chemical arsenal to avert threat of U.S. military action.

September 2015: Russia starts bombing raids, mostly targeting opposition rebels, across Syria in support of Mr. Assad and his beleaguered forces.

September 2016: The U.S. mistakenly strikes Syrian military personnel for the first time.

December 2016: The Syrian regime regains full control of Aleppo, stripping the opposition of its last major urban stronghold in the country in a significant symbolic and strategic blow.

April 2017: The U.S. strikes a Syrian air base with Tomahawk missiles, a retaliation for an alleged regime chemical attack in Idlib.

WHO IS WHERE IN SYRIA:

Russia: Russia's military operations in Syria are being carried out across the country by several thousand soldiers and personnel. They are based primarily at an air base at Hmeimim and a naval station at Tartus.

ISIS: Islamic State is currently facing pressure from a U.S.-backed military campaign to oust it from its stronghold of Raqqa. Last month, Syrian regime forces regained control of the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State for the second time. The Sunni Muslim extremist group maintains control of most of the oil-rich eastern province Deir Ezzour.

Iran: Iran has funneled arms and money to Syria in support of Mr. Assad almost from the conflict's outset, and began sending in military advisers from its Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2012. Its involvement has since increased, with thousands of Iranian troops and Shiite Muslim proxies coming to the regime's aid. Some Iranian forces withdrew in 2016 after suffering heavy battlefield losses, according to former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. There are no official figures on the size of its current deployment.

Hezbollah: Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, a key Iranian ally, has sent thousands of men to fight alongside Mr. Assad's forces -- although the size of its total force is uncertain. Hezbollah fighters played a major role in the regime's takeover of Aleppo late last year. Designated a terror group by Washington, Hezbollah also fights alongside Russian forces in Syria and trains some militias linked to the Assad regime.

Syrian government: The Syrian army is battling rebel groups on fronts across the country. In March, they repelled the most aggressive offensive in years by Damascus rebels on the outskirts of the capital, Mr. Assad's longtime stronghold.

Syrian opposition: Numerous rebel factions -- including the Syrian Conquest Front, formerly known as the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and designated a terrorist group by the United Nations and the U.S. -- oppose the Assad regime. In recent months, rebels suffered losses to the regime in Aleppo, Homs and around Damascus. On some fronts, various factions have joined together to combat the Syrian army and its allies.

--Asa Fitch and Thomas Grove contributed to this article.

Write to Karen Leigh at karen.leigh@wsj,com and Raja Abdulrahim at raja.abdulrahim@wsj.com
 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 08, 2017 02:32 ET (06:32 GMT)

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