Since 2011, the Syrian civil war has attracted the attention of the entire global community. It all began when pro-democracy demonstrations began in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s administration. The cause of the demonstrations lie with the high unemployment rates amid reports of government corruption and political tyranny. Assad’s administration responded by threatening to end the revolt by crushing “foreign-backed terrorism”. Soonafter, military defectors formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with the plan to overthrow Assad’s government in July 2011.
Islamic sects have also had a prominent role in the conflict. Although the majority of the Syrian population are Sunni Muslims, Assad is a member of the Alawi sect, who dominates the Syrian security sector. This has contributed to how regional players, in addition to ISIL and al-Qaeda, have entered the picture. According to Al-Jazeera reports, “The governments of majority -Shia Iran and Iraq, and Lebanon-based Hezbollah, have supported Assad, while Sunni-majority countries, including Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have supported anti-Assad rebels from the Free Syrian Army.”
The United States’ known involvement began when the Obama administration armed the FSA and led an international coalition in bombing ISIL targets in 2014. However, the U.S. began covert operations led by the CIA in 2013 with the purpose of arming, funding and training the FSA, but ended the operations after spending over $500 million training 60 rebel fighters. Although President Obama issued a warning of military intervention if the use of chemical weapons ensued, the American military did not launch any military action until April 2017.
The conflict has caused an even greater chasm between the U.S. and Russian governments. The U.S. and other Western powers have accused Russia of being a major factor in why peace talks have been largely unsuccessful. Russia and China have continuously vetoed Western-backed resolutions issued on Syria. Russia has held talks to broker a peace deal which, in appearance, seemed to be a power play to undercut any UN efforts.
As a result, the conflict continues today. There have been differing reports on the casualty and refugee estimates. The Violations Documentation Center reported in February 2018 that there were 185,980 battle-related deaths, including 119,200 civilians. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported last month that:
- 353,900 people have died, including 106,000 civilians,
- 56,900 people are missing and presumed dead, and
- 100,000 deaths have not yet been documented.
On this past Saturday, news reports of a chemical gas attack in Douma were issued. Syria and Russia denies any action related to this incident; however, pictures of dead and injured victims soon surfaced around the world. The global community largely condemned the attacks and have since been working diligently to address the attacks through aggressive international military intervention. President Trump warned Russia, Iran and Syria that there would be “a big price to pay” and informed the press corps on Monday that the U.S. would be responding within a 24-48 hour window.
In the final analysis, the U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict has further increased tensions with the Russian government. As the conflict continues, the gulf will continue to increase as it has become paired with the current political issue of the probe into the Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. Rising concerns among U.S. officials have been working diligently to keep President Trump focused on his presidential responsibilities amid the constant turmoil that continues to plague his administration. In the meantime, the world will continue to watch as the international showdown continues to unfold.
Sean Mungin, author of “The Thorn In The Flesh”