Image credit CIA world Factbook

By Kota Yanagidani

For years in Syria, since before Arab Spring raised movements all around the Middle East,  a rebel group has been fighting against the government controlled by Bashar Al-Assad. Thousands of people died, and millions fled the country. Now, the number of main fighting groups in Syria has grown to four: the government, the rebels, ISIS and Kurdish fighters. The activities of these multiple groups have resulted in civil war, making the situation much more complicated than before.

The rebel groups are multiple, but they are somehow united because of the common enemy: Bashar al-Assad, the president.

The Syrian civil war is, to put it simply, a never-ending war.

The Syrian government has been ruled by the Assad family since 1970. The former president, Hafez al-Assad, ruled the nation until 2000, when his son Bashar took control. Since then, the Syrian government has acted like a puppet government of Russia, and consequently it has been able totake advantage of Russian power for the presence in Syria.

Jaish al-Fateh is an alliance between the Nusra Front and Ahrar-al-Sham, two Syrian rebel groups that were independent of each other until the civil war brought them together. The U.S. has been training these groups to fight against Russia. Those rebels thrived and gained more members when Arab Spring occurred in 2011.

ISIS is, nonetheless, an unexpected power that came into Syria. Their ultimate goal is to build an Islamic State in the regions of Iraq and Syria. ISIS branched off from Al-Qaeda, and most of the founding members are from the former Iraqi government as well as private fighters who were put in prisons operated by American troops. The Iraq war developed their radical ideology and led a lot of soldiers to join the group. ISIS has an international presence today because of its strategy of using social media and international recruitment of soldiers. It is the third actor in the civil war.

The Kurds are a minority group, yet Kurdish rebel fighters are powerful enough to have an impact on the civil war. The government has discriminated against Kurds because of their ethnic, linguistic and religious differences. However, recent Turkish discriminatory actions against Kurdish people have strengthened their own ideology, and they are gaining power today. They reside in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria, and as a unique people are pursuing demands for an independent state. The rebel group sees the Kurdish fighters as an important factor in gaining victory over the government. Kurdish fighters have been sweeping ISIS from some areas since last year, when they declared their intention to oppose the group.

The Syrian civil war is, to put it simply, a never-ending war. At one point, the government led against the rebels; then, with the support of the U.S., the rebels pushed back the government. Russia then became a stronger presence in Syria to make sure the government would not be defeated.

So what’s the current situation in Syria?

Today, the most dominant group in Syria is still the Assad government, with its control of Aleppo and the west side of Syria including Damascus. Kurdish fighters are the second largest group in Syria today with their dominance of northern Syria. They swept ISIS out of the northern region, which ISIS used to control. ISIS is now as strong as the rebel group, and it has control of the center to the north of Syria including Raqqa that is currently the main headquarters for ISIS. The rebel group has gained power in the northwest.

Even though Kurdish fighters have been increasing their control, the government has been gaining its control over Syria.

Now, the new U.S. president, Donald Trump, is more likely to focus on ISIS, rather than training more rebel groups. On Feb 15, a defense official told CNN that the Defense Department might propose that the U.S. will send ground troops into northern Syria to finish up the fight against ISIS. If Trump is in favor of this tactic, which has been taboo among some European nations and Russia, American armed forces will join in the civil war as the fifth power group.

More and more civilians are fleeing Syria, and more and more fighters are coming into the country. Kurdish fighters are seeking an independent state; the rebel group is seeking a revolution against the government; Russia is maintaining its support for President Assad; and ISIS is trying to build a state from Iraq to Syria. The U.S. in any event is not giving up its presence on this war map and will be siding with the rebels or joining the fight as the fifth power.

The Syrian civil war reminds us of the Cold War era, but it is more complicated because of various competing groups. The U.S. will not be out of this civil war as long as Russia maintains its presence in Syria, and that’s why we still do not see peace, but blood.