Untangling the Overlapping Conflicts in the Syrian War

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1 MIDDLE EAST SHARE Untangling the Overlapping Conflicts in the Syrian War By SERGIO PEÇANHA, SARAH ALMUKHTAR and K.K. REBECCA LAI OCT. 18, 2015 What started as a popular uprising against the Syrian government four years ago has become a proto-world war with nearly a dozen countries embroiled in two overlapping conflicts: 1 A Civil War ALLIES Syrian government Russia, Iran, Hezbollah MAIN ADVERSARIES 2 Rebel groups United States, Turkey, A War Against ISIS ADVERSARIES Islamic State Foreign fighters ALLIES United States Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Jordan, The two conflicts have cast the United States and Russia as enemies in one war and nominal allies in the other. Kurds

2 Civil War Syrian government Rebel groups MAIN ADVERSARIES SECONDARY Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and local militias U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia and some Arab nations Islamic State Foreign fighters Rebel groups supported by the United States are focused on toppling the Syrian president, Bashar al-assad, not rooting out the Islamic State. The United States is focused on defeating the Islamic State. While it has attacked 2,600 Islamic State targets, it has not directly attacked the Syrian government and it is backing rebel groups only with money, arms and some training. Russia, Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah want to keep Mr. Assad in power, for now. Russia, in coordination with Syrian ground forces, has aimed the vast majority of its airstrikes at rebel positions. The Islamic State, meanwhile, wants to both unseat Mr. Assad and create a caliphate stretching beyond Syria s borders into Iraq and other countries. Syria s territory has been fragmented after four years of war. The government now controls only a fraction of the country.

3 Rebel groups made major gains in this area this year. TURKEY KURDISH CONTROL Hasaka Aleppo ISIS CONTROL Latakia Idlib REBEL CONTROL GOVERNMENT CONTROL S Y R I A Deir al-zour IRAQ Mediterranean Sea Homs Palmyra LEBANON The government lost Palmyra to ISIS in May. Sparsely populated areas ISRAEL Control as of Oct. 9 Government Rebel ISIS Kurds JORDAN 50 MILES Source: IHS Conflict Monitor Russian airstrikes, Sept. 30-Oct. 12 Aleppo

4 SYRIA Government areas Russian ground positions Russia has bases and advisers in several government-controlled locations. It has mainly targeted rebels in areas where the government had been losing ground. Aleppo SYRIA U.S.-made missiles spotted, Oct Rebel areas Rebels in areas targeted by Russian airstrikes have used antitank missiles made in the United States. Aleppo SYRIA Government areas Hezbollah presence in 2015

5 Iran s Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah have been advising and shoring up pro-assad forces since Aleppo Front lines of the four largest rebel groups SYRIA Rebel areas Most rebel groups supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are in western Syria. Sources: IHS Conflict Monitor (control areas and Hezbollah incidents); Institute for the Study of War (Russian ground positions); Carter Center (rebel front lines) War Against ISIS Islamic State United States MAIN ADVERSARIES Kurds

6 SECONDARY Foreign fighters Rebel fighters, Turkey, some Arab nations and other allies. Syrian government, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah The United States has been joined by Turkey and several Arab nations in its fight against the Islamic State. They all believe ISIS poses a threat to them in their own countries. Most people are realizing now that the best way of dealing with the Islamic State is to contain them, said Columb Strack, an analyst at IHS Janes, a defense research firm. If you contain them and start hitting their economic sources, the idea is that in a few years they will collapse from within. That seems what the Americans are going for. But because the war against the Islamic State is just one among many, cutting off the group s resources has been difficult. Porous Turkish borders and private Arab dollars have helped the Islamic State s rise. For Syria s allies, especially Russia, the Islamic State is just one of many insurgent groups that they have called terrorists. While some Russian airstrikes have hit areas controlled by the Islamic State, most have targeted rebels groups.

7 Kurdish ground forces have been America s main partner in the war against ISIS in Syria. But the partnership poses delicate problems for the United States. Kurdish fighters Islamic State MAIN ADVERSARIES ALLIES TENSE RELATIONS United States CONCERN Rebel fighters ALLIES Turkey Syrian government Nearly 30 million Kurds live in territories divided across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and they want more autonomy in those countries, or even a state of their own. The conflict in Syria has given them an opening toward achieving those goals. American airstrikes against the Islamic State, coordinated with Kurdish fighters, have helped the Kurds seize a broad stretch of territory along the Turkish border. Those gains have increased tensions with Turkey, a major American ally, which has been fighting a bitter war with Kurdish separatists for decades. Kobani has been the focal point of the U.S.-Kurdish battle with ISIS. American airstrikes have hit more than

8 1,000 targets there, almost half of all their strikes in Syria, helping the Kurds push back ISIS in the north. U.S. airstrike locations Kobani Kurdish territorial gains since January Hasaka Aleppo Latakia S Y R I A Deir al-zour Homs Palmyra ISIS areas Sources: IHS Conflict Monitor (control areas); U.S. Central Command (airstrikes) In Overlapping Wars, the Danger of a Collision As their offensives cross paths, all of these run the risk of their battles colliding. Experts say a misguided attack or an errant airstrike could escalate Syria s two wars and lead to an even wider international conflict. United States vs. Russia

9 Russian airstrikes have hit rebel groups supported by the United States and its allies. Russian cruise missiles have crossed areas where American jets have been flying. Turkey vs. Kurds Turkey has attempted to hinder Kurdish advances in Syria and is bombing Kurdish rebels in its own territory, despite saying that Turkey shares the American and Kurdish goal of defeating ISIS. Iran vs. Saudi Arabia Iran and Hezbollah, Shiite allies of the Syrian government, are fighting rebel groups supported by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations. Additional reporting by Maher Samaan MORE More on NYTimes.com New U.S.-Backed Alliance to Counter ISIS in Syria Falters NOV. 3, 2015 Iran Says It May Quit Talks on Syria Over Saudis Role NOV. 3, 2015 Iran and Russia support President Bashar al-assad of Syria, while the United States and Saudi Arabia support an...

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