Civil War in Syria

Civil War in Syria

Intensification of the Syrian civil war resulting from increased external support for warring parties, including military intervention by outside powers


What began as civil violence against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in 2011 has escalated into a full-scale war with spillover into neighboring states. Since the start of the war, more than 200,000 people have been killed and 7.6 million have been internally diplaced.

The conflict has drawn in external powers, including Gulf countries supporting the groups fighting against Assad, and Russia and Iran supporting the Syrian government. The United States has also joined the conflict as it has intensified. The Geneva II peace process, a UN-backed conference aimed at facilitating a political transition, has collapsed as opposition groups and the Syrian regime struggle to find acceptable terms for resolving the conflict. 

Ongoing instability has enabled the expansion of powerful jihadist elements. The self-declared Islamic State, most notably, has captured extensive territory in Syria, perpetrated shocking violence against Shias, Christians, and fellow Sunnis, and beheaded captives from the United States, United Kingdom, and France.

With the support of Arab partners, the United States has conducted air strikes against Islamic State targets, as well as the al-Qaeda-affiliated Khorasan Group. The U.S. Senate also approved a government spending bill that gave President Obama the authority to create a controversial training program for elements of the moderate Syrian opposition, but the rebels have struggled to counter the advances of the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda–affiliated Nusra Front.

Thus far, the Obama administration has ruled out the possibility of using U.S. airstrikes to target Assad or sending U.S. ground troops to the region as part of the campaign against the Islamic State. Yet ongoing violence could create a safe haven for other extremist groups active in Syria, such as the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front and Hezbollah. Deep sectarian divisions within Syria, regional power rivalries, and spillover into neighboring states make a resolution to the Syrian conflict all the more distant.

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