Civil War in Syria

Civil War in Syria

Intensification of the Syrian civil war including possible limited military intervention


The civil war in Syria that began in 2011 with anti-regime protests shows no sign of abating as opposition groups continue to battle government forces and militant groups allied with them. Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad was reelected in June 2014—receiving 88.7 percent of the vote—but voting was conducted only in areas that were government-controlled. Over the last three years, More than 160,000 people have been killed, nearly 6.5 million have been internally displaced, and more than 2.8 million have fled as refugees to neighboring countries. 

The country is increasingly divided along sectarian lines. Fighting has spilled over into Lebanon and Iraq, particularly with militant jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) taking control of major cities in Iraq. The Geneva II peace process, a UN-backed conference aimed at facilitating a political transition, has proven unsuccessful so far, as opposition groups and the Syrian regime struggle to find acceptable terms for resolving the conflict. This failure to find peace also led to the resignation of the second UN Syria envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, in May 2014. Fighting has continued since, with militant Jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) making notable progress in Iraq. In late June, President Obama sought to shore up moderate resistance to Assad and ISIS by promising $500 million to train and arm vetted members of Syrian opposition forces.

The United States and Russia completed work with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to dismantle Syria’s declared chemical weapons arsenal in June. Despite concerns that conflict conditions would prevent Syria from meeting the disarmament deadline, all of the known arsenal was removed from the country and inspectors remain to ensure all remnants are gone. However, the OPCW has concluded that chlorine gas and other chemicals not covered under the agreement were mostly likely used in a “systematic manner” by the regime after the initial agreement was reached.

An intensification of the civil war in Syria could prompt further external intervention by the United States or its allies. Ongoing civil strife threatens the stability of U.S. allies, particularly Turkey and Jordan. Additionally, increased regional instability could create a safe haven for extremist groups active in Syria, such as the Nusra Front (an al-Qaeda affiliate), ISIS, and Hezbollah.

Background Information
Breaking News
Primary Sources
Latest CFR Analysis
Related CFR Experts
  • Elliott Abrams

    Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies

  • Steven A. Cook

    Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies

  • Ed Husain

    Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies

  • Paul B. Stares

    General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action

  • Robert M. Danin

    Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies