Making some sense of the Syria situation


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President Donald Trump announced recently he intended to withdraw United States troops from Northern Syria.

Abuzer Zaidi, Editor in Chief

In early October, President Donald Trump announced that he was withdrawing all US military presence from Northern Syria.
Soon after, Turkey invaded Northern Syria, which is Kurdish territory. A few weeks later, Syria moved in to defend the previously US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Soon afterwards, Turkey and Syria signed a cease-fire agreement, a short-lived one at that.
So, what exactly happened? What does this mean for the Middle East as a whole?
First, a quick review of the players in the Syria conflict.

Syrian Government

The Syrian Government, headed by Bashar al-Assad, is the internationally recognized sovereign over the state of Syria. It is backed by Iran, and opposed to the YPG (Kurdish forces), the SDF, and ISIL fighters.
Notably, the Syrian military was one of the militaries involved in the destruction of ISIS.
The Syrian civil war — which set the groundwork for an ISIS promotion to prominence — went from a typical Arab Spring protest movement to a fully armed civil war. Arguably, the US involvement and support of the protests turned it into a violent civil war.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), as well as Kurdish militias, have dissolved into two major factions — the SDF is the US-backed alliance of Arab nationalists and the Kurdish fighters, the YPG being the most prominent amongst them.
Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist organization. Notably, the Arab nationalists that form the SDF were former FSA militiamen. The FSA was known for its association and cooperation with al-Nusra (the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) and ISIS. Ideologically, the FSA was known to be Islamists in the vein of the Saudi Salafist ideology.

The Syrian National Forces (SNF)

The SNF is effectively the SDF but supported by Turkey, not the American-Saudi coalition. They are made up of Kurdish and Arab nationalists.
The differences between the SNF and the SDF are superficially minor in that they are both anti-government forces that serve to overthrow the Assad regime, but were also used to fight against ISIS. While similar in makeup, the Turkish government has labeled the SDF a terrorist organization.


ISIS, with its recently deceased leader, has been on the defensive since 2014. ISIS fighters have been captured and imprisoned by the SDF until Turkey started its invasion of Syria, where reports indicate that the SNF and the Turkish military are freeing the captured ISIS fighters, potentially catalyzing the resurgence of ISIS in Iraq.
Turkey argued that its operations in Syria don’t constitute an invasion, but was to return the Syrian refugees in Turkey back to Syria. However, this was a blatant suspension of Syria’s sovereignty and a potential act of war. Interestingly, what this results in is the idea that you have Kurdish and Syrian nationalists both fighting each other, effectively shooting the anti-government movement in the foot.
This counter-productive conflict seems to be the reason why the SDF is choosing to not respond to Turkish suspensions of the ceasefire. Instead, the SDF is being retasked by the US military to protect oilfields in eastern Syria. What this leads to is the Syrian Government filling the hole of the Kurdish supporters, with the Syrian military having been sent to oppose the Turkish forces.
Another thing to point out is that the SNF has reportedly freed ISIL fighters. The Arab Nationalist elements of the SNF and the SDF are theoretically aligned in ideology and goal to ISIS.
On a broader scale, what this means is that the SDF coalition may potentially break in the future, with Syria supporting Kurdish populations at the Turkish border. The remaining Arab nationalist elements of the SDF may become consumed by ISIS — as the FSA was — leading to a resurgence in ISIS in Syria.