Syria Update January 2018

SYRIA UPDATE: As we enter 2018, I thought I'd take a quick look back at the events of 2017, to refresh the memories of old friends and bring new ones up to speed. I usually post an update whenever something major happens, but it can be difficult to synthesize that information into a coherent view of the conflict.

After losing the major city of Aleppo at the end of 2016, the rebels (green on the map) spent early 2017 trying to take the city of Hama, but were unable to make meaningful progress against the Assad regime (red). They then spent the rest of the year fighting each other, dividing into two main camps: the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, and the even more Islamist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). The moderate rebels, who had long been on the decline, ceased to be major players altogether.

Meanwhile, in the more sparsely inhabited western half of the country, ISIS (black) suffered a series of catastrophic defeats, and also ceased to be a major player. After they lost their capital city of Raqqa to the US-backed Kurds (yellow), a race ensued between the Kurds and the regime to capture territory as quickly as they could as ISIS collapsed. The de facto border between the two ended up being the Euphrates river, which meant that the Kurds got a sizeable majority of both the population and the oil. Fighting has continued, and a few ISIS pockets still remain, but by and large, things have calmed down.

Over the last few days, though, the regime has begun what looks like a major offensive in Idlib province, the rebels' last real stronghold. The regime is still extremely weak after so many years of brutal warfare, so they're not going after Idlib city itself. Instead, the objective is the Abu al-Duhur airbase southeast of Idlib city (as shown in the second map). By pushing north from the area around Hama and west from Khanasir, the regime hopes to isolate a large, sparsely populated pocket of rebel territory. That pocket will then be cut off from supplies and relatively easy to collapse. The collapse of the pocket will shrink the front line, meaning the regime won't have to spread its forces quite as thin. This means the regime will be better positioned to strike at more important rebels targets.

The war drags on, for yet another year. Hopefully this year will be the last. But I doubt it.

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