By Zachary Laub, Council on Foreign Relations–

In the nearly six years since protestors in Syria first demonstrated against the four-decade rule of the Assad family, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed and some twelve million people—more than half the country’s pre-war population—have been displaced. The country has descended into an ever-more-complex civil war: Jihadis promoting a Sunni theocracy have eclipsed many opposition forces fighting for a democratic and pluralistic Syria. Regional powers have backed various local forces to advance their geopolitical interests on Syrian battlefields. The United States has been at the fore of a coalition conducting air strikes on the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Turkey, a U.S. ally, has invaded in part to prevent Kurdish forces, who are backed by the United States in the fight against the Islamic State, from linking up their autonomous cantons. Russia too has carried out air strikes in Syria; though it claimed to be primarily targeting the Islamic State, analysts say it has more often targeted rebels, including those backed by the United States, who seemed to pose a more immediate threat to the Syrian regime.

After a long stalemate, foreign backers of the regime have turned the tide in Assad’s favor, capturing rebel-held enclaves of east Aleppo, which had once been a hub of the resistance. But Syria likely faces years of instability. Assad has never been willing to negotiate his way out of power, but his continued rule is unacceptable to millions of Syrians, particularly given the barbarity civilians have faced. Meanwhile, the foreign forces on which he relies will continue to wield power. In the north, Kurds will be unlikely to cede their hard-won autonomy, and the Islamic State is yet to be defeated.

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