A look at Syria’s history, politics and current conflict

From the moment President Donald Trump announced in March that he was pulling 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria in 18 months, Russia, Turkey and other countries have been jockeying for influence in the country. They’ve also watched with anxiety as Iran has become the dominant power in the country. Here are some facts about the war-torn country.

Joint Kurdish-Arab forces drove Islamic State militants from much of northern Syria in 2017, depriving them of strongholds along the Euphrates River and leaving al-Qaida-linked militants on a sharp downward slope in the Euphrates basin. Syrian regime forces gradually reclaimed lost territory, linking major cities like Homs and Aleppo. The relationship between the Kurds and the regime could hold up a timeline for when Trump hands control of the U.S. withdrawal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. (Most of Assad’s forces come from Iran and, from 2011 to early 2013, from Iraq, while the Kurdish militia is known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.)

In recent months, the Russian military has expanded its bases in Syria and the Islamic State has re-emerged, prompting U.S. troop reinforcements in Kurdish areas. Russia is also using the Syrian Kurdish issue to boost its role in postwar Syria, re-exerting itself as a world player after being sidelined by an international process involving the U.S., Russia, Turkey and Iran. The latest attempt to end the conflict has gone nowhere.

In July, the U.S. government announced it had completed the withdrawal of its military forces. Under a complex arrangement with Turkey, the U.S. will ship detainees from the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Turkey, for eventual release, though no date has been set. The U.S. continues to fight the Islamic State in Syria with smaller number of troops, operating from bases around the country.

The U.S. military contributed $3.7 billion in assistance to support stabilization in Syria in 2017, including over $1 billion in emergency assistance for civilians across the country. Over the last two years, the U.S. has provided over $640 million in emergency assistance, with $150 million in food aid, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

The U.S. began playing a bigger role in the United Nations-led process for ending the conflict in Syria in 2014 and continues to press for a political process. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the country’s main Kurdish negotiating team in Moscow last month. The U.S. and other coalition members urged other parties not to block the reconstruction effort in Syria and appealed for unity among the various groups.

After IS was forced out of most of its former territory in Syria, Moscow persuaded Damascus to expand its initial support in the form of fighter jets and helicopters to military assistance, according to Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. Over the years, Moscow also offered military advisors who serve in non-combat roles.

The U.S. and Russia agreed in October to hold military talks about Syria, but the agreement was seen as a down payment rather than a serious breakthrough on ending the conflict. This week, Russian and U.S. commanders sat down in Moscow, the first time the two countries had met face-to-face since Syria was engulfed in civil war. They discussed coordination of operations against a terrorist presence in southwest Syria.

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