By Kent R. Kroeger (September 14, 2018)
With an impending ‘final’ battle for the last major rebel stronghold in Idlib, Syria, many observers are suggesting this may be the final stage of the Syrian civil war which started in 2011.
Several significant in the past year are generally cited as evidence of the war coming to a close. “For one thing, 2017 marked the fall of opposition-held Eastern Aleppo to government forces,” says journalist Alessandria Masi, managing editor for Syria Deeply. “The evacuation of rebels from Aleppo to Idlib that followed was the first of many such movements to take place in other areas of Syria over the past year. The battle against the so-called Islamic State has been — to a certain extent — won. What’s more, the Syrian government has made a major push to spur reconstruction, development and financial investment in the country.”
While pockets of Islamic State forces (ISIS) and Syrian rebels still exist in southern Syria, the last major concentration of anti-Assad forces reside in the Idlib province (see Figure 1). In addition, Kurdish forces with the support of U.S. Special Operations forces control most of northeast Syria.
Should the Assad forces regain control of Idlib province, the government will control two-thirds of the territory it controlled prior to the start of the civil war seven years ago.
Figure 1. Status of Syrian Civil War (September 2018)
At the same time, Russian, U.S., Iranian, and other foreign fighters will still be firmly entrenched within Syria (see Figure 2), not to mention Israel’s continued control of the Golan Heights (internationally recognized as Syrian territory) and Turkey’s opposition to any Kurdish independence push in northeast Syria.
Given the stark realities on the ground, the notion that the Syrian conflict is winding down appears somewhat optimistic.
Figure 2. Locations of U.S. and Russian Troops in Syria (January 2018)