Who controls what territory in Syria?

Who controls what territory in Syria?
Source: Syria's flag

Syrian government forces have regained control over most of the territory lost in the early days of the country’s 12-year conflict, including Homs, where an attack on Thursday killed dozens.

Here is a look at who controls what territory in Syria, where war broke out in 2011 following the government’s repression of peaceful pro-democracy protests and spiralled into a complex conflict drawing in foreign armies and jihadists.

Damascus initially lost control over much of Syria to opposition factions, Kurdish fighters and Islamic State (IS) group jihadists.

However, the army gradually clawed back ground with support from key ally Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, while Russian intervention since September 2015 turned the tide in the government’s favour.

Damascus now controls around two-thirds of the country, including major cities like Aleppo and Homs, where a drone attack Thursday on a military academy graduation ceremony killed dozens, including military personnel and civilians.

It holds Sweida, Daraa and Quneitra provinces in the south, central Homs province and most of neighbouring Hama, as well as all of Tartus and most of Latakia provinces on the west coast, and Damascus and its surrounding province.

A large part of Aleppo province in the north is also in government hands, as well parts of Raqa province and around half of Deir Ezzor province in the east.

Government forces are supported by local groups and other pro-Iran fighters, including from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

Iran says it only deploys military advisers in Syria at the invitation of Damascus.

Russian troops are stationed in several government-held areas, including the Hmeimim airbase near the city of Latakia.

Moscow says more than 63,000 Russian troops have served in Syria, though the number of soldiers currently present in the country is unclear.

In 2012, government forces withdrew from Kurdish-majority areas in Syria’s north and east, paving the way for Kurds to consolidate control on the ground.

They established a semi-autonomous administration in the area and have gradually expanded territorial control, particularly as Kurdish-led fighters battled IS, dislodging the extremists from their last scraps of territory in Syria in 2019 with US support.

The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, formed in 2015, are considered the Kurds’ de facto army. The forces are an alliance of fighters including Kurds, Syriac Christians and Arab Muslim factions.

The SDF holds around a quarter of Syrian territory, and is considered the second most powerful military force after the army.

It controls most of Raqa province including the city, a former IS stronghold, as well as half of neighbouring Deir Ezzor province, and part of Aleppo province in the north.

It also controls Hasakeh province in the northeast, though Syrian government forces are also present in some areas, including in the cities of Hasakeh and Qamishli.

US-led coalition forces, which entered Syria in 2014 to fight IS, have set up bases in the Al-Omar oil field, the country’s largest, as well as the Conoco gas field — both in Kurdish-controlled territory.

US personnel are also stationed in Kurdish-controlled Hasakeh and Raqa provinces.

In 2016, they set up a remote base in the strategic Al-Tanf region in southern Syria, near the borders with Jordan and Iraq.

Since 2016, Turkey has carried out successive ground operations to expel Kurdish forces from border areas of northern Syria, and has made threats of a new incursion.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long sought to establish a “safe zone” 30 kilometres (20 miles) deep the whole length of the frontier.

Pro-Turkish forces control a section of the border from Jarabulus to Afrin in Aleppo province, including major towns such as Al-Bab and Azaz.

Turkish soldiers and their Syrian proxies also hold a 120-kilometre (75-mile) stretch of border territory from Ras al-Ain in Hasakeh province to Tal Abyad in Raqa.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance, led by Al-Qaeda‘s former Syria affiliate, dominates the opposition bastion in northwest Syria.

The group controls swathes of Idlib province and slivers of border territory in Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

HTS has gradually lost territory during successive military campaigns by Russian-backed Syrian forces.

Allied groups include the jihadist Turkestan Islamic Party, whose fighters mainly hail from China’s Uighur Muslim minority.

The jihadist Islamic State group (IS) proclaimed a “caliphate” in June 2014 across swathes of Syria and Iraq, installing a reign of terror.

It was defeated territorially in Syria in 2019 but its remnants continue to carry out deadly attacks, particularly from desert hideouts.

Its fighters are particularly active in the vast Syrian desert including in Deir Ezzor province, launching attacks against the SDF and the army.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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