Syria’s war is not only a humanitarian catastrophe but threatens stability as far away as Europe. At least 400,000 people have died in the fighting and half the population—12 million people—is displaced. The often-overlooked roots of this violence lie in a complex knot of local and sectarian conflicts that remained unresolved under decades of authoritarian rule. USIP pilot projects facilitate community dialogue in Syria. In neighboring countries, USIP works to reduce tensions between Syrian refugees and their host communities. Learn more in USIP’s fact sheet on The Current Situation in Syria.
The war in Syria has killed more than 400,000 people, uprooted 12 million—half of the population—and propelled a wave of refugees that threatens stability from the Middle East to Western Europe. But this war, seeded in the 2011 uprisings against President Bashar al-Assad, isn’t just one conflict: In addition to the involvement of major powers like Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the U.S., a complex knot of local and sectarian disputes among armed opposition groups, ISIS, the al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and government forces endangers the nation’s future, no matter who rules at the national level.
The U.S. Institute of Peace has operated on the ground in Iraq since 2003 and in Afghanistan since 2002, as well as in Libya, Nigeria, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen. As a small, agile institution, USIP works with local leaders and the U.S. government, including the military, to stabilize areas devastated by ISIS, end cycles of revenge, and address the root causes of radicalization, including corrupt and abusive governance.
The United States launched its first air strikes against forces backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the country’s civil war began six years ago, in retaliation for a chemical-weapons attack that killed more than 80 civilian men, women and children. Elie Abouaoun, who is director of Middle East and North Africa programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace and is based in the region, examines the strategic implications, and USIP President Nancy Lindborg, who has worked for nearly 30 years on humanitarian crises and areas affected by conflict, comments on the factors that prompted the U.S. attack.