Six years into the Syrian civil war, and the country's future remains far from certain. But the facts are clear: The brutal, generation-defining conflict has left hundreds of thousands dead, traumatized millions of children, set new standards of barbarism, and produced global knock-on effects that continue to reverberate far beyond the battlefield.
Against all odds, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, and, thanks to the backing of Russia and Iran, he now has the upper hand on the rebels militarily — an outcome once unthinkable. But Assad controls only a fraction of the deeply fractured country's territory, including Syria's five major cities; rival armed groups — ISIS, multiple terror groups, nationalists, Kurds — hold their own fiefdoms in much of the rural areas. And the situation is only made more complicated by the increasing foreign military presence on Syrian soil, which includes the U.S., Russia, and Turkey.
Though Russia- and Turkey-backed negotiations to broker a peace deal between the regime and opposition groups presses on, few analysts see any positives on the horizon. Instead, most predict the country will remain carved up between warlords and a tyrannical regime, with little hope that the nearly 5 million Syrian refugees who have fled their homeland will have an opportunity to return.
Here's where things stand — and what may lie ahead — as Syria's tortured conflict enters its seventh year.
Who's doing the fighting?
The Syrian quagmire has sucked in a long list of international players, with most of the world's major and regional powers backing proxy forces in the conflict, while Iran and Russia (both pro-Assad), Turkey (anti-Assad and anti-Kurds) and now the U.S. (predominantly anti-ISIS) have intervened directly.
Russia's decision to enter the conflict in support of the Syrian regime 18 months ago swung momentum decisively in Assad's favor. Russian air power, along with ground support from Iranian-backed Shia militias — including Lebanon's Hezbollah — was crucial in recapturing the critical rebel-held enclave of east Aleppo in December, a major turning point in the war. The crushing and decisive defeat of rebels there brought the last of Syria's five major cities under Assad's control, the others being Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Latakia.
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