Beyond Daesh: Syria's tangled web of fighters

Published February 26th, 2015 - 01:14 GMT

Last week the US and Turkey agreed upon a program to train and equip vetted Free Syrian Army rebel factions to help battle the Daesh threat from the ground. Now the Pentagon is expected to send hundreds of US troops to the Middle East starting this spring, where they’ll host training for some 5,000 rebels in Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

But American lawmakers have expressed doubt about whether wilted FSA groups in northern and eastern Syria will be able to hold onto the US-made weapons they receive, much less use them to successfully fend off Daesh and other extremist groups.

Over three years into the conflict, Syria’s battlefield has become a murky web of fighter groups with a diverse pool of ideologies and end goals.

Foreign fighters filing into the country to join Daesh and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabat al Nusra is a well publicized phenomenon.

But Syrian President Bashar Assad is also being bolstered by a wide network of outsiders. Government troops rub shoulders with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and a mixed-bag of Shiite militia groups.

Meanwhile, the Kurds are waging their own battle in the ethnic group’s historic homelands along the Syrian border. And with the US now throwing a hand to ground operations, things could get a lot more complex.

Though international attention focuses in on Daesh and its atrocities, the landscape of the Syrian war is much more complicated. Take a look at our roundup of the groups fighting on the ground today, some of them might surprise you.

 
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Kurds — From the YPG and PKG, to the Peshmerga and PKK, Kurdish militias have a history of inter-fighting and alliance splits, but now they’re fighting a common enemy: Daesh. Often considered the most capable fighting force in the north, Kurds from Syria, Iraq and Turkey celebrated the total retake of Syria’s Kobani from Daesh in January.

Kurds — From the YPG and PKG, to the Peshmerga and PKK, Kurdish militias have a history of inter-fighting and alliance splits, but now they’re fighting a common enemy: Daesh. Often considered the most capable fighting force in the north, Kurds from Syria, Iraq and Turkey celebrated the total retake of Syria’s Kobani from Daesh in January.

The FSA — Over three years ago, street demonstrations in the southern Syrian city of Daraa called for government reforms. When security forces responded with live fire, Syrian military defectors and civilian opposition launched an armed rebellion. The group was dubbed the Free Syrian Army.

The FSA — Over three years ago, street demonstrations in the southern Syrian city of Daraa called for government reforms. When security forces responded with live fire, Syrian military defectors and civilian opposition launched an armed rebellion. The group was dubbed the Free Syrian Army.

Jesh al-Islam — Most commonly known as the Syrian rebel groups, Jesh al-Islam is an encompassing term for about 50 Damascus-based militias opposing Assad. The merged organization is sometimes known to be more powerful than the Free Syrian Army itself.

Jesh al-Islam — Most commonly known as the Syrian rebel groups, Jesh al-Islam is an encompassing term for about 50 Damascus-based militias opposing Assad. The merged organization is sometimes known to be more powerful than the Free Syrian Army itself.

Daesh — Not much explaining needed with this one. First called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the extremist group hit international headlines in June after launching a lighting offensive in northern Iraq that left thousands of minority groups fleeing from their homes.

Daesh — Not much explaining needed with this one. First called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the extremist group hit international headlines in June after launching a lighting offensive in northern Iraq that left thousands of minority groups fleeing from their homes.

Syrian gov — Assad has been in power since 2000. Before that his father was president for 26 years, making the family’s resignation not an easy achievement. The Syrian conflict began when children went missing due to terrorism charges, causing an uproar in the city of Daraa on the regime’s tyranny.

Syrian gov — Assad has been in power since 2000. Before that his father was president for 26 years, making the family’s resignation not an easy achievement. The Syrian conflict began when children went missing due to terrorism charges, causing an uproar in the city of Daraa on the regime’s tyranny.

Iranians — The Iranian Revolutionary Guard have played an integral, pro-Assad role in the conflict from the beginning, but rebels battling government forces in southern Syria report an increased number of Guard troops fighting alongside Syrian soldiers in recent months, suggesting the Islamic Republic’s role extends far beyond logistical.

Iranians — The Iranian Revolutionary Guard have played an integral, pro-Assad role in the conflict from the beginning, but rebels battling government forces in southern Syria report an increased number of Guard troops fighting alongside Syrian soldiers in recent months, suggesting the Islamic Republic’s role extends far beyond logistical.

Iraqi Shia militias — Like many other Assad-affiliated groups, Iran-backed Shiite militias from Iraq have come with a mixed bag. While they have strengthened Syria’s fight against Daesh, they also threaten the political balance between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Some are worried the weaker Daesh gets, the stronger the regime will grow.

Iraqi Shia militias — Like many other Assad-affiliated groups, Iran-backed Shiite militias from Iraq have come with a mixed bag. While they have strengthened Syria’s fight against Daesh, they also threaten the political balance between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Some are worried the weaker Daesh gets, the stronger the regime will grow.

Afghan Shia militias — These militias have been fighting alongside Assad in the Syrian conflict. The majority of them are believed to have come from Iran, though many of the Afghan refugee fighters either already lived in Syria before the war or arrived from other countries in the region.

Afghan Shia militias — These militias have been fighting alongside Assad in the Syrian conflict. The majority of them are believed to have come from Iran, though many of the Afghan refugee fighters either already lived in Syria before the war or arrived from other countries in the region.

Fighters from Yemen — Yemen’s militias are just as divided in Syria as they are about their own government. Yemeni Sunnis who have placed themselves in the Syrian conflict are aligning themselves with Syria’s opposition forces, the FSA, while Shiites — including the Houthis — are fighting for Assad.

Fighters from Yemen — Yemen’s militias are just as divided in Syria as they are about their own government. Yemeni Sunnis who have placed themselves in the Syrian conflict are aligning themselves with Syria’s opposition forces, the FSA, while Shiites — including the Houthis — are fighting for Assad.

US-led coalition — Daesh’s publicity has led foreign countries to intervene in the Syrian conflict, with airstrikes that target the jihadi group. Five Arab countries have been in the coalition from the start: Iraq, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Jordan. Since then several others have followed.

US-led coalition — Daesh’s publicity has led foreign countries to intervene in the Syrian conflict, with airstrikes that target the jihadi group. Five Arab countries have been in the coalition from the start: Iraq, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Jordan. Since then several others have followed.

Kurds — From the YPG and PKG, to the Peshmerga and PKK, Kurdish militias have a history of inter-fighting and alliance splits, but now they’re fighting a common enemy: Daesh. Often considered the most capable fighting force in the north, Kurds from Syria, Iraq and Turkey celebrated the total retake of Syria’s Kobani from Daesh in January.
The FSA — Over three years ago, street demonstrations in the southern Syrian city of Daraa called for government reforms. When security forces responded with live fire, Syrian military defectors and civilian opposition launched an armed rebellion. The group was dubbed the Free Syrian Army.
Jesh al-Islam — Most commonly known as the Syrian rebel groups, Jesh al-Islam is an encompassing term for about 50 Damascus-based militias opposing Assad. The merged organization is sometimes known to be more powerful than the Free Syrian Army itself.
Daesh — Not much explaining needed with this one. First called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the extremist group hit international headlines in June after launching a lighting offensive in northern Iraq that left thousands of minority groups fleeing from their homes.
Syrian gov — Assad has been in power since 2000. Before that his father was president for 26 years, making the family’s resignation not an easy achievement. The Syrian conflict began when children went missing due to terrorism charges, causing an uproar in the city of Daraa on the regime’s tyranny.
Iranians — The Iranian Revolutionary Guard have played an integral, pro-Assad role in the conflict from the beginning, but rebels battling government forces in southern Syria report an increased number of Guard troops fighting alongside Syrian soldiers in recent months, suggesting the Islamic Republic’s role extends far beyond logistical.
Iraqi Shia militias — Like many other Assad-affiliated groups, Iran-backed Shiite militias from Iraq have come with a mixed bag. While they have strengthened Syria’s fight against Daesh, they also threaten the political balance between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Some are worried the weaker Daesh gets, the stronger the regime will grow.
Afghan Shia militias — These militias have been fighting alongside Assad in the Syrian conflict. The majority of them are believed to have come from Iran, though many of the Afghan refugee fighters either already lived in Syria before the war or arrived from other countries in the region.
Fighters from Yemen — Yemen’s militias are just as divided in Syria as they are about their own government. Yemeni Sunnis who have placed themselves in the Syrian conflict are aligning themselves with Syria’s opposition forces, the FSA, while Shiites — including the Houthis — are fighting for Assad.
US-led coalition — Daesh’s publicity has led foreign countries to intervene in the Syrian conflict, with airstrikes that target the jihadi group. Five Arab countries have been in the coalition from the start: Iraq, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Jordan. Since then several others have followed.
Kurds — From the YPG and PKG, to the Peshmerga and PKK, Kurdish militias have a history of inter-fighting and alliance splits, but now they’re fighting a common enemy: Daesh. Often considered the most capable fighting force in the north, Kurds from Syria, Iraq and Turkey celebrated the total retake of Syria’s Kobani from Daesh in January.
Kurds — From the YPG and PKG, to the Peshmerga and PKK, Kurdish militias have a history of inter-fighting and alliance splits, but now they’re fighting a common enemy: Daesh. Often considered the most capable fighting force in the north, Kurds from Syria, Iraq and Turkey celebrated the total retake of Syria’s Kobani from Daesh in January.
The FSA — Over three years ago, street demonstrations in the southern Syrian city of Daraa called for government reforms. When security forces responded with live fire, Syrian military defectors and civilian opposition launched an armed rebellion. The group was dubbed the Free Syrian Army.
The FSA — Over three years ago, street demonstrations in the southern Syrian city of Daraa called for government reforms. When security forces responded with live fire, Syrian military defectors and civilian opposition launched an armed rebellion. The group was dubbed the Free Syrian Army.
Jesh al-Islam — Most commonly known as the Syrian rebel groups, Jesh al-Islam is an encompassing term for about 50 Damascus-based militias opposing Assad. The merged organization is sometimes known to be more powerful than the Free Syrian Army itself.
Jesh al-Islam — Most commonly known as the Syrian rebel groups, Jesh al-Islam is an encompassing term for about 50 Damascus-based militias opposing Assad. The merged organization is sometimes known to be more powerful than the Free Syrian Army itself.
Daesh — Not much explaining needed with this one. First called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the extremist group hit international headlines in June after launching a lighting offensive in northern Iraq that left thousands of minority groups fleeing from their homes.
Daesh — Not much explaining needed with this one. First called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the extremist group hit international headlines in June after launching a lighting offensive in northern Iraq that left thousands of minority groups fleeing from their homes.
Syrian gov — Assad has been in power since 2000. Before that his father was president for 26 years, making the family’s resignation not an easy achievement. The Syrian conflict began when children went missing due to terrorism charges, causing an uproar in the city of Daraa on the regime’s tyranny.
Syrian gov — Assad has been in power since 2000. Before that his father was president for 26 years, making the family’s resignation not an easy achievement. The Syrian conflict began when children went missing due to terrorism charges, causing an uproar in the city of Daraa on the regime’s tyranny.
Iranians — The Iranian Revolutionary Guard have played an integral, pro-Assad role in the conflict from the beginning, but rebels battling government forces in southern Syria report an increased number of Guard troops fighting alongside Syrian soldiers in recent months, suggesting the Islamic Republic’s role extends far beyond logistical.
Iranians — The Iranian Revolutionary Guard have played an integral, pro-Assad role in the conflict from the beginning, but rebels battling government forces in southern Syria report an increased number of Guard troops fighting alongside Syrian soldiers in recent months, suggesting the Islamic Republic’s role extends far beyond logistical.
Iraqi Shia militias — Like many other Assad-affiliated groups, Iran-backed Shiite militias from Iraq have come with a mixed bag. While they have strengthened Syria’s fight against Daesh, they also threaten the political balance between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Some are worried the weaker Daesh gets, the stronger the regime will grow.
Iraqi Shia militias — Like many other Assad-affiliated groups, Iran-backed Shiite militias from Iraq have come with a mixed bag. While they have strengthened Syria’s fight against Daesh, they also threaten the political balance between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Some are worried the weaker Daesh gets, the stronger the regime will grow.
Afghan Shia militias — These militias have been fighting alongside Assad in the Syrian conflict. The majority of them are believed to have come from Iran, though many of the Afghan refugee fighters either already lived in Syria before the war or arrived from other countries in the region.
Afghan Shia militias — These militias have been fighting alongside Assad in the Syrian conflict. The majority of them are believed to have come from Iran, though many of the Afghan refugee fighters either already lived in Syria before the war or arrived from other countries in the region.
Fighters from Yemen — Yemen’s militias are just as divided in Syria as they are about their own government. Yemeni Sunnis who have placed themselves in the Syrian conflict are aligning themselves with Syria’s opposition forces, the FSA, while Shiites — including the Houthis — are fighting for Assad.
Fighters from Yemen — Yemen’s militias are just as divided in Syria as they are about their own government. Yemeni Sunnis who have placed themselves in the Syrian conflict are aligning themselves with Syria’s opposition forces, the FSA, while Shiites — including the Houthis — are fighting for Assad.
US-led coalition — Daesh’s publicity has led foreign countries to intervene in the Syrian conflict, with airstrikes that target the jihadi group. Five Arab countries have been in the coalition from the start: Iraq, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Jordan. Since then several others have followed.
US-led coalition — Daesh’s publicity has led foreign countries to intervene in the Syrian conflict, with airstrikes that target the jihadi group. Five Arab countries have been in the coalition from the start: Iraq, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Jordan. Since then several others have followed.