A look at the key players fighting in Syria’s multifront conflict


Syria’s war has in five years spiraled into a complex, multifront conflict, with regime forces, rebels, Kurds and jihadis carving out zones of control as world powers conduct air campaigns.

Here is a look at the main players:

Regime and allies

The Syrian Army’s 300,000-strong prewar force has been halved by deaths, defections and draft-dodging.

It now controls about a third of Syrian territory, where roughly 60 percent of the population lives.

Around 150,000-200,000 men serve in pro-regime militias, primarily the 90,000-strong National Defense Forces.

Militias from Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan have also bolstered the regime forces.

Experts say Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah has deployed between 5,000 and 8,000 fighters in Syria.

Key regime backer Russia launched airstrikes in Syria on Sept. 30, allowing the government to regain territory lost more than three years ago.

Iran has remained a staunch ally of President Bashar Assad, sending military advisers and financial aid.


The Free Syrian Army coalition has slowly been replaced by a myriad of mainly Islamist factions.

The rebels remain in several areas across Syria, mainly around Damascus, in the country’s south, in parts of Aleppo province and in the east of Aleppo city.

Ahrar al-Sham is among the most powerful Islamist rebel groups in Syria.

Founded in 2011 and financed by Turkey and Persian Gulf states, according to experts, it is present mostly in the northern Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

Jaish al-Islam (the Army of Islam) is the most important rebel group in Damascus province. Its stronghold is in the Eastern Ghouta region, east of the capital.

The Southern Front is a coalition of rebel groups that hold swaths of territory in Daraa province.


Al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front is the most important jihadi group in the country after its rival, Islamic State.

It is essentially made up of Syrian jihadis and aspires to create an Islamic emirate.

Led by Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, it has forged alliances with other rebel groups in Idlib and Aleppo.

It is also present in Damascus province’s Eastern Ghouta, as well as in Daraa, Homs and Hama provinces, where it is outnumbered by other rebel forces.

Nusra is listed by Washington as a terrorist group.

Together, Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham lead a key rebel alliance called the Army of Conquest which has driven the regime out of Idlib province.

Islamic State group

The Islamic State group is the most well-organized, resource-rich and brutal anti-regime force in Syria.

Since 2013, it has seized large parts of Syria’s territory, and it announced a caliphate across Syria and Iraq in 2014.

Tens of thousands of foreign fighters have joined its ranks.

Headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Islamic State militants are fighting on several fronts: against the regime, Nusra, rebels and Kurdish groups.

It has suffered a series of setbacks in Syria since 2015, losing Kobane and Tal Abyad on the Turkish border.

It now controls less than 40 percent of Syria, including Deir Ezzor and most of the border with Iraq in the east, Raqa and part of Aleppo province in the north and Palmyra in the center.

Kurdish fighters

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have controlled parts of Syria’s north and northeast since the regime unilaterally withdrew from the region in 2012.

The YPG has scored major victories against Islamic State forces with aerial support from a U.S.-led air coalition.

It controls some 10 percent of Syrian territory and three-quarters of the border with Turkey.


Since mid-February, Turkey has repeatedly shelled Kurdish fighters in Syria. Ankara contends the YPG is a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

U.S.-led coalition

Since 2014, a U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and neighboring Iraq.