The situation in Syria, explained in 30 seconds

Delil Souleiman/Getty ImagesA woman and a child react as the body of a man killed during Turkish shelling in the area surrounding the Syrian Kurdish town of Ras al-Ain arrives at a hospital on October 18, 2019.
  • Trump’s decision to pull US forces from Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria on October 6 left the civil-war-torn country open to Turkish attack, which followed on October 9.
  • Syria has been caught in a civil war since 2011 – some 500,000 people have perished and 12 million have been displaced, according to the Human Rights Watch.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

What has been happening in Syria?

President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to pull US forces from Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria, officially announced by the White House on October 6, left the civil-war-torn country open to Turkish attack.


Here’s a 30-second explanation of what’s been going on:

Ozan Kose/Getty ImagesSmoke and fire rising from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain during the Turkish offensive against Kurdish groups in northeastern Syria on October 17, 2019.

Syria has been caught in a civil war since 2011. What started as as an uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was further complicated when ISIS declared its new caliphate in parts of Syria in 2014.

Some 500,000 people have perished and 12 million have been displaced because of the war, according to the Human Rights Watch.

The situation was exacerbated when President Trump ordered on October 6 that US soldiers be removed from the Kurdish-controlled areas of northeastern Syria, leading Turkey to invade the northeastern part of the country shortly thereafter.


Turkey invaded northeast Syria on October 9 in a military operation called “Operation Peace Spring.”

Emrah Gurel/AP ImagesTurkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters on an armoured personnel carrier drive to cross the border into Syria on October 18, 2019.

Turkey’s goal is to create a buffer zone at the Turkish border of Syria between the Turks and Kurds, and to repatriate the 3.6 million Syrian refugees who have come to Turkey as a result of the civil war. The Turkish incursion – led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who many call authoritarian – against Syria continues.

The Kurds are a minority ethnic group in the Middle East, living mostly in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Turkey considers the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) a terrorist group. Turkey also considers the YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Unit), which is the backbone of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) controlling the northeast, to be a terror organisation as well.

Read more about who controls Syria, the Syrian-Turkish border, and ISIS in Syria here.


And finally, here’s a 5-minute explanation of the events leading up to and through October, via a timeline of our past coverage:

Associated PressA Syrian woman who is newly displaced by the Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria, carries her son upon her arrival at the Bardarash camp, north of Mosul, Iraq, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019.

October 18


Turkey may have used chemical weapons on the Kurdish civilians Trump left vulnerable

Trump’s ‘great for everybody’ ceasefire deal in Syria gives Turkey everything it wants in exchange for virtually nothing

Trump’s disastrous retreat from Syria raises new questions about his financial interests in Turkey

Trump compared Turkey attacking the Kurds to ‘two kids in a lot’: ‘You have to let them fight, and then you pull them apart’


October 17

Vice President Mike Pence announces cease-fire agreement with Turkey in Syria

Trump praised Erdogan for a cease-fire in Syria that Turkey says is ‘not a cease-fire’

Trump’s withdrawal from Kurdish region has opened the door to a new wave of war crimes

Turkey’s President Erdogan threw Trump’s wild letter threatening him over Syria in the trash

‘It’s utterly pathetic’: Democratic lawmakers are flabbergasted by Trump’s ‘tough guy’ letter to Turkey

Trump massively undermined Mike Pence’s mission to stop Turkey’s invasion of Syria, saying publicly that it’s none of his business

Trump’s ‘meltdown’ meeting with Nancy Pelosi reportedly went off the rails when she called him out for helping Putin in Syria

US special-operations secrets could fall into the hands of Russia and Syria after Trump’s sudden pullout

Trump’s hasty exit forced US troops to bomb their own base in ‘an extreme worst-case scenario’


October 16


US troops bombed their own anti-ISIS headquarters as Turkey-backed fighters closed in during Trump’s hasty retreat

Turkey’s President Erdogan snubbed a meeting with Pence and Pompeo over Syria, and said he will only deal directly with Trump

Trump defends his Syria retreat as ‘strategically brilliant,’ saying the Kurds are ‘not angels’ and have ‘a lot of sand that they can play with’

US troops and their allies feel humiliated after abandoning their bases in Syria to be taken over by gleeful Russians

Trump reportedly called Jim Mattis the ‘world’s most overrated general’ in a chaotic meeting on Syria

Pelosi said Trump had a ‘meltdown’ after the House overwhelmingly voted to condemn his Syria retreat

Trump is parroting Vladimir Putin’s talking points as he defends pulling US troops from Syria


October 15

The 1,000 elite US troops in Syria are making a chaotic and demoralising retreat after Trump cancelled their mission

Long before the US pulled out, Kurds in Syria were keeping back channels to Russia and Assad wide open

ISIS has been waiting for this very moment as Trump-fuelled chaos in Syria helps it regroup

In just one week, Trump’s Syria retreat has caused the nightmare scenario everyone warned him about

Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey only after advisers explained to him the obvious consequences of letting it invade Syria, report says

Turkey’s president pulled one over on Trump – and some of the US’s most dangerous adversaries are the big winners

Trump’s sanctions against Turkey won’t do anything to stop its invasion of Syria – and they might just add fuel to the fire

The US defence secretary gives US’s strongest condemnation yet of Turkey’s ‘unacceptable incursion’ in Syria

Trump is applauding Russia’s victory in Syria after handing it to them on a platter

Trump’s coziness with authoritarians is backfiring spectacularly in Syria


October 14

Trump hits Turkey with sanctions over military operation against Kurds in Syria

Trump’s latest conspiracy theory is that the Kurds released ISIS prisoners to pull the US back into Syria

Trump suggested the Kurds were releasing ISIS prisoners, but US officials say Turkish-backed forces are actually doing this

US officials are considering pulling nuclear weapons from Turkey, effectively severing the US-Turkey alliance

Trump thought Turkey was bluffing and would never actually invade Syria, report says

Trump has delivered what Russia wants in Syria – at zero cost – and ‘Putin likely can’t believe his luck’


October 13

The US is preparing to pull its remaining 1,000 troops out of northern Syria as the Turkish offensive against the Kurds moves forward

Disaster is unfolding in Syria as videos emerge of US allies being slaughtered and hundreds of ISIS prisoners escape during airstrikes

Kurdish forces strike a deal with Assad’s army as they battle an intensifying Turkish assault in northern Syria

US forces reportedly leave dozens of ‘high value’ ISIS prisoners behind as they begin to pull out of northern Syria


October 12

Turkey’s military says it captured a key Syrian border town after an offensive against Kurdish fighters

Trump says he doesn’t want any ISIS prisoners to escape during Turkey’s offensive, but a new video is said to show just that


October 10

The US shared intelligence with Turkey that may have helped it target the Kurds in Syria

Trump brushes off worries that freed ISIS prisoners will be a threat: ‘They’re going to be escaping to Europe.’

Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from Syria may allow ISIS to come back with a vengeance – using the group’s time-tested strategy

Trump’s latest tweets on Syria show he has absolutely no plan to help the Kurds as Turkey boasts about killing over 100 of them

Trump reportedly offered to sell F-35 jets to Turkey in exchange for not attacking Kurdish forces in Syria

Evangelical leaders are breaking with Trump over his decision to withdraw from Syria in a move that could hurt the president’s chances in 2020


October 11


‘We can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to’: The Trump administration just threatened harsh new sanctions on Turkey

US troops in Syria were nearly struck by Turkish artillery barrages that came dangerously close

Turkish strikes are causing chaos on the Syrian border – here’s what you need to know


October 9


Turkey launches military operation against the Kurds in Syria just days after Trump abandoned them

US-backed allies in Syria have paused their fight against ISIS amid Turkish military assault

Senators announce a bipartisan bill to impose ‘severe sanctions’ on Turkey and block military sales

Trump defends abandoning the Kurds by saying they didn’t help the US in WWII


October 8

Trump’s rapid Syria withdrawal is making life near the border with Turkey even more dangerous

A day after Trump threatened Turkey with economic ruin, he says Turkey’s president will visit the White House

Kurdish forces in Syria fear Turkey will launch attacks rapidly to take advantage of ‘confusion’ caused by Trump’s US troop withdrawal plan

Trump’s abrupt decision to pull out of Syria was reportedly made ‘instinctively’ at the end of his call with Turkey’s president

A brutal dictator, warring US partners, and a former al-Qaeda branch: Here’s who controls Syria now

11,000 Kurds died fighting ISIS and now the US is abandoning them – who will help America next time?

Here are the 5 major players that will feel the impact from Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria


October 7


US to withdraw its troops in northeast Syria and pave the way for Turkish assault

The US troop withdrawal from northern Syria could reinvigorate ISIS

Trump’s shocking decision to pull US troops out of Syria could lead to thousands of ISIS fighters escaping from jail, Syrian official warns

Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurds in Syria sends a dangerous message to US allies around the world

Trump threatens to ‘totally destroy and obliterate’ Turkey’s economy if it takes ‘off-limits’ actions in Syria

Lindsey Graham says Congress will call for Turkey to be suspended from NATO and hit it with sanctions if it attacks Kurds

Trump defended his controversial decision to pull US forces out of Syria in a rambling tweetstorm


October 2

Inside the Syrian camp that is a ‘ticking time bomb’ for another wave of ISIS violence


August 8

A scathing new Pentagon report blames Trump for the return of ISIS in Syria and Iraq


July 1

The US says it launched strikes against an Al Qaeda training facility in Syria


May 16

Trump tried to convince lawmakers his Syria pullout was popular by having his social media director read Twitter


May 9

The war in Syria’s northwest corner is heating up again


April 29

ISIS released the first video of its leader in 5 years, showing him discussing the group’s defeat in Syria and the bombings in Sri Lanka


April 3

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rand Paul, Ilhan Omar, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Trump urging the president to remove US troops form Syria


March 23

US-backed Syrian forces declare ‘physical defeat’ of ISIS in Syria after nearly 5 years of struggle

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