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Last update: November 2021

In Syria, a wide range of different groups and individuals can be considered as actors of persecution or serious harm. This includes a multitude of internal and international actors pursuing their own interests and goals. The conflict in Syria has become increasingly international in character, drawing the involvement of countries such as the United States, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel and others [Actors, 1.2; Security 2021, 1.4].

The following subsections highlight the main actors of persecution or serious harm in Syria in a non-exhaustive manner. Their areas of control and activity are outlined below.

Figure 9. © ISW, Control of terrain in Syria, 22 March 2021.

  • The GoS controlled most of the country, including the major cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama, and nearly all governorates’ capitals [Security 2021, 1.5.1].
  • In the north-east, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) controlled most of the territory that was previously under ISIL control in Syria, including most of Raqqa and Hasaka governorates, part of Deir Ez-Zor governorate north-east of the Euphrates, and parts of Aleppo governorate around Manbij and Kobane, and the area around Tal Rifaat [Security 2021, 1.5.3].
  • Turkish-backed armed groups operating under the umbrella of the Syrian National Army (SNA) controlled areas in northern Aleppo, in the context of ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ (the area between Azaz, Al-Bab, and Jarablus) and ‘Operation Olive Branch’ (Afrin district). The Turkish-led offensive of October 2019 into Kurdish-controlled areas, dubbed ‘Operation Peace Spring’, also led to the control of the area between Tall Abyad (Raqqa governorate) and Ras al Ain (Hasaka governorate). [Security 2021, 1.5.2].
  • In the northwest, an area incorporating parts of Idlib governorate, northern Hama, northern Latakia and western Aleppo governorates is regarded as the last remaining stronghold of anti-GoS armed groups, with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) considered the most important and powerful actor in the area. In 2019, GoS escalated the military operations in the area, which continued through the first two months of 2020. In late March 2021, new escalation of hostilities was reported. [Security 2021, 1.4.4, 1.5.4].
  • ISIL holds no territory in Syria. Following their territorial defeat, hostilities have largely decreased. However, ISIL attacks reportedly continue, especially in areas where it previously held territory. Most ISIL attacks recorded in 2020 took place in Deir ez-Zor governorate (around 50 %), followed by Homs, Raqqa and Hama governorates. Small number of attacks were also reported in Hasaka, Aleppo, Dar’a, Idlib, and Quneitra governorates. In 2021, ISIL cells demonstrated an expanding area of operation, including governorates where they were absent for years, such as the Afrin area of Aleppo. [Security 2021, 1.5.3, 2.2]
  • The Tanf border crossing, close to the tri-border area between Syria, Iraq and Jordan, has been controlled by the US and allied forces from the Global Coalition Against Daesh since 2016 [Security 2021, 1.5.5].