March 2011: Protests erupt in the southern Syrian city of Daraa over security forces’ detention of a group of boys accused of painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of their school. Demonstrations spread, as does the crackdown by President Bashar Assad’s forces. (Syrian civil war breaks out) 

On April 29, 2011, a month after the first protests in Syria that were met with brutal force by the government, Washington imposes sanctions on several Syrian officials. 

The measures extend to President Bashar al-Assad the following month. 

August 2011: President Barack Obama calls on Assad to resign and orders Syrian government assets frozen. 

In August 2013, the Syrian government is accused of carrying out a chemical attack near Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people, according to Washington. 

Despite having promised to act with force if Syria crossed the chemical weapons “red line”, Obama at the last minute pulls back from punitive strikes on regime infrastructure. 

Instead, on September 14, he agrees to a deal with Moscow – Assad’s main backer – that is meant to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. 

On September 23, 2014, the US and Arab allies launch air raids in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group, expanding a campaign underway in neighboring Iraq. 

The biggest contributor to the coalition, Washington deploys 2,000 soldiers, mostly special forces. 

In October 2015, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance of some 50,000 fighters, is created with US backing. 

Dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, it receives US training and aid in the form of arms, air support, and intelligence.

Trump orders strikes 

On April 7, 2017, US forces fire a barrage of cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airbase, believed to be the launch site of a chemical attack that killed 88 people in Idlib province. 

It is the first direct US action against Assad’s government and President Donald Trump‘s most significant military decision since taking office in January 2017. 

On April 14, 2018, the US – with the support of France and the UK – launches new retaliatory attacks after an alleged government chemical attack on the then rebel-held town of Douma, in which some 40 people were killed. 

Withdrawal announced 

On December 19, 2018, Trump announces that all of the roughly 2,000 US troops in Syria will be withdrawn because ISIL had been “defeated”. 

The surprise decision prompts Secretary of Defense James Mattis to resign and is met with concern by France, the UK and Germany, but praise from Russia and Turkey. 

On January 16, 2019, a suicide attack claimed by ISIL kills four US servicemen and 15 others at a restaurant in Syria’s northern city of Manbij. 

It is the deadliest attack against US forces since they deployed. 

On August 7, Turkish and US officials agree to jointly manage a buffer zone between the Turkish border and areas in Syria controlled by the YPG, which Istanbul considers a “terrorist” threat. 

US steps aside 

But on October 6, Washington announces that US forces would withdraw from the border areas to make way for a “long-planned operation” by Turkish forces. 

The following day, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirms that Turkish action against Kurdish fighters in Syria is imminent.

Trump’s pullback decision provokes an uproar in Washington, with several of his close allies calling on him to reconsider. 

The Pentagon says it does “not endorse” a Turkish operation in northern Syria, while a senior State Department official says the US has pulled back a “very small number” of troops from areas along the border. 

In an extraordinary warning via Twitter, Trump says he will “obliterate” Turkey’s economy if Ankara does anything he considers “off-limits” in Syria. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Syrian Arab Republic are close strategic allies, and Iran has provided significant support for the Syrian government in the Syrian Civil War, including logistical, technical, and financial support, as well as training and some combat troops. Iran sees the survival of the Syrian government as being crucial to its regional interests. When the uprising developed into the Syrian Civil War, there were increasing reports of Iranian military support, and of Iranian training of the National Defence Forces both in Syria and Iran

26.02.21 President Joe Biden on Thursday directed US military airstrikes in eastern Syria against facilities belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militia, in a calibrated response to rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq. 

The strikes, which were first reported by Reuters, appeared to be limited in scope, potentially lowering the risk of escalation. 

Biden’s decision to strike only in Syria and not in Iraq, at least for now, also gives the Iraqi government some breathing room as it carries out its own investigation of a Feb. 15 attack that wounded Americans. 

“At President (Joe) Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted airstrikes against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. 

“President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” Kirby said.

He added that the strikes destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS). 

The rocket attacks on U.S. positions in Iraq were carried out as Washington and Tehran are looking for a way to return to the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump. 

It was not clear how, or whether, the strike might affect U.S. efforts to coax Iran back into a negotiation about both sides resuming compliance with the agreement. 

In the Feb. 15 attack, rockets hit the U.S. military base housed at Erbil International Airport in the Kurdish-run region, killing one non-American contractor and injuring a number of American contractors and a U.S. service member. 

Another salvo struck a base hosting U.S. forces north of Baghdad days later, hurting at least one contractor. 

Rockets hit Baghdad’s Green Zone on Monday, which houses the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions. 

Earlier this week, the Kata’ib Hezbollah group, one of the main Iran-aligned Iraqi militia groups, denied any role in the rocket attacks. 

Some Western and Iraqi officials say the attacks, often claimed by little-known groups, are being carried out by militants with links to Kata’ib Hezbollah as a way for Iranian allies to harass U.S. forces without being held accountable. 

Since late 2019, the United States has carried out high-profile strikes against the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia group in Iraq and Syria in response to sometimes deadly rocket attacks against U.S.-led forces. 

Under the Trump administration, the escalators back-and-forth stoked tensions, culminating in the U.S. killing of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory Iranian ballistic missile attack against U.S. forces in Iraq last year.

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