Following is a brief Syrian Civil War Timeline since the outbreak of the war in 2011. For a more in depth history and background to the war see my Complete Guide to the Syrian Civil War.
Syrian Civil War Timeline: The Opening Stages of the War
- March 2011: Protests are stirred in the city of Dera’a after security forces arrest, torture and kill teenage boys who had been caught painting anti-Assad graffiti. The forceful response of Syria’s forces were interpreted as a fear of the “Arab Spring” events that were sweeping the region at this time.
- May 2011: After conciliatory measures with the protesters failed Syrian leader Bashar al Assad sends tanks into the major cities where the protests are now spreading to throughout southern Syria.
- July 2011: The protests and uprisings spread to northern cities of Syria and force widespread response from Bashar al Assad. The death counts begin to escalate and Assad is cast in an increasingly darker light on the world stage.
- August 2011: US President Obama calls on Bashar al Assad to recognize the will of his own people and resign.
- October 2011: The opposition begins to organize against Assad throughout Syria and external to Syria. This includes previously exiled members of the government and elite. Defections from the Syrian military and government also begin to increase during this time as former Assad allies go over to the side of the resistance.
- November 2011: The Arab League votes to suspend Syria and Assad due to the escalating violence and his failure to implement the Arab League’s proposed peace plan.
- February 2012: Government forces begin intense bombardment of several major Syrian cities. This appears to be a tactic of desperation and many believe it is only a matter of time before Bashar al Assad is toppled.
- June 2012: Turkey declares that if Syrian troops approach the Turkish-Syrian border they will be seen as a threat. Turkey is solidly in the camp of supporting the resistance in the Syrian Civil War by this time.
- July 2012: The Free Syrian Army and the various rebel groups included within it are making significant advances throughout the country. Damascus is seeing growing violence. A bombing at a government building and crisis meeting kills several Syrian leaders and officials including Assad’s brother-in-law and defense minister. Aleppo is almost completely controlled by the FSA.
- August 2012 – As the world continues to patiently wait for the inevitable fall of Bashar al Assad his prime minister defects to Jordan. President Obama warns that Bashar al Assad should not think of resorting to chemical weapons in a desperate attempt to hold on to power as this would be a “red line” he will suffer consequences for crossing.
- December 2012 – The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is formed in Qatar. The coalition deliberately excludes Islamist militias which results in a lack of full endorsement from the Arab League but the US, Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf States give full recognition. For these majors powers the National Coalition is now recognized as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. Meanwhile, the first reports of chemical weapons being used in Homs Syria begin to surface.
Syrian Civil War Timeline: Assad Grows Desperate
- March 2013 – Reports of chemical weapons being used in major neighborhoods of Damascus and Aleppo. The Syrian government says this was an action by the opposition to frame the Assad government in the eyes of the world. President Obama calls the use of chemical weapons a “game changer.”
- April 2013 – Additional reports of “gas bombs” being used by the Syrian government in Aleppo as well as in the town of Saraqeb.
- May 2013 – The Iranian backed Hezbollah in Lebanon joins the conflict on the side of the Syrian government.
- June 2013 – The French Foreign Minister confirms their belief that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons in the fighting. The White House voices their agreement to these beliefs.
- August 2013 – A chemical weapons attack on the Ghouta region results in a death count ranging from 300 to more than 1,000 Syrians. President Obama announces the US belief that Assad used chemical weapons against his own people and civilians. The “red line” is crossed but President Obama has not determined what America will do about it.
Syrian Civil War Timeline: The Breaking of Old Alliances and the Formation of New Alliances
- December 2013 – The US and Great Britain begin to reduce support for the rebels in Syria after it is learned that Islamist groups are seizing bases from the western backed Free Syrian Army.
- February 2014 – A UN brokered peace talk fail. The UN team insists upon a transitional government and this is refused by the Syrian representatives.
- March 2014 – A joint operation between the Syrian Army and Hezbollah retake Yabroud, a rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border.
- June 2014 – The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) declares a caliphate in the territory from eastern Iraq to Aleppo. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announces it has removed the last of Syria’s chemical weapons from the country.
- September 2014 – The US and Arab allies launch air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria.
- January 2015 – The Kurdish YPG see great success in removing ISIS forces in the northern part of Syria.
- May 2015 – ISIS seizes Palmyra in central Syria. Meanwhile, another Islamist rebel group Jaish al Fatah takes control of Idlib province.
- August 2015 – ISIS is reported to use mustard gas in towns of northern Syria.
- September 2015 – Russia begins launching strikes in Syria. The strikes are reportedly to remove ISIS from Syria but many experts note the strikes are more broadly in support of the Syrian government and against all rebel groups including ISIS.
- December 2015 – The Syrian army retakes Homs, the nation’s third largest city.
- August 2016 – Turkish troops cross the Syrian border to take territories from ISIS in the north. Reports of chemical weapon chlorine gas being used in Syrian forces strikes on hospitals in Aleppo.
- December 2016 – The Syrian army backed by Russian air power and Iranian supported troops retake Aleppo.
- January 2017 – A ceasefire is enforced Russia, Iran and Turkey to allow for peace talks. The talks will include government forces and non Islamist rebel groups.
- April 2017 – Nerve gas, likely sarin, attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province is attributed to Syrian forces possibly in partnership with Russian forces. The new Trump administration in the US fires cruise missiles onto Syrian targets in response to the attack after first warning the Russians that the cruise missiles are coming.
Syrian Civil War Timeline: Assad Gains the Upper Hand
- May 2017 – Syrian forces retake the city of Homs which was once identified as the capital of the resistance. The US begins arming YPG Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIS in the north.
- October 2017 – ISIS is driven from Raqqa, its proclaimed capital, by Syrian government forces.
- December 2017 – As ISIS territory in Syria dwindles, Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the country to declare mission accomplished against ISIS.
- January 2018 – Turkey begins a major offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
- February 2018 – Syrian forces begin major offensive against Ghouta and rebel forces there.
- April 2018 – New reports of chemical attacks on the town of Douma in eastern Ghouta by Syrian forces.
If you found this Syrian Civil War Timeline helpful you might enjoy the additional fact sheets, who’s who, and backgrounders at my Complete Guide to the Syrian Civil War.