Most of the current violence in Syria is with Islamic terrorists in the northwest (Idlib province) and in the east (Deir Ezzor province). Idlib province is where most of the remaining Islamic terrorists and anti-government rebels are found. Efforts to get HTS, the dominant Islamic terrorist coalition in the province, to cooperate with the Turks have failed. Turkey proposed that HTS work with Turkey-backed Syrian militias to keep the peace so Turkey could move more Syrian refugees back to Syria. Turkey offered HTS sanctuary in Turkish controlled areas and a few HTS members would be allowed into Turkey. Reaching an agreement with HTS on the details proved difficult, so the fighting continues between HTS and Syrians working for the Turks as well as Syrian government forces.
HTS has other problems and is trying to remove non-Syrian Islamic terrorists from the organization by providing them with money to get them to Ukraine where they can fight Russians. HTS has planned with Turkey to facilitate movement of these Islamic terrorists to Ukraine but is unclear if many, or any, made it to Ukraine, let alone whether Ukraine will take them. The other Islamic terrorist hotspot is in the east, where several ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) factions cause problems for everyone, including the American troops in the area as well as local militias and government forces.
Syrians blame outsiders for the length and severity of the 12- year-long civil war. Iran and Russia came to the aid of the Syrian government while Israel continued to attack Iranian forces in Syria, and Turkish forces crossed the border to deal with Islamic terrorists threatening Turkey, though non-terrorist Syrian Kurds control most of the northern border with Turkey. In the northwest there is Idlib province, which remains under the control of Islamic terrorists who don’t belong to ISIL. For years the Assads made deals with Islamic terror groups that controlled areas throughout Syria for them to move to Idlib rather than fight to the death with the Assad troops. The Assads did this to maintain morale among their own troops, who had been fighting for years and were liable to desert rather than face a death-match with Islamic terrorists. For the last few years there has been fighting in Idlib involving the Islamic terrorists attacked by Assad, Turkish and Kurdish forces, with air support from Russia and Turkey. The fighting is slow, methodical and relentless in killing Islamic terrorists and shrinking the terrorist-controlled area.
Syrian armed forces have undergone considerable reconstruction since the Russians showed up in 2015. Before the war began in 2011 the Syrian forces had 450,000 personnel, although 77 percent of them were short-term conscripts. When the Russians showed up, Syria was depending mainly on Iranian mercenaries (originally mostly Lebanese Shia from Hezbollah) for combat troops. About 70 percent of the Syrian military manpower had disappeared because of deaths, disabling wounds, desertion or refusal to extend their conscript service. The Russians emphasized rebuilding the technical services first, especially air power, artillery and logistics.
Currently the Syrian armed forces have about 100,000 personnel, few of them conscripts and most of them in the army. There are also about 50,000 paramilitary fighters, largely belonging to pro-government local militias. The army only has 80,000 troops and most of those are in support, not combat jobs. Syria tried enforcing conscription after 2011 but it didn’t work because most Syrians are Sunni while the Assad family regime is the small Alawite sect of Islam, which most Sunnis consider to be a Shia sect though it isn’t. The next best thing was suggested by Iranian IRGC advisors; let the conscripts join local militias whose main job was protecting the area the conscripts were from. This worked but at the expense of rebuilding the personnel strength of the military. Meanwhile Russia has rebuilt the air force and technical services. Many airbases shut down or destroyed by the fighting have been rebuilt. Older aircraft were repaired and refurbished, and additional aircraft and helicopters brought in. The air force is now training more pilots and conscripts don’t mind serving in the air force or tech services. There are some army combat units but not many. Commanders understand that they must keep their own combat losses low if they want to keep soldiers in the military. Most of the combat power comes from artillery, air strikes and a few special operations units for special tasks. The offensive against Islamic terrorists in Idlib and Deir Ezzor is carried out with artillery and air strikes, with troops advancing only when the enemy fighters are dead or fled.
Given the current military situation, the government only controls most of the country in theory. Cash subsidies from Iran and Russia have diminished in the last few years and without money the government cannot pay the troops or police. The economy is a mess, so the troops and police tolerate long delays in being paid. Since the civil war began in 2011 the death toll is estimated to be between 400,000 and 500,000. Iran wanted the civil war to end so they could concentrate on Israel. The key role of Iran in Syria has been noted and no one, not even Iranian allies, are cooperating with the Iranian activities. Iran constantly threatens to attack Israel but has been unable to actually do anything. The only ones who cannot walk away from this are the Assad clan that runs the government, Turkey and Israel. The Turks are useful because they allow North Korean weapons and munitions sold to the Syrian government to reach the customer. North Korea offers the best prices but expects to be paid and no credit or delayed payment terms are offered.
Syrians in general, and particularly the Assads, are aware of the damage done to Syria by a decade of war. The best evidence of the performance of the Syrian economy is the strength of the Syrian currency. The black-market exchange rate was 50 pounds to the dollar before the violence began in 2011. In late 2022 it was 5,000 pounds to the dollar and currently it is 2,500 pounds to the dollar, which is down from 7,000 a few months ago. The official exchange rate is more impressive, but that rate is mainly public relations and does not work on the free market. The average Syrian monthly income is under $200 and much of that comes from expatriates sending remittances. The change in exchange rates also reflects the failure of the Assads to make much progress in the last few years. Aid from Russia and Iran had kept the Assad government and the Syrian Air Force going. The loss of oil shipments from Iran is a major factor in the collapse of the economy. The loss of Russian and Iranian support over the last few years was catastrophic because no one else stepped up to replace that aid.
The damage is worse than most outsiders realize when you consider expected (normal) growth in the economy (GDP) and the population if the war had not happened. This assumes a decade of some post-war reconstruction for the real Syria. In contrast, Syria without the war would have a population of 32 million by 2030. Because so many (over six million) Syrians fled the country while fewer were born and more died, the most likely population of war-ravaged Syria by 2030 is 22 million. Most of the refugees (Sunni Arabs) do not want to return to a homeland dominated by a Shia government and occupied by Iranian (and Shia) forces. In these “war/no-war” comparisons, the economic projections show the country even worse off. Currently GDP is less than a third of what it was in 2011. But even with a decade of post-war reconstruction 2030 GDP would only be about 74 percent of what it was in 2011 and about 35 percent of what it would have been in 2030 without a war. Without the war GDP would have doubled by 2030. It is possible that Syria will grow at a faster rate, in terms of GDP and population, but that is unlikely since not a lot of nations are lining up to donate to or invest in reconstruction. In part that is due to the expected long-term presence of Iran or, even without that, the Assads would probably remain in power and still be accused of war crimes during the war. There is no statute of limitations on that sort of thing. Meanwhile the years of war have destroyed structures, infrastructure and businesses that would cost several hundred billion dollars to replace. That will be hard to do for a nation that had a 2011 GDP of about $60 billion and not a lot of natural resources other than its people and their many skills. It would have been much worse without the $50 billion worth of Iranian military and economic aid provided by Iran.