Foreign affairs reporter Oren Dorell explains who is fighting whom in the Syrian Civil War in two minutes. USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Syria's civil war began six years ago this week as a popular revolt against the brutal regime of President Bashar Assad.
Now a domestic uprising that has left an estimated 500,00 dead and millions homeless has morphed into a global war, sucking major powers into a conflict growing more volatile by the day.
The United States, Russia, Turkey and Iran — as well as foreign terrorists — have joined the fray with an array of forces, often with conflicting objectives. Overhead, the airspace is crowded with Russian and coalition aircraft, sometimes flying within sight of one another, as they pursue separate air campaigns.
In the shadows, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East have secretly backed armed fighters to overthrow Assad.
Rivalries and alliances are constantly shifting. “It's the most complicated environment and situation I've been in in my life,” said Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Syria.
Here is how one country's civil war turned into an international crisis:
The powder keg was lit in March 2011, when a group of boys were tortured by Assad’s agents for having written graffiti supporting the Arab Spring, a string of popular uprisings against autocratic regimes throughout the Arab world.
Thousands protested the boys' treatment, and the regime responded by killing dozens. Revolts against Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, began to spread, as some of his officers defected to opposition forces.
The Obama administration called for Assad to step down because of his brutal crackdown against dissidents, but it did not support the rebels at a time when it could have made a difference, said Mustafa Alani, director of national security for the Gulf Research Center in Geneva. “There was no clear decisive attitude from the Obama administration.”