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The Syria Conflict’s Overlapping Agendas and Competing Visions

The Syrian civil war, now in its fifth year, involves multiple countries with overlapping and at times conflicting agendas. Competing visions of how to manage the conflict, which has led to a major global refugee crisis as well as the rise of the Islamic State, dominated discussions at the United Nations General Assembly this week. But despite days of meetings and diplomatic maneuvering, the crisis has only intensified. Here is where some of the main foreign actors stand.

United States

Backs: More moderate elements among the rebel forces in Syria.

Opposes: The government of President Bashar al-Assad, as well as the Islamic State and other Islamic extremist groups.

How it is fighting: The United States leads a coalition conducting airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State and other extremist groups. It has been carrying out a covert program to train and equip Syrian rebels and a separate Pentagon program to train the moderate Syrian opposition to fight the Islamic State. The Pentagon program has drawn few recruits.

Russia

Backs: Mr. Assad, the leader of Syria, which has been Russia’s only persistent ally in the Middle East for decades.

Opposes: The Islamic State, which several thousand young Russians have joined. Russia fears a so-called blowback of militants coming home to carry out attacks. Some moderate rebels fear that Russia opposes them, too.

How it is fighting: Russia has long supplied arms to Syria, but Russian pilots carried out their first airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, dropping bombs near the central city of Homs, according to American officials in Washington. Despite Russia’s stated goal of attacking the Islamic State, Homs is not under the control of the militant group. Russia has deployed military equipment — including 32 warplanes — and soldiers to a Syrian airfield near Latakia for weeks, according to the United States, and Russian drones have been conducting reconnaissance flights over areas controlled by opponents of Mr. Assad.

Turkey

Backs: The United States-backed coalition and, tacitly, rebel forces in Syria.

Opposes: Principally the Assad government and Kurdish groups allied with the P.K.K., an insurgent group active in Turkey; nominally, also the Islamic State.

How it is fighting: Turkey began a campaign of airstrikes and military incursions in July, mainly in northern Iraq against the P.K.K. It has also allowed the American-led coalition to use Turkish air bases. Since early in the conflict, Turkey has permitted fighters and supplies to flow across its territory to Syrian rebel groups and allowed some rebels to take refuge on its soil.

Iran

Backs: Mr. Assad and the Syrian government.

Opposes: Sunni insurgents, the Islamic State and other Sunni extremists.

How it is fighting: Iran is Syria’s staunchest ally, and has been providing military support, weapons, supplies and financial aid since the start of the civil war in 2011. In 2012, Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese proxy, joined the fight on the government side. The next year, Iran sent hundreds of military advisers to assist Mr. Assad’s army, and Hezbollah committed to an all-out battle to defeat the rebels. But recent seizures of territory by Sunni insurgents and the Islamic State have weakened the Syrian Army, and there are signs that Iran is conserving its resources to defend government strongholds, including the capital, Damascus, and areas along the Lebanese border and the Mediterranean coast.

Saudi Arabia

Backs: A number of rebel groups fighting the Syrian government.

Opposes: Mr. Assad and the Syrian government.

How it is fighting: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, reiterated in New York on Tuesday that there were no circumstances in which his country would accept a Russian effort to keep Mr. Assad in power. Mr. Jubeir warned that if a deal to remove the Syrian leader was not reached, the shipment of weapons and other support to Syrian rebels would be increased — and a military option to remove him remained on the table. In addition to funding and arming rebels on the ground, Saudi Arabia began conducting airstrikes with the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State in Syria a year ago.

Qatar

Backs: A number of rebel groups fighting the Syrian government.

Opposes: Mr. Assad and the Syrian government.

How it is fighting: Qatar and other Persian Gulf countries have bankrolled rebels fighting Mr. Assad. Qatar has also supplied the rebels fighting the Assad government with weapons and training. In 2013, it provided the rebels with heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles, ignoring American officials’ warning that the missiles could one day be used by terrorist groups. Qatar is also home to the military coalition’s major air headquarters, at Al Udeid Air Base, from which the American-led air campaign against the Islamic State is being run.

Britain

Backs: More moderate elements among the rebel forces in Syria.

Opposes: The Assad government, the Islamic State and other Islamic extremist groups.

How it is fighting: Because of strong opposition in Parliament to military intervention in Syria, Britain has so far focused mainly on coalition airstrikes in Iraq. However, it recently conducted a drone strike in Syria that killed two British citizens it said had joined the Islamic State.

France

Backs: More moderate elements among the rebel forces in Syria.

Opposes: The Assad government, the Islamic State and other Islamic extremist groups.

How it is fighting: Facing a refugee crisis and stepped-up jihadist recruiting in Europe, France recently expanded its participation in coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State and other extremist groups to targets in Syria as well as Iraq. But it has ruled out any ground intervention.

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(via NY Times)