US helicopters dropped fighters in Syria's Idlib province overnight in an operation targeting Islamic State group leaders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Here is a recap of Washington’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, following US President Donald Trump’s announcement on Sunday that Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself during a US military operation.
Pressure on Assad
On April 29, 2011, a month after the first protests in Syria that were met with brutal force by the regime, Washington imposes sanctions on several Syrian officials.
The measures extend to President Bashar al-Assad the following month.
On August 18, US President Barack Obama and Western allies for the first time explicitly call on Assad to stand down.
In October, the US ambassador leaves Syria for “security reasons”. Damascus recalls its ambassador from Washington.
Obama backs off ‘red line’
In August 2013, the Syrian regime is accused of carrying out a chemical attack near Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people, according to Washington.
Despite having vowed 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.
US targets IS
On September 23, 2014, the US and Arab allies launch air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State (IS) group, expanding a campaign underway in neighbouring 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.
The SDF eventually overruns IS in northeastern Syria, driving out the jihadists from their last patch of territory in the village of Baghouz in March 2019.
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 Trump’s most significant military decision since taking office in January 2017.
On April 14, 2018, the US—with the support of France and Britain—launches new retaliatory strikes after an alleged regime chemical attack on the then rebel-held town of Douma, in which some 40 people were killed.
On December 19, 2018, Trump announces that all of the roughly 2,000 US troops in Syria will be withdrawn, but Washington goes back on the decision.
On January 16, 2019, a suicide attack claimed by IS 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.
Turkey launches its military operation on October 9 against Kurdish militants in northern Syria.
Washington announces on October 13 the withdrawal of some 1,000 US soldiers deployed in northeastern Syria.
On October 24, Washington announces it is beefing up its military presence in northeastern Syria near key oil fields.
Trump: Baghdadi dead
On October 27, Trump says Baghdadi killed himself by detonating a suicide vest during a nighttime raid by US special forces in Syria’s Idlib province.
Eight helicopters launch the raid after Baghdadi was “under surveillance for a couple of weeks,” Trump says in a televised address.
Baghdadi is cornered in an underground tunnel, where he detonates the suicide vest, killing himself and three of his children, Trump says.
"It was brutal," Trump adds.