2011

Syria’s uprising began on March 6, 2011 when children were arrested for pro-democracy graffiti in Daraa. The incident sparked protests, and dozens of people were killed in clashes with security forces. President Bashar al Assad offered modest political concessions, like lifting the 1963 Emergency Law. But protests spread across the country, calling for Assad’s ouster. The regime dispatched troops to Daraa and other major cities to crush the unrest. By May, at least 1,000 people had been killed.

In response to the crackdown, Assad’s opponents took up arms. Hundreds of rebel brigades formed across the country, and a group of defecting army officers formed the Free Syrian Army in June 2011. Two months later, the political opposition began to organize in Turkey. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood – which had operated from exile for decades – played a key role in forming the Syrian National Council. 

March 6-23: Police arrested children for pro-democracy graffiti in Daraa, which sparked protests. Security forces cracked down on demonstrations and killed at least 100 people. By the end of March, protests had spread to other cities.

March 29: Assad replaced his entire cabinet in a symbolic gesture.

April: Assad lifted the Emergency Law, which had been in place since 1963.

May 7-29: Security forces conducted raids in Homs, Damascus, Daraa, and several other cities.

July 1: More than 100,000 people protested Assad across Syria.

July 29: Seven military officers defected and formed the Free Syrian Army.

July: ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi sent operatives to Syria.

Aug. 23: The Syrian National Council was formed in Istanbul. It claimed to be the official representative of the Syrian opposition.

Nov. 15-16: The Free Syrian Army raised its profile by attacking regime intelligence bases in Damascus and Aleppo.

2012

By 2012, more than 100 countries had recognized the body as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Disparate rebel brigades seized key cities in the north, including parts of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, throughout 2012.

Jan.: Muhammad al Jawlani, originally one of Baghdadi’s operatives, announced the formation of the Nusra Front.

March 15: Thousands of pro-Assad protesters held a rally in Damascus.

April 12: The UN brokered a ceasefire between the regime and the rebels, but it broke down immediately.

May 27: Assad’s forces killed more than 90 people – including 32 children – in the village of Houla.

Nov. 11: The Syrian National Council merged with other opposition groups to form the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition.

Dec. 11-23: Rebels captured key military bases in Aleppo.

Dec.: The United States formally recognized Syria’s National Coalition as the legitimate government.

2013

But Syria’s war soon dissolved into a stalemate. In early 2013, Assad’s forces attacked rebel-held territory and tightened their grip on regime strongholds in the south. Hezbollah – a Shiite Islamist movement – sent fighters to aid Assad’s forces. In Aug., rebels blamed the regime for a chemical attack outside Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

The situation was further complicated in 2013 and 2014 by the rise of hardline Islamist groups, which increasingly sidelined moderate rebels. The Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate, was active in 11 of Syria’s 14 provinces by the end of 2013. 

March 4: Raqqa fell to the Syrian opposition. The Free Syrian Army, the Nusra Front, and ISIS (then known as the Islamic State of Iraq) were all operating there. ISIS began moving military assets to consolidate control of the city.

April 11: Baghdadi moved from Iraq to Syria and claimed that the Islamic State in Iraq had merged with the Nusra Front to become The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But Nusra Front leader Jawlani rejected the alliance and declared allegiance to al Qaeda.

April 30: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced that his group would aid the Syrian army.

Aug.: ISIS begian attacking Syrian rebel groups, including the Nusra Front, in Raqqa and Aleppo.

Aug. 21: Hundreds of people were killed in a chemical weapon attack in Ghouta. Rebels blamed Assad’s forces.

Oct.  31: Assad allowed Syria’s chemical weapons to be destroyed.

Nov. 22: Seven Islamist brigades merged to form the Islamic Front.

Dec. 6: The Islamic Front attacked a Free Syrian Army warehouse. The United States temporarily suspended non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels.

2014

The group expanded its reach over the next year, driving Western-backed Free Syrian Army brigades out of the western province of Idlib.

More significantly, ISIS – also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh – seized large swaths of territory across Iraq and northern Syria in 2014. The group emerged from al Qaeda in Iraq (al Qaeda, however, severed ties with the group in Feb. 2014). On June 29, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared a caliphate stretching from Aleppo to the Iraqi Diyala province.

The United States began airstrikes against ISIS on Sept. 23, attempting to halt its advance on Kobani, a town on the Turkish border. But by the end of 2014, ISIS retained its strongholds. The group boasted as many as 31,500 fighters, nearly half of whom originated from outside Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile, Assad’s forces – though struggling to maintain adequate finances and manpower – capitalized on the international community’s focus on ISIS. The regime began advancing on rebel-held areas of Aleppo in late 2014.

Jan. 22 –Feb. 15: The U.N. hosted peace talks in Geneva to solve the Syrian crisis, but no progress was made.

Feb. 3: Al Qaeda officially cut ties with ISIS.

March: The Syrian Army – aided by Hezbollah – captureda key rebel stronghold on the Lebanese border.

June 21: ISIS seized the strategic border crossing between Syria’s Deir Ezzor province and Iraq, as well as three other Iraqi towns.

June 29: ISIS announced the establishment of a caliphate and rebranded itself as the “Islamic State.”

July 3: ISIS took control of al Omar and Tanak, two major oil fields.

Aug. 24: ISIS seized the Taqba airbase, which gave it full control over the Raqqa province.

Sept. 19-22: ISIS advanced on the Syrian border town of Kobani and thousands of refugees fled to Turkey.

Sept. 23: The United States launched its first air strikes against ISIS in Syria.

Sept. 29: The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees announced that more than three million Syrians have become refugees since the start of the conflict.

Oct. 21-31: Regime bombings killed at least 221 civilians in a ten-day period, one third of them children.

Nov. 1-2: The Nusra Front drove Western-backed Free Syrian Army brigades from their strongholds in Idlib.

Nov. 11: Leaders from ISIS and the Nusra Front met to discuss joining forces. No formal cooperation was established, but ISIS reportedly sent fighters to help the Nusra Front’s assault on Harakat Hazm, a Western-backed moderate rebel group.

Nov. 18: ISIS seized foreign aid entering Syria and distributed it within its territories.

Nov. 20: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Assad’s forces conducted more than 1,500 strikes in the month of Nov., killing at least 396 civilians.

Late Nov.: Regime forces closed in on rebel-held areas of Aleppo.

Dec. 10: U.S. officials announced that their plan to arm 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels would not be completed until 2016.

Dec. 11: From exile, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood elected Mohammad Hikmat Walid as its new leader.

Dec. 4: A group of 150 Kurdish fighters from northern Iraq - also known as Peshmerga - entered the Syrian border town of Kobani to assist Syrian Kurdish forces fighting ISIS militants.

Dec. 6: Syrian government forces repelled an ISIS attack in Deir Ezzor  killing at least 150 fighters on both sides.

Dec. 8: The U.N. peace envoy to Syria met Hadi al Bahra, head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, to propose a ceasefire proposal in Aleppo.

Dec. 15: The Nusra Front seized two strategic Syrian military bases from Rebels - Wadi al Deif and Hamidiyeh.

Dec. 18: Members of the Shuayat tribe in eastern Syria found 230 bodies in mass graves. ISIS was blamed for the mass killings.

2015

The Islamic State expanded its territory in Syria throughout the year, seizing the ancient city Palmyra, Hama province and villages around Aleppo. Moscow peace talks between government and rebel forces failed to resolve the conflict. 

Jan. 6: The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces elected a new presidential committee and Khaled Khoja as its new president.

Jan. 14: Major General Michael Nagata, Syria director for the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force, and Daniel Rubinstein, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria, met with the Syrian opposition to discuss the U.S. train and equip program - the first high-level meetings between the Pentagon and the Syrian opposition.

Jan. 26: Kurdish fighters, with the help of U.S. and coalition airstrikes, forced out ISIS militants from the Syrian border town of Kobani after a four-month battle.

Jan. 30: Clashes between the Nusra Front and Western-backed rebels spread from Aleppo to neighboring Idlib.

Feb.: Syrian air attacks killed nearly 200 people in Damascus suburbs.

Feb. 19: Turkey and the United States agreed to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting ISIS.

Feb. 25 - 26:  ISIS militants abducted at least 200 Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria. The U.S.-led coalition launched airstrikes in the same area.

March 6: Nusra Front commander Samir Hijazi and two other leaders were killed allegedly by U.S.-led coalition warplanes near the Turkish border.

March 24-30: Islamist rebels, including the Nusra Front, attacked government forces and captured most of Idlib. 

April 1: ISIS gained control of the central province of Hama and entered the urban refugee camp of Yarmouk.

April 3:  Syrian rebels and fighters from the Nusra Front captured the Nassib border crossing with Jordan and three nearby military posts.  The Syrian government launched intense bombing raids in the area.

April 10: Peace talks in Moscow among Syrian factions ended with no sign of progress.

April 15: ISIS fighters withdrew from Yarmouk. The Nusra Front remained inside the camp.

April 20: Syrian forces dropped shrapnel-filled bombs and killed more than 100 people in Aleppo.

May 7: Training for Syrian rebels by American Special Operations troops begans in Jordan.

May 17 - 21: ISIS militants captured the ancient city of Palmyra, killing nearly 300 people.

June 17:  Kurdish fighters expelled ISIS from the strategic Syrian town of Tal Abyad on the Turkish border.

June 25-27: ISIS militants stormed into the city of Kobani five months after their ouster by Kurdish forces. 200 people are killed. Kurdish forces repelled ISIS militants two days later, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes.

June 26: ISIS fighters killed at least 145 civilians in an attack on Kobani, Syria. The same day, ISIS-linked militants attacked a Shiite mosque in Kuwait, killing 27 people and injuring more than 200.

July 2: A U.S. drone strike killed Tariq al Harzi - a senior ISIS militant in charge of foreign recruitment.

July 15: The first group of U.S.-trained Free Syrian Army members entered Syria.

July 23: The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and the National Coordination Body for the Forces of Democratic Change (NCB) agreed to join forces to reach a political settlement in Syria.

Aug. 12: ISIS released 22 Assyrian Christians of the dozens abducted from villages in northeastern Syria earlier in 2015. 

Sept. 30: Russia began airstrikes in Syria. It claimed to target ISIS, but U.S. officials alleged that many of the strikes targeted civilians and Western-backed rebel groups. 

Oct. 9: ISIS made significant gains in northwestern Syria, seizing six villages near Aleppo. 

Nov. 15: France ramped up its airstrikes on ISIS targets in Raqqa, Syria. 

Dec. 1: Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that U.S. special operations forces would be sent to Iraq to support Iraqi and Kurdish fighters and launched targeted operations in Syria. 

2016

ISIS continued to seize territory – new and previously held – from coalition and Syrian government forces. Two ceasefire agreements between rebel and government forces were implemented throughout the year. The first failed, but the other deal brokered later in the year by Russia and Turkey was successfully enforced.

Feb. 27: A ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia went into effect but failed to stick permanently.

March: Syrian government force seized Palmyra from ISIS, aided by Russian airstrikes.

April 11:  ISIS recaptured Rai, a Syrian town on the Turkish border, from the Free Syrian Army.

May 5: ISIS captured the Shaer gas field near Palmyra. 

May 24: Kurdish forces backed by U.S. airstrikes launched an offensive on territory north of Raqqa, Syria. 

July 19: U.S.-backed rebels in Syria captured an ISIS base in Manbij, according to the U.S. military.

Aug. 7: ISIS suicide bombers attacked a U.S.-backed Syrian rebel base near the Syria-Iraq al Tanf border crossing. Several people are killed.

Aug. 10: Suspected chemical attack in Aleppo killed four.

Aug. 14: Syrian Democratic Forces liberated Manbij from ISIS, which had held the city since 2014.

Aug. 24: Government and Kurdish forces agreed to a ceasefire in Hasaka. That same day, Turkish troops entered into Syria Jarabulus to support the fight against ISIS and liberate Jarabulus.

Aug. 30: ISIS said its spokesman and one of its longest-serving leaders, Abu Muhammad al Adnani, was killed in a U.S. airstrike while traveling in Syria near al Bab.

Sept. 6: A chemical attack in Aleppo injured more than 120 people.

Sept. 12: A U.S. and Russia-brokered temporary ceasefire between rebel forces and the government went into effect.

Oct. 16: Turkish-backed Syrian rebels retook the town Dabiq from the Islamic State. Dabiq held symbolic importance for ISIS, as the group claimed it would be the site of the final apocalyptic battle and victory of the caliphate.

Oct. 25: The Islamic State took control of half of the western Iraqi town of Rutba, located near the Syrian and Jordanian borders.

Nov. 6: U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces started a new operation to isolate and ultimately retake Raqqa from the Islamic State.

Dec. 11: ISIS fighters recaptured Palmyra from Syrian government forces despite heavy Russian bombing to push them back.

Mid-Dec.: The government recaptured Aleppo from rebel forces after days of bombardment of rebel-held areas in the city.

Dec. 21: Clashes between Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces and the Islamic State around the town of al Bab in northern Syria resulted in the deaths of at least 14 Turkish soldiers and 138 ISIS fighters.

Dec. 26: A total of 226 Islamic State fighters were “neutralized” in Turkish operations around the northern Syrian town of al Bab, according to the spokesman for President Tayyip Erdogan.

Dec. 29: After failure of previous attempts, a Russia and Turkey-brokered ceasefire between rebel forces and the government went into effect.

Abu Jandal al Kuwaiti, a senior commander for the Islamic State and a member of its war committee, was killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike near the Tabqa Dam in Syria, according to the coalition spokesman.