Trump’s Withdrawal of Troops from Syria Part III: Violent Conflict in Iraq and Syria – Timeline

This is my Boxing Day present to you, taking “boxing” in its combative rather than wrapping interpretation.

In this installment of this series, I offer a timeline on the Iraqi and Syrian wars until the end of 2017. I do so, not only to refute Trump’s lie that until he came into office, the war in Syria was a disaster – for by now everyone should know that he is both a braggart and a liar. I want to give some sense of those wars in order to help assess the significance of any withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria. Note though that, from what I provide here, it would be difficult to form a sound judgement, not simply because the items included are only in a summary form, but also because IS was substantially defeated by mid-2017. That victory was followed by the continuation of the proxy war involving Iran, Turkey, Russia and the U.S. coalition backing the Syrian rebels. I do not even summarize that phase of the proxy war in this blog. In addition, a reader needs to recall the worldwide war against IS Islamicist terror in the period between 2014 and 2018, a summary of which I hope to provide in a subsequent blog.

Although readers may certainly derive other conclusions from the timeline that follows, I have made the following ones:

  • In November 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found no evidence of a nuclear program; Iran resumed its secret nuclear production following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq
  • The wars in Iraq and Syria cannot be assessed independently of the policy towards Iran
  • The combination of the American dismantling of the Sunni-run state and the Sunni dominated army, along with the Shi’ite dominated government policies of repression against the Sunnis, provoked and then compounded the insurgency in Iraq
  • Iran went into Iraq to fill the vacuum resulting from the withdrawal of American forces by the end of 2011; for a few years, Iraq effectively became Iran’s satrap
  • The sheer variety of the competing forces, especially in Syria – Iran, Turkey, Russia, U.S.-led coalition as well as Syrian government, various Islamicist forces, mainly IS, Tahir al-Sham, Nusra Front – make the situation very difficult to comprehend
  • In both Syria and Iran, American forces on the ground for training purposes and the American aerial war were critical to the defeat of IS
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) established on 11 October 2015 in al-Hasakah was built on longstanding previous cooperation among the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, YPG) and the Women’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Jin, YPJ) as well as Free Syrian Army and the Assyrian Syriac Military Council (Mawtbo Fulhoyo – MFS) and the al-Sanadid Forces of the Arab Shammar tribe
  • SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces), mainly YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Units), on the ground were also critical to the defeat of IS
  • The difficulty of keeping U.S. Special Forces advising ground troops out of harm’s way
  • The worldwide reach of Islamicist terrorism beyond Syria and Iraq into Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Algeria, Iran, Israel, Russia, U.S., Philippines, Malaysia as well as Europe (U.K., France, Spain mainly)
  • Absolute cumulative horror of acts committed by terrorists
  • New IS militant leaders pop up as soon as another killed
  • Victory over IS terrorism was insufficient; inter-religious, inter-ethnic and inter-tribal alliances were needed to forge not only victory over IS, but to provide a foundation for democracy
  • Relentless gruelling step-by-step nature of war; a slogging affair district by district, town by town
  • Wars peaked in 2016 and in the first half of 2017 before any real input from Trump
  • The war was won in Iraq with the fall of Mosul and, in Syria, with the fall of Raqqa in June 2017; clean-up operations follow.

I hope readers will find the timeline digest that follows useful as a reference.

2003-2012                                   IRAQ

Year Mo. Day Place Event  
2003 March 20 Iraq U.S.-led invasion (Operation Iraqi Freedom) – 177,000 troops  
2004     Iraq al-Qaeda in Iraq formed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi  
2005 Sept.   Iraq Al-Qaeda in Iran (AQI) declares “all-out-war” on Shi’ites  
  June 7 Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi killed in U.S. air strike

Abu Ayyub al-Masri takes his place

2006 Oct.   Iraq Masri forms Islamic State in Iraq (ISI)

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi declared leader

  Nov.   USA Republicans defeated in midterms  
2007 Jan.   Iraq U.S. troop surge – “The New Way Forward”

20,000 new troops; ISI membership at 15,000

      Iraq ISI driven from Baghdad into Diyala, Salahudeen, and stronghold of Mosul  
  Nov.   Iraq Deadliest period for U.S. troops – 852 dead  
2008     Iraq 2,400 ISI members killed and 8,800 captured  
2009     Iraq ISI recruitment declines from 120 to 5 per month  
      Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki targets Sunnis  
      Iraq ISI begins to grow again in Sunni tribal areas  
      Iraq ISI suicide attack in Baghdad, killing hundreds  
2010       New and expanded insurgency  
2011 March   Syria Civil uprising begins  
  April   Iraq U.S.-Iraqi operation kills Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri  
  May 10 Iraq Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi named new leader of ISI  
  July   Syria ISI spreads into Syria  
  Aug. 31   U.S. declares end to combat operations in Iraq  
      Iraq Good security, budget & inter-ethnic relations  
      Iraq Al-Maliki reconstructs state on ethnic lines, appoints cronies to army & kills protesters  
2011     Iraq Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) turns into ISIS  
  Sept.   Syria Insurgency begins  
  Dec. 31 Iraq Last U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq  
2012 Jan   Syria Abu Muhammad al-Julani, now leader of the Nusra Front (NF)  
        ISIS joins rebellion against Bashar al-Assad & uses Syria as safe haven  
        ISIS launches “Breaking the Walls”: 24 bombings; 8 prison breaks to free Jihadis  
  May Mar. Syria UN ceasefire  







2013-2014                                        Syria & Iraq

Year Mo. Day Place Event
2013 Mar. 4 Raqqa Falls to Syrian secular opposition but NF & ISIS active
  Apr. 9 Syria Baghdadi moves to Syria, claims ISIS & Nusra Front merger
    10 Syria Al-Julani rejects alliance and pledges allegiance to al-Qaeda
  July 21 Iraq ISIS launches “Soldiers of Fortune” campaign
  Aug.   Syria ISIS attacks Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Nusra Front in Raqqa and Aleppo.
  Dec. 30 Syria ISIS controls Fallujah and parts of Ramadi
2014 Jan. 14 Syria ISIS captures Raqqa & declares it as Capital of ISIS emirate
  Feb. 3   Al-Qaeda disavows ISIS
  June 10 Iraq ISIS takes control of Mosul & kills 600 Shi’ite prisoners in Badoush prison
    11 Iraq ISIS takes control of Tikrit
    12 Iraq Iran “volunteers” help government retake Tikrit
    18 Iraq Government asks U.S. to launch air war against ISIS
    24 Iraq & Syria ISIS captures the strategic border crossing between Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province and Iraq and 3 other Iraqi towns
    29   Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announces caliphate stretching from Aleppo in Syria to Diyala in Iraq & renames itself

the Islamic State (IS) & himself as Caliph

  July 16 Palmyra, Syria IS launches massive attack on Shaer gas field, kills 270 of whom 200 are executed after their capture
    19-26   Shaer gas fields recaptured, but Islamicists largely escape with 15 tanks and dozens of rockets
  Aug. 2-3 Syria IS captures Kurdish towns of Sinjar and Zumar; Yazidis flee
    3 Iraq IS captures Mosul Dam
    7 U.S. Obama announces air strikes against IS to defend Yazidis
    24 Syria IS captures Taqba airbase in Raqqa
  Sept. 5 U.S. Obama announces international coalition to defeat IS after execution of journalists James Foley & Steven Sotloff
    22   IS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani threatens reprisals against U.S., French & other coalition citizens; on 24th, French tourist, Hervé Gourdel, beheaded in Algeria.
    23 Syria U.S. launches air strikes against IS targets
    27 Syria U.S. strikes IS targets in Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) in Aleppo which had been declared the administrative centre of Kobani Canton by the YPG
  Oct. 7-8 Syria U.S. ramps up air strikes in Kobani vs IS insurgents who had laid siege to Kobani
    15 U.S. Names campaign “Operation Inherent Resolve” vs IS
  Nov. 2 Syria IS & Nusra Front meet in Atareb near Aleppo to cooperate and IS sends fighters to assist NF’s attack on Harakat Hazm, a Western-backed moderate rebel group
  Dec. 31   Peak of war; 20,218 killed

2015    Conflict in Syria and Iraq – Timeline

  Jan. 26 Kobani YPG + units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) backed by U.S. airstrikes win 4-month battle vs IS
  March 31 Tikrit Liberated from IS by Iraqi army in assault begun 2 March
  May   Iraq IS takes Ramidi
  May 21 Libya IS takes full control of Sirte
  June 17 Syria YPG + FSA expel IS from Tal Abyad on Turkey border
    22 Syria Kurds take IS military base of Ain Issa
    26 Syria IS tries unsuccessfully to retake Kobani; kills 145 civilians
  Sept. 30 Syria Russia bombs YPG forces while claiming to be targeting IS
  Oct 9 Syria IS captures 6 villages near Aleppo in northwest
    11 Syria Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) formed from People’s Protection Units (YPG), military arm of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) plus FSA units (battle for Kobani, Raqqa & Tal Abyad)
    15 Iraq Iraqi government forces recapture Baiji refinery from IS
    22 Iraq U.S. Special Forces soldier killed by IS, the first in a hostage rescue, while 20 IS fighters are killed and 6 detained
  Nov. 13 Iraq Kurdish forces recapture Sinjar from IS held since Aug. 2014
    15 U.S. Independent analysis shows that recapture of IS held territory around 4 cities (Hasakah, Kobani, Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa) only possible when air support backed SDF
  Dec. 1 Iraq Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announces Special Forces reintroduced in Iraq and ground troops into Syria to support Iraqi and Kurdish fighters targeting IS
    10 Iraq Airstrikes kill ISIS finance minister Abu Saleh and two other senior leaders in Tal Afar
    27 Iraq Government forces recapture Ramadi from IS
    31 Syria IS makes gains near Aleppo and still holds Raqqa
        IS suffers key losses at hands of SDF & Iraqi military
2016 Feb. 9 Iraq Ramadi recaptured by IS
  April 11 Iraq Government forces recapture Hit held by IS since Oct. 2014
  May 5 Syria IS reverses failed July 2014 effort; captures Shaer gas field
    19 Iraq Government forces retake Ar-Rutbah in west
    23 Iraq Gov’t forces advance on Fallujah held by IS since 2014
    24 Syria Kurdish forces launch attack to retake Raqqa
  June 26 Iraq Gov’t forces take Fallujah
  July 19 Syria SDF captures IS base in Manbij in Aleppo province
  Aug. 12 Syria Manbij totally freed from IS control by SDF
    30 Syria Abu Muhammad al-Adnani (IS) killed in a U.S. airstrike
  Sept. 28 Iraq Last oil fields freed from IS control
  Oct 16 Syria Turkish-backed Syrian forces retake Dabiq which IS prophesied would mark the final victory of IS
      Iraq Gov’t forces launch attack against IS in Mosul


2017    Conflict in Syria and Iraq – Timeline January to May

  Jan. 3 Hazrama Syrian Army forces seize the Air Defense Battalion Base
    9 Deir ez-Zor U.S. Special Forces capture IS fighters
    19 West Aleppo US airstrikes against Sheikh Suleiman military base in western Aleppo held by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement; 76 al-Qaeda fighters killed, including Abu Hasan al-Taftanaz
    21 Damascus Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham rebels negotiate surrender
    29 Damascus Syrian Army takes control of Wadi Barada; restores water
  Feb. 19 Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announces launch of operation to retake the west bank of Mosul
    24 Al-Bab Turkish FSA wins control of al-Bab & other towns
  March 1 Syria Arima buffer zone established between SDF & FSA
    2 Palmyra Recaptured by Syrian government backed by Russians
    9 Raqqa U.S. Marines deploy to back SDF vs IS
    17 Golan Syrian army targets Israeli jets & Israel responds
    22 Tabqa Dam US airlifts SDF forces to capture dam and cut off IS reinforcements for Raqqa
    29 Syria Iran & Qatar negotiate deal for exit of both civilians and combatants to vacate besieged Al-Fou’aa-Kafrayain, Madaya & Al-Zabadan in Idlib and Damascus cantons
      Syria Syrian forces capture Deir Hafer in East Aleppo
      Turkey Announces end to Operation Euphrates Shield
  April 4 Syria Syrian air force chemical attack against Khan Shaykhun; 100 civilians dead
    7 Shayrat Airbase In reprisal, U.S. launches 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from U.S. destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross
    12 Palmyra Syrian Army expands buffer zone around Palmyra
    19 Damascus Zabadani on west declared free of militants
    21 Mayadin Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, senior IS leader, killed
    26   IS develops IED that can be dropped from planes or launched by rifles
  May 7 Northern Iraq IS kills 2 and injures 6 in attack on military base that holds U.S. military advisers
    8 Syria Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, IS terrorist in Malaysia, killed in Syria
    13 Aleppo Syrian government forces retake small airbase in east
    18 Syria Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) retake Sahl Sinjar airbase from IS
    24 Syria Gov’t troops kill IS Minister of War, Abu Musab al-Masri.
    26 Syria & Iraq Americans kill 3 senior IS officials, Mustafa Gunes, Abu Asim al-Jazeri and Abu Khattab al Rawi
    31 Syria Airstrike kills Turki al-Binali, Grand Mufti of IS
      Iraq IS makes last stand in Mosul Grand al Nuri Mosque
        SDF captures Tabqa dam

2017    Conflict in Syria and Iraq – Timeline June to September

  June 2 Syria SDF captures town west of Raqqa from IS
      Iraq Iraqi forces retake 1 of 4 districts in Mosul from IS
    10 Iraq IS launches counter-attack south of Mosul; 24 IS fighters die while 38 military and civilian personnel killed
    14 Iraq IS launches counter-attack in west Mosul; 40 Iraqi police and dozens of militants killed
    17 Deir Ez-Zor Syria Russians kill Abu Omar al-Beljiki and Abu Yassin al-Masri, 2 IS field commanders, in airstrikes
    20 Iraq Gov’t forces encircle Old City held by IS in Mosul
    21 Mosul IS destroys Grand al-Nuri Mosque & al-Hadba minaret
    25 Syria SDF retakes al-Qadisia district in Raqqa; U.S. shoots down Syrian fighter Jet which bombed SDF
    29 Iraq Mosul falls to Iraqi armed forces; victory declared July 9
      Syria SDF completely encircles Raqqa; by July 3, Old City
    10 Iraq Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve issues press release announcing “Iraqi Security Forces liberate Mosul” crediting Kurdish Peshmerga fighters & global coalition as well; clean-up operations follow
    11 Syria Russian killing of caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi confirmed but denied by Kurdish counter-terrorism official
    15 Syria Gov’t forces recapture Wahab, al-Fahd, Dbaysan, al-Qaseer, Abu al-Qatat and Abu Qatash oil fields
    28 Raqqa IS fighters attack SDF east of Raqqa killing and abducting civilians; estimated 2,000 IS fighters still in Raqqa; takes until October to finally clear them out
  Aug. 4 Syria Lebanon & Hezbollah officially enter Syrian civil war along Syrian-Lebanese border & engage on 18 August
    12 Syria Gov’t forces recapture last major town in Homs province held by IS
    13 Iraq 2 U.S. military personnel killed by IS in northern Iraq
    15 Iraq Gov’t forces prepare for showdown with IS in Tal Afar with aerial bombardment
    20 Iraq Tal Afar offensive by Iraqi military against IS begins and reach city limits on 22 August; retaken by end of August
    21 Syria Russia kills 200 IS reinforcements en route to Deir ez-Zor
    26 Syria Central desert (approx. 770 sq. miles) captured from IS
  Sept. 5 Deir ez-Zor Syrian armed forces break siege & Russian airstrikes kill 40 IS fighters and 4 senior commanders
    20 Syria SDF Raqqa campaign in final stages
        IS targets Iranian convoy in east
    21 Iraq Gov’t forces launch offensive in Hawija
    23 Syria SDF captures Conoco gas fields from IS in Deir ez-Zor; Syrian army controls Deir ez-Zor by the end of November



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