The war in Syria

The Syrian civil war ground on through its fifth full year, with the overall death toll now estimated at anywhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people.

The government of Bashar al-Assad was aided by continued splintering among the forces opposed to him, which comprise hard-line Islamists, including ISIS, more moderate forces backed by the U.S., and Kurds in the north of the country.

The fact that Assad is backed by Russia and Iran has had times seemed to bring the situation to the brink of a full-scale proxy war. President Obama has resisted calls for full-on U.S. involvement, however.

That has drawn criticism from some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who in October accused the Obama administration of having “no strategy” on the conflict.

Assad scored a major victory in December, when his forces defeated the rebels in eastern Aleppo, previously a rebel stronghold.

At year’s end, a tentative ceasefire was in place between pro-Assad forces and some of the rebel groups, though Islamist forces were not party of that agreement. The U.S. had not been involved in the negotiation of that ceasefire, which was brokered primarily by Russia and Turkey.

In mid-December, as evacuations were readied from Aleppo, Trump told a rally in Pennsylvania that his administration would create “safe zones” in Syria. Such an effort would be politically and logistically complicated.