When the Syrian Civil War was in its earliest stages, many expected Bashar al Assad to lose the war. Over the years, Assad managed to successfully stay in power and put the rebel opposition on the defensive. Most rebel groups have lost support internationally. The regime has made gains against the opposition in different Syrian cities and successfully pushed out opposing forces in Aleppo, the country’s largest city. The western part of Syria is secure under regime control. Yet, while Assad and his regime’s survival seems assured, the fracturing of Syria is still in process. It is unlikely that Syria will have a centralized regime again throughout its territory due to the different groups that are making moves to consolidate their power.
In northern Syria, Turkey and it Syrian allies have craved out a patch of territory around the Syrian-Turkish borders that is under the control of Turkish-supported rebels. In this territory, Turkey is making moves to reopen public services and finance public work projects which indicate they are here to stay. Turkey has also deployed military forces in the Syrian province of Idlib which is likely intended to enlarge the buffer zone between the Assad regime and Turkey.
In southern Syria, Jordan influence in the rebel groups operating along the border provided the armed opposition groups the ability to still retain their weaponry in the July ceasefire agreement. This makes this region resistant to central authority and is currently self-governing.
In eastern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish, Sunni, and other associated forces was created to fight ISIS and reclaim territory from the group. This group now controls a vast and still expanding swath of territory that is practically governing itself without outside authority. The Kurdish civilian councils have also been providing public services as part of their strategy to pursue political autonomy from Damascus.
While these groups are entrenching themselves in their power bases, it is clear that any overwhelming victory is out of the question for any the major on the ground player in this war but rather it revolves around the battle for territory as once territory is secure, the de facto borders would be hard for any opposing group to break. Both the regime and the rebels are occupying critical positions in the strategic Deir al-Zour province due to the province being the location of half of Syrian oil deposits as well as the location of important border crossings.
The fight is no longer over Syria, but the fight is over where the lines would be drawn in some sort of quasi-partition. With involvement of Russia in their support of the regime and the United States support of the Syrian Democratic forces in counter-terrorism partnership, the risk of these two powers colliding has meant that both governments have sought to deescalate the active fighting through separating the regime and the opposition through somewhat flexible lines marking which territory is under de facto control of the regime or one of the opposition groups.
Years ago, many expected Assad or his regime to retreat into the Alawite enclave where his support was the strongest for a desperate final stand. Now it is clear that the Assad regime is still intact and winning. Syria, however, will most likely not be intact when the fighting is truly over.