Today marks the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Syria. For the past five years, VICE News journalists have been on the ground documenting the rebel struggle, civilian suffering, and the rise of the Islamic State and al Qaeda in the country. Below is a selection of our work so far.
Ground Zero: Syria
In 2011, VICE commissioned renowned photojournalist and videographer Robert King to embed with the Free Syrian Army, the rebel coalition that had been just formed, on the front lines in Aleppo. The result was a series of unedited vignettes of the ancient city as it crumbles and burns while its citizens are killed indiscriminately.
Rojava: Syria's Unknown War
In September 2013, VICE entered Syria's Kurdish region to document the YPG's counteroffensive against jihadists guerrillas who had struck deep into rural Hasakah in an attempt to surround and capture the town of Ras al-Ayn. With unparalleled access to the Kurdish and Syrian Christian fighters on the front lines, we found ourselves witnessing a bitter conflict within the Syrian war, with the Assad regime a neutral spectator between jihadist-led rebels and Kurdish nationalists, pitting village against village and neighbor against neighbor.
The Syrian Spillover: Lebanon (Dispatch One)
As the Syrian conflict continued to bleed over the border into Lebanon, a reported 1.5 million Syrian refugees had been absorbed by then by its smaller neighbor. VICE News spoke to some of these refugees, who discussed their desperation and hardship, many expressing disappointment with the international community.
Syria: Wolves of the Valley
Syrian rebels had a bad year in 2013. While the mainstream rebel groups struggled to defend their front lines from the resurgent Assad regime, a renegade al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State, launched a series of assaults. The Islamic State's attacks on the formerly-dominant Free Syrian Army brigades came from behind, and led to the capture of rebel strongholds in northern Syria and the execution of their commanders.
Syria: Al Qaeda's New Home
VICE News managed to secure access not only to the Islamic State but also to Jabhat al Nusra, the former and current al Qaeda factions battling Syria's government forces, creating a remarkable portrait of the foreign volunteers and local Syrians willing to fight and die to establish a new caliphate on Europe's doorstep.
The Islamic State
In the summer of 2014, VICE News filmmaker Medyan Dairieh gained unprecedented access to the Islamic State and its stronghold in Raqqa.
The Battle for Aleppo
Until the civil war reached Aleppo, it was Syria's largest city, and the country's commercial and industrial hub. Now the ancient city lies in ruins, 70 percent of its population has fled, and those who remain live under siege. Rebel-held areas are under constant bombardment by barrel bombs — crudely improvised explosive devices that are dropped from government aircraft.
In May 2014, as rebel and government forces struggled for total victory, VICE filmmaker Medyan Dairieh followed the volunteers of Aleppo's Civil Defense, a civilian rescue organization, who risk their lives daily as the first responders to government airstrikes in a city seemingly abandoned by the outside world.
Jihadists vs. the Assad Regime: Syria Rebel Advance
In just a few short weeks in 2015, a newly-united rebel coalition had captured almost all of northwest Syria's Idlib province from government forces, overturning assumptions over the war's course, and threatening the regime's ability to defend its heartland.
VICE News filmmaker Salam Rizk secured rare access to the jihadist fighters at the spear tip of the battle for the strategic city of Jisr al-Shughour.
The Battle for Syria's South
Daraa is where Syria's revolution began. Now it's the scene of a forgotten war, in which largely secular Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels — marginalized elsewhere in Syria — continue to lead the struggle against Bashar al-Assad's regime.
VICE News followed the Fallujah Horan brigade of the FSA and their charismatic commander Abu Hadi Aboud as they fought to push regime forces out of Daraa's eastern suburbs.
Inside the Battle: Al Qaeda-Al Nusra in Syria
In November 2015, VICE News filmmaker Medyan Dairieh gained exclusive access to the Syrian branch of al Qaeda, Jabhat al Nusra, witnessing their victorious battle for a key military base and the everyday life of its fighters — including, chillingly, the small boys it trains to become its future soldiers and suicide bombers.