As Trump Strikes Assad’s Government in Syria, Five Docs to Watch

April 7, 2017

A still from FRONTLINE's "Children of Syria" shows a young boy standing amid the rubble of Aleppo.

Thursday night, President Donald Trump announced he had ordered a missile strike on the airfield in Syria where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are believed to have launched a chemical attack that killed at least 86 people, including 28 children.

Since 2014, the U.S. has led an air campaign against ISIS targets in Syria, but this is the first U.S. military strike directed at the government of Syria, where a civil war has raged since 2011.

How did the Syrian war — which recently entered its seventh year — begin? How did it reach this point? And how has U.S. military involvement there shifted over the years?

FRONTLINE has been covering the conflict’s roots and brutal evolution since the start. Here are five documentaries to watch focused on Assad and U.S. military policy and actions, as the war enters a new phase. (This is just a sampling of FRONTLINE’s award-winning Syria documentaries and coverage, which you can explore here.)

1. The Regime (2011)

Six years ago, a group of young boys in a small farming town spray-painted anti-Assad messages on their school walls — and were then rounded up by Assad’s secret police and tortured, sparking anti-Assad protests that would eventually spread and lead to rebellion and war. This documentary goes inside the very beginning of the Syrian conflict, profiling how Bashar al-Assad came to power — and why his government turned so fiercely on its own citizens.

 

2. Obama at War (2015)

This week wasn’t the first time the Assad regime was accused of carrying out a chemical weapons attack against civilians. This documentary examined Obama’s struggle to deal with the deadly civil war in Syria without dragging the U.S. into a prolonged regional conflict – including why Obama changed course on what he had previously said would be a “red line.”

3. Inside Assad’s Syria (2015)

Correspondent Martin Smith traveled to government-controlled areas of Syria, talking with civilians caught in the crossfire who fear the collapse of the Syrian state, sitting down with supporters who defend Assad’s actions, and documenting the regime’s efforts to hold onto power — from opening a new luxury resort five miles east of the bombed-out remains of central Homs, to holding press conferences highlighting atrocities allegedly committed by anti-Assad rebels even as the regime dropped barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods.

4. The Secret History of ISIS (2016)

As part of this investigation of how ISIS came to be, filmmaker Michael Kirk examined the turmoil in Syria during the Obama years — including a fiery debate inside the administration over when, whether and how the U.S. should arm anti-Assad rebels.

5. Confronting ISIS (2016)

This deep dive into the Obama administration’s handling of the U.S.-led fight against ISIS explored the role Syria’s conflict played in the terror group’s rise, and why the situation on the ground in the region today is so complex. It also examined conflict within the administration over how to deal with escalating atrocities by the Assad regime.

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