- Hundreds of US Marines with artillery will back local militias in the push to take ISIS capital Raqqa.
- Deployment has been prepared for months, and does not result from Trump’s plans.
- It is likely to mirror the attack on ISIS’s Iraqi outpost Mosul, with US providing artillery support to local anti-ISIS forces.
- US is preparing to send hundreds of additional marines into Syria if need arises.
A detachment of US Marines with heavy artillery has been deployed in Syria, outside of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS (“Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”) to participate in the battle to retake the city.
The escalation of the American participation in the Syrian Civil War with more conventional forces is in support of the coalition of rebel militias collectively known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Several hundred US Special Operations troops have been based in Northwest Syria advising local militias. The deployment is said to not be related to a Trump Administration plan to take Raqqa and destroy ISIS.
Not Because of Trump
A group from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit was deployed outside of Raqqa with M777 Howitzers, capable of firing 155mm shells within a 20-mile range, The Washington Post reported.
The deployment has been not been formally announced by the US Department of Defense but has been confirmed by Pentagon officials speaking on condition of anonymity to a number of news outlets.
It became known after members of the Army’s elite 75th Ranger Regiment appeared in the Syrian city of Manbij over the weekend in Strykers, eight-wheel armored vehicles.
The US marine detachment deployed near Raqqa left San Diego on Navy ships in October 2016. They were first based in the African country of Djibouti, then flown to Kuwait, and then to Syria, according to one of the cited defense officials.
In his first address to the US Congress on February 28, President Donald Trump said his Administration war working on a plan to defeat ISIS.
“I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS, a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Christians and Muslims, and men, and women, and children of all faiths, and all beliefs,” Trump said back then.
We will work with our allies, including our friends and out allies in the Muslim world to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet,” he added.
However, one of the officials cited by The Washington Post said the new deployment of US Marines near Raqqa had not resulted from Trump’s request for an anti-ISIS plan, but had “been in the works for sometime.”
“The Marines answer a problem that the [operation] has faced,“ the official said adding that the troops provided “all-weather fires considering how the weather is this time of year in northern Syria.”
From Mosul to Raqqa
The top US military commander in charge of the campaign against ISIS, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. general overseeing the campaign against the Islamic State, revealed over a week ago that a small number of US conventional troops have supported Special Operations troops on the ground in Syria, using the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). The newly deployed US Marines are expected to supplement the US units already there.
The US marine deployment outside Syria’s Raqqa has been likened to last year’s deployment of Marines outside the city of Mosul in North Iraq which supported Iraqi and Kurdish troops in their attack against the ISIS-occupied city.
Iraqi forces have since taken the eastern parts of Mosul, as a result of a three month offensive which began in October 2016, and are presently fighting for its western parts, including with US and international coalition support.
Some 30,000 troops of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) helped by US air strikes began on November 7, 2016, three weeks after the launch of the Iraqi government offensive against eastern Mosul, Operation “Euphrates Anger” to take Raqqa from ISIS.
The bulk of the SDF is made up of ethnic Kurds from Syria, the so aclled People’s Protection Units (YPG). The rest of the SDF is made up of ethnic Assyrians, Turkmen, Armenians and Arabs.
The US is authorized to have up to 500 troops in Syria. Before the Marines arrived, roughly 300 US Special Operation troops were supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces.
A US Defense Department official told Fox News that the US was preparing to send hundreds of troops to Kuwait to keep them ready to join the Islamic State fight if they are needed. Their number would be fewer than 1,000.