U.S. Marines artillery unit has deployed to Syria to help local forces speed up efforts to defeat Islamic State at Raqqa. Coalition spokesman U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said the additional U.S. forces would be working with local partners in Syria – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition – and would not have a front line role. Islamic State is also being fought in Syria by the Russian-backed Syrian military, and by Syrian rebel groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner with Turkish backing in northern Syria and Jordanian backing in southern Syria.
The State Department hailed the effectiveness of one of the partners, as well as its associates, on Wednesday.
“The Syrian Democratic Forces that are operating in northern Syria. They’ve been very effective in removing the Islamic State group from the battlefield,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington. “I think they’ve liberated some 6,000 kilometers and more than 100 villages from [the Islamic State group] around Raqqa since the operation began,” in November.
The recently-deployed Marines reportedly arrived in the past few days, establishing a position from which they will be able to fire at Islamic State positions some 20 miles away. Their role is to set up an artillery battery that could fire shells from M777 howitzers, officials say. The Rangers are positioned on the outskirts of Manbij, about 68 miles from Raqqa, an assignment that will last “for a temporary period,” Dorrian said.
President Donald Trump is considering a new plan to defeat the Islamic State group that was submitted by the Pentagon late last month, the BBC notes. Reports indicate, however, that while the review may lead to an increase in the number of U.S. troops in Syria, it will not set off “a dramatic shift” in the strategy the president inherited.
“As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy [the Islamic State] – a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, and women, and children of all faiths and all beliefs,” the president told Congress in his address last week. “We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.”
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) March 4, 2017
U.S. officials say the battle for Raqqa will look much like the fight in neighboring Iraq, where local forces are in a fierce battle to retake the northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State group. As troops were preparing to move into Mosul, the United States set up bases outside the city to use as logistical hubs and as locations for heavy artillery.
The moves to pre-position U.S. troops closer to the fight, so they can be tapped as needed, are the kinds of decisions that military commanders say they need to be able to make more quickly, without going to the White House every time for approval.