U.S. Marines arrived in Syria Wednesday to begin the first phase of President Donald Trump’s plan to expel the Islamic State from its capital of Raqqa, The Washington Post reports.
The Marines reportedly from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit based in San Diego will provide artillery support to the Syrian Democratic Forces, and accompanying U.S. special operators in the assault on the city. The type of artillery base must be within 20 miles of its intended target to be effective, the Post notes. Some infantry Marines accompanied the unit to provide force protection on the mission.
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Trump, along with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, will also likely lift the current cap on U.S. special operators embedded with local forces in tandem with the deployment. The U.S. has approximately 500 special operators in the country currently. Their proposal would also include the use of U.S. attack helicopters, U.S. artillery, and increased arms sales to U.S.-backed forces.
The main recipient of U.S. aid and artillery support will likely be the Syrian Democratic Forces, an anti-ISIS force largely composed of Syrian Kurdish fighters. American reliance on Syrian Kurds will likely spark major tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, who regard the Kurdish forces as an existential threat on par with ISIS. The Kurdish forces have proven the only reliable, large-scale U.S.-backed force capable of fighting the terrorist group effectively.
New strategic plans for Raqqa are likely just a small facet of a new overall strategy to eradicate ISIS. Trump ordered a 30-day review of U.S. strategy, along with options to increase operations tempo, which the Pentagon delivered to the White House Monday.
“This plan is a political-military plan,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford told a think tank audience in late February. “The grievances of the [Syrian] civil war have to be addressed, the safety and humanitarian assistance that needs to be provided to people have to be addressed, and the multiple divergent stakeholders’ views need to be addressed.”
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