Published: Mon, March 13, 2017
USA | By Cassandra Hanson

US commander signals larger, longer US presence in Syria

A USA defense official would not speak to the size of the detachment deployed to Syria, but said it included elements of multiple artillery batteries, as well as support personnel, including infantry Marines, confirmed on March 8.

"We have enough forces to liberate Raqqa with the help of the coalition", Sheikh Ehmed said, adding that their troops received intelligence that the Islamic State group is moving some of its leaders outside the city and are digging tunnels in preparation for intense street battles - much like those underway in neighboring Iraq where the Iraqi forces, backed by the USA -led coalition, are fighting to rout IS from the western part of the city of Mosul, the extremists' last remaining urban stronghold in Iraq.

In Syria, Turkish forces have attacked Kurdish fighters, and hundreds of USA troops are there to help the SDF prepare for the looming fight for Raqqa.

Although Turkey is a USA ally in the war against ISIS, tensions prevail between the SDF and Arab-backed forces directed by Turkey, deployed west of the Euphrates river.

So, what are these additional Marines and Army Rangers doing in Syria? The Marines on the ground include part of an artillery battery that can fire powerful 155-millimeter shells from M777 Howitzers, two officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the deployment.

Their positions will be about 20 miles away from IS-controlled areas. "So the artillery support will enable them to get closer and defeat ISIS", said Maj.

The extremists have withdrawn from parts of northern Syria in the last few weeks, a sign of the pressure they are under in both the Syrian and Iraqi halves of their self-declared "caliphate". That Marine unit was subsequently replaced by an Army unit, the military official said.

"Our intention here with this - and this fell within the authorities that are provided to me right now - was to ensure that we had redundant capable fighters support on the ground to support our partners and ensure that we could take advantage of opportunities and ensure the continuing progress that we've been seeing", Votel said.

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The deployment reflects Washington's deeper involvement in Syria under the administration of President Donald Trump and thrusts the US further into a hard diplomatic entanglement.

Late last month, Pentagon leaders sent to the White House a new plan to defeat ISIL.

The US has also deployed approximately 100 Army Rangers in and around Manbij, Syria.

Though no decision has been formally announced, the US has been sending signals that it is inclined to rely on the Kurdish forces, who have proven the most effective local force at battling IS.

These troops will "reassure and deter parties from attacking any other parties other than ISIS itself", Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Monday. The report said that there are about 6,000 troops serving mainly as advisers in the area.

Maintaining peace between the groups in Manbij will be crucial if they will work together in the battle for Raqqa.

Russian Federation - which has forces on the ground in Syria and has expressed a desire to work with U.S. forces against ISIS, but is not a coalition member - will not be represented.

Those 300 troops have been working with the SDF in fighting ISIS in northern and eastern Syria.

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