After months of planning and deliberations, the 75th Ranger Regiment has been deployed to Syria to participate in the war against ISIS as the coalition closes in on the so-called caliphate’s capital city of Raqqa. Yesterday, the first images emerged of Stryker armored vehicles on their way to Manbij. This comes weeks after Rangers deployed to theater with their Strykers and elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment had been passing through Kurdistan.
By looking at the call sign tag on the back of the Stryker, it is evident that this is 3rd Ranger Battalion out of Fort Benning, Georgia, which has been confirmed via other sources. 3/75 has often spearheaded incursions into foreign countries for the Regiment, such as a conducting combat jumps into Afghanistan and Iraq during the invasions. The reason for this is because 3/75 is co-located on Fort Benning with the Regimental headquarters, making planning and coordinating easier since the other two Ranger battalions are stationed at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia and Fort Lewis, Washington.
The callsign “R3” displayed on the Stryker spotted in Syria is a naming convention first started by 2nd Ranger Battalion in Iraq in 2005. They chose R to stand for Mount Rainier which is near their home base in Washington state. After the R, the other eight-wheeled Strykers in the Ranger element are numbered in sequential order. When other Ranger battalions rotated into theater to use the same Strykers, they called them Rico instead of Rainier. In this case, 3/75 is leading the way into Syria for the Regiment.
While some have speculated that the Rangers have been deployed as a deterrence against Turkish airstrikes, the 75th would not normally be sent in on this type of passive mission which any regular Military Police unit can and does perform in places like Poland or Estonia. The appearance of Rangers in Syria represents an escalation of force against ISIS, in a conflict that America has thus far leaned on 5th Special Forces Group and Delta Force to conduct in a clandestine manner.
Previously, 5th Special Forces Group requested help from Rangers on multiple occasions to assist with maintaining site security at facilities in Turkey where they were training Arab rebel groups, mostly due to the fact that many of them were Jihadi sympathizers. The request for the 75th Ranger Regiment was denied by higher levels and physical security was improved at these sites as a stop gap to hopefully prevent incidents of green on blue attacks.
During the recent Manbij offensive this summer, elements from Delta Force’s D-Squadron and Kurdish forces pushed across the Euphrates River on Zodiacs and with armored vehicles loaded onto barges. Once on the opposite side of the river, they quickly took incoming fire from up to 15 US-supplied TOW missiles that ISIS had acquired through the FSA proxies that they use to gain access to American weaponry. A TOW missile sailed through the wind shield of one of Delta’s Hilux Non-Standard Tactical Vehicles and took out two other NSTVs behind it. This JSOC element had also requested Rangers only to be turned down.
During this offensive, the 5th Special Forces Group commander wanted to have his men embedded with both the Kurds as well as with the Turkish military who were invading Syria from the north. This would have resulted in a “friendly fire” contact between American Special Forces soldiers as the YPG and Turkish military fought one another. JSOC quickly stepped in and squashed this misguided plan, preventing Americans from accompanying the Turks into Syria. However, the lack of judgement from 5th Group’s commander led to a major falling out between his unit and Delta Force.
Assaulting Manbij, the joint coalition of the Kurdish YPG, YPJ, and aligned Arab militias under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) drove out ISIS in a military action that included US airstrikes and US Special Operations personnel acting in an advisory role. Order was restored to Manbij and the Kurds handed control of the city over to the local Arabs.
Since that time, US Special Operations has been coordinating with the SDF for the Raqqa offensive. Special Forces ODAs and other SOF elements would come up to the front lines in their NSTVs and hold meetings with Rojda Felat the female commander of the YPJ who led the attack on Manbij and will also be the commander to take Raqqa. With two Arab brigades under her command in addition to the Kurds, she is known to have their full respect. US Special Operations members who worked with Rajda went as far as to describe her as a “badass” commander.
With the SDF and their American advisors having consolidated their gains around Manbij and pushing forward around the outskirts of Raqqa, the introduction of Rangers onto the battlefield signifies that the fighting is about to get a lot tougher and that the SDF may need a bit more of a hands on approach from America at this stage in the game. For the Rangers this is likely to be a challenge as working hand in glove with indigenous forces is really a Special Forces task. Yet, they have acquired experience at this over their many deployments to Afghanistan were they are required to take ANA forces with them on combat operations.
While the presence of Rangers in Syria is now known, their exact mission is not, and that is probably for the best. Given the activities of the 75th Ranger Regiment throughout the course of the war on terror, we can estimate that their actions are likely to be loud and violent.
(Pictures courtesy of Qalaat Al Mudiq/Twitter)