Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived in Syria this week, along with M777 Howitzers armed with 155 millimeter explosive shells. Their presence is intended to bolster the coalition of militias, collectively referred to as Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as they continue their offensive to take ISIS’ self-declared capital, Raqqa.
While the Pentagon has not officially confirmed the arrival of the Marines, multiple defense officials have anonymously corroborated reports of hundreds of Marines arriving with their highly-mobile artillery platforms in tow.
According to reports, the Marines are already pre-positioning the M777 Howitzers in strategic locations to assist in the fight for Raqqa. The thirty-five-foot-long Howitzers are capable of firing as many as five explosive artillery shells per minute at targets within approximately twenty miles. Modified Excalibur models have a maximum range of twenty-five miles, but it has yet to be confirmed which model M777 the Marines have with them in Syria.
The Marines are not the only U.S. forces to arrive in Syria as local forces prepare to take the fight to the ISIS capital; as Jack Murphy reported earlier this week, Army Rangers from the 75th Ranger Regiment have also been spotted in the area, traveling via Stryker armored vehicles en route to Manbij.
Although not confirmed through the Pentagon yet, anonymous sources within the military claim Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the American-led task force taking on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, authorized the deployment of Marines from Kuwait in order to “accelerate the fight” against the Islamic terrorists.
The operation to take Raqqa actually began on November 7th of last year. Operation Euphrates Anger, as it has been dubbed, has been ongoing for nearly as long as the fight to take back Mosul in Iraq, and has already had the support of coalition airstrikes, with over 30,000 SDF forces handling the ground fighting. Now, with the presence of American Marines and Special Forces, it would seem the U.S. government has decided to make their efforts to weed out ISIS more direct.
American Special Forces have been assisting with the fight against ISIS for months, with reports of U.S. Special Forces “advisors” playing a direct role in the liberation of the Mosul International Airport last month. When not serving in direct support of the offensive, American Special Forces have been training local fighters, such as the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force (ICTF).
While in office, President Obama established an authorized troop ceiling of 503 U.S. service members that are permitted in Syria to assist in the effort against ISIS, however, short-term deployments are seen as “temporary” personnel and as a result, are not counted against that total. There are no confirmed numbers of how many Army Rangers or Marines are currently in Syria, nor can we confirm whether or not there are other U.S. forces en route to Syria to join in on the fighting.
Currently, forward operating bases (FOBs) are being established around Raqqa to serve as logistical hubs in support of the fight as well as the aforementioned heavy artillery positions. These locations will place U.S. troops close to the fighting, allowing them to be tapped as needed to engage with the enemy in support of coalition objectives.
This change in policy likely came as a result of a new plan presented by Pentagon leaders in the White House last month – a strategy that called for an increased number of troops in the region, as well as increased artillery support, more Apache helicopters in theater, and a more robust training regimen for friendly forces in the region.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps