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Eying Raqqa

U.S. just sent 400 more troops armed with heavy artillery to fight ISIS in Syria

U.S. just sent 400 more troops armed with heavy artillery to fight ISIS in Syria

Coalition forces zeroing in on the Islamic State’s de-facto capital city of Raqqa have received some serious back-up from the U.S. military in recent days. On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced it had deployed 400 Marines and Army Rangers stocked with heavy artillery weaponry to assist U.S.-backed coalition forces in their push to destroy one of the terror group’s last major strongholds. 

U.S. forces are setting up an outpost some 20 miles south of the city, where they will establish an artillery battery that will fire powerful 155mm shells from M777 howitzers, in support of the coalition force’s offensive, according to Defense Department sources who spoke to the Washington Post.

The newly-deployed troops join the 500 U.S. military personnel already on the ground, where they are assisting Kurdish and Syrian coalition militia in the final leg of an offensive that has been months in the making.

The latest deployment signals an emboldened U.S. military operation that has its sights set on a speedy offensive in Raqqa. But it also comes at a time when tensions are rising among its allies.

Over the weekend, a separate force of elite U.S. Army Rangers was deployed to the city of Manbij to the north west of Raqqa, in heavily armored vehicles called Strykers. Their role is to act as a buffer between fighters from the Kurdish militias that comprise the Syrian Democratic Forces and Turkish-backed rebel groups. But that’s no simple task. Turkey has warned the U.S. against siding with the SDF, given it is comprised of Kurdish YPG fighters, which Ankara views as the Syrian extension of its rival Kurdish PKK militant group. Turkey has made it clear it prefers the U.S. used Syrian rebel forces it has trained.

Additional concern over the use of the SDF forces comes from the 200,000 residents inside Raqqa — mostly Sunni Arabs who fear that a victory for the Kurdish group could lead to forced displacement from their homes.

Despite the many complications, the U.S. remains focused on Raqqa. U.S.-backed coalition forces are seeking to cut off exit routes for the estimated 5,000 militants inside Raqqa ahead of a planned surge in the coming weeks. Coalition spokesman Col. John Dorrian said that the heavy artillery will help “expedite the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa.” Forces are currently working positions east of Raqqa, in an effort to shut down so-called “back door escapes” and isolate the city.

ISIS is getting hit from all sides, with Russian-backed Syrian military forces also bearing down on the caliphate’s capital city. Though sidelined by U.S. forces of late, the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army hovers nearby in its fight against the terror group in the north of the country.

The intensified assault on Raqqa comes at a time where U.S.-backed coalition forces in Iraq have made major gains in their offensive on Mosul. Both cities have played outsize tactical and symbolic roles in the terror organizations growth and expansion, and both would be enormous losses. Raqqa specifically has long been seen as the organization’s central hub for international planning and propaganda.

“Raqqa is recognized as the financial, leadership and external ops center of the Islamic State, so that’s what makes it important,” Gen. Joseph Votel told CNN in November.

The temporary increase in troops and artillery to Syria comes at a time when the Trump administration is considering the deployment of 1,000 soldiers to the region, who would serve as reserve forces, according to Reuters.

Cover: (REUTERS/Rodi Said)

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