U.S. force to back assault on Raqqa
A Kurdish-led force fighting the Islamic State with the support of U.S. troops will close in on the extremists’ de facto capital of Raqqa within a few weeks, but the battle for the city will be difficult, a U.S. military official said Thursday.
Air Force Col. John Dorrian said the U.S. force, consisting of a couple of hundred Marines who arrived in the region south of the Syrian-Turkish border on Wednesday, will not have any front-line roles but will provide artillery fire to support the advance of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
“The intent of their presence is to provide all-weather fire support, artillery fire to support their advance as they continue the isolation of Raqqa,” he said. “This is just some added firepower that will be very difficult for the enemy to deal with.”
The deployment reflects Washington’s deeper involvement in Syria under the administration of President Donald Trump and thrusts the U.S. further into a difficult diplomatic entanglement.
Dorrian said the U.S.backed force will close in on Raqqa within a few weeks and warned that the battle for the city will likely be difficult, as the extremists are well dug in. He said a complicating factor is that the U.S. does not have a partner government to work with in Syria, but does in Iraq.
The U.S. already had some 500 advisers working with the Syrian Democratic Forces in addition to a force of 400 that arrived more recently, Dorrian said. He said the troops include U.S. Army Rangers.
The SDF, a coalition of Kurdish, Arab and Christian fighters, has been the most effective force fighting the Islamic State in Syria. The SDF has been on the offensive in the Raqqa area since November under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, with the aim of eventually besieging the city before storming it.
Dorrian said the SDF “made excellent progress and the enemy hasn’t been able to stop them from doing the things that they set out to do.”
He said the SDF will need a “few more weeks” to completely isolate Raqqa and a decision will be made about the timing “of the liberation battle to begin.”
But there are political complications that could threaten the operation. The Syrian government has never approved the presence of Western militaries on Syrian soil.
“Any presence of U.S. forces or other forces on the Syrian land, without coordination with the Syrian state, is considered a flagrant violation of the Syrian sovereignty,” said Syrian lawmaker Omar Osse.
A U.S. convoy rolls through the outskirts of Manbij, Syria, on Tuesday. A U.S. military official said the Marine contingent just arrived will not serve on the front line but provide artillery support to Kurdish-led forces as they advance on Raqqa, Syria.