U.S. force to back as­sault on Raqqa

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Philip Issa and Bassem Mroue

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.

ARAB 24 NET­WORK

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.

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