- The war against the so-called Islamic State has seen the death-cult’s territory, force posture, and influence recede in recent months. The Iraqi army, the Kurds, and select U.S. special operators have overseen the battle against the group, but they may soon have as many 1,000 more U.S. troops helping them during an offensive to unseat the IS from their “capital” of Raqqa, Syria.
From The Washington Post:
The deployment, if approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and President Trump, would potentially double the number of U.S. forces in Syria and increase the potential for direct U.S. combat involvement in a conflict that has been characterized by confusion and competing priorities among disparate forces.
While the new contingent of U.S. troops would initially not play a combat role, they would be entering an increasingly complex and dangerous battlefield. In recent weeks, U.S. Army Rangers have been sent to the city of Manbij west of Raqqa to deter Russian, Turkish and Syrian opposition forces all operating in the area, while a Marine artillery battery recently deployed near Raqqa has already come under fire, according to a defense official with direct knowledge of their operations.
While there is no way to know what the make-up of the forces on-the-ground at the time of the deployment would be, the troops would mainly be tasked with supporting the Kurdish-Arab coalition known as the Syrian Defense Forces.
The Post reports that these new forces would likely come from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, stationed on Navy ships deploying to the region, and the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, currently headed to Kuwait. This would blow past the Obama-era cap on 500 troops in Syria. Some in the Pentagon want to do away with those caps that they say forces units to be split apart in order to keep numbers consistent.
These soldiers would serve as support and also a “plan B” should the main offensive to take Raqqa takes longer than expected, lessons they say they’ve learned from both Iraq and Libya engagements in the past. This would mean actually embedding U.S. forces with SDF units, some who feud with each other from time to time. Pentagon officials think it would also encourage allies like Saudi Arabia to commit troops to the fight.
The report is expected to be delivered to Secretary of Defense James Mattis before the end of the month, and he’s expected to recommend it to the president.
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