About 400 US Marines of the 111th Marine Expeditionary Unit and US Army Rangers of the 75th Ranger Regiment have arrived in Syria,augmenting the 500 US troops already there on a train,advise and assist mission for the Syrian Democratic Forces,a conglomeration of militias led by the YPG Kurds.The Marines are there in a combat role with their light but powerful M777 155 mm Howitzers.This artillery has been assisting the SDF soften up Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant positions in and around Raqqa,the ISIL capital,since at least 9 March 2017.The Rangers have been patrolling around the newly liberated town of Manbij in Northern Syria in their armoured personnel carriers to stabilise the security situation and reassure skittish allies such as Turkey.
Besides the Marines and Rangers,US Army HiMARS rocket artillery is reportedly also in or headed for Syria to participate in the liberation of Raqqa,thus mirroring US on the ground activity in neighbouring Iraq.The extra firepower is part of the Trump administration's plan to accelerate the lasting military defeat of ISIL.Although the deployments are considered temporary,no end date has been set.
Additionally,the Pentagon is contemplating sending at least 1,000 more troops to Kuwait as potential reinforcements for the approximately 1,000 US forces already in Syria.Indeed,the number in Kuwait could go as high as 12,000 US troops being held in reserve for support of the momentous Battle of Raqqa,which could be intitiated within a few weeks' time.*
The M777 is a towed cannon with a range of 32 kilometers/20 miles.It has been used in the Afghan War as well.The HiMARS is already being used against ISIL in Iraq.According to US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian,spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force OIR:
We are going to prepare to liberate the city of Raqqa.This is an important task that has to be accomplished,because liberating that city is going to damage the enemy's prospects.It has a tremendous amount of symbolic importance.It's also a major command and control node for their external operations.
We have what I would describe as a pretty relentless air campaign to destroy enemy capabilities and to kill enemy fighters in that area already.That is something that we are going to continue and intensify with this new capability,COL Dorrian explained.*
On 20 March 2017,coalition military forces conducted 22 strikes consisting of 28 engagements against ISIL in Syria,including:
Near Abu Kamal,three strikes destroyed three wellheads and a pump jack;
Near Raqqa,19 strikes engaged eight ISIL tactical units;destroyed four pieces of oil lubricant equipment;three barges;three fighting positions;three headquarters;two VBIED facilities;two VBIEDs;a VBIED factory;a tunnel;a vehicle;a weapons storage facility;a command and control node;and damaged two supply nodes.*
Strikes are conducted by fighter,attack,bomber,rotary-wing or remotely piloted aircraft;rocket-propelled artillery;some ground-based tactical artillery when fired on planned targets.Ground-based artillery fired in counterfire or in fire support to manoeuvre roles is not classified as a strike,the CJTFOIR says.*
Those who have participated in Syria strikes include Australia;Bahrain;Canada;Denmark;France;Jordan;the Netherlands;Saudi Arabia;Turkey;the UAE;and the UK.