A United States Marine Corps detachment has landed in Syria and is outside the Islamic State group’s “capital” of Raqqa, Fox News confirmed Wednesday.
According to The Washington Post, the move came as the Trump administration weighed a more intense effort to drive the terrorist group out of the city. That plan could involve special operations troops and attack helicopters.
The plan has been in the works for some time. The deployed troops are from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which left San Diego in November. Two defense officials said that along with the Marines, the Navy ships also brought along M777 Howitzers, powerful artillery guns that can fire 155-millimeter shells.
The artillery will support a U.S.-backed local force preparing to attack Raqqa. American infantrymen will also aid in securing supply lines for Syrian rebel forces.
Fox News also reported that up to 1,000 troops were being flown into Kuwait as backup if needed.
According to The Post, one source said the operation had “been in the works for some time,” but it was clear that its scope — and the possibility of a wider role for ground troops and airstrikes in Syria — was a major expansion of the military’s role in the conflict.
Indeed, the fact that Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis was even considering these moves showed a major shift in policy under the Trump administration.
The Obama administration’s approach to dealing with the Islamic State group drew frequent criticism from conservatives. America’s presence in Syria has been limited to a small deployment of 300 special operations advisers who counsel local forces.
Aside from that, however, The Washington Post reported that “the Pentagon has mostly shied away from using conventional forces in Syria.” This deployment seemed to indicate that policy was changing in a major way in James Mattis’ Defense Department — and one can bet the Islamic State group isn’t terribly happy about it.
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