Thursday, March 9, 2017

400 US Marines deployed to Syria to assist in the Raqqa offensive.

A US Special Forces Stryker in Syria. Reuters. 

The United States has deployed 400 US Marines and Army Rangers to assist in the battle against ISIS. Reuters. The Marines will offer artillery support to the Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance. The leaders of the offensive believe that Raqqa will be under siege in a period of weeks. The SDF has had success in isolating Raqqa and has cut off the road to Dier Ez Zor, a city partially controlled by the Syrian regime and currently under siege. The support of the SDF has caused some tensions between Turkey and the United States. Turkey considers the SDF to be terrorists but the US deployment of Army Rangers is seen as a move to placate their concerns. 

My Comment:
Looks like our mission creep in Syria has continued under Donald Trump. Though we still have less then 1000 troops in Syria, we have essentially doubled our commitment. Before we only had 500 or so special forces in Syria, now we have some Army Rangers and Marines there as well. Though I don't have a problem with this deployment I have to point out that there really hasn't been any kind of public debate about sending troops to Syria. 

Thankfully, all of those troops will be useful. The Marine artillery unit will be a boon for the SDF forces fighting ISIS. On a one to one basis, ISIS and SDF soldiers are pretty evenly matched. But with artillery support the SDF has a huge advantage. Add in the fact that the SDF has access to US air support and it looks like ISIS is going to be under massive pressure in the Raqqa area. 

I don't believe ISIS has much left in the way of artillery to respond to this deployment. Though ISIS had captured some artillery during their offensives in Syria and Iraq, I doubt that they have any now. They have probably expended what little they have and even if they haven't airstrikes and counter-battery fire will eliminate them quickly. ISIS is probably almost out of everything, including their most advanced captured weapons. 

How much danger are these Marines in? Probably not too much. They are going to be behind the enemy lines and not in a combat role. That doesn't mean there isn't a threat. After all ISIS is pretty good at infiltration and they could sneak a raid into the rear areas. That would probably go pretty bad for them since even a Marine artillery unit is trained in infantry combat and would destroy ISIS. Still, there is a remote possibility of US casualties here. ISIS has a major ideological motivation to kill US troops wherever they can be found so they might try an attack. That attack will almost certainly fail, but there is always a risk. 

The Army Rangers deployment is a bit more unusual. The Reuters article claimed that they were being deployed to Manbij as an effort to placate the Turks. That doesn't make much sense to me. The Turk's problem with Manbij wasn't that there wasn't enough US troops there, but the fact that the Kurds were in the city, at least according to them. 

The military seems fairly confident that advance to Raqqa will go well. I think there is some reason for optimism as well. The deployment of these Marines will be a gamechanger, but I don't think that is the most important factor. 

The fact is that ISIS is under massive pressure right now. The battle of Mosul is obviously a major problem for ISIS and when it falls they will have lost their most important stronghold in Iraq. But the Syrian regime is pounding them as well. ISIS lost Palmyra, which was their one victory in the past few months. Finally, they have been almost completely cut off from the outside world ever since Turkey closed the border. 

There are other long term issues with this deployment as well. The Syrian government did not authorize it and though I doubt they have too much of a problem with US forces killing ISIS fighters, it is an insult to their sovereignty. The United States, along with Turkey, have violated Syrian boarders. This probably isn't an issue right now, but it may be after ISIS is defeated... 

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