Deployment increases US military role in Syria, previously limited to air strikes and training local forces
The Pentagon has deployed US Marines to Syria, where they will establish a base from which they can fire artillery in support of local forces pushing to capture Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (IS) group, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
The deployment increases the direct role of Washington in the war, after it had limited its involvement to air strikes and training anti-IS forces.
US troops had established a similar artillery outpost near Mosul, Iraq, which was targeted by IS rockets in March 2016, leading to the death of an American soldier.
Artillery used by the Marines must be within 20 miles of the target to be effective, according to the Post.
The Kurdish-dominated Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) are closing in on Raqqa with US support. Washington’s alliance with the SDF has irked Turkey, which launched a military operation in Syria last year to push IS militants off its border and quell SDF advances.
US troops were deployed to Manbij early this week to ensure that Turkish and Kurdish forces do not clash in the northern Syrian city, which was captured from IS last year.
US Captain Jeff Davis said on Monday that US forces in Manbij were a "visible sign of deterrence and reassurance."
The Trump administration is also weighing a deployment of as many as 1,000 American soldiers to Kuwait to serve as a reserve force in the fight against IS, Reuters reported.
Proponents of the option, which has not been previously reported, said it would provide US commanders on the ground greater flexibility to quickly respond to unforeseen opportunities and challenges on the battlefield.
Meanwhile, a US official said that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has fled Mosul and apparently delegated tactical control of the battle for the city to local commanders.
The official said the elusive militant, who appeared in public in Mosul in July 2014 to proclaim a "caliphate," fled the former IS bastion some time before Iraqi security forces surrounded the city during an offensive to retake it.
"He was in Mosul at some point before the offensive. We know he's been there," the official told reporters.
"He left before we isolated Mosul and Tal Afar," a town to the west of the city, the official added.