A United States Marines artillery unit, as well as Army Rangers, have been deployed to Syria to aid in the assault on the de facto capital of the Islamic State group, Raqqa.
The goal of the deployment is to expedite the defeat of the group in a battle that in recent days has been called "difficult and complicated." But the U.S.-led coalition on Thursday insisted attempts to isolate the city held by the extremist group are going "very, very well."
The United States said forces total 400 – this is in addition to the 500 U.S. military personnel already in the country, deployed during the Obama administration. U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian, speaking for the coalition, said the additional forces would be working with partners in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian Arab Coalition, but would not have a frontline role.
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Dorrian said the initial mission could be competed in a few weeks.
"Then the decision to move in could be made," he said.
The group, once dominant in neighboring Syria and Iraq, is besieged. Reports earlier this week indicated that its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has personally fled the defense of Mosul, Iraq, another stronghold, leaving subordinates behind to finish the fight.
The State Department hailed the effectiveness of one of the partners, as well as its associates, on Wednesday.
"The Syrian Democratic Forces that are operating in northern Syria. They've been very effective... in removing [the Islamic State group] from the battlefield," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington. "I think they've liberated some 6,000 kilometers and more than 100 villages from [the Islamic State group] around Raqqa since the operation began," in November.
The recently-deployed Marines reportedly arrived in the past few days, establishing a position from which they will be able to fire at Islamic State positions some 20 miles away. Their role is to set up an artillery battery that could fire shells from M777 howitzers, officials say.
The Rangers are positioned on the outskirts of Manbij, about 68 miles from Raqqa, an assignment that will last "for a temporary period," Dorrian said.
It is unclear whether the U.S. deployment announced Thursday is a signal of future deployments, and a greater on-the-ground presence, from the United States.
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President Donald Trump is considering a new plan to defeat the Islamic State group that was submitted by the Pentagon late last month, the BBC notes. Reports indicate, however, that while the review may lead to an increase in the number of U.S. troops in Syria, it will not set off "a dramatic shift" in the strategy the president inherited.
"As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy [the Islamic State] – a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, and women, and children of all faiths and all beliefs," the president told Congress in his address last week. "We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet."
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