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ISIS in Raqqa; US howitzers

US to send Rangers and Marines into Raqqa

The US has sent 400 additional troops to Syria in support of an effort to capture the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, the Islamic State's most important urban area in Syria.

Published: March 11, 2017, 8:33 am

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    Fox chief White House correspondent, John Roberts called the deployment of Rangers and Marines, who arrived in the past few days, a ‘dramatic recalibration” of American presence in Syria. US special forces are already in Syria to act as a “buffer” in support of Kurdish forces fighting ISIS.

    The plan includes the deployment of attack helicopters, the Washington Post reported. The force, part of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, “include part of an artillery battery that can fire powerful 155-millimeter shells from M-777 Howitzers, two officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the deployment”.

    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia alliance including the Kurdish YPG, is the main US partner, Reuters reported.

    According to the BBC, the US-led coalition air strikes “killed 20 civilians – including children – near the city”.

    Various forces – many hostile to one another, are now at intersecting front lines, including: Syrian Kurdish, Kurdish allied Arab forces, American Special Forces, Syrian government troops, Russian special forces, Iranian units, Turkish military units and Turkish allied forces, Newsweek reported.

    A Pentagon official told Reuters that the effort to isolate Raqqa was “going very very well” and could be completed in a few weeks. “Then the decision to move in can be made,” he told Reuters by telephone.

    US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to host talks with coalition members ahead of an expected assault on Raqqa, according to the BBC. A US official told reporters on Wednesday that “Raqqa will probably not be the final battle against ISIS.”

    Foreign ministers and senior officials from 68 nations and international organisations have been invited to Washington for a meeting on 22 March, the state department said.

    The Associated Press news agency reports that presdient Donald Trump wants to give the Pentagon greater flexibility to make routine combat decisions in the assault on ISIS, as commanders on the ground had been frustrated by what they considered micromanagement by the Obama administration.

    The US is also said to be preparing to send up to 1 000 troops to Kuwait to serve as a reserve force to be deployed against ISIS if necessary.

    On Friday Democrats introduces legislation that would prevent funding for US boots on the ground in Syria as the fight against the Islamic State in the city of Raqqa is intensifying.

    “The bill I am introducing today prohibits the Department of Defense from funding any attempt by the administration to expand our presence in Syria by putting US combat boots on the ground,” Barbara Lee, a black lawmaker from California said in a statement to The Hill.

    “It is our constitutional duty as members of Congress to place a check on the executive branch in matters of war and peace,” Lee said.

    Lee’s bill would prevent the Pentagon from funding ground combat operations in Syria or hire a private security firm to do the same, but includes exceptions to “protect, rescue or remove” US personnel, The Hill reported.

    Lee also attempted to impose these restrictions as an amendment to the defense spending bill passed by the House on Wednesday, but the House Rules Committee blocked the amendment, The Hill reported.

    The Obama administration’s limits cap the military to no more than 503 US forces in Syria — but temporary personnel do not count towards that cap.

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