by WorldTribune Staff, March 9, 2017
The U.S. Marines have established America’s first artillery base in Syria as the fight to drive Islamic State (ISIS) from its de facto capital at Raqqa intensifies.
A U.S. defense official would not speak to the size of the detachment deployed to Syria, but said it included elements of multiple artillery batteries, as well as support personnel, including infantry Marines, Military.com confirmed on March 8.
The deployment of Marines attached to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit marks the first time American artillery support capability has been on the ground in Syria since the fight against the ISIS began in 2014.
A surge of U.S. boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq was one of the options recently presented by the Pentagon to President Donald Trump, who had ordered a review of the strategy to defeat ISIS.
U.S. Army Stryker combat vehicles were recently spotted in Northeast Syria, prompting Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, to confirm via Twitter that American troops had deployed near Manbij, about 90 miles northwest of Raqqa.
The Marines are equipped with M777 155mm howitzers, which can fire high-explosive rounds, effective at a range of more than 14 miles, or GPS-guided Excalibur rounds, which have an effective radius of up to 25 miles.
U.S. defense officials said the Marines will provide capabilities for commanders of the joint task force leading the ISIS fight and to support the push into Raqqa.
The Marines attached to the MEU – which is deployed around the Middle East, conducting training in countries including Oman and Djibouti – had departed their ships and moved into Syria weeks ago, The Washington Post reported.
On March 6, Pentagon officials confirmed that U.S.-backed militia in Syria had taken control of a key route out of Raqqa, dealing an important setback to ISIS.
The Marines’ deployment marks the second time in just over a year that a Marine artillery detachment has been deployed from a MEU in support of the ground fight against ISIS. In March 2016, more than 100 Marines departed the 26th MEU to establish Fire Base Bell, an artillery position in northern Iraq set up to provide support as ground troops prosecuted an assault on the ISIS stronghold of Mosul.