On Wednesday, The Washington Post was the first to report that a “couple hundred” U.S. Marines have arrived in northern Syria to join the fight against ISIS. A group from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived with M777 Howitzers to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to try and oust the Islamic State from their de facto capital, Raqqa. The Marines were deployed from ships in the Persian Gulf region.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that a U.S. defense official said that many ISIS leaders have begun to flee Raqqa, but will likely continue to carry on the fight from other safe havens in Iraq and Syria. Though many leaders are being pushed out of their de facto capital, about 3,000 to 4,000 Islamic fighters remain in the city.
CNN reports that the Pentagon and the Marine Corps refuse to comment on the deployment for security regions. However, two U.S. officials said that because Marines were already deployed to the region, the decision to move troops to Syria did not need to be approved by President Trump or Secretary Mattis, though both the White House and the Pentagon were aware of the plan.
The Washington Post added that the plan to move Marines into Syria has “been in the works for some time” and is not a byproduct of the new Trump administration.
Coalition spokesman U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said that the effort to isolation Raqqa was “going very, very well” thus far and putting Marines on the ground will speed up the efforts, according to Reuters.
“We have had what I would describe as a pretty relentless air campaign to destroy enemy capabilities and to kill enemy fighters in that area already. That is something that we are going to continue and intensify with this new capability,” Dorrian said.
“We are talking about an additional 400 or so forces in total, and they will be there for a temporary period,” he continued.
The SDF includes ethnic Assyrians, Turkmen, Armenians, and Arabs; but is comprised mostly of Kurdish forces, fighters from Kurdistan, a region of the Middle East that encompasses small parts of northern Iraq, northern Syria, Turkey, and Iran.
A small number of U.S. Marines are currently in Manbij, a town in northern Syria, in order to keep peace between the Turkish and Kurdish forces.