Under Trump, the US military has more leeway to conduct an effective fight against ISIS.
A couple hundred marines have deployed into Syria with heavy artillery guns, as part of the ongoing preparation for the fight to oust the Islamic State (ISIS) group from its self-declared headquarters of Raqqa, a senior US official said Wednesday.
The deployment is temporary, but it is likely an early indication the White House is leaning toward giving the Pentagon greater flexibility to make routine combat decisions in the ISIS fight. Military commanders, frustrated by what they consider micromanagement under the Obama administration, have argued for greater freedom to make daily decisions on how best to fight the enemy.
The marines moving into Syria are pre-positioning howitzers to be ready to assist local Syrian forces, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the deployment publicly, so spoke on condition of anonymity.
Hundreds of US soldiers may deploy to Kuwait
In addition, the US is preparing hundreds of troops to head to Kuwait for the fight against ISIS if they are needed, the official said. The number would be fewer than 1,000, the official said.
The latest troop movements come on the heels of the recent temporary deployment of some dozens of army forces to the outskirts of Manbij, Syria, in what the Pentagon called a “reassure and deter” mission. Flying American flags and moving in large, heavily armored vehicles, the troops were there to keep a lid on tensions in the area, the Pentagon said.
It appeared the forces were largely there to ensure Turkish fighters and Syrian opposition groups focused on battling ISIS rather than each other.
Under the existing limits put in place by the Obama administration, the military can have up to 503 US forces in Syria, but temporary personnel do not count against the cap.
Pentagon leaders sent a new plan to defeat ISIS to the White House late last month, weeks after President Donald Trump entered office. It outlined a strategy that would likely increase the number of US troops in Syria in order to better advise and enable the US-backed Syrian fighters, who will take on the battle for Raqqa.
The military has mapped out a series of options for the Syria fight, including increased artillery support, more Apache helicopters, and a more robust training campaign.
US officials say the battle for Raqqa will look much like the fight in neighboring Iraq, where local forces are in a fierce battle to retake the northern city of Mosul from ISIS. As troops were preparing to move into Mosul, the US set up bases outside the city to use as logistical hubs and as locations for heavy artillery.
The moves to pre-position US troops closer to the fight, so they can be tapped as needed, are the kinds of decisions that military commanders say they need to be able to make more quickly, without going to the White House each time for approval.