After the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to the growing catastrophe in Syria, Trump’s administration has made good on another campaign promise and put boots on the ground.
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And the Marines are leading the way. An amphibious task force has landed in Syria and set up artillery to step up the fight against ISIS in the northern city of Raqqa.
The deployment marks a serious escalation in US involvement in the war. Special Operations units have been working in an advisory capacity in Syria for months, but their involvement was seen, outwardly, as logistical support.
The Marines, though, are there to do what Marines do best. In addition to the increased artillery support, the Special Operations units will be functioning in a more tactical capacity, and both groups will be getting constant support from US air support, which will include traditional aircraft, drones, and attack helicopters.
To lead the way for US ground troops, the Pentagon has sent the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The group left San Diego with the Navy back in October. They’ve brought with them 155-millimeter shells that they’re firing from M-777 Howitzers. The typical range of an M-777 is estimated at 20 miles, though GPS-guided Excalibur rounds can extend that range to closer to 30 miles.
Though the Marines are now fully involved in the ground fighting, they’re still positioned far from the front lines. Their shelling will support the local forces fighting on the front. Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, is manning the guns. Security for the gunners is being provided by other Marines from the unit, while the logistical arm is being overseen by the other marines that were flown in from Kuwait.
“The Marines answer a problem that the [operation] has faced,” the defense official speaking on background told the Washington Post. He implied that the timing was urgent, as the Marines can provide “all-weather fire considering how the weather is this time of year in northern Syria.”
This move is seen by those in the military as a welcome escalation in a conflict that America has been avoiding becasue of politics. After a quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan, American support for an escalation in Syria is low. Yet the growing geopolitical tensions brought on by Russian involvement has necessitated a more unified American response.