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Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Deployment of US Marines to Syria And What It Means

There's supposedly big news that America has now deployed marines into Syria.  If you heard this reported on the cable news networks, you would think that the entire American army had invaded Syria.  Actually, what has happened is that 400 marines have moved into a position outside of the ISIS capital of Raqqa to support the forces that will soon attack that ISIS stronghold.  In many respects, this is the logical next step in the battle against ISIS.  For the last five months, the battle against ISIS has raged in and around Mosul in Iraq.  Most of that city has now been retaken by Iraqi forces supported by, among others, US special ops troops and regular US forces like the marines.  Mosul was the announced target of the Iraqi forces for many months more.  That meant that the main leaders of ISIS were able to get out of Mosul before the attacks cut off the possible exits from the city.

The tactics around Raqqa have been different.  Certainly, ISIS knows that Raqqa is going to be targeted.  After all, it is the capital of the caliphate.  Nevertheless, there hasn't been a stead stream of press conferences at which the anti-ISIS coalition has explained its future battle plans.  This is one major improvement since President Trump took over for president Obama. 

Once Mosul falls, there will be little left under ISIS control between Mosul and Syria.  The anti-ISIS forces can move forward and into Syria as they chase ISIS back to Raqqa.  It stands to reason that the same sort of forces used in Mosul by the USA will be used in the battle for Raqqa.  The marines who have been deployed outside Raqqa are mostly artillery units who can target points within the city and support the troops battling ISIS.  This is the main reason that the marines are there.

It is not the only reason, however.  The marines near Raqqa protect the Kurds and other forces that are fighting ISIS.  This protection is not just against ISIS.  The Assad regime, the Russians and the Iranians would like nothing better than to destroy these non-Assad forces that are fighting ISIS.  The Russians have, in the past, used their air power to bomb forces like this.  The Turks have also attacked these forces, especially the Kurds.  If American troops are mixed into the region, it will make it much harder for either the Russians or the Turks to attack the anti-ISIS forces.  Putin may want to keep Assad in power, but he surely doesn't want to launch an air attack against American troops to accomplish that goal.  The Turks are even less likely to chance an attack that could harm American troops.  Even the Iranians will not want to have a direct confrontation with American forces that could lead to a terrible defeat for Iran.  Just the same way that the introduction of Russian forces into the mix gave Assad cover from many attacks, having US marines in the field protects the non-ISIS rebel forces.  Indeed, it will not be that difficult for the US forces to spread across a region in Syria and help establish a no-fly, safe zone for refugees.

This is a policy with a higher risk that the old one followed by president Obama.  Obama's goal seemed to be to avoid losing.  Trump's goal seems to be to win.  It's a big step forward.  Let's all hope that it works.

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