A Kurdish-led force fighting the Islamic State group with the support of U.S. troops will close in on the extremists’ de facto capital Raqqa within a few weeks, but the battle for the city will be difficult, a U.S. military official said Thursday.
Air Force Col. John Dorrian said the U.S. force consisting of a couple of hundred Marines that arrived in the region south of the Syrian-Turkish border on Wednesday will not have any frontline roles but will provide artillery fire to support the advance of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
“The intent of their presence is to provide all-weather fire support, artillery fire to support their advance as they continue the isolation of Raqqa,” he said. “This is just some added fire power that will be very difficult for the enemy to deal with.”
The deployment reflects Washington’s deeper involvement in Syria under the administration of President Donald Trump and thrusts the U.S. further into a difficult diplomatic entanglement.
Dorrian told the Associated Press by telephone that the U.S.-backed force will close in on Raqqa within a few weeks and warned that the battle for the city will likely be difficult as the extremists are well dug in. He said a complicating factor is that the U.S. does not have a partner government to work with in Syria as is the case in Iraq.
The U.S. already had some 500 advisers working with the Syrian Democratic Forces in addition to a force of 400 that arrived more recently, Dorrian said. He said the troops include U.S. Army Rangers already in Syria.
The SDF, a coalition of Kurdish, Arab and Christian fighters, has been the most effective force fighting ISIS in Syria. The SDF has been on the offensive in the Raqqa area since November under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition with the aim of eventually besieging the city before storming it.