U.S. Marines with Alpha Battery, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 4th Marines, fire their M-777 lightweight 155mm howitzer on Dec. 18. (Lance Cpl. Zachery C. Laning/Marine Corps)
[Note: This article is from before the recent poison gas attack.]
The U.S. military has drawn up early plans that would deploy up to 1,000 more troops into northern Syria in the coming weeks, expanding the American presence in the country ahead of the offensive on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, according to U.S. defense officials familiar with the matter.
Trump, who charged former president Barack Obama with being weak on Syria, gave the Pentagon 30 days to prepare a new plan to counter the Islamic State, and Mattis submitted a broad outline to the White House at the end of February.
The new troops, if sent, would be focused on supporting Kurdish and Arab fighters in northern Syria battling the Islamic State.
About 500 U.S. Special Operations forces are already in Syria operating alongside the SDF, in addition to about 250 Rangers and 200 Marines. The new U.S. troops, if approved, would probably come from parts of both the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit — a flotilla of ships loaded with 2,200 Marines that is now steaming toward the region — and the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, from which 2,500 troops are headed to Kuwait.
White House officials have said they expect the Raqqa campaign to move forward much faster than the current offensive to retake Mosul and have insisted on the need for other options if the current plan bogs down.