Well, it has begun, and it’s another of President Trump’s stated commitments to the American people: defeat ISIS.
You remember them, right? That group of disaffected youth who were a Jayvee team, and even though the “I” in ISIS stands for Islamic, Barack Obama said they’re confused? There has been free rein for Islamic jihadists, but it appears that has ended — or certain to come to an end.
As reported by the Washington Post, “Marines from an amphibious task force have left their ships in the Middle East and deployed to Syria, establishing an outpost from which they can fire artillery guns in support of the fight to take back the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State, defense officials said.
The deployment marks a new escalation in the U.S. war in Syria, and puts more conventional U.S. troops in the battle. Several hundred Special Operations troops have advised local forces there for months, but the Pentagon has mostly shied away from using conventional forces in Syria.
The new mission comes as the Trump administration weighs a plan to take back Raqqa, the so-called capital of the Islamic State, that also includes more Special Operations troops and attack helicopters. The force is part of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which left San Diego on Navy ships in October.
The Marines on the ground include part of an artillery battery that can fire powerful 155-millimeter shells from M777 Howitzers, two officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the deployment. The expeditionary unit’s ground force, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, will man the guns and deliver fire support for U.S.-backed local forces who are preparing an assault on the city. Additional infantrymen from the unit will provide security while resupplies will be handled by part of the expeditionary force’s combat logistics element.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. general overseeing the campaign against the Islamic State, has previously said that a small number of conventional soldiers have supported Special Operations troops on the ground in Syria, including through a truck-mounted system known as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS.
The defense official with knowledge of the deployment said Wednesday that the Marines and their Howitzers will supplement, rather than replace, those Army units. The new Marine mission was disclosed after members of the Army’s elite 75th Ranger Regiment appeared in the Syrian city of Manbij over the weekend in Strykers, heavily armed, eight-wheel armored vehicles. Defense officials said they are there to discourage Syrian or Turkish troops from taking any moves that could shift the focus away from an assault on Islamic State militants.”
I’m quite familiar with both aforementioned artillery systems, and the HIMARS is capable of delivering precision surface-to-surface indirect fire munitions.
Here are my assessments. First of all, this force is not about nation building; this is a combat strike force comprised of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Special Operations Capable (SOC) along with a contingent of US Army Rangers, the elite light infantry force.
There can be no mistake that these formations are there to engage and destroy the enemy. As to whether they’ll conduct an incursion into Raqqa itself, this force doesn’t have the on-the-ground capacity to conduct full urban operations. What it appears is that this force will isolate Raqqa and degrade key centers of gravity and targets of the Islamic State. In essence, this is old-school, siege warfare. They’re going to pound ISIS and preclude them from repositioning.
Second, a key aspect to this operation will be the rules of engagement (ROE), and I would presume there’ll be no pansy stuff enabling the enemy to gain and maintain the initiative over our forces.
Third, this ground force must have a sufficient air capability to support it, and that means close air support that can be directed onto ISIS targets, as well as conducting air interdiction strikes against ISIS formations seeking to escape Raqqa, or moving in for reinforcement.
However, the real key to success of this operation is to cordon it off from any external influencers — that means Russian, Syrian, Turkish, Iranian forces. I hope we’re very discerning about any indigenous forces with whom we’re fighting. ISIS is a Sunni jihadist organization, just like Jabhat al-Nusra. These are groups who are fighting against Assad’s Syrian forces. We’re not there save but one reason, the Islamic State.
And cordoning off the area doesn’t just mean on the ground — this battle space must extend upward so we have freedom of maneuver of our combat aviation assets — which should be fixed and rotary wing. One can only imagine the sentiments of the other nations who’ve been operating in this area of operations (AO).
When I was the Operations Officer for the 18th Field Artillery Brigade (Airborne) at Ft. Bragg, we’d train on conducting these type of deep artillery strike operations. It requires good communications, logistics, and aviation support. As for the duration of this operation, it is short, as this is not an occupying, terrain-oriented, force, but rather an enemy-focused strike operation. In other words, this operation was given a specific mission, end state, and desired effects to achieve…and that’s what we military types like to hear.
This could represent a new paradigm in the Trump administration as to how we combat militant Islamic jihadism. It is not about massive forces, but a capable short duration force that can conduct strike operations against specified terrorist bases of operations and sanctuaries. This operation evidences the strength of our military — strategic and operational maneuverability, meaning we can deploy and employ our forces anywhere.
Now, if we can rebuild our military capability and capacity, just imagine being able to conduct these types of operations in multiple theaters keeping the Islamic jihadists from establishing bases. Instead of playing whack-a-mole, we can show up and bring our weapon systems to bear at the time and place of our choosing.
Another important aspect of these type of operations is that you don’t need to establish large operating bases like I watched Kandahar and Bagram become in Afghanistan.
This is about spartan, austere, conditions as the primary focus is to engage and bring about a level of hurt on the enemy. And actually, our warriors would prefer this because the handcuffs are taken off and they can do that for which they train.
We can no longer place restraints and constraints on our forces; where they enemy is, they must know there we shall be. If there are countries who are allowing Islamic jihadists to establish bases within their borders, the message is that we will come. We won’t tell you but we will warn you not to interfere, as there are consequences.
This operation shows there has to be real synchronization between Defense and State departments. I’m truly glad we’re taking the fight to ISIS.
Some may say this is risky, but shall I remind you of President Roosevelt’s response after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor…the ultimate aerial strike operation by the Doolittle Raiders? That’s how we as a nation must respond: swiftly, silently and violently.
Yes, I’m quite sure there are countless tunnels throughout Raqqa. But the point is that we will drop artillery on ISIS continually, and that can bring about psychological effects just as much as deadly lethal effects. Semper Fi and rangers, lead the way!