first published on March 9, 2017 by Will
Hundreds of US Marines have arrived in Syria to fuck shit up. More specifically, a beach landing team, composed of an infantry battalion, built around an artillery unit, are setting up near Manbij to support the imminent siege on the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria.
Their mission will most likely mirror that of the US artillery units operating in northern Iraq leading up to, and currently involved in, the ongoing operation to retake Mosul. The M777 155mm Howitzers have a range of ~20 miles and will have to be set up well within that distance of Raqqa in order to effectively support our troops and allied forces during the operation.
Although close air support in the form of armed drones, bombers, fighter jets, and attack helicopters will not be in short supply during the upcoming operation, artillery plays a crucial role. During poor weather conditions when aircraft cannot fly, and when ISIS uses massive smoke screens made from burning tires that obstruct aircrafts’ thermal vision, artillery can put timely and accurate fires on target, unhindered.
The following video shows the US Marine artillery equipment as it was brought into Manbij.
— Kovan Direj (@kovandire) March 9, 2017
Yet, before the Raqqa operation can begin, the US needs to be sure that Turkey will not try taking Manbij from the Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) control, which would be devastating to the operation as well as to security in the region. These Marine artillerymen will undoubtedly have Turkish, Russian, and Syrian target grids already worked up in case the incredibly unstable situation deteriorates from any side.
Last night, the SDF made massive, unexpected gains by taking several villages on multiple fronts within just a few kilometers of Raqqa’s city center. The towns of Halabiya, Zalabiyah, Jayadat, and Khabur all fell to the SDF. There are also unconfirmed rumors of a covert raid near al Karma in which several Western airstrikes eliminated Daesh targets.
More important than the taking of the towns themselves is the strategic positioning that was gained in the operations. According to our sources, several hill sides overlooking the entire line of villages along the banks of Euphrates are now held by Western-backed SDF, including the key strategic “Minxer Hill” which gives unobstructed line of site into Raqqa itself.
These gains may push the timeline of the Raqqa operation closer, but one would imagine that the start of the siege would depend on the official “all clear” in Mosul in order to maximize the number of assets on hand for the battle in Syria.