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US Builds Up Base In Syria Before Push On ISIS Capital [Pictures]

U.S. special operators are coalescing in northern Syria ahead of an expected push on the Islamic State capital of Raqqa, and possible clashes with NATO ally Turkey.

The Pentagon confirmed the move of forces towards the town of Manbij, after Turkey threatened to attack the main U.S.-backed force against ISIS. Turkey believes the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely composed of Kurdish fighters, are as much a threat to its existence as ISIS. Turkey believes the SDF is linked to a Turkish-Kurdish terrorist group, the PKK.

The exact number of U.S. special operators now in Manbij is not known, but photos circulating on social media showed heavy equipment moving into the town. The U.S. has approximately 500 operators embedded with different militias, which may increase as part of the push on Raqqa.

 

“The coalition has increased its force presence in and around Manbij to deter any hostile action against the city and its civilians,” a Pentagon spokesman told The New York Times. The U.S. needs to protect the SDF from Turkey, because it will be majorly relying on them in the coming fight for Raqqa.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s proposed plan to retake the Islamic State capital of Raqqa, calls for a significant increase in the U.S. military presence in Syria and will require major reliance on the SDF. The proposal would lift the current cap on U.S. special operators embedded with local forces, The Washington Post reports. The proposal would also include the use of U.S. attack helicopters, U.S. artillery, and increased arms transfers to U.S.-backed forces.

Some of this equipment is already in Syria. National security writer Wesley Morgan noted on Twitter that a U.S. forward-operating base near Manbij, pictured in July, appeared to house multiple helicopters.

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