More conventional U.S. troops will likely be deployed to Syria for stability operations after the Islamic State loses its capital of Raqqa, U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel told Congress Thursday.
Votel’s pronouncement comes just 24 hours after hundreds of U.S. troops arrived in Syria Wednesday to set up support bases for the assault by local forces on Raqqa. Votel’s statements and the U.S. deployment open the path for a long-term U.S. military presence in Syria.
The plan to defeat ISIS in Raqqa is part of a larger strategy the Trump administration is pursuing against ISIS. Specific details of the larger plan have not been released, but Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford told a think tank audience in late February it would be “a political-military plan.”
“The grievances of the [Syrian] civil war have to be addressed, the safety and humanitarian assistance that needs to be provided to people have to be addressed, and the multiple divergent stakeholders’ views need to be addressed,” Dunford continued.
Dunford’s commitment to addressing grievances likely indicate a long-term commitment of the U.S. military to a counter-ISIS mission.
For the assault on Raqqa, U.S. Marines will provide artillery support to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, likely putting them just 20 miles away from the city. U.S. Special Operators are also embedded within the Syrian Democratic Forces, and will likely provide increased assistance to the group throughout the fight. These special operators include U.S. Army Rangers from the 75th ranger battalion, who were spotted amassing in northern Syria earlier this week.
The Syrian Democratic Forces are largely composed of Kurdish fighters, which could pit NATO ally Turkey against the U.S. strategy for ISIS. Turkey regards the Kurdish forces as an existential threat on par with ISIS. The Kurdish forces have proven the only reliable, large-scale U.S.-backed force capable of fighting the terrorist group effectively.
The conventional troops Votel said would be needed may come from Kuwait. The Trump administration is currently considering sending 1,000 U.S. soldiers to Kuwait to serve as a reserve force in the ISIS fight, which could quickly deploy if needed by U.S. commanders.
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