British special forces will join United States Marines (MARSOC) in carrying out missions against the Islamic State in Raqqa, a city in embattled Syria. The Brits had already been engaged on the ground in Syria for the past 12 months in a joint special operations unit called “Operation Shader”. More than 300 allied military personnel are involved in the unit that is operating under U.S. command. This followed an announcement on October 30 by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that the coalition would “no longer hold back from supporting capable partners against Islamic State or conducting missions on the ground”. The Islamic State is known to be particularly strong in and around Raqqa.
The joint US/UK force relies on support from AC 130 Hercules planes fitted with 105 mm light guns, as well as A10 Warthogs and F-16 fighter jets from a number of supporting nations, including Jordan. Britian’s SAS commando teams have been operating deep inside eastern Syria for months in conjunction with US forces using sniper units to kill Islamic State commanders and seek out IS chemical warfare facilities. US special forces will lead the ground assault against IS targets.
Russia’s increased involvement in Syria has prompted a “more robust and pro-active approach aimed at taking the fight to the heart of IS and cutting the head off the snake”, a military source told the UK Telegraph on November 1.
The Coalition Joint Special Operations unit will advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces in a major ground offensive towards Raqqa in northern Syria. The allies are seriously considering the idea of establishing a safe haven in Syria where refugees can be kept northwest of Aleppo. An area approximately 1,500 square kilometers in area would rely on protection afforded by a British Type-45 destroyer that would shoot down Syrian government military helicopters.
U.S. Marine MARSOC warriors
On November 1, the former head of the British Army’s chemical, biological and nuclear regiment, Hamish Bretton-Gordon said: “It is the indiscriminate bombing by Syrian forces, especially of barrel bombs, which is the main driver forcing Syrians to leave their country.” He established that the level of refugees may reach seven million by year’s end.
“The region is controlled by Free Syrian Army and moderate groups, and is not near the Russian sphere of influence,” said Bretton-Gordon. He added, “It would require a Type-45 destroyer to be deployed off the coast of Turkey. Such a ship, HMS Defender, is due in the region shortly”.
Calling upon the West to cooperate with Russia to find a solution to the war and the exodus of Syrians, Catholic Archbishop Jean-Claude Jeanbart of Aleppo criticized the European Union for “luring Syrians away from their home country”.
The war is now in its fifth year. It has resulted in at least 250,000 dead and more than 1 million refugees.
Writing in the UK Guardian, Trevor Timm gave his analysis of what the committing of U.S. troops in Syria means for the Obama administration:
These forces will supposedly be “advising and assisting” rebel armies in the northern Syria who are fighting Isis, including Kurdish forces, while not engaging in direct combat. (Separately on Friday, the prime minister of Turkey, a member of the anti-ISIS coalition, threatened to attack the US-backed Kurdish troops, who are believed to be the most effective fighting force against Isis, yet also sworn enemies of the Turkish government.)
While the administration says they will only be “advising and assisting” we know that the US military has already carried out combat operations inside Syria. “Advise and assist” is the same thing the White House said that our troops would be doing in Iraq, but now the Pentagon is admitting: “We’re in combat” in Iraq as well (and have been for months).