U.S. Troops Are Now In Syria. Here's Who Will Take The Fight To Daesh

Paul R. Huard

U.S. ground forces are now in Syria preparing to take the fight to Daesh.

It’s the beginning stages of the Trump administration’s plan to join forces with local fighters who have said they will mount an April offensive on Raqqa, the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic State.

True, small numbers of U.S. Special Forces quietly have been part of Operation Inherent Resolve since its beginnings in 2014.

But earlier this month a video surfaced on YouTube of M1126 Stryker infantry carrier vehicles flying huge U.S. flags as they rolled into Manbij, a town in northern Syria that was a Daesh stronghold.

“It’s a visible reminder, for anybody who’s looking to start a fight, that the only fight that should be going on right now is with ISIS,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis, U.S. Navy, said March 6.

The soldiers on board those Strykers are supposed to keep Syrian militias and Turkish forces from fighting one another, according to the Pentagon. How long U.S. troops remain in Manbij to serve as a buffer is unclear.

However, one thing is clear: The U.S. military’s deepening involvement in Syria means America is investing itself in a mission that places even more of its best fighting forces at the disposal of the anti-Daesh Kurdish YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces.

U.S. Army soldiers and Marines will be their partners – and they’ve already arrived in Syria during the last few weeks.

As far as the Pentagon is concerned, the brunt of the fighting is supposed to be borne by local forces.

But there is no doubt that U.S. manpower as well as firepower is there to make a difference. There is considerable evidence gleaned from news reports, social media pages, and word-of-mouth that U.S. Special Forces in Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve have already guided airstrikes, fired weapons that destroyed approaching explosive-laden suicide vehicles, and cleared booby traps – in other words, the battlefield activities of combatants no matter how much the Pentagon wants to downplay American involvement in the fight.

There’s also no evidence that the U.S. conventional forces that have recently arrived as the vanguard for a larger force will be less-involved in the fighting.

What’s more, the troop increases will be accompanied by a Trump administration decision to overturn Obama-era limits on the number of U.S. forces that can be deployed in Syria and Iraq. Current rules cap troop numbers at 5,000 in Iraq and 500 in Syria.

Because of the most recent increases there now 250 U.S. Army Rangers and 200 U.S. Marines as well as about 500 Special Forces personnel now in Syria. In addition, there are also the pilots and aircrews on board U.S. warplanes flying from Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq who are attacking Daesh from the sky.

These are the U.S. forces now in Syria:

U.S. Army Special Forces – Specialists not only in unconventional warfare but also counter-terrorism operations, sensitive reconnaissance missions, and training indigenous forces, Special Forces personnel have advised and trained YPG and SDF fighters for the last two years.  That could mean anything from teaching inexperienced fighters basics such as use and care of military small arms, first aid, and land navigation to more advanced training on heavy weapons and in urban combat tactics.

The Pentagon hasn’t identified which Special Forces unit or units are in Syria. However, a good guess is the contingent now there is from the Fifth Special Forces Group, which is responsible for the Middle East, Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa.

Based in the United States at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Fifth SFG is one of the most storied groups in the Special Forces community.

For ten years, Fifth SFG members saw action during the Vietnam War – and sixteen of its soldiers won the Medal of Honor. After the 9/11 attacks, the group was essential during the early days and months of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan where they fought on horseback against the Taliban – the first U.S. Army soldiers to ride horses into battle since World War II.

Whichever group they come from, Special Forces soldiers are tough, intelligent, and highly resourceful. Organized into 12-man ODAs (Operational Detachment Alpha or “A Teams”), each team member has specialized skills used to carry out the mission.

U.S. Marine Corps Artillery – On March 8, the Washington Post reported that Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived in Syria. According to the article, the U.S. Navy vessels that transported them left San Diego, California, in October – obviously, the Marines’ mission was planned before President Trump even won the election.

There is an artillery battery, security forces, and support teams that comprise the ground forces the Marines deployed. The artillery battery includes the 155-mm M777 lightweight towed howitzer, a powerful weapon with an effective range of up to 25 miles when it fires the GPS-guided Excalibur shell.

Designed as a precision munition, Excalibur is equipped with fins that direct the round to its target with a chance of error that can be measured in tens of feet. It also has a multi-function programmable fuse that allows the round to be set to explode in the air, when it hits a hard surface, or after it penetrates its target.

Reports indicate the Marines will establish a fire base about 20 miles away from Raqqa. If true, that’s no coincidence – it’s the perfect range for use of Excalibur rounds to provide close support for the troops who will assault the Daesh stronghold.

No doubt the Pentagon also hopes the accuracy of the Excalibur fired from the M777 will also limit collateral damage.

U.S. Army Rangers – According to the on-line publication Task & Purpose, the soldiers in the Strykers deployed to Manbij are Rangers. U.S. Central Command just recently confirmed the Ranger’s presence in a statement that said, “The exact numbers and locations of these forces are sensitive in order to protect our forces, but there will be approximately an additional 400 enabling forces deployed for a temporary period to enable our Syrian partnered forces to defeat ISIS in Raqqah.”

Rangers are light infantry tasked with special operations, and they are known for the tough assignments they draw –for example, it was Rangers in Mogadishu who fought alongside Delta Force during Operation Gothic Serpent in 1993, events later portrayed in the film “Black Hawk Down.”

“(Rangers’) capabilities include air assault and direct action raids seizing key terrain such as airfields, destroying strategic facilities, and capturing or killing enemies of the Nation (the United States),” according to a Web page about the Rangers posted by the United States Army Special Operations Command . “Rangers are capable of conducting squad through regimental size operations using a variety of infiltration techniques including airborne, air assault, and ground platforms.”    

In other words, their job is to take the fight to the enemy as aggressively as they can. They are also supposed to hold positions until relieved by larger, conventional forces.

Who will that be? As reported in a previous column, more than 1,800 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team are currently in Iraq as trainers and advisors to security forces there.

Furthermore, the Trump administration is reportedly weighing deployment of as many as 1,000 additional soldiers to Kuwait to serve as a “reserve force” in the escalating American fight against Daesh.