Middle EastWar

US Marine Corps artillery battalion leaves Syria

More than 400 Marines who were vital to the capture of Raqqa will not be replaced

More than 400 U.S. Marines have been ordered home from Syria and will not be replaced, the U.S.-led Coalition fighting Islamic State said in a Thursday, November 30 release.

“The departure of these outstanding Marines is a sign of real progress in the region,” said Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve director of operations, Brigadier General Jonathan Braga. “We’re drawing down combat forces where it makes sense, but still continuing our efforts to help Syrian and Iraqi partners maintain security.

Troops from 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment replaced a previous unit in Syria on September 15 of this year, and supported Coalition partner forces with artillery strikes against ISIS in Raqqa, the release said. The unit has been ordered home and its replacements have been called off.

The release said that, from June 6, more than 400 Marines used 155mm M777 howitzers to support the Syrian Democratic Forces in the operation to capture Raqqa, which was finally taken later in June.

US Marines fire M777 howitzers, Syria
A US Marine fires an M777-A2 Howitzer in Syria in support of the Coalition’s local partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces, as part of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, June 3, 2017. Image: US Marine Corps/Sgt. Matthew Callahan

“With a 155mm artillery battery in the fight, their mission was to deny and disrupt ISIS from gaining ground or moving from their defensive positions,” said Marine Artillery Lieutenant Colonel Jon O’Gorman, chief of fires for CJTF–OIR, adding that the Marines “rained relentless and highly accurate firepower on the enemy.”

US Marines fire M777 howitzers, Syria
US Marines fire an M777-A2 Howitzer in Syria in support of the Coalition’s local partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces, as part of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, June 2, 2017. Image: US Marine Corps/Sgt. Matthew Callahan

“Our remaining forces will continue to work by, with, and through partner forces to defeat remaining ISIS, prevent a re-emergence of ISIS, and set conditions for international governments and NGOs to help local citizens recover from the horrors of ISIS’ short-lived rule,” Braga said.

US Marines prepare to fire M777 howitzer Syria
US Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit carry 155mm rounds to an M777 Howitzer gun line in preparation for fire missions in northern Syria as part of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, March 21, 2017. Image: US Marine Corps/Cpl. Zachery C. Laning

US Marines arrived in Syria in March

U.S. Marines first arrived in Syria in March. Then Coalition spokesperson U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said on March 9 that “an additional 400 or so forces in total” had arrived in the country. The forces comprised a U.S. Marines artillery unit and US Army Rangers, Reuters reported.

US Marines fire M777 howitzer in Syria
US Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire an M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, March 24, 2017. Image: US Marine Corps/Cpl. Zachery C. Laning)

Writing in the Washington Post at the time, Tom Gibbons-Neff and Dan Lamothe said the troops were part of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and included an M777 howitzers artillery battery that can fire. They said the Marines were deployed to deliver fire support for the US-backed local forces preparing an assault on Raqqa and estimated that the howitzers need to be based within 20 to 30 miles of their target.

This report was later borne-out by images and video released by the U.S. military.

The Marines first supported the SDF operation to capture Tabqa, before moving to support the Raqqa operation.

Unknown numbers deployed

The Pentagon has been tight-lipped about the number of troops deployed to Syria, repeatedly saying that a total of 503 were in the country.

However, the U.S. Defense Manpower Data Center estimated that more than 1,700 troops were deployed to Syria in September.

According to the DMDC, there were only 279 U.S. troops in Syria in December 2016. This rose to 594 in March, including 24 Marines. By June, there were 483 Marines out of a total of 1,251 troops, and in September 618 out of a total of 1,723 personnel in Syria.

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