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Mattis Ramps Up US Effort To Crush ISIS Capital

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The U.S. military is expanding its air and ground presence in Syria to prepare for a coming assault on the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa.

The U.S. is expanding an airbase in northern Syria to launch aircraft in support of the coming assault, CENTCOM spokesman Col. John Thomas told reporters Monday. The Air Force deployed additional personnel to the airbase to modify the airstrip in order to expand the number of aircraft that could take off and launch.

President Donald Trump has given Secretary of Defense James Mattis significant leeway in deciding how to prepare for the coming assault, including by removing troop caps. Mattis has largely deferred to his ground commander, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who is bringing hundreds of new U.S. troops and capabilities into Syria.

“It’s about capabilities not numbers,” Thomas told reporters in late March.

Trump and Mattis’s strategy in both cases is predicated on relying on local forces to assault ISIS on the ground, while providing heavy support from the air. The strategy also involves bringing in hundreds of U.S. troops to train, advise, and assist the local forces throughout the assault. U.S. special operators in some cases accompany the local forces in combat, to provide additional support.

Townsend has moved U.S. Marines within 20 miles of Raqqa, and is increasing the level of assistance to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF is a Syrian group with a primary mission of fighting ISIS, and is largely composed of Kurdish fighters. U.S. ally Turkey heavily objects to reliance on the SDF, saying the Syrian group poses an existential threat to their existence.

Shaping operations have already begun as the SDF retakes strategic areas around Raqqa. The coming assault will likely take months and additional U.S. fire support. Nearly 300,000 civilians remain inside the city of Raqqa, and reports indicate ISIS is making them dress in the same clothes as fighters to deter U.S. airstrikes.


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