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400 Marines Enter Syria

As of March 9, the Pentagon has deployed approximately 400 Marines into Syria to aid U.S.-backed forces there.

This new Marine deployment will bring the total number of U.S. forces in Syria up to approximately 900, according to The Associated Press. Under limits established under former President Barack Obama's administration, the military is only allowed to have 503 forces on the ground in Syria at a time. However, these Marines are considered to be only temporary forces and are therefore excluded from this rule.

This deployment is occurring in conjunction with recent events regarding the Syrian city of Raqqa. According to NPR, Raqqa is the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS and is arguably their most important stronghold in all of Syria. ISIS forces captured the city back in 2014 and have managed to hold onto it ever since.  

The Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), a group of U.S.-backed troops, have been reportedly trying to take control of Raqqa since November of 2016. Earlier this week, they had a major breakthrough. On March 6, The New York Times reported that the SDF had blocked all access points to Raqqa, thereby making it impossible for ISIS troops to enter or exit the city. 

"We expect that within a few weeks there will be a siege of the city," SDF spokesperson Talal Silo said, according to Reuters.

According to The Washington Post, the new deployment of Marines -- which consists of members from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, an amphibious task force based in the Middle East -- will aid the SDF in their preparations to capture the city. 

Reuters also reported that in the event of an attack on Raqqa, the new Marine forces will not have a significant role at the front lines. Rather, they will be providing support to the already-present U.S. troops and the SDF. Specifically, the group will provide fire support and run security. In addition, the group is also pre-positioning howitzers in order to aid an attack.

An anonymous source told The Washington Post that the Marine's movements in Syria have not been influenced by the new U.S. administration and that plans for their presence had "been in the works for some time." However, the Marine's presence in Syria does seem to indicate the start of a new relationship between the White House and the Pentagon. 

Since February, the two have been working in conjunction with each other to outline a new plan to defeat ISIS. This deployment seems to indicate that the White House is giving the Pentagon more freedom to make decisions in the fight against ISIS.

Sources: AP, NPR, The New York Times, Reuters, The Washington Post / Photo credit: D​VIDSHUB/Flickr

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