US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that the United States would commit an additional 200 soldiers to Syria at the Manama Dialogue, a security conference held in Manama, the capital of Bahrain on 10 December 2016. The contingent will consist of Commandos and Bomb Squad specialists. Their role will be to recruit, train, and advise Arab and Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. This deployment will almost double the United States’ presence in Syria, which will add to the 300 hundred special operations soldiers that are currently active in the embattled country.
The additional troops, along with those already in Syria, will provide advice, assistance, and training to a coalition force of, some, 45,000 soldiers amassing 15 miles from Raqqa, the “capital city” of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed “Caliphate,” which has a population of approximately 200,000. The coalition force is made up predominantly of Kurdish fighters and about 13,000 Arab fighters. Turkey, a key US regional ally, has also, recently, committed military assets to the battle against ISIS in Syria. The success of the Turkish advance has proven problematic, however, as Turkey regards the Y.P.G, the Kurdish militia, as a terrorist group, while the US regards them as one of their most effective allies in the fight against ISIS.
On 8 December 2016, President Barrack Obama released a memorandum waiving the ban on the export of “defense articles and services to foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals engaged in supporting… ongoing US military operations to counter terrorism in Syria.” The ban is established under sections 40 and 40A of the Arms Export Control Act and covers the sale and trading of munitions and arms to countries whose governments have provided support for international terrorism, including aiding and abetting the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The Assad regime has been accused of continually using chemical weapons, including chlorine bombs, against rebel fighters in Aleppo, often causing mass civilian injuries and casualties through the indiscriminate bombing.
The waiver, along with the announcement of the deployment of the extra 200 troops to Syria seems to indicate that the United States intends to provide significant assistance to the coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters amassing outside Raqqa. The coalition forces are currently surrounding the city, thereby cutting off the supply of weapons, munitions, and resources to ISIS forces within the “capital.” In light of the recent and ongoing offensive in Mosul, Iraq, one expects that the attack on Raqqa, designed to “deal [ISIS] a lasting defeat,” according to Defense Secretary Carter, will result in the death and injury of hundreds, if not thousands of civilians and the displacement of many more. The United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria estimates that the death toll of the civil war in Syria is 400,000 as of April 2016. As of December 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that there are 4.8 million registered refugees from Syria and estimates a further 8.7 million people will have been displaced by the conflict.