….As Russia accuses US of goading Kim Jong-un over North Korea’s ballistic tests***
Four hundred U.S. Marines will be leaving Syria soon after completing their mission to help defeat ISIS in Raqqa, which the terrorist group once claimed as its capital in Syria, coalition officials said Thursday.
“With the city liberated and ISIS on the run, the unit has been ordered home,” the Combined Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve said in a statement. “Its replacements have been called off.”
The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS announced that troops from an artillery unit with the 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment will soon leave Syria after providing crucial artillery support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish and Arab rebel group fighting ISIS in Syria.
The SDF retook Raqqa from ISIS in mid-October, after an intense, street-to-street battle involving an estimated 2,500 ISIS fighters.
An earlier Marine artillery unit arrived in May before the offensive to retake Raqqa, according to officials, and it provided artillery fire for the SDF forces that retook the Taqba Dam from ISIS before moving on to Raqqa.
“With a 155-mm artillery battery in the fight, their mission was to deny and disrupt ISIS from gaining ground or moving from their defensive positions,” read a statement from Marine Artillery Lt. Col. Jon O’Gorman, the chief of forces for Operation Inherent Resolve. “These Marines rained relentless and highly accurate firepower on the enemy.”
According to military officials, there are approximately 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, although the official Defense Department force level is set at 503 personnel. A Defense Manpower Data Center quarterly personnel report listed about 1,700 American troops in Syria as of Sept. 30, but Pentagon officials have described that report as a snapshot of force levels that are constantly varying.
“The departure of these outstanding Marines is a sign of real progress in the region,” said Inherent Resolve’s director of operations, Brig. Gen. 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.”
“Our remaining forces will continue to work by, with and through partner forces to defeat remaining ISIS [fighters], 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 added.
In the meantime, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the US of seeking to provoke North Korea into stepping up its nuclear missile programme.
He rejected a call by the American envoy to the UN Security Council to sever ties with the North after its latest ballistic missile test.
Russia argues sanctions do not work and advocates negotiations instead.
The US has warned that North Korea’s government will be “utterly destroyed” if war breaks out.
On Wednesday, the North tested its first missile in two months, saying the continental US was now within striking distance.
However, defence experts have cast doubt on its ability to master the technology needed to launch a missile carrying a warhead capable of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
Speaking on a visit to the Belarussian capital Minsk, Mr Lavrov asked whether America was actively seeking to destroy North Korea.
“One gets the impression that everything has been done on purpose to make Kim Jong-un snap and carry out further inadvisable actions,” he said.
The Americans, he said, “should explain to us all what they’re after”.
ABC with additional report from BBC