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6 Jun, 2017 21:14

US Marines, Apaches provide ‘psychological edge’ as Kurdish-led militia begins siege of Raqqa

US Marines, Apaches provide ‘psychological edge’ as Kurdish-led militia begins siege of Raqqa

The US military is providing active support for the Syrian Democratic Forces in the form of Marine Howitzers and “valuable close-air support” from Apache helicopters in the SDF’s attack on Raqqa, the so-called capital of Islamic State.

The mainly Kurdish SDF began its long-awaited siege on the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) stronghold in Syria on Monday, a week after the US began delivering arms. Coalition warplanes and artillery began strikes Monday afternoon, and continued through Tuesday afternoon.

The Apache gunships provide “valuable close-air support” and a “psychological edge” in the battle against IS, Defense Department spokesman Eric Payhon told RT America. “When ISIS sees the Apache AH-64s, well, it’s a psychological advantage.”

The Marine M777 Howitzers “are providing a significant enabling capability to our Special Operations Forces and partners on the ground,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said during a briefing on Tuesday.

The US is providing the SDF and the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) with training equipment, assistance, intelligence and air support as part of the US military’s “advise and assist” mission, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The DOD would not comment on how many Apaches, Howitzers or troops were taking part in the assault because “we have a limited presence in Syria and we don’t want ISIS to have an idea of our capabilities,” Payhon said.

Last week, the Pentagon announced that it started delivering weapons to the SDF, a militia dominated by the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units), saying they were necessary to capture Raqqa, despite the objections of Turkey, a NATO ally.

Ankara is opposed to arming the SDF, saying the weapons may end up in the hands of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant movement based in Turkey that has been waging a guerrilla war against the Turkish government since the 1980s. Both Turkey and the US consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization.

The US is equipping Kurdish elements in incremental steps, Payhon told RT America. The Pentagon is “metering it out as they achieve certain objectives.”

“The coalition is taking steps to provide transparency to the Turkish government on what equipment we are providing to the SDF, that the equipment is appropriate, only for operations in Raqqa, and that it doesn't find its way someplace else,” he added.

The Pentagon believes that the SDF is the “right force to take Raqqa and rid it of ISIS,” Payhon said.

There is no timeline for the recapturing the city from the “entrenched enemy,” he said. “This will be a long and difficult fight, but the SDF have proven themselves the most capable force against ISIS in Syria.”

IS captured Raqqa in 2014, and the city has served as its de facto capital in Syria ever since. The assault on Raqqa has been long expected as the US ramped up its shipments of weapons to the SDF.

“The sh*t is about to go down in Raqqa,” an anonymous DoD official told the Washington Examiner on June 2. “I would expect to see the assault begin in the coming days.”

The Pentagon hopes the assault on Raqqa will provide a “seminal blow” against IS and its “self-declared ‘caliphate,’” Rayhon said, echoing earlier remarks by Army Lieutenant General Steve Townsend, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.

"It’s hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin 'capitals' in both Iraq and Syria," Townsend said.

Along with support from the Apaches and Howitzers, the US Navy announced it conducted strikes against IS targets on Tuesday from the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

"We all saw the heinous attack in Manchester, England," Townsend said. "ISIS threatens all of our nations, not just Iraq and Syria, but in our own homelands as well. This cannot stand."

The United Kingdom has endured three differed terrorist attacks in as many months, including the one in Manchester outside an Ariana Grande concert. On Tuesday, police in Paris, France shot and injured a man who attacked three officers with a hammer near the Notre Dame Cathedral while shouting, "This is for Syria."

Aliza Krichevsky, RT