Marines are assisting coalition and partner force operations to clear remnants of ISIS fighters from northeastern Syria, but Corps officials refuse to comment on the ongoing operation or number of Marines deployed to the war-torn region, citing operational security.
Photos of the secretive Marine mission were accidentally posted to the Defense Department’s imagery and photo distribution website known as DVIDS on June 22 and subsequently pulled down following questions from Marine Corps Times about the status and purpose of the Corps’ participation.
“Unfortunately, the Marines do not answer questions while their troops are still on mission — which is why the images you archived are no longer available,” Army Col. Thomas F. Veale, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement. “One of our subordinate units published those shots on DVIDS, not knowing the Marines’ policy, and we pulled them down for force protection considerations and to honor the Marines’ policy.”
The photos in question depicted a visit on June 20 by Marine Corps Lt. Gen. William D. Beydler, commander of Marine Corps Forces Central Command, to the Marines in Syria assisting the ISIS clearing operations.
“U.S. Marines play a pivotal role in supporting Operation Roundup, a Syrian Democratic Forces led military offensive aimed at destroying the last strongholds of ISIS in Syria,” the removed DVIDS photo caption reads.
The latest anti-ISIS operations in Syria, dubbed Operation Roundup, were launched in early May following a brief pause in ISIS clearing operations from U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF.
On June 3, SDF forces backed by the U.S.-led coalition went on the offensive in Dashisha, an ISIS stronghold for the last three years located in northeast Syria.
The U.S. Army established a small artillery outpost in the vicinity of Dashisha where coalition forces have been raining down shells from M777 howitzers on ISIS fighters holed up in the region. The DoD has been posting pictures of the small artillery firebase as early as June 7.
It is not known if Marines are deployed to the small Army firebase in Dashisha, but previous missions by Marines in the war-torn region have been focused on providing 24-hour all weather fire support.
During the push to liberate the ISIS self-declared capital of Raqqa, a Marine artillery battery’s barrage of the city was of a level not seen since the Vietnam War. Raqqa was liberated by the SDF in late October but images of the destruction depict a city in near total ruin.
So what is the Corps still doing in Syria?
A DVIDS video in early June shows a small detachment of Marines establishing a fire position on the Iraqi side of the border to assist the Dashisha operation with cross border artillery support.
Marines are likely supporting the anti-ISIS efforts in Syria with artillery and mortar support, or as additional security for the artillery fire support bases in the area.
On June 26, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition Brett McGurk, declared that the ISIS stronghold of Dashisha had been liberated by the SDF during an anti-ISIS coalition meeting held in Morocco, according to the U.S. State Department.
“They continue to make steady progress, as the Syrian Democratic Forces work in coordination with Iraqi Security Forces to trap ISIS’s remaining remnants and ensure they have no escape,” the State Department said in a press release.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.