US Marines have joined the fight to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State, defense officials say. The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which departed San Diego in October, has been deployed to ISIS' de facto capital and will fire artillery guns, including M777 Howitzers, from an outpost to support local fighters and 300 US special operations personnel already on the ground, reports the Washington Post. An official tells the New York Times that up to 4,000 ISIS militants remain in Raqqa, though some leaders have fled. The US is authorized to have as many as 500 troops in Syria, per Fox News.
An official says the plan to deploy the Marines has "been in the works for some time," though it appears in accordance with a Pentagon strategy outlined last month to boost the number of US troops in Syria so they can assist and advise allied Syrian fighters. A similar strategy was previously used in Mosul, Iraq—where 2,500 ISIS fighters reportedly remain—with local forces doing much of the fighting with support from US forces in bases outside the city. An official tells Fox News that the US will also send fewer than 1,000 US troops to Kuwait so they can be ready to battle ISIS if the need arises.