The Pentagon has deployed several hundred Marines to northern Syria, the Washington Post and CNN reported this week. Their mission: firing long-range artillery to help recapture Raqqa, ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital city.
The Marines are equipped with M777 howitzers, which can fire GPS-guided explosives up to 25 miles.
That’s a big change from the “train, advise, and assist” role U.S. forces have been playing so far — although as with many previous troop deployments to Iraq and Syria, it was not debated, let alone authorized, by Congress.
But the White House press secretary brushed off a question about the move, saying that sending “several hundred advisers” did not amount to “hostile action.”
Right-wing radio host John Fredericks asked Sean Spicer on Thursday whether Trump was committed to seeking congressional authorization for new deployments.
“I think there’s a big difference between an authorization of war than [sic] sending a few hundred advisers,” Spicer replied. “And I think most in Congress would probably agree with that as well. I think that’s a big difference between a hostile action and going in to address some certain concerns, whether it’s certain countries in the Middle East or elsewhere.”
Spicer referred the question to the Department of Defense. But when reached by The Intercept, a Pentagon spokesperson disputed Spicer’s characterization.
“This is fire support,” said Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a public affairs officer for the Marine Corps, explaining that the new deployment would fire long-range artillery in an assault on Raqqa. “They will be providing partner support for the Syrian Democratic Forces.”
The U.S. has long tried to downplay its military footprint in Syria. When President Obama deployed 250 special forces to Syria in April 2016, despite repeatedly promising not to put U.S. “boots on the ground” in Syria, State Department spokesperson John Kirby tried to parse the meaning of “boots on the ground” to exclude special forces.
The Pentagon has maintained that the fight against ISIS is authorized by a 2001 congressional resolution that authorizes the president to use “necessary and appropriate force” against the “nations, organizations, or persons” involved in the 9/11 attacks.
Multiple members of Congress have criticized the resolution, because it has been stretched to cover numerous terror groups, like ISIS, that did not exist at the time of the 9/11 attacks. But the Obama administration long insisted that it did not need independent authorization to fight ISIS.