More US boots on the ground

ISIS hopes to hold onto shreds of 'caliphate': US official

The US is also said to be preparing to send up to 1,000 troops to Kuwait to serve as a reserve force that can deployed to fight IS in Syria and Iraq if necessary.

He said Raqqa was "a priority for us", but indicated that there could also be a parallel attack by the army towards Deir al-Zor in the east, near the Iraqi border.

Still, the United States, which is an ally of Turkey also, seemed to have drawn the red lines and made itself clear by deploying forces to back the SDF and separate the SDF from the Turkish-backed rebels to avert any fully-fledged confrontation between both sides.

The US wants Raqqa captured and its dispatch of the Marines to man M777 155mm artillery that will range on the ISIS fighters and pummel them, as it did in the Mosul offensive in Iraq, is key to the strategy.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member Turkey is deeply concerned by the influential role of the Kurdish YPG militia in the SDF, and is pressing Washington to take part in the operation itself.

Craig said the deployment is temporary. In that case, a force from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, of Camp Lejeune, N.C., established a fire base south of the city in support of Iraqi and Kurdish troops who were then carrying out operations to isolate Mosul from Islamic State-held territory around it. US -backed coalition forces are seeking to cut off exit routes for the estimated 5,000 militants inside Raqqa ahead of a planned surge in the coming weeks.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, comprising Kurdish and Arab Syrian fighting groups, has been making steady progress toward Raqqa, cutting off a key escape route out of the city just days ago.

Putin greeted Erdogan at the start of the talks in the Kremlin on Friday and hailed close interaction between the two nations' militaries and special forces in Syria.




"The number of our forces is now increasing, particularly from among the people of the area, and we have enough strength to liberate Raqqa with support from the coalition forces". Moreover, Washington is pushing ahead with partnering with the Kurdish-led forces in the planned attack on Raqqa, despite Turkish opposition.

The US has clarified that it is taking measures to avoid clashes between the YPG and Turkish forces. He said a complicating factor is that the USA does not have a partner government to work with in Syria as is the case in Iraq.

On Tuesday, the Minbij Military Council, which is part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), handed areas west of Minbij to Syrian government forces, part of an agreement brokered by Russian Federation.

In-fighting between the Ankara backed rebels and the Kurdish led SDF in Manbij has seen questions raised on the when the offensive on Raqqa could begin.

American military officials have often stated that the SDF will need additional combat power if they are to press into Raqqa, where ISIS has already established elaborate defenses.

Kaine noted that Iraq requested USA assistance in ridding the country of ISIS: "But I guess the bottom line is, there is no such request from Syria; we don't judge that - that government capable of making such requests".

Ahmed said if the US wants the Raqqa campaign to move ahead, "they must protect Manbij".

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