A Marine Corps-controlled howitzer position in northern Syria supporting the assault on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa is mobile, and has moved at least once since it was established, Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said.
In a brief interview with Military.com, Neller said the outpost of several hundred Marines equipped with M777 155mm howitzers could change positions in order to best aid the ongoing fight. The cannons have an effective range of 15 to 25 miles, depending on the round being fired.
"The fight evolves, so they're moving to where they can best provide support based on the capability of the weapons system," he said. "The commanders there understand the capability and they'll reposition them as required in order to provide the fire support and other effects they need to do to make the campaign successful, ultimately."
In late February, a small element quietly detached from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit to establish the fire position, which contains multiple artillery batteries and includes infantry and support personnel. The Marines arrived as local anti-Islamic State forces intensified their siege of Raqqa, at the time the capital for ISIS militants in Syria.
The establishment of a mobile artillery outpost contrasts with the fixed artillery position set up by Marines last year near the city of Makhmour to aid the ongoing coalition assault on Mosul, another major ISIS stronghold in Iraq. That position, known initially as Firebase Bell and renamed the Kara Soar Counterfire Complex, was first manned by members of the deployed 26th MEU.
On March 9, 2016, one of the Marines, Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin, was killed in a rocket attack on the complex, becoming the first American service member to fall in Iraq since 2011.
The fire base is now manned by Army personnel as the battle for Mosul continues.
Neller said support of the fight for Raqqa continued in the wake of a U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile attack on Shayrat airfield April 7 -- a deterrent measure in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's reported use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians.
"They're always concerned about security; they're always concerned about unmanned aircraft, but they're being well protected, just like all the American forces there," Neller said of the Marines manning the mobile artillery support position. "So they're working through all that stuff."
Neller declined to cite specifics about what the artillery Marines had been able to accomplish in Syria, but said they had had significant effect on the fight and had stayed busy, working in "extreme conditions" as they supported the battle.
"I think by all accounts, everybody's satisfied with what they've provided, and we'll see what the next iteration of this looks like," Neller said. "... Hopefully, we'll secure the area in and around Raqqa."