DEBKAfile – March 25, 2017
American helicopters Thursday and Friday, March 23-24, dropped Kurdish and Arab fighters over a region west of the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. Those forces quickly captured at least five villages and so cut jihadist concentrations in the northwestern Syria off from their Raqqa stronghold. debkafile’s military sources report this operation was the opening shot of the US-led campaign to isolate the Islamic State’s Syrian capital before storming it.
Raqqa’s liberation is not expected to encounter the same fierce ISIS resistance as the US-led Iraqi army is facing in Mosul. That is partly because the town has gradually emptied of fighting forces ever since ISIS chiefs saw that their time was running out. Instead, ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and his strategists, Iraqi ex-generals, effected a major U-turn: the jihadists fleeing the Syrian and Iraqi fronts, instead of heading for the ISIS bastions in Deir ez-Zour in eastern Syria and Abu Kamal in western Iraqi Anbar province, were given new orders to head in the opposite direction for their next destination: Lebanon.