According to a growing amount of information gathered by US and European intelligence agencies, ISIS is plotting a series of major terror attacks on Central European and Middle Eastern cities. These preparations are taking place mainly at the ISIS capital in Syria – Raqqa. Each attack is being planned at a separate headquarters with terrorist cells that have arrived from Europe to train for the assault. Among the selected targets are major Egyptian and Israeli cities. The Raqqa cells do not communicate with each other due to security reasons, and are familiar only with their trainers, who go by pseudonyms.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources reveal that this information has altered the American plans for an attack on Raqqa. Until recently, the mission to capture the city was delegated to local militias headed by the Syrian Kurdish YPG. After receiving the latest intelligence, the US administration now favors a siege of Raqqa in the hope of obtaining the following objectives:
- The US army prefers to besiege Raqqa because there are not enough forces based in Syria to capture it. A siege will encircle the terrorist cells and prevent them from leaving Raqqa for their missions.
- A siege may also suffocate the ISIS administration and possibly cause its collapse without a monumental battle.
- American strategists believe that cutting off Raqqa from the Turkish border will prevent the terrorists from escaping to Turkish train stations, seaports and airports that they could use to reach European targets.
- Last week we reported in DEBKA Weekly’s issue 708 dated May 6 (“IS Reins in Turkish, Kurdish Ground Attacks on ISIS”) that Washington told Ankara that it will not allow a Turkish ground incursion into Syrian territory. However, our military and intelligence sources reported that the American veto on attacks on ISIS in northern Syria does not only apply to Ankara, but also to its bitter rival, the Kurdish YPG militia. This prohibition on attacks has ironically created a 90-kilometer “safe zone” for ISIS in northern Syria between two Kurdish enclaves, Afrin and Kobani.
Now, due to the imminent series of terrorist attacks in Europe, the Americans have amended their strategy. Their intelligence and military specialists have realized that the attacks cannot be stopped unless the “safe zone” on the Syria-Turkey border is blocked.
As a result of these developments, intensive negotiations are underway between Washington, Ankara, London, Berlin and Paris in an effort to persuade Turkey to allow the YPG militia to capture the ISIS enclave (please see map). Since all parties understand there is almost no chance that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will allow Syrian Kurdish forces to reach his country’s southern border, a compromise has been prepared: The Kurds will drive ISIS back into a narrow strip 10 km from the Turkish border, but they will not enter the strip or reach the frontier.