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ISIS Moving to Shore Up Defenses of Raqqa, Pentagon Says

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves the militant group's flag in Raqqa, Syria on June   29, 2014. (Reuters)
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves the militant group's flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014. (Reuters)

U.S. intelligence has picked up signs of ISIS repositioning troops and equipment in and around Raqqa in northeastern Syria in apparent preparation for what they believe could be an imminent attack on their self-proclaimed capital, an American military spokesman said Friday.

The Pentagon was also aware of social media chatter on the fortifying of defenses in Raqqa and expressions of concern for the safety of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.

"We have seen this declaration of emergency in Raqqa, whatever that means," he said in a video briefing from Baghdad to the Pentagon.

Warren gave no indication that an attack on Raqqa was imminent, or that a buildup for an offensive was near completion, but added, "We know this enemy feels threatened, as they should.

"They see the Syrian Democratic Forces, along with the Syrian Arab Coalition, maneuver both to their east and to their west," Warren said. "Both of these areas are becoming increasingly secure, and the Syrian Democratic Forces increasingly are able to generate their own combat power in those areas."

Warren said that ISIS remained on the defensive in Syria and Iraq despite a string of complex attacks mounted by the terror group in recent weeks and a spate of bombings claimed by ISIS in Baghdad that have shaken the struggling government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

In the latest counter-attack against Iraqi Security Forces, ISIS fighters north and west of Ramadi in Anbar province used suicide truck bombs followed by infantry to hit ISF strong points, killing at least 20 government troops.

Last week, ISIS fighters using similar tactics briefly overran the town of Teleskof north of Mosul, leading to a firefight in which Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV was killed.

On the Syrian front, the White House was in the unusual position this week of seeming to back Russian and Syrian regime efforts to block what appeared to be a renewed drive by ISIS to take back the historic city of Palmyra.

"They still remain a legitimate threat, a dangerous enemy," Warren said of the ISIS fighters, but he stressed that their ranks have been thinned by the U.S. bombing campaign and they are no longer able to recruit foreign fighters at a rate which would enable them to replenish their ranks.

As for the attack near Ramadi, which was retaken by Iraqi forces in January, Warren said "all the attackers are dead now. It was an unsuccessful attack."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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