U.S.-backed Syrian forces, which consists essentially of Kurdish militias, fought Islamic State militants on Thursday inside the city of Manbij for the first time since they laid siege to the group’s stronghold near the Turkish border, a monitor said.
The British-based Observatory for Human Rights said heavy clashes were taking place in western districts of Manbij after the alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters swept into the city near the Kutab roundabout, almost 2km from the city center.
An official with the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq said the fighting was taking place on the “edge” and the “outskirts” of Manbij city.
“The reporting I’ve had puts them on the edge and the outskirts for some areas which I describe as the outer (part) of the city rather than city proper,” said British Army Major General Doug Chalmers, deputy commander for strategy and sustainment with Operation Inherent Resolve. He was speaking with reporters in Washington via video link.
Did Manbij fall?
The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), which consists essentially of Kurdish militias and minority of Arab allies that joined it last year, launched the campaign late last month with the backing of U.S. special forces to drive Islamic State from its last stretch of the Syrian-Turkish frontier.
Manbij is in a region some 40 km (25 miles) from the Turkish border and since the start of the offensive on May 31, the SDF has taken dozens of villages and farms around it but had held back from entering the city “with many thousands of people still trapped there,” according to Reuters.
Earlier, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that SDF captured the whole city of Manbij after pushing ISIS out of it.
Orient News correspondent Ibrahim al-Khateeb has categorically denied what most TV channels and news agencies reported of Syria Democratic Forces’ (SDF) control over the city of Manbij in Aleppo eastern countryside.
Kurdish militias or ISIS ?
If successful it could cut the militants’ main access route to the outside world, paving the way for an assault on their Syrian capital Raqqa. However, the Kurdish militias have bigger plans for the area as they seek their autonomy.
The autonomous federation being planned by Syrian Kurdish parties and their allies is taking shape fast: a constitution should be finalised in three months, and possibly sooner, to be followed quickly by-elections, a Kurdish official said.
The political federation for northern Syria builds on three self-ruled regions carved out by the YPG since Syria descended into conflict in 2011 in an uprising to topple President Bashar al-Assad. It has already grown, expanding last year to include the town of Tel Abyad that was captured from Islamic State by the YPG in October.
In fact, Kurdish militias use US support to launch offensives against new areas under the term of fighting ISIS, while the force the Arab citizens to flee their homes, so the Kurdish militias can force control over new areas and add it to their contons.
They are accused of making ethnic crimes against Arab citizens in northern Syria.
Syrian Kurdish groups have made no secret of their aim to link up their two autonomous regions, or cantons, in northeastern Syria with one further west – Afrin. All that’s preventing them is the 80 km stretch of territory at the Turkish border held by IS near Manbij and further west by Turkey-backed rebel groups that are hostile to the YPG.
The plan had taken on even greater significance since the Syria Democratic Forces alliance, which is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, mounted a rapid new advance westwards this month into Islamic State’s last foothold at the Turkish border.