US-backed Kurdish fighters have almost recaptured all of Manbij, a Syrian city northeast of Aleppo, from the Islamic State (ISIL) after fierce clashes that lasted for weeks.
With the support of airstrikes, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which consists mainly of Kurdish militia fighters, has taken control of 90 percent of the city from ISIL, also known as ISIS.
Manbij has been the main front in a US-led anti-ISIS coalition’s ground war for months.
At least 400 people have been killed in the area in the past two months.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that uses a network of contacts in Syria to track the war, said at the end of July that those killed included 98 children.
Last month, at least 120 civilians in Manbij and Jarables were killed by US-led coalition airstrikes, that they later said was a “mistake”.
“The incident is being looked into to determine what we can about that strike. During that portion of the fight, our Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) partner force observed a large group of ISIS fighters in a convoy who appeared to be readying for a counter attack against SAC troops in the area, and a strike was called in on ISIS. The strike was against both buildings and vehicles. Afterwards, we received reports from several sources, both internal and external, that there may have been civilians in the area who are mixed in and among the ISIS fighters,” the coalition later said.
Thousands of people also fled the fighting.
Battles continue in the Sarb neighborhood, the last ISIS stronghold.
“ISIS is finished. The town will be liberated in the coming hours,” SDF fighter Ibrahim al-Hussein told the AFP news agency earlier this week, using the Arabic acronym for the group.
Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of mainly Kurdish fighters backed by the US, launched an offensive against ISIS to retake the city of Manbij in May. Kurdish militias aim at controlling Manbij to complete their control over northern Syria and pave the way to their autonomy goal.
They have besieged the town and are advancing to the city centre under the cover of air strikes by the US-led international coalition.
The Kurdish militias also used the US support to attack many arab villages, committ massacres there and force the citizens to flee.
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.