ALEPPO – Syrian Kurds on Saturday took to streets to celebrate the capture of ISIS border pocket of Manbij in northern Syria.
After US-backed Syrian democratic forces could liberate the last areas of Manbij city and expelled the Islamic State (ISIS) radical group from its main jihadi pocket on the Syrian-Turkish border, Kurdish people in the cities of northern Syria and Rojava took to streets to celebrate the victory made by Kurdish-led SDF forces against ISIS jihadists.
Speaking to ARA News, the SDF official Sharvan Derwish confirmed the liberation of Manbij, but said their troops are still cleaning residential areas from landmines and explosives.
“The city is liberated, but the campaign is not over yet; our forces are still searching for terror cells and trying to cleanse the city completely of ISIS remnants, especially the explosives and landmines,” Darwish told ARA News on the phone.
ISIS had captured the city of Manbij on 23 January 2014 after pushing out all Syrian opposition armed groups.
On 31 May, the SDF forces launched an operation to capture Manbij. After more than two months of fierce clashes, the city was liberated and the remaining ISIS have reportedly withdrawn.
After being expelled from Manbij, ISIS has lost its main supply route between Turkey and its de facto capital Raqqa.
In the meantime, the SDF also continued freeing civilians that have been held hostage by ISIS in the border city.
According to the SDF-led Manbij Military Council, on Friday more than 2000 civilians have been released from ISIS detention in al-Sirib district.
Al-Sirib was the last area held by ISIS militants in the Syrian border city of Manbij. Now the city is free of ISIS, according to military officials in Manbij.
Speaking to ARA News, SDF officer Shervan Ali said: “We are now inside the city of Manbij trying to protect civilians who were freed from ISIS detention.”
Brian Viyan, a Kurdish female fighter of the YPJ, who participated in the anti-ISIS operation of Manbij, said: ” Today a large number of civilians were able to evacuate ISIS-held areas.”
Raghad Jassim, a citizen from Manbij, said: “My brother and cousin wanted to join the SDF forces but they were shot dead by ISIS before being able to reach the SDF positions. Furthermore, ISIS forced all girls and women to wear burqas in Manbij. Now this nightmare is over.”
“The SDF forces are now responsible for thousands of IDPs, which created a logistical nightmare,” Gifford added.
According to local sources, there are no international aid organizations working to help IDPs in the region. So far, the civilian council of Manbij, which is facing shortages, has been providing the only aid.
“One of the biggest problems, I think, is that the border between Rojava [northern Syria] and Iraq [Kurdish government] and Turkey are closed, and I really want to call on the United Kingdom and the US to pressure these countries to open the border and to let in international aid and help the SDF and Rojava,” Gifford said.
RAQQA is next
Coalition Commander Army Lt. Gen. Sean McFarland said on Wednesday that defeating ISIS in the Syrian border city of Manbij would set the stage for taking Raqqa [the de facto capital of the Islamic State].
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) made progress by pushing out ISIS from Shaddadi, Hasakah, and Tishreen. “And soon [the SDF] will finish the fight in the important city of Manbij,” he said.
Retaking Manbij could set the stage for the eventual attack to seize Raqqa,according to McFarland, who stressed that retaking ISIS-controlled Raqqa will “mark the beginning of the end for [ISIS] in Syria.”
“During these operations, [US-led] coalition aircraft have conducted about 50,000 sorties against [ISIS] in the past year,” he said. “During those sorties we’ve dropped more than 30,000 munitions on the enemy with approximately two-thirds of those in Iraq and about one-third in Syria. Our artillery has conducted more than 700 fire missions.”
The American commander estimated that in the past 11 months, 25,000 ISIS fighters have been killed.
Nevertheless, McFarland said that a territorial defeat of ISIS will not be the end of the group.
“Military success in Iraq and Syria will not necessarily mean the end of [ISIS],” he said. “We can expect the enemy to adapt, to morph into a true insurgent force and terrorist organization capable of horrific attacks like the one here on July 3 in Baghdad and those others we’ve seen around the world.”
Speaking to ARA News, Ziyad Sinjar (31), a former prisoner of ISIS, said that the radical group “will not be finished soon”.
“They might be finished in Raqqa and in Syria, but their ideology not, and they will go to other countries,” he said.
He spent more than six months in ISIS prisons in al-Bab, Manbij, and Aleppo.
“They will travel to other countries in the Middle East and Africa. They have their ideology spread among children and they can carry weapons,” he added.
Future of Manbij
More than sixty tribes from Manbij attended last week a meeting in the Abu Abrus village not very far from Manbij city in northern Syria to discuss the future of Manbij in the post-ISIS era.
“The meeting of Arab tribes of Manbij was to discuss the political situation and the end of ISIS [in Manbij] and thanking the SDF-led military council for liberating the area,” member of Kurdish TEV-DEM organisation Omar Aloush told ARA News.
“They are discussing the political system in Manbij if they will join the federal system [of Rojava], the self-administration or to have an independent city of Manbij,” he said. “After Daesh [ISIS] is finished, the Manbij community will take a decision,” Aloush added.
“Until now there is no political program. The regime has no political program and wants to control everything, and the opposition also has no program,” he said.
“Our project as the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] is not just by arms, we have a civil project,” Aloush told ARA News. “We have to convince the people not by force, but in a democratic way.”
“We as the Manbij civilian council have a project for democracy, since the beginning of the Syrian revolution we have been fighting for freedom,” Faruk al-Mashi, the Arab co-head of the Manbij Civilian Council said during the meeting–in which several Sheikhs spoke.
“Since ISIS captured Manbij, the violations against the people have not stopped. The radical group started beheading people, and forcing them to emigrate,” he said. “That’s why the people in Manbij have repeatedly protested against ISIS and the Manbij revolutionary forces made the decision to liberate their areas from ISIS.”
Analysts say that involving Arab tribes in the post-ISIS governance is important for the future of Manbij.
“Establishing local councils comprised of Arab tribal leaders is an important component of the strategy to replace ISIS,” Nicholas Heras, a Washington-based Middle East researcher at the Centre for a New American Security told ARA News.
“Local governance must be present on Day 1 after ISIS, to coordinate humanitarian aid, oversee reconstruction, and to support the security forces left by the SDF to hold the hard-won territory taken from ISIS. The Coalition depends on the SDF for military victory over ISIS, and the SDF will depend on the local councils for the governance victory over ISIS,” he said.
However, the Syrian opposition wants a pro-opposition council to be involved in Manbij, not the SDF-linked council that they see as a Kurdish organization.
“If the SDF did not interfere then it’s very important,” Bassam Barabandi, a Washington-based political adviser to the Syrian opposition told ARA News. “The Syrian opposition reached out to the Americans and asked them to empower the local council which is part of Aleppo provisional council and asked to let the FSA to participate in liberating Manbij,” he said.
“ISIS is a Sunni terrorist movement and only Sunnis can defeat it,” Barabandi said.
However, the US-led coalition preferred to work with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Speaking to ARA News, SDF official Dr. Nasir Haji Mansour said that they want all civilians and society of Manbij to join the Manbij civilian council.
“We want everyone to participate in administrating the city, whether they are against us or not,” he said. “Only those who support ISIS, and whose hands are involved in shedding blood, will be punished.”
“We need to accept pluralism,” he stated.
Reporting by: Ayanda Goran, Jan Mohammed and Enwer Omar
Source: ARA News
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