QAMISHLO – British Army Maj. Gen. Doug Chalmers, deputy commander of the anti-ISIS international coalition said that the role of western special forces on the ground in Syria will not change now that the Kurdish and Arab fighters are moving into the city of Manbij.
“There’s no change to our profile. Strong relationships are in place with those headquarters and they will continue,” he said.
“The [military] advisers are back more with sort of the headquarters helping our planning and coordination role. And that won’t change as the forces go into there [Manbij],” he added.
British, French, and US Special Forces are assisting the operations in bases of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), not very far from the battlefronts against the Islamic State radical group (ISIS).
The German government has denied any role in the operations, despite rumours about their involvement.
The deputy commander also denied that the SDF forces are inside Manbij yet, only in the suburban areas and villages and hamlets.
“The reporting I’ve had puts them [Kurdish-Arab alliance of the SDF] on the edge and the outskirts of some areas, which I describe as the outer element of the city, rather than the city proper. And it’s the definition of what we described as the city proper,” he added.
The deputy commander told reporters Thursday that Manbij has been effectively isolated by the SDF forces, but there are still some obstacles. “So we see the IEDs, we see, sort of, rocket fire positions and the sort of berms, et cetera, in that area. So it is a similar type of defensive type network that they are working their way through,” Gen. Chalmers added.
He added that there is still a civilian population in the city of Manbij.
Commander of the SDF-led Manbij Military Council, Adnan Abu Amjad, has thanked the US-led coalition for their advice, logistical support, and airstrikes, and confirmed ISIS is trying to use civilians as human shields, and that booby-traps and IEDs are preventing fast progress.
Nevertheless, he told local media that the morale of the fighters is very high “and victories are achieved every day”.
The Russian government also confirmed that ISIS militants are encircled in Manbij on Thursday and are trying to break through SDF positions. “The ISIS forces staged several suicide bomber attacks as a diversionary tactic,” said Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Tuesday opened a humanitarian corridor between the ISIS-held city of Manbij and its countryside, in a bid to help civilians evacuate the war-torn city.
Backed by the US-led coalition’s air cover, the SDF recaptured the entire countryside of Manbij from ISIS militants subsequent to heavy fighting. More than 105 villages were liberated since the SDF launched a battle for Manbij on 31 May, 2016. However, the group is still in control of the city of Manbij and has been using civilians as human shields in the fighting against the SDF.
“After capturing western parts of the city, our forces have opened a humanitarian corridor between the city and its liberated countryside in order to assist civilians to evacuate the city so that we can continue with our operations against ISIS terrorists inside Manbij city,” SDF officer Habun Osman told ARA News.
Hundreds of civilians were able to escape the besieged city of Manbij, using the corridor opened by the SDF west of the city.
“The safety of civilians is a top priority for us at the moment, otherwise we would have already liberated the entire Manbij border pocket from ISIS,” the SDF official said. “So, now we are trying to rescue the stranded civilians and prevent the terror group from using them as human shields during the clashes. Then we’ll attack ISIS in its final stronghold in Manbij downtown.”
The 98-kilometer-long border area in Aleppo’s countryside is called the Manbij pocket, and is used by the Islamic State group (ISIS) to transport foreign fighters from Turkey to Syria, and to smuggle arm supplies to the de-facto ISIS capital of Raqqa, in northeastern Syria. Also, the extremist group has used the Manbij pocket to send trained jihadis abroad to conduct terrorist attacks. Closing it down would make Europe and America safer, US and Kurdish officials have said.
Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg and Ahmed Shiwesh
Source: ARA News
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