Islamic State militants strive to keep Manbij border pocket

SDF leadership announcing the liberation of new areas from ISIS in Syria's Hasakah. Photo: ARA News

ARA News 

KOBANE – The Islamic State group (ISIS) is still fighting hard to keep Manbij city in northern Syria, and so far fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have not entered the city, US Colonel Christopher Garver, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman, said about the ongoing Manbij operation.

The SDF-led Manbij Military Council last Monday announced the final phase of the Manbij campaign to capture the city and to save the civilians trapped inside the city, after capturing more than 1,000 km2s from ISIS.

According to US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, the Manbij operation “is particularly critical for helping to seal the Turkish border and cut off the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria — a challenge that affects all NATO member nations.”

US-led coalition spokesperson Colonel Garver said so far no Kurdish or Arab fighters have entered the city.

“Nobody on the attack has gotten into the city yet. They are around Manbij. They still have to fight their way up to the city,” Garver said. 

“It’s hard to rate their [ISIS] effort one way or another. They’re still fighting hard to try to keep Manbij,” he said. “The SDF forces have encircled Manbij, closed those lines of communications running out of Manbij. So we’ve seen forces kind of flowing back into the city.” 

“The fighting for Manbij has continued to be significant and at times heavy. Daesh [ISIS] continues to defend the area with machine guns, indirect fire, and IEDs,” Garver added.

The US coalition spokesperson said hundreds of ISIS fighters are still in Manbij and they’re continuing to defend the city. “There are also indications that Daesh may be holding large groups of civilians as hostages and forcefully compelling citizens into fighting for them, as we have certainly seen before.” 

However, the SDF-led Manbij Military Council has been exercising great care in its application of firepower against Daesh in the city to avoid collateral damage and especially civilian casualties, the coalition said.

Colonel Garver also denied rumours that the coalition gave the SDF restrictions to stay 15 to 50 kilometers away from the Turkish border to appease Turkish concerns.

“It’s inaccurate, because the plan to reseize Manbij and clean Daesh out of that area is an SDF plan.  It is not a coalition plan,” he added.

“We’re providing support, we help negotiate with the Turkish government and the other forces involved in the area. But it is not a coalition plan… it is an SDF plan,” he said. “So, if any YPG [People’s Protection Units] unit or any of the other forces that are a member of the SDF wanted to move somewhere, they would clear that through their chain of command,” he said.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

Source: ARA News 

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