File photo showing anti-ISIS airstrikes in Syria's northern city of Kobane
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MANBIJ – On Thursday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have for the first time clashed with ISIS militants inside the city of Manbij, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. However, a US coalition spokesperson told ARA News the SDF have not entered Manbij city yet.
Coalition spokesman U.S. Army Colonel Christopher Garver said the fight for Manbij city will be tough, refuting the news about the US-backed SDF entering Manbij downtown.
“Our assessment of the advance on Manbij is that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)… have isolated Manbij, but they have not entered the city yet. They continue to fight their way to the city,” Colonel Garver told ARA News in an exclusive interview.
However, on Thursday local sources told SOHR that the SDF for the first time advanced into the city between the al-Ketab square and al-Sharia roundabout, amidst aerial bombardments.
The source reported that since 31 May at least 63 SDF fighters were killed, while no less than 458 ISIS fighters were killed during the clashes.
“We don’t like to estimate timelines,” Colonel Garver told ARA News. “This is a tough fight, and it gets tougher the closer the SAC [Syrian Arab Coalition] forces get to the city. We anticipate that Da’esh will attempt to hold the city at all costs, so we anticipate stiff resistance,” he added.
According to the US-led coalition, last week 73 strikes were conducted bringing the total to 233 since the assault began. “The [SDF-linked] SAC are also seeing firsthand the large foreign fighter influence in Manbij. This information will be vital in continuing to protect Turkey, wider Europe and the United States from this threat,” the coalition said in a press statement.
In the meantime, displaced civilians to the east of Manbij have reportedly started returning to their villages. “We are working closely with NGOs to ensure they can focus their initial efforts on these villagers,” the coalition said.
However, the presence of thousands of civilians in Manbij is slowing down operations.
According to the US-led coalition, the SDF have consolidated their position around Manbij in anticipation of the next phase of operations to secure the city. For the last seven days they have been refining their plans as to how to gain a foothold in Manbij and maintain the safety of the civilian population trapped by ISIS.
“The SAC-led force is exercising great care in its application of firepower against Da’esh in the city to avoid collateral damage and especially civilian casualties,” Colonel Garver said. “The care for civilians results in a methodical, measured approach to the city for the advancing SAC forces and for the coalition’s supporting strikes. There are indicators that Da’esh may be holding large groups of civilians as hostages, which will also ensure a cautious approach to the operation by the SAC,” he added.
Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg
Source: ARA News