Posted on August 13, 2016 by Editorial Staff in Kurdistan
A Kurdish female fighter hugs her relative after the liberation of Minbij city, Syrian Kurdistan. Photo: Reuters
BEIRUT,— The U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces have seized full control of Manbij city in Syrian Kurdistan [northern Syria] near the Turkish border after the last remaining Islamic State fighters, who had been using civilians as human shields, left, a spokesman for the group said Friday.
Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) were now sweeping the city after the departure of a last remaining group of militants who had been holed up in the city. They had freed over 2,000 civilian hostages who had been held by the militants, Sharfan Darwish of the SDF allied Manbij Military Council told Reuters.
“The city is now fully under our control but we are undertaking sweeping operations,” Darwish said, adding militant sleeper cells in the city were still a threat.
The SDF, , which includes the powerful Kurdish YPG militia and Arab fighters, with heavy air support from a U.S.-led coalition, said last week they had taken almost complete control of Manbij, where a small number of IS fighters had been holed up.
The SDF’s offensive, which began at the end of May, aims to remove Islamic State from areas it controls along the Turkish border. The SDF alliance has a total of about 30,000 Kurdish fighters and about 5,000 Arab fighters.
The Manbij operation in which U.S. special forces have played a significant role on the ground marks the most ambitious advance by a group allied to Washington in Syria since the United States launched its military campaign against Islamic State two years ago.
Manbij’s loss to the militants is a big blow as it is of strategic importance, serving as a conduit for transit of foreign jihadists and provisions coming from the Turkish border.
Earlier the SDF alliance said Friday’s operation was “the last operation and the last assault.”
Darwish said earlier roughly 100 Islamic State fighters were left in the city center using civilians as human shields, some of whom were killed trying to flee.
During the 73 days of the military campaign, more than two thousand IS members were killed and corpses of over 700 were seized by Manbij fighters. According to information provided by Manbij Military Council sources, more than three thousand mines and improvised explosives were neutralized, ANF reported.
Reuters pictures showed residents being released from an Islamic State-held neighborhood on Friday and being welcomed by SDF forces.
Kurdish female fighter holding a kid in the liberated city of Manbij, Syrian Kurdistan. Photo: Reuters
Kurdish sources and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors Syria’s five-year-old conflict, later said around 500 cars had left Manbij carrying Islamic State members and civilians. They were heading northeast towards Jarablus, a town under Islamic State control on the Turkish border, the Observatory said.
The convoy carried the final Islamic State members leaving the city, under an agreement between the fighting parties that would not be announced officially, Kurdish sources and the monitor said, marking the end of the operation.
The SDF’s campaign quickly captured the countryside surrounding Manbij, but slowed once fighting entered the city. The SDF said it had been avoiding a large-scale assault inside Manbij out of concern for civilians.
Dozens of civilians, including children and women from Manbij who had fled the city at the height of the aerial strikes, were killed in suspected U.S. coalition air strikes last month, residents and monitors said.
U.S. officials have said once the Manbij operation is completed, it would create the conditions to move on the militant group’s de facto capital of Raqqa. U.S. officials anticipate a tough battle.
Syrian Kurds have established three autonomous zones, or Cantons of Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin across Syrian Kurdistan (northern Syria) in 2013.
Capturing the last remaining Islamic State foothold of Manbij help the Kurds to linking the Kurdish Canton of Afrin, which is controlled by the same Kurdish groups in northwestern Syria, to Syrian Kurdistan.
On March 17, 2016 Syria’s Kurds declared a federal region in Syrian Kurdistan.