An Arab-Kurdish alliance with support from US air strikes has retaken the strategic town of Manbij near the Turkish border. The fate of some of the 2,000 civilians who fled the crumbling ‘IS’ stronghold remains in doubt.
Kurdish television showed jubilant civilians in Manbij, including smiling mothers who had shed their veils and women embracing Kurdish fighters.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) began its assault on Manbij, about 40 km (25 miles) from the Turkish border, in May. It had been held by IS since 2014. A member of the SDF told the AFP news agency on Saturday: “There are no more IS fighters” left in Manbij.
The capture of Manbij from IS represents the worst defeat for the extremist group in Syria since July 2015, when it lost the town of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey.
The town lies on a key supply route between the Turkish border and the city of Raqqa, the center of the IS group’s declared caliphate.
Fate of civilians in doubt
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organization, said hundreds of civilians who fled the town on Friday had escaped while “others were freed.”
Rami Abdel Rahman the director of the Observatory added that not all the civilians were hostages: “Among the civilians taken by IS there were people used as human shields but also many who chose voluntarily to leave the town due to fear of reprisals” by the SDF, an alliance of Arab Sunnis and Kurdish fighters backed by US airpower. Some may have gone to the ‘IS’ held frontier town of Jarabulus.
The Observatory reported that 437 civilians, including more than 100 children, were killed in the battle for Manbij and surrounding territory.
IS fighters have left behind hundreds of mines and booby traps in the town.
bik/jm (AFP, dpa)