ISIS on the run

Stronghold in Syria surrounded; supplies cut

Smoke rising from Manbij in Aleppo on Wednesday. The town, which lies at the heart of the last stretch of ISIS-controlled territory along Turkey's border, was encircled by Syrian Democratic Forces troops on Friday.
Smoke rising from Manbij in Aleppo on Wednesday. The town, which lies at the heart of the last stretch of ISIS-controlled territory along Turkey's border, was encircled by Syrian Democratic Forces troops on Friday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Hundreds of civilians escape as militants try to regain control from US-led alliance

BEIRUT • Hundreds of civilians have escaped a besieged militant bastion in northern Syria after tens of thousands were reported trapped there, following the latest move in an offensive by a Kurdish-Arab alliance that began last month.

Residents of Manbij, a transit town in Aleppo, were confined there after the United States-backed alliance encircled it on Friday, in a major blow to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group controlling it.

"Around 600 civilians fled on foot towards areas held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance south of the town," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

SDF "transported them to safer areas" yesterday, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

Those remaining inside the town were terrified by heavy air strikes in the area, Mr Abdel Rahman said, with food growing scarce as the alliance had blocked all roads in and out.

At least 223 ISIS fighters and 28 SDF troops have been killed - as well as 41 civilians in coalition air raids - since the alliance offensive against Manbij began on May 31, according to the Observatory.

To the west and north-west of the town, heavy fighting was ongoing as ISIS fighters launched a counteroffensive against SDF in a bid to regain control of the road west out of town.

Manbij lies at the heart of the last stretch of ISIS-controlled territory along Turkey's border.

Its siege has severed a key supply route for ISIS fighters, money and weapons from the Turkish border to the group's de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa city.

Millions have been displaced and 280,000 people killed since war erupted in Syria, following the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

ISIS has come under attack on several fronts since declaring a cross-border "caliphate" in Syria and Iraq in 2014.

Iraqi troops yesterday advanced against ISIS fighters in the village of Haj Ali south of Mosul - which ISIS overran two years ago - as the US-led coalition intensified its campaign against the militants.

Haj Ali sits on the eastern bank of the Tigris river, opposite the ISIS hub of Qayara, where there is an airfield that is set to serve as a staging ground for future operations to recapture Mosul, about 60km north.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline 'Stronghold in Syria surrounded; supplies cut'. Print Edition | Subscribe