US-backed forces in final sweep against ISIS in Syria’s Manbij

Residents stand near a damaged building in Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria on Aug 9, 2016.
Residents stand near a damaged building in Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria on Aug 9, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT (REUTERS) - US-backed forces battling Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) near the Turkish border in northern Syria said on Friday (Aug 12) they had launched a final assault to flush the remaining militants out of the city of Manbij.

The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), with air support from a US-led coalition, said last week they had taken almost complete control of Manbij, where a small number of ISIS fighters had been holed up.

The SDF’s offensive, which began at the end of May, aims to remove ISIS from areas it controls along the Turkish border, which was for years a route through which the group moved fighters and weapons.

The SDF said it was now conducting a final sweep of the city before they officially announce the operation is complete.

Friday’s attack is “the last operation and the last assault,” said Sharfan Darwish, a spokesman for the Syrian Arab and Kurdish forces.

Darwish said roughly 100 ISIS fighters were left in the centre of the city, and that they were using civilians as human shields. Several civilians were killed trying to flee, he said.

Reuters pictures showed residents being released from an Islamic State-held neighbourhood on Friday and being welcomed by SDF forces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors Syria’s five-year conflict, later said around 500 cars had left Manbij carrying ISIS members and civilians. They were heading north-east towards Jarablus, a town under Islamic State control on the Turkish border, the Observatory said.

The convoy carried the final ISIS members leaving the city, under an agreement between the fighting parties that would not be announced officially, the Observatory said, marking the end of the operation.

The SDF could not immediately be reached for comment on that report.

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 people were killed in suspected US coalition air strikes last month, residents and monitors said.