Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Manbij. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—Islamic State claimed on Sunday to have made advances against Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) both northwest and south of Manbij, retaking nine villages. The SDF confirmed that they are clashing with the ISIS militants but maintain that they remain in control of the area.
Social media accounts linked to the extremists also named two suicide bombers who targeted Kurdish forces in the area, claiming to have inflicted heavy casualties.
Shervan Derwish, official spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces, confirmed on Facebook that the forces of the Manbij Military Council (MMC) have clashed throughout the day with ISIS militants on three fronts in the Manbij area. But the militants have fled the area, he stated, with MMC forces pursuing them.
Syrian Democratic Forces are leading an operation to liberate Manbij from Islamic State under the umbrella of the locally formed Manbij Military Council. The SDF are a multi-ethnic force dominated by the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).
Derwish also said that the MMC has the bodies of at least 40 deceased militants, and the number of casualties is expected to rise. He did not report any casualties on the MMC side.
Derwish added that the situation is now under the control of the Manbij Military Council.
The SDF are backed by US-led coalition forces who carried out six airstrikes in the Manbij area on Saturday, destroying two ISIS fighting positions and an ISIS vehicle.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported heavy fighting in the Manbij area on Sunday, as well as explosions in the town that it believed were Islamic State suicide bombings.
Routing the Islamic State from Manbij will cut the extremist group off from the border with Turkey, thereby limiting its ability to bring in supplies and fighters. It will also bring the Kurds closer to connecting their cantons of Kobane and Efrin.
The SDF are progressing into Manbij from the south and now control a few hundred metres into the town. They are progressing slowly out of concern for civilians who are being used as human shields by the Islamic State.