ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting to retake the northern Syrian city of Manbij from the Islamic State have apprehended militants fleeing the city disguised as civilians, some even in women’s clothing.
“As you see, today we caught 10 of them dressed as women,” said an SDF soldier in a video released by the SDF Press Center. “We catch the same number almost every day, but recently with the pressure on them increasing, they flee in women’s clothing.”
Earlier in July, Shervan Derwish, SDF spokesperson, said that ISIS militants in Manbij were “carrying razors in their pockets in order to be able to quickly shave off their beards in order not to be identified,” as they try to blend in with civilians fleeing the city.
The SDF, a coalition force dominated by the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), launched an offensive to retake Manbij in late May. They have the city surrounded and have been steadily progressing into the centre. The high number of explosives laid by ISIS militants and concern for the safety of civilians has meant that progress is slow but, Derwish said, ISIS knows they are defeated in the city. “They know that there is no hope and we are taking over.”
Recently, the SDF offered Islamic State members a deal in an attempt to protect civilian lives – they can leave Manbij within 48 hours, taking light weaponry, without being harmed.
Manbij is a strategic city for the Islamic State. It is 40 kilometres from the Turkey-Syria border and lies on the route between Raqqa and Turkey, and thus to Europe. Brett McGurk, the US Special Envoy for the global anti-ISIS coalition, described it as a “foreign-fighter hub.”
Capturing it will cut ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa off from this supply route, isolating the group. SDF forces have been steadily forcing ISIS back across Syria with continued US-led coalition air support.