ERBIL, Kurdistan Region--Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are making progress in their offensive to liberate the strategic town of Manbij but Islamic State IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and concern for civilian lives remain big obstacles, confirmed an SDF commander.
“The unlimited number of IEDs and our responsibility to protect civilian lives and homes are main factors in slowing down the operations. ISIS planted IEDs in 80% of the civilian homes and they use the people of the southern and western neighborhoods as human shields,” said Adnan Abu Amjad, commander of the Manbij Military Council.
The SDF, dominated by the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), are leading the operation to liberate Manbij under the umbrella of the local Manbij Military Council.
As ISIS continues to target civilians, the SDF are trying to find safe ways to reach them. “With our progress, we are trying to find a safe path for the civilians to rescue them, because many people try to escape,” Abu Amjad said, noting that ISIS indiscriminately targets anybody, including civilians, who enter certain marked areas.
“We did rescue some of the wounded people and transferred them to Kobani hospitals,” he confirmed.
As the fighting continues, the humanitarian crisis and lack of essential goods is also threatening the lives of civilians. “The humanitarian situation of Manbij is so bad and no food is left for them and they cannot get medicine. Therefore we are trying to liberate the area as soon as possible,” he explained.
According to the SDF military commander, so far they killed 1,800 ISIS fighters in Manbij and have the bodies of 800 militants.
In retaliation for the SDF successes against ISIS in Manbij, the terrorist group has reportedly abducted 900 Kurds from Aleppo province in the past three weeks, SDF spokesman Sherfan Dawrish told the Associated Press (AP).
At least 26 of those abducted may have been executed for refusing to follow ISIS orders, a Kurdish media activist Rezan Hiddo told AP.
Though the SDF are proceeding with caution, they are steadily gaining ground from ISIS. Local media in Rojava reported on Friday that the YPG forces now control the silos of Manbij.
And according to a video Rudaw received, YPG forces are already in the villages of Manbij where they have established checkpoints and are pulling down ISIS flags and raising their own flags and images of PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) leader Abullah Ocalan. Civilian homes destroyed by coalition airstrikes can be seen in the video.
Most of the YPG fighters who have retaken control of the villages are originally from Manbij and surrounding areas but they were living in Kobani since ISIS seized control of the region. They are happy to return to their homes.