Washington: Coalition-supported local forces fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria have recaptured large areas around the city of Manbij and put the jihadists “on the ropes,” a Pentagon official said Friday.
Since the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) began an operation to capture Manbij on May 21, they have wrested control of more than 1,000 square kilometers (385 square miles) of territory from IS.
Manbij is a key town in the anti-IS struggle because the jihadists were using it as a waypoint between the Turkish border and Raqa, the jihadists’ de facto capital.
SDF forces, backed by US-led coalition air power, have now retaken much of Manbij, though pockets of resistance remain in the city’s north.
“Although fighting in Manbij continues, ISIL is clearly on the ropes. It has lost the center of Manbij, it has lost control of Manbij,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Gordon Trowbridge said.
IS fighters fleeing the city on Friday seized around 2,000 civilians to use as “human shields,” the SDF and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Trowbridge said US officials were aware of the reports but unable to confirm them.
IS “has consistently shown a willingness to put innocent lives at risk, in blatant violation not only of the laws of armed conflict but of common human decency,” he said.
Since fighting for Manbij began, US-led strikes have taken out more than 50 of IS’s heavy weapons and destroyed more than 600 fortified fighting positions, Trowbridge said.
But the job of clearing the city will be complicated after the jihadists left behind hundreds of mines and booby traps, he added.