Kurdish-Arab forces enter ISIL-held town near Turkey
REUTERS photoU.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advanced June 23 into the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) bastion of Manbij near the border with Turkey, sparking fierce street fighting as they push to retake the city.
The SDF entered Manbij from the south following coalition air strikes, observers said.
The advance marked a major breakthrough in the battle for Manbij, once a key link on the supply route between the Turkish border and ISIL’s capital of Raqqa.
SDF forces, which also include the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), which Turkey regards as a terror organization due to its links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), were able to break through ISIL defenses in Manbij a few hours after taking control of a village on the city’s southwestern outskirts.
“Fierce street fighting between buildings” erupted as they entered the city, said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
He said progress was likely to be slow as SDF forces were facing booby-traps “planted by the jihadists to try to prevent the loss of the city.”
The loss of the city would deal another blow to ISIL following a string of recent battlefield defeats, including the taking by Iraqi forces earlier this month of the center of the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said June 23 that it was impossible for the country to cooperate with the Syrian regime, refuting claims that Ankara could cooperate with Damascus against the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), of which the YPG is its military wing.
“It is not possible for us to cooperate with a regime which still attacks civilians, hospitals, schools and houses and uses chemical weapons and barrel bombs,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters at a joint press conference with his Maltese counterpart, George Vella, in Ankara, when a question came after a report in the francophone Algiers daily El Watan appeared in the Turkish media on June 22.
Turkey also expressed concerns over the Russian military’s alleged use of cluster and phosphorus bombs to target civilians, calling on Moscow to halt its attacks and contribute to a political transition in the Arab republic.
“Attacks by the regime and the Russian Federation against civilians in Syria and their track record on crimes committed through these attacks are increasing by the day. While this is the case, the footage of Russia’s use of cluster bombs on Russian television and the fact that Russian aircraft have been recorded while using white phosphorus bombs in the northern part of Aleppo in the last two days are outrageous and cause for serious concern,” read the statement issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry late June 22.
The statement followed increased concern over intensified military operations conducted by the Russian army and government forces especially around Aleppo that have been hitting civilian targets, including schools, hospitals and mosques.
On the same day, Norwegian lawmakers gave consent to the deployment of troops to join coalition forces in Syria in the international struggle against ISIL.
According to the approved government plans, a contingent of 60 Norwegian soldiers will provide training, advice and operational support for Syrian groups fighting radical Islamists in the country. Earlier plans only included helping such Syrian forces outside Syrian territory.
After the approval on June 22, Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide told Norwegian news agency NTB that as progress against ISIL militants had been better than expected it was “more important that coalition forces must also be able to train, advise and provide operational support to local groups on Syrian territory.”
The Norwegian troops will be deployed later during the summer and will be based in Jordan.