US-backed Syrian fighters advance on ISIL bastion

US-backed Syrian fighters advance on ISIL bastion

US-backed Syrian fighters advance on ISIL bastion

AFP photo

U.S.-backed Syrian fighters advancing on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the strategic northern town of Manbij have progressed to within five kilometers of the jihadist bastion, a monitor said on June 5.

Supported by air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIL in Syria and Iraq, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, launched an assault last week on Manbij.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces are now within about five kilometers of Manbij,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.

Manbij is located along a route connecting Raqqa – ISIL’s de facto capital in Syria – to the Turkish border, a vital conduit for supplies and foreign fighters.

Thirty jihadists have been killed in the fighting, along with 12 SDF fighters, said the observatory.

At least 74 people have died in the fighting since the start of the offensive on May 30, including 32 civilians mainly killed as a result of coalition air strikes, the observatory said, which relies on a network of medics and activists to monitor the conflict.

After taking the village of Khirbet al-Rus, about 20 kilometers southeast of Manbij, the SDF rescued a group of Yazidis – six women and 16 children – who were being held captive by ISIL, the observatory said.
U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder said on June 4 that SDF fighters had seized more than 100 square kilometers of territory during the advance.

More than 55 air strikes have been carried out since the offensive began, he said, adding that the goal was to hamper ISIL’s ability “to move fighters, weapons, finances [and] supplies into and out of Syria and Iraq.”

Some 3,000 Arab fighters were taking part in the offensive, backed by around 500 Kurdish militia members, he said, adding that U.S. special forces were working “at the command and control level” in the operation.

Russian-backed Syrian troops are also advancing against ISIL in Raqqa and on June 4 pushed into the province from the southwest, moving to within 40 kilometers of the Euphrates Valley town of Tabqa, site of the country’s biggest dam.

Meanwhile, nearly 40 strikes hit rebel-held areas in and around Syria’s Aleppo city yesterday in some of the heaviest recent raids by Russian and Syrian government war-planes, residents and the observatory said. 

Rebels also hit government-held parts of the city in what Syrian media said was an escalation in mortar attacks on the western parts of the country’s largest city before the war.