Syrian Democratic Forces Deny Pulling Back From Manbij
The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) denied reports emerging on Saturday (July 2) that Islamic State (ISIS) militants pushed back forces trying to advance into their stronghold of Manbij for the first time since a major offensive to capture the city.
Footage on social media showed armed SDF forces cheering as they moved into the grain silos area in the south of Manbij, where fighting is mainly focused after it was hit by U.S.-led coalition jets.
The SDF - comprised of Kurdish and Arab fighters, backed by the air power of a U.S.-led coalition to fight ISIS and aided by U.S. Special Forces - have been involved in the month-long Manbij operation aimed to seal off their last stretch of Syrian-Turkish frontier.
The U.S.-backed forces have been bogged down in fighting in the northern and southern outskirts of the city after rapid advances that began with the capture of dozens of villages around the city until they surrounded it from all sides.
Progress in storming the city has been slow with the militants using snipers, planting mines and preventing civilians from leaving, hampering U.S. airpower's ability to bomb the city without causing large casualties, Kurdish sources said.
But SDF spokesman Sharfan Darwish, said in a statement the campaign to uproot the militants would continue until they "liberated Manbij" and stressed that they have not "retreated one step".
Civilians leaving the city, assisted by SDF soldiers, celebrated and burned black dresses that women were forced to wear under ISIS rule.
"Our life is like its color. They made it like its color, these donkeys. They did a lot. Our life like this black dress," one woman said.
An unidentified man added that he did not want to see ISIS militants pushed out of the city, but executed. "Just how they would hang us from the squares, we want them to hang from the squares," he said.
Manbij's loss would be a big blow to the militants as it is of strategic importance, serving as a conduit for transit of foreign jihadists and provisions coming from the Turkish border.