Sunday 4 December 2016

Former IS stronghold controlled by US-backed forces, says Kurdish official

Published 13/08/2016 | 12:21

Searches are ongoing for any extremists who might still be hiding in Manbij
Searches are ongoing for any extremists who might still be hiding in Manbij

US-backed fighters now control a northern Syrian town that until recently was a stronghold of the Islamic State group, according to a Syrian Kurdish official.

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Manbij "is under full control," said Nasser Haj Mansour of the predominantly Kurdish Syria Democratic Forces.

He added that searches are still being carried out for any extremists who might be hiding in the town.

The SDF launched its offensive in late May to capture Manbij under the cover of air strikes of the US-led coalition.

Manbij was an IS hub and a main point linking the self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq with the rest of the world.

It lies on a key supply route to the IS de facto capital of Raqqa. AP

Amateur videos online showed scores of residents going down to celebrate in the streets shortly after SDF fighters captured the town late on Friday.

Some men were seen clipping their beards with scissors while women were able to uncover their faces.

IS imposes a harsh and extreme version of Islam on the territory under its control, including a mandatory dress code.

"May God destroy them. They slaughtered us," a young man shouted in a Manbij square.

"May they not live for a minute."

A young woman defiantly uncovered her face while smoking a cigarette and flashing a victory sign in a photo which Kurdish activists posted online.

Under the extremists' reign, women had to wear long black cloaks that covered everything except their eyes, while all adult men were forced to grow beards. Smoking was banned.

Some IS fighters were captured in the town while others fled to nearby villages, said Haj Mansour.

"Military operations will continue until these villages are clean," he said.

Sherfan Darwish, another SDF official in Manbij, also confirmed that the town is under the full control of his fighters.

The capture of Manbij is the biggest defeat for the extremist group in Syria since July 2015, when they lost the town of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey.

Hundreds of civilians that IS used as human shields are now free with the capture of Manbij, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

SDF fighters have been slowly advancing in the town and nearby villages over the past weeks.

The fighting and the air strikes have killed some 450 people, according to the Observatory.

IS suffered major defeats over the past months in Syria and Iraq, where the military recaptured the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah in the western Anbar province.

However, IS still controls large parts of Syria as well as Iraq's second largest city, Mosul.

AP

Press Association

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