Syrian rebels 'seize key town Manbij from IS'

A soldier in camouflage walking across sandy ground in Manbij, 1 July 2016Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
By July when this photograph was taken, the US-backed alliance already had partial control of Manbij

A US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters has seized most of a key Syrian city from so-called Islamic State (IS), activists and commanders say.

Manbij is situated at an intersection of roads just south of the Turkish border.

It has been under IS control for more than two years.

Small numbers of IS militants are still resisting, using civilians as human shields, the alliance says.

The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of US-backed fighters including the powerful Kurdish YPG militia, launched a campaign to retake the northern city two months ago.

They were backed by US-led air strikes on IS positions.

After some heavy fighting, Manbij was encircled and completely cut off in June.

Dozens of civilians, including 11 children, were reportedly killed in US-led air strikes in July as they fled a village near the city.

Now, says a report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that relies on updates from people inside Syria, IS is being pushed out.

An SDF commander, Adnan Abu-Amjad, said his forces were "advancing cautiously" into the city and had taken over 80% of the town. The main obstacle was that IS was using civilians as human shields.

He said the "small groups" of militants that remained had been surrounded by SDF soldiers.

Mr Abu-Amjad said that between 10,000 and 15,000 civilians were left in areas under IS control, and his forces were working to avoid any harm to civilians.

The roads in Manbij link the IS stronghold of Raqqa to some parts of the Turkish border and other areas under its control in Aleppo province.

The routes have become key to the group's ability to move fighters, weapons and supplies in and out of Syria.

Neighbouring Aleppo, meanwhile, is currently the site of a major battle as rebel groups try to break a government siege.