Waging an offensive against the ISIS-held city of Manbij in northern Syria, U.S.-backed forces plead for international assistance for those fleeing the battles on Tuesday as the forces tightened their grip around the city.
The SDF push comes at the same time as other enemies of ISIS also launched major offensives on a number of other fronts, in what amounts to the most sustained pressure placed on the terrorists since they proclaimed their caliphate in 2014.
The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance launched the advance two weeks ago to seize ISIS’s last territory on the Syria-Turkey border and isolate the self-declared caliphate from the world.
The SDF is a U.S.-backed group formed last year which includes the powerful Kurdish YPG militia and Arab fighters. They are one of a number of sides fighting in Syria’s complex civil war now in its sixth year. The conflict pits rebels against Bashar al-Assad’s so-called regime forces.
“In the areas we control we have tried to take care of the needs of the internally displaced persons. But we are not able to cover their needs,” Sharfan Darwish of the SDF-allied Manbij Military Council told Reuters in Beirut.
“The international community must turn their attention to the people which have been liberated from (ISIS),” he said, adding that there were no effective international humanitarian organizations working in the area.
Darwish said the Manbij civil council was bringing supplies from the northern, Syrian YPG militia-controlled city of Kobani to displaced people, but this was not enough.
Assad forces are also fighting separate battles against ISIS. The SDF has largely avoided fighting against regime forces and focuses on fighting ISIS.
Around 1,100 people have already fled ISIS-held Manbij this week into SDF-held territory, facing ISIS sniper fire on the city’s skirts, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Many who had fled the city told Reuters that ISIS fighters were trying to prevent people leaving. One person told Reuters ISIS was arresting people suspected of collaborating with the SDF.
Having seized control of the last route into Manbij on Friday, the SDF has yet to enter the town. “We are closing in on Manbij,” Darwish said, adding that fighting continues on the city’s edges.
The Observatory said the SDF has taken about 105 villages and farms around Manbij since the start of the operation.
Since the start of the offensive on May 31, 49 civilians have died as a result of the U.S.-led coalition air strikes in and around Manbij and 19 civilians had been killed by ISIS, the Observatory said. It also said at least 246 ISIS fighters and 29 SDF fighters have been killed.
Assad forces and allies are trying to advance against the ISIS south-west of their de facto capital in Syria, Raqqa. Fighting on Monday between Ithriya and al Tabqa killed 11 members of the Assad forces and 17 ISIS, the Observatory said.
Syrian local media broadcast pictures of bloodied bodies lying in the desert sand. Assad and allied forces have been supported by Russian air power since September last year, an intervention which helped turn the tide of war in Assad’s favor.