It looks like Manbij will fall to Kurdish and Arab fighters backed by U.S. and French special forces in the near future. But their next target remains a question mark.
KHUSHFIT UM ADASAH, Syria—From this base in a nearby village, we could see an F-16 fighter jet flying above ISIS positions in the city of Manbij. After one week of combat, a U.S.-backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters has almost completely encircled this ISIS stronghold in Syria next to the Turkish border.
A female commander on the radio told fighters on the front lines to be careful about giving their positions. “Be accurate in giving me locations, otherwise many civilians would be killed, and we don’t want to kill innocent people,” she said, loud enough for the handful of journalists at this position to hear.
The mixed Kurdish and Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are backed on the ground by U.S. and French special forces who are advising and coordinating with local fighters and calling in coalition airstrikes. But they are not in a rush to take the city.
“From the north side, we allowed a road to remain open and we have passed the road between Aleppo and Manbij,” said Shervan Kobani, a Kurdish fighter. “We do this in order to avoid destruction of the city, in order for the civilians to escape, and to give the ISIS fighters an option to escape,” he told The Daily Beast.
Kobani said that the so-called Islamic State group is on its last legs in Manbij. “ISIS cannot resist us, and blow themselves up near civilians when we reach them. They are very weak now, and wear women’s clothes to escape.”
Even accounting for battlefield hyperbole, it does appear ISIS is getting weaker, and often ISIS fighters kill themselves before giving up to SDF-fighters.
Hassan Abu Ali, 34, from a Free Syrian Army (FSA) group working with the Kurds says the resistance of ISIS is now broken.