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US-backed forces declare Syria's Manbij liberated from IS control

Syrian Democratic Forces hail 'immortal martyrs' and international support, amid reports IS fighters fled with 2,000 abducted civilians
An SDF soldier embraces civilian who escaped fighting in Manbij (Reuters)

Arab and Kurdish fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the "liberation" of the northern city of Manbij on Friday, after months of fighting against the Islamic State (IS) group.

Twitter accounts linked to Manbij Military Council and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which makes up part of the SDF, released the news:

Shervane Darwish, an SDF spokesman, described the development as a day of "terror being defeated again by our immortal martyrs, heroic freedom fighters and international coalition support.

“Let’s broadcast the good news of the victory and the liberation of the great Manbij from the hands of the terrorists,” he wrote in a post on Facebook. “We start a new history after closing the book of darkness.”

The US-led coalition told Middle East Eye that the loss of Manbij showed IS was "crumbling under pressure".

However, IS was able to seize about 2,000 civilians to use as "human shields" as they fled Manbij, US-backed forces and a monitor said on Friday.

"While withdrawing from a district of Manbij, Daesh (IS) jihadists abducted around 2,000 civilians from al-Sirb neighbourhood," Darwish said.

"They used these civilians as human shields as they withdrew to Jarabulus, thus preventing us from targeting them," he added.

Sirb is a district in northern Manbij on the way to the IS-held border town of Jarabulus in Aleppo province near the border with Turkey.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on sources on the ground, also reported that IS had abducted about 2,000 civilians.

It said the civilians were placed in hundreds of cars that then headed for Jarabulus.

An SDF soldier helps civilians to safety in Manbij (Reuters)
Darwish said the civilians who were taken were residents of Sirb and other districts, including a central area known as the "security quarter".

It was not immediately clear how many militants fled from the town, but reports last week after the SDF forces took most of Manbij said that dozens of IS fighters were holed up in the "security quarter".

Darwish said that about 2,500 other civilians "held captive by the jihadists were saved" by the SDF.

Tens of thousands of people lived in Manbij before the assault started in May.

The UN said that more than 78,000 people had fled since then.

US-led coalition spokesman, Colonel Christopher Garver, told Middle East Eye: "The city of Manbij was strategically significant to IS due to its location between Raqqa and the outside world and its role as a hub for foreign fighter travel. We now know that IS received, trained, used, and dispatched foreign terrorist fighters to and from Manbij. 

"The loss of Manbij to the SDF will be strategically significant to IS and will show the world that the so-called 'caliphate' is crumbling under pressure from our partnered forces on the ground, assisted by the coalition."

The UK-based observatory said that the battle for Manbij killed at least 437 civilians, including 105 children, as well as 299 SDF fighters and 1,019 IS militants.

IS had previously been accused of using human shields during the fighting in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, before that former stronghold fell to Iraqi forces.

additional reporting by Wladimir van Wilgenburg

A man has his beard cut in celebration of escaping IS control in Manbij (Reuters)

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