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Kurd-Arab forces enter IS bastion in northern Syria

Manbij is a key waypoint on an ISIS supply line between the Turkish border and the extremist group’s de facto capital, Raqqa, which is also under intense pressure from a Syrian government offensive. If Manbij is captured, it will be the biggest strategic defeat for ISIS in Syria since July 2015, when it lost the border town of Tal Abyad.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said intense fighting is taking place between ISIS fighters and the SDF on the southwestern edge of Manbij. Rami Abdurrahman, the director of the monitoring group, which relies on a network of activists in Syria, said the SDF recaptured a village about 1 kilometre (0.6 miles) outside the city, enabling them to move on to seize two squares on the western side of the city. The forces then advanced toward a third square with air support from the US-led coalition, he said.

An adviser to the SDF, Nasser Haj Mansour, said the force on Wednesday moved into the city from its northern edge, close to its grain silos, prompting clashes with ISIS jihadists. He confirmed other troops entered Manbij from the west. The observatory’s director Rami Abdurrahman said ISIS still controls the silos. He said fighters on the ground reported that the silos are within close range but forces have so far abstained from shelling it.

Earlier on Thursday, the US Central Command said the SDF had consolidated their positions around Manbij in preparation for seizing it.The Syrian Arab Coalition, which is part of the SDF, “have consolidated their position around Manbij in anticipation of the next phase of operations to secure the city,” the statement said Thursday. “For the last seven days they have been refining their plans as to how to gain a foothold in Manbij and maintain the safety of the civilian population trapped” by ISIS. Thousands of civilians have fled Manbij in recent weeks.

The US has embedded 300 Special Forces troops with the SDF. France also confirmed it is providing training to the SDF. The operation against ISIS in Manbij began on May 31. The US Central Command said in its statement the international coalition has since conducted more than 233 airstrikes in the vicinity of the city. 
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