MESOP LATEST ON MANBIJ (SYRIA) – SDF forces withdraw from Manbij: monitor

3 July 2016 – MESOP – Islamic State (IS) militants on Saturday pushed back U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) trying to advance into their stronghold of Manbij for the first time since a major offensive to capture the city and cut off the militants’ main strategic access route to Turkey, a monitoring group and Kurdish sources said.

The SDF, comprised of Kurdish and Arab fighters and backed by the air power of a U.S.-led coalition to fight Islamic State and aided by U.S. Special Forces, have been involved in the month-long Manbij operation aimed to seal off their last stretch of Syrian-Turkish frontier.The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the militants had evicted SDF troops from a main district south of the city which has been the scene of heavy fighting after suicide bombers blew up an explosive-laden car, Reuters reported.

The militants also recaptured a village northwest of the city.

An SDF spokesman, however, denied reports they had pulled back from positions inside the city and said the campaign to uproot the militants would continue until they “liberated Manbij”. “I stress that we have not retreated any step and all our positions are under our control,” Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the SDF-allied Manbij Military Council, said in a statement.The U.S.-backed forces have been bogged down in fighting in the northern and southern outskirts of the city after rapid advances that began with the capture of dozens of villages around the city until they surrounded it from all sides.