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Syria Kurds preparing
Manbij offensive: report

The US-led coalition has reportedly picked up the tempo of airstrikes around the ISIS-held town.

SDF fighters. (AFP/Delil Souleiman)

BEIRUT – The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces coalition has reportedly been readying a major offensive to seize an ISIS-held town west of the Euphrates, testing Turkey’s publicly stated goal of preventing Kurdish forces from expanding along its border.

 

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported Tuesday that the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has de-facto authority over Kurdish-populated areas of northern Syria, was preparing for an assault on Manbij.

 

“Officials in the party have announced over their social media accounts the ‘Greater Manbij Operation’ to seize the town,” the news agency quoted sources as saying.  

 

Kurdish outlets affiliated with the PYD have yet to make any mention of the purported offensive, however reports indicate the US-led coalition bombarding ISIS has stepped up its airstrikes around Manbij.

 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights tracking developments in the war-torn country has noted bombardment in the vicinity of the ISIS-held town since March 28, reporting on Wednesday morning that coalition jets launched “intense airstrikes” around Manbij.

 

The ANHA news agency, which is close to Syria’s Kurdish fighting forces, touted the recent strikes in a series of reports.

 

“ISIS mercenaries are transporting their dead and wounded [from the bombings] to the town’s National Hospital… amid a state of alert and panic among the mercenaries,” sources told the outlet in a report published Monday.

 

Meanwhile, the Iraq-based Kurdish Bas news reported that ISIS was on high alert in the Manbij and the border town of Jarabulus following “reports that the Syrian Democratic Forces intend to launch an attack after the arrival of a large cache of weapons and ammunition.”

 

Jaysh al-Thuwar—a close ally of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)—had previously announced it was launching an offensive on Manbij on January 6, however a major drive on the town never materialized.

 

The announcement came after the SDF coalition, which includes Jaysh al-Thuwar, seized the Tishreen Dam approximately 25-kilometers southeast of Manbij on December 26.

 

Backed by the airstrikes of the US-led international coalition, SDF fighters days not only took territory along the eastern bank of the Euphrates but also pushed across the dam on to the western side of the river, challenging Turkey’s self-declared “red-lines” for Kurdish activity in northern Syria.

 

Ankara has a wary view of the SDF, which is dominated by the 30,000-strong YPG and also includes smaller local Arab and Assyrian militias in northern Syria.

 

On December 28, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned that Ankara would not look “positively” on any force hostile to Turkey moving westward past the Euphrates, in a reference to the YPG.

 

However, Davutoglu said that only Arab, and not YPG, forces had crossed the Euphrates following the seizure of the Tishreen Dam, implying that Ankara would accept—for the time being—the Kurds’ Arab allies in the YPG operating in Turkey’s planned “safe zone.”

 

Ankara considers the YPG—which is affiliated with the PKK—to be a terrorist organization, and has explicitly warned that it will not allow the militia group to capture more ground in Syrian territory along Turkey’s border after the gains it made there earlier in the year.

 

Turkey has shelled Kurdish units attempting to cross the Euphrates River to conduct raids on ISIS forces positioned around Jarablus north of Manbij near the Turkish border, in effect enforcing a “red line” between the YPG and Ankara’s planned “safe zone.”

 

NOW’s English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report.

Syrian Democratic Forces fighters. (AFP/Delil Souleiman)

ISIS mercenaries are transporting their dead and wounded [from the bombings] to the town’s National Hospital… amid a state of alert and panic among the mercenaries.