SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS
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SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS
ROJAVA UPDATE 232: SDF NOW IN CONTROL OF AROUND 20% OF MANBIJ AND DISMANTLING HUNDREDS OF IEDS:
TIMELINE – 29th JUNE 2016 14.55 GMT:
Coming from 4 directions into Manbij, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) are reported to have liberated around 20% of the urban area of the city.
Yesterday, Tuesday, on the western approaches to Manbij, SDF fighters battled the Islamic State (IS) all day for control of the Department of Transportation building on the Manbij-Aleppo highway, completing the operation at midnight last night. The SDF also took the Al- Madfaa roundabout.
A large part of the south-western district, Hazawni, is now held by the SDF, though a significant strip to the south and south west is still held by IS.
To the north of the city, the SDF in their latest advance have taken the Haram roundabout on the Jarablous road, though an IS vehicle bomb was detonated in the area this morning, Wednesday.
Yesterday at around 5.00am, IS coming 19 kilometres from Jarablous north of the Sajour River, attempted to infiltrate SDF positions just south of Qirat village. In the ensuing fire-fight, the SDF destroyed a vehicle equipped with a heavy machine gun and captured stocks of weapons and ammunition.
On the northern front, the SDF are reported to have captured the Qaran school to the west of the industrial area and have made further gains in the Hawatima district.
On the southern side of Manbij, after taking the grain silos, heavy street fighting is now taking place to the north of this position.
The fighting is complicated by the 600 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) found in or around the grain silos by the SDF, plus a tunnel which linked the silos underground to the Al-Ajlani gas-station further north.
The brave de-mining experts of the SDF show what they are up against, (Kurdish only) here:
Latest situation map courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer on Twitter, here:
Currently the SDF on the southern front are battling IS around the Al-Matahin crossroads, about one kilometre north of the grain silos, and have freed dozens of civilians, (Arabic only) here:
And heavy fighting here:
In the Assadiat neighbourhood to the south-east of Manbij, an IS unit appears to be holding out but is completely surrounded, and sporadic fighting continues to take place near the grain silos.
This footage shows a generally clean and well-equipped hospital captured from IS in western Manbij last weekend, here:
And also a house formerly occupied by an IS emir of Russian origin, here:
US Central Command (Centcom) reports 15 airstrikes on Syria yesterday, Tuesday, and 17 in Iraq. 6 of the strikes in Syria near Manbij hit 5 separate IS tactical units and destroyed 2 x IS fighting positions, an IS vehicle, and an IS anti-aircraft gun.
8 other strikes in Syiia supported an Opposition New Syria Army attack at Abu Kamal, hitting 2 x IS tactical units, an ISIL intelligence training center, 2 x IS-used bridges, an IS HQ, an IS training camp, and an ISIL bed down location plus destroying an IS vehicle.
A further strike in Syria at Ma’ra destroyed an IS vehicle bomb (VBIED).
In Raqqah province, IS are reported to have re-captured an area held by the SDF near Ain Issa. Awaiting more detail.
While in Tal Abyad (GirêSpî) this morning, Wednesday, a car bomb exploded infront of the People’s Council building killing 10 at the latest count, including 2 members of the YPG.
35 kilometres east of Tal Abyad, the Turkish Army is reported once again to have shelled Kurdish villages, wounding 6 including women and children.
Lahur Talabani, who is responsible for Intelligence with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq and recently visited Kobane, has arranged for the delivery of 17 -25 tons (reports vary) of aid and food to the city. Talabani was also instrumental in getting the border between and Rojava and Iraq re-opened a couple of weeks ago.
A second delivery of UN aid has also reached Sheikh Maqsoud, the Kurdish district of Aleppo city which is still under siege from Opposition Islamist groups.
In other news it appears the Opposition New Syria Army has attempted a US supported airborne attack on IS-held Abu Kamal on the Syria/Iraq border, though at this stage it is not clear whether this has been effective or a completed failure. Latest reports suggest the Coalition has had to bomb and destroy US equipment captured by IS.
Turkey is also reeling once again from a terrorist attack yesterday on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. 3 suicide bombers, believed to be IS supporters, opened fire in the terminal building and then blew themselves up at the security check facility.
The death toll today, Wednesday, has risen to 41 dead, including 13 foreigners and 239 injured. The BBC has video coverage.
In an unconnected event, 19 x IS Jihadists are reported killed in a joint Turkish and Coalition attack on Monday, hitting 35 Islamic State positions in northern Aleppo province near the Turkish border. IS weapon emplacements, Katyusha rockets and mortar launch positions, which had been firing into Turkey for weeks, were targeted.
Lastly, an exhibition of large photographs about the battle for Kobane has been put up on the remains of the German Berlin Wall, which formerly divided the city into east and west.
ROJAVA UPDATE 231: SDF PUSHING INTO MANBIJ FROM SEVERAL DIRECTIONS – ISLAMIC STATE DEFENCES IN DANGER OF BEING CUT IN HALF:
TIMELINE – 27 th JUNE 2016 14.39 GMT:
The Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) have over the weekend advanced from the north, south and east into Manbij and today, Monday, are just one kilometre from the central bazaar/market.
This morning’s significant advance is from the south-west into the Al-Hazawinat district near the Sheikh Abdeen road, an area occupied by both Arabs and Kurds before the war.
Due south of the city centre, the SDF are now one kilometre north of the grain silos which they now totally control, and have taken half of a cemetery in the central area near the Al-Ajlani gas-station. The latest clashes occurred at 2.00 am on Sunday night with at least 16 x IS fighters killed.
North of the city heavy fighting with the Islamic State (IS) is reported around the Al Haram roundabout and outside the city boundary at Al Daifa village there was a huge explosion as an IS vehicle bomb was detonated.
Omar Bin Khattab Mosque in the northern district was additionally reported surrounded by SDF fighters with reputedly 30 x IS jihadists trapped inside and 26 x IS Jihadists killed in fighting on Sunday. Further afield intense clashes are reported 14 kilometres to the north-west of Manbij.
On the eastern side of the city, with the aid of Coalition air support, the SDF have also progressed and are now within a few hundred metres of another grain storage complex. Many IS Jihadists were flushed from or killed in tunnels.
To the west of Manbij, heavy fighting also continues, with reports that an IS reinforcement expedition coming from Al-Bab was completely destroyed and many IS fighters killed.
As things stand at the moment, there is a good chance that the SDF will split IS defences in Manbij in half or even into smaller pockets which will then be completely surrounded. At least 4 attacking vehicle bombs have been destroyed in the last 24 hours.
Coalition air support is crucial to this operation and on Sunday US Central Command (Centcom) reports that they made 7 strikes in Syria, all of them on Manbij. The airstrikes hit 5 separate IS tactical units and destroyed 2 x IS tunnels as well as damaging an IS fighting position and denying IS access to terrain.
On Saturday there were a further 8 strikes on Manbij hitting 7 x IS tactical units and destroying 2 x IS fighting positions, an IS vehicle, an IS vehicle bomb (VBIED, an IS improvised explosive device (IED) plus again denying IS access to territory.
Over the 2 days there were also 41 strikes against IS in Iraq.
Concern is growing further for the now estimated 1,000 Kurds that have been rounded up by the Islamic State from villages in the northern part of Aleppo province and there are fears over the many Kurds living in IS-controlled Qabasin, Al-Bab and Ahras. Both men and woman have been seen in cages on the back of lorries being transported to Al-Bab.
Latest statement this afternoon from the SDF puts the total number of IS Jihadists killed in the Manbij operation at 1,300, though there is no way of confirming that.
Turkey continues to be unhelpful, shelling a YPG headquarters in the village of Kor Eli west of Kobane city today, Monday, and bombing the villages of Boban, Zilara and Ashme in the countryside near Kobane on Sunday. A number of Kurds, including women and children, have been injured.
In Sheikh Maqsoud, the Kurdish district of Aleppo city, 13 UN aid trucks reached the neighbourhood today, Monday, to distribute supplies for the first time since the war started in 2011.
An estimated 35 – 40,000 civilians still live in the district, where both water and electricity are often restricted. This has not stopped Opposition Islamist groups from attacking the area, a new bout of fierce fighting between them and the YPG breaking out this afternoon.
Over in Damascus, President Assad is reported to have made his first visit to speak directly to troops yesterday, Sunday, since New Year’s Eve 2014.
He apparently visited troops in the Marj Al-Sultan area north-east of the capital where the regime have made some gains into Eastern Ghouta. Assad shared the Iftar evening meal eaten during Ramadan with the troops, though after 5 years of fighting they did not look exactly overjoyed to see him.The visit was not announced until after his return.
Just as well, as Opposition forces claimed that they had struck one of 2 helicopters with a missile on Sunday evening near Marj Al-Sultan, though it apparently made it back to base.
In Deir Ez Zour province, both regime and Russian planes have attacked the IS-held town of Al-Qurayyah, reportedly killing 47 people, 31 of them civilians and including 25 children.
And reports this afternoon say that President Erdogan of Turkey has written to President Putin of Russia “expressing regret” over the downing of the Russian jet on the Turkish border in November 2015.
Over in Iraq, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, visited Fallujah yesterday, Sunday, and officially declared it fully liberated. Iraqi troops are now on the road to Mosul, making progress towards Shirqat, north of Baji.
However, Mosul will be a difficult battle with an estimated 7,000 x IS fighters in the centre of the city and another 5,000 positioned in the suburbs.
ROJAVA UPDATE 230: SDF CAPTURE GRAIN SILOS AND MOVE INTO SUBURBS OF MANBIJ FROM 3 DIRECTIONS:
TIMELINE – 25th JUNE 2016 14.12 GMT:
The Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) took complete control of the grain silos south of Manbij yesterday afternoon, Friday, just 2 kilometres from the city centre after heavy fighting and continue to make advances in other parts of the city.
Control of the silos gives the SDF excellent oversight of Manbij and has allowed them to move further north towards a roundabout nearer the city centre.The SDF have also liberated the Akhdar farms area to the south of city.
Video footage of the battle for the silos has just been released, (Arabic only) here:
West of Manbij the SDF have today, Saturday, pushed the Islamic State (IS) state away from the Sharia roundabout and crossing and captured a Sharia School where young Jihadists were apparently trained in warfare.
This advance follows the liberation of the village of Qanat Sheikh Tabash, one kilometre south of the Sharia roundabout on the Manbij-Aleppo road on Wednesday night. At least 15 x IS Jihadists were killed in the assault and 7 Ak-47s seized as well as 500 bullets, an RPG rocket grenade launcher, a mortar, 6 hand grenades and other equipment and weapons.
A hospital south of the Kitab roundabout, captured earlier in the week from IS, was found to be full of drugs obtained from Turkey, much to no-one’s surprise.
This morning, Saturday, on the 25th day of the campaign, one kilometre to the east of Manbij, the SDF also captured the village of Al-Khataf.
In an attempt to bolster the plummeting spirits of their fighters, IS have flown an enormous black flag from a pole in the centre of the city, though it is not likely to be there for long, here:
Additionally, west of Manbij, the SDF on Thursday took control of an electronics workshop full of equipment and documents in Haj Aabdeen, which is believed to be critical to their military activity, especially with IEDs and wireless/explosive devices, (Arabic only) here:
Another house taken was full of weapons, explosive belts and ammunition, here:
Further afield, the SDF extending their territory on Wednesday also liberated the villages of Hemdi Sêx, Xirbê, Efarim, Aveys, Hamudiye and 2 hamlets south-east of the Tishreen Dam.
IS, coming from Jarablous in the north-east of Aleppo province have however not ceased their attacks on Kobane Canton, a group of Jihadists trying to infiltrate the eastern bank of the Euphrates on Friday morning near Sheikler in the south-western part of the Canton. After being confronted by the SDF they retreated back to the west bank.
Concerning is increasing for the 900 Kurds arrested by IS from villages still under their control in the northern part of Aleppo province, especially after the execution of 20 of them was widely reported. 200 other Kurds in vulnerable villages fled to Afrin Canton for safety.
US Central Command (Centcom) says it made 12 airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, 8 of them near Manbij hitting 7 x IS tactical units and destroying 6 x IS fighting positions and 2 x IS vehicles. 4 other strikes hit oil well heads near Deir Ez Zour and tactical units and fighting positions near Ma’ra.
This brings the total of Coalition strikes in the Manbij campaign since 1st June to more than 233. IS deaths are put at 458 and those of SDF fighters at 63.
Over in Kobane city today, Saturday, thousands of Kurds have commemorated the 251 victims of the surprise IS attack on the city on the 25th June 2015.
ROJAVA UPDATE 229: SDF STORM GRAIN SILOS SOUTH OF MANBIJ AND REPEL THIRD ISLAMIC STATE COUNTER-ATTACK IN AS MANY DAYS:
TIMELINE – 22nd JUNE 2016 14.29 GMT:
The Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) is reported this afternoon, Wednesday, to be storming the Islamic State-occupied grain silos on the southern perimeter of Manbij.
Yesterday, the SDF were within 500 metres and with the help of Coalition airstrikes they have now made the ultimate step. Further news is awaited.
Video footage from the near grain silos is (Arabic only), here:
The fight for the centre of Manbij is expected to be tough, with dozens, if not hundreds of booby-traps and IEDs.
Also this morning, Wednesday, the Islamic State (IS) at around 5.00am local time launched another counter-attack, the third this week, against the villages of Yasta and Al-Nakhil, east of Manbij, which were captured by the SDF on Sunday morning.
After 3 hours of fighting, the IS attack was repelled, leaving 30 x IS Jihadists dead.
Monday’s counter-attack on 3 fronts, with IS forces coming from Al-Bab, Maskena and Jarablous, saw heavy fighting all day until the evening when the SDF prevailed.
SDF commanders say that they killed 142 x IS fighters after the Jihadists launched into battle with heavy weapons and at least 3 vehicle bombs.
The SDF recovered 89 Jihadist bodies, along with 20 AK-47s, 7 rocket grenade launchers and large amounts of ammunition.
The most significant IS counter-attack on Monday came south of Manbij from a pocket IS still held near Ar Rus. The SDF managed to force the insurgents south, away from Manbij, where IS retook the village of Gharrah Al-Saghirah.
SDF say they have the situation under control, while other reports suggest IS still hold 2 villages and 3 farms. Reports of SDF deaths vary for the counter-attacks, but some figures suggest as many as 28 may have died.
This map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, shows the position earlier this week, here:
And another tactical map shows the SDF breaking into the Manbij urban area yesterday, Tuesday, here:
After capturing some of the urban area, SDF were able to create another humanitarian corridor to the west of the city to allow more civilians to escape. Numbers vary, but at least 2,000 citizens of Manbij have now escaped to SDF protected areas.
As Coalition jets roar overhead, this video illustrates all that remains of Al-Ittihad University to the west of Manbij after the fighting subsided and SDF were in control, here:
This footage shows 10 captured IS fighters who were led away for interrogation, here:
In retaliation for their pressing defeat, IS are reported to have launched another round of arrests across the territory they still hold in northern Aleppo province, taking into custody as many as 800 civilians, mainly Kurdish men and youths.
Villages affected, still under IS control, are Shawi, Weran village, Ghandoura, Sur Sanbat, Arima, A-Raee, Tel Jerja, Kawikli, Kayiba, Qabasin and Kalben. 12 civilians were also reported shot dead by IS after they tried to escape from a village in the countryside near Jarablous.
US Central Command (Centcom) reports 16 airstrikes in Syria on Monday and 20 in Iraq.
13 of the 16 in Syria were near Manbij, hitting 12 separate IS tactical units and destroying 5 x IS fighting positions, 2 x IS vehicles and damaging a separate IS fighting position. 2 other strikes were at Raqqah destroying a bridge and 5 oil pump jacks, while a third strike near Al-Shaddadi destroyed a vehicle bomb.
Meanwhile in Kobane city, 150 men were conscripted and signed up for 45 days training followed by 9 months of military service. The men will be used as a protection force in Kobane and surrounding villages, allowing YPG fighters to move to the IS frontline.
Another 4,875 displaced people are reported to have left the Shahba area between Jarablous and Azaz to seek shelter and safety in the Kurdish Canton of Afrin, bringing the number of refugees there to 31,507.
Still in Aleppo province, the Syrian Opposition has recaptured 5 villages from IS near the Turkish border and east of Dudiyan, but not for the first time. Hopefully they can hold onto them on this occasion, unlike the last when IS took them back within hours.
Over near Raqqah, 11 x IS fighters are reported killed by the SDF on the road between Kantri and Raqqah city.
South-west of Raqqah city, latest reports suggest that an IS counter-attack near Tabqa has pushed Assad’s ground forces away from Tabqa Air Base and that the Syrian Government is now in retreat from Raqqah province altogether.
Indiscriminate Russian or Assad Air Force bombing though is said yesterday, Tuesday, to have killed 18 civilians in Raqqah in 3 air raids, including 2 children, wounding a further 28. Coalition strikes on Raqqah this morning, Wednesday, which tend to be much more accurate, hit the city hall but there are no reports of civilian casualties so far.
Over in Jordan, the security forces were hit with a vehicle bomb which was driven at speed across the frontier from Syria into a border post, killing 6 soldiers and border security personnel.
The border post at Rukban is in a remote part of the desert next to an impromptu refugee camp where thousands of Syrians wait in appalling conditions to cross into Jordan. The Jordanian Government has in response to the blast made the whole of the Syrian and Iraqi borders against its territory into closed military zones.
If you have the time (31 minutes), watch this first class documentary made last year by “Joey L” about the Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq. Apart from some great footage, Joey has also taken some outstanding portraits of Kurdish men and women, here:
Lastly, over in Iraq Kurdistan, UNHCR held a “Refugees Got Talent” contest in the refugee camp at Arbat to mark “World Refugee Day” on Monday.
Under a full moon, 19 year old Mizzgin Rumi, a shy Kurd from Kobane enthralled the audience with an emotional song in praise of the Kurdish military to win the contest.
Surrounded by a professional band, Rumi dazzled the 4 judges and the audience to come first out of the 10 acts. His family fled from Kobane in the fighting 2 years ago.
ROJAVA UPDATE 228: SDF ENTER MANBIJ FROM THE WEST AND CLOSE GAP ON OTHER FRONTS AS 1,000 CIVILIANS FLEE:
TIMELINE – 20th JUNE 2016 15.46 GMT:
Over the weekend the Syria Democratic Force (SDF) pushed into the western suburbs of Manbij and is now just over 2 kilometres from the city centre.
Amid heavy fighting and Coalition airstrikes, the SDF first captured the Abo Ali Al-Battman farms on the outskirts and then took the Kitab roundabout.
Reports said that 26 x IS Jihadists were reported killed in the fighting to the west of the city where IS had set up barricades at the Kitab crossroads, the first major junction into Manbij.
Video footage shows SDF fighters shooting towards Islamic State (IS) positions and enormous blasts after Coalition airstrikes, here:
Latest information Monday suggests fighting on the west side of the city is between the Kitab roundabout and Sharia Square. There are also suggestions that the SDF have captured the grain silos to the south of the city, but this is yet to be confirmed.
Today, Monday, the Islamic State appear to have launched a co-ordinated counter-attack on a dozen SDF-held villages from both Al-Bab in the west and Jarablous in the north-east, but so far reports say the attacks have been repelled.
To the north-east of the city the Manbij Military Council on behalf of the SDF liberated the village of Kherija this morning, Monday, bringing them, on the 20th day of campaign, to within 800 metres of the city boundary on the northern front.
The SDF is going to great lengths to balance using its fire power and allowing civilians to escape from the city unharmed.
The attack to the west of the city led IS to reinforce their presence there and allowed around 1,000 civilians to flee the city to the east and south-east towards the SDF lines with their animals and belongings. The Civil Council for Manbij, formed to take over when IS leave the city, is already distributing aid to families displaced or liberated in eastern areas.
Since Saturday fighting has also escalated once again on the eastern side of the city with the villages of Yasta and Ain Al-Nakhil, 3 kilometres from Manbij, freed by the SDF on Sunday morning. 22 x IS fighters were reported killed in the fighting and 6 AK-47s, a machine gun and ammunition also recovered.
From within the city there are also reports of lethal in-fighting clashes between rival foreign and Syrian IS members in the main market area after a civilian family trying the flee the fighting were publicly executed. 6 members of the Al-Darj family, including 2 children, were apparently murdered infront of hundreds of onlookers.
In Sunday’s Coalition airstrikes 9 x IS fighters were reported killed, including Abu Hamza Al-Ansari, a senior IS commander, and 3 of his escorts as they were hiding in a city centre building during an air raid. At least another 5 x IS Jihadists were killed and 12 wounded, according to sources within Manbij, after the Coalition also struck an IS security centre in the city.
The latest US Central Command (Centcom) report is for Saturday, when they carried out 16 strikes in Syria and 18 in Iraq. In Syria, 9 strikes near Manbij hit 9 separate IS tactical units and destroyed 11 x IS fighting positions and an IS vehicle. The other 7 strikes in Syria were at Abu Kamal, Raqqah, Deir Ez Zour and Ma’ra destroying similar targets but including 3 more oil well heads, 2 bridges, 2 x IS rocket systems and a heavy machine gun.
19 kilometres west of Manbij, on the road to Al-Bab, fighting is additionally reported around Al-Kawkali where IS are said to have booby-trapped many houses to slow the SDF advance. Informants say that local people are also being forced by IS to join them in the fight to defend Al-Bab.
Around 41 SDF fighters are recorded as having died so far in the Manbij campaign, compared with hundreds for the Islamic State.
The SDF also report that many of the dead IS fighters have drugs in their pockets. According to a doctor travelling with the SDF most of the pills found are narcotics, contraceptive pills and pain-killers.
Opposition Islamic groups have continued shelling Kurdish settlements in Afrin Canton, this time damaging buildings and setting fields of crops on fire around the village of Jelama, hitting it with 5 rockets.
Opposition groups are also reported to have amalgamated the military councils of Tel Rifaat, Menagh, Kafr Naya and Kafr Nasih to oppose the Kurdish YPG/SDF in the northern parts of Aleppo province.
Over in the north-east of Rojava, an IS suicide bomber, reportedly dressed as a priest, blew himself up at a gathering of Orthodox Christians at the Amal Centre in Qamishli.
The bomber was shot at the entrance to the hall but still managed to trigger his explosives, killing 3 and wounding another 5. His target was believed to be Ignatius Aphrem II, the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, who was attending the event, but who was protected by the armed security.
Between 8 and 11 civilians were additionally reported killed on Saturday night at 1.00am on Sunday morning in Sheikh Maqsoud, the Kurdish District of Aleppo city from Opposition Islamist group shelling. The YPG retaliated by identifying the source of the firing and sending out patrols which killed 3 of the attackers.
Turkey has also continued its attacks on Rojava, shelling YPG positions near the village of Ziyaret village Saturday and firing rifle shots at civilians in the village of Kelim on the same day. In addition on Saturday, IS based in Jarablous fired heavy artillery across the Euphrates at the village of Sexler.
In other news, the Assad regime with Russian support is now only 10 kilometres from Tabqa airbase, the last major stepping-stone on the road to Raqqah coming from the south-west.
By contrast, reports say that south of Aleppo city the Opposition fighters allied with the Al Nusra Front have continued their advance, capturing the towns of Zeitan, Khalsa and Barnah and killing 86 pro-Assad fighters, including 50 members of Hezbollah in the last 4 days.
In the last 40 days, despite extreme Russian bombing, the Opposition fighters have taken 75 square kilometres away from the Assad regime.
Over in Iraq, the Iraqi Army has entered Fallujah, though fighting with IS continues in the northern suburbs and they now have to aid 30,000 displaced civilians from the city, some of whom have no shelter and are forced to sit out in the sun.
Lastly, the moving story of a 12 year old Yezidi girl who managed to escape the clutches of IS with her aunt, HERE: and a picture of a Syrian Red Crescent truck “generously allowed” by the Assad government into the starving Damascus suburb of Daraya, despite being continuously barrel-bombed by regime forces.
When it was opened on arrival, it was almost completely empty, local reports saying its contents had been stolen by regime troops before it was allowed to proceed.
ROJAVA UPDATE 227: SDF JUST 700 METRES FROM SOUTHERN ENTRANCE TO MANBIJ AND PRESSURISING ISLAMIC STATE WEST AND NORTH OF THE CITY:
TIMELINE – 17th JUNE 2016 15.15 GMT:
As the Manbij campaign against the Islamic State (IS) by the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) enters its 17th day, fighting is concentrated around the western edge of the city with heavy airstrikes to the south.
West of Manbij fierce clashes are reported today, Friday, between the Manbij-Aleppo road and the city suburbs leaving 26 x IS Jihadists dead after 7 Coalition airstrikes on their positions.
The SDF, pushing further west towards Al-Bab are also reported to have taken the strategic junction village of Yatani yesterday, Thursday. This map, courtesy of @ChuckPfarrer, shows the latest position, here:
On the southern approaches to the city airstrikes repeatedly hit IS positions on Thursday near Rasm al-Akhdar village and the nearby grain silos leaving 9 x IS fighters dead, with the SDF less than 700 metres away, (Arabic only) here:
US Central Command (Centcom) reports that they made 19 strikes in Syria on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, 16 of them near Manbij hitting 14 separate IS tactical units and destroying 9 x IS fighting positions, 4 x IS vehicles, an IS mortar station and 6 x IS command and control nodes.
The other 3 strikes were at Ma’ra and Abu Kamal hitting 2 more tactical units at Ma’ra and destroying 3 x IS fighting positions and destroying 4 x oil well heads at Abu Kamal.
Commenting on the Coalition strikes on Wednesday, a US spokesman said they had made 190 airstrikes in total since the Manbij campaign began and in the last 3 days destroyed 3 x IS headquarters, “Which is encouraging ISIL’s retreat into the city”.
On Thursday the SDF also liberated the village of Til Refî’, 4 kilometres to the north-east of Manbij. After also freeing Hamdoun Farm village on Tuesday, just south of the city, SDF fighters found a tunnel full of the bodies of IS fighters, here:
In Wednesday’s statement by the Manbij Military Council, who are leading the advance on Manbij city on behalf of the SDF, a leading commander claimed they had now killed or injured more than 1,000 x IS fighters in the Manbij campaign and seized 560 corpses of IS Jihadists in the last week alone, as well as ammunition and weapons. You can see the press conference, (English sub-titles), here:
The press conference also formally announced the second phase of the operation which is to take the city completely.
Included in the IS dead from Wednesday’s clashes is Abu al-Hayjaa, local leader of the IS Hisba religious police and four of his escorts, who were killed along with 23 other Jihadists in an SDF attack on the Hatabat district of Manbij.
This article has interviews with former residents of Manbij waiting for its liberation in refugee camps in Turkey, HERE:
The constitution for a federation of autonomous towns and cities in northern Syria is rapidly taking shape and likely to be finished in the next 3 months. Members of the new council already set-up to run Manbij when it is liberated have been approached about joining and apparently while liking the idea have not committed themselves until a full council is in place back in the city.
All the liberated areas will be invited to join the declared “Democratic Federal System for Rojava and Northern Syria” – (EDITOR: Much to the horror of the Turkish leadership no doubt!)
In Kurdish Afrin Canton in the north-west of Aleppo province, another 2,140 refugees, mainly women, children and the elderly, and many from the Manbij and Al-Bab area, have flooded the already strained facilities for the displaced.
The Asayish, Kurdish police security in Afrin, also intercepted 2 small children sent into Afrin by IS as suicide bombers wearing explosive belts. After interrogation they will be returned to their families. Video footage, courtesy of VOA, HERE:
Over in Rojava’s north-east in Qamishli a monument to the foreign fighters who died fighting the Islamic State for the YPG/YPJ has been unveiled. You can read more, HERE:
While in Aleppo city, fresh clashes broke out yesterday, Thursday, between the YPG/YPJ and Opposition Islamist brigades, some of whose fighters tried to break into the Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsoud.
9 Islamists were killed and 14 injured and taken prisoner by the YPG, plus 2 YPG fighters and 5 civilians were also injured.
Lastly, a tribute to Jo Cox, a British member of the UK Parliament, elected just 18 months ago, who was murdered in her constituency in England in broad daylight yesterday.
Jo Cox, 41, in her short life as a parliamentarian was an outspoken campaigner for the starving and besieged in Syria, those being bombarded by Assad and Russia’s bombs in Aleppo and the estimated 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees struggling across Europe to seek a new life.
It may well have been her outspoken views on the plight of refugees and Syrians that cost her her life as unconfirmed reports say that the man who shot and then repeatedly stabbed her kept shouting “Britain First”, a well-known slogan of the UK’s right wing.
You can hear Jo Cox speaking on Syria, HERE:
Jo was co-founder the All Party Parliamentary Group for Syria and campaigned for a “no-fly zone” in northern Syria. She leaves a husband and 2 small children. Thanks Jo and may you rest in peace.
ROJAVA UPDATE 226: SDF TIGHTEN NOOSE AROUND MANBIJ BUT ISLAMIC STATE ABDUCT 210 KURDS NEAR AL-BAB IN REVENGE ATTACK:
TIMELINE – 15th JUNE 2016 15.20 GMT – UPDATED 17.12 GMT:
In fighting around Manbij, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) yesterday, Tuesday, re-captured villages where the Islamic State (IS) had attempted a breakout, killing significant numbers of IS Jihadists with the help of Coalition airstrikes.
At Huhud, 1 kilometre east of Manbij, 17 x IS fighters were killed when 7 airstrikes hit the village and 10 x AK-47s were recovered, along with 3,000 bullets, 3 machine guns, 17 hand grenades and other equipment. One of the IS Jihadists launched a suicide attack but was killed before any injuries were caused.
At Hamduniya, 2 kilometres south of Manbij, and Qanat Ghira, 2 kilometres west of Manbij, 21 x IS fighters were killed and 10 AK-47s recovered plus 900 bullets and 12 grenades.
Recent video footage of the Coalition airstrikes on Hamduniya which destroyed the occupying IS Jihadists, not far from the Manbij silos in the background, is here:
Also west of Manbij, IS Jihadists attacked 2 villages captured by the SDF 4 days ago, Asijlî Sexîre and ‘Asajlî Kebîre, which had been previously used as a local IS headquarters. Clashes lasted 4 hours with a large number of IS fighters killed and wounded and the rest fleeing the area.
Video footage of the current fighting over difficult, exposed terrain is shown, here:
Other reports say that of 27 x IS corpses found recently by the SDF, many of them look like non-Syrians. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights currently puts the IS deaths in the Manbij campaign at 274, including several IS field commanders and an IS Sharia Official from Manbij city.
SDF deaths are put at 29, but as many as 68 civilians may have been killed by both sides in the conflict, especially by aerial bombing and shelling.
So far the SDF have re-captured more than 105 villages and hamlets and approximately 1,200 civilians have escaped Manbij city to reach the safety of SDF lines. In a statement today, Wednesday, the Manbij Military Council, leading the SDF advance, said they had to date in just 15 days captured 1,000 square kilometres of formerly-held IS territory in the campaign.
However, the increasing number of displaced persons in liberated territory and villages without supplies is putting a severe strain on the SDF and Kobane from where current aid is being transported.
Sharfan Darwish, the SDF spokesman, has said that there are no international aid organisations operating in the freed areas and called for assistance. The BBC’s latest report with video was published this afternoon, Wednesday, HERE:
US Central Command (Centcom) reports 16 airstrikes in Syria on Monday 13th June and 14 in Iraq.
13 of the strikes in Syria were near Manbij, hitting 10 separate IS tactical units and destroying 6 x IS fighting positions, 3 x IS cave entrances, an IS weapons cache, an IS command and control node, 2 x IS vehicles and an IS security HQ.
The other 3 strikes were around Ma’ra in the north-west of Aleppo province, hitting 2 x IS tactical units and destroying an IS fighting position, an IS tactical vehicle and an IS mortar position.
Another 10 x IS fighters were reported killed in a combination of Coalition airstrikes and cross-border shelling by Turkey on Wednesday. A total of 17 x IS targets were hit in an operation to thwart what was thought to be an impending attack on Turkish territory.
IS still remain a dangerous enemy. On the east bank of the Euphrates, south-west of Kobane near Sarrin 6 SDF fighters were reported killed in a sudden IS Jihadist attack.
Moving westwards from Manbij, the SDF is continuing to make progress towards Al-Bab. However, their advance may be slowed by the Islamic State who are reported to have broken into the villages of Shawa, Qaarkalbin, Tel Jarja, Sosinbat, Numan and Qabasin to the north of Al Bab and kidnapped more than 210 Kurdish civilians.
Eyewitnesses said that the IS Jihadists carefully selected houses occupied by Kurdish families and put young men and women into trucks before driving them away and leaving the elderly and young children behind.
Kurdish lawyer Omran Mansour, said, “ISIS extremists are now carrying out a revenge campaign against Kurds and other communities in northern Aleppo, accusing them of supporting the SDF,” and expressed concern that the abducted victims could be used as “human-shields” in the forthcoming battles with the Kurdish/YPG led SDF.
Over in Raqqah province to the north-east, the SDF are reported to have attacked an IS checkpoint in the village of Laqta in the countryside near Saluk, killing 2 x IS Jihadists.
A Coalition drone is also reported to have targeted an IS vehicle carrying a foreign IS commander in the IS political security branch killing both him and his companion. Local reports suggest that IS Jihadists are moving around the city more on foot since the strike to avoid becoming likely targets.
IS have also increased their patrols of Raqqah after apparent leaks of IS movements in the city and stepped-up scrutiny of internet activity.
Several unconfirmed reports on the Internet are suggesting that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, was injured or even killed in a Coalition airstrike on Raqqah this week, but such information has surfaced before without any authentication.
Meanwhile, in the Assad regime’s attempts to reach Raqqah, heavy fighting to the south-west near Tabqa is reported to have killed 17 x IS Jihadists and 11 members of the Government army.
Just to the north of Raqqah in Hasakah city another 100 Arab young men are reported to have completed basic training in the SDF and will now take their places in fighting units.
Over in Kurdish Afrin Canton in north-west Aleppo province, the Kurds experienced more shelling by Syrian Opposition groups who targeted the village of Basofan, setting fields of crops on fire.
Just to the south of Afrin Canton, one of the same Opposition groups fired a US-supplied TOW anti-tank missile at an SDF bulldozer parked in area between SDF-held Sheikh Issa and Mar’a. The bulldozer was destroyed but no-one was injured.
One US supported group (FSA) using TOW missiles against another US-supported group (SDF) would fall foul of rules of engagement set by the US when supplying such weapons.
The Assad regime has expressed “outrage” and “invasion of its territorial integrity” after reports of German and French special forces arriving at Kobane to take part in the Manbij campaign, though Germany has since denied that any of its troops are on the ground.
While in Kobane city, it looks as though the plans for a vast area of 80 hectares of destroyed city landscape to be left as a permanent memorial to the dead and injured defenders of the city is now to be modified.
This video (English sub-titles) suggests that following requests from local people to be allowed to rebuild their homes and businesses, the museum/memorial will be reduced to a more modest area of 13 hectares, here:
Lastly, this map, courtesy of the security analysts Stratfor, shows the Islamic State territorial losses in Iraq and Syria since February 2016, here: