Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

US-Backed Syrian Force Captures Key IS Stronghold of Manbij

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

US-Backed Syrian Force Captures Key IS Stronghold of Manbij

Article excerpt

BEIRUT * On the streets of Manbij, men chanted slogans against Islamic State or clipped their beards, and women walked with their faces uncovered for the first time in more than 2 years, hours after the militant group was pushed out of the northern Syrian city.

U.S.-backed fighters seized the key Islamic State stronghold late Friday after two months of heavy fighting that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced thousands. The fighters also freed hundreds of civilians the extremists had used as human shields, Syrian Kurdish officials and an opposition activist group said.

The capture of Manbij is the biggest defeat for the extremist group in Syria since July 2015, when it lost the town of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey. The capture of Tal Abyad deprived the militant group of a direct route to bring in new foreign militants or supplies.

Manbij is important because it lies on a key supply route between the Turkish border and the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic State's self-styled caliphate.

Manbij had been under Islamic State control since January 2014, when the extremists evicted other Syrian militant groups from the town. Islamic State's loss of Manbij followed two months after it lost the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

Nasser Haj Mansour, of the predominantly Kurdish Syria Democratic Forces, told The Associated Press that the town of Manbij "is under full control," adding that operations are ongoing to search for any Islamic State militants who might have stayed behind. The SDF launched its offensive in late May to capture Manbij, and was supported by U.S.-led airstrikes.

Amateur videos posted online showed that shortly after SDF fighters captured the town late Friday, scores of residents went down to celebrate in the streets. A man was filmed trimming his own beard with scissors, and then moving to clip the beard of another man on a motorbike. Women were able to uncover their faces.

Islamic State imposes a harsh and extreme version of Islam on the territory under its control, including a mandatory dress code.

"May God destroy them. They slaughtered us," a young man shouted in a Manbij square. …

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