Daily Management Review

Slow Iraq Advance Causes Rift even as U.S.-backed Syria Force Closes in on IS-held City


Slow Iraq Advance Causes Rift even as U.S.-backed Syria Force Closes in on IS-held City
As the U.S.-backed Syrian fighters press a major new offensive against the jihadists near the Turkish border, the Islamic State-held city of Manbij have been surrounded from three sides.
However the slow pace of a separate assault by the Iraqi army on a militant bastion near Baghdad caused a rift between the Shi'ite-led government and powerful Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia in a sign of the difficulty world powers have faced in building a coalition to take on the self-declared caliphate.
The two of the biggest operations yet against Islamic State in what Washington says is the year it hopes to roll back the caliphate are the simultaneous assaults on Manbij in Syria and Falluja in Iraq, at opposite ends of Islamic State territory.
To drive Islamic State from its last stretch of the Syrian-Turkish frontier, the Manbij attack last week was launched by the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), including a Kurdish militia and Arab allies that joined it last year. Paving the way for an assault on their Syrian capital Raqqa, it could cut the militants' main access route to the outside world if successful.
Falluja, an insurgent stronghold 750 km down the Euphrates River from Manbij just an hour's drive from Baghdad were taken under control last week by Iraqi forces.
A small contingent of American special forces and U.S. air strikes are backing the SDF in Syria. In addition to the powerful Iran-backed Shi'ite militia led by politicians who have emerged as rivals of Prime Minister Haider Abadi, the Iraqi army is also backed by U.S. air power.
Aided by Russian air support, last week a separate offensive against the Islamic State was launched by the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. Despite the Islamic State fighters putting up strong resistance so far, the assaults by Islamic State's disparate enemies on a variety of fronts have put unprecedented pressure on the group.
However a large numbers of civilians have also been put in fresh peril by the offensives. While more than 200,000 are at risk of being displaced by fighting around Syria's Manbij, around 50,000 civilians are trapped in Iraq's besieged Falluja, estimates the United Nations.
The U.S.-backed forces in northern Syria had cut the road north from Manbij to Islamic State-held Jarabulus at the Turkish border, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that reports on the war.
The attack was going to plan as the U.S.-backed alliance had advanced to within 6 km (4 miles) of Manbij, said Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the SDF-allied Manbij Military Council. More than 150 jihadists had been killed, with 50 of the bodies in SDF hands, he said.
"They took everything they could and left the city," he said while referring to the empty homes that were being used by Islamic State members as they had left with their families.
56 Islamic State members and 19 SDF fighters had been killed so far, said the Observatory. While not confirming Darwish's account that fighters themselves had left, the Observatory said that the Islamic State fighters had sent their families out of Manbij.