Following a major offensive in eastern Aleppo, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have wrested control of more than 80 villages from ISIS and have imposed a siege upon the Islamic State stronghold of Manbij.
Remarkably, this advance puts the largely Kurdish forces of the SDF just 30 kilometers from the frontline at Kuweiris Airbase, a region in eastern Aleppo liberated by Syrian Arab Army (SAA) earlier this year.
If this area is cut off, the Islamic State will not only have lost all of the Syrian-Turkish border, but also a critical land route connecting the ‘caliphate’ to the outside world.
At the moment, it is estimated that some 2000 ISIS fighters are defending Manbij city while the SDF boasts a force of 4000 fighters west of the Euphrates, including several Arab contingents.
The SDF has intentionally left open the main road on the western side of Manbij so that insurgents and civilians can flee the town prior to a full-on assault – thus reducing SDF losses and collateral damage.
Although no formal alliance has been signed between the SDF and SAA, the two parties have common enemies, as both factions remain opposed to the Islamic State and extremist elements of the Syrian Opposition such as Jabhat al-Nusra, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda.
The SAA is supported by Russia and the SDF is backed by the USA, with the two military superpowers communicating on a daily basis so as to avoid any military confrontation between their respective client factions; Moscow and Washington are also engaged in separate air campaigns over Syria with airstrikes mainly targeting ISIS insurgents.