Kurdish female fighters of the YPJ joining the fight against ISIS north Raqqa. Photo: ARA News
ALEPPO – The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Friday liberated the city of Manbij from ISIS militants after a campaign of 73 days. According to analysts, the liberation of Manbij shows that the SDF is the most effective anti-ISIS force working with the US-led coalition. However post-ISIS administrative challenges remain.
“The capture of Manbij is a crucial victory for the anti-ISIS coalition. It proves that the SDF can be the ‘local capable forces’ the Americans are relying on to defeat ISIS,” Barak Barfi, a research fellow at the New America Foundation told ARA News. “Tactically, the city’s capture deprives the organisation [ISIS] of its key transit point in and out of the country since it has moved fighters through it.”
“As for the Turks, the Americans have eased their concerns and Ankara has approved the operations. This is the reason President Erdogan has been silent on the issue in contrast to his blistering attacks when the YPG took Tel Abyad,” he added.
ISIS grows weaker
Furthermore, analysts consider the loss of Manbij as a huge setback for ISIS.
“The capture of Manbij would be a significant milestone in the U.S.-led Coalition campaign to defeat ISIS in Syria,” said Nicholas A. Heras, a Bacevich Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
“Losing Manbij would weaken the ISIS war effort, particularly by making it more difficult for ISIS to move reinforcements and supplies from Raqqa to the Aleppo area frontline,” Heras told ARA News.
“Over time and combined with ISIS’ territorial losses in other areas of Syria, the would-be Caliphate will be placed under greater and greater pressure.”
“(…) the capture of Manbij, and subsequently the area around Manbij, is strategic territory because it provides ISIS with a route of reinforcement and resupply from Turkey into Syria, and to stage offensives in the vicinity of Aleppo city,” Heras added.
SDF as Crucial Partner
Michael Stephens, a Research Fellow for Middle East Studies and Head of RUSI Qatar, told ARA News that the liberation of Manbij is a sign of the confidence of the US-led coalition in the SDF forces.
“The liberation of Manbij is a display of the ongoing confidence the United States in particular holds for the SDF as the most capable actor in Syria to defeat ISIS,” he said.
“Although it took longer than expected, the operation has largely been successful in further pushing Isis away from the Turkish border and isolating their heartlands further south,” Stephens said.
Speaking to ARA News, Aron Lund, a nonresident associate in the Carnegie Middle East Program, said that the defeat of ISIS in Manbij is important for the Pentagon and will be a test for the US strategy in Syria in the future.
“Manbij will be an important bellwether for the war on the Islamic State and US strategy in Syria more generally,” Lund said.
“The Pentagon has sought to develop the SDF into a multiethnic umbrella capable of transcending Arab-Kurdish disputes and other fault lines, if not completely then at least to an extent that would allow this coalition to deliver additional, critical blows to the jihadi state-building project,” he added. “I think the test rather begins now, with establishing a new administration in the area,” he stated.
For this reason, the SDF created the Manbij Civilian Council in April that is providing aid to civilians now in the small town of Abu Qalqal, and will administrate the city in the near future. On Monday, the official liberation will be announced. However, the aid the council received from the international community is very limited, to almost non-existent. That’s why Kurdish and Arab officials have called for more aid support.
The researcher at the Center for a New American Security Nicholas A. Heras said the Manbij battle could have lead to the collapse of ISIS.
“Sensing a lost cause, this could spur communities under ISIS control throughout eastern Syria to begin to look toward a post-ISIS future. That would start to collapse the would-be Islamic State from within,” Heras told ARA News.
“It [the fall of Manbij] would provide the SDF, and the U.S.-led Coalition, the opportunity to demonstrate that it can hold, provide security for, and govern newly-won territory from ISIS. Particularly demographically diverse areas of northern Syria that will need inclusive government structures post-ISIS,” he said.
“The Coalition and its local partner forces on the ground in Syria will need to demonstrate that they can present a better alternative to ISIS. If the Coalition backed forces can not govern better than ISIS, there is the great risk of its resurgence in these hard-won areas,” he warned.
Now that the SDF forces have recaptured Manbij, the question remains what would the next station be, since the SDF seems determined to continue combatting ISIS in northern Syria. Observers wonder about the future involvement of the SDF in fighting in other key ISIS positions in Syria, such as al-Bab, Jarabulus and Raqqa. Most sources suggest that the next target is al-Bab city.
“The question now is whether SDF will continue to push westward towards Aleppo, Azaz and ultimately Afrin, or look to turn south and finish ISIS before the Assad regime does,” researcher Michael Stephens stated.
“At the present time it appears the SDF will consolidate their gains in the ‘Manbij pocket’ rather than look to finish off ISIS. The fight still has a long way to run,” he concluded.
Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg
Source: ARA News