The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with embedded US Special Forces and anti-ISIS coalition air support, are advancing on the “Manbij pocket,” the last ISIS-controlled zone along the Syria-Turkey border:
The operation, which only just started to get underway on Tuesday and could take weeks to complete, aims to choke off Islamic State’s access to Syrian territory along the Turkish border that militants have long used as a logistics base for moving foreign fighters back and forth to Europe.
“It’s significant in that it’s their last remaining funnel” to Europe, a U.S. military official said.
Taking Manbij from ISIS could really put a chokehold around Raqqa, but the fact that the operation is being undertaken by the SDF, which is mostly made up of Kurdish YPG fighters, is bound to inflame tensions with Turkey. The US is insisting that the SDF’s Arab fighters are leading the operation with the Kurds hanging back, but eyewitnesses are saying otherwise:
US officials say the SDF force is mostly Arab with a small number of Kurds.
However, the Syrian Observatory (SOHR) said most of the fighters were from the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) militia.
Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group and fiercely opposes any Kurdish advances near the border.
So this is something to watch. ISIS should be expected to fight like hell to keep its smuggling routes into Turkey open, so how this fight goes will say a lot about their current and future war-making capacity in Syria.
Elsewhere in Syria, some good news:
The besieged Damascus suburb of Darayya has received its first aid convoy since November 2012, according to the Red Cross.
UN aid officials had said the town was suffering dire shortages of food, clean water and medicine.
A 48-hour ceasefire for the town, which lies south of the Syrian capital, came into force early on Wednesday.
Vaccines, baby milk, medicine and nutritional goods were being delivered, the UN’s humanitarian arm said.
Separately, the rebel-held town of Muadhamiya, north-west of Darayya, received deliveries of food parcels and wheat flour on Wednesday, a month since aid convoys last visited.
There are around 4000 people besieged by the Syrian government in Darayya. Every bit of aid helps, though obviously it would be much better if these convoys become a regular thing.