By Kasim Ileri
WASHINGTON (AA) – Syrian Arab-led forces are a “matter of days” from entering the city of Manbij located near the Turkish border, a U.S.-led coalition spokesman said Wednesday.
“At the pace they're moving now and at the speed that they've been able to fight the enemy, we think they're matter of days before they conduct the attack on the city,” Col. Chris Garver said, referring to the offensive of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by Syrian Arab fighters.
Garver’s comments came during a videoconference from Baghdad.
He underscored that the rebel group has further isolated Daesh around Manbij, a 98-kilometer (60-mile) strip in Syria.
According to U.S. Central Command, Arab fighters have captured 344 square kilometers (213 square miles) of territory from the militant group in Manbij since last week and the U.S.-led coalition has supported the group with 105 airstrikes.
“Manbij is strategically important to Daesh because they rely on its proximity to a border to smuggle in foreign fighters, supplies and export terrorism to the West,” Garver said.
During the past week, the SDF has met “heavy resistance from Daesh,” he said.
Garver noted that the militant group’s efforts to reinforce its forces in and around Manbij, adding that there are a couple of thousand militants in the city.
Since last Tuesday, nearly a dozen SDF fighters have been killed and approximately 100 others wounded during the fight, Garver said.
“Their losses include the death of Abu Layla, the leader of a Shams Al-Shamal, a multi- ethnic unified local liberation force and sub-organization of the Syrian-Arab Coalition,” he said. The Kurdish leader was wounded on the front lines Friday and died of his injuries two days later.
Garver told reporters that the Manbij offensive was primarily planned by the SDF with advice from U.S. forces on the ground.
Noting that there are YPG elements participating in the operation, he said that according to the plan, Syrian Arabs will seize the city and then control the area.
Turkey has long expressed its concerns about the PYD and its military wing, the YPG’s separatist political motivations and its link to the PKK terrorists.
“Turkey is aware of that plan,” Garver said, noting that the U.S. has shared the plan with Turkey.