Baghdad: The Islamic State group launched a counter attack against fighters trying to capture the Syrian city of Manbij on Monday, inflicting heavy casualties on the U.S.-backed forces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the militants said.
The monitor said the ultra-hard line militants won back three villages south of the besieged city in a surprise assault against fighters from the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces, in which at least 28 SDF fighters were killed.
Two years after IS proclaimed its caliphate to rule over all Muslims from swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, its many foes are advancing on a number of fronts in both countries, with the aim of closing in on its two capitals, Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.
The SDF were poised to enter Manbij nearly three weeks after the launch of a major assault to regain the city backed by U.S. air power and American special forces, to seal off the last stretch of the Syrian-Turkish frontier
The alliance, formed last year by recruiting Arabs to join forces with a powerful Kurdish militia, fought their way to nearly 2 km from the city center from the western side on Saturday before retreating.
U.S-led coalition jets hit militants taking cover near the large wheat silo complex on the southern edge of the city that has been encircled by SDF forces.
An SDF spokesman said they succeeded in repulsing the militant attack and remained positioned on the outskirts of the city, most of whose residents remain trapped inside and where the militants have planted mines and dug in to defend it.
“The situation is under control. They have many bodies on the ground,” Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Syria Democratic Forces-allied Manbij Military Council, told Reuters.
“We are at the four gates to the city. The whole city is booby-trapped. After 20 days of the campaign, we have yet to storm the city,” he added, adding that some 2,000 people had succeeded in fleeing the city.
Separately further south, Islamic State militants were also able to roll back the Syrian army which had got as close as 10 km south of the strategic town of Tabqa, an Islamic State-held city on the Euphrates River, in Raqqa province.
The town, some 50 km (30 miles) west of Raqqa city, the militant’s defacto capital, appears to be the first target of a major Syrian army assault in Raqqa province backed by Russian air power that began earlier this month.