BEIRUT: Thousands of civilians on Tuesday fled a key town along the Islamic State group´s supply lifeline in northern Syria as US-backed fighters closed in from three sides.
The offensive on the town of Manbij is one of two major assaults on the jihadist supply line from the Syrian-Turkish border to IS´s bastion of Raqa.
The Syrian Democratic Forces alliance began its offensive against Manbij just over a week ago, crossing the Euphrates River and pushing west towards the town.
“We have surrounded Manbij from three sides and operations are progressing well,” said Sherfan Darwish, who is leading the SDF offensive.
“Every day, we are liberating villages and the only route open to IS now is towards Aleppo city” to the west, Darwish told AFP by phone.
Overnight, SDF forces edged to within five kilometres (three miles) of Manbij from the north, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
SDF fighters had pushed to within two kilometres of the town to the south and around seven kilometres to the east.
“Daesh has begun allowing civilians to flee towards the west, whereas before they had banned anyone from leaving,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
He said some were in cars but many were carrying their belongings and walking along unpaved roads as IS fighters remained in the town.