MANBIJ – The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are facing difficulties in fighting militants of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria’s border city of Manbij “because ISIS is killing civilians”, the British volunteer Macer Gifford told ARA News.
“The biggest challenge the SDF has found is that ISIS is keeping civilians in the city centre and not allowing them to leave,” he said.
“This is creating a nightmare situation in which military operations have to work around civilians,” he added.
Moreover, the British volunteer accused ISIS fighters of deliberately targeting civilians with even suicide bombers.
Several civilians were injured recently, when ISIS fighters opened fire on civilians when they tried to flee Manbij.
“The SDF are now responsible for thousands of IDPs, which created a logistical nightmare,” Gifford told ARA News.
According to local sources, there are no international aid organizations working to help IDPs in the region. So far, the civilian council of Manbij, which is facing shortages, is providing the only aid. As a result, in the villages surrounding Manbij, civilians are begging the SDF fighters for bread and water.
“One of the biggest problems, I think, is that the border between Rojava [northern Syria] and Iraq [Kurdish government] and Turkey are closed, and I really want to call on the United Kingdom and the US to pressure these countries to open the border and to let in international aid and help the SDF and Rojava,” Gifford said.
Speaking to ARA News, the British volunteer in the SDF ranks said the US-led coalition cannot be accused of killing civilians, “only the militant Islamic State group is to blame for the civilian casualties in Manbij city”.
The SDF forces have denied reports that dozens of civilians were killed by the US-led coalition airstrikes last week, and have said that only ISIS fighters were targeted in those raids.
“It’s ISIS [that is to be blamed], since I have seen people on the ground calling in airstrikes, both Kurds, and people from abroad, and they have called off airstrikes if civilians were in the area,” Gifford said.
“ISIS are using them [civilians] as human shields. ISIS militant fighters are wearing civilian clothes and carrying AKs, putting them in safehouses, or behind a pile of rocks and blend in with civilians. This nightmare is cased by ISIS,” he said.
Arab and Turkmen civilians that fled Manbij told ARA News on Tuesday that they had no issues with the coalition airstrikes, but that the mines and ISIS sniper fire are making it more difficult for them to escape the city.
The SDF-led Manbij Military Council has proposed two initiatives to save civilians from the city of Manbij, but so far ISIS has not responded, despite desperate calls from Manbij tribal leaders.