What Happens When a Town Is Liberated From ISIS

A woman smokes as she rests after she was evacuated with others by the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters from an Islamic State-controlled neighbourhood of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 12, 2016. The SDF has said Islamic State was using civilians as human shields. REUTERS/Rodi Said - RTSMZN0

Men got haircuts and shaved their beards. Women lit up cigarettes and burned their niqabs. Residents of Manbij, Syria, who had lived under the Islamic State for nearly two years, came out onto the streets and celebrated, shedding tears of joy.

“May God destroy them. They slaughtered us,” a young man shouted in a square in Manbij. “May they not live for a minute.”

“I feel joy and [it is like a] dream I am dreaming,” a woman said, according to Reuters. “I cannot believe it, I cannot believe it. Things I saw, no one saw,” She then fainted, the news agency said.

Fighters from the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) recaptured Manbij, Aleppo province, on Friday after more than 70 days of intense fighting against ISIS, which seized the northern town about two years ago. SDF fighters, mostly Kurds and Arabs, and including women, freed more than 2,000 civilians who’d been taken hostage by the extremists.

The SDF is “in full control” of Manbij, Nasser Haj Mansour, a fighter with the group, told The Associated Press. Another rebel leader told Reuters they were still looking for possible ISIS sleeper cells in the town, which is near the border with Turkey.

The loss of the town is a major blow to the Islamic State because the group’s supply route from Raqqa, its de facto capital, and Turkey, is essentially cut off. Gordon Trowbridge, the Pentagon deputy spokesman, called Manbij’s loss “a major setback for” ISIS. NBC adds:

The Manbij operation, in which U.S. special forces have played a significant role on the ground, marks the most ambitious advance by the Washington-allied SDF since the U.S. launched its military campaign against ISIS two years ago.

U.S. officials have said once the Manbij operation is completed, it would create the conditions to move on the militant group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Reuters reported. U.S. officials anticipate a tough battle.

But while the U.S. and its allies prepare for that tough battle, resident of Manbij will likely return to a state of relative normalcy that existed before ISIS captured the town.