BEIRUT/BAGHDAD: Islamic State’s far-flung enemies in Syria and Iraq pressed ahead on Wednesday with major advances on multiple fronts that have put some of the greatest pressure on the ultra-hardline Islamists since they declared their caliphate two years ago.
A spokesman for a US-backed alliance in northern Syria said it was poised to enter the city of Manbij, a week after launching an assault with the aim of cutting off the last stretch of Turkish frontier still under Islamic State control.
A short distance further west, rebels fighting against both Islamic State and the government of President Bashar al-Assad said Islamic State fighters had pulled out of an area near the border.
Islamic State fighters suddenly withdrew from villages near the town of Marea in the face of a counter-attack from the anti-Assad rebels, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.
Islamic State had managed to besiege the rebel-held town in a significant advance late last month. But the rebel fighters in Marea broke the siege on Wednesday when they captured the village of Kafr Kalbin on the road linking Marea with Azaz, 20 km to the northwest at the border with Turkey. “It seems they (Islamic State) can’t keep several fronts open at the same time. It is a strategic area, they were on the verge of entering Azaz,” Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said.
Assad’s forces, backed by Russian airpower, also launched an offensive against Islamic State last week and have advanced in territory further south.
And at the opposite end of the self-proclaimed caliphate, 750 km down the Euphrates River, Iraqi government forces said they had fought their way into built-up areas of Falluja, the second-biggest city in Iraq under Islamic State control and the militants’ closest bastion to Baghdad.