Sandwiched between ISIS held and Kurdish held Syria, lays a city under siege.  Manbij is a medium sized city south of Kobani and North West of the ISIS capital city of Raqqa.  While many civilians have already fled the city, thousands more are trapped inside.  With coalition airstrikes backing up the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), reports have emerged from within the city that one of these airstrikes killed over a hundred civilians accidentally.  Meanwhile, American advisors deployed from 5th Special Forces Group and JSOC lurk in the background, advising and assisting the SDF.

To get a better feel for the situation on the ground, SOFREP spoke with a Canadian member of the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units), which is one component of the SDF, who is currently on the ground in Manbij, engaging in fighting the so-called Islamic State.  “Two or three days ago we had a really big attack from daesh [ISIS] we killed a lot,” the YPG member who uses the Kurdish war Namegabar Tolhildan told SOFREP in a interview.  “They all carried heavy weapons (RPGs or PKMs) that’s unusual but surely because now there is a lot of desertion from daesh they have more weapons and ammo then what they need.”

An ISIS member preparing to push up daisies in Manbij.
An ISIS member preparing to push up daisies in Manbij.

“The problem in the city is that s the enemy dig tunnels a bit everywhere, they are moving a lot they specially prepared the field to escape from airstrikes,” he continued, reiterating the ISIS tactic of digging networks of tunnels, something that Iraqi and Kurdish forces have witnessed everywhere from Sinjar to Ramadi.  “In Manbij fight is mostly counter guerrilla now…snipers and IEDs.”

As detailed by SOFREP’s previous on the ground reporting in Syria and Iraq, ISIS shows no hesitation at switching between unconventional and conventional tactics.  Where they are strong, ISIS attempts to mass their forces and fight as a Army.  When they are weak, they revert back to terrorist type attacks.  “Now daesh is hidden its not an army anymore so the progression is slow…Yes they are really guerrilla style now because they can’t face with the airstrike and SDF,” the YPG member told SOFREP.  “We prefer going slow rather than losing people,” he added.

Agir (left) and Namegabar (right) holding a captured ISIS flag upside down.

But the SDF has lost people.  On July 14th, an American volunteer in the YPG was killed during the battle for Manbij.  Levi Jonathan Shirley went by the war name Agir Servan.  His mother told CNN that he had wanted to join the US Marine Corps but his eye sight was not good enough.  Namegabar, the Canadian YPG member who served alongside Levi in Syria said that, “Martyr Agir was a real patriot” and that he would be greatly missed.

Politics, Plots, and Double Crosses

Technically, American forces are supporting the SDF, a loose coalition thrown together at the behest of the United States in order to make it look like we are supporting Syrian Arabs, rather than the Kurdish YPG, as this angers Turkey’s Erdogan led government.  Yet another reason why the attempt military coup in Turkey may not have been a bad thing if it succeeded.  In reality, the Arab militias that belong to the SDF are useless or worse than useless as they are combat ineffective against ISIS.

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