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US-Backed Syrian Fighters Targeting New IS-Held Town

  • Lou Lorscheider

FILE - Syrian rebels fire a mortar towards regime forces stationed at Kwiriss airport in Al-Bab, 30 kilometers from the northeastern Syrian city of Aleppo, February 14, 2013.

FILE - Syrian rebels fire a mortar towards regime forces stationed at Kwiriss airport in Al-Bab, 30 kilometers from the northeastern Syrian city of Aleppo, February 14, 2013.

A U.S.-backed coalition of Syrian fighters, fresh from driving Islamic State extremists from a key northern city, says it will now target another IS-held town near the Turkish border.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters backed by U.S. air power, announced on Sunday "the creation of the Al-Bab Military Council," with the aim of liberating the town and the region around it.

Al-Bab is lies on a key highway about half way between the embattled northern city of Aleppo and Manbij, which the SDF liberated from extremist forces last week. By capturing al-Bab, the rebels would tighten their grip on the area along the Turkish border, making it more difficult for the so-called Islamic State to infiltrate fighters and supplies.

The siege at Manbij, a key outpost on a jihadist supply route to the self-declared IS capital, Raqqa, ended Friday, when Islamic State forces abandoned the city after two months of fighting.

Saturday saw spontaneous celebrations from civilians returning to the wrecked city.

In other developments, monitors linked to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that Syrian and Russian warplanes launched a new wave of airstrikes near the embattled city of Aleppo. In a statement, the SOHR said the overnight strikes had killed at least 45 civilians in and near the city, and at least 22 others elsewhere in Idlib province.

The monitoring group said the ongoing strikes were targeting areas held by a rebel coalition known as the Army of Conquest, an alliance of rebels and jihadist groupings seeking to break the months-long government siege of Aleppo.

The multi-sided Syrian civil war pits the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies against a loosely knit coalition of rebels seeking to drive Assad from power. That coalition includes al-Qaida-linked fighters, making Western governments reluctant to send arms to the rebels.

The third major party to the five-year-old conflict, the extremist Islamic State, is seeking to establish an Islamist "caliphate" in large swaths of Syria and neighboring Iraq. The group has used widely circulated videos to show its fighters slaughtering hundreds of civilians as it seeks to expand its rule.

For its part, the Syria Democratic Forces, formed in 2015 with U.S. support, has focused on driving IS fighters from strongholds along the Turkish border.

The United Nations estimates more than 400,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians, since fighting first erupted near Damascus in 2011.

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