UN warns Manbij battle could uproot more than 200,000 Syrians

A fighter of the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) speaks with women in Haj Hussein village after SDF fighters took control of the village from Islamic State fighters, in the southern rural area of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria May 31, 2016. (Reuters)

A US-backed offensive to retake ISIS-held northern Syrian city of Manbij has displaced some 20,000 civilians and could uproot about 216,000 more if it continues, a UN humanitarian agency said on Monday.

Syrian fighters have surrounded Manbij from three sides as they press the onslaught against the militants near the Turkish border, a spokesman for the fighters said on Monday.

The report by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it was possible people would “face impediments” to moving out of ISIS-controlled areas and they had a critical need for shelter, drinking water, food and health care.

Civilians were mainly moving north towards nearby towns and to the Jarablous border crossing with Turkey or west towards areas held by other rebel groups, while lesser numbers had gone south to villages along the Euphrates River.

OCHA said newly uprooted people might try to head towards Al-Bab or Azaz, two towns west of Manbij, or south to the Maskanah plain close to Lake Assad.

Offensives aimed at rolling back ISIS insurgents around Tabqa could also trigger displacement, OCHA said. Tabqa, close to the Euphrates Dam at the other end of Lake Assad from Manbij, is the apparent target of a Russian-backed offensive by Syrian pro-government forces.

The OCHA report gave no figures or details of potential displacement caused by that battle.

Both the US- and Russian-backed assaults appear to threaten ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, its capital in Syria, and both began last week shortly after the Iraqi army attempted to storm ISIS-held Fallujah in Iraq.

A spokesman for US-backed forces said on Monday ISIS militants had been fleeing Manbij with their families as the Syria Democratic Forces advanced to within 6 km (4 miles) in an attack that has killed more than 150 militants.

Last Update: 12:19 KSA 15:19 - GMT 12:19