After Syrian Democratic Forces retook the northern town of Manbij from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), civilians celebrated with relief Friday. Democratic Forces escorted 2,000 hostages from the area, who ISIL retreating fighters had been using as human shields.
The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, Armenian, Turkmen and Circassian militias, took control of the northern Syrian city of Manbij last week after 10 weeks of fierce fighting. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the battle claimed the lives of at least 437 civilians, 299 SDF fighters and 1,019 jihadists.
The militants were fleeing north, toward Turkey, after being pushed out of Manbij, reports The Guardian.
Local reports indicated it was unclear whether all of the civilians were hostages or family members of the Islamic State fighters. On Tuesday, Col. Chris Garver, a spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIL, said SDF fighters had allowed 100 to 200 vehicles of ISIL fighters to leave Manbij as they contained civilians.
"Civilians were observed in the convoy intermingled with fighters in every vehicle," Garver said in a press briefing.
The jihadist group repeatedly has used human shields during combat in its ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria.