IS fighters 'allowed to leave Syrian city with civilian hostages'

IS fighters 'allowed to leave Syrian city with civilian hostages'

Islamic State fighters holding civilians hostage were allowed to leave the northern Syrian city of Manbij in a large convoy after US-backed forces seized the town.

A US military official said that some of the IS fighters may have already made their way into Turkey, but many were still in Syria.

Cololnel Chris Garver, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting IS, told Pentagon reporters that the decision to let the convoy leave the city was made by commanders of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

He said there were civilians in each of the vehicles, and the military wanted to avoid casualties.

He added that he did not know how many of the civilians may have been in the cars voluntarily, but some were very likely to be hostages.

It was not clear if the militants left under a pre-arranged agreement between the SDF and the IS fighters. During the offensive, the SDF had offered fighters a safe route to leave the town but they refused.

IS has repeatedly used civilians as human shields, including in recent battles in Iraq.

"They kept throwing civilians to basically walk into the line of fire, trying to get them shot to use that potentially as propaganda," said Col Garver.

He said the coalition has been tracking and watching the vehicles as they headed north, but he declined to say where they were.

Syrian Democratic Forces seized control of the city on Friday and are now clearing the districts looking for militants and bombs.

Col Garver said that a "significant number" of explosive devices were left in the city by IS insurgents as they retreated.

Manbij is a key victory for the SDF and the coalition because it lies on a major supply route between the Turkish border and the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the IS group's self-styled caliphate.

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