ISIS Regroups after Orderly Retreat from Manbij and Sirte

The Islamic State was this week defeated and pushed out of two key locations – Manbij in northern Syria and Sirte in Libya. But in both, its forces retreated in orderly military fashion with a minimum of casualties – only to regroup at preset, well-prepared sites, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report.
In contrast, by the time the battle for Manbij was over on Aug. 13, the winning side had paid a heavy price:
The Syrian Democratic Forces-SDF had 1,000 dead and the Kurdish YPG militia – 350. There are no casualty figures for the US officers and soldiers who took part in the battle.
Our intelligence sources estimate that the ISIS sustained 700 dead fighters.
This comparatively low figure is accounted for, firstly, by the small size of the jihadist force taking part in the battle for Manbij – just 1,000 against 20,000 Syrian rebel and Kurdish soldiers. When it was all but over, 100 ISIS fighters remained in the city and stalled the attackers’ entry for hours.
The second difference was to be found in the relative competence of the warring sides:
ISIS was much better organized tactically, say military observers who watched the battle; its fighters were fleeter of movement and adapted much faster to changing conditions on the field, including American bomber and helicopter strikes. The jihadists managed to retreat in the face of superior numbers and firepower in stages and in good order and so cut down on casualties. Morale remained high with no signs of alarm or panic.
Their food and ammunition supplies and medical systems worked like clockwork.
After exiting Manbij, an important station on the ISIS supply route from Turkey to their Raqqa headquarters, its retreating forces relocated at previously prepared defense lines in the Al Ghadurah area north of the city. They regrouped ready to retake Manbij at the first opportunity the attackers show signs of weakness or divisions in their ranks.
Which they did soon enough.
On August 14, the day after the liberation of Manbij, Sunni and Turkman sources in Syria and Turkey complained that the Kurdish YPG were reshaping the town’s demographic composition. They had set fire to the civil and land registry offices to destroy population and property records and were accused of preventing Sunni Arabs and Turkmen inhabitants from returning home, on the pretext that ISIS mines were planted in their houses.
Across the Mediterranean in Libya, the battle to liberate the port town of Sirte from Islamic State occupation is still ongoing – despite the claims by different Libyan sources that it had been fully liberated.
This battle is notable not least because it reflects similar combat tactics to those ISIS used in Manbij.
The jihadis’ tenacious resistance to Libyan forces, backed by US, British, Italian and French special operations units, was designed less to achieve victory than to cover the organized pullback of thousands of ISIS fighters.
This Islamist army then began a long trek across 1,000 km to the southwestern Fezzan region where it split up and part carried on to the northern fringes of the Sahel desert, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources reveal.
To reach their destination, the jihadists traversed desolate Libyan regions broken up by mountains, uplands and dry river valleys, ideal for guerilla warfare.
This long journey into the wilderness was destined to bring thousands of ISIS fighters from Sirte to a secret rendezvous with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – AQIM.

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