Residents from the northern Syrian city of Manbij are celebrating their freshly restored freedoms after U.S.–backed forces seized full control of the town from ISIS, which had been using civilians as human shields. Photographs show people pouring into the streets to celebrate after a battle that lasted 73 days. Wrestling control of Mabij from ISIS marks the biggest defeat for the group in Syria since July 2015, notes the Associated Press, and comes amid a string of territorial losses for the extremist group. “The city is now fully under our control but we are undertaking sweeping operations,” a member of the Syria Democratic Forces, the alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces who receive air support from the U.S., said.
One particularly poignant photo shows a woman burning her niqab, as women could finally walk the streets without having to cover their faces for the first time in more than two-and-a-half years. Similar scenes have become common in other towns liberated from ISIS.
Another photo shows a woman smoking, which was banned by ISIS.
Other images show men cutting off their beards, something that was strictly forbidden during ISIS rule, while other scenes of jubilation were captured across town.
Gaining control of Manbij has long been seen as critical because it was key to the extremist group’s ability to move supplies from the Turkish border to the city of Raqqa, which is the de facto capital of the Islamic State. It also marks a key victory for the Obama administration, because it shows that nonjihadist ground forces can make gains in Syria, notes Shashank Joshi in the Telegraph.