Islamic State jihadists in the strategic northern Syria town of Manbij “aspire” to directing international terror plots, US defence secretary Ashton Carter said on Friday.
Anti-IS fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed alliance of Kurds and Arabs, this week launched an offensive to capture Manbij.
The town is on the north-south axis between Jarablus, on the border with Turkey and controlled by IS fighters, and Raqa, the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed capital in Syria.
Its capture has long been seen as key in stemming the flow of foreign fighters into and out of Syria.
“There are people there, and I can’t go into any details, who aspire to inspiring or even directing plots outside of Syria,” Carter said at a news conference in Singapore, where he is attending a regional security summit.
“That, along with that fact that it is a transit hub for foreign fighter flows in both directions, is a reason why it is an important objective and we are pleased to work with local forces … who basically want to take back their own territory from ISIL … and they are making progress,” he added, using an acronym for the IS group.
Carter is in Singapore until Sunday for the Shangri-La Dialogue, a meeting of Asian security chiefs to discuss regional security.