U.S. airstrikes enabling Kurdish forces to hold Erbil

ERBIL, Iraq -- The U.S. left Iraq in 2011 after ten years of war and 4,486 Americans died. What was gained has been lost as Iraq is ripped into thirds by the two branches of Islam and the Kurdish ethnic minority.

An extremist Sunni Muslim army called ISIS seized much of the west and north. Last week, the Kurdish city of Erbil was threatened.

The siege of the Kurds has been relieved somewhat by 19 U.S. air strikes on ISIS over four days.

The Kurdish fighters from Iraq's northeast are the country's best hope for defeating ISIS. They are the only ones on the ground in this region who are still taking on the Islamic militants.

Iraqi government soldiers abandoned the country's north two months ago, allowing ISIS to move in and capture their weapons and tanks -- many of them paid for by the U.S.

The Kurdish fighters are famous for their courage on the battlefield, but today they lost another town, Jalawla, to the Islamic extremists.

Our crew got two miles from the front line. This is a close as we can get to the militants' positions. The soldiers here say they need more American air strikes to help them defeat ISIS.

They also want the U.S. to give them new weapons that are a match for the extremists they're fighting.

Thousands of Iraqis are now facing starvation after they fled ISIS for this barren mountaintop.

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Thousands of Iraqis are now facing starvation.
CBS News

The U.S. and other countries are dropping food and water from the air, but it isn't enough. More than 50 children have died.

At a command post near the frontline, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Rowsch Nuri Shaways, himself Kurdish, said these men can't defeat the Islamic militants by themselves.

"It is necessary that the other Iraqi forces will join this battle," says Shaways.

But those forces ran away two months ago. "They can come back," he argues.

He says they will need a "good government" to return and fight. He also says Iraq is in a state of civil war.

Many people here blame the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for fueling religious tensions in Iraq.

Divisions between Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Kurdish Iraqis run so deep that it's difficult to see how any government could hold Iraq together.

  • Holly Williams

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