Iraqi forces liberate Christian towns from ISIS, stand within 10 miles of Mosul

Fight to retake Mosul
Fight to retake Mosul 02:20

HAMDANIYA, Iraq -- U.S.-backed forces in Iraq are facing stiff resistance from ISIS Monday. American pilots and special forces are helping Iraqi and Kurdish troops in an attempt to retake Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. After a week, the force is around 10 miles from the city. 

The Iraqi military said they had liberated the town of Hamdaniya, but CBS News arrived to find gunfire still ringing out through the streets.

In some places, ISIS has launched surprise attacks, even after Iraqi forces thought they had regained control. Troops now shoot at anything that moves.

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Iraqi forces in Hamdaniyah, Iraq CBS News

Hamdaniya used to be a Christian town of 50,000 people, but its residents all fled ISIS and now it is shattered and deserted.

Christian Iraqis fearful of ISIS attack 02:16

Lt. Gen. Ryaad Jalal Tawfiq insisted that his soldiers were only fighting small pockets of resistance, but the large amount of gunfire suggested otherwise.

“No, this is the military way. They’re just clearing the area,” Tawfiq said.

Another nearby Christian town, Bartella, has also been retaken.

CBS News was there in 2014, just before ISIS seized the town, meeting with local men who were trying to protect it, and visiting the church. Worshippers prayed in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.

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A church in Bartella, Iraq CBS News

The same church today is charred and desecrated.

In  Hamdaniya, Christian militiamen have come back to help secure their town.

One of them is Hussam Salim, who said he kissed the ground when he returned the night before and vowed to rebuild.

“Thank God we’re back,” he said. “Even if I die here now, it doesn’t matter.”