ISIS holdouts launch surprise attacks in reclaimed town

HAMDANIYA, Iraq -- U.S.-led coalition aircraft helped Iraqi forces put down another attack launched by ISIS on Monday aimed at pulling attention and resources away from the battle for Mosul. Coalition officials said several ISIS vehicles were destroyed and a “significant” number of militants killed in the strikes around the western town of Rutba.

Iraqi officials said the ISIS attack there was quelled and the militants had no presence in the town. It resembled a larger-scale assault ISIS launched late last week on the city of Kirkuk, which led to two days of dangerous door-to-door fighting that left dozens of militants dead.

A day after U.S. defense chief Ash Carter arrived in the northern city of Erbil to get an update on the Mosul offensive, CBS News correspondent Holly Williams says Iraqi and Kurdish forces have fought their way to within about 10 miles of the ISIS-held city itself

But as she discovered, the forces are encountering pockets of resistance as they purge the once-thriving Christian towns and villages around Mosul.

Hamdaniya used to be home to about 50,000 Iraqi Christians. Two years under ISIS rule has left it shattered and deserted; its crosses torn down by the extremists and crucifixes defaced.

One day after Iraqi forces entered the town, CBS News returned with the Hamdaniya’s Mayor Nisan Karoomi, Nwho fled with the other residents as ISIS swept in in 2014. It used to be beautiful, he told Williams. “Now look at it.”

The streets still ring out with gunfire. In some places, ISIS has used tunnel networks to launch surprise attacks even after Iraqi forces think they’re in control. The attacks have left the Iraqi forces on edge, and now they shoot at almost anything that moves.

Lt. Gen. Ryaad Jalal Tawfiq is in charge of Iraq’s ground forces, and he insisted to CBS News that Hamdaniya had been liberated, with only pockets of resistance -- even if, as Williams noted to him over the noise of gunfire, it “sounds like quite a lot of resistance.”

“This is the military way,” he said. “They’re just clearing the area.”

Local Christian militiamen have arrived, many of them returning home, to help secure the town.

One of them, former security guard Hussam Salim, said he kissed the ground when he returned the night before.

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

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