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Iraqi elite troops seize Christian ghost town near Mosul

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"This is an Iraqi-led operation, the Iraqis are in the lead and they're the ones fighting it", Volesky said. The fighting thus far has been concentrated in a cluster of towns and villages outside Mosul that are mostly uninhabited and littered with roadside bombs planted by the militants, which has slowed the Iraqi advance.

Roughly 100 military advisers with USA special operations forces are embedded with Iraqi counterterrorism and Kurdish peshmerga units, who have been advancing on Mosul's southern and eastern flanks since the campaign kicked off four days ago.

"The fighting forces are now pushing forward toward the town more quickly that we thought and more quickly than we had established in our plan for this campaign", he said during a teleconference Thursday, also praising the shared effort between Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga and the USA -led global coalition. However, media reports suggest the attack took place in the vicinity of Bardella, a northern Iraqi town 13 miles from Mosul's eastern borders.

"Backed by an air cover from the US-led coalition, the Kurdish forces expelled Daesh terrorists from 15 more villages on Thursday", a Peshmerga officer told ARA News, using another acronym for ISIS.

Officials have increasingly been clear that they believe the Mosul invasion will take multiple months, and being "quicker than expected" in the early days seems less likely to meaningfully reduce the overall time, as to get into the bloodier endgame battle more quickly.

"The operation will be in three fronts", the peshmerga said in a statement, and follows recent gains by the Kurds to the east of Mosul and Iraqi security forces to the south.

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Iraqi government forces report rapid progress in their push to retake the city of Mosul from ISIL, with the fall of Bartella, a key strongpoint barring the approaches to the city. But many Iraqis saw the special forces as the shock troops of an occupying power, and took to referring to them as the "Dirty Division". "They gave no resistance", peshmerga soldier Ahmed Midhat Abdullah told Reuters in the village of Nawaran, north of Mosul, where a Kurdish column of armoured vehicles was advancing in the dusty desert terrain.

Coalition and Iraqi forces have been working to rebuild Qayyarah, and "we've seen the base develop very quickly", Parker said.

A large fire has broken out in front of the provincial government headquarters in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where IS militants have been clashing with security forces since dawn. He said special forces were clearing explosives and contending with some snipers who remained in the town. Iraqi security forces are surrounding the building now, and sporadic clashes continue.

Mosul is a Sunni majority town, and many fear the involvement of the Shiite militias in the operation could stoke sectarian tensions.

Both the government and the ISIS-run Amaq news agency said the extremist group were behind the attack. Kurdish forces had dislodged the militants from all the buildings they had seized except a hotel and a mosque, where fighting continued.

The CTS was created to be a non-sectarian force, with Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish members who were strictly vetted to ensure they had no ties to political factions or militias. They were trained, armed and supplied by U.S. Special Forces, who fought alongside them at the height of the insurgency. "We said we're not militias, we are Iraqi forces, and these are our beliefs", he said. But he stopped short of saying that he will press the Turks to remove any forces that are operating in Iraq without Baghdad's invitation.

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