Iraqi army troops on Saturday stormed into a Christian region that has been under Daesh (Islamic State) control since 2014 as part of US-backed operations to clear the entrances to Mosul, the militants’ last major city stronghold in Iraq.

The advance took place as US Defense Secretary Ash Carter met Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad to evaluate the campaign that began on Monday with air and ground support from the US-led coalition.

A military statement said Iraqi units entered the center of Qaraqosh, a mainly Christian town about 20 km (13 miles) southeast of Mosul, and were carrying out mop-up operations across the town.

Further action was underway to seize a neighboring Christian village, Karamless, also known as Karemlash in the Syriac language. The region’s population fled in the summer of 2014, when Daesh swept in.

Earlier this week, Iraqi special units also captured Bartella, a Christian village north of Qaraqosh.

A US military official estimated there were fewer than a couple of hundred Daesh fighters in Qaraqosh.

“I’ve seen berms in Qaraqosh. I anticipate there’ll be trenches, there’ll be passageways between different buildings,” the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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