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Adlil Slewa stands with his daughters - from left, Oleana, 6, Samantha, 7, and Renata, 4 - near their home in the village of Teleskof, Iraq, on March 24, 2017. The family returned in late March after nearly three years of Islamic State occupation to find their belongings destroyed or stolen. Dozens of residents have returned to this village near Mosul, where a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in 2016.

Adlil Slewa stands with his daughters - from left, Oleana, 6, Samantha, 7, and Renata, 4 - near their home in the village of Teleskof, Iraq, on March 24, 2017. The family returned in late March after nearly three years of Islamic State occupation to find their belongings destroyed or stolen. Dozens of residents have returned to this village near Mosul, where a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in 2016. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Adlil Slewa stands with his daughters - from left, Oleana, 6, Samantha, 7, and Renata, 4 - near their home in the village of Teleskof, Iraq, on March 24, 2017. The family returned in late March after nearly three years of Islamic State occupation to find their belongings destroyed or stolen. Dozens of residents have returned to this village near Mosul, where a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in 2016.

Adlil Slewa stands with his daughters - from left, Oleana, 6, Samantha, 7, and Renata, 4 - near their home in the village of Teleskof, Iraq, on March 24, 2017. The family returned in late March after nearly three years of Islamic State occupation to find their belongings destroyed or stolen. Dozens of residents have returned to this village near Mosul, where a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in 2016. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Rakhima Slewa sits out front of her home in Teleskof, Iraq, on March 24, 2017. Slewa fled the village when Islamic State militants advanced but returned in March with her son and daughter-in-law to begin rebuilding a life in her home village.

Rakhima Slewa sits out front of her home in Teleskof, Iraq, on March 24, 2017. Slewa fled the village when Islamic State militants advanced but returned in March with her son and daughter-in-law to begin rebuilding a life in her home village. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

A new cross was raised on a hill on the southern edge of Teleskof facing Mosul, pictured here on Friday, March 24, 2017. The Christian village in Iraq was taken by the Islamic State in August 2014 but was retaken by Kurdish forces. In May 2016, ISIS militants launched an assault on the village in which U.S. Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV was killed.

A new cross was raised on a hill on the southern edge of Teleskof facing Mosul, pictured here on Friday, March 24, 2017. The Christian village in Iraq was taken by the Islamic State in August 2014 but was retaken by Kurdish forces. In May 2016, ISIS militants launched an assault on the village in which U.S. Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV was killed. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Manhel Mat Yousef walks through a cemetery in the Iraqi village of Teleskof on March 24, 2017. Islamic State militants vandalized the burial ground, where Yousef's mother, father and brother are buried. His home across the street from the cemetery was destroyed in a car bomb blast, and Yousef says he has nothing keeping him in his home village now.

Manhel Mat Yousef walks through a cemetery in the Iraqi village of Teleskof on March 24, 2017. Islamic State militants vandalized the burial ground, where Yousef's mother, father and brother are buried. His home across the street from the cemetery was destroyed in a car bomb blast, and Yousef says he has nothing keeping him in his home village now. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Graves in the cemetery in Teleskof, Iraq, apparently desecrated by Islamic State militants, are pictured here on March 24, 2017. Militants seized the town in August 2014 but were later repelled from it. In May 2016, the terrorist group launched an offensive here that killed U.S. Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV.

Graves in the cemetery in Teleskof, Iraq, apparently desecrated by Islamic State militants, are pictured here on March 24, 2017. Militants seized the town in August 2014 but were later repelled from it. In May 2016, the terrorist group launched an offensive here that killed U.S. Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Manhel Mat Yousef stands beside his mother's grave in the cemetery of the Iraqi village Teleskof on March 24, 2017. Yousef said he lost his home, several family members and his job to terrorism and violence in Iraq. He said he wants to leave the country.

Manhel Mat Yousef stands beside his mother's grave in the cemetery of the Iraqi village Teleskof on March 24, 2017. Yousef said he lost his home, several family members and his job to terrorism and violence in Iraq. He said he wants to leave the country. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Damaged graves in the cemetery in Teleskof, Iraq, are pictured here on March 24, 2017. In the background are homes damaged in the fighting for this village over the past nearly three years between Islamic State and Kurdish forces. Now liberated, the village is finally starting to be reinhabited.

Damaged graves in the cemetery in Teleskof, Iraq, are pictured here on March 24, 2017. In the background are homes damaged in the fighting for this village over the past nearly three years between Islamic State and Kurdish forces. Now liberated, the village is finally starting to be reinhabited. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

A home leveled by an apparent car bomb blast in the Christian village of Teleskof is pictured here on March 24, 2017. The home belonged to Manhel Mat Yousef's cousin;Yousef's home next door was badly damaged. Yousef has returned to the village but lives with a neighbor for now.

A home leveled by an apparent car bomb blast in the Christian village of Teleskof is pictured here on March 24, 2017. The home belonged to Manhel Mat Yousef's cousin;Yousef's home next door was badly damaged. Yousef has returned to the village but lives with a neighbor for now. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Buildings in the Christian village of Teleskof, Iraq, pictured on March 24, 2017, were turned to rubble in the fighting here. In the background, a man and a young boy inspect damage to a home that's missing an outer wall. Villagers have slowly begun returning to this town, where a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed battling an Islamic State offensive in May 2016.

Buildings in the Christian village of Teleskof, Iraq, pictured on March 24, 2017, were turned to rubble in the fighting here. In the background, a man and a young boy inspect damage to a home that's missing an outer wall. Villagers have slowly begun returning to this town, where a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed battling an Islamic State offensive in May 2016. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Bashar Nardi, 14, stands in his family's shop in Teleskof, Iraq, on March 24, 2017. The shop opened in early March for the first time in years after villagers began returning to the town as Islamic State fighters have been routed in much of Mosul and surrounding areas.

Bashar Nardi, 14, stands in his family's shop in Teleskof, Iraq, on March 24, 2017. The shop opened in early March for the first time in years after villagers began returning to the town as Islamic State fighters have been routed in much of Mosul and surrounding areas. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Waad Akram updates a customer's tab in his hardware shop in the Iraqi Christian village of Teleskof on March 24, 2017. Families that fled the Islamic State advance in August 2014 are finally returning to the village and need the goods Akram sells to begin repairs to their damaged homes.

Waad Akram updates a customer's tab in his hardware shop in the Iraqi Christian village of Teleskof on March 24, 2017. Families that fled the Islamic State advance in August 2014 are finally returning to the village and need the goods Akram sells to begin repairs to their damaged homes. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

This house in the Iraqi village of Batnaya, north of Mosul, pictured here on March 24, 2017, is one of the few still standing. Islamic State fighters had marked it with graffiti. Roughly 70 percent of the structures in Batnaya were destroyed in the fighting to oust Islamic State militants from the village.

This house in the Iraqi village of Batnaya, north of Mosul, pictured here on March 24, 2017, is one of the few still standing. Islamic State fighters had marked it with graffiti. Roughly 70 percent of the structures in Batnaya were destroyed in the fighting to oust Islamic State militants from the village. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Salim Petrus Jeju, 74, is pictured in his home in the Iraqi village of Batnaya on March 24, 2017. Jeju lived in the home during Islamic State's occupation of the village north of Mosul and said he hoped the terrorist group would be destroyed.

Salim Petrus Jeju, 74, is pictured in his home in the Iraqi village of Batnaya on March 24, 2017. Jeju lived in the home during Islamic State's occupation of the village north of Mosul and said he hoped the terrorist group would be destroyed. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Cheleng Mohammed Hassan, 37, commander of a Kurdish unit near the Christian Iraqi village of Batnaya looks south of the unit's defensive berm toward Mosul on March 24, 2017. Though the Islamic State has been pushed from areas east of Mosul, Kurdish forces remain vigilant against an assault. The militants overran defenses in this area in May 2016, an offensive that killed U.S. Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV.

Cheleng Mohammed Hassan, 37, commander of a Kurdish unit near the Christian Iraqi village of Batnaya looks south of the unit's defensive berm toward Mosul on March 24, 2017. Though the Islamic State has been pushed from areas east of Mosul, Kurdish forces remain vigilant against an assault. The militants overran defenses in this area in May 2016, an offensive that killed U.S. Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

A Kurdish army truck sits near a defensive berm south of the Iraqi Christian village of Batnaya on  March 24, 2017. Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, have pushed the defensive line south, closer to Mosul, in order to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State militants or other groups from advancing on the villages.

A Kurdish army truck sits near a defensive berm south of the Iraqi Christian village of Batnaya on March 24, 2017. Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, have pushed the defensive line south, closer to Mosul, in order to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State militants or other groups from advancing on the villages. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Pictured here on March 24, 2017, a memorial near the Iraqi village of Alqosh honors the martyrs of the Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, who died near here while battling Islamic State militants. ISIS stormed the nearby city of Teleskof in May 2016, killing a U.S. Navy SEAL who was helping to evacuate U.S. advisers from the area.

Pictured here on March 24, 2017, a memorial near the Iraqi village of Alqosh honors the martyrs of the Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, who died near here while battling Islamic State militants. ISIS stormed the nearby city of Teleskof in May 2016, killing a U.S. Navy SEAL who was helping to evacuate U.S. advisers from the area. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

TELESKOF, Iraq — A massive Islamic State assault here a year ago led to a fierce firefight and the death of a Navy SEAL, one of just five U.S. combat deaths in Iraq since the U.S. launched military operations against ISIS in August 2014.

Despite the resulting devastation in this town on what was once the edge of ISIS’s territory in northern Iraq, life has begun to return to the largely Christian region less than 20 miles north of Mosul as an Iraqi-led offensive to retake the country’s second-largest city reaches its final stages.

The fighting last year has left its mark, both emotionally and physically. Not far outsde the village, at a checkpoint near a main highway intersection, a new three-sided billboard serves as a memorial to Kurdish peshmerga killed battling ISIS.

In the town, some blocks remain scarred by blasts that reduced buildings to rubble and left at least one home half-standing, its insides exposed. Even some of the dead rest uneasily, their crypts in a nearby cemetery broken open by ISIS vandals.

Still, many families have returned to reclaim lives the militants disrupted when they swept through northern Iraq roughly three years ago. The broken doors and shattered windows of their homes have been repaired with the help of a local church, and a large cross has been erected defiantly on a hillside facing Mosul on the town’s southern reaches.

“It’s time to come home,” said returning resident Adil Slewa, who serves with the peshmerga special operations forces, during a walk through town with his three young daughters.

Some areas liberated from ISIS lack basic utility services, but Teleskof’s electricity is flowing for about 12 hours a day, Slewa said. Running water is also available, though that is less reliable.

Commerce has begun to return, if slowly. Fadi Youna, who returned with his new wife and his mother to their pale purple home in early March, was selling propane canisters later that month. He said a couple of families return daily; he felt the town’s future would depend on a full return.

A few shops have opened in the town’s center, too, offering mainly dry goods, snack foods and household supplies.

“We were in the dark, and now we’re coming into the light again,” said Waad Akram, running a hardware shop and doing brisk business among the returning families.

Thousands of residents, mainly Chaldean Catholics, fled the village ahead of an ISIS advance in August 2014. Kurdish peshmerga forces soon retook the area, but few residents returned because the front lines were on the town’s southern edge.

Early last May, the militants launched a surprise attack using car bombs, Humvees and bulldozers to overrun Kurdish defenses. The assault caught the security forces, including a U.S.-trained Christian militia, off guard.

Navy SEAL Charlie Keating IV, 31, posthumously promoted to chief petty officer, was fatally wounded during the fighting. For his actions in helping security forces repel an earlier assault, he was also awarded a Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor in combat. It was upgraded to a Navy Cross earlier this year.

Members of the Christian militia known as the Nineveh Plains Protection Units, which received training from U.S. forces and American civilians at a camp a few miles north of Teleskof, said Keating’s final battle was fierce and also claimed the lives of 10 peshmerga.

U.S. warplanes — including F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, B-52 bombers, A-10 close air support aircraft and drones — launched 31 airstrikes that destroyed truck bombs, bulldozers and other vehicles. Some 60 ISIS fighters were killed before they withdrew.

After the Iraqi-led campaign to retake Mosul began in October, the peshmerga pushed the defensive lines farther south of the village.

Cheleng Mohammed Hassan, a Kurdish commander, said he had worked closely with U.S. troops and had lost many friends in the ISIS fight. Though the militants had since been cleared from areas in and around east Mosul, his men — trained by the U.S-led coalition — remained vigilant against potential sleeper cells or other attacks, he said.

As wary residents continue to return to the area in hopes that it is now secure, some are finding little reason to stay.

Manhel Mat Yousef, a Teleskof resident, found his home turned to a pile of concrete fragments and said he couldn’t afford to rebuild. Across the street, ISIS vandals had turned some graves to rubble in a cemetery where Yousef’s parents and brother — killed in Mosul when he was shot helping victims of a suicide bombing — were buried, he said.

“There’s nothing left here to live for.”

garland.chad@stripes.com Twitter: @chadgarland

This story has been updated from its original version.

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Chad is a Marine Corps veteran who covers the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and sometimes elsewhere for Stars and Stripes. An Illinois native who’s reported for news outlets in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Oregon and California, he’s an alumnus of the Defense Language Institute, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Arizona State University.
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