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02-08-07, 06:41 AM #1
Downed aircraft spur shift in tactics
HELICOPTER ATTACKS IN IRAQ
Downed aircraft spur shift in tactics
5th crash since Jan. 20 kills 7
By James Janega, Tribune staff reporter; Tribune correspondent Liz Sly, Nadeem Majeed in Baghdad and Tribune news services contributed to this report
February 8, 2007
BAGHDAD -- With concerns mounting over the loss of U.S. helicopters in Iraq, American aircrews are being allowed to shift tactics to maintain more flexibility in flight operations as military officials weigh whether insurgents are using more effective, lethal means to target the aircraft.
The concern grew again Wednesday when a U.S. Marine helicopter crashed outside Baghdad, killing all seven aboard. It was the fifth U.S. helicopter lost in Iraq in 19 days, and the U.S. military says the four previous losses were all due to enemy ground fire.
Although an insurgent group said it shot down the CH-46 Sea Knight on Wednesday, U.S. officials said they suspected a mechanical failure and that the helicopter was on fire when it went down. The victims included five Marines and two Navy personnel. The crashes have intensified efforts by U.S. officials to determine whether the crews face an enemy that is increasingly skilled and well-armed or merely lucky on the battlefield.
At Camp Anaconda, north of Baghdad, officials said the shift in aircrew tactics will allow smaller helicopter units to alter procedures on their own, giving pilots greater latitude to quickly respond to insurgent attacks. The shift also would make it harder for the enemy to predict how best to target flights, analysts said.
"Things have changed, and we need to change tactics," said Master Sgt. Charles Wheeler, spokesman for the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade at Camp Anaconda's air base. "Everything in Iraq is a chess match. There are measures and countermeasures, and we have to constantly adjust."
He said at least one of the helicopters shot down was based at Anaconda, near the city of Balad.
Wheeler said the shift in tactics was the most sweeping change of helicopter flight procedures in three years. On Sunday, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV said changes are under way at bases throughout the country.
The last event to have had such a deep effect on U.S. helicopter practices was the downing of a Chinook helicopter in 2003, killing 16 soldiers as they were heading home on leave, Wheeler said. After that attack, slower-moving transport helicopters shifted much of their flights to nighttime hours.
A number of tactic shifts have been tried in Iraq, The Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday. Pilots have flown low to avoid missiles and high to avoid small-arms fire. Military engineers have tried to stay a step ahead with missile-jamming technology while crews have installed armored seats, despite the need to keep the aircraft relatively lightweight.
The spate of successful attacks has heightened worries that a more sophisticated enemy may have developed or been provided the means to down an aircraft American forces have come to depend on to ferry and protect troops and supplies around the country. The most effective countermeasure to roadside bombs has been helicopters," said John Pike, of the Washington think tank GlobalSecurity.org. "If it can go by helicopter now, it goes by helicopter. And if it turned out helicopters no longer had freedom of action, we could be in trouble."
The alternative would be a return to moving troops and supplies by convoy, a grinding process that risks exposure to costly delays and increasingly powerful improvised explosives.
Anti-U.S. insurgents have vowed to intensify attacks on the helicopters. A spokesman for Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, Khudair al-Murshidi, told The Associated Press in December in Damascus, Syria, that Sunni militants had acquired new stocks of shoulder-fired missiles. "We are going to surprise them," he said.
The attacks come as U.S. and Iraqi forces embark on a stepped-up security plan for Baghdad. On Wednesday, forces moved into a Sunni neighborhood on the northern edge of the city. Other units dug in around the nearby Shiite enclave of Sadr City in recent days, according to Iraqi Arab-language television reports. The security operation "is ongoing as we speak," Caldwell said Wednesday. The Iraqi heading the security drive, Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar, took charge of the operation's headquarters without announcement Monday, starting what will be the third security crackdown in the capital in a year.
The operation caused traffic tie-ups as new checkpoints with concrete blast barriers and barbed wire appeared suddenly. Iraqi police and military units searched cars and on occasion even fired into the air to warn motorists to pull over for passing forces.
Militants claim responsibility
Late Wednesday morning, after the Marine helicopter went down, the Web site for the insurgent group that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for shooting it down.
The message credited the group's "air defense battalion" for the crash of the helicopter, which the group said occurred "in front of hundreds of witnesseswho were loudly shouting `Allah is Greatest' and `Thanks be to God.'"
Still, the recent attacks have done little to halt U.S. flights. The daytime skies over central Iraq on Wednesday buzzed with flights ferrying troops and contractors. In the hours after the previous helicopter was shot down last week, at least one transport helicopter was seen flying over less contentious neighborhoods of Baghdad, while shooting off flares around it in the middle of the day. Flares can be used to confuse enemy heat-seeking missiles.
And at the fortified air base in Balad, dozens of aircrews resumed flights Wednesday after a halt Tuesday during a day of rain and dust storms.
In hardened aircraft shelters built for Hussein's air force--which still show repairs from U.S. attacks in the 1991 and 2003 invasions--helicopter maintenance crews worked on rotor blades and powerful engines.
Outside, jump-suited pilots and crew members walked through the plywood and aluminum-trailer "Aviation Village," as the base's domestic military helicopter airline "Catfish Air" loaded flights to Baghdad, Fallujah, Taji and elsewhere.
Analysts and military experts say it is too soon to know whether the recent insurgent successes against American helicopters will have a deep effect on U.S. strategy in Iraq or whether they merely represent a string of bad luck for U.S. pilots.
"It's quite troublesome," Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said in an e-mail interview. "But it's hard to know the significance until we understand more about what shot them down and whether the pattern continues."
02-08-07, 06:44 AM #2
Posted on Thu, Feb. 08, 2007
Loss of another chopper illustrates vulnerability
By ROBERT H. REID
The Associated Press
BAGHDAD -- A U.S. Marine transport helicopter crashed in flames Wednesday in a field northwest of Baghdad, killing all seven people aboard -- five Marines and two Navy personnel, the U.S. military said. It was the fifth U.S. aircraft lost in less than three weeks and the latest sign of growing problems with aviation in Iraq.
A U.S. military statement gave no reason for the crash of the CH-46 Sea Knight, which went down in Anbar province near Fallujah, about 20 miles from Baghdad. However, three Marine Corps officials said the troop-transport helicopter was in flames when it went down, and it appeared that the pilot attempted to land but lost control as the aircraft descended.
They said witnesses in nearby Marine aircraft saw the flames but saw no sign that it involved hostile fire.
An Iraqi air force officer, however, said the helicopter was hit by an anti-aircraft missile. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to release information.
An Iraqi farmer who lives about a half-mile from the crash site said he heard a missile being fired moments before the crash, which took place in an insurgent-infested region.
"The helicopter was flying and passed over us, then we heard the firing of a missile," the farmer, Mohammed al-Janabi, said. "The helicopter then turned into a ball of fire. It flew in a circle twice and then went down."
In a statement posted on an extremist Web site, the Islamic State in Iraq, a group linked to al Qaeda, claimed it shot down the helicopter, which it described as a Chinook -- an Army helicopter that resembles a Sea Knight.
Critics have long urged the military to replace the CH-46, which was introduced in 1964 at the start of the Vietnam War.
Regardless of the cause, the latest crash adds urgency to a U.S. military review of flight operations in Iraq, including whether insurgents have perfected skills in attacking U.S. planes. One reason may be that they are using more sophisticated weapons.
The U.S. military relies heavily on helicopters in Iraq, not only for supporting ground forces in combat but also to move troops and equipment by air to avoid roadside bombs and insurgent ambushes.
In another development:
More American troops were killed in combat in Iraq over the past four months -- at least 334 through Jan. 31 -- than in any comparable stretch since the war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press analysis of casualty records. Roadside bombs were responsible for about 70 percent of U.S. deaths.
The increasingly urban nature of the war is reflected in the fact that more U.S. deaths have been in Greater Baghdad lately.
The frustrating fact about the hunt for a solution to the roadside bomb is that the U.S. military has improved its ability to find and disarm them before they detonate, and it has outfitted troops in better body armor.
But the insurgents still manage to adjust with new tactics in planting the bombs, more powerful explosives, different means of detonating them and a seemingly endless supply of materials.
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