Washington (AFP) Feb 17, 2007
Documents captured from Iraqi insurgents indicate that some of the recent fatal attacks against US helicopters are a result of a carefully planned strategy to focus on downing coalition aircraft, The New York Times reported on its website Saturday. Citing unnamed American officials, the newspaper said the strategy has been carried out by mounting coordinated assaults with machine guns, rockets and surface-to-air missiles.
The documents, said to have been drafted by Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and described to The Times by US officials, show that the militants were preparing to "concentrate on the air force."
Seized near Baghdad, the documents reflect the insurgents' military preparations from late last year, including plans for attacking aircraft using a variety of weapons, the report said.
Officials say they are a fresh indication that the United States is facing an array of "adaptive" adversaries in Iraq, enemies who are likely to step up their attacks as American forces expand their efforts to secure Baghdad, the paper said.
"Attacks on coalition aircraft probably will increase if helicopter missions expand during the latest phase of the Baghdad Security Plan or if insurgents seek to emulate their recent successes," the paper quotes an intelligence report as saying.
Seven helicopters have been downed in Iraq since January 20, a figure that exceeds the total number of coalition aircraft shot down in 2006.
After downing the helicopters, the insurgents often laid ambushes for the American ground troops they expected to come to the rescue, sometimes using roadside bombs that they placed in advance, The Times said.
US troops were attacked in five instances in which they rushed to the scene of aircraft that had been shot down, accoreding to the report.
The intelligence report supports the concerns expressed by a US general this month that militants were adapting their tactics in an effort to step up attacks against helicopters.
From December to January, the number of antiaircraft attacks rose by 17 percent, the paper said, citing a US military report.
earlier related report
It was a day time flight for this National Guard unit, 1st Battalion, 131st Aviation Regiment of the 38th Combat Aviation Brigade. It was a dangerous but routine mission to ferry soldiers from one base to another. Black Hawks are the safest means of getting around Iraq. Vastly more soldiers are killed by roadside bombs than anything else in Iraq. Getting them up in the air is the easiest way to avoid them.
Black Hawks fly in pairs. On Jan. 20 Easy 71 was the lead aircraft in the formation.
"I remember we were doing an ordinary transit mission, a routine mission carrying passengers across Iraq," said 1st Lt. Craig D. Neely, 25, the lead pilot on Easy 71.
Easy 40 was flying behind when it was hit by machine gun fire from three insurgents in the back of a truck below them.
"We heard (Maj. Michael Taylor, the company commander) talking to (his) aircraft. He yelled out he was hit; there was no question in his voice that they were hit. Myself and Sgt. Evans were able to see him and see his aircraft," Neely said.
Sgt. Terry L. Evans, 33, is one of Easy 71's gunners.
"We saw the aircraft get hit initially. I saw they were in trouble. I told (pilot-in-command Chief Warrant Officer Max Timmons) -- I told him they were hit. I immediately started returning fire and Mr. Timmons banked left toward Easy 40.
"Easy 40 was on fire and we knew they were in trouble. We had moved into a position where we could possibly help them if they went down. The aircraft impacted the ground. That's when I told Mr. Timmons and Lt. Neely to put our aircraft on the ground so we could go secure the aircraft," Evans said.
They landed 75 yards from the burning helicopter but Evans and gunner Specialist David L. Carnahan, 33, jumped out before the bird was even on the ground. Armed with just pistols, the two raced to Easy 40 to rescue the wounded and protect their aircraft from ground attack.
But everyone on board - four crew and eight passengers -- was dead.
They ran around the aircraft to see if they could pull bodies out. They couldn't. Evans went back to Easy 71 for his rifle and then returned to Carnahan and the burning helicopter.
"We were going to attempt to get (Maj.) Taylor's body out," he said.
Unspeakable things happen to the bodies of dead American soldiers here if they are not protected on the battlefield. Evans and Carnahan would not allow that to that to happen. The two, with their rifles and pistols, set up a defensive perimeter.
It was instinct that drove them out of their helicopter and onto the killing ground.
"You don't think about people shooting at you," said Carnahan. "For me it was a pretty traumatic experience -- to watch a helo go down with people from my unit. You don't think about yourself at the moment. You think about the people on the other aircraft."
By this time, two other Black Hawks flying had received Lt. Neely's mayday call. They were overhead.
Easy 53, commanded by Chief Warrant Officer Jerry D. Sartin, 41, and flown by CW3 Michael Hodges, 37, was just a minute behind Easy 40 on the same flight path.
"We started to land to lend aid and assistance when we noticed a truck moving at a high speed," said Sartin. "We took off to engage that vehicle."
Black Hawks are not attack helicopters. The machine guns that protrude from either side are meant for self-defense.
"We practice aerial gunnery (on a range) at least once a year. The only difference is the targets at the range don't shoot back," said Staff Sgt. Gary L. Smith, 32.
Easy 53 made five passes around the truck which was now firing on them with the same weapon that brought down Easy 40. After the first pass, one of the insurgents pulled out a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
"He was neutralized," said Sartin.
This was one of Smith's first combat engagements.
"It's nothing that you really think about. It's more of an instinct. We are there to protect our brothers. We will do anything it takes. If it means putting ourselves in the line of fire to attack them that's part of what it means to be a soldier," he said.
"When we started making our runs on the truck I really wasn't thinking. It was more just acting out, engaging the truck, following up targets. When the weapon was out of ammo, the actions of reloading, getting the guns back out the window when it was your turn to fire again engage the enemy. There really wasn't much time to think," he said.
His first response was sadness at seeing Easy 40 hit and smoking, then anger when he heard the mayday call and realized it was an aircraft in his own battalion. Then adrenaline took over.
"Once we started engaging the truck all that flew out the window and we paid attention to engaging targets," Smith said.
The Black Hawk gunners killed the three shooters during a 15-minute fight.
Apache attack aircraft arrived just minutes into the battle, allowing the two Black Hawks in Easy 53's flight to land with Easy 71.
"We had that place swarming. The enemy had nowhere to run," Neely said.
The crew and soldiers on board formed a defensive perimeter around the four helicopters now on the ground while Evans and Carnahan did what they could to put out the fire and pull their friends from Easy 40.
Ground forces were on their way to secure the scene, but it would take time to get there. The route in had been thoroughly booby trapped with improvised explosive devices, an Army official said this week.
The Black Hawks were running low on fuel. With Apaches overhead protecting the site and ground forces on their way, they decided to take off together, leaving the 12 men on Easy 40 in others' hands.
They flew together to the U.S. air base at Balad where they delivered their passengers, completing their mission.
"The crew of Easy 40 is very brave and they did heroic things," said Neely, naming and memorializing each of the downed crew. "(Maj.) Taylor was our company commander from Arkansas. I'm a pretty young pilot. I've only been flying for two years and we flew together quite often."
"Capt. Sean Lyerly was at the controls," he said.
"They made every effort to talk to us, to let us know what was going on. They were controlling that aircraft to the ground," Neely said. "We saw them smoking and burning and heard (Maj.) Taylor's voice on the radio, talking to Capt. Lyerly, controlling that aircraft."
"(Sgt. Maj.) Thomas Warren and Sgt. First Class Gary Brown, the crew members in the back, were doing all that they could as well," he said.
"The crew of Easy 40 went down fighting. They are the true heroes in this. There is nothing we can do to bring them back. But we can make sure the world knows these guys were total professionals," said 1/131 battalion commander Lt. Col. Zachary Maner.
Source: Agence France-Presse
Source: United Press International
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Washington (AFP) Feb 16, 2007
The Pentagon announced Friday that it is accelerating the deployment of a division headquarters to Iraq by about three months, adding another 1,000 troops to a "surge" in forces. The 3rd Infantry Division headquarters based in Fort Stewart, Georgia will deploy next month instead of in June, a Pentagon statement said.
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