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IRAQ - Insurgents' Attacks On US Helicopters.

A US military spokeswoman on Feb. 22 said a Black Hawk helicopter was on Feb. 21 brought down by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. All nine people on board were evacuated and there were no serious injuries. The Mujahideen Army, a Neo-Salafi group affiliated with al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for this in a brief internet posting. This was the eighth US helicopter to be downed since Jan. 20, killing 28 people, mainly US soldiers. Five of them were US military aircraft and two belonged to a private US security firm.

The New York Times on Feb. 18 reported documents captured from Iraqi insurgents indicating some of the fatal attacks against US helicopters were the result of a carefully planned strategy to focus on downing coalition aircraft, one which US officials said had been carried out by mounting co-ordinated assaults with machine guns, rockets and surface-to-air missiles. The documents, said to have been drafted by al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, showed the militants were preparing to "concentrate on the air force".

The documents' contents were described in a US intelligence report. Seized near Baghdad, the documents reflected the insurgents' military preparations from late 2006, including plans for attacking aircraft using a variety of weapons. The paper reported officials as saying they were a fresh indication that the US was facing an array of "adaptive" adversaries in Iraq, foes likely to step up their attacks as US forces expanded their efforts to secure Baghdad. The paper quoted the intelligence report, which analysed the recent helicopter crashes, as noting: "Attacks on coalition aircraft probably will increase if helicopter missions expand during the latest phase of the [current] Baghdad Security Plan or if insurgents seek to emulate their recent successes".

After downing the helicopters, the insurgents often laid ambushes for the US ground troops they expected to come to the rescue, sometimes using roadside bombs placed in advance. US troops were attacked in five instances in which they rushed to the scene of aircraft shot down.

Insurgents in Iraq have boasted about the helicopter downings and posted video footage of some of the wreckage on Websites operated by Neo-Salafi militants. While al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia has claimed it has "new ways" to shoot down the aircraft, US analysts believe they are probably not employing new types of weapons but are making more effective use of arms already in their inventory. The insurgents try to plan their attacks by studying flight patterns near US bases and along supply routes, according to the intelligence report.

In several recent helicopter downings, the attackers used a variety of weapons, including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and unguided rockets which cannot be diverted by the flares helicopters disperse to fool heat-seeking systems.

Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia leading the Islamic State of Iraq has claimed credit for shooting down four of the helicopters. While the captured documents point to careful planning, it is not entirely clear whether this is an effort by some of the militant commanders in those areas or a nationwide strategy by the group.

Maj. Gen. James Simmons, a deputy commander of the US-led MNF and an Army aviator, recently told reporters multiple weapons systems had been used against US troops before, in attacks south of Baghdad in 2006. Simmons said: "This is not a new tactic. But it is the first time that we have seen it employed in several months. We are engaged with a thinking enemy. This enemy understands, based on the reporting and everything else, that we are in the process of executing the prime minister's new plan for the security of Baghdad. And they understand the strategic implications of shooting down an aircraft". He said US commanders in Iraq had met to consider how to counter the shift in insurgent tactics.

Simmons said the US military had not concluded that a single militant cell was behind the attacks. And some of the attacks have been described by US intelligence as opportunistic, meaning insurgents simply fire at helicopters when they see them. US helicopters are being used extensively as US troops try to avoid bombs hidden along roads. Low-flying aircraft are vulnerable when they pass over urban areas.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Strategic Balance in the Middle East
Date:Feb 26, 2007
Words:694
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