Planning Seen in Iraqi Attacks on U.S. Copters: duh?


Richard Moore

        WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 ‹ Documents captured from Iraqi
        insurgents indicate that some of the recent fatal attacks
        against American helicopters are a result of a carefully
        planned strategy to focus on downing coalition aircraft, one
        that American officials say has been carried out by mounting
        coordinated assaults with machine guns, rockets and
        surface-to-air missiles.

How bizarre. What else would you expect a wartime adversary to do other than 
devise effective strategies? Why would one need 'captured documents' to 
understand such a simple fact?


Original source URL:

February 18, 2007

Planning Seen in Iraqi Attacks on U.S. Copters

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 ‹ Documents captured from Iraqi insurgents indicate that 
some of the recent fatal attacks against American helicopters are a result of a 
carefully planned strategy to focus on downing coalition aircraft, one that 
American officials say 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, show that 
the militants were preparing to ³concentrate on the air force.² The contents of 
the documents are described in an American intelligence report that was reviewed
by The New York Times.

Seized near Baghdad, the documents reflect the insurgents¹ military preparations
from late last year, including plans for attacking aircraft using a variety of 

Officials say they are a fresh indication that the United States is facing an 
array of ³adaptive² adversaries in Iraq, enemies who are likely to step up their
attacks as American forces expand their efforts to secure Baghdad, the Iraqi 

³Attacks 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,² notes the intelligence report, which 
analyzes the recent helicopter crashes.

The American military has said that seven helicopters have been downed since 
Jan. 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. American troops were attacked in 
five instances in which they rushed to the scene of aircraft that had been shot 
down, military officials said.

The intelligence report supports the concerns expressed by an American general 
this month that militants were adapting their tactics in an effort to step up 
attacks against helicopters. Such strikes have increased since the United States
expanded its military operations in Baghdad in August. From December to January,
the number of antiaircraft attacks rose by 17 percent, according to an American 
military report.

Insurgents in Iraq have boasted about the helicopter downings and posted video 
of some of the wreckage on militant Web sites. While Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has
claimed it has ³new ways² to shoot down the aircraft, some American analysts 
believe they are probably not employing new types of weapons but rather are 
making more effective use of arms already in their inventory.

The insurgents try to plan their attacks by studying flight patterns near 
American 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 that cannot be diverted by the 
flares helicopters disperse to fool heat-seeking systems.

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which the intelligence report says leads the insurgent 
group known as the Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for 
shooting down three of the helicopters. Those helicopters were downed near Taji,
Karma and in Diyala Province.

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 E. Simmons, a deputy commander of the American-led multinational
force in Iraq and an Army aviator, told reporters this week that multiple 
weapons systems had been used against American troops before, in attacks south 
of Baghdad last year.

³This is not a new tactic,² he said. ³But it is the first time that we have seen
it employed in several months.²

³We are engaged with a thinking enemy,² he added. ³This enemy understands based 
on the reporting and everything else that we are in the process of executing the
prime minister¹s new plan for the security of Baghdad. And they understand the 
strategic implications of shooting down an aircraft.²

He said that American commanders in Iraq have met to consider how to counter the
shift in insurgent tactics, but he refused to discuss specifics.

General Simmons said the American military had not concluded whether a single 
militant cell was behind the attacks. Some of the attacks have been described by
American intelligence as ³opportunistic,² meaning insurgents are simply firing 
at helicopters when they seen them.

American helicopters are being used extensively as American troops try to avoid 
the bombs hidden along streets and roads. Low-flying aircraft are also 
vulnerable when they pass over urban areas. In 2005, American Army helicopters 
flew 240,000 hours. In 2007, Army helicopters are expected to fly more than 
400,000 hours, military officials said.

General Simmons had a firsthand look at opportunistic tactics on Jan. 25, when 
he was in one of a group of helicopters that was fired on near Hit in Anbar 
Province. In that attack, a Black Hawk helicopter in the group was stuck by 
automatic weapons fire after the helicopters flew near some militants who 
appeared to be removing or bringing arms to a weapons cache.

The damaged Black Hawk helicopter was forced to land. The helicopter General 
Simmons was in landed and picked up the crew, and the Marines sent a 
quick-reaction force to protect the aircraft, which was later brought to the 
American base at Asad.

³I¹ve got firsthand knowledge on that one,² General Simmons said. ³We stumbled 
upon them, and they engaged us with what they had, and they got lucky.²

Military officials say another opportunistic downing was the attack on an Apache
helicopter near Najaf on Jan. 28 that killed both of the crew members. It 
occurred when the aircraft was sent to reinforce American and Iraqi troops. The 
officials also noted that the attack was the only recent instance in which a 
Shiite group ‹ in this case, the Soldiers of Heaven ‹ was responsible for 
shooting down a helicopter.

The Feb. 7 attack on a Marine CH-46 Sea Knight transport helicopter near Karma, 
an insurgent stronghold near Falluja, was initially attributed by military 
officials to mechanical problems. But this week they acknowledged it had been 
downed by hostile fire, most likely a shoulder-fired missile and heavy-caliber 
machine-gun fire.

In the video posted on the Internet by the Islamic State of Iraq, the Sea Knight
is seen flying toward the camera. Then it banks to the right and turns a 
half-circle. An object darts into the screen from the right, trailed by a curl 
of black smoke. Moments after the object enters the frame, an explosion rips 
through the helicopter, which falls to the ground in flames.

Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, confirmed Friday that the video 
seemed genuine. General Conway also told the Senate Armed Services Committee 
that the CH-46¹s defensive systems intended to shield the aircraft from missiles
³did not properly deploy² when it came under attack from the ground.

The CH-46 did not release flares, which fire automatically and are intended to 
fool a heat-seeking missile into flying away from the aircraft. Nor did the 
helicopter take defensive maneuvers, which military officials said suggested 
that the pilots did not see the missile before they were hit.

Col. Dave Lapan, a Marine spokesman, said investigators were looking into 
whether the flare system malfunctioned or whether there had been other reasons 
the system failed, including ³environmental factors,² and whether the missile 
had characteristics that prevented it from being detected.

The recent spate of helicopter attacks began Jan. 20 with the shooting of a 
Black Hawk in Diyala Province that killed 12 soldiers on board. Three days 
later, a helicopter operated by the Blackwater security company crashed, leading
to the deaths of five civilian contractors, including one thought to have been 
killed by militants surviving the crash. On Jan. 25, the Black Hawk helicopter 
in General Simmons¹s group was forced to land near Hit, but there were no 

Two American crew members were killed in the Apache helicopter downing near 
Najaf on Jan. 28. On Jan. 31, a helicopter carrying civilian contractors was hit
by small-arms fire near Baghdad and forced to land, but there were no 
casualties. On Feb. 2, two Americans were killed when their Apache was shot down
in a coordinated attack. Seven marines died in the Sea Knight downing near Karma
on Feb. 7.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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