12 Killed In Crash Of Copter In N. Iraq

U.S. helicopters fly near the American military base in Mosul, in northern Iraq. Nearby Tall Afar has been a major focus of U.S. military operations.
U.S. helicopters fly near the American military base in Mosul, in northern Iraq. Nearby Tall Afar has been a major focus of U.S. military operations. (By Namir Noor-eldeen -- Reuters)

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By Nelson Hernandez and Bassam Sebti
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 9, 2006

BAGHDAD, Jan. 8 -- An Army helicopter crashed in bad weather in northern Iraq shortly before midnight Saturday, killing all 12 Americans aboard, military authorities reported Sunday, and five Marines were killed in action in separate incidents over the past two days.

The UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was flying between bases with another helicopter when communications were lost, the military said in a statement. A search mission located the wreckage at noon Sunday in a sparsely populated area about seven miles east of the city of Tall Afar, near the Syrian border.

Army Lt. Col. Edward Loomis, the spokesman for the 101st Airborne, said there were eight U.S. service members and four civilians aboard the helicopter.

The crash was the deadliest for the military since January 2005, when 31 troops were killed when a transport helicopter went down, also near the Syrian border.

Capt. Bill Roberts, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said that the cause of the helicopter crash Saturday was under investigation but emphasized that the craft went down during a night mission while encountering severe weather. Roberts said there were thunderstorms and high winds in the desert near Tall Afar at the time of the crash.

Bad weather and sandstorms have played roles in previous U.S. helicopter crashes in Iraq, including the January 2005 accident. Swirling sand can disorient helicopter pilots, especially when they are operating in the dark and using night-vision goggles. Military experts have said such storms can lead crews to momentarily lose their ability to distinguish up from down.

The military said the helicopter that crashed Saturday had been flying in support of Task Force Band of Brothers, a unit that is largely made up of troops from the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky. Maj. Tom Bryant, a spokesman for the division's 3rd Brigade, said the helicopter was not from Fort Campbell but could not say to which unit it belonged or whether any soldiers from the Band of Brothers task force were aboard, the Associated Press reported.

The task force's area of operations is northern Iraq, where Tall Afar has been a major focus of U.S. military operations in recent months. American military commanders see it as one of the main bases of communication and support for the insurgency, dominated by Sunni Arabs.

"Our prayers are with the families of the aircraft crew and passengers," spokesman Loomis said in an e-mail.

The five Marines were killed in several attacks in central Iraq, the military reported. Three of them were killed by gunfire Sunday morning in separate attacks in the city of Fallujah, about 35 miles west of Baghdad, the military reported. The two others were killed when their vehicles were hit by roadside bombs Saturday in the towns of Karmah and Ferris, both of which are near Fallujah, the military reported.

Military authorities would not release the names of any of the 17 Americans killed, or provide more details on the circumstances of their deaths, until their relatives could be notified.

In Baghdad, efforts to form a national government continued following parliamentary elections held Dec. 15. In the latest move, a coalition of Kurdish parties announced Sunday that it would nominate Jalal Talabani, the country's president, to a new term.

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