19 U.S. Troops Killed In Iraq

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 21, 2007

BAGHDAD, Jan. 20 -- A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter crashed Saturday afternoon northeast of the capital, killing all 12 American soldiers on board, and at least seven soldiers died in other parts of the country, officials said. The deaths made the day the third-deadliest for U.S. service members in Iraq since the war began.

The incidents came as the Bush administration was extending the tours of some troops in Iraq and sending additional ones for a buildup that has met strong resistance in Congress. The administration has billed the increase as a key step toward securing the viability of Iraq's young government and bringing down the level of violence.

The helicopter went down about 3 p.m. in a barren area south of Baqubah in Diyala province. According to media reports, several parts of the province have come under Sunni insurgent control in recent months.

The military said the cause of the crash was under investigation.

"We can't confirm what the cause of the incident was," said Lt. Col. Josslyn L. Aberle, a military spokeswoman. "That's a big part of the investigation."

Another helicopter traveling nearby, as is standard in military operations, remained in the air awaiting backup after the crash, Aberle said. "We had aircraft support within minutes," she said. A response team landed and cordoned off the scene, Aberle said.

Navy Capt. Frank Pascual, a member of a U.S. media relations team in the United Arab Emirates, told al-Arabiya television that the helicopter was believed to have suffered technical troubles before going down, the Associated Press reported.

Arkan al-Mujamai, 28, a day laborer who lives near the crash site, said in a telephone interview that the helicopter was shot down by a group of Sunni Muslim insurgents, one of whom is his uncle.

Mujamai said six Sunni insurgents were planting roadside bombs in the area when they saw a helicopter flying low overhead. One of the insurgents shot it down with a heavy machine gun, he said. Five of the insurgents, including his uncle, were missing Saturday night, and one returned with a wound on the left side of his upper body, he said.

Mujamai has provided The Washington Post with reliable information during past interviews, but his account Saturday could not be independently verified.

According to a database on military deaths kept by The Washington Post, 164 Americans have died in helicopter crashes in Iraq during the war.

Saturday's casualties included five soldiers who were killed in the southern city of Karbala after a military facility came under attack, the military said in a statement released late Saturday. The attack was carried out by an "illegally armed militia group," which ambushed the soldiers with grenades, guns and other weapons, the statement said. Three soldiers were wounded while fighting back, it said.

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