By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 5, 2007
BAGHDAD, Feb. 4 -- Four American helicopters that crashed in Iraq in the past two weeks were shot down, a U.S. military spokesman said Sunday, prompting officials to reevaluate how troops move around in an increasingly hostile war zone.
"There has been an ongoing effort to target our helicopters," Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad, according to news services. "We have had four helicopters shot down. . . . It appears they were all the result of some kind of ground fire."
In the most recent crash, an Apache helicopter was downed Friday morning near Taji, about 12 miles north of Baghdad, killing two crew members. An Iraqi police official said it was struck by a shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile.
A Sunni insurgent group backed by al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq, posted photographs and a video on its Web site Sunday that it said showed the downing of the helicopter. The group asserted responsibility for the attack and warned that Iraqi airspace will be inhospitable for U.S. forces.
In the video, a man is heard chanting "Allahu akbar" -- God is great -- as a helicopter is struck by what appears to be a missile. The aircraft catches fire and spirals down in a trail of smoke. The authenticity of the video could not be verified.
The deadliest helicopter crash this year occurred Jan. 20, when a Black Hawk was shot down northeast of Baghdad, killing 12 soldiers on board. On Jan. 28, two soldiers were killed when armed men shot down a helicopter en route to a farm area near Najaf to support Iraqi and U.S. troops in a clash with insurgents.
Five American private security contractors aboard two helicopters were killed Jan. 23 while assisting a U.S. Embassy convoy that had come under attack in central Baghdad. One of the helicopters was shot down, killing four contractors on board, and a fifth contractor was shot aboard another helicopter that did not crash.
"Based on what we've seen, we are already adjusting our tactics and procedures in how we deploy our helicopters," Caldwell said during the session with Iraqi reporters in the fortified Green Zone.
Military helicopters in Iraq generally travel in pairs and fly at low altitude. Gunners at both sides of the craft scan the landscape for threats. Caldwell did not say which tactics would change.
Helicopters are widely used to shuttle soldiers and civilians around Iraq, where roadside bombings and attacks on convoys have made ground travel dangerous.
In other developments, deadly explosions and attacks were reported in Baghdad and elsewhere Sunday, a day after a massive bomb in a central Baghdad market killed more than 130 people.
Improvised explosive devices killed at least 11 people in Baghdad, according to Col. Sami Hassan, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. At least nine people were killed in shootings and mortar attacks, he said. News services reported scores of other deaths in Baghdad or elsewhere.
Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.