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Helicopter crash, ambush claim lives of eight soldiers in Iraq

Quick reaction forces struck by roadside bombs en route to crash site

Two soldiers were killed Monday when their helicopter was shot down and six others were killed when their vehicles — part of quick reaction forces headed to the scene in Diyala province — were hit by roadside bombs, U.S. military officials said Tuesday.

Three other soldiers were wounded in the bomb attacks, according to a news release issued Tuesday.

In keeping with Pentagon policy, the names and units of the soldiers involved were being withheld until their families were notified.

The deadly incident began Monday when an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter went down between Baqouba and Muqdadiyah, cities about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. Though the official statement said only that the incident was under investigation, two military officials in Iraq said early indications were that the helicopter was brought down by small-arms fire.

The Kiowa is a single-rotor observation and light attack helicopter used in support of ground troops.

The military officials said that two quick reaction forces were dispatched to the scene. Both were attacked by insurgents using roadside bombs. It was unclear how close to the crash scene the bombings took place.

Earlier this year, U.S. military officials said at press briefings that insurgents were using such tactics to target both helicopters and the ground forces that would respond to any crash.

In a Feb. 12 briefing in Baghdad, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jim Simmons, deputy commander for support, Multi-National Corps-Iraq, said in several cases insurgents have arranged roadside bombs along expected routes to delay or destroy rescue vehicles.

Simmons said the use of roadside bombs to attack responding ground forces was part of the downing of an Apache attack helicopter with the call sign Crazy Horse 0-8 on Feb. 2, in which two crewmembers died.

“We are engaged with a thinking enemy,” Simmons said then. “This enemy understands, based on reporting, that we are in the process of implementing a new security plan. It is in their interest, from a strategic view, to engage and shoot down our aircraft.”

That briefing was called after a spate of crashes — the result of both mechanical problems and enemy fire — that struck American helicopters in the first two months of the year. At least eight other helicopters have gone down this year.

In several instances, insurgents appeared to use multiple small arms or heavy machine guns to target a single aircraft.

The incidents raised worries of new advances in enemy tactics or weaponry. But Simmons, an Army aviator for 31 years and former commander of an Apache attack helicopter brigade, said the crashes were the result of a mix of mechanical problems and enemy gunfire and did not signal a need to limit U.S. helicopter flights in Iraq.

“In my view, it’s still the safest way to get around Iraq,” Simmons said. “We have not canceled one mission, and there has been absolutely no reduction in rotary wing aircraft flight, nor will there be.”

In 2005, U.S. Army aircraft flew 240,000 hours. In 2006 they flew 334,000 hours, while this year they are expected to fly 400,000.

Since 2004, U.S. helicopters have been fired on about 100 times a month, mostly by small arms and heavy machine guns. The helicopters are actually struck by this fire roughly 17 times a month, Simmons said.

Last week, the Army’s top aviation officer in Iraq told USA Today that the U.S. military had broken up a network behind attacks on U.S. helicopters in Iraq last winter.

Insurgent teams were killed when U.S. helicopter pilots flew over ambush sites and fired on them, the paper reported.


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