Apache helicopters used for first time against Islamic State in Iraq
By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 14, 2016
WASHINGTON — U.S. Apache attack helicopters destroyed a bomb-laden Islamic State vehicle on Monday, the first time that the aircraft have been used in Iraq against the terrorist group, two defense officials confirmed.
The airstrike, conducted by U.S. crews, occurred in al-Qayyarah, one of many villages south of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the Islamic State group’s de facto capital in the country since 2014.
The Iraq government approved the Apache airstrike as U.S. and Iraqi forces set the stage for the battle to recapture Mosul, said a defense official who spoke on the condition that he not be named.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the airstrike Monday in Brussels. This is the first strike by Apache helicopters in the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq since Carter offered them during an April trip to Baghdad. The Iraqis chose to wait for the battle for Mosul to permit the use of the Apaches.
The vehicle targeted Monday in the airstrike was in open terrain, a defense official said, that’s why Apaches were used to destroy it. The helicopters have not been used in the battle for Fallujah because the fighting is happening in a more dense urban environment, the official said.
Al-Qayyarah is about 20 miles west of Makhmour, where U.S. forces are still operating out of Kara Soar Counter-Fire Complex, formerly known as Fire Base Bell. The base was the site of the Islamic State group rocket attack that killed Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin on March 19.
Cardin’s unit from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit was replaced earlier in the spring by 200 soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment from the 101st Airborne Division.
The regiment is still operating out of Kara Soar and using M777 lightweight 155mm howitzers to provide support to Iraqi forces attacking villages between Makhmour and Mosul.
Eight Apaches were part of a package of assistance that Carter offered Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in April to help Iraqi Security Forces defeat the Islamic State group in Mosul. Other elements included sending another 217 troops to Iraq, bringing the number of authorized U.S. forces in the country to 4,087.
The additional U.S. forces included helicopter maintenance crews, logistics experts to help Iraqi supply lines and special forces advisers who would be embedded with Iraqi Security Forces as they advance on Mosul.
Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said embedding troops with Iraqi brigades has not occurred yet. He also said he was not certain whether the additional forces have arrived in Iraq yet.
Another defense official who spoke to Stars and Stripes on the condition he not be named said some maintenance crews have likely arrived in Iraq and there were 3,645 U.S. forces in the country as of today.