U.S. says two copters hit, but not downed, in Baghdad
BAGHDAD — During a raging daylong battle in central Baghdad on Tuesday, 16 U.S. troops were wounded and two U.S. military helicopters were hit by ground fire, officials said.
Contrary to Iraqi police reports early in the day and an Internet posting, the helicopters were not downed, the military said.
“We have not had any helicopters shot down today,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman in Baghdad. But a UH-60 Black Hawk and an Apache gunship had been hit by small-arms fire while operating over the city, he said.
Both returned safely to their bases, and no one was injured, officials said.
During the Baghdad battle, at least two Iraqi soldiers and a child were killed.
A military statement said U.S. and Iraqi forces “continued to work with attack aviation assets throughout the day to locate, identify, and engage and kill three insurgents targeting coalition and Iraqi security forces in the area.”
The fierce fighting in central Baghdad shut down the Sunni-dominated Fadhil and Sheik Omar neighborhoods just after 7 a.m., the U.S. military said. After American and Iraqi troops came under fire during a routine search operation, helicopter gunships swooped in, engaging insurgents with machine gun fire.
The fighting caused huge traffic jams in central Baghdad.
In the Internet posting on Tuesday, a previously-unknown Iraqi insurgency group calling itself Iraqi Hamas claimed that it had shot down a helicopter over Baghdad.
The posting claimed that “one of the brigades of Hamas in Iraq shot down a U.S. Apache helicopter and struck a second one in the al-Fadl district of Baghdad.”
Since January, at least nine U.S. helicopters have gone down in Iraq. Some were struck by enemy fire.
The most recent crash was April 5, when a Black Hawk crashed near Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. Four of the nine people aboard were injured, while the others were unhurt.
The use of helicopters to ferry troops and supplies throughout Iraq has increased enormously over the past two years, owing mostly to the dangers of roadside bombs.
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, a senior U.S. military officer said in a February briefing in Baghdad. The helicopters actually are struck by fire roughly 17 times a month, Maj. Gen. Jim Simmons, deputy commander for support of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, said in the briefing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report