A deputy commanding general in Iraq whose duties include aviation said Sunday that insurgents had adopted new tactics and stepped up their efforts to shoot down. American helicopters, and he acknowledged that the rash of recent incidents including a previously unreported downing of a Black Hawk late last month.
The above is from James Glanz' "Insurgents Stepping Up Efforts to Down U.S. Helicopters in Iraq" in this morning's New York Times. Glanz speaks with Maj. Gen. Jim Simmons about the helicopter situation and learns that:
Since December 2004, General Simmons said, the helicopters had been engaged by hostile forces about 100 times a month, mostly by small arms and automatic weapons, but occasionally by shoulder-fired missiles. On average, 17 helicopters have been hit each month.
Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) covers the above in "Helicopter risky, but still best option in Iraq, Army pilot says:"
An Army pilot said Sunday that enemy fire hit at least 17 U.S. helicopters a month in Iraq but that flying time for troops was growing because of the risks of road travel.Maj. Gen. Jim Simmons, briefing reporters after a spate of helicopter crashes blamed on hostile fire, said pilots were dealing with a "knowledgeable, thinking enemy" and that investigators were looking into the possibility that two recent helicopter shoot-downs were the work of the same group.
[. . .]
Though there is no indication attackers are using more advanced weaponry to hit helicopters, Simmons said the strikes showed they were closely watching U.S. strategies and adapting their methods to increase the chances of deadly hits.
Susman also notes:
In Taji, the site of a major U.S. air base, witnesses said they saw a U.S. military helicopter flying low and unsteadily and trailing smoke before it dropped out of sight Sunday afternoon. Hassan Lihaybi, 25, the owner of a car wash in the area, said he went outside after hearing a loud noise.
Also covering the issue is Iason Athanasiadis' "Black Haws down in Iraqi quagmire" (Asia Times):
The US military ordered changes in flight operations early last week but it was not enough to avoid the downing of a fifth helicopter on Wednesday. The crashes began on January 20 and follow insurgent claims that they have received new stocks of anti-aircraft weapons and a recent boast by Sunni militants that "God has granted new ways" to threaten US aircraft, according to the Associated Press.
[. . .]
"Until more is known about these apparent shootdowns, one cannot rule out a very old method," said Wayne White, a veteran State Department intelligence analyst, "a group of shooters with systems like the RPG-7, originally designed for use against various armored vehicles on the ground, fired simultaneously or in rapid succession at a helicopter at relatively low altitude, increasing the chances for a lucky hit."
This theory certainly appears to be borne out by witnesses. On January 28, a Reuters reporter witnessed the downing of the helicopter in Najaf. He described how a burst of machine-gun fire produced a trail of smoke from the helicopter before it crashed. At the site of the most recent crash, Iraqi farmer Mohammad al-Jenabi described how the twin-rotor C-46 troop carrier came down.
"The helicopter was flying and passed over us, then we heard the firing of a missile," he said. "The helicopter then turned into a ball of fire. It flew in a circle twice, then it went down."
The helicopter went down near the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Taji, about 30 kilometers northwest of Baghdad. Responsibility was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group of insurgents that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq.
"It's not that difficult to shoot down a chopper with small-arms fire," said a British officer serving in the Middle East, "especially if you take into account that the birds are slow and even a car driven fast can outpace them."
Insurgents have used SA-7s, a widely used shoulder-fired missile with an infra-red homing device, against US and British aircraft since 2003. But accusations that Iran is supplying this hardware are either false or irrelevant, according to Western analysts. "Whether ... they're coming in from Iran - where the technology isn't that good - is not the case," said Weadon, the Middle East expert.
"The MANPADS can either be leftovers in Afghanistan or of Chinese or Russian manufacture rolling in over from Saudi or even Turkey. I doubt that anyone would risk rolling them in over the highly scrutinized border with Iran."
Susan noted the above. On the topic of Iran, we'll turn toTina Susman and Borzou Daragahi's "U.S. makes case that Iran arms flow into Iraq" (Los Angeles Times):
U.S. defense and intelligence officials sought Sunday to bolster the charge that Iran was providing arms to Shiite Muslim militants in Iraq, displaying munitions and weapons fragments that they said constituted evidence that Tehran was contributing to Iraq's violence.
They also alleged that a group under the command of Iran's supreme leader was behind the smuggling of weapons across the Iran-Iraq border.
The briefing, held under unusually secretive circumstances, featured three U.S. officials, none of whom would be identified, and two tables laden with what they said were uniquely Iranian military hardware and weapons fragments.
James Glanz covers this in the Times of New York ("U.S. Says Arms Link Iranians To Iraqi Shi'ites") and notes:
The officials were repeatedly pressed on why they insisted on anonymity in such an important matter affecting the security of American and Iraqi troops. A senior United States military official gave a partial answer, saying that without anonymity, a senior Defense Department analyst who participated in the briefing could not have contributed.
To which the world rolls its eyes. If you're going to agree to those nonsense rules (if), then you say, "Fine, I won't publish the DoD analyst's name" and then go off and publish the name of everyone else present. We've been down this road before. People need to be held accountable and anonymice never are. If they want to sell war, they need to go on record. Glanz also notes that what was portrayed as "incriminating evidence" was known "as early as 2004." Further in, an unnamed states: "We publicly have not acknowleged E.F.P.'s for the past two years" -- E.F.P.s are "explosively formed penetrators". There's a dog and pony show where apparently exploded E.F.P.'s are displayed and the markings, in English, are explained. There's no effort by the Times to verify claims via anyone outside the military which seems more than a little strange.
Susman and Daragahi note:
The officials said each piece of the displayed hardware could be traced to Iran, though to the untrained eye there were no obvious Iranian markings other than that on the dynamite. Some of the munitions bore Western lettering.
Just to be clear, DoD analysts aren't "undercover" or in "deep cover." For instance, Larry Franklin -- he was publicly known for years before he was arrested and charged with passing on classified, national security info to the government of Israel. There's no reason an "analyst" for the Defense Department can't be identified publicly and if he or she is military intelligence and undercover in some form there (unlikely) he or she shouldn't have present at a presentation to reporters.
Martha notes Joshua Partlow's "Military Ties Iran To Arms In Iraq" (Washington Post):
During a long-awaited presentation, held in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, the officials displayed mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades and a powerful cylindrical bomb, capable of blasting through an armored Humvee, that they said were manufactured in Iran and supplied to Shiite militias in Iraq for attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops.
[. . .]
An official at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad called the U.S. accusations "fabricated" and "baseless."
"We deny such charges. We ask those who are claiming such evidence: Show the documents in public," said the official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. "We cannot compensate for the American failure and fiasco in Iraq. . . . It is not our policy to be involved in any hostile operations against coalition forces here."
[. . .]
Iraq's deputy foreign minister, Labeed M. Abbawi, said in an interview Sunday that the Iraqi government remains in the dark about the full U.S. investigation into Iranian activities in Iraq. "It is difficult for us here in the diplomatic circles just to accept whatever the American forces say is evidence," he said.
"If they have anything really conclusive, then they should come out and say it openly, then we will pick it up from there and use diplomatic channels" to discuss it with Iran, he said. "The method or the way it's being done should be changed, to have more cooperation with us."
We'll note one more time, private dealers selling or not selling does not necessarily tie back to any government.
On the bombings we noted earlier, Aileen Alfandary noted a few seconds ago (KPFA's The Morning Show) that the totals are now 76 killed, 165 and that 10 more were killed "in another bombing nearby."
ADDED: I forgot links, sorry. They're added now. Also Ruth's Report went up late Sunday/early Mondy so be sure to check that out (she's addressing Ehren Watada's stand and the mistrial in the court-martial).
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