The Times has a further update on that rash of downed US military helicopters in Iraq. It turns out that in addition to today’s apparent shoot-down of a CH-46 Sea Knight north of Baghdad, there was another as-yet unreported incident on January 31st in which a private security’s firms helicopter working on behalf of the State Department was shot down on a flight from Hilla to Baghdad. Fortunately, no one flying on that helicopter seems to have been killed. And another helicopter swooped down a short time later and evacuated the survivors of the crash.
That brings to six the number of US military or de facto US military (i.e., private security firm helicopters) shot down in Iraq in little more than two weeks.
There seems little doubt now that this is more than a statistical anomaly. But investigators still don’t seem to have a clear grasp of what’s happening. The one piece of information that appears relative clear is that this is not being caused by new weaponry. It’s been accomplished with high-caliber machine gun fire in most or all cases. The insurgents are just getting better, or more aggressive, or more ominously, they’re getting better at knowing where the helicopters are going to be.
Notes the Times: “Historically, improved tactics in shooting down helicopters have proved to be important factors in conflicts in which guerrillas have achieved victories against major powers, including battles in Somalia, Afghanistan and Vietnam.”
Late Update: On the general topic of helicopters, in this case attack helicopters, see this 2003 article by Fred Kaplan in Slate on the history of the attack helicopter, how well or poorly they work, and how the Army/Air Force rivalry played into the equation.