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Thu, May 24, 2007

US Army: Iraq Network That Attacked Helos Broken Up

Hails "Rapid And Very Capable Response" To Insurgents

The Army's top aviation officer said the US military has broken up a network of insurgents responsible for a series of deadly attacks on helicopters in Iraq this winter.

Maj. Gen. James Simmons told USA Today in a telephone interview from Iraq, some insurgent teams were killed when US helicopter pilots fired on ambush sites.

"I don't think they anticipated our rapid and very capable response to them," he said.

Simmons wouldn't give specific information on the raid like the number of insurgents killed or captured, but did say it was fewer than 100.

A sudden increase in fatal attacks on US helicopters this past winter threatened to jeopardize flight operations, not to mention giving the insurgent groups too much press.

Twenty-three service members died in January and February when six military helicopters were shot down by enemy fighters using heavy machine guns, a missile, and small arms. Two private contractor helicopters were taken down as well.

Two servicemen were injured during an attack on a Kiowa helicopter on May 8, and a Black Hawk helicopter was forced down by heavy machine gun fire April 5, but there were no injuries, according to the Army. There have been no fatal helicopter attacks since February.

According to Simmons, the raid gave allied forces more control in Iraqi airspace to aid the three-month-old security plan and was a military and intelligence success.

"It has helped us in our ability to conduct operations without significant interference from the enemy," he said.

The use of helicopters in Iraq has increased to reduce the number of vulnerable ground convoys.

"It offsets the threat of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) on the road networks," Simmons said.

Though helicopters are frequent target for attack, averaging 90 to 100 times a month, Simmons said, most are by ineffective small-arms fire. But the winter attacks were different. The group used heavy machine guns and terrain to their advantage and had clearly studied regularly flown routes.

"The difference (in these attacks) is they were deliberate military operations conducted in an ambush style against our aircraft," Simmons said, adding the military limited the airspace where helicopters could operate in March.

US forces combined air attacks with ground assaults that captured insurgents in the raids, Simmons said. Gathered information allowed the US to launch counter-ambushes, using US aircraft to target the teams.

"The information that we have been able to exploit from those offensive operations has given us further insight as to how they fight," he said.

Although the US has boosted the number of troops in Iraq, violence has not declined. April was one of the deadliest months since the war began in 2003. In January and February, 162 American troops died and more than 230 have died in the 11 weeks since the beginning of March.

FMI: www.army.mil

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