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Newsday (New York) November 8, 2003

Crash Kills 6 GIs

Black Hawk apparently shot down in deadly week in Iraq

By Mohamad Bazzi

Baghdad, Iraq - A Black Hawk helicopter crashed Friday in the northern city of Tikrit, apparently shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade, killing all six U.S. soldiers aboard and capping the deadliest week for U.S. forces since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

In another blow to the Bush administration's efforts to stabilize Iraq and share the burden of occupation with U.S. allies, Turkey decided not to deploy 10,000 troops to its southern neighbor. Washington had been pressuring Turkey for months to send what would have been the first contingent of troops from a Muslim country, but the move faced strong resistance from the Iraqi Governing Council.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul agreed in a phone conversation Thursday night that a Turkish offer to send the troops would be withdrawn. "Obviously, we would have preferred if this all worked out very nicely to everybody's satisfaction, but let's remember that the goal is stability in Iraq," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington.

Turkey's shift adds strain on U.S. forces, which are facing an average of 30 attacks each day throughout Iraq as insurgents grow bolder and more lethal, targeting troops on the ground and in the air.

If confirmed to have been downed by guerrilla fire, the Black Hawk would be the third U.S. helicopter shot down in two weeks. Two other U.S. soldiers were killed and three injured Friday in separate attacks in the northern city of Mosul, bringing the number of U.S. troops killed in the past week to 32.

The helicopter, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, crashed at 9:40 a.m. local time about a half- mile from the U.S. base in Hussein's former palace in Tikrit, which serves as headquarters for the 4th Infantry Division. "At this stage, we don't know if it was due to mechanical failure or another reason," said Maj. Josslyn Aberle of the 4th Infantry Division.

But other officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it appeared the Black Hawk was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. The copter burst into flames after it crashed on an island in the Tigris River. Hussein, who was born near Tikrit, drew most of his closest aides from the area, which is about 100 miles north of Baghdad.

Throughout the day, Apache attack helicopters patrolled, swooping low over villages and farms as rescuers picked through the charred wreckage of the Black Hawk. Late Friday, U.S. troops fired mortars and U.S. jets dropped at least three 500-pound bombs around the crash site, rattling windows over a wide area. Then, before dawn Saturday, there were reports of troops, backed by Bradley fighting vehicles, sweeping through sections of Tikrit, blasting houses suspected of being insurgent hideouts with machine guns and heavy weapons fire.

On Sunday, guerrillas shot down a U.S. Chinook helicopter near the city of Fallujah, killing 16 soldiers and wounding 20 in the deadliest single attack on American forces since they invaded Iraq in March.

On Oct. 25, guerrillas brought down a Black Hawk in Tikrit, hitting one of its engines with a rocket-propelled grenade, but its crew escaped.

Friday's deaths brought to 141 the number of U.S. soldiers killed by hostile fire since President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1.

U.S. officials had hoped to encourage more countries to send troops to Iraq to relieve the burden on American forces. Turkey's parliament agreed last month to send 10,000 troops, but the move drew immediate condemnation from the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Iraqis were worried that Turkey wanted to dominate oil-rich northern Iraq and that the presence of Turkish troops would cause friction with Iraq's Kurdish minority. A 15-year insurgency by Kurdish rebels in Turkey ended in 1999, but the rebels still have bases in northern Iraq and the potential to resume fighting. Kurds intensely lobbied the Governing Council to reject any Turkish deployment.

Days after Turkey's parliament decided to send troops, a suicide bomber attacked the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad, injuring 10 people and signalling that Turkish forces would not be spared by Iraqi guerrillas.

"The deployment of Turkish forces would have been a mistake under the current circumstances," said Mahmoud Othman, one of the Governing Council's five Kurdish members. "I'm glad that United States and Turkey saw the wisdom of abandoning this plan."

Gul, the Turkish foreign minister, said that from the beginning, his country was not eager to send troops. "We had said we would send forces only if our contribution would be of use to the Iraqis."

Vulnerable Fighters: The Army's helicopter fleet in Iraq includes the Black Hawk attack chopper and the Chinook transporter. Large and slow-moving, in recent days the helicopters have been easy prey for enemy fighters. Why they've been so vulnerable:

THE UN-60 BLACK HAWK

Used For: Air assault, medical evacuation
Length: 64 feet, 8 inches
Cruising Speed: 175 mph
Capacity: Crew of 2, plus up to 11-member infantry squad.

SURFACE THREAT: The Russian-made SA-7 is a shoulder-launched missile that has proven to be a weapon of choice against U.S. helicopters. It is suspected in Friday's downing of a Black Hawk.

AIRBORNE WORKHORSES: The Army prefers to use the Black Hawk and Chinook to ferry troops and cargo around Iraq. Without them, it would be forced to use ground transport, which would leave soldiers vulnerable to ground attack, land mines and homemade bombs.

NEW FACE OF WARFARE: In Afghanistan and Iraq, the Army has small insertion teams and special operations forces with greater frequency. That has meant greater reliance on helicopter operations.

EASY TO TARGET: To do their transport and insertion jobs properly, Army helicopters must fly at low altitudes, and often at low speeds, leaving them vulnerable to missile attacks.

DESERT DIFFICULTIES: Helicopters require constant maintenance. In some cases, coarse sand in the desert has resulted in less efficient operation.

ENEMY INTELLIGENCE: Since the end of major combat operations May 1, Army helicopters have been following similar flight paths in attack and transport missions. Enemy fighters, some think, are wise to the routes.

SOURCES: Federation of American Scientists, www.globalsecurity.org, The Associated Press

GRAPHIC: 1) Getty Images Photo-An Army Black Hawk helicopter, similar to the one downed in Iraq Friday, on patrol in Afghanistan. 2) AFP Photo-U.S. troops take position during a weapons search in Fallujah Friday. 3) Getty Images Cover Photo-GI takes part in a memorial service this week for soldiers killed when their Chinook helicopter was shot down Sunday. Newsday Graphic/Map by Gustavo Pabon and Philip Dionisio-Vulnerable Fighters (description of Black Hawk helicopter); Map-location where six U.S. soldiers die in helicopter crash Friday (not in text database).


Copyright 2003, Newsday, Inc.