Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 07, 2007

The New Anti-Air War

In Iraq the U.S. today lost its fifth helicopter in just 18 days.

It took them a while, but now the resistance claims to have received new weapons. Man-portable-air-defense-systems (MANPADS) like the Stinger or the equivalent Russian model Strela-2(SA-7).

In December, a spokesman for Saddam Hussein's ousted Baath party, Khudair al-Murshidi, told The Associated Press in Damascus, Syria, that Sunni insurgents had received shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles and "we are going to surprise them," meaning U.S. forces.

In their war in Afghanistan the then surprised Sowjets lost hundreds of helicopters after the U.S. equipped the Taliban with such weapons.

Over the years, the U.S. tried to minimize using roads to transport personnal in Iraq and switched to more air transport. The roads became too dangerous.

Expensive new devices were developed and deployed against IEDs. Bush's new budget requests another $2.4 billion for anti-IED technology.

But while the U.S. upgrades its equipment, the resistance downgrades to cheaper and less complicate technology. Instead of radio or infrared controlled bombs, they now use simple pressure switches, baking tray mines and they doubled the numbers of deployed IEDs.

With both means of transport now equally endangered and a surge plan that emphasizes more and smaller bases, the U.S. casualty rate will jump upwards.

Next to transport, another major use of helicopters is direct fire support for ground troops. If helicopters are not able to provide that anymore, the alternative is less precise bombing from fixed wing aircraft or heavy artillery. Both are less precise. The result will be more collateral Iraqi casualties.

As the Sunni (and Al-Qaida in Iraq) claim to have received these weapons, and the helos  downed over Anbar support that claim, it is unlikely that their Iranian arch-enemies have supplied these. More likely are Egyptian and Saudi origin and supply lines through Jordan. But those are moderate countries while Syria and Iran are extremist and U.S. propaganda will therefore claim the weapons came from there.

But if the resistance is can acquire a warehouse full of U.S. uniforms and equipment, "enough to supply a whole army battalion," their real supplier might still be somewhere else.

Posted by b on February 7, 2007 at 20:41 UTC | Permalink


wrt those uniforms, keep in mind that uniforms were part of one of the earlier perception mgmt / fake news stories used to vilify iraq that sam gardiner highlighted in his 2003 report truths from these podia [pdf]

Iraqi Troops in US Uniforms

On March 7, White House Deputy Director of Communications Jim Wilkinson, described as "a senior US official," released a story about Iraq's alleged acquisition of US and UK military uniforms "identical down to the last detail." Wilkinson claimed Iraqis in US camouflage were planning to commit battlefield atrocities to cast discredit on coalition troops.

On March 26, Pentagon spokesperson Victoria "Tori" Clarke embellished the story. Clarke told reporters that "we knew they were acquiring uniforms that looked like US and UK uniforms. And the reporting was ... [that Saddam Hussein would] give them to the thugs, as I call them, to go out, carry out reprisals against the Iraqi people, and try to blame it on coalition forces."

Two days later, Rumsfeld added a new twist, claiming that Saddam Hussein's troops planned to don UK an US uniforms "to try to fool regular Iraqi soldiers into surrendering to them and then execute them as an example for others."

There were never any reports of Iraq attempting such stunts. In his report, Gardiner concludes: "The way it was put by Jim Wilkinson (a name that keeps appearing in these questionable stories), it seems to fit a pattern of pre-blaming Iraq. It has the feel of being a created story."

Posted by: b real | Feb 7 2007 21:45 utc | 1

Bernhard, it's the fifth helicopter since Jan 20

Posted by: Ensley | Feb 7 2007 22:36 utc | 2

@ensley - you are right, corrected - here is a list

Posted by: b | Feb 7 2007 23:11 utc | 3

Yes, 5 down in under 3 weeks.

According to official military findings, of the previous 4 crashes, the Black Hawk went down due to missile, other three due to ground gunfire. Two were Apaches, engaged in close battle support I'd guess, so gunfire seems possible. The latest helo is bigger, and again in Anbar-Sunni territory - probably another missile.

I agree with b about sources of US uniforms. Also official cars, ID. Getting murkier over Iraqway. Cui bono? The challenge for US troops in Iraq is fast becoming not so much separating enemies from friendly forces as determining whether US has any real allies anywhere at all in ME. Big ship is sinking, and lots of little navies are launching in the fog.

Posted by: small coke | Feb 7 2007 23:31 utc | 4

The challenge for US troops in Iraq is fast becoming not so much separating enemies from friendly forces as determining whether US has any real allies anywhere at all in ME.

Ummm they don't. There that was easy wasn't it? Now how we do get their political bosses to realise that or do we just invest now in condolence card stocks while they're still cheap?

Posted by: markfromireland | Feb 8 2007 0:05 utc | 5

Since the Black Hawk went down in Jan, visions of Soviet Afghanistan float in my mind.

Deep as US pockets may (or may not) be, writing off such expensive equipment at a rapid rate might cause concern in high places where Iraqi and US casualties cause little. According to Wikipedia, the base price of 1 Black Hawk is $5.9 mil, with many variants, inc an Air Force model costing $10 mil. In addition to cost, how long does it take to replace destroyed helicopters?

Over the weekend there was a report (NYT? Wish I could remember) buried in a longer article about a 3-mo old audit that showed the Army already is running short on Humvees and body armor.

On Sunday US military had announced a change of tactics for helo use, in order to avoid shooters. Either the new tactics have not yet been disseminated, or newer new tactics are already needed.

How much longer?

Posted by: small coke | Feb 8 2007 0:33 utc | 6

About as long as it takes for the Iraqi resistance to wear the invaders down is the short answer to that one small coke.

Posted by: markfromireland | Feb 8 2007 0:40 utc | 7

@small coke - the currently running bill is some 12 billion a month, 400 million a day. A Black Hawk per day is 1.5% of that budget ...

(snark on)If you are worried about the costs of more choppers going down, buy Lockheed shares ...(snark off)

The problem is the moral effect on the U.S. troops. Who wants to ride in a chooper when they come down left and right ...

Posted by: b | Feb 8 2007 0:41 utc | 8

When we left the many Iraqi army depots unguarded in the spring and summer of 2003, there were a number of stories about 3 to 4 thousand SAM-7s going missing. I guess the price offered is now high enough for them to start coming out from the backyards where they've been hidden the last 3 1/2 years.

Posted by: Peter VE | Feb 8 2007 0:46 utc | 9

Sikorsky, Lockheed & Boeing?

Posted by: small coke | Feb 8 2007 2:28 utc | 10

Running short of body armour, morale effects, Soviet-Afghanistan reminders...expect fragging instances to start creeping into reports.

Posted by: Allen | Feb 8 2007 3:37 utc | 11

This has got to be a big fat bummer, considering that on the eve of the expectant surge there are these emergent problems. The last four or five months have seen what can only be considered a structural change up, in the number of U.S. casualties overall. Then there is the astonishing new tactics being used by the resistance undercutting the confidence in joint Iraqi U.S. maneuvers, just when the presumed target of the surge, the Mahdi Army, has dissappeared. And so now the only secure transport, convoy security, and all round bale-out weapons system looks vulnerable. I think another easy exit light just went out.

Posted by: anna missed | Feb 8 2007 4:38 utc | 12

There is no one in the world (including BushCo) that is not aware now of USA defeat in Iraq. But...they only need to get a grip of few more hundreds of billions of USA taxpayers money and they'll let USA solders go home. Iraq is not viable place any more anyway...They'll get their hands on what ever amount is possible of Iraqi oil through their proxies. So mission accomplished.
ME mess is not going to be cleared for decades anyway. And they are out of the office soon. That would be good revenge for Democrats too. They will not be able to feel their pockets with taxpayers money as fast and in amounts as Reps managed to do it. Democrats will have to invent new war…I just hope it will be somewhere far away from Balkan, their last business adventure …

Posted by: vbo | Feb 8 2007 5:55 utc | 13

Oh yes I forgot to remind you about 12 billions of USA $ (360 tones of cash) that miraculously vanished in Iraq after Saddams fall...Happy happy, joy joy ...American contractors and other crooks!
That's one of the reasons that USA is not only going to lose THIS war...but Empire... Lawlessness or as Frank Willis (spelling?) described “wild west".

Posted by: vbo | Feb 8 2007 7:31 utc | 14

One more ... Copter Crashes Suggest Change in Iraqi Tactics

With two more helicopter crashes near Baghdad, including a Marine transport crash on Wednesday that killed seven people, the number of helicopters that have gone down in Iraq over the past three weeks rose to six.
The number also includes a previously unreported downing of a helicopter operated by a private security firm on Jan. 31.
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.

Posted by: b | Feb 8 2007 7:57 utc | 15

Posted by: Dismal Science | Feb 8 2007 10:10 utc | 16

"did not crash" my ass, it was probably disabled by groundfire and auto-rotated down, hard, enough to make it scrap metal. There's nothing new in adopting to or changing flight patterns, they either fly high and are subject to missile fire, or fly low and are subject to small arms fire, a big fat target for an AK or an RPG, which are ubiquitious.

Posted by: anna missed | Feb 8 2007 10:40 utc | 17

With Iraqis fleeing, about 2 million till now, and 2 million internally displaced (rough), and lord knows how many dead, perhaps another million; the targeted killing of people who might lead, teach, administer, organise, devote themselves to the public good, even go into politics; all the home births that end in catastrophe, the abortions as well of course, children’s deaths, suicides, hospital deaths, prison disappearances, no longer counted at all; the brain drain, anyone who can leaves; and all those who sit and survive - just - with only prayer for succor, no job, no hope, insufficient healthy food, no affordable fuel, how many millions would that be? And last, that dirty water, or the lack of potable clean water - that is the biggest invisible killer, well known, studied, it is genocide under the radar. It is easy, it is cheap, no helicopters required. The helicopters provide pictures for the tee-vee.

This is savage decimation of a people, through whatever means available.

/end rant/

Posted by: Noirette | Feb 8 2007 17:32 utc | 18

Don't forgot depleted uranium, which we have relatively little information available about possible long-term effects.

Posted by: Ensley | Feb 8 2007 18:28 utc | 19

Ensley, right, I forgot that, a time bomb that has not yet deployed its effects on Iraqis and on US soldiers / personnel.

Posted by: Noirette | Feb 8 2007 19:22 utc | 20

Please read the paperback: Charlie Wilson's War. It is about the U.S. involvement with Afghan mujaheddin during their war with Russia. Is there a similar book that you could recommend on the U.S. materiel donations to Iraq during their war with Iran? Thanks.

Posted by: wims | Feb 8 2007 22:08 utc | 21


DEBKAfile Exclusive: Iran sends shoulder-borne QW-1 anti-air missiles to Iraqi Sunni insurgents and Hizballah to shoot down US and Israeli helicopters

February 9, 2007, 10:30 PM (GMT+02:00)

DEBKAfile’s sources in Tehran and Kurdistan disclose that, last month, two Iranian QW-1 and SA-7 missile consignments reached Iraqi insurgents allied with al Qaeda and one, radical Shiite Moqtada Sadr’s Shiite militia, the Mehdi Army. Israeli sources report the same anti-air weapons were delivered at about the same time to Hizballah units in Lebanon including the south.
Our military sources add that Iran’s arms industry has succeeded in replicating a quality version of the Chinese QW-1 and improved its electronics. It is 1.447meters long and packs 16.5 kilos of explosives. The IDF estimates that the first of these missiles used experimentally by Hizballah caused an Israeli helicopter to explode during take-off near the Litani River in the Lebanon War last summer.
Iranian markings have been erased from the equipment going into Iraq and Lebanon to suggest they were bought on the black market. Dated Soviet-era models of the SA-7 were indeed bought by Iran on Far East black markets and supplied to Iraqi insurgents and also pro-Tehran governors in western Afghanistan. Iran is preparing the ground for a Shiite insurgency against NATO forces there.
According to our sources, all three consignments to Iraq went through the North Iraqi Kurdistani town of Suleimaniya not far from the Iranian border. An Iranian clandestine center operates there like “the liaison center” the Americans raided in another Kurdish town, Irbil, last month. The Suleimaniya center operates with permission from Iraqi’s Kurdish president Jalal Talabani.
They weapons were smuggled in concealed compartments of trucks transporting building materials and iron from Iran for a Kurdish building company. After unloading their legitimate freight, the trucks drove on south up to the regional border where Iraqi insurgents off-loaded the missiles to their vehicles and distributed them to their networks in Baqouba, Ramadi and Tikrit – north of Baghdad and Hilla to the south.
In January, two-man teams of Iraqi insurgents and Hizballah operatives were trained in the use of the new weapons against American and Israeli helicopters as instructors for missile crews in Iraq and Lebanon. One crewman was taught to locate the target and help the second to aim. The training facilities were set up in Kermanshah and Qasr-e Shirin close to the Iraqi border.
Tehran is stepping up its provocations in reprisal for the US president George W. Bush’s directive to US forces to capture or kill Iranian agents, America’s refusal to release the Revolutionary Guards officers captured in Irbil and finally by the seizure last week of an Iranian diplomat in Baghdad.

Debka is pushing hard the notion that the missles are being supplied by Iran.
Seems like this story ties tightly with what U.S. Defense Sec. Gates said today. Not surprising the U.S./Israel media coordination, part of the same scheme – highlight an escalating Iranian involvement in Iraq. As noted before, Debka is a known propaganda website for the Israeli Government so this doesn’t surprise me. Also note the Hizballah references. Lebanon “Phase II” is definitely part of the overall U.S./Israel Mideast strategy.

Posted by: Rick | Feb 10 2007 4:32 utc | 22

They should be careful what they wish for.

Posted by: DM | Feb 10 2007 4:48 utc | 23

From the NYT:

Depending on the outcome of an investigation into the crash last Wednesday of a Marine CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, the latest report brings the number of American military and civilian helicopters shot down in Iraq in the past 21 days to either six or seven. General Simmons said preliminary findings suggested that the Sea Knight went down because of mechanical problems, but some witness reports indicated that the helicopter was shot down. All seven people aboard died.

Posted by: anna missed | Feb 12 2007 9:01 utc | 24

6 or 7,

or 7or 8:

Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. military said Sunday it has no reports of a helicopter going down after witnesses reported an Apache had crashed north of Baghdad.

Witnesses and police said the helicopter was shot down on Sunday, sending a plume of smoke into the air near the Bani Tamim village, in the area around the Taji air base, 12 miles north of Baghdad.

Lt. Col. Josslyn Aberle, a U.S. military spokeswoman, said initial reports did not find that a helicopter had gone down, but she said the military would check again to be sure.

At least six U.S. helicopters have crashed or been forced down under hostile fire since Jan. 20, including a Marine Sea Knight helicopter that crashed Wednesday near Taji, killing all seven people on board.

U.S. officials have said they are reviewing flight operations and tactics but maintain there is no evidence of sophisticated new weapons used in any of the latest attacks.

Posted by: anna missed | Feb 12 2007 9:04 utc | 25

Helicopters 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.
Because of roadside ambushes, U.S. helicopter usage in Iraq rose from 240,000 flying hours in 2005 to 334,000 in 2006, Simmons said. This year, pilots are expected to fly more than 400,000 hours.

Army pilots alone are involved in about 100 incidents per month of enemy fire, with about 17 resulting in direct hits on aircraft, Simmons said. Since the war began, he said, the Army has lost 29 helicopters, all to enemy fire. He did not have figures for the other branches of the military.

Posted by: b | Feb 12 2007 10:31 utc | 26

A question directed to b, Dan of Steel, and others with military background:
With helicopters being shot down, and discussing costs, is not the $$ dollar cost of loosing pilots a factor? I would think there is a lot of money & time spent training pilots. Also, are there plenty of trained pilots available?

Posted by: Rick | Feb 12 2007 10:48 utc | 27

@Rick - Heli pilot training is about $1.5-$2 million. There are plenty of pilots and the heli is more expensive than the pilots. To train fixed wing fighter pilots costs is $10 million upwards and there are only few who make it.

Posted by: b | Feb 12 2007 11:23 utc | 28


getting flight training is a big deal and there is never a shortage of applicants. you can easily convert your military license into a civilian one and get work ferrying people to oil platforms or reporting the local traffic. the police hire helicopter pilots too.

whereas in the Air Force and Navy, only commissioned officers fly, the Army has a Warrant Officer Flight program. Warrant officers are trained more quickly than commissioned officers and those that fly, fly and don't have to worry about all that leadership and paperwork for career progression stuff. They also get paid less than commissioned officers falling right between enlisted and officer.

Posted by: dan of steele | Feb 12 2007 15:57 utc | 29

One interesting thing about helicopters is that they can be disabled in the air by small arms fire, and may or may not crash in a burning heap. Often with a loss of power, the rotor may be disengaged, and turn without power and arrest the free-fall into a so-called hard landing -- falling slowly like a maple seed pod. This is called auto-rotation. This will often save those aboard, but will mash up the bird and leave it to the folks on the ground to finish it off. It was not uncommon in VN for a pilot to have been shot down several times in this way during a normal tour of duty.

Posted by: anna missed | Feb 12 2007 18:43 utc | 30

b & dan of steele,
Thanks for the info. I had little idea of what was what. Gee, those "top gun" pilots don't come cheap. I didn't realize there was such a difference in costs between training fighter piots and heli pilots.

Posted by: Rick | Feb 12 2007 22:40 utc | 31

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