al Qaeda's anti-aircraft squads

al Qaeda in Iraq is believed to be operating Strela missile teams, courtesy of Iran

An AH-64 Apache. Click photo to view.

The past three weeks has seen a dramatic increase in the downing of U.S. helicopters operating in central Iraq. Five helos have been shot down since January 20th, four U.S. Army helos and a civilian Blackwater helo. Twenty-six Americans have been killed in the five shoot-downs.

The five helicopters lost represents ten percent of all such aircraft lost since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, with fifty total lost. The timing and increase in downed helos is no accident, American military and intelligence sources inform us.

al Qaeda in Iraq is believed to be behind four of the five shoot-downs: the CH-46 transport in Karma, February 7th (7 killed); the Apache attack helicopter in Taji, February 2 (2 killed); the Blackwater OH-6A observation helicopter in Baghdad, January 23 (5 civilians killed), and the Blackhawk transport in Diyala, January 20 (12 killed). The three military helos are thought to have been brought down by a sholder fired anti-aircraft weapon, while the Blackwater bird was thought to have been brought down by small arms fire. The January 28 Apache shoot-down in Najaf, with 2 killed, is believed to be caused by the Soldiers of Heaven cult.

The two military and intelligence sources believe al Qaeda has organized a grouping of anti-aircraft cells, whose purpose is to deny Coalition forces the free use of helicopters to ferry troops, resupply outlying areas, and conduct assault missions. al Qaeda wants to force Coalition forces to use ground transportation, where it believes heavier casualties can be inflicted on U.S. forces via roadside bombing and mine attacks (IEDs). Helicpoter shoot-downs also "make for compelling television," according to a military source, which "helps project the image of a deadly, unbeatable enemy." al Qaeda is believed to have deployed multiple anti-aircraft cells along the known overflight routes in and around Baghdad.

The cells are thought to be armed with Russian made Strela SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles, a first generation shoulder fired anti-aircraft missile which is widely distributed throughout the world. These weapons are not as sophisticated as U.S. made Stingers, which were used with deadly consequences by mujahideen in Afghanistan against Soviet fixed and rotary wing aircraft. U.S. aircraft have systems to deter missile threats (jammers, flairs, chaff) but there are no reports these systems were deployed during any of the engagements.

al Qaeda in Iraq, via its political mouthpiece the Islamic State of Iraq, has taken credit for two of the kills. al Qaeda gloated it shot down the Apache in Taji, and even released a video of the Apache being taken down. al Qaeda in Iraq has also claimed credit for today's downing of the CH-46 transport in Karma.

In the past, al Qaeda was largely limited to deploying anti-aircraft missiles to protect command and leadership assets. MANPADs were in view in Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's last video before his death. When U.S. forces were hunting Zarqawi in Yusifiyah, several helicopters were brought down during the battles.

It is surprising al Qaeda has not made a more concerted effort to bring down Coalition aircraft. The military, political, and propaganda value of destroying U.S. helicopters is too great to be ignored. It has been speculated al Qaeda in Iraq didn't possess enough weapons systems or training to effectively field the missiles.

The suspicion is the Islamic Republic of Iran is behind supplying al Qaeda with the needed weapons, training and logistical support to supply and field a successful anti-aircraft force, much as the United States provided the mujahideen with Stingers in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The United States and Iran have escalated the war in the shadows in Iraq. After the United States raided Iranian 'diplotmatic missions' in Baghdad and Irbil, Iran is strongly believed to have conducted an attack on the provincial center in Karbal, which resulted in the death and kidnapping of five U.S. soldiers. An Iranian 'diplomat' was kidnapped off the streets of Baghdad today, and Iran is blaming the U.S.

During the Baghdad and Irbil raids, the U.S. detained seven members of Iran's Qods Force (Iranian special forces) and captured documentation which proved Iran was supporting both the Sunni and Shia insurgent and death squads, as well as Al_Qaeda and Ansar al-Sunnah. Mines, which are killing U.S. troops, have been traced back directly to Iran, while weapons shipments have been interdicted while transiting the border.


READER COMMENTS: "al Qaeda's anti-aircraft squads"

Posted by ECH at February 8, 2007 1:54 AM ET:

The solution is simple the Pentagon needs to start giving the Iraqi Air Force its own helicopters.

Posted by DJ Elliott at February 8, 2007 2:00 AM ET:

It is already in the budget submission...

Lot of data on Iraq/Afghan
Incl (iraq):
Pg2 (pdf5) Graphics
Pg6 (pdf9) - IA Force enhancements to incl 33k pers for Log/sust/maint and suport elements (Engr, EOD, MI, MP) weapons including Aslt Rifles, MG, NVG, Howitzers, mortars, Airlift, Air Assualt, UAVs, offshore patrol.
Pg 38 (pdf41)
Pg 40 (pdf43)
Pg 45 (pdf48) Requirement for I SOF to get a SOF Utility Helo Squadron
T-6 like trainer with COIN capability for Air Force

Posted by Luke Willen at February 8, 2007 4:51 AM ET:

Maybe an answer would be a more combined arms approach eg more ground patrols hunting for AQ Strela teams Who knows, might even catch some Iranian Revolutionalry gaurds in combat against US forces?

Posted by DJ Elliott at February 8, 2007 4:54 AM ET:

My sudgestion is we do the same deal we did with Philippines.

We Donate the UH-1s we are replacing, they pay to have them upgraded to Huey II specs and we provide the transport to deliver them (6 per C17).

The US Army has over 600 UH-1s that are being replaced...

Posted by Staubach at February 8, 2007 9:46 AM ET:

Iran literally declared a counter-surge the day after the US announced the new strategy. While it hasn't been made 'public' yet (although they might say something during their nuclear rally in a few days), it is in full effect.

The Iranian aim is twofold:

1. Cause enough chaos to encourage further dissent from world leaders, especially US politicians, for the surge, and speed up the US withdrawal from the battle space.

2. Tighten control on Iraqi public opinion (which already believes that Iran has nearly complete control of the Maliki Govt.), making sure there will be little resistance to their eventual occupation or the secession of central Iraq to Iran.

Iran now firmly believes that they can act with impunity and that the US will not respond. They know the US has absolute facts about the Iranian level of involvement in Iraq, and for whatever reason, will not make it public.

If I were Iran, I'd be doing the same thing, there is virtually no downside for them right now. Pretty ironic that the initial unspoken Iraq calculation was that by bowling over a weak enemy, we would convince NK and Iran that they were better off backing down, has now completely backfired and left us in a far worse situation.

Posted by David M at February 8, 2007 10:38 AM ET:

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 02/08/2007
A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by Mark Eichenlaub at February 8, 2007 10:46 AM ET:

Apparently al Masri's top aide was just caught in a raid in Iraq

Posted by Mark Eichenlaub at February 8, 2007 11:12 AM ET:

"The United States and Iran have escalated the war in the shadows in Iran."

Did you mean inside of Iraq or did you mean in the shadows in Iran? Is something going on inside Iran's borders as well?

Posted by Bill Roggio at February 8, 2007 11:15 AM ET:

Mark, No, that should have read "Iraq," corrected.

Posted by section9 at February 8, 2007 11:44 AM ET:

This will, of needs be, bring an American response. What must be understood is that all of our assets are not quite in place yet. However, people, Iranian agents to be exact, are being pulled off the street. I'm given to understand that that Iranian diplo that was kidnapped was actually arrested.

There are reasons we don't go public on the Iran data right now. I wouldn't, if I were Condi, and didn't have lock slam dead to rights data connection the Revolutionary Guards to Al Qaeda. She knows exactly what the media response will be to any attempt to connect Tehran to Al Qaeda, even though we know there is an alliance of convenience between the Ayatollahs and bin Laden: firm denial and a media campaign to dismiss the evidence. That's why both Condi and Hayden at the CIA want everything firmed up before it is released. They understand that the media and the Democrats are in full jihad mode to force Bush to surrender.

Badly presented or "implicit" evidence that is presented in such a way to protect "sources and methods" simply won't cut it, not in a world in which the MSM is in cahoots with the Democratic Party to dismiss the evidence out of hand and protect Iranian interests.

Unlike others on this board, I actually commend Rice for her caution. She is aware of the political realities in Washington. Only Cuban Missile Crisis level evidence will sell to the American people now, after the failure to find WMD's in Iraq.

Posted by Mark Eichenlaub at February 8, 2007 11:59 AM ET:

Section 9,
I think you are right about that and it's part of the reason some of the evidence linking members of Saddam's regime to al Qaeda still lays dormant in CIA/State dept. archives for the time being... a media and opposition party obsessed with weakening a sitting president and an insistence on giving the benefit of the doubt to America's enemies.

Posted by Mark Eichenlaub at February 8, 2007 12:00 PM ET:

I hope this isn't too off-topic but what do you make of this story about Iran reportedly arresting some members of al Qaeda at their border with Iraq?

Posted by Neo-andertal at February 8, 2007 2:17 PM ET:

In light of events it has become absolutely essential that the US start making it's case about foreign involvement in Iraq. Even if our posture against Iran remains defensive, the American public must get better information about what is going on. It's impossible for a democracy to debate the conduct of the war when too much of what is going on is kept out of view.

We are loosing the information war "BADLY". It goes well beyond protecting sensitive information about ongoing operations. It goes to an old problem with intelligence warfare, people with control over information get a false sense of control over events. If they can somehow control the information that others don't have, they can use it to manage the situation. I'm very much convinced this is happening within this administration. They're trying to use information as if they had fine control events, instead of getting it out there and let people react to it.

They could start by augmenting information we already have about past events. How about a little background on what was going on two and three years ago. What do they know about the outbreak of the gorilla war after the invasion? What did Saddam's people do after they escaped to Syria. What was going on inside Fallujah and Anbar during the uprising? How were the insurgents supplied, trained, based? This isn't just old issues, IT'S BACKGROUND INFORMATION. What we think about the war now is influenced by what we think we knew about previous events. Very little information seems to get out though. Part of the reason that this administration can't make a case now is that it has made no real attempt to make it's case in the past, even after the fact.

Sorry to be exasperated, but I have maintained for a long time now that state players have had much more to do with the situation in Iraq than the public has been led to believe. I also believe that this information has been withheld for a number of reasons. First, the administration wanted to limit the scope of the war. Second, there was the belief that information could be held as a treat against Syria and Iran. (Wrong on both counts) Third, information presented would be reacted to with hostility by the press and opposition, and dismissed as an attempt to expand the war. (True even now) Then finally the over-control issues I brought up.

I can't help but think the administration has dug yet another hole for itself. They should have kept up with this all along. I really hope that the intelligence situation isn't so bad that they really don't know what is going on and who the players are. Anyone else think we have totally dropped the ball on this? Let me know what you think.

Posted by Luke Willen at February 8, 2007 4:00 PM ET:

Either that or this is the most incredibly successful disinformation campaign in history. Maybe "Dubya" just looks stupid but is fact the the most brilliant strategic thinker in modern times. I'd be amazed if this was the case though.

Then again, someone could well be building a cast iron somoking gun case against Iran to be used only when the time is right and followed by a quick and decisive takedown. We will just have to watch this space.

Posted by James Dill at February 8, 2007 5:50 PM ET:

What makes you think they are not Igla SAMs, a newer SAM and better that Stingers. Ther have been reports that something new has been added to the insurgent AA arsenal.

Posted by Jeff at February 8, 2007 5:53 PM ET:

Make the case ????????

This is not a court of law ...

We don't have to get a Grand Jury to indict ...

If we find an armed Iranian, shoot him, bury him and move on to the next target ... no proof needed ...

Posted by sangell at February 8, 2007 8:03 PM ET:

Before we start shipping helicopters and other
gear to the "Iraqi" government maybe we should
stop and think just who they are.

My problem in this is we don't have a 'side' to
back. Sometimes there are just no good options
and I have yet to hear anyone explain what the
strategy is. A strategic goal perhaps, if one
believes there can a be a secular democratic
government in Iraq, but there is no evidence we
can get there from here.

Charles Krauthammer suggests we withdraw to the
Kurdish north and see what develops in the rest
of Iraq. If they want to have a bloodbath well,
so be it. We tried.

Bush's doubling of the strategic petroleum
reserve ( though not fast enough to matter)would
seem to indicate even his administration is not
sanguine about being able to stabilize the area.
In fact it reveals we should expect it to get
far worse.

Posted by greg at February 8, 2007 9:00 PM ET:

Why the hell do we take this abuse from Iran ? We might as well have Jimmy Carter running the show. If we can't be overt right now then we need to make them feel real pain some other more subtle way. Why not arrange a massive industrial accident in their refineries or some such thing. They don't fear us enough. How the hell did we let Iran be the winner in this war ? They are more dangerous than Saddam ever was.

Posted by Neo-andertal at February 8, 2007 9:08 PM ET:


You bring up a good point. In the end there may not be a side to back. There has always been a chance of that. It's complicate things from the beginning. It has been difficult to find a political center in Iraq because the center has been weak or non-existant all along.

On the other hand, I can live with a conservative religious Shiite government that actually governs, isn't constantly at the throat of the Sunni population, and is has a nationalist rather than Islamist outlook. I would say that many of Sistani's followers could be so described. I don't maintain illusions that they will be our side. On the other hand I maintain that the Islamists will make Iraq either ungovernable or governed by proxy. If we stay we still may influence the course of events.

The difference is I'm willing to see how it will play out. I might compare this people who wish to pull out now(or some variation). Can you really tell me less people will get killed either way. Can you tell me which choice gets less American solders killed. Don't be sure there is an easy answer to that. Part of the answer depends on whether you think Iraq is 'the' war or Iraq is one front in a wider ongoing war. What would a quick pullout of Iraq precipitate, chaos, civil war, a sudden surge of millions of refugees, a springboard and recruiting ground for further terrorism. What happen in Afghanistan, do we gradually lose there too. How does Pakistan hold up when it becomes the central battleground for a militant takeover. When all the bad press now centered on Iraq switches to the next failing government. How big will the next wave of militancy be when the Islamists are victorious.

There isn't a simple way to make a call on this. Maybe I'm not a whole lot more optimistic about our chances in Iraq. Maybe I'm just much more pessimistic about what happens when we leave.

Posted by Neo at February 8, 2007 9:24 PM ET:


Today seems to be my day for leaving out words. It might help if I tried actually reading what I just wrote, instead of being lazy and just glancing at it. I hope it's not too difficult to parse.

Posted by Neo at February 8, 2007 9:28 PM ET:

I wasn't addressing someone named Akkkk. Though maybe I occasionally should!

Posted by Neo-andertal at February 8, 2007 11:24 PM ET:

Fair enough Sceptic,

Plausible - Implausible

1. Iran is willing to work with sworn enemies against stronger enemies.
2. In the wake of the US invasion Afghanistan and overthrow of the Teliban the Al Quada leadership needed to escape. Pakistan had a much larger presence on the boarder than now so the Al Quada leadership escaped through Baluchastan into South East Iran.
3. Part of Al-Quada's leadership spent the much of the next year in Iran. Others moved into the mountains along the Iran - Kurd boarder in Iraq greatly expanding a little known Islamist Kurdish group called Ansar al Islam.
4. Zarqawi made his way back through across both Iran and Iraq on his way back to Jordan. He had meetings along the way in Qom, met with Ansar al Islam in the Kurd mountains and with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. He picked up militants and assassinated Laurence Foley before being invited back into Iraq to help prepare resistance to American forces.
5. Aymum al Zawahiri - Al Quada's number two man spent much of 2002 and winter and spring of 2003 in Iran and was only shipped out in the summer when Iraq had fallen and things appeared to be heating up between the US and Syria.
6. By 2004 most of the Teliban and much of Al Quada were rearmed and made there way back into Pakistan. However a large number of Al Quada operatives remained in Iran under house arrest. From there they were allowed work, take visitors, and participate in organizing and aiding the Iraqi resistance. This was just as long as Irans interests were kept in mind.
7. Syria had a prior agreement with Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government allowing a retreat into Syria and setting up of Iraq's first attempts at resistance.
8. Syria has no love for Saddam's Hussein's government but considered the US position as a threat to its survival.
9. The Shiite government of Iran has a treaty of mutual protection with Allawite Syria. If either is attacked the other will come to it's aid.
10. Both the Syrian and Iranian governments have long worked to support Hezbollah in Lebanon.
11. The Syrian government is propped up in large measure with Iranian money. In return for it's aid and protection Iran calls the shots on much of Syria's policy.
12. Syria has a long term relationship with both Shiite and Sunni terrorist groups going back to the mid 60's. One can find offices and representatives for many of the Middle East's extremists groups in Damascus. At the same time Syria has had periods of trouble with Sunni separatist groups culminating in the siege of Homs. This only caused a temporary hiatus in Syria's long relationships with Sunni groups.
13. Al Quada used Syria as the primary conduit to equip, train and transfer fighters into Iraq. Iraqi Sunni militants are trained on sites on Army bases and in Allawite (Shiite) parts of Syria. They are only allowed to interact with the Sunni population to recruit. They agree to stay out of Syria's Sunni areas.
14. Much of the monetary support came from the Sunni oil states and was also funneled through Allawite (Shiite) Syria. As this has dried up a little Iran has started taking up the slack.
15. The original uprising by Sunni Al Quada was simultaneous with Sadr's first uprising. There was at the time considerable cooperation south of Baghdad in the area now contended be the two groups.
16. Bombs used by Sunni groups have been increasingly been traced to Iranian sources.
17. The area between Baghdad and the Iranian boarder was not particularly active early in the resistance. This has changed as more supply lines have switched from the Syrian boarder to the Iranian boarder.
18. The road from Baqabah to Iran has become an important supply line for the Sunni insurgency. US and IA attempts to control it has been increasingly contended for the last two years by SUNNI insurgents.
19. On a side note don't forget that Hamas in Palestine is a Sunni organization sponsored by Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran. They are now at war with Fatah which is sponsored by the Saudi's and Egypt. Al Quada has a new Gaza franchise too. They don't like Fatah either.
20. I hear the new head of Al Quada in Iraq isn't so single minded in his hatred of Shiites. At least that is what has been indicated.

That's enough for now. No smoking guns and no comprehensive indictment of Iran either. So if it's a bit too much like connecting the dots you have to admit there is a lot of dot's. Many more dots of evidence than my small list here. So is it still so implausible. Without more information I am afraid that's all a citizen amateur such as my self can do. I still contend that the US is better served with more information about what is going on. I still contend that it is less a cover up and more of a mentality too keep intelligence information too close to the vest when much more needs to go public.

I also have to admit I have made the information much more sketchy and incomplete than I believe is the case. I'll leave the official reports up to the professionals.

OK, I have been annoying enough for today.

Posted by DJ Elliott at February 9, 2007 12:56 AM ET:

Always remember the Mid-east proverb:
"My enemy's enemy is my friend."

Alliance of convinence is the norm, not the exception.
- Shia factions are 5-8% of islam.
- Sunni is the rest.
- For Iran to expand its influence it must co-opt or ally with Sunni. The other option is failure.

The "Great Satin" is the only remaining super-power. To beat a super-power you need all the allies you can get. You can stab them in the back after the "Great Satin" is gone.

Do not get overly fixated on minor religious differences. This is about power...

Posted by RTLM at February 9, 2007 1:23 AM ET:

In addition to manpads there's an upgraded version of the RPG that's faster, more accurate and in the Baghdad theater. They also are attaching tubing to the rear of the RPG launcher to make it look like its launching from somewhere else.

Posted by Z at February 9, 2007 1:25 AM ET:

Of course the other possible reason nobody is talking about the evidence of Iranian involvement (assuming there is any) Is that Bush and Company long ago figured their military options, short of nuclear holcaust, are very unappetizing. Stirring the pot and getting the public all mad at Iran...and following up with a loud whimper, just looks bad. Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt.

Besides. China and the USSR were helping North Vietnam a plenty. It didn't follow we had to go to war with them. Iran's a lot weaker than those two, but not weak enough.

Posted by cskendrick at February 12, 2007 6:42 AM ET:

There's no way in Hell Iran is backing an Al-Qaida outfit. It makes no sense.

And there are allegations that the Saudis are bankrolling the Sunni insurgents.

USA today reported that $25MM had been donated by private citizens of the kingdom for the express purpose of purchasing MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems).

Per, the price for such systems ranges from $500 for Strela-2s to $30K and up for the higher-end SA-16s and -18s.

And you don't need the latter to have a chance at taking out a copter. The upgraded Strela-2 that homes in on ELINT signatures is just fine.

Here's how harrowing the numbers are:

$25,000,000 can buy 10,000 MANPAD rockets of various types. Figure 100 rockets are delivered a month. Figure 60% interception by Coalition forces. Figure 4 out of 5 Strela teams are zapped by GIs or simply can't get a hit.

That's, let's see... 100 rockets shipped, 40 received, and 8 hitting the target a month.

It's also almost 100 copters lost a year.

That is for a major war chump change in attrition.

Back to the notion of Iran backing insurgents.

Sure, they are. They are called the Badr brigade, they run death squads out of the Interior Ministry and their political masters, SCIRI, are the dominant party in the current ruling coalition of the Iraqi government.

And we support them in their internal feud with Muqtada Sadr who is starting belatedly to cultivate ties with Iran out of a sense of self-preservation, but Badr/SCIRI remains Teheran's favorite, on account they want a Shia separatist state in league with Iran...and Sadr just wants an Iraqi theocracy.

We're not in the midst of a civil war, my friends.

We're in the middle of a showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran that's been brewing for decades, and is part of a much, much older grudge match.

My guess is if push comes to shove, we're going to either have to start siding with the Sunnis, fast (note: Kurds are Sunnis, people), or get out of the way and come back once everybody's finished slaughtering themselves.

No one has to like where I posted this, but the record of crashes is what it is

Posted by Prabuddha Ghosh at February 18, 2007 6:43 PM ET:

Iran is just hitting back for all the terrorism being committed by CIA proxies inside Iran. In the last 3 years while the US has been in Iraq there have been 4 major train explosions (explosions not wrecks), 7 big military planes have gone down including one holding the head of the Iranian Revolutionary guards and one more holding a state governor. There have been car bombs and suicide bombs by the Jondollah ( a terrorist group operating out of Iraq against the Iranian government). Just how would you react if an occupying power in Mexico was blowing up planes, trains and cars in US and had assasinated Arnold and Colin Powell? I am damn sure you would be doing your best to help the Mexican freedom fighters so that the enemy stays busy in Mexico