Yusifiyah is yet again the focus of Coalition raids. Unnamed Coalition forces, most likely Task Force 145, slugged it out with al Qaeda in the city on Sunday. Multinational Forces – Iraq reported the strike forces killed “more than 25 terrorists, detained four, destroyed three safe houses and a vehicle loaded with weapons and ammunition.” Task Force 145 also took some casualties, as the defending al Qaeda forces were able to shoot down a helicopter, killing two Americans in the process. While the military hasn’t identified the type of helicopter shot down, it is likely based on the casualties that this was a Special Operations “Little Bird” which is used for armed reconnaissance and has a crew of two.
Evan Kohlmann noted that Zarqawi’s most recent videotape contained footage of terrorists armed with MANDPADS (man-portable surface-to-air missiles). As there have been relatively few shoot downs of helicopters and airplanes compared to Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, I speculated last month al Qaeda’s access to the weapons is limited, and the anti-aircraft missiles have been distributed to protect senior al Qaeda command elements. Zarqawi was believed to have been in Yusifiyah and witnessed a Task Force 145 raid in early April, and one of his guards was killed while preparing to fire a surface to air missile.
There is also the possibility the Army helicopter was shot down by an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) aimed at the tail fin, however this is a more difficult shot as it requires the helicopter to be in a hover and the shooter is exposes to fire. Al-Qaeda first used this technique on October 3, 1993 against U.S. helicopters in the imfamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in Mogadishu, Somalia. Earlier this month, a British Lynx helicopter was shot down in Basra using the same technique.
An Apache helicopter was shot down in Yusifayah on April 1 and numerous raids have been conducted on al Qaeda hideouts and safe houses in the city.
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