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U.S. helicopters join fight against ISIS in Middle East

Oct. 6, 2014, Irbil, Iraq - The United States sent helicopters into combat against Islamic State targets west of Baghdad on Sunday, the first time low-flying Army aircraft have been committed to fighting in an engagement that the Obama administration officials has promised would not include “boots on the ground.”


October 6, 2014
By The Dallas Mornign Observer

Topics

The U.S. Central Command, in a statement about U.S. activities
against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, provided few specifics
about the helicopters. They were probably AH-64 Apache attack
helicopters, which were deployed to Baghdad International Airport in
June to provide protection for U.S. military and diplomatic facilities.

Until
Sunday, U.S. airstrikes in Iraq have been limited to fast-moving Air
Force and Navy fighter aircraft and drones. But the use of the
relatively slow-flying helicopters represents an escalation of American
military involvement and is a sign that the security situation in Iraq’s
Anbar province is deteriorating. Last week, the Islamic State militants
overran numerous Iraqi bases and towns and were becoming a widespread
presence in Abu Ghraib, the last major town outside of Baghdad’s western
suburbs.

Jeffrey White, a former senior Defense Intelligence
Agency analyst who closely follows developments in Iraq, said the use of
helicopter gunships by the United States means that U.S. troops
effectively are now directly involved in ground battles.

“It’s
definitely boots in the air. This is combat, assuming U.S. Army guys
were flying the helicopters,” said White, a defense fellow at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a center-right policy
institute. “Using helicopter gunships in combat operations means those
forces are in combat.”

Moreover, the Obama administration’s
decision to authorize the use of U.S. helicopter gunships indicates that
nearly two months of U.S.-led airstrikes by fixed-wing fighters and
bombers have failed to stop the Islamic State from massing ground troops
and launching offensive operations, he said.

“It means however we
were applying air power previously didn’t work to stop them from
putting together offensive actions. One of the hopes was that using air
power would impede them from using offensive operations,” White said.
“But apparently, they have been successful in doing that despite the
airstrikes.”

At the time the Apache squadron was deployed to Iraq,
Pentagon officials said the aircraft would be used to protect American
military and diplomatic facilities at the airport and the U.S. Embassy
in Baghdad.

But the advance by the Islamic State into the Abu
Ghraib area just outside the airport complex threatens to put the
militants within rocket and artillery range of the facility, which
houses hundreds of U.S. military advisers and a joint operations center.
Any sustained shelling would likely force the airport to close, posing a
hazard not only to American troops working in the joint operations
center, but also to plans to evacuate U.S. diplomatic personnel.

Although
the administration has repeatedly said that no “ground forces” would be
used in the fight against the Islamic State, the use of the AH-64
represents a blurring of that promise.

The helicopters carry
two-man crews and, with their missiles and powerful cannons, increase
the amount and accuracy of the firepower that the U.S. military can
bring to bear against the Islamic State in support of Iraqi ground
troops. But because helicopters fly relatively “low and slow,” the Obama
administration is taking on greater risk in terms of exposing U.S.
forces to casualties, White said.

“The Iraqi air force just lost a
brand new Russian helicopter (to Islamic State ground fire). So it’s
significantly higher risk for whoever is flying the mission,” White
said. “It’s certainly crossing another threshold. The U.S. is conducting
strikes that are directly involved in combat.”

In its
announcement, Central Command said the U.S. had employed “bomber,
fighter and helicopter aircraft” to attack six targets northeast of
Fallujah and southeast of Hit, both Islamic State-occupied towns in
Anbar. It also said an Islamic State Humvee had been destroyed northeast
of Sinjar, in northern Iraq.

In Syria, the Central Command said,
U.S. aircraft struck Islamic State positions described as northwest of
Mayadin and northwest of Raqqa.


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