US chopper guns down attackers

A United States helicopter gunship killed seven people allegedly preparing to fire rockets at a US base in northern Iraq, and troops later found hundreds of other missiles and rockets, a military spokesperson said on Friday.

“Last night an AH-64 Apache observed enemy forces preparing to attack ... trying to fire rockets,” said Major Josslyn Aberle, adding that the suspects had targeted the US army’s Speicher base, 200km north of Baghdad.

“The AH-64 engaged the would-be attackers, killing seven and wounding one,” while another managed to flee, said Aberle, a spokesperson for the Fourth Infantry Division, which operates in the area.

Ground troops deployed to the scene found a flatbed truck carrying 50 missiles and a bunker containing 300 rockets as well between 200 and 300 missiles, said Aberle.

She said the operation was part of Operation Ivy Cyclone, launched after a Blackhawk helicopter was shot down on November 7, killing all six aboard, just outside the Fourth Infantry Division headquarters in Tikrit, 180km north of Baghdad.

As part of the operation, US helicopters and ground forces have staged several impressive displays of firepower that targeted uninhabited areas and which officials said were meant as a show of force.

Aberle said the operation focused on “aggressive operations” that notably aimed to “locate and detain those forces conducting anti-coalition activities”.

Early on Friday, US forces in Tikrit captured four men suspected of involvement in the downing of US helicopters, a senior military officer said.

The four were chiefly suspected of involvement in the downing of a Chinook helicopter near Fallujah, but were also thought linked to the shooting of two Blackhawk helicopters in Tikrit, said Lieutenant Colonel Steven Russell, who commands the Fourth Infantry Division’s 1-22 batallion.

“We were targeting individuals believed to be involved in the downing of US aircraft, helicopters,” he told journalists who accompanied soldiers conducting the night raid just outside the gates of the Fourth Infantry Division’s headquarters.

“We were looking for four specific individuals and we found all four. We detained a few others for questioning,” Russell said.

Sixteen people died when the Chinook was shot down last week.

Another Blackhawk was forced down in Tikrit earlier this month, without causing any fatalities.

Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, and Fallujah, 50km west of the capital, are the main flashpoints of anti-US attacks in Iraq, which continues to be rocked by violence even though Washington declared major hostilities over on

May 1, six weeks after the US-led invasion started.

If the captured men are proven to be linked to attacks in the two towns, it would point to some form of coordination of anti-coalition activities, which officials until now thought was restricted to local rather than national levels.—Sapa-AFP

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