U.S. retaliates as copter shot

Saturday, November 8, 2003

TIKRIT, Iraq -- An Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed Friday -- apparently shot down by insurgents -- killing all six U.S. soldiers aboard and capping the bloodiest seven days in Iraq for Americans since the fall of Baghdad.

In retaliation, American troops backed by Bradley fighting vehicles swept through Iraqi neighborhoods before dawn today, blasting houses suspected of being insurgent hideouts with machine guns and heavy weapons fire.

"This is to remind the town that we have teeth and claws and we will use them," said Lt. Col. Steven Russell, commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment.

Russell also said the 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew, which had been lifted at the Oct. 27 start in Iraq of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, was reinstated Friday night.

The U.S. death toll for the week climbed to 32, including those aboard the Black Hawk. Two other soldiers were killed near Mosul, raising concerns that the insurgency was spreading north.

The Black Hawk crashed on an island in the Tigris River and burst into flames -- the third crash caused by hostile fire in two weeks and the second causing fatalities. Maj. Josslyn Aberle said the cause of the crash had not been determined, but several other officers believed it was shot down.

The helicopter, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, went down about 9:40 a.m. about a half mile from the U.S. base in Saddam Hussein's former palace, which serves as headquarters for the 4th Infantry Division.

Afterward, attack helicopters cruised throughout the day over Saddam's hometown, swooping low over villages and farms as rescuers picked through the charred wreckage of the aircraft.

Late Friday, U.S. troops fired mortars and a U.S. jets dropped at least three 500-pound bombs around the crash site, rattling windows over a wide area in an apparent show of force. Other U.S. jets streaked over Tikrit after sundown. At least three mortars were also fired onto the U.S. compound but caused no damage.

The dead included the Black Hawk's four-member crew and two soldiers from Department of the Army headquarters, a Pentagon spokesman said.

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