Black Hawks Down

This morning the media reported that another U.S. helicopter had been shot down near Baghdad. A military spokesperson denied all knowledge of any crashes. Whether this one actually happened or not, we do seem to be losing choppers at at increasing rate lately - six since January 20th. Why?

Now it could be that more helicopters are flying because of the ongoing "surge" in troop levels and new counterinsurgency activities. They may be flying into more dangerous situations than they were a year ago. Or, more ominously, maybe the insurgent forces have acquired new anti-aircraft weapons or tactics. The Pentagon denies this but I am not sure if we can believe them.

This story from Bloomberg News discusses the many ways U.S. forces in Iraq depend on helicopters. They are critical for troop transport, medevac, resupply, reconnaissance, and all kinds of other missions. The U.S. enjoys "tactical air superiority." This means, in other words, "we can fly wherever we want, anytime, and you can't stop us."

When the Soviets attempted to occupy Afghanistan in the 1980s, they lost for one overwhelming reason: the U.S. armed the mujahidin with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Without control of the sky, even the brutal tactics of the Soviet Army could not maintain control on the ground. They left, and the Taliban came in to fill the vacuum.

As I said, the recent streak of downed choppers may be simple coincidence, or it could be a result of other factors. If, however, the Iraqi insurgents have obtained and learned to use portable air defense weapons like the Stinger, this war is about to get much, much bloodier.

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