- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

11:52 a.m.

BAGHDAD — A Sea Knight helicopter went down northwest of Baghdad today, the military said, the fifth helicopter lost in Iraq in slightly more than two weeks.

The CH-46 helicopter went down about 20 miles northwest of the capital, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV said, but he declined to comment on casualties. According to reports, the helicopter could hold up to 25 persons.

“A quick reaction force is on site, and the investigation is going on as we speak,” Gen. Caldwell said in Baghdad without giving a cause for the crash. “It would probably be inappropriate for me to talk about whether or not there are or are not casualties.”

Witnesses said the helicopter had been shot down in a field in the Sheik Amir area northwest of Baghdad, sending smoke rising from the scene in a Sunni-dominated area between the Taji air base, 12 miles north of Baghdad, and Karmah, 50 miles west of the capital.

“The helicopter was flying and passed over us; then we heard the firing of a missile,” said Mohammad al-Janabi, a farmer who was speaking less than half a mile from the wreckage. “The helicopter then turned into a ball of fire. It flew in a circle twice, then it went down.”

The helicopter went down five days after a U.S. Army helicopter crashed in a hail of gunfire north of Baghdad, police and witnesses said. The U.S. command said two crew members were killed in that crash, and the al Qaeda-affiliated group the Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility.

Three other helicopters have gone down since Jan. 20, killing a total of 19 Americans — 14 troops and five civilian security contractors.

The twin-rotor CH-46 is used by the Marines primarily as a cargo and troop transport and can carry 25 combat-loaded troops, according to the think tank GlobalSecurity.org.

At least 15 persons were killed in attacks nationwide today, including two employees of the government-funded Iraqi Media Network in Baghdad and a female government official who was shot to death while she was riding to work with her husband in the northern city of Mosul.

Gen. Caldwell said the long-awaited Baghdad security operation “is ongoing as we speak,” a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged that the plan to pacify the violence-ridden capital had been slow to start and had allowed insurgents time to step up attacks that have killed hundreds of Iraqis in recent weeks.

The Iraqi officer who is leading the security drive, Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar, took over the operation headquarters on Monday, but there had been no announcement until today that the sweep, the third attempt to crush violence in nine months, had begun.

“The implementation of the prime minister’s plan has already begun and will be fully implemented at a later date, having all the parts and pieces that he wants,” Gen. Caldwell said. “But portions are already being put in place, and we’ll continue to put more into place as the forces arrive and the assets become available.”

President Bush is increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 21,500, including 17,500 for Baghdad, as part of the efforts.

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