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U.S. conducting search for surface-to-air missiles in Iraq

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Sunday, November 9, 2003

NICOSIA The U.S. military is conducting an urgent search for surface-to-air missiles after determining that insurgents aligned with Al Qaida have received special training in destroying American helicopters.

Sunni insurgents have succeeded in employing a range of ground-based weapons including the Soviet-origin SA-7 surface-to-air missile and the rocket-propelled grenade.

On Nov. 2, an SA-7 missile shot down a U.S. CH-47 heavy-lift helicopter near Faluja. Sixteen American soldiers were killed and 26 were injured.

Over the weekend, officials said U.S. troops captured seven SAM-7 missiles in Mosul. So far, insurgents have destroyed two U.S. helicopters within a week, Middle East Newsline reported.

The insurgents were said to have been trained to use the weapons to destroy low-flying helicopters in the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad. Officials said the insurgents have formed squads near such cities as Faluja and Tikrit to track and target low-flying U.S. helicopters.

On Friday, Saddam gunners used an RPG to destroy a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter near Tikrit. All six soldiers aboard from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division were killed.

"They were in a Blackhawk helicopter transporting personnel from Mosul to Tikrit on a routine flight," Maj. Josselyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the army's 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit, said.

The following day, U.S. F-16 warplanes struck suspected insurgency hideouts in Tikrit. It was the first U.S. bombing raid in Iraq since the end of major combat was declared in May.

Officials said Sunni insurgents have been training with a range of weapons to shoot down U.S. military helicopters. They said the weapons have managed to overcome helicopter counter-measures systems meant to deflect any incoming projectile.

The Sunni campaign against U.S. helicopters began in late October. On Oct. 25, Sunni gunners struck a Black Hawk with an RPG outside Tikrit.

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