DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.
Eight American service members were killed today and 14 others injured when their Chinook helicopter crashed in southeastern Afghanistan. The military said the pilots had reported engine failure shortly before the chopper went down today. A NATO spokesman said the crash was not related to enemy fire.
But U.S. forces admit seven helicopters have been shot down in Iraq in the last month. According to a report in today's New York Times, insurgents have a coordinated strategy to attack U.S. troops in the air. The plan to target helicopters was revealed in secret documents captured from insurgents in Iraq. Those documents were included in an intelligence report made available to the Times.
Correspondent Michael Gordon reviewed the report and joins me now.
Hi, welcome to the program.
Mr. MICHAEL GORDON (New York Times): Glad to be here.
ELLIOTT: What can you tell us about these documents, what they were and where they came from?
Mr. GORDON: Well, these are documents prepared by the organization al-Qaida of Iraq, known to the U.S. military by the acronym AQI. And basically what they show is that as of late last year, the militants in this organization were being instructed to, quote, "concentrate on the Air Force," that's the quote from the document. And they seem to be doing exactly that.
ELLIOTT: What kind of a strategy did they reveal?
Mr. GORDON: They track the path of these helicopters. They study their flight patterns, and they use a variety of weapon systems to essentially ambush them. And then what the American military has noticed is there is very often a second ambush, because they anticipate...
ELLIOTT: Responders coming out.
Mr. GORDON: Right. American QRF, quick reaction force. Ground teams will come to the rescue concerning these seven helicopter shoot-downs. All but one are attributed to Sunni insurgent groups. So it seems that at this point in time the anti-aircraft threat is primarily one coming from the Sunni insurgents. But if you get down on the streets of Baghdad, a lot of the danger there has coming in recent months from Shiite militia groups.
ELLIOTT: Now what does this tell the U.S. military about the insurgency?
Mr. GORDON: It shows the enemy is what they call adaptive. They realize that helicopters are a kind of a high-value target that when they down them, they certainly got a lot of propaganda value out of it. Indeed, one reason we know that they've downed some of these helicopters is because the insurgents, AQI, have posted videos of the episode on their Web site.
ELLIOTT: What are U.S. officials doing with this new information, with what they've learned from the documents? Would you expect them to change flight patterns, maybe rely less on the air component?
Mr. GORDON: Well, one fact of life in Iraq is that we're flying more, the U.S. is flying more than ever before; in fact, some of the statistics that were presented in Baghdad was in 2005 the American Army helicopters, you know, as a whole flew about 240,000 hours. And this year they think it will be over 400,000 hours. Partly that's an indicator of the increased activity but also the threat from roadside bombs.
ELLIOTT: Now, this report is coming out at a time when the U.S. and Iraq are launching a crackdown against insurgents and militias.
Mr. GORDON: Well, there's a line in this intel report that essentially says that as we surge in Baghdad, this is going to become a bigger problem.
ELLIOTT: New York Times military correspondent Michael Gordon is co-author of "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq." Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Mr. GORDON: Thank you.
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