Sixteen U.S. soldiers were killed and 20 others injured Sunday when a U.S. army helicopter crash-landed about 60 kilometers west of Baghdad, in what appears to have been a missile attack.
It was the deadliest single attack against American forces in Iraq since the war began in March.
At 9:00 a.m. Sunday local time, a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter, transporting a group of soldiers to Baghdad International Airport who were heading home for leave, was shot down near the town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.
The U.S. military said the incident is under investigation, and it is aware of eyewitness reports from residents who said they saw a missile trail just before the helicopter was hit.
Two other U.S. helicopters have been hit by ground fire over the past six months. Neither of those incidents resulted in any deaths.
The heavy-duty Chinook helicopter is widely used by the Army to transport troops and artillery supplies.
On Thursday, coalition forces announced that aircraft near Baghdad International Airport had come under ground fire over the past several weeks, but that none had been struck.
Coalition forces have been unable to locate a large number of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that were part of the arsenal of Saddam Hussein's former regime. That is a primary reason why Baghdad International Airport has not been reopened to commercial traffic.
The portable missiles are easily smuggled.
It is estimated that there are about 350,000 tons of missing weapons and ammunition in Iraq.