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US Military Confirms al-Qaida is Targeting Coalition Helicopters in Iraq


In the face of ongoing violence, U.S. and Iraqi troops are stepping up the security crackdown in Baghdad and its surrounding suburbs. But as VOA's Sean Maroney reports, Iraq's insurgents appear to be shifting their tactics aimed at coalition forces.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have stepped up efforts to keep Baghdad secure and deter insurgent attacks around the capital.

In the mission they call "Operation Law and Order," coalition troops set up vehicle checkpoints while foot patrols search house to house -- all in an effort to flush out militia members and confiscate their weapons.

U.S. troops also are leaving their barracks in military bases, moving to smaller security stations throughout Baghdad, so they can be close to the people they are protecting.

Major-General Jim Simmons oversees Army air operations in Iraq. Under the new security plan, he says, helicopters overhead will protect troops on the ground. "We fly day, night. We adjust [based] on what the enemy is doing. We fly differently in different parts of the country. That will continue."

And insurgents have taken notice.

Simmons confirms that the United States has seized al-Qaida documents in Iraq indicating the group has created a handbook for targeting coalition aircraft. "They are using two to three weapons systems deployed where they think we are going to fly, and they are very patient."

An insurgent group released this video shortly after a Marine chopper crashed two weeks ago. Seven service members died.

U.S. officials say the "al-Qaida in Mesopotamia" group claims to have shot down three helicopters recently. In the past 30 days (since Jan. 20), seven U.S. helicopters have gone down.

In Washington, Congress is preparing to debate President Bush's request for nearly 100 billion dollars more for the U.S. military effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. Opposition Democrats in the House (of Representatives) are willing to fund Mr. Bush's request, but with the condition that the administration adheres to strict standards for troops' equipment and training.

The House has passed a non-binding resolution expressing disapproval for the president's plan to station more troops in Iraq, but a similar resolution failed in the Senate Saturday.

President Bush is sending nearly 22-thousand additional troops to Iraq -- expanding the U.S. combat force by more than 15 percent. Since the invasion of Iraq nearly four years ago (in March 2003), more than 3,000 U.S. troops have died there.