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U.S. Cargo Plane May Have Been Downed by Insurgents in Iraq

Times Staff Writer

U.S. military authorities are investigating whether ground fire may have struck a C-17 cargo plane and forced the aircraft to make an emergency landing here, an Air Force spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The incident early Tuesday is the latest in which insurgent fire in Iraq may have forced down a coalition aircraft. On the same day, suspected ground fire hit an OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopter west of Baghdad, bringing the aircraft to the ground near the city of Fallouja, an Army spokesman said. He said the two pilots walked away with minimal injuries.

The two incidents underscore anew the extreme vulnerability of aircraft in Iraq.

Last month, a suspected attack with surface-to-air missiles struck a DHL cargo plane shortly after its takeoff from Baghdad’s international airport, hitting an engine and setting one of its wings ablaze. That aircraft also made an emergency landing with no major casualties.

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The threat of fire from rockets and other ground weapons has delayed for months the anticipated reopening of Baghdad airport, now a sprawling U.S. military base. By all accounts, opening the airport is a crucial step in returning the war-torn country to some semblance of normality by restoring international commerce and travel.

The U.S. military here makes extensive use of cargo planes to bring in essential supplies, while also relying heavily on helicopters to ferry troops and materiel around the country.

Many commanders consider helicopters safer than road convoys, which have repeatedly been ambushed and hit with hidden bombs.

In the case of the C-17 aircraft, the crew reported “an explosion in one of the engines” shortly after takeoff about 4 a.m. Tuesday from Baghdad, said Capt. Carrie Clear, an Air Force spokeswoman here. The plane, carrying 16 crew members and passengers, was able to land safely, the Air Force official said. One person suffered minor injuries.

“The cause of the explosion is still under investigation,” Clear said.

A second helicopter was forced down Wednesday afternoon south of the northern city of Mosul, but a military spokesman said the reason was probably a “technical problem,” not an attack. The two pilots were able to exit the Apache attack aircraft safely, said Sgt. Robert Woodward, a spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul.

Meanwhile, two more U.S. soldiers were killed in Mosul on Wednesday and four others wounded, one critically, in two separate incidents, as the stream of attacks in the once-calm northern city continues.

In the first case, drive-by fire was directed at U.S. soldiers as troops were helping to provide security at a gas station -- a delicate task in Iraq, where frustrated motorists have to wait in line for hours to buy petrol and are inevitably ill-tempered. Two soldiers hit in the attack were taken to a hospital facility, where one died. U.S. troops at the gas station returned fire, but it was not known if there were any casualties on the other side.

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Also in Mosul, a soldier was killed and three were injured -- one critically -- when enemy combatants opened fire on a convoy Wednesday afternoon in the eastern part of town, a military spokesman said. Further details were not available.

Elsewhere in Iraq, the Army said soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division detained 41 suspects, among them 15 “primary targets” believed to be responsible for the ambush last month of a convoy south of Baghdad that left seven Spanish intelligence agents dead.

Among those captured during the early morning raids in the town of Latifiyah was the alleged insurgent cell leader, Abu Abdullah, along with an intelligence officer, a financier and a doctor who treated insurgents so they could avoid going to local hospitals, the military said in a statement.


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