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March 24, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Iraq Claims It Shot Down Two Helicopters
Iraq Claims to Shoot Down 2 Helicopters, Hold the Pilots Prisoner; U.S. Says 2 Pilots Missing

The Associated Press


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BAGHDAD, Iraq March 24

Iraq claimed Monday that it shot down two Apache helicopters and was holding the pilots prisoner. U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks said two pilots were missing in action.

Iraqi state television showed pictures of one helicopter in a grassy field. Men in Arab headdresses holding Kalashnikovs automatic rifles danced around the aircraft.

"A small number of peasants shot down two Apaches," Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said. "Perhaps we will show pictures of the pilots."

"I know with some precision how many helicopters were shot down and ... those events did not occur as a result of farmers," Franks said.

Iraqi state television also showed pictures of two helmets apparently belonging to members of the helicopter's crew, as well as documents and other papers lying on the ground.

During a briefing at Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar on Monday, Franks acknowledged that one helicopter did not return from its mission in Iraq.

"We have a two-man crew missing," he said, adding that their fate was "uncertain."

Earlier, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Grant Windsor at the Pentagon in Washington confirmed that one Apache was missing but said he had no information on the pilots. He said the U.S. Defense Department was evaluating the tape shown on Iraqi TV.

At Camp As Sayliyah, a U.S. Central Command official said the Apache shown on Iraqi television was assigned to the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division and was forced down late Sunday because of heavy ground fire.

Another Apache and a UH-160 tried to rescue the crew but were driven off by ground fire, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Al-Sahhaf said the Iraqi government would consider displaying the other helicopter the military claimed to have shot down.

The report of the downed helicopters and new prisoners of war came only one day after the Qatar-based satellite TV station Al-Jazeera showed video images of five American prisoners of war captured in fighting near the southern Iraqi city of An Nasiriyah.

"Yesterday was a black day and the black days will increase," Al-Sahhaf said.

Even so, Al-Sahhaf said the POWs would be treated according to the Geneva Conventions. He rejected accusations that Iraq had violated such accords by allowing Iraqi television to film them and ask questions.

Referring to televised video images of Iraqi prisoners of war, Al-Sahhaf claimed the men were actually civilians taken away at gunpoint by U.S. forces.

"Is no one supposed to tell them they acted inappropriately?" he asked. "These hypocrites! We tell them we abide by Geneva Conventions."

He accused allied forces of "crying tears of crocodiles" for attacking Iraq and finding the consequences unpleasant.


photo credit and caption:
An Iraqi TV reporter, right, and others stand in front of what Iraqi officials say is a U.S. Apache Longbow attack helicopter, shown in this image from video released on Iraqi TV, Monday March 24, 2003. The helicopter is reportedly in a field near Karbala, Iraq, 50 miles south of Baghdad. At the Pentagon, Air Force Master Sgt. Grant Windsor confirmed that one Apache was missing. He could give no details on the incident and said he had no information on the status of the pilots. (AP Photo/Iraqi TV via APTN)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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