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US forces use helicopters to attack Islamic State rebels in Iraq

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter man a firing position on the front line in the Gwer district, 40 kilometres south of Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.

The US military is flying Apache helicopters against Islamic State rebels in Iraq for the first time, exposing US troops to greater risk from ground fire as they help Iraqi forces battle the Islamist group that has overrun parts of the country.

US troops flew helicopters against Islamic State fighters on Sunday and again on Monday as they struck at mortar teams and other units near Fallujah, said a spokesman for Central Command, which is responsible for US forces in the Middle East.

"This was the first time rotary wing aircraft were used in coordination with and in support of ISF (Iraqi Security Force) operations," Army Major Curtis Kellogg said in an email. "The Iraqi government asked for support with this capability near Fallujah to push back (Islamic State)."

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the helicopters that were used were Apache attack helicopters.

Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security think tank, said the military's decision to use Apaches "demonstrates that they've only achieved limited results with the air strikes from fighters and bombers and drones."

Christopher Harmer, a former Navy aviator who is an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War think tank, said it was a significant escalation in the level of risk being taken by US troops assisting the Iraqi military.

"Fixed-wing aircraft flying at 30,000 feet (9,000 meters) are completely immune from the type of weapons that Islamic State fighters have, but a helicopter is not," Harmer said.

"When you're flying a helicopter 150 feet (50 meters) above the ground, that helicopter can be shot with a rocket-propelled grenade or a heavy machine gun ... so, yes, it is much more dangerous," he added.

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Tags:  US  Obama  Islamic State  war  helicopters  





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