Merc Chopper Shot Down (Updated)

The tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries fighting alongside coalition soldiers in Iraq aren’t just tooling around in up-armored SUVs sporting submachine guns. These guys have got helicopters too that they use to escort convoys — and one of them has just been shot down over Baghdad, according to the Associated Press:

Five civilians died in the Baghdad crash of a helicopter owned by the private security company Blackwater USA, according to a U.S. military official. The helicopter was shot down Tuesday over a predominantly Sunni neighborhood, a senior Iraqi defense official said. The crash came three days after a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter crashed northeast of Baghdad, killing all 12 soldiers aboard.

Blackwater should have seen this coming. Unlike U.S. military helicopters, which are armored and equipped with countermeasures to defeat shoulder-fired missiles, Blackwater’s McDonnell Douglas MD-369FF Loaches are essentially defenseless, unless you count the two mercs hanging out the cabin doors with their rifles.
Note that Blackwater’s choppers — which fly from the same Green Zone helipad used by the U.S. Army and Marines — are just civil versions of the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse that the Army began phasing out after the Vietnam War due to their vulnerability. U.S. Special Forces fly updated H-6s, but only at night, when it’s safer. It’s not clear what time of the day the Blackwater bird was shot down, but I’ve witnessed these choppers buzzing around in broad daylight.
It’s too early to tell what this shoot-down means for Blackwater and for merc ops in Iraq. But one thing’s for sure: with the military struggling to scare up another 20,000 troops for its so-called “surge,” the demand for private soldiers isn’t going away.
UPDATE 1/24/07: Four of the dead Blackwater men were apparently killed execution-style, perhaps after surviving the chopper crash, while the fifth was a member of a second chopper crew also at the site of the crash. All this according to the Associated Press:

In Washington, a U.S. defense official said four of the five killed were shot in the back of the head but did not know whether they were still alive when they were shot. The U.S. official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. …
Another American official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said three Blackwater helicopters were involved. One had landed for an unknown reason and one of the Blackwater employees was shot at that point, he said. That helicopter apparently was able to take off but a second one then crashed in the same area, he added without explaining the involvement of the third helicopter.
The New York Times, citing unnamed American officials, reported that the helicopter’s four-man crew was killed along with a gunner on a second Blackwater helicopter.

David Axe, crossposted at War Is Boring
UPDATE 01/24/07 11:01 AM: Who do ya trust?

Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, an industry group that includes security contractors, said the type of helicopter downed, known as a “little bird,” is among the safest modes of transportation in war zones.
“Their crews are the best — they really know their stuff,” he said in an e-mail. “They are very good at avoiding fire, flying low and fast — and the tiny helicopters are very hard to hit.”

Doug is a nice guy. But I’ll put my money on Axe as the more objective observer.
UPDATE 01/24/07 11:07 AM: Robert Young Pelton has details on the incident — and recent footage of Blackwater choppers in action.

  • Ken Wortman

    You make me sick and it is evident you have no clue about the difference between a mercenary and a US contractor. further you have no understanding of the quality of men who are serving on these contracts to protect Department of State offical. These men for the most part served in the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have chosen to further serve their governmemt in a civilian contractor status to ensure the US mission in Iraq and Afghanistan are successful. These are not guns for hire as you and other journalist use to describe men who help the United States acheive it’s goals abroad.
    It is easy to sit in the United States and condem those who go into harms way, if that is what it takes to make you feel like a man so be it. I am a retired soldier and have been working in Iraq since 2003 as a contractor. I have helped Iraqis, soldiers, civilians and even journalist through the years and until a person serves and suffers they will never understand.
    I can only extend my heartfelt regards for the families of the civilians who died today in Baghdad. Each of those men were retired or former special operations soldiers who left families behind and made the ultimate sacrifice serving their country.

  • David

    Since when were mercenaries a bad thing?

  • campbell

    David…..just a note in your defense: I saw no indication whatsoever of condemnation of civilian contractors/mercenaries in your article.
    One other thing, for you and whoever else: since we are advancing the “so-called “surge”…..are we not then, INSURGENTS?
    It is getting hard to tell the difference. Please help us all out and come up with better THEM vs US labeling. ;P

  • anon

    If you’re doing “contract” work for the good of all, then why take the private contract route and get paid more? Why not just reenlist in the Armed forces?
    Here’s a definition of Mercenary from Princeton University:
    a person hired to fight for another country than their own. If you were fighting for the USA, I’d expect to see you in military uniform saluting and following orders.
    It makes ME sick that we’re fighting a war with a high percentage of contractors that have nearly full autonomy and no oversight.

  • pedestrian

    >It makes ME sick that we’re fighting a war with a high percentage of contractors that have nearly
    >full autonomy and no oversight.
    You should be happy that we now have contractors instead of draft. I also imagine you are also sick of insurgents not having such ROE, not wearing any uniforms, and indiscriminately attacking civilians. Contractors are convenient for use. They are not punished by martial law, and shouldn’t. If they were to be punished, it should be by local laws. They are civilians, even they are armed, and have any armored vehicles. They work for the government, but not an organization that belongs to the government. If contractors were to be punished by martial law, why not insurgents, especially those hired or paid by Iran, if any? Contractors are convenient in terms of their environment. They don’t wear uniforms, and that is an advantage to ambush blending in the crowds of civilians against insurgents, if they have permission. They may patrol the streets in civilian uniforms in a covert manner to counter IED attacks, and any gunmen appearing in streets. They add on to numbers of troops, at least a substitute for missions which contractors may do. Contractors are convenient also in political terms. Contractors might have more freedom on quizing detained insurgents, using more aggressive methods to gain valuable information. They are not counted as military casualties, which the media is always aware of. If the media has not been interested in military casualties counting military deaths and screaming for each new, maybe the value of contractors would have been less valuable. In that term, the media also has responsibility for being indifferent of counting casualties of contractors, and scandals other than the military alone. As long as contractors have more flexibility than the military, and as long as the media contribute to demoralizing the public as in Vietnam war, I believe contractors are needed to give the government more options and chance of victory for the war.

  • RTLM

    You have a casual callousness about you that is telling. I’d say Bush made an appeal tonight for more such men.
    “Tonight I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them. And it would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time.”
    I think you should reconsider.

  • OleHank

    Ken, I’m trying real hard here and I still can’t tell the difference between a “contractor” and a “gun for hire.” The quality of the men, their former career and their specific employer are not at issue, as far as I can tell, but rather the purpose they fulfill. Security/protection is a traditional role for mercenaries, whatever they are named. Care to clarify? Otherwise let’s just call a spade a spade.

  • sam

    “Doug is a nice guy. But I’ll put my money on Axe as the more objective observer.”
    You’re kidding right?!?!?!

  • J.D.

    I flew with Mr. Laguna several times out in Iraq. He was a safe pilot and good pilot. I was never scared flying with him, he really knew the UH-60. I now work for a contractor out here in Iraq, going on 3 years now. We do more stuff for the military in a week than the military could do in a year. There is no effort in retention with the military. The funny thing is that the military appreciates us! I would love to wear the uniform again but you know what, they don’t pay anything. Money makes the world go round. If you don’t pay your soldiers then you have no army. Screw all you guys that think we are just overpaid merc’s. Most everyone on my team is either retired military or ETSed because they actually want to get paid for being shot at. Take a hard look at yourselves, the pricks writing all the shit talk were probably in the rear with the gear. Get a life. Who cares if the government is funding merc’s, you’re on a need to know basis and you don’t need to know. Just go to sleep soundly in your homes while we do what the government wants us to do. All contractors take thier direction from the government, we don’t make up stuff to do out here. Think outside the box people. Would you like the government to stop building super secret spy planes that contractors put together and sell our government so the government can protect the U.S.? Oh, I get it, that’s different huh! Go %$^& yourselves! Long live the contractor and what he does for our government. Go write your congressman you scoundrals.