As we've noted in the past, our enemy in Iraq is adept at shifting tactics and procedures to meet a changing operational environment. But unfortunately for the bad guys, we can adapt too, usually with deadly consequences for the terrorists.
Earlier this year, after the insurgents shot down eight helicopters in a month, coalition forces increased their use of UAVs and fixed-wing aircraft to deal with the threat. After discovering that terrorists had mounted heavy machine guns in the beds of pick-up trucks, reconnaissance drones were assigned to track suspect vehicles. Their surveillance efforts revealed that the guns were usually covered with tarps; when the terrorists heard a helicopter approaching, they would uncover the gun and open fire, then cover up the gun and drive away, complicating identification and targeting efforts.
Eventually, the UAVs tracked four of the truck-mounted guns to rural areas, where they were destroyed by F-16s using the recently-introduced small diameter bomb. Weighing in at only 250 pounds, the GPS-guided weapon is extremely accurate, helping to minimize collateral damage. Elimination of the four guns (coupled with changes in our own operating patterns), helped negate the enemy's new tactic, and helicopter losses declined dramatically. Additional analysis suggested that the mobile AAA guns had been used in conjunction with other air defense weapons, to create localized air defense "traps" for rotary-wing aircraft.
However, it appears that some of the enemy gunners didn't get the memo about UAVs tracking their activities. According to Stars and Stripes, coalition aircraft destroyed two more gun trucks last week, when a drone discovered terrorist crews conducting target practice at a farm near Karmah. After that, it was a matter of following the gun trucks to an unpopulated area, and taking them out:
After the session was over and the vehicles were away from any potential civilian casualties, a fixed wing aircraft was called in to destroy them. One truck with an anti-aircraft gun and two cars traveling with the truck were destroyed.
The two other trucks fled in different directions, but also were followed. The two vehicles were both destroyed in a separate airstrike after the occupants abandoned them and fled.
Troops followed a third vehicle until it stopped at a building, which was raided later that night. Eight suspects were captured in the raid, and one was treated for shrapnel wounds he received during the airstrike earlier in the evening.
More events of this type can be expected in the coming months, because the terrorist AAA crews are in something of a bind. "Shoot-and-scoot" tactics represent their best hope for establishing mobile ambush points, engaging our choppers, shooting them down--and surviving to fight again. But to conduct a successful ambush, they've got to uncover their guns and open fire, leaving them vulnerable to detection by UAVs. And with multiple orbits and extended orbit times, we can afford to be patient and track the terrorists back to their hiding spots (or even an impromptu gunnery range). In some cases, the bad guys manage to blend into traffic or urban terrain, and manage to get away. But sooner or later their luck runs out, thanks to those eyes in the sky, and precision-guided munitions.