By Sgt. Sara Moore, USA
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 7, 2007 - As ground forces in the U.S. troop surge in Iraq make more progress against insurgents, Army aviation assets back them up with crucial mobility, medical and combat support, an officer in charge of a deployed aviation brigade said today. The combat aviation brigade of 3rd Infantry Division has been deployed since May in support of Multinational Division Center. The brigade's 128 helicopters have flown more than 65,000 hours in support of many different missions, Army Col. Daniel Ball, the brigade commander, told military analysts in a conference call from Iraq.
The aviation brigade has conducted combat operations; transported ground forces; provided medical evacuation services for coalition forces, Iraqi forces and Iraqi citizens; and conducted troop and cargo movement, Ball said. In addition, some of the brigade's five battalions have transported high-ranking officers and other dignitaries, including Iraqi government officials, around the country.
As far as kinetic -- or traditional combat -- operations go, 3rd Infantry Division's aviation brigade has been busy, Ball said. In six months, the brigade has killed 250 insurgents, wounded 100, destroyed 164 structures insurgents were hiding in, destroyed 95 insurgent vehicles, and destroyed 200 boats that insurgents were using as alternate means of getting into Baghdad, he said.
Multinational Division Center is responsible for securing the southern belt in and around Baghdad, which had been a safe haven for al Qaeda, Sunni and Shiite insurgents, Ball noted, so the aviation brigade has had plenty of opportunity to take the fight to the enemy.
"Across the division's battle space, air power is killing about 70 to 75 percent of the enemy," he said.
The ground surge in Baghdad has made it much harder for insurgents to hide out in the local population, Ball noted, especially as citizens turn against violence. In Multinational Division Center, 30,000 concerned local citizens have stepped up to assist coalition and Iraqi security forces, he said.
This positive turn in Baghdad has created more work for aviation assets, because insurgents are being flushed out of the city and into more remote areas, Ball said. This makes the enemy easier to detect, but also presents a challenge because aviation units often have to pursue terrorists into these areas without ground support, he said.
"As we squeeze the enemy, he has less place to hide, but the places that he's going, there are less and less people, ... and it gets me further and further away from the ground forces, and it becomes more of a 'disrupt operation,'" Ball said.
Heavy machine guns pose the largest threat to helicopters in Iraq, Ball said. However, the brigade is fully equipped to counter any threats, and the number of successful attacks against coalition helicopters is low, he said.