At 10:30am Baghdad time yesterday (Jan 23, 2007 a Blackwater personal security detail (PSD) was escorting a State Dept official to a ministry meeting in the Fadhi district of Baghdad. The convoy began to take small arms fire. They called for backup and the Blackwater quick reaction force team responded from the Green Zone. They were also ambushed by machine gun fire from the left and right. They limped back to the Green Zone with two blown out tires. There were violent attacks on two more Blackwater QRF teams and insurgents took a number of casualties.
Four Blackwater mobile teams were sent to recover and secure the downed helicopter. In addition a U.S. QRF was dispatched. An Army Apache helicopter and a Stryker company came upon the downed helicopter first and said that the weapons had been stripped but the bodies were intact.
The Blackwater Little Birds are a familar sight above the skies of Baghdad. The tear drop shaped black helicopters with fly erratic patterns to avoid ground fire as they swoop and twirl around PSD moves below. Typically the former military pilots fly fast and just above roof level unlike the heavier Army Blackhawk helicopters which fly low and heavy, making easy targets for insurgents. The Blackwater Little Birds were originally brought into Iraq to be part of Paul Bremer's security detail. They stayed to provide an important security option to the many State Dept details the company is contracted to move and protect. There have been numerous hits by ground fire (including an AK bullet that went right through one pilot's ankle and missed the bones)
Once the Little Birds engaged the insurgents, one door gunner was killed and the rotor blades were damaged, and it returned to base. Another Little Bird was shot down instantly killing all four aboard. The shoot down and crash was described as quick and no radio call was sent before impact. The former 160th and army pilots working for Blackwater are famous for their low-level, high speed flights above Baghdad's rooftops. A tactic designed to avoid small arms fire. The previous event that brought them to the media's attention was the resupply of ammo and return of a wounded marined during the siege of an Najaf in the April of 04 as recounted in "Licensed to Kill, Hired Guns in the War on Terror"
The five dead mentioned include the one door gunner and the entire crew of the relief Little Bird. There are also unconfirmed reports of additional casualties among the Blackwater security detail on the ground.
Brothers in Flight
had gone to flight school with his brother Dan and recently signed on as a helicopter pilot for aviation division of Blackwater to fly with his brother. Arthur had served in Bosnia, Kosova and Iraq and was a volunteer pilot for his local Sheriff's department. Blackwater has had a string of unfortunate incidents including most recently the murder of an Iraqi security guard by one of Blackwater's employees while drunk on December 24th in the Green Zone of Baghdad, an air crash of one its Casa 212 aircraft in Bamyian Valley in Afghanistan and the infamous murder of four of its employees in Fallujah in 2004 by insurgents.
Ansar al Sunna and another Sunni group The Army Of the Two Rivers has claimed conflicting responsibility for the downing of the Little Bird but there is no confirmation of this claim. Photos of Arthur Laguna's dog tags and a cel phone video of the crash site were posted on an Ansar al Sunna website.