The U.S. military has introduced low-flying Apache attack helicopters into the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a development that some experts say brings U.S. troops closer to combat.
On Friday, Time reported that Iraqi officials said an Mi-35 Iraq military attack helicopter was shot down by ISIS militants in Northern Iraq with a rocket launcher. The helicopter's pilot and co-pilot were killed.
Some experts say using the helicopters is an admission that an air-only campaign by fighter jets and drones has failed to stop ISIS's momentum, and shows that more needs to be done.
“It’s definitely boots in the air. This is combat, assuming U.S. Army guys were flying the helicopters,” Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, told McClatchy.
“Using helicopter gunships in combat operations means those forces are in combat," he said.
The Apache attack helicopters were first deployed in June to Baghdad to provide protection for U.S. diplomatic personnel and property.
Officials did not specify where in Iraq the Apache attack helicopters were used. According to U.S. Central Command statements, some of the U.S. strikes on Sunday and Monday took place northeast of Fallujah, striking two mortar teams, one large and four small ISIS units, two mortar placements and an ISIS bunker.
The decision to use helicopters comes as Iraqi forces are battling ISIS in Western Iraq, where the terror group last week overran Iraqi bases and towns, threatening to bring the fight closer to Baghdad, where U.S. advisers and military personnel are stationed.
“One of the hopes was that using air power would impede them from using offensive operations,” White told McClatchy. “But apparently, they have been successful in doing that despite the airstrikes.”