BAGHDAD, Iraq – Insurgents exploded a truck carrying chlorine gas canisters Wednesday “” the second such “dirty” chemical attack in two days “” while a U.S. official said ground fire apparently forced the downing of a Black Hawk helicopter. All nine aboard the aircraft were rescued.
The attacks offer a sweeping narrative on evolving tactics by Sunni insurgents who have proved remarkably adaptable.
Military officials worry extremists may have recently gained more access to firepower such as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rockets and heavy machine guns “” and more expertise to use them. The Black Hawk would be at least the eighth U.S. helicopter to crash
or be taken down by hostile fire in the past month.
The gas cloud in Baghdad, meanwhile, suggests possible new and coordinated strategies by bombers trying to unleash toxic “” and potentially deadly “” materials. “Terrorists are using dirty means,” said Brig. Gen. Qassim Moussawi, an Iraqi military spokesman.
Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman, said initial reports indicated the chopper was brought down by “small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades” north of Baghdad, but gave no further details. All nine aboard were taken away on a rescue
helicopter, he said.
In Baghdad, a pickup truck carrying chlorine gas cylinders was blown apart, killing at least five people and sending more than 55 to hospitals gasping for breath and rubbing stinging eyes, police said.
On Tuesday, a bomb planted on a chlorine tanker left more than 150 villagers stricken north of the capital. More than 60 were still under medical care on Wednesday. Chlorine causes respiratory trouble and skin irritation in low levels and possible death
with heavy exposure.
In Washington, two Pentagon officials said the tactic has been used at least three times since Jan. 28, when a truck carrying explosives and a chlorine tank blew up in Anbar province. More than a dozen people were reported killed.
A third Pentagon official said the United States has been concerned about Iraqi militants’ ability to get weapons like chlorine bombs and use them effectively. But the official cautioned that chlorine bombs are just one threat on a long list of possible attacks that Iraqi fighters may try to carry out.
It was unclear whether the confluence of new insurgent tactics “” attacking isolated combat posts, targeting helicopters more intensely and using chlorine bombs “” was coincidental or in response to the U.S. troop increase.
W. Patrick Lang, a former official at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the insurgents are always “seeking to achieve higher levels of effectiveness” and these new tactics are part of the normal “evolution of sophistication.”
Lang said trucks filled with chlorine gas are “really quite deadly” because the gas is potent and spreads easily.
Some authorities believe militants could be trying to maximize the panic from their attacks by adding chlorine or other noxious substances.