A U.S. helicopter went down north of Baghdad this morning, and military officials believe all seven people aboard it were killed. Insurgents are claiming responsibility for shooting down the CH-46 Sea Knight, and an Iraqi air force official says that he heard an antiaircraft missile being fired just before the helicopter "turned into a ball of fire."
The U.S. military is still investigating, and a senior U.S. defense official tells the AP that indications are that the helicopter was not shot down. Maybe that's right, but the military has been less than forthcoming about U.S. casualties before, and it certainly would be embarrassing for it to acknowledge that another helicopter has been shot down -- especially after announcing over the weekend that it had changed its tactics following the downing of four other U.S. copters in recent weeks.
And of course, it's also possible that the senior defense official who talked to the AP doesn't actually know what's happening at the wreckage scene north of Baghdad. After all, it seems that defense officials in Washington and Baghdad can't even agree on whether the campaign to secure Iraq's capital has begun yet.
As we noted earlier today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that the U.S.-Iraqi military campaign to secure Baghdad was supposed to have started Monday but hasn't yet. "It's probably going to slip a few days," he said, "and it's probably going to be a rolling implementation." But in Bagdad today, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said that "there's no start date per se" for the operation. "The plan is being fully implemented as we speak," he said, even as he cautioned that "not all aspects are in place at this point."