The highly specialized training exercise, Operation Desert Talon, is dedicated solely to teaching Marine aviators how to survive in Iraq's Sunni triangle. The training will run from January 11th to the 24th at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. USMC aviation units from across the United States have sent 2,300 Marines and about 50 military aircraft, with helicopter landings simulating the rescue of ambushed convoys and the evacuation of casualties.
The Marine Corps is set to take over US Army duties in the Sunni Triangle area of Iraq this spring, so Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1 instructors wrote a brand-new textbook on aviation tactics, techniques and procedures for units deploying to Iraq.
The Sunni triangle, particularly around Fallujah, has been a hotbed of antiaircraft activity. On January 8, all four crew members and four passengers aboard a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter were killed when it made an emergency landing near Fallujah. A local witness saw the second of two helicopters, both with the distinctive red crosses of medical evacuation craft, hit by something fired from the ground.
On January 4, US forces arrested are "highly suspected of leading a cell that shot down a UH 60 Blackhawk helicopter on 15 November." On January 2, insurgents shot down a OH-58 Kiowa Warrior near Fallujah, killing one soldier and wounding another. American troops detained three Iraqis working for Reuters who were covering the aftermath of the crash. A US army spokesman said that guerrillas posing as journalists had fired on 82nd Airborne paratroopers guarding the crash site and four were later detained, while a Reuters driver working with the three claimed that they had been fired on by US troops as they filmed a checkpoint close to the site. The four were released on the 5th, despite soldiers' statements that one of the press individuals wearing a press bulletproof vest had an "AK-47 (rifle) that fired at us, the other one had an RPG7 (rocket-propelled grenade)".
Rebels also hit another Kiowa on December 9 with a rocket-propelled grenade near Fallujah Dec. 9, forcing it to make an emergency landing. The two crewmen on board were uninjured. On November 2, a CH-47 Chinook was shot down by an SA-7 near Fallujah, killing 16 American soldiers and injuring 26.
If the 'Desert Talon' exercise is successful, there will be another one before the end of the year. Depending on the world situation and how long Marines are in Iraq, 'Desert Talon' could become a permanent fixture in Yuma for deploying Marine aviators. Interestingly, the simulated helicopter landing zones will be two Yuma city parks (which required close planning coordination with the local government). - Adam Geibel