The military believes they were al-Qaeda terrorists engaged in an operation targeting coalition aircraft
"We've had about 11 helicopters that have been shot at and hit over the last four months in that location,"Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, told ABC News.
Dramatic Video Documents Strike The Department of Defense gave ABC News first access to imagery of the night operation that was carried out a little more than 48 hours ago.
The three-minute video begins with imagery from an unmanned aerial vehicle.
The operator of the drone first spotted a truck with anti-aircraft weaponry mounted on it driving in the area. The drone followed the truck as it drove to a nearby training compound.
"When we spotted this truck, we continued to follow it until it went to that compound where it's obviously doing some kind of training,"Caldwell explained.
The video shows what appears to be al Qaeda members firing anti-aircraft weapons from the trucks as they train to take over an abandoned building.
The small black images are artillery rounds being fired from the trucks and some can be seen richocheting off the structures. Because the operation began in the late evening, the drone used thermal heat imagery which made it easy to spot the activity.
Caldwell told ABC News,
"We then called in aircraft support to bring in some precision munitions and once it was established there was no apparent civilians in the area, the decision was made to engage and destroy the anti-aircraft truck."
The truck was taken out by an F-16.
Two other trucks and some other vehicles subsequently fled the compound.
"We continued to track them," Caldwell said, "and when they stopped along the side of the road, they were taken out by F-16s as well."
All of this is seen on the video shot by the drones as well as the F-16 gun camera. The tracking and eventual destruction of the three trucks took approximately two hours.
"They're extremely lethal if they're able to engage our helicopters and so for us, that was critical to get that type of equipment eliminated,"he said.
The military said the entire assault continued with a ground attack -- not seen on the video -- after the drone continued to track two cars that had fled the compound and driven to a nearby town.
"We launched a precision raid with helicopters and ground assault forces went in and we were able to detain eight individuals that we believe had been associated with that training earlier in the evening,"Caldwell said.
Based on preliminary debriefings of the detainees, Caldwell said, the military was able to determine they were al Qaeda. It is unclear if they were fighters from outside Iraq.
Talk Show America 5/11/2007