BRITISH TROOPS in Iraq have received close air support from US Air Force AC-1 ЗОН Spectre gunships, according to RAF sources. Shia militiamen of Moqtada al-Sadr’s ‘Mehdi Army’ were targeted by gunships in the air strikes on A1 Amara on May 8 in the largest air support operation for British troops since the occupation of Basra last April during the US-led invasion of Iraq.
AC-130s were used to support the initial amphibious assault on the A1 Faw Peninsular by 3 Commando Brigade last March but this year’s operation is the first time British forces have made such extensive use of the AC-130.
Details of the extensive air support operation are only just emerging after senior British commanders in Iraq staged a series of briefings on their campaign to crush the rebellion of the Medhi army. Operation Waterloo involved the use of the AC-130s to strike at targets inside the city of A1 Amara. In media interviews Major General Andrew Stewart said the AC-130s were employed because of their ability to hit targets with great accuracy to minimise the risk of causing civilian casualties. The AC-130 strikes involved the use of ‘thousands of rounds’ of 40mm and 105mm cannon fire, according to Stewart. The RAF has no gunship capability, although has in the past looked into modifying some of its Hercules into gunships to support Special Air Service regiment operations. RAF officers have also had ‘visibility’ of USAF studies into developing a gunship version of the C-17, according to Ministry of Defence sources. The high cost of acquiring gunships has always been considered prohibitive and prevented the UK buying this potent weapon system.
RAF involvement in Operation WATERLOO included Nimrod MR.2s from Kinloss and Tornado GR.4s from 9 Squadron. The Nimrods were used to circle A1 Amara and pinpoint targets with their electro-optical sensors as well as passing targeting data to attack aircraft. The Tornado GR.4s did not drop any weapons but made low-level passes over the city to disperse groups of militia men and rioters, according to Army officers. The RAF has had a continuous Middle East presence since last April, with a detachment of eight Tornado GR.4s based at Al Udeid, Qatar, supported by VC-lOs operating from Bahrain’s Muharraq Airport. The Nimrods operate from Seeb in Oman on maritime and over-land surveillance roles, Tim Ripley.