COMMENTS: Helicopter Gunships

NBC's Richard Engel covered the Battle of Sadr City in Iraq on Wednesday. Now ABC has Ryan Owens (embargoed link) update us on the month-long struggle with the militia known as the Mahdi Army. Owens told us that US forces are fighting "largely from the air," using helicopter gunships "to avoid a ground offensive in the sprawling slum that is full of snipers and boobytraps." The military insists "it does everything possible to avoid civilian casualties but in a cramped urban environment that is not easy," Owens understated. "All of that air power may have backfired."

Air power was also on display in Garmser, "a dusty town controled by the Taliban" in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, where NBC's Jim Maceda was embedded with a Marine Corps company. Maceda found himself in the middle of a firefight at a chicken farm in the middle of opium poppy fields. The Marines were pinned down all day and defended themselves by calling in "helicopter gunships, Hellfire missiles and a 500lb laser guided bomb." Check out the battlefield footage that resulted in no Marine casualties after five hours of fighting. Declared Maceda: "The spring offensive is under way"--although he did not explain whether that was the USMC offensive on Taliban guerrillas or vice versa.

NBC's other story from Afghanistan came complete with Washington Post videotape, narrated by Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon. It was the tale of the Silver Star awarded to Monica Brown, an 18-year-old medic with the 82nd Airborne, who protected two severely wounded comrades from mortar fire by lying on top of them. She became only the second woman to receive the medal since the end of World War II. Now it turns out she was deployed illegally. Her platoon leader told the Washington Post: "We were not supposed to take her out but we had to. There were no other medics." Pentagon regulations forbid female soldiers from "intentionally" engaging in combat, Miklaszewski explained. Women should get involved in battle only if the fight comes to them.


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