Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group militants armed with a rocket launcher shot down an Iraqi military attack helicopter Friday in the country's north and killed two pilots, the Defense Ministry said, highlighting their ability to attack aircraft as a U.S.-led coalition expands its efforts to combat the extremists, Al Arabiya reported.
The helicopter crashed outside the town of Beiji near the Iraqi city of Tikrit, killing two people, Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari told state-run Iraqiyya TV, adding that an investigation into the incident is underway.
An official with the Defense Ministry told The Associated Press the militants downed the Mi-35 helicopter between the towns of Beiji and al-Senniyah. An official with the Iraqi air force corroborated the information, saying the helicopter's pilot and co-pilot were killed in the crash.
Beiji, located 200 kilometers (130 miles) north of Baghdad, is home to Iraq's biggest oil refinery. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak with journalists. Supporters of ISIS group on social media also reported the helicopter being shot down.
Militants with ISIS have taken over parts of western and northern Iraq this year, causing the Iraqi military to fracture while tensions intensified between Muslim sects. When fighters conquered Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, in June, the U.S.-trained Iraqi military crumbled, and the militants seized tanks and other military equipment, helping to steamroll their onslaught.
The shoot down of the helicopter shows ISIS group's ability to counter air operations, potentially putting at risk U.S.-led airstrikes in the country. Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby declined to comment on the helicopter being shot down, though he said U.S. officials would monitor the situation.