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Sunday, November 02, 2003

Guardian Unlimited | World Latest | Rumsfeld: Helicopter Downing a Tragedy

Rumsfeld: Helicopter Downing a Tragedy

Sunday November 2, 2003 7:31 PM


AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Americans should view the deadly attack on an Army helicopter in Iraq as the tragic but inevitable cost of waging a long war, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday.

The shootdown of the CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter, killing 15 soldiers and injuring 21, underscores the difficulty of the military mission in Iraq but will not erode U.S. resolve, Rumsfeld said.

``It's clearly a tragic day for America,'' the defense chief told ABC's ``This Week.'' He added: ``In a long, hard war, we're going to have tragic days, as this is. But they're necessary. They're part of a war that's difficult and complicated.''

The strike was just south of Fallujah, a center of Sunni Muslim resistance to the U.S. occupation. Officials said the Chinook was carrying soldiers to Baghdad International Airport, where they were scheduled to catch flights out of the country for two weeks of vacation.

Only two days earlier, the U.S. military announced it was expanding its R&R program, increasing from 270 to 479 the number of soldiers flown out of Iraq for rest and recuperation in the United States. The soldiers are flown to Baghdad from numerous collection points inside Iraq.

In political terms, the attack added to pressure on the Bush administration to justify the mounting American death toll and to explain its strategy for getting out of Iraq. President Bush was on his Texas ranch Sunday, out of public sight.

An ABC-Washington Post poll Sunday found that 51 percent of those surveyed now disapprove of the way Bush is handling Iraq, while 47 percent approve. It is the first time in this poll that a majority disapproved.

Militarily, the strike highlighted the vulnerability of helicopters, especially the twin-rotor Chinook, which presents a relatively large target with little means of defense against missiles.

The attack was remarkable in several respects, not least for the fact that it was the single deadliest event of the war for U.S. troops, which began in March and appeared all but over by May 1 when President Bush declared the end to major combat operations.

Since then, at least 238 Americans have been killed in Iraq, mostly in small-scale attacks against troops on the ground.

The deadliest day for American troops in Iraq was March 23 when 28 died in numerous attacks as U.S. forces advanced toward Baghdad.

Sunday's attack was the second time in just over a week that an Army helicopter was downed. A Black Hawk helicopter was hit with ground fire on Oct. 25 near Tikrit, a center of Iraq's anti-U.S. insurgency, but no Americans were killed.

By targeting U.S. aircraft, the insurgents in Iraq stand a greater chance of killing sizable numbers of Americans in a single strike. They also take advantage of what Rumsfeld acknowledged was an enormous uncontrolled supply of surface-to-air missiles throughout the country.

There are ``more than hundreds'' of such missiles, Rumsfeld said. ``There are weapon caches all over that country. They were using schools, hospitals, mosques to hide weapons.'' L. Paul Bremer, the American administrator of Iraq, said the missiles number in the thousands.

Bremer and others have said repeatedly that a key to defeating the Iraqi insurgency is obtaining better, more timely intelligence about threats against American troops and their Iraqi supporters.

Rumsfeld said it remains unclear whether Saddam Hussein, the deposed Iraqi leader, has had a hand in coordinating the resistance to U.S. forces. He acknowledged that as long as Saddam remains at large there will be Iraqis who fear he eventually will be restored to power.

``We will get him,'' Rumsfeld said on ``Fox News Sunday.''

``And I suspect he's still in the country. And I suspect he's having a great deal of difficulty operating. And we'll eventually find him.''

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on CNN's ``Late Edition'' that he believes Saddam is ``playing a role'' in the Iraqi insurgency, but he offered no details.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said that although expanding the U.S. military presence in Iraq may be ``very, very unpopular'' with the American public, he believes that more U.S. troops may be needed while an Iraqi security force is built up.

``And we have to be prepared to go back to our European friends and say, `We need more help. We're willing to give you more say in the formation of this government. We're willing to give you more impact here,''' Biden said on CBS' ``Face the Nation.''

Rumsfeld said that at this point there is no need for additional U.S. forces. The ultimate aim, he said, is to put the Iraqis in charge of their own security. To that end, about 100,000 Iraqis have been trained for security duties - mainly police - and the goal is to have about 200,000.

Guardian Unlimited | World Latest | Rumsfeld: Helicopter Downing a Tragedy

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