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Another Bloody Day in Iraq

Aired November 2, 2003 - 08:01   ET


RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go right now to Baghdad for the latest on this deadly day. CNN's Matthew Chance is live in the Iraqi capital -- Matthew.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Renay. And as we've been saying, it is one of the bloodiest days for the U.S. military in several months. A number of incidents that we've been reporting over the course of the last few hours. We'll start, though, on the outskirts of Fallujah. In fact, about 25 kilometers to the southwest of Fallujah, in western Iraq, where the most serious of today's incidents has taken place.

A U.S. Army Chinook helicopter shot out of the air by a shoulder- launched missile, according to Iraqi eyewitnesses on the ground, plunging out of the skies in flames. At least 13 U.S. soldiers said to have been confirmed dead by the U.S. authorities at the scene. A further 20 casualties injured reported as well.

It was flying in formation with another Chinook helicopter en route to Baghdad International Airport, where it was ferrying U.S. soldiers to that airport on the route to get some rest and relaxation after being involved for many weeks, perhaps many months, in a very intensive assignment in that part of western Iraq. It is not clear exactly what kind of weapon was used, apart from these eyewitnesses' reports that U.S. forces have deployed their investigative teams on the ground to try and, first of all, extract the casualties. But also to find whatever forensic evidence they can to give them a better idea of the kind of threat that is being posed from these surface-to-air missiles or whatever it was to U.S. military and civilian aircraft flying through Iraqi air space.

Well, there have been a number of other incidents as well. Two very significant ones. The first one taking place on the ground inside Fallujah itself. Fallujah has long been a focus of anti-U.S. sentiment, and today was no exception.

These are the pictures shortly after the attack on a U.S. Army convoy driving through the streets of that city -- that town, rather. The vehicle in flames, attacked by a roadside bomb that was detonated as it drove past. The local residents of Fallujah basically celebrating the fact that this attack had taken place. People there very resentful about the U.S. presence in the country -- Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: Matthew Chance, live from Baghdad. Thanks so much for the report. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Just a couple of minutes ago, the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, spoke -- actually, he was in Washington, D.C. talking with ABC. But we caught him as he came out of that interview. Didn't say much about the attack itself, except to say that U.S. troops would stay the course.

As for what the president is saying this morning, he's in Crawford, Texas, and that's where our Suzanne Malveaux is as well.

Suzanne, any word from the president yet?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Carol, no official reaction from the White House from Crawford yet. But yes, as you mentioned before, Secretary Rumsfeld just making comments moments ago, making the rounds on the talk shows.

The bottom line here, it was a very measured response, a very calm response to really the bloodiest day, the downing of that American helicopter, killing 13 and injuring 20. The bloodiest day since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1. The bottom line, the secretary said that, yes, U.S. military are taking on these terrorists, but that this is a dangerous situation, that this is a war. And as sad as this is, these things happen.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We all know that these so- called manned portable surface-to-air missiles are widely available in the world and do have the ability to shoot down aircraft and helicopters. And from time to time, it happens in various locations.


MALVEAUX: Now, this incident, Carol, comes really at the end of one of the bloodiest weeks inside of Iraq. This is at a time when members of the United Nations, as well as the Red Cross, other humanitarian associations are pulling some of their members out of Baghdad. President Bush yesterday making it very clear, however, that the U.S. is there to stay, they're to stay for the long haul to win this fight against terrorism.

He made three essential points. He said that, first of all, he's leading the country in taking the fight to the enemy. Second, that they're accelerating the training of Iraqi police. And third, that they're trying to speed up accelerating, turning power over back to the Iraqi people. President Bush yesterday in DeSoto County, Mississippi.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I want to remind you that the best way to protect the homeland is to hunt down the enemy one by one and bring them to justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: So Carol, the president still trying to rally the troops, as well as the American people, that ultimately the U.S. military will win on this war in terror, but also warning Americans as well this is a very dangerous situation and that they will get bad news -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Suzanne Malveaux, reporting live from Crawford, Texas.

The soldiers in that downed helicopter in Iraq were on their way to the Baghdad Airport, where they were set to leave for some R&R. For more on this deadly day in Iraq, let's head to the Pentagon now and Chris Plante.

And Chris, we want to talk about how vulnerable these Chinook helicopters are.

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a fact, Carol. It is a large twin rotor transport helicopter capable of carrying dozens of troops. It is not clear at this point what the altitude of the helicopter was at the time of the incident, what type of weapon was used to down it, if it had been surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, as the initial indicators are. It could get the helicopter at a very high altitude.

We understand there were two helicopters flying in formation at the time. Two missiles fired at the helicopters. It's possible that the situation could have been worse if both helicopters had been hit, but this is a slow-moving, lumbering helicopter. It does not have countermeasures.

It does not have countermeasures like some fighter jets and other aircraft may have to defeat these missiles. So it makes for a fairly easy target -- Carol.

COSTELLO: You know, on the other hand, these things are flying tanks, aren't they? I mean, we don't know how many U.S. troops were aboard this helicopter. We know 13 died and some were injured, at least 20.

PLANTE: Well, that's what we understand at this point. But they are combat assault helicopters. They're capable of taking small arms fire. But a surface-to-air missile plied against a helicopter like this, and there's really not much they can do.

They have turbine engines, heat signature that is fairly significant. And if it was a heat-seeking missile, then the helicopter is hit, it's going down, no question about it -- Carol.

PLANTE: All right. Chris Plante, thanks for giving us some insight this morning, live from the Pentagon.

SAN MIGUEL: Let's get some more on that now. The military analyst, retired Major General Don Shepperd, joining us now on the phone from Tucson. And General, if you could play off what Chris Plante was saying about the Chinook helicopter. It is not easily maneuverable. I'm sure you've ridden in one of these before. The idea that it can be kind of a sitting duck in terms of a target.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Yes, they are sitting ducks. That's probably a little bit overstated in that it doesn't mean automatically when a missile is fired that it will hit or that it's going to bring a helicopter down. But basically, they fly at low altitude and they are fairly slow.

The top speed of that helicopter that you're looking at there, the Chinooks, are around 180, but they cruise around 130 knots. They'll operate at low levels. You're caught (UNINTELLIGIBLE) between.

The missile range is about three miles. So if you flew high, the missile can still get you. If you fly low, you have less time to react, but they have less time to see you. So it's always a tradeoff in these helicopters, Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: Let's talk about the area where this occurred in Fallujah, the so-called Sunni triangle, where a lot of insurgency has been going on. You know, there might be a call from somewhere in the Pentagon to clear this area out for good once and for all here. The need and the difficulties in accomplishing that?

SHEPPERD: Very difficult. It's like -- think about clearing out Arlington, Texas or something of that sort, or, rather, Austin, Texas. I mean, these are fairly large cities. I don't remember the exact population of Fallujah, but when you fly over it, which we did, it is a pretty good-sized city out there.

So you know it is not just Fallujah itself, but the people in all the surrounding areas. It appears that this was done from a fairly rural farming area there. So you'd have to clear out this whole area, and that's a very, very large area to do. Simply impractical, Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: We've been talking a lot also this morning and yesterday about whether or not these attacks are coordinated. You heard Paul Bremer and Ricardo Sanchez, the lieutenant general there in Baghdad, say, you know, maybe minimal coordination. Not maybe we don't have a central command and control.

Does it really matter to -- I mean, do you need much coordination to cause these kinds of problems that we're seeing?

SHEPPERD: No. And that's the key. Two factors in that.

You don't need very much coordination. You (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the word out that, hey, we want you to shoot every American that you can and every American helicopter that you can. The nation is awash in these missiles and all types of munitions around there. And further, then these people are being paid. A lot of them don't have job and are being paid to do this type of thing. You don't need any type of central coordination. And in some cases, if there was central coordination, it would make it easier to attack and find. So this is probably a local coordination by former bad guys that don't have a future right now.

SAN MIGUEL: "The New York Times" recently talked to Lieutenant Travis Horner (ph), who is a platoon leader from Phoenix. He's with the 82nd Airborne. He said that the worst times for him and his troops in Iraq were not when he had been ambushed on five separate occasions. He said the worst time was when they learned that they were stuck for an extended tour at their base about 40 miles west of Baghdad.

Here's the quote. "The funny thing is that our extension over here for a year is actually tougher on morale than enemy contact." Then when you have an incident like what happened today with these 13 troops heading for leave, for R&R, the potential effect on morale has to be devastating.

SHEPPERD: Oh, it is devastating, but it also makes the troops madder. You have to understand soldiers. Soldiers, it's a life of adventure, excitement and danger, and they want to be out doing what they're there to do. You know the patrolling and this type of thing is not something that bothers them.

Even being under attack in a firefight doesn't bother them as much as just sitting around for a long periods of time or having a tour extended. It's a funny effect on morale. But this definitely will be devastating on morale.

Any time you get a buddy getting killed -- and that's who you fight for. Not for the flag, not for patriotism, but for the buddy sitting next to you in the trench. It's really devastating, Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: CNN military analyst retired Major General Don Shepperd. Thanks for your insight. We do appreciate it.


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