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Chinook Helicopter Brought Down by Missile in Iraq

Aired November 2, 2003 - 10:01   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: More now on our top story, the deadly crash of a U.S. Chinook helicopter in Iraq. U.S. Central Command says it is investigating the apparent attack over a cornfield near Fallujah. For the latest on this, let's head live to Baghdad and CNN's Ben Wedeman.
It's pretty clear, though, a missile shot this down now, though, isn't it, Ben?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, it is. And we've heard that not only from eyewitnesses on the scene, but from a coalition spokesman here in Baghdad. Now, the latest is, of course, that 15 soldiers were killed and 21 wounded when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter went down near Fallujah at about 9:00 this morning. This makes it the bloodiest day for coalition troops in Iraq since May 1st, when President Bush declared an end to all major combat operations in the country.

Now, the helicopter was on its way to Baghdad International Airport. Many of the people on board were heading to a rest and recreation leave outside the country. Now, shortly after, the helicopter went down, Carol. Several helicopters rushed to the area to rescue those who were wounded and also to investigate the cause of the crash.

Now, this isn't the first helicopter to be shot down. It was only last Saturday that a Blackhawk helicopter was shot down by gunfire, groundfire near the town of Tikrit. Another helicopter was shot down in the spring.

Now, the coalition has been particularly concerned about the threat posed by surface-to-air missiles. There are apparently hundreds in circulation in the country. In September, in fact, they offered a $500 reward to anybody who would surrender one of those missiles. Now, it's also worth noting that it was only two days ago that the State Department put out a warning that they had credible information again about a terrorist threat against civil aviation in Iraq -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Ben Wedeman reporting live for us from Baghdad. And sadly, the troops were on their way for a little R&R, a break from the action. We believe they were flying in support of the 82nd Airborne.

The violence against U.S. troops was not limited to that crash, though. On the streets of Fallujah, an apparent roadside bomb struck a U.S. convoy that included a non-military SUV. It is not clear if there were any casualties in this incident. But Iraqi men were seen dancing on top of the burning wreckage. You can see for yourself there.

West of Baghdad, Iraqis attacked U.S. troops with grenades. There were no reports of injuries or deaths in that attack. But earlier, a homemade bomb killed a U.S. soldier in Baghdad. This brings the toll in Iraq to 138 U.S. combat deaths since May 1st.

RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called today's deaths in Iraq tragic but a part of war. For more reaction, we go live to CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, who is with the president in Crawford, Texas -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, hello. I just talked with White House spokesman Trent Duffy, who says that the president was notified about these attacks early this morning by his staff. That he is also being updated as required. He also said it's Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who is taking the lead in responding to these attacks.

We don't expect to hear from the president on this matter later today. But as you had heard before, Secretary Rumsfeld making it very clear this being the deadliest day for Americans inside of Iraq since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1st. He says that if you look at the big picture, that the war on terror -- that the U.S. is winning. That they've captured a good deal of al Qaeda, that they're on the ground inside of Iraq.

The bottom line, he says, it's a dangerous place. This is a war. These things happen. But that the U.S. does have a strategy.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think foreign forces in any country are unnatural. And I would think no country would prefer to have foreign forces in their country for long periods. We don't intend to.

The president said we'll stay as long as we're needed and not one day longer. But we've got a job to do. We're not going to abandon the Iraqi people. We're going to help build up their forces and their capability and we're going to win.


MALVEAUX: Now, President Bush trying to convince the American people that, yes, there's a strategy in place that is working. It was said yesterday in his weekly radio address, as well as various political campaigns, where he said the U.S. is going to stay in this for the long haul despite the fact that members of the United Nations and Red Cross are pulling out in Baghdad.

He also said, how is this going to happen? By taking the fight to the enemy, by accelerating and training Iraqi police, and by turning power back over to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible. SAN MIGUEL: Suzanne, concerning getting that security arrangements there, you know, kind of accelerated, both Paul Bremer and Donald Rumsfeld today talked about, you know, trying to get 100,000 Iraqis now part of the security force there. That's in direct response to White House pressure to get that going. I mean, we're kind of talking about that pressure to get more of those people trained before this weekend, right?

MALVEAUX: Well, you heard the president in his news conference just last week talking about that, the fact that they want to get the Iraqi police, they want to get this Iraqi civil defense administration up and running. That they want to see more involved.

Essentially, what they want to do is put an Iraqi face on the security efforts on the ground. And as Donald Rumsfeld said earlier today, that this is going to be an Iraqi police that is going to basically control, as well as secure this country. That this has to happen at an accelerated pace, otherwise you'll have these type of attacks as long as we have an American face on the reconstruction effort.

SAN MIGUEL: Suzanne Malveaux in Crawford Texas. Thanks so much, Suzanne.


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