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Attack on Chinook Helicopter Kills at Least 15 in Iraq

Aired November 2, 2003 - 07:31   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And today's attacks in Iraq come on the heels of a day of resistance declared by Iraqi insurgents, but it is this day that stands out as one of the bloodiest yet for U.S. troops.
CNN's Matthew Chance is live in the Iraqi capitol, Baghdad, with the latest. Matthew, can you start with the attack on the Chinook and what exactly happened there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the attack on the helicopter, just on the outside of the town of Fallujah and back, about 25 kilometers to the southwest of Fallujah, but was an extremely deadly attack, as we've been reporting. At least 13 U.S. soldiers killed, as that helicopter was shot from the skies over the farming lands that is characteristic of this area.

According to eyewitnesses on the ground, a surface to air missile was launched by an individual which struck that helicopter, which brought it crashing to the ground in flames. U.S. forces, personnel are on the ground still sealing off the area. Obviously, collecting the casualties. And there were 20 injured, as well as the 13 dead, but also collecting what forensic evidence they can get their hands on to sort of give them more of an idea of what kind of a threat exists towards their military flights in this area around Fallujah.

It's not the first time that a military aircraft, a helicopter, has been brought down by hostile fire. But the fact that a surface to air missile may have been used is really underlying the -- lining the grave threat that has already been articulated by members of the U.S. coalition that these missiles are out there. There may be hundreds of them. And that they're in the hands of people who want to cause damage and bloodshed to the U.S. forces on the ground, Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, and we understand that these Chinooks were flying in support of the 82nd Airborne. And they were indeed on their way back to the United States for a couple of weeks of R&R. I just can't imagine what this will do to the morale on the ground there in Iraq.

CHANCE: Well obviously, the loss of anyone in this country is a tragedy for the individual and of course that individual's family. And this is no exception. The fact that 13 people -- soldiers have been killed in this incident just really underlines the tragedy.

These people were probably having spent a very intensive tour of duty in this area of western Iraq, which has been the focus of the insurgency against U.S. forces conducting their occupation of this country. They have probably been there for many weeks, perhaps many months and were undoubtedly looking forward to a period of rest and relaxation outside of the country. Whether it was back in the U.S. or not, I don't know.

But clearly, they didn't make it. A lot of other people are still on the ground. And this will obviously do no good at all for the level of morale amongst other soldiers who are themselves waiting to go home.

COSTELLO: Tell us about these other two attacks that happened to U.S. troops today, Matthew.

CHANCE: Yes, we've heard a lot about this helicopter, but there's been a lot of other attacks as well. Two, we've been reporting to you as significant. The first one in Fallujah itself. This town, which has been very much one of the focuses of the increasingly bitter and violent insurgency against U.S. occupation forces here in Iraq.

You can see here these pictures, the immediate aftermath of the attack against the U.S. Army convoy on the ground, attacked by a roadside bomb of some sort that was detonated as the convoy moved past the -- a burning vehicle there in the background with the locals of Fallujah coming out onto the streets of the center of this town, demonstrating their support for this kind of attack, chanting anti- U.S. slogans, pro-Islamic slogans.

And this really, sort of indicates the -- one of the reasons, one of the backdrops to this violence. There's been a lot of talk about there being jihadists, foreign fighters, Islamists who have come in from outside of Iraq and are using Iraq as a platform to launch their attacks against the U.S. forces.

Also, a lot of talk about Saddam loyalists, members of the former regime, who are perhaps attempting by attacking U.S. forces to reinstate their old positions of our power. But there is a very real sense where particularly in this area of Iraq, it is ordinary Iraqis who are extremely disgruntled at the fact that their country has been invaded and continues to be occupied by U.S. forces. That is providing some sort of backdrop for these kinds of attacks.

COSTELLO: How many people have U.S. troops been able to take into custody, that are responsible for these kinds of attacks against U.S. troops, Matthew?

CHANCE: Well, they're taken some into custody. They carry out whatever questioning, whatever interrogation they can, but they clearly haven't got to the bottom of exactly who is behind these attacks. There's been a lot speculation that Saddam Hussein himself may have some role in orchestrating these attacks.

It's not altogether clear whether they are orchestrated or whether they're being undertaken by sort of, you know, these split factions, people with different interests, nationalists, religious interests. Or perhaps a more reasonable position is that it is some kind of combination between these various forces, the jihadis, the Saddam loyalists, the disgruntled Iraqis who are combining their efforts to try and launch some kind of concerted insurgency against the U.S. occupation.

COSTELLO: And Matthew, we interviewed Ferwez Gerges from Sarah Lawrence College just a short time ago. He says there is no doubt now that this is a full blown guerrilla warfare situation. What is the sentiment there about that?

CHANCE: Well, I think that that's been pretty much clear that things were developing in that direction for several weeks, if not several months now. Certainly when I was last here in Iraq back in June and May, we were seeing the start of this kind of violence. It was just in the aftermath of the war. It wasn't clear yet which direction this insurgency was going to take, but over the months of the very hot summer here in Iraq, it's become increasingly clear that there is a more and more daring, a more and more concerted, an organized campaign of insurgency conducted by various factions to undermine U.S. led efforts to bring peace and stability to this country.

The events of today will do nothing to shatter that image. In fact, they will only bolster them. And in fact, this has been more or less admitted by the chief U.S. administrator here for Bremer, saying that they need desperately and urgently to improve their level of intelligence gathering, which has been a failure to date, been unable to prevent these kinds of attacks. They need, he says, to accelerate the training of Iraqi personnel, Iraqi police, Iraqi army, people who are more equipped with the language skills and the cultural skills to more easily identify who is responsible for these attacks.

COSTELLO: Yes, and I'm sure -- Paul Bremer, by the way, is going to be on "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER." And I'm sure Wolf will be asking him those very tough questions. Matthew Chance reporting live from Baghdad.


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