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Rumsfeld Calls Helicopter Downing 'Tragic Day'

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2003 -- In response to news of a U.S. helicopter being downed in Iraq today, killing 15 soldiers and injuring 21, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, "It was a bad day, a bad day, a tragic day for those people."

Rumsfeld appeared on "Fox News Sunday" today.

"This is a tragic day for those young men and women who are serving our country so wonderfully," Rumsfeld told host Tony Snow. "My prayers and sympathy go to the families and loved ones of those that were killed and wounded."

The helicopter, a CH-47 Chinook, was transporting troops to the Baghdad International Airport, reportedly on the first leg of a trip home for rest and recuperation leave for some of the soldiers. The aircraft was assigned to the 12th Aviation Brigade, which was operating in support of the 82nd Airborne Division Task Force, U.S. Central Command officials said.

An aerial quick-reaction force immediately was dispatched to the scene, and a ground force secured the site, located near Fallujah. Officials said the wounded soldiers were evacuated to nearby medical facilities for treatment.

Rumsfeld said the motivation for the attack is easy to figure out. "We know why they're doing it," he noted. "There are criminals in that country who will do things for money. There are foreign terrorists in that country, like the Ansar al-Islam, which have come back in from Iran and are trying to kill people. And there are the remnants of the Baathist regime, and they want to take that country back."

But they won't succeed, the secretary said. "They're not going to come close to taking that country back," he said. "They are the ones who want to have the kind of a dictatorship that Saddam Hussein had. That's shown on the film clips on this station of people cutting off fingers, cutting off hands, cutting off heads, throwing them off the tops of buildings, cutting off tongues -- that is what those people want."

Commenting on reports of people dancing in the streets after the helicopter was downed, including a young man dancing around and laughing with an American soldier's helmet on his head, Rumsfeld said, "There are 23 million people in that country who have been liberated. The overwhelming majority is very much in support of the coalition. They want Saddam Hussein gone."

Asked if more Americans are being killed in Iraq because the enemy is getting better organized and more sophisticated, Rumsfeld called that assessment "fair," and explained how the coalition forces are countering the threat.

"The coalition forces are out attacking these remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime, and they are finding them, and they are capturing them, and they are killing them. There are additional people being killed and captured every single day in that country, and their numbers are going down."

He said in the final analysis, the Iraqi people are going to defeat the remnants of Saddam's regime. "We now have over 100,000 Iraqis who were serving in the army -- the police, the site protection, the civil defense, the border patrols," Rumsfeld noted. "It's gone from zero up to 100,000. Our plan is to take it in excess 200,000 by next year.

"It will be Iraqis that will be out killing and capturing the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime, as they are today," Rumsfeld continued. "There have been 85 of these Iraqis killed already who are involved in these security forces."

Snow told Rumsfeld that some people accuse him of not having a plan in Iraq. "We had a plan," the secretary said, adding that the Wall Street Journal printed a big expose showing how the U.S. was working with the World Food Organization well before the war ever started to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

"How do you go from zero to 100,000 Iraq security folks who have trained to be in the army, the police, the border patrol, the site protection, the civil defense, if you don't have a plan?" Rumsfeld asked.

"Our plan has produced a Central Bank in a matter of months," he noted. "It took years in other countries -- in Germany or Japan or Bosnia or Kosovo. We have a new currency in circulation; we have a governing council appointed; they have appointed ministers. All of these things have happened in two, three, four, five months."

Asked if the United States is getting help from Muslim nations in its fight against terrorism, Rumsfeld said several Muslim countries and people in those countries are cooperating.

"The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, nor do they believe in terrorism," he noted.

Rumsfeld added that since the Saudi Arabian government was attacked, the Saudis have been "more aggressive than ever in the past in arresting, in capturing, in prosecuting, and in cooperating with intelligence matters, and it's been a big help."