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Chinook Tragedy Won't Deter Troops' R&R Program

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2003 - The Nov. 2 downing of a U.S. military helicopter that was flying troops en route to stateside leave won't affect a recently expanded rest and recuperation leave program, according to U.S. Central Command.

"The (R&R) program remains active," declared CENTCOM spokesperson Air Force Maj. Mike Escudie, who added, "Flights are leaving Kuwait daily."

In fact, Escudie noted, the R&R program for service members supporting operations in Iraq was expanded Nov. 2 to handle 470 troops a day headed for two weeks' stateside leave from a previous daily limit of 270 service members.

And the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and Atlanta airports were added as stateside destination points for troops in the expanded program, according to a CENTCOM news release, joining the original Baltimore-Washington airport hub.

An insurgent using a hand-held surface-to-air missile, according to defense officials, apparently had shot down the American Chinook helicopter. The Nov. 2 attack occurred near the Iraqi village of Amiryah, which is close to Fallujah, a recognized stronghold of support for deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The Chinook, U.S. officials said, was en route to Baghdad when it was shot down, killing 16 and injuring 20 soldiers.

U.S. defense officials have acknowledged that insurgents have become bolder in recent attacks on U.S., coalition, and allied-Iraqi targets in post-Saddam Iraq. And officials agreed that insurgents in Iraq seem to be employing weaponry of increasing sophistication.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself said Nov. 2 on "ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos" that there were "enormous numbers" of shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles in Iraq.

"(There) have to be more than hundreds," Rumsfeld asserted, noting, "there are weapons caches all over" Iraq.

Rumsfeld has often pointed out that the anti-terrorism war must be taken to the enemy and that Iraq is on the front line of that conflict.

"We can win this war. We will win this war," Rumsfeld declared on "This Week," noting President Bush "has every intention of staying after terrorists and the countries that harbor terrorists until we have won this war."