Iraqi guerrillas shoot down US helicopter, killing 16 soldiers Rumsfeld says more such "bad days" to come
The shooting down on Sunday of a CH-47 transport helicopter, in which sixteen US soldiers died and 20 others were wounded, many of them horribly burned, was a stark demonstration of the mounting cost of the US occupation of Iraq. It was the single bloodiest incident, in terms of US casualties, since Bush began the war against Iraq last March 20.
The ten-ton Chinook helicopter, fully loaded with soldiers going on leave, was en route from the town of Fallujah, a center of Iraqi resistance to the US occupation, to Baghdad International Airport. According to eyewitness accounts, two missiles were fired at it around 9 AM local time. One missed, but the other struck the helicopter’s engine, sparking an explosion and fire.
The helicopter crashed to the ground with such force that it scattered pieces of fuselage and body parts over a wide area. Every soldier on board was either killed or injured. Many of those injured face a lingering death from burns and internal injuries, or even permanent disability.
The three other deaths that took place Sunday among American soldiers in Iraq brought the day’s US death toll to 19, the second largest one-day total of the war. The only day that saw more US military deaths came during the early stages of the invasion, when 29 American soldiers died, most in bloody fighting around the southern city of Nasiriya.
Thousands of Iraqi soldiers were killed during the war, most of them incinerated by bombers, helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery before they ever came in contact with US ground troops.
US military officials said the missile that destroyed the helicopter was a Russian-made SA-7, a shoulder-fired, heat-seeking weapon that apparently locked onto the Chinook’s engines. The Iraqi military had hundreds of such missiles in its inventory before the war, and many of them were looted from stockpiles after the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime.
Television footage from Fallujah showed crowds of Iraqi youth dancing in the streets in celebration over the downing of the helicopter, and press accounts quoted Iraqi workers and farmers near the crash site supporting the actions of the armed resistance. One Fallujah resident said on camera, “This was a new lesson from the resistance, a lesson to the greedy aggressors. They’ll never be safe until they get out of our country.”