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US: American resolve in Iraq unshakable
( 2003-11-03 14:36) (Agencies)

This country's determination to prevail in Iraq is "unshakable" despite the downing of an Army helicopter that killed 16 U.S. soldiers, the White House says. Democrats called the assault a fresh illustration of faulty postwar planning.

Sunday's missile attack, which also wounded 20 troops, closed out a week that began with a similarly grim new record. On Oct. 27, three dozen people died in a wave of suicide bombings in Baghdad, the bloodiest day there since President Bush declared major combat over May 1.

Bush, spending a long weekend at his Texas ranch, said nothing in person about the helicopter shoot-down Sunday, a day in which three other Americans, including two civilian contractors, also were killed in Iraq.

But White House spokesman Trent Duffy, in a statement read to reporters, said: "The terrorists seek to kill coalition forces and innocent Iraqis because they want us to run, but our will and resolve are unshakable."

The statement sought to remind Americans that Bush sees military action in Iraq as tied to the Sept. 11 terror attacks and as part of a larger battle to head off future attacks.

"Sept. 11 taught us that we must confront terrorists and outlaw regimes with weapons of mass murder before it is too late," Duffy said. "The only way to win the war on terror is to take the fight to the enemy."

Americans should view the deadly downing of the Army helicopter as the tragic but inevitable cost of waging a long war, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said earlier Sunday.

"In a long, hard war, we're going to have tragic days, as this is," he told ABC's "This Week." "But they're necessary. They're part of a war that's difficult and complicated."

But Democratic presidential hopefuls seized on the downing of the CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter to press the administration to justify the mounting American death toll and to explain its strategy for getting out of Iraq.

"We were misled into this conflict without a real strategy for success," former NATO commander Wesley Clark told The Associated Press.

Two other candidates, Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. John Edwards, said the United States needs more international help to make Iraq safe.

"We cannot solve this problem alone," Gephardt said on CBS' "Face the Nation." He urged Bush to sit down with foreign leaders, "treat them with respect and ... get the help that we should get from our friends."

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the only candidate who voted against the congressional resolution authorizing the war in Iraq, said in a statement: "This disastrous mission must be ended before any more lives are lost. ... It is time to bring our troops home."

The strike occurred as an ABC News-Washington Post poll, for the first time, found that a majority of people surveyed 51 percent now disapprove of the way Bush is handling postwar Iraq.

Duffy would not describe Bush's reaction to the helicopter crash, but he said those killed "served the highest cause to defend freedom and protect Americans from dangerous new threats before they reach our shores."

Officials said the Chinook was carrying soldiers to Baghdad International Airport, where they were scheduled to catch flights out of the country for two weeks' vacation.

Only two days earlier, the U.S. military announced it was expanding its leave program, increasing from 270 to 479 the number of soldiers flown out of Iraq for rest and recuperation in the United States or Germany.

The soldiers are flown to Baghdad from numerous collection points inside Iraq.

The strike highlighted the vulnerability of helicopters, especially the twin-rotor Chinook, a relatively large target with little means of defense against missiles.

The attack was the single deadliest event of the war for U.S. troops, which began in March and appeared all but over by May 1 when Bush declared the end to major combat operations.

Since then, nearly 240 American troops have died in hostilities in Iraq, mostly in small-scale attacks against troops on the ground.

By targeting U.S. aircraft, the insurgents in Iraq stand a greater chance of killing sizable numbers of Americans in a single strike. They also take advantage of what Rumsfeld acknowledged was an enormous, uncontrolled supply of surface-to-air missiles throughout the country.

There are "more than hundreds" of such missiles, Rumsfeld said.

At the same time, Rumsfeld he said there is no need for additional U.S. troops as Iraqis are trained for security duties.

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