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Context of 'November 2, 2003: Chinook Helicopter Shot Down in Deadliest Attack on US Forces since Invasion Began'

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Army-issue chemical and biological protective gear.Army-issue chemical and biological protective gear. [Source: Approved Gas Masks (.com)]Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responds to a request from House member Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) to certify to Congress that US troops going to Iraq “have the minimum required levels of chem/bio protective equipment” as established by the Pentagon, even as Army units are selling the same equipment on eBay (see Early March 2003). Rumsfeld says that he cannot make such a certification. [Carter, 2004, pp. 58-61] The General Accounting Office has reported that up to 250,000 chem/bio suits are defective. Furthermore, the GAO reported that the Army has been aware of the problem since 1996. When asked by House member Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) about the deficiency in late 2002, Defense Department Inspector General Joseph Schmitz replied, “There is no such thing as perfect safety in warfare.” [United Press International, 10/1/2002]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Jan Schakowsky, Joseph Schmitz, US Department of the Army, Dennis Kucinich, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The commander of US forces in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, says the week of unprecedented violence in Iraq is nothing more than “a strategically and operationally insignificant surge of attacks.” Less than 24 hours later, the US will suffer its biggest single loss of troops since the invasion began (see November 2, 2003). [Knight Ridder, 11/2/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 108]

Entity Tags: Ricardo S. Sanchez

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

A Chinook helicopter similar to the one shot down near Fallujah.A Chinook helicopter similar to the one shot down near Fallujah. [Source: Associated Press]Iraqi insurgents shoot down a US Army Chinook helicopter near Fallujah, killing 16 US soldiers and wounding 21. (Initial reports put the figures at 13 dead and 20 wounded. Subsequent deaths of soldiers mortally wounded in the attack push the death toll to 16.) [CBS News, 11/3/2003; American Forces Press Service, 11/3/2003] The shootdown is the deadliest single attack on American forces since the invasion began. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the incident a national tragedy for Americans. “Clearly it is a tragic day,” Rumsfeld says. “In a long hard war, we are going to have tragic days. But they are necessary. They are part of a war that is difficult and complicated.” The Chinook, transporting over 50 troops from Habbaniyah Air Base to the Baghdad airport, where they were to depart Iraq for leave time, is shot down by insurgents wielding a Soviet-made SA-7 surface-to-air missile (SAM). (US officials have long warned that hundreds of SAMs remain unaccounted for, and many are undoubtedly in the hands of insurgents.) Another Chinook, accompanying the downed craft, fires a flare to divert a second missile. Within minutes, US Black Hawk helicopters arrive in large numbers. The dead and wounded are rushed to a nearby hospital. At the same time, soldiers secure the site, in the process ordering journalists on the scene to turn over any film they may have shot of the crash and forcing them to leave. Villagers and nearby farmers celebrate the attack by waving pieces of the smoking wreckage. The attack caps an eight-day surge in violence that has left 27 US soldiers dead. Fallujah is a Sunni stronghold and the center of intense resistance to the US occupation. A slogan painted on a wall in the town reads, “Fallujah will always be a cemetery for the Americans.” [CBS News, 11/3/2003; CounterPunch, 11/3/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

An editorial in Britain’s Guardian notes that the downing of a Chinook transport helicopter near Fallujah (see November 2, 2003) is likely to have “a disproportionate psychological impact on US military operations in Iraq and on US public opinion.” The editorial observes that “[t]he perception, in America itself and abroad, is that the security situation in Iraq is deteriorating, rather than improving as President George Bush claims. US-led coalition forces are now being subjected to an average of over 30 attacks daily. Hardly a day passes without news of one or more US fatalities. Far from being accepted as routine, this toll appears to be convincing more and more ordinary Americans that Mr Bush and his officials are not in control of a situation that they, uniquely, created.” Violence in Iraq is escalating on a daily, and deadly, basis, with “soft targets” such as Red Cross and other civilian relief organizations being targeted along with military personnel. Whether foreign terror organizations such as al-Qaeda or native insurgents are responsible for the wave of violence, “[t]he bottom line is relentless violence and mayhem and a US leadership that appears powerless to stop it. This perception that Mr Bush’s Iraq campaign lacks direction and is one over which he is losing control is exemplified, even symbolized, by the dramatic loss of the Chinook. This sense of rudderlessness may prove to be even more damaging to him in the long run than the many controversies that still surround his decision to go to war in the first place.” [Guardian, 11/3/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

William F. Buckley.William F. Buckley. [Source: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters]In his weekly column “On the Right,” syndicated columnist William F. Buckley writes of the recent shootdown of an American Chinook helicopter near Fallujah (see November 2, 2003). Buckley writes that although the losses are undoubtedly devastating to the families of the slain soldiers, “one does endure such losses. Consider Jackie Kennedy [widow of the assassinated President Kennedy]. She survived it; so will the mothers, fathers and spouses of the victims of the Fallujah missile. What is one shade less than absolutely predictable is whether our foreign policy will survive that anti-helicopter missile.” Buckley compares the Fallujah attacks to the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968, a military offensive mounted by the North Vietnamese that was a military failure but a public relations success that pushed the US irrevocably towards what Buckley calls “the retreat of 1972 and the surrender of 1975.” The US cannot let such attacks drive them precipitously from Iraq, Buckley writes. “[T]he idea is that US aircraft should be safe wherever they fly, and we are in Iraq because of its infestation.” Iraq still reels from the effects of what Buckley calls “a Stalinist dictatorship,” and is still plagued by insurgents and rebels who want to reintroduce some form of post-Hussein dictatorship. Besides, Buckley writes, one must consider the losses in Iraq in perspective. “Our casualties since the beginning of the war have reached 400. Last year, 16,000 Americans were murdered within the boundaries of the United States. That same year, 43,000 Americans were killed in automobile accidents.” He concludes: “If all surveillance of the Iraqi theater were to end today, and begin again when Iraq is a settled state, governed by its own people making their way toward freedom, it is inconceivable that the losses sustained during the hiatus would appear to Americans as disproportionate to the ends achieved. What’s needed is to nurture that moral perspective that the idiot children of Fallujah were deprived of.” [Universal Press Syndicate, 11/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, William F. Buckley

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

President Bush holding the fake turkey.President Bush holding the fake turkey. [Source: AP / Anja Niedringhaus]President Bush makes a surprise visit to Iraq to have a carefully staged “Thanksgiving dinner with the troops” at the Baghdad International Airport. [White House, 11/27/2003] Most of the 600 or so troops present for the meal are from the Army’s 1st Armored Division and 82nd Airborne units. For security reasons, Bush never leaves the airport, and leaves shortly after the meal. Bush’s entrance is carefully choreographed, with Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer telling the gathered troops that the most senior official present should read Bush’s Thanksgiving proclamation. Then, turning to a curtained-off area and asking, “Is there anybody back there who’s more senior than us?” Bush enters the area wearing military fatigues. [USA Today, 11/27/2003]
Fake Turkey - Bush poses with a lovely, huge, golden-brown turkey. The turkey is not real, but merely a prop prepared by the food service arm of Kellogg, Brown and Root. The troops actually eat turkey and vegetables from a cafeteria-style steam tray. White House officials later claim not to have known about the enormous decorative bird, and say that Bush’s memorable photo-op of him holding the fake turkey was an impromptu moment that was not planned in advance. Military sources later say that such decorative turkeys are standard features of holiday “chow lines.” [CBS News, 11/27/2003]
Some Soldiers Denied Dinner - Not all the soldiers at the airport are able to eat with the president, or in fact are able to eat at all. In December, Sergeant Loren Russell writes in a letter to Stars & Stripes that soldiers from his unit were denied entrance to the Bob Hope Dining Facility, where Thanksgiving dinner was being served, “because they were in the wrong unit.” Russell writes that his soldiers “understand that President Bush ate there and that upgraded security was required. But why were only certain units turned away? Why wasn’t there a special meal for President Bush and that unit in the new dance hall adjoining the 1st Armored Division’s band building? And all of this happened on Thanksgiving, the best meal of the year when soldiers get a taste of home cooking.” [Stars and Stripes, 1/27/2007]
Secret Flight - The trip to Iraq is conducted under conditions of extreme secrecy; only Laura Bush and a very few top officials are told of the planned visit. Had word leaked of the trip, it would have been canceled. Most White House officials and reporters are told that Bush would spend the holiday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Instead, Bush, accompanied by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, is driven away in an unmarked vehicle. At a nearby airport, he boards Air Force One from the back stairs instead of the usual front entrance. After stopping at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, where the entourage picks up a few aides, and four reporters and one camera crew sworn to secrecy, the aircraft departs for Iraq. In all, the press corps traveling with the president totals five reporters, five photographers, a TV producer, and a two-person camera crew. All the media members in the group had agreed to surrender their cell phones and wireless e-mail devices beforehand in order to keep them from surreptitiously reporting on the impending trip. [USA Today, 11/27/2003; PressThink, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 6/14/2006]
Public Relations Effort - According to New York Times columnist and media reporter Frank Rich, the trip was set in motion by the White House’s public relations team and its desire to chase the Chinook tragedy (see November 2, 2003 and November 2, 2003) off the front pages. [Rich, 2006, pp. 110] White House officials say that Bush had been talking about such a visit for weeks, and the final decision to go was reached the day before in a conference call between Bush and Vice President Cheney. [USA Today, 11/27/2003] Journalism professor Jay Rosen later observes that the willing participation of reporters in this kind of event destroys the boundaries between reporters and the subjects they cover. Rosen will write: “The whole notion of the trip as an independently existing thing that could be ‘covered’ is transparently false, as the White House warning to journalists demonstrates. If word leaked out, the trip was to be canceled—it would no longer exist—and the airplane would turn around and head back to Washington. That does not mean the trip was illegitimate to undertake or to treat as news; but it does mean that its potential legitimacy as news event lies outside the logic of ‘things happen and we cover them’ or ‘the president took decisive action and the press reported it.’ Here, the press took action and it was equally decisive. It agreed, first, to go along and record the scene and then to keep the flight a secret; and these decisions by journalists were not incidental to Bush’s decision to go but integral to it. Would the trip have made sense, would the danger have been justified, if reporters and camera crews were not taken along? The answer is clearly no. But this means the press is part of the presidency, an observation that, while true enough, makes it harder to cover the presidency as an independently existing thing.” [PressThink, 12/3/2003]
Negative Reactions - An Army nurse at the American hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, which receives and treats wounded US troops coming from Iraq and Afghanistan, has a different take on Bush’s visit. In an e-mail to the Boston Globe, the nurse, who does not wish her name made public, will write: “My ‘Bush Thanksgiving’ was a little different.… I spent it at the hospital taking care of a young West Point lieutenant wounded in Iraq. He had stabilization of his injuries in Iraq and then two long surgeries here for multiple injuries; he’s just now stable enough to send back to the USA. After a few bites of dinner I let him sleep, and then cried with him as he woke up from a nightmare. When he pressed his fists into his eyes and rocked his head back and forth he looked like a little boy. They all do, all 19 on the ward that day, some missing limbs, eyes, or worse.… It’s too bad Mr. Bush didn’t add us to his holiday agenda. The men said the same, but you’ll never read that in the paper. Mr. President would rather lift fake turkeys for photo ops, it seems. Maybe because my patients wouldn’t make very pleasant photos… most don’t look all that great, and the ones with facial wounds and external fixation devices look downright scary. And a heck of a lot of them can’t talk, anyway, and some never will talk again.… Well, this is probably more than you want to know, but there’s no spin on this one. It’s pure carnage.… Like all wars, the ‘shock and awe’ eventually trickles down to blood and death. But you won’t see that. I do, every single day.” Globe columnist Joan Vennochi will add: “How much of this is enough for the president of the United States? It depends whether the goal is public relations for a presidential campaign or public acknowledgment of the consequences of war—the human consequences. They are convalescing in places like Landstuhl.” [Boston Globe, 12/11/2003] In 2007, author Annia Ciezadlo will recall her Thanksgiving in Baghdad during the same time. Ciezadlo, who spent the holiday with an Iraqi family, will write: “We saw pictures of him later, serving Thanksgiving dinner to American soldiers, posing like a waiter with a great big [turkey] on a tray. He never left the base. ‘You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq,’ he told the troops, ‘so we don’t have to face them in our own country.’ An Iraqi friend once told me it was that line about fighting in Iraq to make America safer that turned his adoration of Mr. Bush into hatred.” [New York Times, 11/27/2007]

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Annia Ciezadlo, Kellogg, Brown and Root, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of the Army, Loren Russell, Laura Bush, Jay Rosen, L. Paul Bremer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

Army Times logo.Army Times logo. [Source: Army Times / Grantham University]An Army Times editorial says that to tell the “hard bruising truth” of the war in Iraq is to conclude that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must resign. The editorial observes, “One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and… Rumsfeld: ‘mission accomplished’ (see May 1, 2003 and April 30, 2008), the insurgency is ‘in its last throes” (see Summer 2005), and ‘back off,’ we know what we’re doing (see May 2004), are a few choice examples.” Some retired and active generals and military leaders are now beginning to speak out (see April 13-14, 2006, April 14-16, 2006, April 16, 2006, and October 5, 2006). In August, US CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid predicted the possibility of all-out civil war in Iraq (see August 3, 2006). And in mid-October, the New York Times reported on a confidential CENTCOM briefing that called the situation in Iraq “critical,” and sliding towards “chaos” (see October 18, 2006). The Army Times editorial observes that “despite the best [US] efforts… the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.” Bush has vowed to stick by Rumsfeld for the remainder of his second term. The Army Times calls that decision “a mistake.” It explains: “It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation’s current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.… Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.… Donald Rumsfeld must go.” [Army Times, 11/6/2006] The Department of Defense responds to an advance copy of the Army Times editorial a day before its official publication. The editorial is “inaccurate and misleading,” and took Abizaid’s words “out of context.” The Pentagon claims that Rumsfeld has always presented what it calls a “balanced” picture of Iraq, and has never engaged in “rosy scenarios” to mislead the public (see April 11, 2003, April 12, 2003, Summer 2005, June 25, 2005, November 1, 2005, February 17, 2006, and April 18, 2006). It goes on to call the editorial little more than a rehash of old criticisms, and chides the writer(s) for “insulting military commanders” and “attack[ing]” Rumsfeld. [US Department of Defense, 11/5/2006] Rumsfeld resigns on the same day as the editorial appears (see November 6-December 18, 2006).

Entity Tags: New York Times, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Central Command, Donald Rumsfeld, Army Times, John P. Abizaid, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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