- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

FALLUJAH, Iraq — Sixteen U.S. soldiers arrived in Germany today for treatment at an American military hospital after being wounded in the downing of a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter, which killed 16 and injured four others.

The attack, carrying dozens of soldiers on their way home for leave, was the deadliest single strike against U.S. forces since the war began March 20.

Three other Americans - one 1st Armored Division soldier and two civilians working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - were also killed Sunday in separate attacks, making it the bloodiest day for U.S. forces since March 23.

Eleven of the wounded taken to Germany were in intensive care but stable condition, while five others were in the main ward with lesser injuries, the hospital commander said.

U.S. Army Col. Rhonda Cornum, commander of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, said nurses were taken off training programs to help deal with the influx of patients from the strike. But she said the hospital was well prepared to deal with the casualties, who were largely suffering from broken bones and head injuries.

The soldiers - 15 men and one woman - were among nearly 30 soldiers who arrived today at Ramstein Air Base aboard a C-17 transport aircraft. A 17th soldier injured in the attack was to arrive tomorrow morning, said Marie Shaw, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

Names and units are being withheld pending the notification of families, and the patients were not available for interviews, Col. Cornum said.

Leaflets seen in mosques in this tense Sunni Muslim region warned of new attacks using “modern and advanced methods” only days before gunners brought down the helicopter.

At the Chinook crash site, near the Euphrates River farming village of Hasi, just south of Fallujah, a giant crane lifted pieces of wreckage onto a truck. Soldiers sealed off the immediate area, deep in the “Sunni Triangle” that has produced the most violent opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Witnesses said the attackers used shoulder-fired missiles against the Chinook, a sign of the increasing sophistication of Iraq’s elusive anti-U.S. fighters as the insurgency intensifies.

The large twin-rotor helicopter was flying with a second Chinook headed for Baghdad International Airport when two missiles streaked into the sky and slammed into the rear of the aircraft, witnesses told The Associated Press. It crashed in flames in farmers’ fields west of Baghdad.

An unsigned leaflet posted Friday at mosques in the area, where anti-American sentiment runs high, urged people to avoid public places over the weekend. “Special operations against occupation forces might be carried out by using modern and advanced methods,” the leaflet said.

The leaflet also warned people stay at home, avoid going to work or school and stay away from markets Saturday and Sunday. “Any persons who move during this period will be responsible for their own safety,” the note said.

U.S. officials have blamed Saddam Hussein loyalists, foreign fighters and Islamic extremists for the stepped up attacks on the U.S. occupation.

In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed his regret over the shootdown, saying the past week had been a “particularly grim seven days” in terms of casualties, a spokesman said today.

“It’s clearly a tragic day for America,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday in Washington. “In a long, hard war, we’re going to have tragic days. But they’re necessary. They’re part of a war that’s difficult and complicated.”

L. Paul Bremer, the head of the occupation in Iraq, repeated demands that Syria and Iran prevent fighters from crossing their borders into Iraq.

“They could do a much better job of helping us seal that border and keeping terrorist out of Iraq,” he told the cable network CNN. The “enemies of freedom” in Iraq “are using more sophisticated techniques to attack our forces.”

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