Monday, November 3, 2003
Mission accomplished, job done
A U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter packed with soldiers headed for a short-term break was hit with a missile and crashed in a field west of Baghdad on Sunday morning, killing 16 soldiers and wounding 20 others in the deadliest single attack on American forces since they invaded Iraq, military officials and witnesses said [...]
[...] Although more than two dozen missiles have been fired at aircraft in Iraq since June, according to military reports, the Chinook was the first to have been hit. Two other helicopters have been shot down since President Bush declared major combat in Iraq over on May 1 -- a UH-60 Black Hawk and an AH-64 Apache -- but neither involved antiaircraft missiles, officials said. Only one soldier was injured in those two incidents.
President Bush told U.S. troops in Qatar on Thursday that their duty and sacrifice had liberated the people of Iraq and helped in defeating global terrorism.
"Our actions sent along a clear message that our nation is strong and our nation is compassionate," Bush told the troops at the rally. "America sent you on a mission and that mission has been accomplished."
Moments after the landing, the president, wearing a green flight suit and holding a white helmet, got off the plane, saluted those on the flight deck and shook hands with them. Above him, the tower was adorned with a big sign that read, "Mission Accomplished."
Bush said he did take a turn at piloting the craft.
"Yes, I flew it. Yeah, of course, I liked it," said Bush, who was an F-102 fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard after graduating from Yale University in 1968.
The "Mission Accomplished" boast has been mocked many times since Bush's carrier speech as criticism has mounted over the failed search for weapons of mass destruction and the continuing violence in Iraq.
When it was brought up again Tuesday at a news conference, Bush said, "The 'Mission Accomplished' sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished."
"I know it was attributed somehow to some ingenious advance man from my staff - they weren't that ingenious, by the way."
That explanation hadn't surfaced during months of questions to White House officials about proclaiming the mission in Iraq successful while violence continued.
After the news conference, a White House spokeswoman said the Lincoln's crew asked the White House to have the sign made. The White House asked a private vendor to produce the sign, and the crew put it up, said the spokeswoman. She said she did not know who paid for the sign.
The campaign theatrics never stopped when Bush took office, and his PR team are seasoned pros when it comes to taking the show on tour. Their artful set design, kleig lighting, props, banners, costuming, music and convincingly-painted backdrops have enhanced Bush's appearances for years. Yet on their biggest and best-rehearsed technical production extravaganza since the boffo Baghdad statue-toppling performance, we're expected to believe they they totally blew it? If you buy that one, I have some nice Niger yellowcake to sell you.
How funny is it that Bartlett, himself a highly-paid cog in the most ferociously disciplined publicity machine on earth now tells us that these slick and seasoned spinmeisters, old hands at micromanaging every detail of the Bush Road Show, were suddenly seized with an attack of galloping incompetence and stupidly allowed their star player to be dwarfed by a grievously deceitful "off-message" banner hung by the ship's Captain for an entirely unrelated reason?
The coalition has maintained its offensive focus in the face of what we regard as a strategically and operationally insignificant surge of attacks.
As the President has said, weíre taking this fight to the enemy. Weíre bringing in additional international support and most important of all we have steadily growing numbers of Iraqis fighting alongside us, for a free Iraq. We are getting the job done despite the desperate acts of a dying regime of criminals.
The United States will complete our work in Iraq. Leaving Iraq prematurely would only embolden the terrorists and increase the danger to America. We are determined to stay, to fight and to win. The terrorists and the Baathists loyal to the old regime will fail because America and our allies have a strategy, and our strategy is working. [...]
[...] All these efforts are closely linked. As security improves, life will increasingly return to normal in Iraq, and more and more Iraqis will step forward to play a direct role in the rebirth of their country. And as the political process moves forward and more and more Iraqis come to feel they have a stake in their countries future, they will help to secure a better life for themselves and their children.
As the President has said, Iraq is the central front in the war on Terror. But it is also a central front in the international effort to realize the vision of a Middle East that is a center of hope and change, rather than despair and hatred. We are aggressively attacking the Baathist remnants and foreign terrorists. And increasingly, Iraqis are fighting alongside our troops to secure their own freedom. The numbers of Iraqis now risking their lives to defend their nation is over 85,000 and growing. Together, we continue to discover arms caches, thwart attacks, track down killers, and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. And we are helping the Iraqi people rebuild their country, reform their economy, and create a road to a representative and democratic government. Success will take time. And recent attacks by Baathist remnants and foreign terrorists show that the enemies of freedom will stop at nothing to prevent the emergence of a free Iraq. We must always remember that every democracy, even our own, is built day-by-day, brick-by-brick. Persistent effort produces something strong and solid. These achievements do not, of course, come without great sacrifice. Today those sacrifices are being borne by our men and women in uniform, by those of our coalition partners, by international aid workers, and by the Iraqi people. But we must and will stay the course -- because free nations do not sponsor terror, and free nations do not breed hatred.
The Bush administration's decision to cut the pay of our troops in Iraq is unconscionable. It's bad enough that President Bush left our troops underprepared to win the peace in Iraq. Now the commander in chief is about to add insult to injuries by commandeering the imminent-danger pay increase that Congress approved earlier this year.
The Pentagon has urged Congress not to extend recent increases in "imminent danger pay" and "family separation allowances" to U.S. troops in war zones, citing the extra $225 monthly for the two pay categories.
The action has stirred anger among military families, veterans groups, congressional Democrats and even prompted an editorial attack in the Army Times, a weekly newspaper for military personnel and their families that is seldom so outspoken.
After a grenade exploded inside his Humvee in Iraq, Marine Staff Sgt. Bill Murwin was treated at a military hospital in Germany and spent four weeks at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Part of his left foot was amputated.
His medical care was free, but the government billed him $243 for the food.
Then, just three days after he received his first bill for the hospital food in Germany, he got a stern letter saying the bill was overdue. It warned that his account would be referred to a collection agency.
"You can't put a price tag on their service and sacrifice, but one of the priorities of this bill has got to be ensuring our servicemen and women in imminent danger are compensated for it," said Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
"Since President Bush declared 'mission accomplished' on May 1, 126 American soldiers have died in Iraq, and we are losing more every day," Tauscher said. "If that's not imminent danger, I don't know what is."
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