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WASHINGTON — The presidential election dominated the front pages around the world in 2004, but it was the military that drove much of the conversation surrounding the campaign.

Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry presented himself as a viable commander in chief by focusing on his experiences in the Vietnam War.

Debate over his war record quickly became the dominant topic in the campaign, with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a Texas-based Political Action Committee, flooding the airwaves with counterclaims as to Kerry’s exploits.

President George Bush already had endured similar criticism, coming from filmmaker Michael Moore, who questioned the president’s service in the Alabama National Guard with his film “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Although at times Washington’s favorite sport appeared to be forming pools on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation date, Rumsfeld remains.

He was criticized for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, what were widely perceived as inadequacies in postwar planning and his response to a question from a soldier in Kuwait in December about why his men were scrounging to armor trucks bound for Iraq. Yet Rumsfeld stayed, while many other figures in the Bush Cabinet moved on after the elections.

The service chiefs were less bulletproof.

Army jaws dropped last year when Rumsfeld suggested that Air Force Secretary James Roche should replace Thomas White as Army secretary, after White resigned in May 2003.

Roche was a former Naval officer with no Army experience. But his nomination stalled in the Senate Armed Services Committee, primarily because of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who criticized a $21 billion air tanker leasing arrangement Roche supported.

Roche withdrew his name from consideration on Nov. 16, and the Senate quietly confirmed defense industry executive Francis J. Harvey as the new secretary of the Army.

Meanwhile, Navy Secretary Gordon England was mum on whether he intends to remain for a second Bush term.

But the war in Iraq was never far from the headlines, with death tolls in Iraq topping 1,326 U.S. personnel by the end of the year, according to statistics compiled by the Pentagon. In 2004 alone, 842 servicemembers were killed, and thousands were injured, especially by improvised explosive devices and mortars.

Congress and other critics grilled the Pentagon about why more armored vehicles and personal protective gear had not been sent to the region.

In Afghanistan, another 50 U.S. servicemembers died in 2004, bringing the total in that war to 151 since it began in October 2001.

And though the Bush administration last year envisioned smaller troop numbers in Iraq by this time, the number is ramping up in preparation for January elections.

The success or failure of those elections will shape much of what happens to the military in 2005.

A month-by-month look at 2004:

January

Jan. 8: In Iraq, a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter crashes in Nuaymiya, near Fallujah, killing nine soldiers.

Jan. 9: U.S. Defense Department gives Saddam Hussein prisoner-of-war status, allowing the former Iraqi dictator access to Red Cross personnel.

Jan. 11: Former Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill tells “60 Minutes” that the Bush administration had been planning an attack against Iraq since the first days of the presidency.

Jan. 20: President Bush delivers his State of the Union address defending the war in Iraq, tax cuts and highlighting the urgency to continue fighting terrorism.

February

Feb. 2: The Bush administration releases its $2.4 trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2005 that would boost military funding by 7.1 percent.

Feb. 12: Two former employees of Iraq contractor Halliburton say the company “routinely overcharged” the U.S. military.

Feb. 23: Army officials announce they will kill the $38 billion Comanche helicopter program.

Feb. 29: Under U.S. pressure, Haiti’s president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, resigns and goes into exile. U.S. Marines begin to arriving in the country to help keep the peace.

March

March 18: NATO deploys an additional 1,000 peacekeepers to Kosovo to help the 18,000 already there, as violence threatens to break out.

March 20: Dozens die in clashes between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

March 29: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization formally admits seven new countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

March 31: Four U.S. civilian contract workers are shot, mutilated, and then dragged through the streets of Fallujah, Iraq, and their remains hung from a bridge.

April

April 5: U.S. troops raid Fallujah in response to the killing and mutilation of the four contractors.

April 11: U.S. commanders order a cease-fire in Fallujah after two members of Iraqi Governing Council resign in protest of the offensive.

April 14: In an audiotape broadcast, a man believed to be Osama bin Laden says his al-Qaida organization will declare a truce with nations that withdraw troops from Muslim nations.

April 19: U.S. officials say they will end the offensive in Fallujah if insurgents agree to surrender their weapons.

April 22: Army Spc. Pat Tillman, who left the National Football League to fight alongside his brother in the Army Rangers, is killed in Afghanistan. The Army says Tillman was killed by the enemy in a prolonged firefight.

April 30: CBS’s “60 Minutes II” broadcasts graphic photos, taken in late 2003, of American soldiers grinning as they abuse Iraqis in the Abu Ghraib prison.

April 30: U.S. Marines transfer security of Fallujah to Iraqis led by Jasim Muhammad Saleh, a former general and member of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard.

May

May 4: Defense Department officials announce 135,000 U.S. soldiers will remain in Iraq through 2005, even though an earlier plan said that number would be reduced to 115,000 by the end of May 2004.

May 5: Bush appears on Arab television to call abuse and deaths of Iraqi prisoners “abhorrent.” Bush criticizes Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for not informing him about the photos earlier.

May 19: In the first court-martial in the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq, Spc. Jeremy Sivits pleads guilty to several charges.

May 20: U.S. troops and Iraqis confiscate computers and ransack headquarters of Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council who had been receiving a monthly stipend from the U.S. government.

May 26: The Islamic government and Sudan People’s Liberation Army agree to end civil war that has lasted more than 20 years and claimed about 2 million people, but fighting continues in the western Darfur region between Arab militias and black Africans.

May 28: Iyad Allawi, former exile and member of the Iraqi Governing Council, is chosen as Iraq’s interim prime minister.

May 29: The new National World War II Memorial is dedicated in Washington, with almost 10,000 veterans of that war in attendance.

May 30: The Washington Post cites an Army investigation report that says Spc. Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire.

June

June 1: U.N. peacekeepers arrive in Haiti to begin taking over for the Marine-led multinational force.

June 2: The Army announces that troops heading for service in Iraq and Afghanistan face extended tours.

June 7: Pentagon officials announce plans to withdraw about 12,500 U.S. troops from South Korea.

June 23: Bush administration offers fuel oil and a “provisional security guarantee” to North Korea if it agrees to disclose details of its weapons program, allow inspections, and begin to dismantle its nuclear program.

June 24: North Korea threatens to test a nuclear weapon.

June 27: Iraqi “Islamic Reaction” group threatens to behead Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, an American of Lebanese descent, unless the U.S. releases all Iraqi prisoners. Hassoun later turns up in his native Lebanon and is returned to U.S. custody.

June 29: Pentagon officials announce the call-up of 5,600 Inactive Ready Reserve soldiers for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

July

July 1: Saddam Hussein appears in Iraqi court for the first time to be arraigned on charges of crimes against humanity.

July 22: The U.S. Army inspector general contradicts the findings of Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, says rogue soldiers, not systemic problems, caused prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.

August

Aug. 5: Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr orders an uprising against coalition troops. Violence flares in Najaf and Baghdad; hundreds of Iraqis are killed.

Aug. 16: Bush announces that the Pentagon will withdraw 60,000 to 70,000 troops from Europe and Asia over the next 10 years.

Aug. 26: Al-Sadr agrees to deal brokered by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to end the siege of Najaf and Kufa.

September

Sept. 7: The American death toll in Iraq reaches 1,000 troops.

Sept. 29: Judges in Yemen sentence Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Jamal al-Badawi to death for plotting the 2000 attack on the American destroyer USS Cole.

October

Oct. 1-3: In a battle that later will be held up as a model for the fight for Fallujah, more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers, assisted by newly trained Iraqi troops, take over Samarra from militants.

Oct. 9: Afghanistan holds elections. Despite allegations of fraud by some of the 17 other candidates on the ballot, Hamid Karzai is declared the winner Nov. 3.

Oct. 24: Fifty new graduates of a coalition-sponsored Iraqi Army training course are executed en masse by insurgents loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Oct. 25: The New York Times reports that about 380 tons of explosives disappeared from Iraq’s al-Qaqaa military installation sometime after the U.S.-led war began in 2003.

November

Nov. 8: U.S. forces initiate an all-out assault on Fallujah, which had been under the control of insurgents since May.

Nov. 16: Bush nominates his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, as secretary of state. Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley, is named to succeed Rice.

Nov. 30: The New York Times reports that International Committee of the Red Cross found military personal used techniques on prisoners held at the Guantanamo prison in Cuba “tantamount to torture.”

Nov. 30: Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge announces his resignation.

December

Dec. 8: A soldier in Kuwait asks Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld why his unit’s Humvees and other transport trucks aren’t equipped with protective armor, prompting question from Congress and the media about why, after two years of war, only 75 percent of all transport vehicles in the Middle East theater are armored.

Dec. 21: Twenty-two people, including 14 U.S. troops, are killed and 69 personnel wounded in an attack on a dining facility at a U.S. base in Mosul.

Dec. 21: Cpl. Hassoun begins his Article 32 pretrial investigation at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Hassoun is charged with desertion after he disappeared from his unit in Iraq and later claimed to be kidnapped.

Dec. 27: Pacific Command dispatches ships, aircraft and 3,700 troops to aid in disaster relief efforts for victims of the earthquake and tsunami catastrophe in the Indian Ocean.

Compiled by Lisa Burgess, Stars and Stripes. Sources: www.infoplease.com; Stars and Stripes news stories.

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