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Alessio Vinci: Marines come under fire

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CNN's Alessio Vinci

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Nasiriya, Iraq (CNN) -- CNN's Alessio Vinci, embedded with the U.S. Marines, reports on a situation that erupted in the Iraqi town of Nasiriya, where the Marines came under heavy fire.

Vinci spoke with CNN's Bill Hemmer:

HEMMER: Reports we're getting right now [are] of Marine casualties in the battlefield, not sure what the description we have, but Alessio is there and joins us.

Alessio, what do you have?

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VINCI: Well, Bill, a significant change from our last report a couple of hours ago. The company of Marines that was actually ahead of ours a couple of hours ago came under heavy fire from Iraqi forces just outside the town of Nasiriya. And I can report at this time that we do have, the U.S. forces suffered a significant number of casualties. We're still trying to establish the precise number, but as you can imagine, this accident took place just within the last couple of hours. We just arrived here on the scene of the attack and we're trying to establish with some sources and some of the eyewitnesses here, and some other reporters embedded with that company, they're trying to give us a little bit of the details of what exactly -- what happened.

But we're just describing to you what I'm looking at -- the charred AAV, an amphibious assault vehicle, is basically one of those armored personnel carriers the Marines are using. It is totally destroyed. It's totally charcoaled, burned down. And, according to one of the eyewitnesses, this was one of the armored [vehicles] that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Now, all this happened several hundreds of meters ahead of me. You will remember I was reporting earlier on hearing heavy gunfire, heavy fire. I did not -- I was not in a position that I could see it. But this, indeed, I have now managed to put myself forward a little bit and I am looking right now at this totally destroyed and burned-out shell of an armored personnel carrier of the U.S. -- United States Marines.

Again, a significant number of casualties, more than 10, I would say. And we are still trying to assess the correct number, Bill.

HEMMER: Now, Alessio, a couple of things here. I'm not sure how much more you can tell us, but let's back up a little bit. We talked to you about two hours ago and at that time, you said there was light fire and light resistance. Can you tell us what changed since then and have you been with this unit the entire time or was this from a different Marine unit?

VINCI: Well, that is correct. This is an entire battalion that [is] comprised of several different companies and several different units. And the unit that I was with was a unit that was the second in the line to go through the town of Nasiriya. And so, we were only experiencing some light fire, but in the distance I could hear the explosion of heavier guns. But obviously, I was not aware of what was going on until I arrived here, until we managed to cross the two bridges that separate one side from the other, the north side from the south side of the town. And when I arrived here, obviously, the scene completely different from the one back in town where we were, where again, we only suffered light fire. But here, obviously the unit was spearheaded, if you want.

It is obviously very difficult for me now to assess exactly what happened in terms of how come this -- that these Marines, you know, with the incredible amount of air power and air cover that there was at the time. Throughout this operation this morning, I saw at least six Cobra helicopters with machine guns that mounted on them hovering over the entire area, so a significant amount of air power. Yet, some of the Iraqi forces who had RPG managed to inflict a severe casualty at least in the first unit. And I would say only in this first unit of Marines, as opposed to the units that were following behind who only got hit with light fire -- Bill.

HEMMER: And Alessio, this amphibious assault vehicle that you're describing, this AAV, as they call it in the military...it is a significant piece of military hardware. It weighs many, many tons. Is it possible that one rocket-propelled grenade could inflict this much damage? That's my first question. And while I have you here, also, when you say at least 10 Marines may have been affected by this, does that indicate that this amphibious assault vehicle is actually transporting Marines through Nasiriya at the time?

VINCI: Well, to answer the latter part of your question, yes. These vehicles are used to transport the troops. As a matter of fact, it is the same identical vehicle that we, the embedded journalists, are traveling with. We are indeed traveling inside these vehicles alongside the Marines. It is the preferred mean of infantry transportation, if you want, for these Marines.

As far as the capacity of an [AAV], yes, you're right, this is a significant piece of metal, but it is also meant to float. This is, of course, a vehicle that is used also for amphibious assaults, so it is not made of pure steel. And it does not have, if you want, the plates, the metal plates that would protect it against this kind of fire.

So I was just talking to one of the reporters, as a matter of fact, who witnessed part of the scene because he was indeed embedded with that unit that came under fire. And he said that basically he witnessed some of those shells going through the AAV, the amphibious vehicle, like a knife through melting butter. So indeed, a significant piece of equipment, but also very vulnerable to close fire and especially to a rocket-propelled grenade specially designed to stop these kind of vehicles -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Alessio, thanks. Alessio Vinci traveling with the U.S. Marines and again, as he's reporting, an amphibious assault vehicle took on fire, possibly from a rocket-propelled grenade and there are casualties. Exact numbers not known right now. But as we get them, we'll pass them along to you.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.


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