Walter Rodgers: Edging closer to Baghdad
((CNN) -- U.S. Central Command said Thursday that coalition forces are closing in on Baghdad. CNN Correspondent Walter Rodgers is with the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry of the 3rd Infantry Division as U.S. troops move toward the Iraqi capital.
Rodgers talked to CNN Anchor Bill Hemmer on Thursday morning as the unit was under fire. Below is a partial transcript of what he said he heard and saw:
RODGERS: You are watching the leader of the Apache troop, the 7th Cavalry M1A1 Abrams tank. It is a very tight shot. We cannot get too broad on this because we would be revealing the kinds of topographical features about the location of the 7th Cavalry, which we are forbidden to reveal.
They've been rolling down a road moving closer and closer to Baghdad. We can hear shooting all about us, particularly the 25 mm cannon aboard the Bradley fighting vehicles. The 7th Cavalry, along with its parent unit, the 3rd Infantry Division, is definitely pushing in the direction of Baghdad, and it is much, much closer than [Wednesday].
About two hours ago, we crossed the Euphrates River at a crossing that had been earlier taken by the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. That brigade had to fight its way through the territory. They are not encountering large Republican Guard units. But there are freelance Iraqi fighters out there, and they are firing at the convoys.
Mostly what they've encountered besides the small-arms fire and the firing from the sides of the road ... are small foxholes and small bunkers at intersections on backcountry roads.
The Iraqi soldiers would dig into those holes, but they are no match for the heavy armored column ahead of us now.
We have seen quite a few dead Iraqi soldiers by the road [Thursday]. What we noticed was all of the dead Iraqi soldiers had gas masks. They are moving in anything but what you would call an organized formation. The Iraqis we see are generally driving pickup trucks, or they are riding about in old Soviet Union vintage armored vehicles, which are no match for the armor-piercing shells that the tanks are firing.
This armored column has been under almost constant fire. When we first crossed the Euphrates River, it was pretty barren in terms of not much of a civilian population. As we pushed closer to Baghdad, we began to see that the Iraqi population was indeed welcoming the U.S. Army convoy and welcoming them northward.
The men were cautious about waving. But increasingly, young women and children were waving almost enthusiastically, and eventually some of the men began to flash a "V" sign or flash a thumbs up at the 7th Cavalry as it moved forward.
The guns have been coughing and chewing and spitting out weaponry in the directions on either side of the road.
HEMMER: There was some question [Thursday] at the briefing at Central Command in Qatar about the ease in which the U.S. military appears to be moving toward Baghdad, about whether or not this could be some sort of trap set up by the Iraqis. Have the soldiers you are with addressed either one of those issues with you?
RODGERS: ... For more than a week, [they have] ridden into traps and ambushes coming from both sides of the road. I think everyone is asking the question, "Where is the much vaunted Republican Guard?" The only engagements they've seen is small engagements. Are they surprised? I suspect they are.
It appears that some of the Iraqi soldiers have set up small sniperlike holes in the middle of agricultural fields. This is not a major force. ...
One thing we are not seeing is the Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters or Apache attack helicopters [Thursday]. The reason is that as the unit moves closer to Baghdad, every freelance Iraqi soldier or cowboy could have a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile.
So this is a push almost entirely of armored columns, and presumably the U.S. Air Force is flying overhead. We saw plumes of smoke earlier over southern Baghdad, which suggest the U.S. Air Force is close at hand.
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.