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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Showdown: Iraq: U.S. Troops in Kuwait Conducting Military Exercise

Aired September 25, 2002 - 12:20   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(AUDIO GAP)
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... north of Kuwait City, and very close to the Iraqi border. The two ships that the Marines came sailing in on, the USS Denver, and the USS Mount Vernon, crowded with not only Marines, but also crowded with all of their equipment. This is the 11th MEU, or the 1th Marine Expeditionary Unit out of California. These Marine Expeditionary Units, as you know, Wolf, are designed to be self contained, and to do so, to last for at least 15 days in the field. Well, they showed in Afghanistan they could go much longer than that.

Some new units lasted up to 30 to 45 days, but they bring everything with them, they have now off loaded their equipment, and they are training or will begin training, it is suspected, around the first of the month as Operation Eager Mase gets underway.

But what's critical here is that the United States and the Kuwaiti government can say, he look, this was planned a long time ago. This is normal, this is nothing to get excited about. Yes, but at the same time, it is beefing up the military presence here, and it would mean that you would freshly trained troops who have become experienced with the landscape, terrain and temperature here ready to move in, and they could be held over if the United States deems that their presence here is necessary for some sort of military action. It is very convenient -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Marty, before I let you go, is the emir of Kuwait totally on board with the Bush administration in case the U.S. wants to strike Iraq?

SAVIDGE: Here is the line that the Kuwaiti government has been walking, and you can see it repeated over and over when you talk to officials, and you also see the headlines of the newspaper, they say that they are willing to back and allow Kuwait to be used for any and all military action against Iraq, as long as it has been approved and won the vote of the United Nations. So that's their official stand at the moment.

Without the U.N., we don't know exactly what Kuwait would do. Clearly, there is a lot of cooperation right now between Kuwait and the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Marty Savidge on the scene for us in Kuwait City, thanks. We will be getting back to you of course periodically. And as all this talk of possible war continues, U.S. and British jets are enforcing the so-called no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq. In today's action, precision-guided weapons were fired at two Iraqi defense facilities. The U.S. Central Command says damage is being assessed right now.

With a look at the strategic options in an attack against Iraq, we turn, as we always do, to General Wesley Clark, former supreme commander of NATO and the author of "Waging Modern War," and our CNN military analyst.

What do you make of this exercise in Kuwait right now. It seems a little bit more than just coincidence a major exercise like this is going on.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think we are going to be leaning forward as much as realistically possible without doing those sorts of things that would lead us to a specific decision. In other words, these marines are in there now. If the decision is made to go ahead, we will keep them there. On the other hand, it is a exercise, they will get valuable training on it; if the decision is to wait, we will withdraw those Marines.

So I don't think any actions have been taken that are in any sense irrevocable, but it is smart move on the part of our commanders.

BLITZER: I know you at this think it is almost crunch time right now. Why do you think so?

CLARK: We have right now momentum in the international community and the United Nations, and assuming we get a resolution out of Congress that has broad support and will give further impetus to the president, then he will have the diplomatic leverage he needs to move through the U.N. and get the U.N. resolution, or at least build a strong coalition, then it will take us two to three months probably to get ready. We are approaching that timing right now to make the decision to get ready.

BLITZER: From the vantage point from the men and women that will have to go in harm's way, this political debate that we now saw explode between Daschle and the president earlier today, how does that impact on their military readiness, their psychological readiness to go to war if necessary.

CLARK: Wolf, I don't think there is a direct impact on this. This is a political system we live in, a Democracy, a free exchange of opinions, and I think that the political leaders on both sides fully support the men and women in uniform, there is no question about that. This is about the legitimate civilian decision making and the issues of timing and when we do it, and how we do it, that really the military is going to will salute and say, yes, sir, we are going to do it, no matter what.

BLITZER: We have a ton of e-mails. This from Bryan in Ontario, Canada: "If President Bush does decide to attack Iraq, it will cause further instability in the Middle East and will also damage the relationships that the U.S. has with countries around the world. Is ousting Saddam worth those consequences?"

CLARK: Well, I think obviously, this administration feels that it's worth the risk of those consequences. But what the gravity of the consequences, it depends on how we go about it. I think taking the issue to the United Nations first is one way of approaching it. I think the broadest coalition possible is another way. Supporting inspections further reduces the damage of adverse consequences, but yes, Saddam Hussein is a threat; we do have to deal with this issue at some point.

BLITZER: I know you are testifying again tomorrow before the Congress, and doing it earlier this week. We will be watching it, General Clark, thank you very much.

CLARK: Thank you.

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