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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.S., British Troops Awaiting Orders to Strike Iraq

Aired March 17, 2003 - 11:39   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Let's head live to the State Department now and check in with Andrea Koppel.
Andrea, I'm sure you were monitoring that press conference by Colin Powell. It intrigued me he was very careful to say that any action that the United States might take would be supported by international law. Why did he say that?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, he said that because the United States, Great Britain and Spain are not going to take military action against Iraq with the backing of the United Nations. By pulling this resolution, they are not going to have the support of the Security Council, although what they're saying is the previous 12 years worth of resolutions, including 1441, gives them the legal basis, because Saddam Hussein had not complied with those resolutions, was in violation, and that gives them the right to go forward, certainly under legal guidelines.

But having said that, Carol, a couple things I'd want to point out, Secretary Powell, as you might expect, put it quite diplomatically when he said that the time for diplomacy has passed, but put more bluntly, you could also say that the last six months of U.S. diplomacy has failed to disarm Iraq peacefully. Instead, Secretary Powell said when we hear from the president later tonight, the president will tell the world and tell Saddam Hussein the only way left to avoid war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECY. OF STATE: In his speech, he will clearly issue an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein that the only way to avoid the serious consequences that were built into 1441 is for Saddam Hussein and his immediate cohorts to leave the country, and to allow this matter to be resolved through the peaceful entry of force, and not of conflict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: Secretary Powell spent the better part of last night and this morning, Carol, talking with foreign ministers around the world. He said that his British and Spanish counterpart did the same thing, and it was only after they had the last evening and morning's worth of phone calls that they came to the decision that they were never going to get this second resolution through the U.N., because of strong opposition and threats from France to veto -- Carol.

COSTELLO: You know, Colin Powell was asked by a reporter if he had regretted anything he'd done in the past couple of months? I mean, should he have visited countries more, should he have boarded a plane and actually flew to that country to sit down and talk, and Mr. Powell seemed quite irritated by that question.

KOPPEL: It certainly is a sore subject. He has come under a certain degree of criticism by, for that matter, by former Secretaries of State George Schulz just over the weekend seemed to level a certain degree of criticism at Secretary Powell, saying that perhaps if he had actually gone overseas, spent time in face to face meetings as he had done, that is former Secretary of State George Schulz before the first Persian Gulf War, that perhaps diplomacy might not have failed, but Secretary Powell pointed out he had met with many of his colleagues, as many as four or five times up at the United Nations, over in Europe, and as well when he went to Asia earlier last month.

And so Secretary Powell, as you might imagine, quite defensive, but he also said, Carol, that thanks to the technology of the 21st century, he's been able to keep in quite close contact. And in point of fact, the job of the secretary of state is also to be in town to advise the president -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Andrea Koppel reporting live from the State Department today -- Leon.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Secretary Powell is not overseas right now, but we know who is, about 250,000 U.S. and British troops, they are overseas, they are in the Persian Gulf region right now, awaiting their orders to strike against Iraq, and it now appears those orders may come very soon.

Joining us now with some insight on U.S. war planning and what we can expect to come in the coming days is CNN military analyst and retired Army Brigadier General David Grange, who is in Chicago, as always.

Good to see you again, general.

Good to see you.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good to see you.

HARRIS: As we have heard this morning, we've seen this diplomatic option being taken off the table. We know President Bush is going to say Saddam Hussein has a number of days to leave the country or face war. What do you think happens now for the military in the next couple of days?

GRANGE: Well, the military's going to continue to reposition forces already in the region and position forces that have yet to arrive. The troops on the ground or aboard ship will continue to refine the tactics and techniques used, for instance, in fighting in trench lines, bunkers, clearing buildings, if they have to fight in built-up areas, and procedures on defense against chemical or biological warfare. Those things will be fine tuned, test firing weapons, and constant, constant maintenance in this desert environment.

HARRIS: Let's talk about a couple of these specific groups, starting now with carrier groups that are going to moving into the Red Sea right now, the USS Harry Truman and the Theodore Roosevelt.

GRANGE: Yes, those carrier battle groups will move into those positions in order to fire, let's say, Tomahawk missiles, where the flight of the missile will go over Saudi Arabia, let's say, instead of Syria, which would be the case if it was in the Mediterranean, As well as launching airstrikes, attack aircraft from these carrier battle groups, into targets in western Iraq, or actually anywhere in Iraq from the Red Sea. So that's just one of the approaches.

HARRIS: How about on the ground. Who goes in first on the ground?

GRANGE: Well, it's hard to say, and I'm sure the plan will be tweaked now and then as intelligence is developed. But you know, you have some key units already on the ground, you have the 3rd Infantry Division, called the Rock of the Marine (ph), and 101st Airborne Division. So you have a ground and an aerial envelopment-type force, and that's probably on the western side of Kuwait, and then on the eastern side, you have the ability to put in Marines if you'd like to with the British counterparts, and that also gives you a heavy and a light force mix. So they've got two very flexible forces arrayed that either one can go in simultaneously or one right after the other. But those are your leading forces.

HARRIS: And it looks like those forces, the most resistance they're going to encounter is going to be around Baghdad. We've seen in the last few days or so, Saddam Hussein has been consolidating all of his defenses, or most of his defenses around Baghdad right now. Why do you think he's pulling everything down from the north and up from the south?

GRANGE: Yes, there will be some resistance probably at river crossing sites and some of the other villages en route to the Baghdad area. But you know, he'll want, for survivability, he's pulled like air defense, for example, from the northern and southern no-fly zones in order to protect them from coalition aircraft, and so this is a survivability move. And the other, he has to get into a defensive posture, because he really can not maneuver. If he maneuvers forces in the open, they'll be destroyed immediately. So he has to hunker down and dig in around Baghdad.

HARRIS: And we've been talking so much in the past few weeks about how Saddam Hussein has been playing world public opinion against the U.S. and the coalition here. Is there any way at all to prevent him from placing people, civilians, in harm's way in a fashion in which it will have to reflect negatively on the U.S.? Is it at all possible that he may end up shooting something or harming his own people purposely that sort of purpose?

GRANGE: Well, Saddam, for instance, could contaminate a village, let's say, in the southern area, a Shiite village, just to contaminate an avenue of approach that the coalition forces may have to use to get to Baghdad, just to slow it down. He uses people for human shields. I'm sure he'll use that tactic around Baghdad, and then try to exploit that with this information.

HARRIS: Let me ask you one last question about the word we got from Barbara Starr at the Pentagon this morning, that the Pentagon may have heard chatter about the possible use of some chemical weapon by Saddam Hussein. This is already being mentioned now in chatter that's being overheard by intelligence agencies. Do you think that's a possibility here and would you be prepared here for perhaps a preemptive strike by Saddam Hussein with a weapon like that?

GRANGE: I'm sure the coalition forces are planning for that possibility, because, you know, this could -- we're talking about when the president talks so many days before an attack. But you know, Saddam can start this war himself, and so, yes, I think the coalition forces have considered that and are taking precautionary measures.

HARRIS: General David Grange, thank you very much, as always.

GRANGE: My pleasure.

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