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Iraqi Campaign Has Begun

Aired March 19, 2003 - 23:30   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Nic Robertson in Baghdad -- Nic.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, indeed, just while we've been talking in the last few minutes, an announcer has appeared on Iraqi television, saying that President Saddam Hussein will make an address to the nation, will make a speech in the next few minutes. The announcer has made that announcement several times in the last few minutes. It seems, at this stage, the Iraqi government responding very quickly to the notion that this decapitation attempt on the Iraqi leader, this target of opportunity, was unsuccessful. We are expecting that. That's what Iraqi television is telling its people at this time, to expect an announcement in the next few minutes from the Iraqi leader. We're watching the television here, and as soon as it happens, Aaron, we will bring you all the details.

BROWN: Well, and it is important for a couple of reasons. It is important for the -- anyone in Iraq who might have designs on defecting, on surrendering, on not fighting a war that's about to unfold, to know that Saddam Hussein and his leadership, this most feared of people, that his government is still intact and that there are consequences if -- perhaps awaiting.

And it's important, I suppose, for the Iraqi people to know that, as well, that the government -- whatever they may think of it, that the government of Iraq is still in place, and this decapitation effort, whatever it was, was not successful in an absolute sense. That is to say, if, in fact, Saddam Hussein appears on television, and if it was designed to get him, and if, in fact, these were not taped pictures, then he is still alive. But we'll know that. We'll know that in 15, 20 minutes, half an hour, whenever he goes on TV, and we'll translate what he has to say when he -- when he does.

Wolf is -- I think you want me to do this. Wolf is in Kuwait -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Aaron. I want to do a little bit more analysis now on the weaponry that was used in this initial attack against these selected targets in Baghdad, apparently, perhaps elsewhere, as well. Joining us, our CNN military analyst, retired U.S. Army general Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander, as well as the former secretary of defense, William Cohen.

First to you, General Clark. These Tomahawk cruise missiles that were used -- one of the great advantages of them is they can be fired from a great distance away. They're very precise. And obviously, they don't have any pilots involved. As a result, no U.S. casualties are going to be inflicted. But in your experience with these Tomahawk cruise missiles, if they're going after a decapitation target, a specific group of leadership, how effective, how reliable can they be in this kind of mission?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Wolf, they are exceptionally reliable. And they do take time to program and plan the use, but obviously, that was done, and they're very, very accurate. Now, they have a particular warhead capability on them. They're good at certain types of targets. Other types of targets they're not as good at. But for the targets that they're good at, they are very, very good indeed.

And the thing you have to remember is because there is no pilot in there, you don't need to clean up the air defenses before you can come in safely. They could launch another strike. They could launch another strike after that. And if you place yourself in the mind of the Iraqis and ask, you know, What is this coming after us -- we're talking about one decapitating strike. There could be a whole series of surprises in store for the Iraq leadership, thanks to these cruise missiles.

BLITZER: And Secretary Cohen, as we try to assess the role of the F-117A, these stealth fighters that were apparently used in this initial strike, as well -- these are the strikes that are -- these are the planes that are supposedly invisible to radar. They were used very effectively during the first Persian Gulf war, but I assume they've been dramatically improved over the past 12 years.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Actually, they were used very successfully also in the war in Kosovo, which General Clark was intimately involved. They're nearly invisible. No aircraft is fully invisible. But the near-invisibility coupled with nighttime capability makes them very, very difficult, if not almost impossible to detect. But the avionics, no doubt, have been upgraded. The technology is actually quite old. These were fighter aircraft and bombers that were developed way back in '50s and '60s technology. But in terms of the avionics and the precision munitions, obviously, that has been substantially upgraded.

But we have a saying that the -- our Air Force owns the night, but we also will own the day. We will take down their air defenses, and so within a matter of a few days, it should be very evident that these aircraft, the non-stealth aircraft, as well as the stealth bombers, will be flying without much of a threat, other than artillery being rained upon them from below. But we should own the skies both day and night soon.

BLITZER: And Secretary Cohen, as you were speaking, we were showing our viewers the Department of Defense video that was released from that destroyer, where that cruise missile was launched from a destroyer. We're not sure where that destroyer is, whether it's in the Red Sea, whether it's in the Persian Gulf, where it was. But this is part of the combined strategy, the Navy directly involved, the Air Force, the Army, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, as well.

Let me bring back General Clark. As you take a look at the improvements in all branches of the U.S. military, working together under General Tommy Franks, the commander of the Central Command, the chief planner of this operation -- things have improved dramatically, as far as cooperation between the various branches of the U.S. military.

CLARK: They really have because we've had a number of experiences where we learned our lessons the hard way. I mean, we learned an enormous amount from the first Gulf war, and after that, we recognized that all the services had to have precision weaponry. In Kosovo, we learned the importance of the Army and the Air Force and the Navy working together. We learned to plan big operations.

We put that practice into effect in Afghanistan, where we took the unmanned aerial vehicles and we linked them with better command and control to the strike targets, and we put special operations forces on the ground to help guide the weaponry. And all of those lessons are going to be on display and going to be very, very effectively used here in this campaign against Iraq, Wolf.

BLITZER: Secretary Cohen, the F-117A is this stealth fighter we talked about just a few moments ago, but there's obviously the B-2 stealth bombers, which have a significantly improved capability. No indication they've been used yet, as far as any strikes -- as far as this initial burst of activity, military activity. But presumably, they will be used. They've been moved closer to the theater, as well. Talk to our viewers a little bit about this B-2 and what they're capable of doing.

COHEN: Well, the B-2 is capable of flying all the way from CONUS, or continental United States, all the way to Iraq, being refueled several times along the way, carrying at least 16 precision- guided bombs that can hit their targets with absolute precision. And so they can fly long distances. They have a very small crew of two, and are enormously successful and have been successful in our campaigns.


COHEN: I'm sorry?

BLITZER: And I want to just bring back General Clark. Those B- 2s -- they were -- they were flying from the continental United States, but we're now told they have been moved closer to the theater, to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, where they've got these hangars that can -- that could accommodate the B-2. This is a dramatic development, as far as this potential war is concerned.

CLARK: It is, Wolf, because this enables us to put more aircraft over the target area. The turnaround time is less, so the U.S. Air Force that's flying these aircraft is going to be able to turn the aircraft. It's going to save fatigue on the crew. And so it's a real efficiency measure, in terms of use of the aircraft.

BLITZER: What do you think, Secretary Cohen, of this strategy that we now see unfolding here in the past couple hours, a limited military strike, Tomahawk cruise missiles, F-117A steal fighters, but now an apparent pause as the U.S. prepares for the next wave of activity, a pause that presumably will result in Saddam Hussein -- if Iraqi television and radio are correct, Saddam Hussein making a statement to his own people -- what do you make of this strategy?

COHEN: Well, again, much depends upon the information and intelligence that the president had at his disposal. He obviously wanted to take advantage of any opportunity he had to launch a strike against Saddam and his -- and his inner circle. To the extent that that was unsuccessful, that's the first shot. There are many more to come.

Secondly, they may be waiting, in terms of the sequencing of the forces, in terms of the weather clearing, so that the ground forces can act nearly simultaneously along with the helicopters, low-flying helicopters, as well as all of the precision aircraft. So it may have to do with the battle plan, as such. This was simply an opportunity that was seized, may not have worked out. But it's the shape of things to come, and the shape of those things to come -- very heavy raining of 3,000 or more missiles in a very short period of time, with combined air, land and sea forces.

BLITZER: All right, Secretary William Cohen, the former defense secretary, thanks very much. We'll be standing by, speaking to you and General Clark, as well, our CNN military analyst. Back to you, Aaron.

BROWN: Thank you. And we are hearing now from Iraqi TV that Saddam Hussein will, in fact, go on the air, address the country. Whether that -- he has rarely, if ever, done live TV, for security reasons. But he's going to make some statement on Iraqi TV, and we expect that shortly. But it has not -- if I heard the information correctly, it has not happened yet.

We are in an odd -- by our thinking, at least, odd, in-between moment, where something has started. It is absolutely correct to say that the war against Iraq is under way, but as former secretary of defense Cohen said, the "shock and awe," this raining down of 3,000 or so cruise missiles that is the beginning of the massive battle plan -- the "sequencing," to use the military term -- has not yet started and may not start for many hours to come. John King talked about 12 hours. Jamie McIntyre earlier talked 24 to 48 hours. And General Clark said that would neither be a problem nor a particular surprise. They want to do this on their time, when it is -- when the weather is best, when everything is in shape, when all of the ships and all of the planes and all of the soldiers are ready to go.

John King's at the White House -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, the senior official who spoke -- who I spoke to a while ago, who did say he thought it would be about 12 hours, perhaps more, before you would see any major military operation under way -- I asked what would happen in the meantime. This official said, We will watch, we will listen and we will learn. So certainly, more developments to come.

Quiet here at the White House now, after a dramatic day, the signature moment of the Bush presidency, of course. And as we watched day break in Baghdad, and as we have an apparent lull in the military activities, I want to bring back some of the words the president did speak earlier tonight. He said that selected targets had been attacked tonight, but the president also warned the American people, in his words, that this could go longer and more -- could be a longer and more dangerous operation than many had predicted.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In this conflict, America faces an enemy that has no regard for conventions of war or rules of morality. Saddam Hussein has placed Iraqi troops and equipment in civilian areas, attempting to use innocent men, women and children as shields for his own military, a final atrocity against his people.


KING: Mr. Bush promised to use the full might and the full resources of the United States military in prosecuting this war. And as we wait to see what the next phase is, we obviously are focused on the tactical things before us -- the attack tonight, the battle damage assessment, whether Saddam Hussein or any major Iraqi leaders were, in fact, killed in that strike. Also, though, Aaron, as we watch day break in Baghdad, it will be interesting as day breaks in other key capitals around the world. This war and this president's policy of preemption is quite controversial around the world. As he prosecutes this war and issues the key orders in the hours and days to come, he also will have to deal with significant political fall-out around the world.

BROWN: And one of the things that all of us will be watching, beyond the military plan that unfolds, is how will it unfold in the streets of Arab capitals and, in truth, how it's going to unfold in the streets of the United States. We went to -- as a country, to a higher state of alert the other night, after the president's ultimatum. And there is, as you know, enormous concern about homeland security and the relationship between a possible terrorist attack in this country, what Jeanne Meserve, who covers such matters for us, the other night chillingly, to our ear -- chillingly described as "almost certainty," an attempt at a terrorist attack.

Kyra Phillips is on the USS Abraham Lincoln this morning -- at least, this morning for her -- Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Aaron, can you hear me OK?

BROWN: Yes, I hear you good. Go ahead.

PHILLIPS: All right. I apologize. As you can imagine, it's really hard to hear you and even hear myself here on the flight line. The F-14 that you just saw take off -- I'm not going to give you full names, at this point. I'm going to stick with call signs. That was Corky (ph) and Rico (ph) taking off in that jet. Prior to that, it was Pancho (ph) and Sully (ph), the first jet to launch off the USS Abraham Lincoln, as this campaign against Iraq has begun. This is what I can tell you right now. Operation Southern Watch is still in effect. These jets that are launching off the USS Abraham Lincoln are conducting regular operations with Operation Southern Watch. Of course, at any moment, those jets could be called in to fly over Baghdad.

As you know, Aaron, this is a very difficult time for me right now because there's a lot of information that I know, a lot of classified information. And so I've got to be really careful about what I say right now. But what I can tell you is that things are in full swing right now. F-14s are the first strike fighter pilots to launch off the USS Abraham Lincoln. You can see the other aircraft getting ready, loading up, getting ready to go. The radar (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the Prowlers, have also launched off the USS Abraham Lincoln.

I've got to stick to pretty much the basics right now. I can tell you they'll be -- once heading over Baghdad, Aaron, they'll be going for pretty obvious targets, military targets, government buildings. You know about the decapitation air strike that already took place, with the hope of getting Saddam Hussein before additional bombs had to be dropped. But at this point, that's what I can tell you. Right now, F-14s in full force, the Tomcatters launching off the USS Abraham Lincoln right now, as this conflict with Iraq has begun -- Aaron.

BROWN: Kyra, thank you very much. Kyra Phillips is aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. And just to do a bit of translating, if I can, some of that -- this is a remarkable technology that allows these correspondents to file from the middle of oceans, from remote places in northern Iraq, from the Kuwaiti desert. And sometimes it's not a perfect technology. As I heard her, these are the routine flights that have been going on for some time into southern Iraq, into the no- fly zone of southern Iraq. There has been an increase in these, a 30 percent or more increase in these in recent weeks, as they soften up, if you will, the air defenses in that part of Iraq.

This is -- this is -- has been going on, in many respects, for years, but it has gone on far more intensively in recent weeks. And that's what these -- these planes are involved in. They are not yet involved in what the president referred to as the broad attack that will begin in some -- at some point, some point today or some point tomorrow, at some point at the U.S. military's choosing, when the military decides the time is right.

In Kuwait for us now is Christiane Amanpour -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, as you know, the United States had hoped to have two fronts, not only the front leaving from Kuwait here, but also a northern front from Turkey. That wasn't possible because the Turkish parliament voted against, so far, allowing U.S. troops to be based there. In any event, CNN's Jane Arraf is in northern Iraq, quite close to the Turkish border.

Jane, what is going on over there? And do the Kurds expect to make any move down towards Baghdad or, indeed, towards any of the strategic targets around your area -- for instance, oil field and the like?

Well, again, we just talked about some of the extraordinary technology that we've been using around this area, as we try to bring you all the news. Jane was coming to us by videophone from Dohuk in northern Iraq, but we seem to have lost that capability right now. We'll get back to it as soon as possible.

In the meantime, Walt Rodgers is one of our correspondents who comes to us via satellite dish in Kuwait with I believe it's the cavalry there -- Walter.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Christiane. Nice to talk to you again. The situation here with the 7th Cavalry along the northern Kuwaiti border with Iraq, we should tell you, is no change of plans. Despite the selective air strikes against Baghdad, an Army source told me a short while ago, this is not meaning -- this does not mean there will be any hastening of the ground movement forward, at this point. The 7th Cavalry is in what's called an attack position, but it has not received orders to cross the line of departure yet.

What that means is that the Army is going to be sitting here probably at least another 12 hours. They have a plan. That plan was to hold back until they got orders from the Pentagon, orders from the White House. Nothing that happened in Baghdad has changed that plan at all. It would take at least three hours if the orders came through immediately, right now, for this unit to move forward, and there's no indication it's going to come. Again, a soldier with whom I spoke a short while ago said the orders remain very constant here. Again, they have not changed their plans. Some speculation is could be at least another 24 hours before the huge land armada, which is sitting over that horizon back there, the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division, the third division of the U.S. Army, will be coming forward.

There was one indication that the time is drawing closer. Earlier, along the horizon, we did see 5,000-gallon tankers -- those are needed, of course, to fuel the tanks and the Bradley armored fighting vehicles. They're moving close to us, but we are with the 7th Cavalry, and the 7th Cavalry is the leading edge of an attack. No indication that attack is coming soon. Despite what happened in Baghdad, the Army says their orders remain the same. They are to sit in this extreme northern position, up against the Iraqi border, but not to go forward -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Walter, thanks. And of course, Walter had mentioned that the unit that he's with there didn't even know that the opening stages of this campaign had begun because each unit that the reporters are will have their own narrow field of vision there.

We're going to go again now to northern Iraq and try to get hold of Jane Arraf, who's in Dohuk. And as we were saying, the Americans had hoped to use northern Iraq as a northern front. That has not yet been possible.

Jane, is there any indication about what is expected from where you are and whether the Kurds or any kind of military activity is expected, particularly to move down towards any of the oil fields or any of the strategic locations in the north?

ARRAF: Well, Christiane, the Kurdish military has been operating in the airfield and along positions, obviously, along the Turkish border and the Iraqi border, along with select groups of American military. Just behind us -- and as you pointed out, we're in the city of Dohuk, one of the major cities in northern Iraq, and the closest Kurdish-controlled city next to Mosul, the second biggest Iraqi city. And there is a mountain that's a look-out point for Kurdish military. American soldiers are believed to be known to be there, as well.

Now, the big fear, of course, of Kurdish officials and the Kurdish military has been Turkish troops coming in. That seems to have been defused for now, but there is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Kurdish Peshmerga -- those are fighters who -- literally translated as "those who fear death," ranged along the Turkish border.

Now, they obviously -- they are prepared to fight Iraqi forces, but so far, there's no sign of Iraqi forces here along the line of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) would be the front line (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Iraqi government-controlled territory (UNINTELLIGIBLE) kilometers away (UNINTELLIGIBLE) quiet, they say.

AMANPOUR: Jane, thanks. And you're breaking up just a little bit, so we will come back to you a little bit later, as we continue to monitor this situation from various vantage points around Iraq and inside of Iraq.

And right now, we're going to go back to Aaron in Atlanta.

BROWN: Christiane, thank you very much. We're waiting for a statement from the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, that we expect to see on Iraqi television shortly. We saw a moment ago that the Spanish prime minister, Anzar, would be addressing the people in his country. Spain was one of the co-sponsors of the resolution that never was, that second resolution at the U.N. But he has been a staunch supporter of President Bush's and the policy and was with the president in the Azores for that summit with Prime Minister Blair on Sunday. And he'll talk to his -- his people, as well.

Jamie McIntyre's at the Pentagon -- Jamie.

MCINTYRE: Well, Aaron, just to recap a little bit about what we know here, as we've been piecing this all together throughout the night -- this was a Tomahawk cruise missile strike and a strike by F- 117 stealth fighters at targets in Baghdad and south of Baghdad. Here we see one of the cruise missiles fired from the USS Donald Cook, which was in the Red Sea. There were also missiles fired from a submarine in the Red Sea and an Aegis cruiser in the Persian Gulf. More than 40 cruise missiles total were scheduled to be launched in this attack...

BROWN: Jamie, I need to interrupt you here. Nic Robertson, what are you hearing in Baghdad?

ROBERTSON: Aaron, the air raid sirens going off here again in Baghdad. This is about two hours and 20 minutes after the initial air raid siren went off. From what I am told here, this is an air raid siren not giving the all-clear but an air raid siren warning that a raid is coming. The siren there...

BROWN: Well, actually...

ROBERTSON: ... just winding down -- just winding down, as I speak to you, Aaron.

BROWN: Well, we -- yes, we were -- actually, Nic, we were able to hear some of that, as we were able to hear some of the anti- aircraft fire a couple of hours ago. Just stay on the line, and we're probably 10 minutes or so away from hearing whatever the Iraqi president has to say.

Jamie, I interrupted you abruptly, I hope not rudely. Why don't you go ahead and pick it up where you were.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I was just saying we saw some of the cruise missile strikes that were launched -- in addition, F-117 stealth fighters. This was what one Pentagon official called a "target of opportunity," a location where it was believed that very senior Iraqi leadership was located, including, an official says, Saddam Hussein. The hope was that they would be able to take out some of the Iraqi leadership, including, perhaps, Saddam Hussein, and vastly simplify the task of trying to prosecute this war against Iraq.

At this point, we still don't know the results of the strike. It was something that was planned at the last minute, essentially signed off by President Bush at the White House this evening and carried out even though the plans for the start of the war, that was supposed to be a very robust start, did not call for those plans to start tonight. So...

BROWN: Jamie...

MCINTYRE: Go ahead.

BROWN: I'm sorry. Jamie, is the news lid on at the Pentagon?

MCINTYRE: You know, the Pentagon never has a lid. It's not like the White House, where they put a lid on and everybody goes home. At the Pentagon, people just kind of drift out at the end of the day. There's always somebody here. And for instance, unlike the White House, where they kick the reporters out at a certain hour and tell them to go home, you can stay here at the Pentagon all night. There's always somebody here.

BROWN: Let me ask the question -- let me come at it in the opposite direction. Do you have any sense that in the next few hours we are going to be reporting from the Pentagon the beginning of a major operation? Is there any activity there that suggests to you that that's going to happen?

MCINTYRE: No. In fact, they've been giving every indication that that's not going to happen, including, as I said, several senior officials who I've reached at home told me, essentially, they would not be at home if they -- this was what they called -- they're calling it "A-Day." The first day of the war they've tagged as "A-Day." And several officials told me, quote, "This is not A-Day."

BROWN: So just, again, Jamie, the sense is that we could be many hours and very possibly a day or more from the beginning of the "shock and awe."

MCINTYRE: Yes, it's -- it's very likely that when that happens, it'll start at night, in order to take advantage of the advantage the military has at night, the cover that night provides. And so I would expect that we're at least until the next nightfall before you'd see the begin of a major -- major bombing campaign that's supposed to have more than 3,000 cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs raining down on Baghdad to create this "shock and awe."

But again, if it turned out that they had seriously damaged the leadership and that something else happened in Iraq -- they want to wait and see what the effect is of this strike.

BROWN: Well, we're going to find out possibly some of the effect of it in a few minutes, when Saddam Hussein goes on TV, though. What we would expect -- he'll appear on the TV channel that is owned by one of his sons, Uday Hussein. These speeches tend to be very full of verbiage. Certainly, he will attempt to rally the country, rally the military. His mere presence is important in how this day plays out in Iraq.

It was just before 10:00 o'clock Eastern time that Nic Robertson began reporting -- I guess it was probably closer to 9:30, 9:35 Eastern Nic Robertson began reporting that there was anti-aircraft fire, some explosions that he was able to hear. We have some tape of that now that we're able to look at, if we can -- if we can put that up.

This the first time that we've seen these pictures. You can see the explosions in the background, in the distance. It was just before daybreak in Baghdad. You see the flashes. In every earlier picture we have seen out of there, all we had been able to see was the anti- aircraft fire going up, the tracer fire going up to the sky. And so in just a span of 40 seconds, is about how long that tape went, we were also able to see, as you look at Baghdad this morning, Thursday morning for them, as we approach midnight here in the East -- the first time we were able to see anything that had come down, any explosions that had come down.

As Jamie McIntyre's been reporting, two cruise missile targets, one to the south of Baghdad, an attempt to, in the -- in the jargon of the military, decapitate, go after the leadership of Iraq, a target of opportunity, something -- a decision the president signed off on early in the evening, 6:30-ish, if I remember John King's reporting -- 6:30 or so in the evening, he gave the go-ahead after the intelligence came in.

I'm sorry. Say that to me again? OK. Thank you. The president signed off early this evening and went back to the residence, talked to his speech writer, said, It is time to go to work, and go to work they did. At 10:15 tonight, the president went on national television to tell the country that the opening stages, to use his words, the opening stages of the disarmament of Iraq was under way and made clear that it was simply that, the opening stages of what will be a broad attack that will begin sometime down the road.

Christiane Amanpour and Wolf Blitzer are both in Kuwait city. This will be a central and important place over the next several days.


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