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Shock and Awe Bombing of Baghdad Begins

Aired March 21, 2003 - 12:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in CNN military analyst U.S. Air Force retired General Don Shepperd. General Shepperd, talk to our viewers about what's happening over the skies of Baghdad right now.
GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: On the monitors there are no impacts going on, at least in downtown Baghdad. But what I've seen is an obviously alerted Iraqi air defense system with antiaircraft fire going up in the air.

Now, the -- what you see in this antiaircraft fire is, you see tracers going up in the air. The tracer ratio is normally one to seven, so you are seeing one-seventh of what's been fired as those tracers go up in the air.

And then you see bright flashes in the sky. That is the shells themself exploding at the end of their time of flight, so that the shells don't go down and impact in populated areas. They break up into flak at that time. That's what flak is.

Now, I've been hit by both the antiaircraft shells themselves and the flak, and I can tell you, it's no fun. So what they do is, they fill up sectors of the sky with antiaircraft, hoping that airplanes that they cannot see on radar will run into the shells or be damaged by the flak.

Any one of those shells, any single one of them, can bring down an American or coalition airplane, Wolf. So this is dangerous stuff. But I also don't see any tracking fire. I don't see any fire that's tracing across the sky following an aircraft, indicating to me they're not seeing anything on their radar.

And further, I have not seen anything that I can identify as a missile launch, indicating to me, again, that they are probably not seeing anything on the radar right now.

So here's the -- right now, they're waiting and we're waiting, Wolf.

BLITZER: General Shepperd, normally in the past, based on these kinds of experiences that I've covered over Baghdad, normally in the past the start of these kinds of antiaircraft fire by the Iraqis, their radar may not be good enough. It seems like they're almost just shooting in the air in a wild fashion, hoping to get lucky and shoot down a plane.

But they have no real specific targets. Is their radar better than that?

SHEPPERD: No. Here's what -- and you're exactly right in your analysis of what's being done. They're shooting into sectors, hoping that they will hit something, hoping that one of the airplanes will fly into it. That's all they can do. But much of this antiaircraft fire is not radar-guided at all, so it does not depend upon radar.

And that is the reason that U.S. and coalition forces use the night, because if they can track you on radar, they can do that day or night. But if they can't track you, then they must see you to fire accurately, and if they can't see you, such as at night, then they're greatly hampered.

So again, what you're seeing, and your explanation and analysis, is exactly correct.

BLITZER: All right. General Shepperd, stand by. We're seeing that tracer fire continue to go up, Iraqi antiaircraft fire. They're shooting into the skies, hoping to get lucky, shoot down a U.S. plane. In the past, those F-117A Stealth fighters, hard to detect. Certainly they fly pretty high, cruise missiles even harder to detect.

CNN's Bob Franken is in northern Kuwait at an air base there not far from the Iraqi border. Bob, tell us what you're seeing and what you're hearing.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, officially we are just near the Iraqi border, and we are in the flight line of one of the major launching points for the U.S. military, and there has been a parade of planes all day and into the night that's taking off.

You're seeing now what looks to be a C-130. It's probably the slowest plane that they have here. They have a variety of fighter jets here. They have everything from the FA-18 to the F-16, both of them, of course, also capable of bombing. They have Harriers with the Royal Air Force.

You can see one of the planes coming in now. I will just mention that one of the principal planes that takes off and lands from here is the A-10, which is an antitank plane. And there've been an awful lot of missions, a lot of them by the A-10s, we're told, by the commander here (AUDIO GAP) using the planes as part of an effort to prepare the battlefield, we're told, prepare the battlefield by wiping out tanks.

These are ferocious planes. I've seen them on the battlefield, Wolf. They shoot at something like 6,000 rounds per minute, or something like that, and literally can shred a tank.

Anyway, they've been coming and going all day. We were told that in the 24-hour period that ended this morning, there had been 141 sorties, and we're told that that amount has been increasing. We've actually been witnessing it all day, and planes have been coming and going, and will be into the night.

We, of course, have several restrictions. We can't specify where they're going exactly. But, of course, you've been reporting about the battle that's going on in Iraq, and, of course, this air base, as close as it is to Iraq, is obviously a very big part of that.

BLITZER: All right, Bob, stand by for a second. I want to reset the scene for our viewers, who may just be tuning in. You're looking at the skies of Baghdad. What you're seeing up in the skies are Iraqi antiaircraft fire. They're going up in the sky, those tracers. They're searching for U.S. war planes, maybe British war planes as well. They're also searching for cruise missiles that may be coming in, looking for targets in and around Baghdad.

We have been told -- we're -- we have been told that this is the start of what the Pentagon is now calling A-Day, the letter A, the start of the aerial bombardment, a massive air campaign expected over the next 24 to 48 hours, perhaps as many as 3,000 so-called smart bombs, precision-guided weapons, laser-guided weapons as well as satellite-guided weapons.

They'll be flown in from Stealth fighters, also from cruise missiles that will be launched from submarines, launched from ships, launched from aircraft carriers, an intense aerial bombardment expected.

Clearly the Iraqis are anticipating that. That's why they're firing into the sky.

General Grange, General David Grange, our military analyst, is also with us.

General Grange, is it possible, going into an A-Day kind of environment like this, that they would modify the plan going in and not necessarily drop all those 3,000 precision-guided munitions that they had planned on dropping, hoping maybe to just drop a modest number and see if it could further rattle the Iraqi leadership into surrendering?

GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Oh, for sure. I mean, I don't think the 3,000 number is magic at all. It will be modified depending on a new analysis of the target array, you know, what they're actually trying to influence.

And also keep in mind that we're focused on Baghdad, and, of course, that's the limitations right now of access. There's a lot of this activity that will go on, as you said earlier, throughout other targets in Iraq. Maybe up by Tikrit, by Kirkuk, down further south by Nazaria (ph), north of Basra, etcetera.

So there's a lot more activity that may be going on right now as we speak that we don't see.

BLITZER: There's no doubt what we're seeing is indeed only a limited part of Iraq. We see some fire coming in. And we certainly see the anticipation. There it is, look at that. You can see some explosions that now have rocked, apparently started to rock the Iraqi capital. Huge explosions. These bombs are beginning to drop over Baghdad.

General Grange, in the past two days, they lasted for a very limited amount of time. That could change, though, tonight.

GRANGE: For sure. I mean, this could be a continuous pressure. And pressure is part of it. Just that, you know, you -- most people can endure short moments of fear and shock. But when it continues for an extended period of time, it starts to break people down psychologically.

BLITZER: All right, General Grange, stand by.

Bob Franken is with us still. He's in northern Kuwait at an air base near the Iraqi border -- Bob.

FRANKEN: Well, I just wanted to supplement what the general was saying. There has been a steady increase here in the number of flights that have gone out. We've been told that the intensity is going to build, which, of course, is consistent with the reports that we're getting elsewhere.

And the other point the general made was that Baghdad is not the only theater here. That, in fact, we were told by the commander here this morning, the wing commander, that the concentration had been on the Basra area in the previous 24 hours.

And, of course, that was a supplement to the ground troops that were moving on that part.

As I said, this is one of the major launch points, as I believe that General Grange pointed out there, as the submarine missile, there are the missiles from the ships, there are the various jets and bombers etcetera, that fly from the ships.

This is the Air Force. This is the ground component of it. It it is a base that has the Royal Air Force here in some number, it has the United States Air Force, has a variety of other troops that are in support positions. And it's had a major role over the last 10 years in enforcing the no-fly zone. But, of course, now it has switched to the war against Iraq.

BLITZER: All right, Bob, stand by. General Grange, stand by as well.

I want our viewers to now listen to what Ian Glover-James, he's a reporter for ITV News in the British television news network, he's in Baghdad right now. He's an eyewitness to what's going on. Let's listen to his reporting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A couple of our correspondents, a cameraman and support crew.

How -- do you know how many British journalists are still based in Baghdad?

IAN GLOVER-JAMES, ITV NEWS: Well, it's quite difficult to estimate, actually. I mean, I can imagine there are, in total, perhaps, less than 100 of us, and probably quite a lot less than that, if you just count specifically British journalists. There's quite a small press corps here. Many of them are veterans of Iraq, who have been here since the Gulf War, and in the ups and downs that Iraq has been through with the United Nations and the international community since the various crises during the 1990s.

The numbers (UNINTELLIGIBLE) well just before this conflict or quite a number of the international news representation, have left for one reason or another. And it's actually a relatively small number now, probably, as I say, less than 100. We are scattered around the city. We work under the guidance and restrictions, put it that way, of the Iraqi authorities.

But, in fact, they are fairly -- they have a fairly easygoing and quite realistic relationship with the Western media. And it's one of the features of life here and reporting from here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ian, just to update our viewers, we're just hearing that a U.S. official has confirmed that a major air war has begun against Iraq. Obviously, at the moment, you've got no real evidence of that. But that would be alarming, obviously for yourselves and for all those residents in Baghdad, that the U.S. official says that a major air war has begun against Iraq.

GLOVER-JAMES: Well, that's interesting. I mean, I -- as I say, I'm standing on a highrise building looking out over the city, and it's absolutely peaceful and calm now. The entire city's lit up. There's not a star in the sky, let alone a bullet, tracer shell, missile or anything else.

And no evidence of smoke or explosions of previous nights. It's calm. There's traffic running down a boulevard alongside the River Tigris below me. I can only imagine that these impacts are further afield.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Indeed, in fact, we're just hearing from Al-Jazeera television that there have been air strikes carried out on the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. So that would explain why you in Baghdad are not receiving any of that air strikes, because Al-Jazeera television's saying that the air strikes are being carried out on Mosul, which is the northern Iraqi city.

GLOVER-JAMES: Yes, exactly, that is more than approximately 150 miles from here. So clearly I'd have no evidence of that. It's quite possible that we will see or hear some kind of attack on Baghdad later tonight. It's been running now for two nights. And it's quite possible that something else will happen later this evening.

But at the moment it's entirely calm here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, Ian. Just for the moment, we'll break, because I'm just going to remind viewers who are just joining us here on the ITV News channel that there has been an aerial attack over Baghdad this evening. You're seeing live pictures of a very peaceful- looking Baghdad at the moment, but earlier antiaircraft fire lit up the skies above the Iraqi capital. The Pentagon is saying that the so-called shock and awe... BLITZER: All right. I want to break away from the coverage from the British television station, ITN. They have a reporter in Baghdad. Ian Glover-James was reporting that from his vantage point, he was seeing calm in Baghdad. From the cameras, the pictures that we had seen, anything but calm in other parts of the huge city of about 5 million people, in Baghdad.

I want to recap for our viewers who may just be tuning in what has happened in the past 45 minutes or hour or so.

CNN has confirmed the start of A-Day, the start of the aerial bombardment, the massive U.S. air strike campaign that has been dubbed shock and awe, a campaign that was expected to last at least 24 to 48 hours. Iraqi antiaircraft fire was firing almost randomly, wildly, into the skies, hoping to shoot down U.S. planes, U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The -- there's no indication any of that happened. We have been reporting huge explosions have occurred in the outskirts of Baghdad, presumably explosions resulting from U.S. bombs, U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles, and other sophisticated munitions.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is standing by at the Pentagon -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as this begins to unfold over the next minutes and hours, we are told to expect to see virtually all of the assets of the U.S. Air Force and Navy come into play here.

The Air Force has B-52s in the air, officials are now confirming. Expect to see the B-2 Stealth bomber playing a role in this campaign, as well as Navy carrier-based aircraft flying from the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, Tomahawk cruise missiles being launched from Navy submarines and surface ships, possibly even being launched by the British.

In the previous two nights of bombing, the British did participate. They can fire Tomahawk missiles from their submarines in the Royal Navy. So we are likely to see some coalition involvement as well.

We have continued, as you've pointed out over the last several minutes, to see some additional antiaircraft fire over Baghdad. But clearly the Iraqis searching the skies for those incoming planes and missiles, hoping if they put up a wall of enough fire, antiaircraft fire, they will hit something.

So we're sort of standing here watching, look -- all looking at the same picture, hearing the occasional air raid sirens over Baghdad, waiting for things to unfold, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, is there any indication whatsoever that this is an improvised shock and awe strategy that might be unfolding? Or is it the original game plan that they had in mind from the start? STARR: Well, Pentagon officials and military officials have continued to say the plan remains flexible, open to change. There's things that they can do along the way. Hard to say whether this was the original plan. There was always some flexibility built in, if Saddam Hussein decided to go into exile, if he decided to give up, if the Iraqi military deposed him by a coup.

If one of these events had occurred that had taken Saddam Hussein out of power, if there had been regime change, and then voluntary disarmament, it's clear the campaign would have unfolded somewhat differently.

But over the last several hours, as this has begun to sort itself out, it appears there's no real indication just yet that Saddam Hussein is willing to go into exile, willing to give up the reins of power. So we have every indication that they plan to proceed with an aerial bombardment of Baghdad.

Whether it's the exact shock and awe first anticipated, of course, no one really knows.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, stand by at the Pentagon.

Our national security correspondent, David Ensor, has some new information that he wants to report -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a senior intelligence official is telling us that they are convinced that Saddam Hussein was there when the bombs were dropping, along with one or more of his sons, in the Baghdad residential compound that the U.S. hit early Thursday.

Officials saying they do not know yet whether the Iraqi leader was injured or killed in the massive attack, and acknowledging the information is mixed. One, in fact, saying to me that he's seen intelligence suggesting he's dead, intelligence suggesting he's injured, and intelligence suggesting he's just fine.

As he put it, welcome to the fog of war.

At the same time, intelligence officials are saying that there has been a marked reduction in the kind of communications that you would expect there to be at the high level of the Iraqi military and leadership over the last 48 hours, suggesting disarray, suggesting that the initial attack has at least caused confusion amongst Saddam Hussein and his leaders, if it hasn't actually killed him.

So that may be why there was the delay that we have, at least up until just now, seen in the aerial bombardment campaign, as the U.S. sought through various private and secret, sometimes, means, through e-mails and other means as well, to talk to the military commanders, try to convince them to basically lay down their arms, Wolf.

BLITZER: And presumably, David, this start of an intensive aerial campaign might precisely have that objective in mind, to try to convince what remains of an Iraqi leadership, as you say, perhaps in disarray, to lay down their guns, to lay down their arms and surrender.

I would assume that would be one of the objectives. Is that what you're hearing as well?

ENSOR: Absolutely. We may see leadership targets hit with greater emphasis than any others in this initial strike.

I should also tell you that a technical analysis of the tape that was put on the air of Saddam Hussein talking, that was broadcast hours after the first attack by the U.S., officials now saying they think that is the voice of Saddam Hussein on the tape. They, however, know -- the U.S. knows that the Iraqi leader taped a number of messages in advance of the war.

So over at the CIA, they're now trying to ascertain whether the televised message, you know, could have been one of those taped-ahead messages. It did, of course, mention the U.S. attack being on March 20 and starting during morning prayers. But there could have been a number of different messages pretaped. And this could have been one of them.

So a lot of theories. And as I say, the fog of war reigns, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, David Ensor with important information. We'll be standing by, getting back to you as well.

Our Bob Franken is in northern Kuwait at an air base. He's monitoring these developments. Bob, you were saying intense air activity at the base where you're located, not far from the Iraqi border.

FRANKEN: Well, you know, it's interesting, as a matter of fact, it has been something that has grown in intensity. And I wanted to supplement a couple of points that you've discussed with some of the others who have been on.

First of all, the idea about an evolving battle plan. You were talking about that with Barbara Starr. The wing commander here this morning pointed out that, although there was a plan, the plan, so to speak, that had been developed, it was one that by the very nature of war was changing constantly, depending on the battlefield realities and depending to some degree on the psychological realities.

One of the reasons that we get the feeling that we have been allowed to be here, to show all the noise, all the chaos, all the intensity of the planes taking off, is that it is so close to Iraq. It is going to be a message to the people in Iraq and to the leaders of Iraq from the United States government, Hey, right on your doorstep, you are about to be clobbered by a huge and growing and intense air campaign.

And it's going to be on television for you to see as it streaks your way. And that, of course, is exactly what we are seeing as the planes take off and land. The number of them has grown over the last several days and promises to grow through the night.

BLITZER: One of many bases the U.S. and the British Air Forces are using right now to go after targets, the U.S. Navy also involved.

You're seeing some live pictures, these tracer fire. These are Iraqi antiaircraft fire, firing into the skies, hoping to shoot down U.S. planes or cruise missiles.

CNN's Martin Savidge is already in Iraq. He's in southern Iraq. He's one of the journalists embedded with U.S. troops.

Marty, what are you seeing now?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're with the First Battalion, Seventh Marines. And obviously the big effort, as far as coming into southern Iraq, was to focus on the oil industry. That is considered crucial. Not from what many people have criticized and said was the United States wanting to grab oil. The military leaders say that is not the plan at all.

It is to get the infrastructure of oil, which is so valuable to this nation and to so many other nations in the Gulf region, and get it back into the hands of the Iraqi people, where they say it has not been under their control, it's been under the control to make Saddam Hussein richer.

So there was a very big push into southern Iraq for that purpose. And specifically, where we are, which is just outside of Basra, at this particular facility, which we cannot name, because it still could come under attack from Iraqi artillery or Scud missiles, it's estimated that 14 percent of the entire world's oil supply flows through this region.

But they were very concerned, in the days leading up and planning this assault on this facility, that it had been targeted for destruction. In other words, that it may have been booby-trapped, or that there had been explosives already laid, and there was a great deal of concern that if they did not race and get through with some element of surprise, that the whole thing could have been blown up.

That would have been an economic disaster, it would have been an ecological disaster. And had it gone up when the Marines were arriving, it also could have meant a great deal as far as loss of life.

As it was, that was not the case. They got here in time. It had not been detonated. No Marines were injured or killed in the assault here. There was a brief firefight, and there are about 50 people that were taken into custody, including about 20, 25 that are considered EPOWs, or prisoners of war.

One officer here clarified and said, pretty much, this was a crown jewel in the early opening effort of the Gulf War, because now the revenues that will eventually come from this facility will help rebuild the nation after the war is over, Wolf.

FRANKEN: All right, Martin Savidge, CNN's Martin Savidge. He's with U.S. troops in the southern part of Iraq. We are now getting reports from there have been huge explosions, as they're being called, not only in Baghdad and the outskirts of Baghdad, but in other major urban centers of Iraq, specifically Kirkuk and Mosul.

We have a reporter in the northern part of Iraq, Ben Wedeman. Ben, what are you seeing and what are you hearing from your location?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, about -- beginning about 15 minutes ago, we started seeing tracers fire rising from the horizon over Mosul, which is about 28 miles to the west of where we are. It's been pretty sporadic. OK, now I see one tracer round.

We saw also some flashes on the horizon. It appears to be coming from both the direction of Mosul, and also a bit north of it. And this is really a continuation of what we were seeing this morning in the early hours of the morning, about 4:30 local time, when the first bombings actually began over Mosul, three separate incidents in the morning.

And now (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the past 15 minutes or so, we've been seeing sporadic tracer fire, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ben Wedeman, stand by. We're going to get back to you again.

Once again, Mosul, in the northern part of Iraq, under fire, presumably by U.S. war planes and cruise missiles, Kirkuk as well.

And you're looking at these live pictures of Baghdad, where Iraqi antiaircraft fire continues to fire into the skies, hoping to shoot down a U.S. plane. There have been huge explosions on the outskirts of Baghdad as well.

We're standing by, in about half an hour from now, we're expecting a Pentagon briefing, the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, will be briefing reporters, presumably telling us some more about what we're seeing on our television screens right now.

Kevin Sites is also in northern Iraq. Kevin, tell us what you're seeing and what you're hearing. First of all, where precisely are you?

KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're in Shamp Shamal (ph). It is the last city in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Kirkuk is just about 40 kilometers from us. And about five minutes ago, we started to see flashes in that northern horizon. Then shortly after that, antiaircraft fire. Now, that continued for the last 10 minutes.

The sky over Kirkuk has been kind of glowing red for a while. Now, it's settled down for a bit. There seems to be a lull right now. But the actual antiaircraft fire was fairly heavy for about five minutes there.

And it looks like the battle for Kirkuk, the long-reported battle, has finally begun.

BLITZER: And Kirkuk, Mosul, these are key cities, key Iraqi cities, which have enormous wealth. The Iraqi revolutionary guard, Iraqi forces, had complete control. But clearly U.S. targets going after these positions.

What about -- what else are you seeing, Kevin, that you could share with us right now?

SITES: Well, this has been a fairly active border post, Wolf. There's been some mortar fire here today. And this is one of the areas that people thought might capitulate fairly quickly and open up as some of these Iraqi troops fell back to actually defend Kirkuk.

(audio interrupt) troops are still dug in on this (audio interrupt), and you hear some Dushkas (ph), some Russian-made machine gunfire, up in the hills. But it has mostly been antiaircraft fire, flashes coming from over that horizon.

And this is a fairly good distance away. Like I said, this is 40 kilometers away. And so seen from here, there's obviously some very strong firepower going into that city right now.

BLITZER: Intense bombardment under way in several-

SITES: And it's picking up again, Wolf, we're starting to hear...

BLITZER: ... locations now.

SITES: ... we're starting to hear it again.

BLITZER: Tell us what you're hearing, Kevin.

SITES: Well, we're starting to hear antiaircraft fire again coming from there. It looks like some of the glowing in the sky that we saw earlier has fallen off quite a bit. But there's still sounds of antiaircraft fire in that region. And again, like I said, it's pretty far away. Some Dushka machine gunfire coming from the hills around us, all seeming to go in that direction.

BLITZER: Kevin Sites is in northern Iraq, where -- Kevin's in Northern Iraq, where there's also U.S. air strikes under way, Kirkuk, Mosul, and Baghdad.

You're looking at these live pictures from Baghdad. Earlier, huge explosions heard on the outskirts of Baghdad.

CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, has got some more information -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at this point, the senior Pentagon officials are telling us this is their so-called A-Day, that is the day they planned for the massive air assault of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. But they're also, at the same time, warning us that this plan is very flexible, and can be calibrated to deal with events on the ground. It's not an automatic launching of all 3,000 or so precision-guided munitions.

We're told at this point that the plan does involve carrier aircraft, from both carriers in the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf, to drop precision-guided bombs.

In addition, we're told that cruise missiles will be part of the activity today, and also B-2 Stealth bombers, with their capacity to hit 16 individual targets with satellite-guided bombs, and B-2 bombers, some of which took off from Fairford, England, hours ago, will also be taking part, perhaps launching either air-launched cruise missiles. It's expected they would launch air-launched cruise missiles at the beginning of the campaign.

So we'll just have to watch and see how this unfolds. But this is the day that the Pentagon hoped to instill, quote, "shock and awe" on the Iraqi military in order to facilitate its desire to surrender, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the reason they call it A-Day as opposed to D-Day, Jamie?

MCINTYRE: You know, I'm not really sure. I'm thinking A might be for attack, or perhaps the air part of the campaign. Clearly, it wasn't the beginning of the war, because it started some, you know, two days ago. But at this point, this is the beginning of this massive aerial campaign. So I'm guessing it's something like that.

BLITZER: It's -- all right, listen to this, Jamie. These are shots being fired now in Baghdad. I want our viewers to listen in.

(sounds of continuous massive explosions)


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