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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Strike on Iraq: 7th Cavalry Advancing North in Iraq Unopposed

Aired March 21, 2003 - 01:00   ET

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

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Give me a paragraph on the infantry, their role will be what? Only hand-to-hand, if that's what it is?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Behind this organization is going to be -- there are three brigades in the 3rd Infantry Division. They are a combination of tanks and mechanized infantry. The tanks are -- each battalion has three tank companies, 14 tanks in a tank company, plus a couple of men in headquarters. So 44 tanks in a battalion, three Bradley companies in a Bradley battalion. They normally cross-attach, so they're moving as task forces.

So that -- that brigade behind probably has 88 tanks, let's say and 44 Bradleys. Plus, it's got artillery with it and other things. That's the real combat punch of the division, along with its Apaches. And they will either conduct a mounted assault or they could conduct a dismounted assault.

But in this kind of a force, generally we're going to do as much mounted as we can. We're going to dismount our infantrymen only when we have to to clear some objective or in the case where we might be in the defense to, let's say, put some infantrymen out in a defensive area.

Springtime in the desert, even in Iraq.

BROWN: Even in Iraq. There aren't many pretty things in moments like this, but that's one of them. And sort of nice to see it.

We'll do some refueling for you, too, here. Those of you who may just be joining us, we want to get you up to date on the major events that have gone on in a long day. Because of the overlap in time zones, we end up talking about two days' events each day.

Connie Chung has been handling that duty for us. And she will now update you -- Connie.

(NEWSBREAK)

BROWN: I was looking through some of the newspaper headlines around the country that will make their way -- I'm going to make my director really unhappy here for a second.

The first one I saw was the San Bernadino County newspaper. This is what they're saying in San Bernadino, California. This is what -- which camera do you want me to work to here? Doesn't matter because it's so bold: "America Strikes" is the headline there.

And let me just, while I'm in the mood here show you one more and then I want to go to Daryn Kagan, who's in Kuwait and is probably saying, "Hurry up, already."

"U.S. Jolts Baghdad, Starts Ground War." That is the "Detroit Free Press." And the "Detroit News," in fairness we ought to -- there you go -- and one of those nightscope photos that we all saw, proof, I guess, the land war is on. That's the "Free Press."

Let me give you the other paper from Detroit, the "Detroit News." Very stark, clean headline: "Besieged." "The Detroit News," and they added a 20-page insert or special report, or whatever they call it, on the war.

And we'll do a couple of more of those along the way.

Daryn Kagan is in Kuwait City and again, it's been a tough, difficult 24, 36 hours there with sirens going on and off and missiles flying in and out. Daryn, join us.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Aaron, from Kuwait City. Right now just past 9 in the morning, so we are well into Thursday here. It was a very rough night, but it ended up being a safe night.

We have three new pieces of video into us here that I wanted to show to our viewers back home to give them a sense not just of what's happening here in Kuwait City but also north of the border. We're going to start just across the Kuwaiti -- the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border on the way to Basra.

And this coming into us from Reuters Television. A number of fireballs seen near Iraq's southern oil fields. The fireballs appear to be a mixture of artillery fire and bombing from warplanes. One eyewitness there describing that they saw about 30 fireballs on the horizon. And keep in mind that's a pretty flat horizon. This is a very flat part of the world.

The noise that you are hearing in the tape and the bombing appears to be an effort to flatten the horizon, also to rid that area of land mines. That whole area, both on the Kuwaiti side of the border and the Iraqi side, have a large number of land mines. Those land mines have been cleared from the Kuwaiti side. What was in store on the Iraqi side, not exactly sure. So the military had to go in there first, clear out those land mines so it's safer for other members of the coalition forces to head there.

Then we also want to show you -- this is coming to us from APTN. This is video of American and British combat units as they're actually rumbling their way across the border, going into the desert, into Iraq early Thursday. And explosions from that artillery fire could be seen inside the country from this side of the border in Kuwait.

And then finally, our last piece of video is more about the sound, and I think this tells the story better than even the pictures. This is what we heard at least three times last night. Let's listen to this. (air raid sirens)

That is the sound of the sirens that you would hear through Kuwait City, as I said. About three times we were awakened last night. There's supposed to be three signals: danger coming, danger here and all clear. It seems like the Kuwaitis have gone right to "danger here." That's what wakes you up and sends you down to a shelter area with all your gear as you wait for the all clear. The good news is they all did end in all clear, and Kuwait City not hit last night. But not a lot of people in Kuwait City getting a lot of sleep last night, Aaron.

BROWN: There are a couple of English language newspapers in Kuwait City. If you get your hands on one, I'd be very interested to see what...

KAGAN: OK.

BROWN: Thank you. See what the headline is in one of those two papers. Thank you.

It would be hard to...

KAGAN: We've got the air time.

BROWN: Thank you. It would be hard to overstate, wouldn't it, the scars left behind the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. It was a -- in the hotels in Kuwait, in many of the buildings in Kuwait, you will see pictures of what the Iraqis did when they came in, of the destruction they wrought. The signs are everywhere, but in -- in some respects, these people will tell you that the emotional scars of this kind of innocent, simple country so rich with oil -- don't forget that -- but with almost no other industry at all was changed dramatically by the events of 12 years ago which very much set the table for the events we're watching today and the pictures that you're seeing right now in southern Iraq.

Daryn, you're good. You found a newspaper, didn't you?

KAGAN: Yes, I did. You ask, we deliver. This is the "Arab Times." This is one of the English papers here in Kuwait. I think you can see it right there: "America Invades Iraq." And then also the sub-headline, "Soldiers, Civilians Bunker as Sirens Wail." Talks about that. And "Several Iraqi Troops Surrender."

I thought it's been interesting, even with everything that's going on, everything that's going on here in this country, this has been the case every day. Now, this is, you have to think, one of the hugest days in the history of this country. And of course, you have a huge headline and you have this, but as has been the case every day, sports still making the top half...

BROWN: And what is it?

KAGAN: ... of the paper. Your soccer scores, on page 31. If you need them.

BROWN: I was going to say, is it soccer or cricket? But it's soccer.

KAGAN: No, it is soccer.

BROWN: Yes. Well, life goes on. You're a big sports fan, as you know much of the country, I think, is with one eye watching the events a world away in Iraq and here, much of the country with the other eye is trying to keep track of the NCAA basketball tournament, which rolled out today -- Thursday. Let's do it that way. So...

KAGAN: Not a lot of time to fill out brackets from here in Kuwait City, Aaron.

BROWN: Pardon?

KAGAN: There isn't a lot of time to fill out my brackets from here in Kuwait City. So I guess I'll just have to stick with the soccer scores in the "Arab Times."

BROWN: Thank you. Nice job on the papers, too. Thank you very much. Daryn Kagan in Kuwait. I hope the day is safer and more quiet. No -- I don't think any reporter wants a totally quiet day, but given the circumstances they're in.

Is Becky Diamond available? OK. Becky Diamond is one of the embedded correspondents. She's out on the USS Milius, as I remember from last night. Becky, it's good to see you again. What can you report?

BECKY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, right now the sailors on board the Milius are keeping a very vigilant watch on the skies above them. This ship, in addition to being a Tomahawk launching first strike ship, which it launched missiles yesterday, is also tasked with maintaining air security for the Persian Gulf.

For all the naval assets in the Gulf, and there are about 80 U.S. Navy ships right here right now and about 60 coalition ships. It's a big job. And the level of anxiety in the combat information center rose pretty dramatically yesterday and also this morning when Iraq launched some missiles into Kuwait.

Now there are Patriot missile batteries, of course, in Kuwait. But there are none floating in the Persian Gulf. So it's up to ships like the Milius to trap incoming missiles and destroy them, if need be -- Aaron.

BROWN: Has it been a busy and active day? A quiet -- was it a quiet Thursday after the heavy activity of the night before?

DIAMOND: Well, it's fascinating. I sit in the combat information center, which is basically the pulse, the heartbeat of this ship. And it's where the missiles would be launched from if they're going to be launched, and almost the busier it gets in the air the calmer people are here on the ship.

It's vigilant. People are determined. They're calm, but they are watching. And they're nervous. There's some level of anxiety, especially with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Aaron.

BROWN: Do they -- are they aware -- Let me ask you more -- more directly. How much do they know about what's going on? How much do you know, how much do they know about what's going on in the world away from them over in Iraq?

DIAMOND: Well, it's fascinating. It's often a race between CNN and the navy. And we go often one for one, who knows what first? So often CNN reports that a SCUD has launched or a missile's launched from Iraq, and then the sailors find out, or it goes vice versa. Of course, there's a confirmation process that goes into play.

But quite often, the sailors get their news from CNN or other news gathering organizations -- Aaron.

BROWN: People now, Becky, are going to think that that was a set-up question that we're going to use in some promotional announcement.

General Clark, I remember you saying to me once, and it may have been three hours ago, that it was not unusual for you guys to look up and get -- and see on CNN and see on the television networks what was going on out there and then trying to figure out what it meant, in a sense.

CLARK: Well, I have to tell you that I got my first battle damage assessments, always, off CNN. Where we struck the oil refineries and the other targets there in Belgrade in 1999, the first indication we'd been successful was not from the pilots, was not through the chain of command, it was on CNN.

BROWN: Is that in any sense -- I have a lot of confidence in the work we do, but seriously, was there any sense of disconcerting that that's how you had to find out? To turn on the television?

CLARK: Well, actually, it was very helpful.

BROWN: OK. Well, good. I'm glad. Becky, thanks a lot. Becky Diamond of the USS Milius, one of the embedded reporters and found herself -- found herself a little piece of the history of this the other night.

On the right hand side of the screen, if you just joined us, I apologize to the rest of you, this is the southern Iraqi Desert. This is the 7th Cavalry as they make their way to Baghdad. They stopped now; they're doing some refueling. They seem still to be stopped. Walt Rodgers is with him. We'll get to him in just a second.

General, of the interesting things Frank said about working with the general is he thinks like a general. You want to talk about what's on the other side of the page?

CLARK: Well, I'm interesting in what's going on that we're not seeing.

BROWN: Let me set you up in a more decent way, because I get paid to do that. What we're able to present to you is essentially a narrow view. We have reporters and they can report; they are free to report. Walt Rodgers, who you've heard a lot from tonight, is free to report the activity of the 7th Cavalry within the rules of the embedded process, which is not, most specifically in today's case, don't give away the exact location of where they are in this vast desert.

But we know that other things are going on. That is to say, we know the marines crossed the border earlier on Thursday. We know that there are key and important missions that are in play and what we don't know, because those reporters have not yet been able to file for reasons that there's no point in speculating on, but they haven't been able to file. And a couple of them are critical. How's that for a set up?

CLARK: Well, it's a good set-up on two cases. Number one is we know that there are other forces that have crossed. We can speculate on what the objectives might be. There's the second largest city in Iraq there, and we know that there are forces there. We've seen pictures of the artillery bombardment that occurred overnight. And so we assume that there's combat action taking place there.

Now we're not picking up any of that, as far as I know there's really nothing in the press to help us do this, and I would say in that case it must be because it's appropriate. Because the people who are working it and watching it don't want that information released at that point.

On the other hand, here's something that we can see and can report. But in terms of giving a total, situational awareness. The thing we're asking ourselves is how do you keep the pressure on the Iraqis, make sure they get the message, advance the war plan, and at the same time, go through this calculation of who's in charge in Baghdad and what's the best way to send them a message?

And so it looks like on the one hand we've withheld the shock and awe strike, but on the other hand, we haven't withheld the move to bust out of Kuwait and to go after -- perhaps we're going after -- the second largest city. We're saying we're there, we mean it. If Saddam Hussein thought that Americans and British wouldn't risk their soldiers in taking casualties in doing a ground fight, well, he was wrong. Because that's what it looks like is shaping up here.

So we're sending a message both ways.

BROWN: All right. The last thing on your note, just read what that says. What's happening now?

CLARK: What's happening now? Well, you know, it's hard -- it's hard to give up the experience of 34 years and being inside a military organization where you do get reports. And so what's happening now? There's probably a fight going on somewhere.

BROWN: Somewhere. Somewhere. And the dimensions of that fight we don't know, and it probably go -- it will tell us something about the willingness of the one Iraqi unit to stand and fight. And it will tell us something about the kind of equipment that still works. It's a pretty degraded army of Iraqis now. We don't know.

CLARK: This is the odd thing, you know, when you're dealing with a force like this, even if they've got no commander in control at the top, you may have individual units who don't get the word, and they're still fighting because there's an officer there who's stubborn or loyal or just...

BROWN: Believes he should.

CLARK: Believes he should.

BROWN: On the subject of what's happening now, I guess, Al Jazeera, the Arab language news channel is reporting that there will be a news conference within the hour. And I wouldn't necessarily put a lot of money on the fact that's going to happen within the hour, OK? Within the hour, Iraqi government officials, the content -- the subject of that we do not know. But they are reporting that, and I assume that we will make our best effort to carry that and translate that if that, in fact, happens tonight.

You may recall yesterday the very different circumstance that we were promised that Saddam Hussein's statement about eight times. That it would be in the next 10 minutes, the next 10 minutes, the next 10 minutes. In any case, Al Jazeera says this will happen in the next hour.

As I look now back at the screen, Walt, Walt Rodgers -- we've known each other a long time. Just said, describe what we see and what's going on out there in the desert. You're still stopped.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's true. This is what is called in the army a FOM, a refuel on the move. The engines of the armored vehicles are running, but they have to be refueled. And one of the things they have to do is wait for the big tanker trucks to catch up with the 314, 5th Cavalry.

The reason they have to catch up is because the tanks can move so much faster and farther than the tanker trucks, which fuel them. The tanks can run about eight hours on a full tank of fuel. The Bradleys can go even longer, perhaps 10 to 12. And helicopters have a very much shorter flight time about three hours before they have to be refueled. This is the time, of course, when a tank unit and cavalry column like this is most vulnerable to an enemy attack.

But of course the Cairo helicopters are out there, flying the perimeter constantly, making sure no hostile forces approach this cavalry unit at this time. So there's nothing wrong in the game plan

Indeed, the game plan is on track and as soon as refueling is completed, the 7th will start moving again.

By the way, no one should have any allusions, despite the fact that the 7th has had relatively easy going in the first stages of the ground campaign in the push toward Baghdad. Every soldier in this unit has been briefed and knows that as they get closer to Baghdad, the special Republican Guard units up there are expected to put up a very stiff fight, and they know that the most difficult part of this operation lies far ahead and way up the road to the north -- Aaron.

BROWN: They were told before they set out -- It was awhile ago. You talked about the pep talk they got from Tampton -- Aaron, I hate when you forget a last name -- Thank you!

CLARK: Lyle.

BROWN: It's amazing; I got his first name right. Anyway, he gave a pep talk. They knew that the first part of this road to Baghdad is about 350 miles from the boarder of Kuwait -- the Kuwait- Iraqi border to Baghdad.

They knew that the first part of that row would be relatively easy. Well, if anything was going to get nasty down the road. They're not surprised about what's happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, indeed they do know who's going to get nasty, because they know that Saddam Hussein has kept his best troops to protect Baghdad.

That does not deter the soldiers because as a land force they're extraordinarily powerful, and again remember, the 7th Cavalry is going to be out front, the tip of the tip of the steer, probing Saddam's defenses around Baghdad. But what really is important after that is the follow-on force, the big 3rd Infantry Division, that's a mechanized infantry division, several hundred tanks and it had its own Bradleys.

So the Iraqi defense minister is looking down the backs of one of the greatest tank armadas in history.

BROWN: Well, let me just -- let me just stop you for a second. You can see on the screen -- the lower part of the screen we're hearing warning sirens in Kuwait, if we could pop the sound out.

I'm not sure if Daryn can talk to us or not, if they have to get into a bunker at this moment. (sound of sirens)

Kuwait City's only about -- if I remember this correctly -- it's only 40 miles, a little more than that or so, from the border. It's not very far away. It takes awhile to drive up there and these days you can't actually drive all the way to the borders, restricted.

But as it's now approaching 9:30, Friday morning in Kuwait. We asked a number of times when we were there what these towers are. The one in the foreground, the one you see is very much like the Space Needle in Seattle, I think.

These are other -- on the right side of your screen you're also seeing some neighborhood shots of Kuwait. I'm saying that those towers on the left, there's a restaurant up there, observation deck up there. The other tower, the one behind it's a water tower of one sort of another.

Anyway, you pay a couple of bucks and you can go up and look out and visit an amusement part around there. The sirens stopped, but they were loud. And you can see that there's not a lot of traffic. Nine-thirty in the morning it's a pretty bustling city under normal circumstances and driving in the city is an experience, I will tell you. Not quite Rome but it's an experience.

And it is, generally speaking, let me say this differently -- in our experience of a week there, I think that's fair and more honest, quite a lot more crowded than what you see on the right side of your screen.

The shot on the left side of your screen, just so that you know I'm certain is coming off a hotel balcony where we have a broadcast position, stationery position. Obviously, we've got the camera up there and I -- we have a large staff there, as you can imagine. And we are always mindful of the risks that they are taking, and mindful of the risks that the citizens of Kuwait have been living under the last days and weeks, and the experience they had during the invasion and the rest.

But we're worried about the cameraman who's doing his job. We don't see any indication that anything has happened in this, particularly the shot on the right, which is the wider of the two shots. Might take that full for a second, just if you can. But again, it looks to be very quiet, very quiet Friday morning in Kuwait. It's coming up on 9:30 there, 9:30 in the morning.

Kuwait City is a very bustling city in many, many respects. It is new in a lot of places: a lot of it had to be rebuilt after the invasion.

All of the hotels have been -- all of the major hotels have been rebuilt. They were terribly damaged by -- in that -- vandalized is a much better word. Vandalized by the Iraqis when they came in. This kid of wanton destruction that the Iraqis did when they -- when they came in, they stole everything from the faucets and the toilet seats to take back with them when they left and torched the oil fields 40 miles to the north along the way.

There are also parts of the city that are quite old and feel quite Arab, quite Persian, if you will. There's bustling markets, but it's also very western in many respects. And it's a place where -- that seems to be trying to figure out exactly what it's going to be, a conservative Islamic country or moderate -- or how conservative an Islamic country it might be.

Daryn Kagan is living through it, and she's on the phone and not on the balcony and we're glad to hear that. Daryn?

KAGAN: Yes, hi, Aaron. I left my purse on the fifth floor of the hotel we're staying at: came down into the basement. The sirens are going off again, here in Kuwait City. It's the long, kind of whining siren that goes and it there were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) out a minute or two ago.

We were just starting to think that things might calming down here in Kuwait City. But last alarm that we had was just about seven hours ago. So it was a nice long gap. But we hear that, got our stuff and came down to the basement, where we are.

BROWN: Well, it sounds like they lost the phone for a second and we'll see if we get it back. I don't know how Daryn's able to hear us, but Daryn we were able to hear quite clearly, quite loudly those sirens going. It had a much better sense of why it wakes you and everybody else up when it goes off.

That is the green in Kuwait, what you're looking at. There are a couple like pocket parts here and there. It's, we were saying, a kind of complicated political place, a place trying to figure out how democratic it's going to be. It's the royal family. There is a parliament, it's an elected parliament. It has limited hours, the court, the justice system pretty much controlled by the royal family.

There were lots of promises made after the first Gulf War that they would become a more democratic society and they would become somewhat more democratic. But interestingly enough, as they have become somewhat more democratic, they have also become somewhat more conservative in the Islamic sense of the term, because the conservative. Islamic political groups were better organized, ran better campaigns, presumably and got more votes and ended up with more seats in the parliament.

And so in fact in the post-Gulf War period, the country of Kuwait itself has become a more conservative Islamic country. It's not unusual to see in the streets of Kuwait, women in Burkahs, covered, totally covered, walking next to women in the most high fashion of London and Paris and New York City.

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