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Strike on Iraq: Walter Rodgers Reports Live

Aired March 21, 2003 - 05:25   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go now to Bill Hemmer, who is in Kuwait City, for some new information -- Bill.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, listen, for the folks just waking up on the U.S. side of this Iraqi war right now, you're going to find some fascinating pictures and images on CNN throughout the day today. Our journalists embedded with these various units, like Marty Savidge, which you just heard from, with the U.S. Marines.

Walter Rodgers right now has been traveling for hours now, Third Infantry Division, Seventh Cavalry, working their way up through the southern portion of Iraq. The images that Walter has given us have just been absolutely incredible. The information we're getting on the inside comes, in large part, based on our journalists embedded with the military.

Walter right now joins us live as they continue to move at what appears to be a pretty firm clip right now, Bradley fighting vehicles, maybe 40 miles an hour through the desert -- Walter, what's your situation now?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, imagine for a moment a giant wave of steel sweeping across the southern Iraqi desert and imagine that almost hourly that wave grows in strength and numbers. As we ride through this desert, we can see that the Third Infantry Division's heavy mechanized units have moved up. This giant wave of steel that grows every hour is ever pushing northward, ever pushing toward the Iraqi capital.

The total goal is obviously to intimidate the Iraqis and pressure them and if that doesn't work then they can smash the Iraqi regime, so powerful is this force which is building out here in the desert. It is bold, it is audacious, it is fast and it is traveling far.

The policy of these armored units of the Seventh Cavalry, with whom I'm with now, and the Third Infantry Division, a heavy mechanized division, is if there is a demonstrably hostile force out there, then the Army is going to kill them. Their goal is to find the enemy, grab him by the nose, they say, and this, according to one senior officer, after grabbing him by the nose, we don't let the Iraqis go anywhere.

The Seventh Cavalry's mission is to find the Iraqis and to persuade them to give up and if they don't persuade, if the Iraqis don't give up, then they will be pounded, according to the officers we're traveling with -- Bill. HEMMER: Walter, there was a concern prior to this conflict beginning that the rate of speed would be so fast that you would actually outrun your fuel supply to the rear. Is that still a concern right now where you are?

RODGERS: That's a negative, Bill. We had a

ROM about an hour or so back. A ROM is military acronym for refuel on the move. There was a massive fleet of tanker trucks that brought up new fuel for the tanks, the armored vehicles and so forth. Every one of these vehicles has been refueled. They can punch forward for another eight hours now nonstop, and that appears to be what they intend on doing.

They are looking out, they're reaching out, trying to find Iraqi units who might be here in southern Iraq. That is their goal. And now they've been joined very closely by the Third Infantry Division and they have hundreds and hundreds of tanks.

So you see this giant wave of steel just rolling across the desert toward Baghdad. Again, it's difficult to show how many tanks are out here because of the clouds of dust that each of these armored vehicles kicks up. And the desert has a horizon of maybe two kilometers, a mile and a half. But you drive up to the ridge on there, you look beyond that, and there are even more tanks in almost every direction.

So it is, as one officer said to us, a bold, audacious, fast and far reaching armored movement all headed towards Baghdad -- Bill.

HEMMER: Walter, also, the other concern was you mentioned the dust in the desert there clogging the air filters and actually at some points possibly stopping these vehicles from going forward. How have they dealt with that right now? What's the system they're using and how much of a problem has that been?

RODGERS: Well, there's regular service and maintenance on these vehicles. It has not been a problem at this point. There has been no, we haven't seen any of the tanks fall out. Indeed, they are all rolling forward as fast as they can.

You did raise a good point when you said that it's possible that the armored units of the Third Squadron, Seventh Cavalry do outrace their fuel tanks. But they are taking territory while they are outracing the fuel tankers and then when the fuel tank -- then the cavalry stops, the tankers catch up and then they do the refueling. That has given the Third Infantry Division, the heavy mechanized division, an opportunity to move up, as well.

That's why I used that analogy of a growing giant wave of steel, which, as I say, grows hourly and is coming like a giant wave moving northward towards the Iraqi capital -- Bill.

HEMMER: Yes, Walter, you're traveling with a photograph, Charlie Miller. On the technical side, I'm just fascinated at how you were able to give us these images. Can you give us a basic 101 course about how you're able to do it right now, moving the way you are?

RODGERS: Sure, Bill. It's easy. We have two means of transmitting images. One, on the roll, which is on a video phone, and we were very, very fortunate. We knew we wanted this particular embed, the Seventh Cavalry, because we knew they were the tip of the tip of the spear. And what Charlie is doing is holding a small mini cam out the window, bracing it as best he can on the car frame, which accounts for some of the jiggling in the picture. But even those 68 ton, 69 ton Abrams tanks are bouncing along, not as much as we are, but there's not a perfect smooth ride out here.

Charlie's riding out the passenger side window in the front. Jeff Barwise (ph), our engineer, is making all the pictures fly through the air. He does magic. And he's out of CNN Atlanta. And between the two of them, their pictures are what -- they're bringing these images to you as we roll through the desert. It's a total CNN team and these are very exclusive pictures -- Bill.

HEMMER: Yes, Walter, another point here, the British are saying earlier today that they might be in Baghdad within three to four days. I know logistics and your geography, we cannot be specific. But are you hearing a similar thing, that it may come in three or four days, or quite possibly sooner than that, given your rate of speed?

RODGERS: That's an excellent question, Bill, and it really depends on whether the regime in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's government, collapses. If that regime collapses, then it's entirely possible that these armored units could be in Baghdad in two to three or four days. That really all depends on whether the Iraqi units like the Republican Guard, their better armored units, decide to make a stand south of Baghdad.

My guess is, the British are coming in from the east-southeast, these units that we are with are approaching more directly from the south and they will be slamming in. Now, whether the British and the United States coordinate, which you think they would do, but there will be -- there is a rush to Baghdad under way as we speak. I rather hope it doesn't turn into an Anglo-American race to see who gets there first because that would, that might be militarily reckless.

But it really depends on what sort of resistance the Iraqi Army throws up as any army approaches, whether it's the British Army or the U.S. Army. It really depends on what sort of resistance the Iraqis throw up. But the Iraqis have some very fine military units south of Baghdad, the famous Medina Division, which earned its stripes very honorably in the last Gulf War, and then to the west of that is the Hamarabi Division.

These are crack Republican Guard divisions and inside backing them up are the special Republican Guard units in the city itself. So no one should have any illusions that this is going to be a cake walk. The U.S. Army believes, and particularly the commander of the Seventh Cavalry, Lieutenant Colonel Terry Furrow (ph) said he is expecting the Iraqis to put up a fight, and a very stiff fight. Everything you read suggests the Iraqis are not likely to roll over and play dead, even in the face of this huge armored force moving in their direction, unless, of course, there's a regime collapse or a regime change in Baghdad.

Then it will be a race for Baghdad and if the regime of Saddam Hussein does collapse, then these units will probably switch to a different contingency plan. Indeed, we believe they're going to switch to a different contingency plan and it will be a race to Baghdad just to try to stabilize the situation here in Iraq, given the various ethnic rivalries -- Bill.

HEMMER: Absolutely phenomenal coverage.

Walter Rodgers, again, moving his way through southern Iraq. We are told that Walter, along with his team of Charlie and Jeff, these guys are advancing further with this scouting unit than any other embedded journalists seen throughout this conflict and clearly you can see right now the advantage of having journalists with their units right now, moving through Iraq.

It is a tremendous source of information for us here at CNN.


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