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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Strike on Iraq: Turkey Military Deployment Into Iraq Makes Kurds Nervous

Aired March 22, 2003 - 00:30   ET

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

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: General Clark, as you look at this -- first of all, you must think the reporters are crazy to want to go do this sort of work. I don't know.
WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think a lot of people would like to be out there because this is something that when you're with that team and you feel part of that team and part of that mission, it's one of the greatest feelings in the whole world to be part of something larger than yourself in a noble cause, to know that your actions really mean something.

That's what government service, that's what public service in the armed forces means, and especially at a time like this. I think Walter is exactly right about the tremendous excitement at being part of that.

BROWN: One of the -- you know people were quick to, as people can sometimes be, they were quick to criticize the embedding process before anyone had a chance to actually see how it would work.

And one the criticisms of it and believe me it's something that we thought about, we worry about to a certain extent is that in spending time with these units and bonding with these units, the question becomes are you reporting as aggressively about what they do as you would otherwise?

On the other hand and here's the tradeoff, if you don't know them, if you just drop in there some day, number one they don't trust you. They don't know you and you learn a lot less. And, if the object of the exercise here is to tell the story, you can't tell the story unless you know the subjects of the story.

Reporting this sort of story is not simply reporting they fired gun A to point B. It's also John Jones from Topeka, Kansas fired that gun from point A to point B. This is not a videogame. This is -- ultimately it comes down to decisions and actions of individuals and what we hope the process ultimately shows is that we get to know these people and we get to tell their stories.

General Clark, you said yesterday in my heart -- I could feel my heartbeat go up, that you wished in Kosovo and you wished going back to the Gulf War that we had had, we reporters had had better access because there are great stories to tell and stories to be proud of.

CLARK: That's exactly right. I mean I have a tremendous belief in these men that are out here on this equipment. I mean there are great Americans out there and I'm very proud of them. I know their parents are proud of them and I know this country is proud of them.

And so, I think it's a great thing that a man like Walter Rodgers will put his life on the line to go join them and tell that story because I think it's a tremendous story. But I would also say this, Aaron. I mean, you know, I spent my entire active career in one profession.

Now, I'm joining you here in another one. But I've known a lot of reporters over the last three or four years and I have a tremendous sense for the integrity of the profession of journalism as well. There are professional ethics. There is a high standard of integrity and people have to live up to those standards. So, it's not just the guys in uniform and the gals in uniform that have integrity.

BROWN: You know there was this terrible -- certainly the way the Vietnam War played out ultimately affected dramatically the way the military viewed reporters. Reporters in Vietnam had tremendous access but they didn't have this technology, so it would take days, a couple of days literally for the film to get from Southeast Asia back to New York or London where it was ultimately fed.

Now, we do it live and the military, there were people in the military at least who would say that it was the fault of the press that Americans lost the war in Vietnam and there's no point in arguing that. I mean people believe what they believe and some people believe that and other people believe a lot of other things, and so be it.

But it's taken a long time for the military to get past that notion and to trust us to report the story. And, I would just make a small point but an important one I think for every Mi Lai there is that gets reported, there are a thousand stories, probably 10,000 stories of courage and heroism and unbelievable skill and pride that we can tell and that we probably missed because of the bad feeling.

CLARK: I think that's probably true.

BROWN: Yes.

CLARK: And to my military colleagues I'd just say, you know, I think you do have to trust the integrity of the journalists and sometimes you're going to get a story you don't like but that's the way it is.

I want to pick up on a point you made as you were talking to Walter Rodgers about the excitement of this because you mentioned the mother earlier tonight.

BROWN: Yes.

CLARK: And I think the parents at home, they may not be feeling the excitement that Walter expressed. What they're probably feeling is a lot of anxiety.

BROWN: Yes.

CLARK: And I just want to say on behalf of all of us who have commanded soldiers like this that we've got a tremendous confidence in the leadership, the training, the technology. We've done everything possible to help the men here and the women in these units not only succeed but succeed safely and get home safely.

And so, I think it's a kind of time that when you're a parent, and I have a son who's serving in armed forces, you have to be concerned. You never lose your love and feeling for your child but you got to have a little bit of trust in the leadership out here because they're going to do everything they can to succeed and bring them home safely.

BROWN: I looked at dozens of notes and had a number of phone calls today from family members of this group and of the 101st, both of whom we spent a lot of time with last night and in every case, in every single case, and there were perhaps two dozen that I saw, I don't know how many I did not see, there were a couple of thousand e- mails that came in today, people, family members were in fact much relieved at seeing their sons or their husbands or boyfriends or whatever it happened to be.

And, I think that in the way they described the relief it was twofold. One, it was just nice to see them. I mean it's as simple as that in some cases it's been months, a lot of cases it's been months since they've seen their husband or their boyfriend or whatever and so it was just nice to see them.

But they saw them in the context of their work. They say the people around them. They saw the confidence that they were exuding and I think they had a -- I remember one of the notes said I have a much better understanding of what, William in this case, what William's work is all about and they were relieved by it all. It was very cool.

CLARK: I think that's great.

BROWN: Yes. This is the 3rd Cav, one of the great historic units. It's had its bad days through the course of history but it's had some very good and distinguished days as well. Not every battle gets won so they've had some bad days out there.

We at one point last night talked to the wife -- this is a unit who is -- is he a captain?

CLARK: He's captain.

BROWN: Clay Lyle (ph). He's 30 years old and his wife is at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Stephanie Lyle, and they have a young child, and we talked to her on the phone as she was watching all of this. We never saw him.

In truth, we never had pictures yesterday that were quite as clear as the pictures we see today. I don't understand at all how this video phone deal works but it's hard to imagine it can work any better than it's working right now to be honest with you. That looks like that's almost a really good camera let alone this sort of, this technology that we call a video phone. Anyway, we never saw Captain Clay Lyle. We asked Walt to go see if he could find him because a lot of people reacted to the phone call with Mrs. Lyle including me. I was pretty moved by it and so we'll see if we can find him and talk to him.

You see as you watch these guys kicking the tires, there's a lot of kind of playing around with one another. This is a team. They have trained together. They work hard together. They sleep together when they get to sleep. They are a team. They function as a unit and, general, I know when you see these pictures you see them with enormous pride at what this volunteer military has become.

CLARK: They are terrific people in the military today, Aaron. They're there because they want to be there. And, of course, here we're looking at a unit that may be on the brink of battle. They could be in combat exchanging fire with a hostile force in a matter of moments or hours or if the negotiations go right never.

BROWN: Yes.

CLARK: And they're on the precipice of this tremendous uncertainty right now and that has to be part of their thinking, relaxing trying to forget about it, checking their weapons, preparing for it, going over it again, looking at each other's reactions, keeping their own spirits up and staying together on it.

BROWN: Go ahead.

CLARK: I was going to tell you I had several calls from people who have served in the 7th Cavalry.

BROWN: Yes.

CLARK: People are enormously proud of these units and this is the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry and that's with this division. There's also a 2nd Squadron, 7th Cavalry. There's a 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry with different divisions in the United States Army. They all say Gary Owen. They all go to the same schools. There's no intimate relationship between those squadrons. They're the same regiment but they're bound by the historical traditions of Gary Owen.

BROWN: Well, whatever their division we're proud of them. I want to come back to this in a second because there was something else you said last night that people reacted to and I don't think they heard it right and we'll give you a chance to -- this happens to me all the time where I make a mess or people think I made a mess and then I have to clean it up. I'll give you a chance to do that.

Kevin Sites is in northern Iraq and I haven't seen Kevin in a while, though I know Kevin's been working very hard. Tell us what you can tell us about where you are and what you have encountered buddy.

KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, I'm in Cham Chamal. This is Kurdish held territory and it's the northern most city which is actually in Kurdish control. Now, it's midway between Suleymaniyah and Kirkuk. Now it's all quiet this morning. There's an Iraqi position that's just about two kilometers away from us. There had been sporadic mortar fire, some machine gun fire in the last few days but nothing like what we saw last night.

At about 8:45 we saw the whole horizon behind us just kind of break out in a white glow. Obviously, that's when the bombing campaign began and right after that the Iraqi forces here began some heavy machine gun fire. They opened up with antiaircraft fire and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) machine guns.

Now, there's been some interesting developments today. What we're hearing at this point is something of great concern to the Kurds here. That's that 1,000 Turkish troops have actually moved into Kurdistan.

Now, the Kurds and the Turks are sworn enemies and they vowed to actually defend with all possible means if Turks actually do move into Kurdistan and that has been a major concern. That could throw a big wrench into this whole operation here for the U.S.

They want the support of the Kurds. They have assured them on some occasions that the Turks will not be in here. They're hoping again this will not be another U.S. broken promise such as the ones that they received after the Gulf War in 1991.

Now another interesting development that's happened is Ansar al- Islam. We've got reports that Ansar al-Islam was bombed last night. That is the fundamentalist Islamic group that Colin Powell said to the U.N. connects the Iraqi regime to al Qaeda.

They're a fundamentalist group that's been operating on the Iranian-Iraqi border and they were actually bombed last night and now we're hearing from our local PUK sources, that's the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, that the Peshmurda (ph) their militia are preparing an attack either today or tomorrow to actually go in and fight the Ansar al-Islam.

That would be somewhat of a relief to the U.S. This is an area on the flank that they don't want to have to deal with right now. The bombing may have softened up that target a little bit and now the Peshmurda fighters are reportedly preparing to go in there -- Aaron.

BROWN: Kevin, that's a terrific piece of reporting by the way as you ran all that down. It sounds to me like they've got anxiety working in two directions. They've got these Turks that they're worried about but there's no -- 1,000 Turkish soldiers is not a big deal is it?

SITES: It's not a big deal militarily, Aaron. It's a big deal psychologically. What happens is that if you lose the confidence of these Kurdish fighters that you have here, maybe they're not militarily significant as far as the U.S. is concerned, but they are significant psychologically and created a unified Iraq.

They need these Kurds to support the U.S. effort. They want to topple Saddam. They don't like this regime. They've suffered horribly under this regime. They suffered chemical weapons attacks in Halabja. Five thousand Kurds were killed there, 10,000 wounded.

They've got a long and horrible history with the regime of Saddam Hussein, so they want to see him go. However, they need to know that the U.S. is backing them, that they're supporting them. They don't feel that happens when they see Turkish troops moving into the area.

This is one of the areas they said they've been concerned about ever since negotiations began about Kurdish support for the U.S. effort here. Now, the other side of that, Ansar al-Islam, you know, that's a big psychological point for the U.S. as well.

Colin Powell made his case that Ansar was the connection, the al Qaeda connection to the Iraqi regime even though they're based in Kurd territory on the rocky northern Iraq here. However, that connection is one of the reasons that the U.S. went in and has prosecuted this war so it's necessary that they make some kind of contribution to helping the Kurds on this front as well -- Aaron.

BROWN: And as I recall in talking about this group that is linked to al Qaeda, part of the work, the terrorist work they do involves chemical weapons. There was some talk that there was a factory, I think probably used, or a laboratory, I use those terms pretty loosely looking at the landscape, where they make chemical weapons and poisons and the like. Do you hear talk about that, Kevin?

SITES: There has been talk about that. In fact, there's been talk that the group has ricin. You know that's a horrible poison that can kill many, many people. We don't have confirmation whether they have it. There is, you know, a lot of scuttlebutt in this area.

These people have been enemies for a long time and they're ruthless enemies in a lot of ways. Ansar al-Islam assassinated a PUK leader recently who was actually going there to meet with them under a peace treaty to actually talk about some of the Ansar al-Islam people defecting.

Well, those people he was meeting with actually ended up killing him and his bodyguards. So, they're reported to be quite ruthless in, you know, their aims and their goals, and having chemical weapons is one of the things that the Kurds talk about that they do have -- Aaron.

BROWN: We'll let you know. We're going to send some reinforcements your way too. Your colleague, Brent Sadler, is going to move into the area too to give you some assistance in your reporting efforts, nice job Kevin. Thank you Kevin Sites. Thank you.

And again, it gives you a sense, all of you watching of the complexity of the story and why the post Iraq, whatever post Iraq is going to be is such a complicated place. You've got a lot of different groups, religious groups, ethnic groups, tribal groups, groups that all have grudges against one another, all want a piece of one another, to use that term, and it's one of the tasks of the occupation of Iraq as it lays out will be to make sure that these groups don't go off and start killing one another.

As you take a look at Baghdad on a Saturday morning, the sun is up. The sky looks blue to us. If you look at this picture it's hard to imagine in some respects coming up on nine o'clock in the morning there what just 12 hours ago it looked like for that same shot, that same location, that same camera in fact.

You saw one of the most hellacious air attacks imaginable and now we see cars, as we look at the monitor off to our right here, cars, a guy on a bicycle there driving and riding down the street on this Saturday morning as the city goes to work and wondering almost certainly what their day is going to be.

I said, general, I wanted to give you a chance to explain something and I do. We were talking, there was a point last night we were talking about the 101st and you were speaking with great pride about how ready they were and they were strapping on their helmets and this and that.

And the discussion turned to the difference in the military between Vietnam and today, between an all volunteer army and an army that had a lot of guys in it that didn't want to be there. And, some people heard that as you were ragging on the GIs of the Vietnam Era. I don't believe that's what you meant when you said it.

CLARK: You know when I -- it's funny, when I said that I realized as I was saying it, I said, you know, somebody might misinterpret this. I'm very proud of the people that fought and the people that I fought with in Vietnam and I think they deserve special credit because many of them went and they didn't volunteer. They went because their country called them and they went at a time when many chose not to go and I think that's a special credit to the people who did serve.

But, the point I'm making is that what we did is we looked at the armed forces afterwards and we learned from that Vietnam experience and we built a different kind of armed forces, and if those people who served in Vietnam, and they do have pride and they ought to have pride in their service there.

But if they saw the United States Army today I predict that they'd be just as proud if not more proud to be part of this United States Army today, and when they look at it they'd think, you know, I'm really proud that the people that stayed with the army, that worked it, that it's grown into what it is today.

So, you know, it's not in any way to diminish what we were then and what we believed then and the sacrifices we made but it's to give credit to all those hundreds of thousands of people who served in the military since Vietnam and helped build this great military force that we have today and that's what I meant by that.

But I'm really glad you brought that up because, you know, Aaron I think there's something very special that ties people together who did serve in Vietnam, and I'm walking a think line here because there's many who didn't serve their country and they also felt strongly about what they chose to do.

But I remember being in the hospital down in the 93rd Evac and I looked at a young fellow who had been very seriously injured in Vietnam and I listened to him talk and I knew when I looked at him he had a -- he was missing a limb, and all he could talk about as he was being taken to the airplane for further evacuation out of Vietnam all he could ask about were his friends in the unit.

It was the unit. It was the team. It was the cause he was serving. And, I thought to myself he can't imagine how the loss of that limb is going to affect his whole life afterwards and he's not thinking about himself. He's thinking about what he believes in, the people he cares about. He's living in this moment for that purpose. And, you know, I think that those of us who did serve there will always have that feeling with us.

BROWN: Did you go over there as a 23-year-old second lieutenant?

CLARK: I went over there as a 24-year-old captain.

BROWN: Captain, all right.

CLARK: Ended up in the 1st Infantry Division, got an infantry company, mech infantry company in the field, got wounded, sent home on a stretcher.

BROWN: You know I don't in any way mean to make light of this. There is -- I get in trouble for things I say all the time and there is about Vietnam still, all these years later, this tremendous sensitivity I think. It's a very delicate -- it's an enormously delicate subject that many people were drafted and served. Many people enlisted and served (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Many people in the country went to Canada. Many people burned draft cards. The protests were intense. A lot of people, people of privilege in many cases, were able to find ways, legal ways to avoid going to Vietnam by getting into the National Guard. I was in the Coast Guard Reserve.

It was a complicated time and all these years later the reaction to the remark last night, and I knew when you said it what was going to happen to be honest, there is still this exquisite sensitivity to it all. It's amazing.

CLARK: Well, there is a tremendous sensitivity to it and, you know, for those of us who were wounded over there I think, you know, or served at all I think once you've given that kind of service you're always changed by it.

But what I also came to respect were the people who had strong feelings who didn't go there because I think the one thing that unites the people who went and the people who didn't go is that nobody was unaffected in this country by that experience. It was a serious decision that people made. They didn't do it casually. They did it on reflection. It was a matter of belief and conviction. BROWN: We were -- we looked tonight and last night again -- I don't want to talk history tonight forever but we looked at pictures of demonstrations that were going on in Chicago and talked a bit about 1968 in Chicago. I was a young reporter there filing radio stories at $10 a pop.

It was such a difficult -- I mean the whole period was a difficult time to be honest. We're roughly the same age, those of us who went through it. We went through very different experiences and I just know that when you said what you said I knew there'd be some reaction to it. I know how you feel about soldiers in the United States Army so we clarify it, we move on.

CLARK: Give me a chance to tell one more. Can I tell a war story?

BROWN: Of course you can.

CLARK: When I was -- the incident in which I was wounded, the fire was coming in and I was up at the front of this little column. I was out with the platoon and I was the first guy hit and I was down and my rifle was shot out of my hand. And, as the -- we were in the beaten zone up there and you could hear the bullets ricocheting through.

And, the soldiers in that platoon who were with me charged up to the front and they lay down in the beaten zone in that line of fire and returned fire and gained fire superiority.

They had tremendous courage and they were soldiers who served in that army. They were soldiers who came from a society that was badly stressed. They were soldiers who were accused of all kinds of things but when the time came to show courage and take charge they did.

BROWN: Well, I would submit that the -- and it seems to me particularly relevant right now as we in the country have gone through this long and difficult debate about eh appropriateness of the military action that we literally have been watching live on television now for several days and will watch for several days more.

As we watch that and we see -- we were actually talking earlier tonight about matching the young soldiers in the desert in a split screen with the demonstrators just to show people read it a lot of different ways but we saw it as just an expression of what a great country it is, that even when the country is at war like this, people, the democracy is still strong and so vital that it can withstand people going to the streets and protesting the decisions of their government.

But the great tragedy I think in many respects of the anti-war movement or parts of the anti-war movement of that generation, of my generation and yours, is that we confused the soldier and the policy, and soldiers carry out orders. They serve their country. They don't make the policy. They are not responsible for the policy and I think in retrospect a lot of people who protested the war regret how they looked at the young men who fought the war. CLARK: I think that's a really critical point and it's one of the things that's had me concerned right now. The men and women in these armed forces are serving their country. They took an oath. They pledged allegiance. They're doing, they're following the orders of the commander-in-chief.

There are other people who don't like that policy. That's a political decision. That is not the decision of the men and women in the armed forces. Their job is to carry out those orders to the very best of their ability and that's what we would expect them to do no matter whether they like the policy or they don't.

BROWN: So, I should just -- whatever you feel about all of this, about the war and all this, just as you look at these young soldiers, keep that in mind. I think that's a great thing to keep in mind. I'm not here to tell you how to feel. I don't mean to suggest that.

Coming up on one o'clock in the East, we're going to update all of you on the major events of the day and then we're going to try, we'll see if this works, to connect a family, Clay Lyle out in the desert of Iraq and his wife in Georgia; but first Daryn Kagan in Kuwait with a recap of the day's events.

KAGAN: Thank you, Aaron. I'm Daryn Kagan in Kuwait City. Coming up in 90 seconds, Aaron Brown with STRIKE ON IRAQ, but first here is the latest at this hour.

It is just about 9:00 a.m. here in Kuwait City, also in Baghdad. The air-raid siren has sounded. Some bomb blasts have been heard on the outskirts of the city but it's nothing like it was last night.

The U.S. "Shock & Awe" campaign began with a sustained pounding of aerial and naval bombing. Since those initial few ferocious minutes, though, the bombing has been much more sporadic. The bombing campaign will continue until at least 9:00 p.m. tonight, that is Baghdad time.

The Army's 3-7th Cavalry is now more than 100 miles into south central Iraqi territory. The 7th Cavalry has reported virtually no resistance on its charge through the desert but they did pause this morning when Iraqi deployments were spotted off in the distance.

Also this morning, the 101st Airborne snaked along carrying...

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