CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Strike on Iraq: Coalition Forces Under Fire
Aired March 22, 2003 - 04:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well the story right now is in southeastern Iraq near Umm Qasr -- both in Umm Qasr, and on the road to Basra.
Let's go to Marty Savidge with the Marines -- Marty.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we were on a routine mission; it was basically that there had been a fight with armor amongst the Marines that are out near Basra.
We were coming up on the position near this straw village here, where they were planning to now blow up the armor that they had captured.
As we were patrolling through this very street here, an RPG flew right past us, and impacted into the village here. That immediately caught the attention of everyone, including ourselves.
Now you can see that the Marines have fanned out here. They have another blocking position over here with the ..50 cal that is monitoring this street to make sure that no one moves up in the meantime.
And what they're trying to do is rig demolition charges to these tanks. You may see -- Sponge (ph), if you can pan a little further, you're going to see there's an Iraqi tank over there.
It was abandoned at this point; they are rigging it for demolition. There are about four tanks like this, as you can see -- they're embedded in the ground, dug in.
That's why they've been difficult to spot. And they're along this earthen berm here.
Pan this way -- there's another one by that Marine that is poised on top -- here's a B-55 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) taken by surprise; it's a complicated situation. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
COOPER: Marty we still hear you; we've lost you just a little bit, but we're hanging with you.
SAVIDGE: OK, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) demolition. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) come in; they have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) large rounds of ammunition.
(UNINTELLIGIBLE) they were ready to fire, although (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Earlier today other (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
COOPER: Marty, this is Anderson Cooper in Atlanta, we're sticking with you, but we think your mike has fallen off, so we're having some trouble hearing you.
I'm sorry to have this stupid housekeeping detail, but we want to hear what you're saying.
We're sticking with you. If you can try to put your mike back on. I'm just going to talk to the audience a little bit. As soon as you -- just letting viewers know at this moment, live, Marty Savidge is with the Marines, they have an RPG rocket-propelled grenade.
We've got you back, Marty.
SAVIDGE: Also, there's gunfire on this street-- can you hear us now?
COOPER: Got you Martin, continue.
SAVIDGE: ... gunfire on the street. The Marines down here -- have opened fire, just a couple of shots, but it's clear that this is a tense situation here.
They're trying to keep certain people back at the same time they're trying to carry out demolition.
A unit like this can become very vulnerable at this particular time, because you have wide-open spaces, you have a lot of dug in positions. Any one can hide with an RPG. Someone already apparently did.
Our other photographer, Scott McQuiddy (ph), said that literally blew right past him as he was walking down the street with the Marines, and then a massive explosion.
One of the ways the Marines retaliated, they brought in -- if you look at that Hummer at the very end there, that is what they call a TOW, that's a wire-guided missile.
There was a building there that had that Iraqi flag, looked somewhat official. They believed that that might have been a suspected area where people -- at any forces -- as the Marines would call them -- would be hiding out.
They wasted no time, got permission from command and opened fire, launched the TOW, quite a deafening noise, and hit the building in the background.
So now as you see, the Marines scurrying about, they're trying to bring under control the security situation here and at the same time carry out the demolition -- Cooper.
COOPER: Marty, first of all, I don't want to sound like your mother, but there are a lot of people asking this question right now: shouldn't you be wearing a -- do you have a helmet and shouldn't you be wearing it? Obviously leave it up to you.
But do you have any sense where this RPG came from, what direction it came from? Do you have any sense where it came from?
SAVIDGE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) We're going to keep an eye on this for us, because we're going to be moving with them.
We believe it came from the open area that from our vantage point now would be off to my left. It is -- well we can show it to you -- pan off this way.
You can see it's just a collection of wide-open boundary, earthen works berms, barriers, there's a lot of trenches over there.
In fact, it's very difficult to try and tell you exactly what is there. Only that it's an easy place for someone to hide, especially with something as mobile as an RPG -- that's a rocket-propelled grenade, and it looks like they saw, perhaps, a moment of opportunity and took their shot and fortunately for us, went high and wide and missed...
SAVIDGE: ... was close enough to certainly get our attention here.
COOPER: ... Marty, when your cameraman panned away, it looked like the troops behind you were pulling out. I know you said you wanted to keep an eye on them.
I just wanted to point that out to you. It seems they're not. Maybe one truck did. So what are they trying to do about that RPG?
SAVIDGE: We'll keep it.
COOPER: All right, what are they trying to do about that RPG? Are they trying...
SAVIDGE: Well, there's not a lot they can do at this particular point. I mean, they realize that that is essentially someone taking a potshot at them.
So as far as dealing with that, they aren't going to worry about that right now. They've got bigger fish to fry, primarily dealing with these armored units, so that's what they're going about right now.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Martin this is Carol Costello, can you hear me, Martin? I know you're keeping an eye on the troops there.
SAVIDGE: Yes, Carol.
COSTELLO: It's hard for us to -- to -- kind of take in exactly what the area you're in looks like. Are there homes around you to the left? Can you hear me?
COOPER: Yes, take a look here, Carol -- maybe we can pan over this way. You can just see this is a fairly typical sort of village.
Now we've got more artillery fire going off here. It could be that this has been called in support of what's happening here.
If we can, what we'll try to do later is move down, obviously, that corner is the focus of activity, so, you know, let's take a second -- maybe we can regroup down there and give you a better idea of what's happening, so if you guys could stand by we'll push down to that end and get back to you in just a few minutes.
So if you could stay with us live as we move, I'm just not going to be talking to you.
COOPER: All right, and put your helmet back on, Martin, that would make us feel a lot better.
And we're going to stay with Martin Savage.
Just to brief our audience on what is going on, Martin is getting back into what appears to be a Humvee where he is going to be moving a little farther down to rejoin some of the -- some of the Marines who he has been traveling with.
They were traveling down this road, their mission was to blow up some -- some Iraqi artillery, or I believe, an old tank that they had found.
As they were on their way to do this, an RPG round, a rocket- propelled grenade shot right by them, did not hit any of the U.S. forces, according to Martin, landed in -- or hit one of the houses in this location that they are in.
Obviously, as Martin said, that got their attention. They are now deployed outward in -- I don't want to say too much about what position they are deployed in, but they -- some of the Marines, as you can see, are further down the road, and that is the direction Martin is traveling in right now to his right.
To the right of where the camera is pointing right now.
There was another Humvee with a 50-caliber gun pointed in the direction they believe the RPG came in.
They are not actually hunting down the source, or what they believe would be the source of the RPG.
They, as Martin said, they have bigger fish to fry. Looks like we might be rejoining him.
OK, Martin, we're still with you. We're taking it from you, taking your lead.
SAVIDGE: They're blowing tanks in the distance.
COOPER: OK we've lost the transmission. We're going to stick with this and we're going to go to Jason Bellini right now who's in Umm Qasr in the old port.
Jason last we left the Marines were searching building to building. What can you tell us?
JASON BELLINI, CNN: That's continuing. They're still going building to building to say they've told us that they've met some very small pockets, really just some individuals out there going around these buildings.
Individual Iraqi soldiers who've taken pot shots before, but right now things (AUDIO GAP) in the old port.
They had (AUDIO GAP) at them as they were making their way here. It's about three kilometers to get here from the (AUDIO GAP). They finally got started on the mission down here.
It took them much longer than they expected to get started. They hoped that they would have all of this taken care of by today. Other missions that are going on concurrently...
COSTELLO: Jason -- Jason -- may I interrupt you? Jason, we're going to interrupt you for just a second to go back to Martin Savidge. We see an explosion in the distance there.
Martin explain to us. Can you hear me Martin?
SAVIDGE: I can hear you, believe me, Carol. Let me tell you what's going on. There's a secondary blast coming -- this is a -- the demolition of the tanks.
T-55 tanks along the line here. What they're doing is setting charges; they're using both C-4 and other explosive devices as well as the ammunition that's on board the tank itself.
What they've done is they've blown it up, essentially. Now you're hearing the secondary explosions. That would be coming from the rounds inside.
They want to make sure they don't leave anything behind that could be used by, say, Iraqi soldiers that might be in hiding right now.
The moment they find armor, the moment they find any tanks, they're blowing it up. And that's exactly what is taking place in the background here.
There's another one that's going to be going very shortly...
COSTELLO: Martin do you know how many tanks are in the distance and if they're manned?
SAVIDGE: No, these tanks this morning were found to be abandoned. They did find, in the area, about 13 people that they now call EPOWs (ph).
They believe that these tanks were abandoned after the heavy force of military came into this region. I'm going to keep looking
over my shoulder because there is a lot going on in this situation right now.
COSTELLO: Martin can your cameraman...
SAVIDGE: Moving up this is a Mark-19 -- see this -- this is a Mark-19 grenade launcher; they're keeping track, obviously, of something around the corner.
If you come over here, you can see that Marines are taking shelter by the earthen berm, that's our other cameraman Scott McQuiddy (ph) out there.
They're clearly not feeling all that secure at this particular moment. Again, those are just secondary explosions.
That wasn't. We're not sure exactly what's going on now. We're getting ready to possibly move and move in a hurry.
It may have been what they call an HE-4 (ph). An HE-4 is a rocket launcher; it's fired off the shoulder. What they're trying to do is, again, demolish this stuff as quickly as possible.
So, I think we're going to get ready to move here, because we're not feeling all that secure so we'll get back to you.
COSTELLO: OK Martin, just stay safe, and put on that helmet.
COOPER: Oh, yes, just incredible. We're going to stick with Martin just as long as we can.
We' re going to go back to Jason Bellini in Umm Qasr of what has been action throughout this morning -- Jason.
BELLINI: Anderson, first let me just tell you about where I am.
We're at an administrative facility in the old port. The Marines that we are with in the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Gulf Company, have taken over this spot.
They're -- they've opened the doors and are able to use some of the facilities here, desks, to get set up. (AUDIO GAP) stable safe place, as they've told us.
(AUDIO GAP) to base their operations. This being such a large port, they need a place to (AUDIO GAP) within this port going from building to building.
Among those buildings, one is a Coast Guard facility. They're -- they've been working on that building, trying to secure it from the outside first and then make their way in, make their way through. We're told that could be a dangerous mission, so they're trying to make sure (AUDIO GAP).
Enemy resistance (AUIDO GAP) and because they've been getting pot shots taken at them at various locations (AUDIO GAP) we were told -- Anderson.
COOPER: Jason, you had said previously that -- you know -- Marines were going building to building. There are also tankers, I believe.
We saw some pictures earlier of some tankers both in the water. I don't know if there are any tankers docked. Have the Marines boarded those, or is that part of the plan also today?
BELLINI: (AUDIO GAP) there's another operation that's going on (AUDIO GAP) the Newport where another company, the Marine Expeditionary Unit is based. (AUDIO GAP) there've been Cobra helicopters flying over (AUDIO GAP) we don't know what that was, who that was.
COOPER: OK, Jason, got to interrupt -- Jason, we are going back now to Martin Savidge with the Marines.
Martin, we saw a large explosion.
SAVIDGE: Yes, that was a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) missile. Prior to the general area where you saw that tank before that was being blown up, obviously they're seeing stuff down there they're not too happy about.
Not taking any chances. The TOW missile is a very heavy weapon. They throw the tube off the top; they'll get ready to re-load again. They'll try to move positions, too.
We're not exactly sure what they're seeing up there at this point. I mean, obviously, we're still trying to keep our heads up around ourselves. At the same time, the demolition crews are preparing the other tanks and we'll try to bring that to you.
You can see our other cameraman up there, Scott McQuiddy; he needs to right tin the area. When that TOW missile goes off the blast that comes out of the rear is -- well, is quite a shock, to say the least.
Scotty just came up to us as we were repositioning here and said he can't hear out of both ears just because it is so deafeningly loud.
There's no way the television or the microphones bring to you the concussive force, which tends to leave your bell ringing for quite some time. But it's -- again -- Sponge you can see the...
COSTELLO: Martin, I was just curious about how far these tanks fire. They can fire as far away as 350 miles. How far ahead of those tanks are these empty Iraqi tanks?
SAVIDGE: Well, these tanks were discovered as they continued to -- you know -- move into this area. We were around a major oil installation.
We're just going to back up a little bit here for safety's sake. There's a lot of stuff flying through the air because that tank has a lot of ammunition in it.
So these tanks were apparently abandoned in place. There's some theories as to why they were left behind. Some people think that they may have been left as decoys.
In other words, that the Marines would become involved in either trying to destroy them or blow them as they are doing now and thereby delay their further operations into the area, buying time.
There are a number of, as I mentioned, 13 EPOWs -- they didn't necessarily look like soldiers -- now we're going around the corner -- they didn't look like soldiers -- that were taken into custody and there were theories that they were sort of bribed to sort of hang around the area on the tanks to make them look occupied. Again, as sort of a delaying tactic for the Iraqi forces that wanted to leave.
And I'm just watching over my back here. So, that's the theory behind the tanks. All told there's been about 10 or 15 of them I think that have been found as well as armored personnel carriers.
COSTELLO: And you mentioned that beside where you are...
SAVIDGE: The RPG...
COSTELLO: You mentioned, Martin, that beside you was a dangerous area, too, because there are -- there are trenches in the sand. Is that still a concern?
SAVIDGE: OK, hold up here. Yes, they seem to be focused right now -- there goes another rocket blast. They seem to be concerned about obviously the village itself.
Not that there is obvious reason to be suspect; it's just that that's an area of population. You keep an eye on that; you want to make sure that any Iraqi soldiers, anyone might want to do the U.S. military harm is not using the village as shelter, as cover, a place where they can easily melt away into. So that's their concern there.
For the most part the reception by the local people has been extremely friendly, they wave, they smile, they try to communicate. Of course, many of the soldiers don't speak Arabic.
You know what, they're starting to pull out of here and I think we're going to keep an eye on the lead element with the TOW. We have another TOW that's coming into position in the back here.
There's another tank you can see that one of the Hummers has stopped behind the back of the T-55; they're rigging that for demolition. So this is sort of the occasional chaos again.
COOPER: We're trying to get a sense, Martin, of -- and I don't want to give out numbers -- and I know you can't, but how large a unit you are with -- how big an operation is this? Is this just a small couple of vehicles stopped on the side of the road operation or is there a large number behind you? Can you give us a sense of context?
SAVIDGE: Oh, there -- no, there is a -- there is a large body here. We came in with a regimental combat team so you're talking many, many armored vehicles and probably close to, say, a thousand Marines.
But they had one major objective, which was to get to this oil facility, which is where we arrived yesterday, and they captured it successfully, which was a major relief for them.
Now what they've begun doing is fanning out into the area and so that's why it looks like we may be a smaller force here. Yes, we are -- this is a cat team, they refer to it. It's basically heavily armed with your Mark-19 automatic grenade launchers and your TOW missiles, which you now see at the front and back of us.
And these are very highly mobile, they can -- they can run and gun and they pick off armor and that's the way they work. There will be other people that are out there spotting and say, hey, we may see a tank moving, we may see this or we may see that, and you quickly call in a TOW. They peek around the corner, launch, and then get out of the way again.
So it's actually a very mobile, very effective means of fighting unlike a tank, which can be -- whoa! -- take a look back here one more time.
This tank continues to take off. There is -- you should see the shells inside of these things; they are quite massive. But again the inside of the tank does not look well-used, so it doesn't appear that somebody's been using these very recently.
COSTELLO: Martin, Martin -- I'm sorry -- I was just wondering about the town again and how many people were still there and if you could see anyone?
SAVIDGE: Well we saw them as we initially came in. Of course once this -- the firing and the explosions occurred the people have good sense to sort of melt away, to either get inside their homes or stay out of the line of fire because they realize of course that the Marines are going to be rather nervous with the situation around them.
So it's always wise to just stay indoors. So, we don't see anybody around us now but as we pulled up, yes, there were a lot of people who are genuinely curious.
Now as part of the problem for the military here is yes they love to see the people; they're glad that the people are -- seem to be happy to see them. However, force protection always being in their mind and not always being able to tell who is -- has good intent and who does not, they warn them continuously stay away.
They have announcements in Arabic that is usually done by the psychological ops group going through the streets with loudspeakers to say stay away, stay away, stay in your homes an you'll be safe.
So, your reaction is on a very small level as it takes place. At least out here in the -- in sort of the front lines as it were because you're still trying to decipher the good from the bad.
COOPER: Martin, don't know if you've heard the reports we've been reporting, Christiane Amanpour, Jason Bellini in Umm Qasr, that there have been pockets of resistance, and some of those people that they have found were not wearing military uniforms, they were wearing civilian clothing underneath some of them had military uniforms on.
So, the idea being that obviously they passed as civilians even though they were offering up pockets of resistance. Is that a major concern? I mean, I don't know if the Marines you're with have heard of that, and is that a big concern for them?
SAVIDGE: Well they know that the enemy -- that the Iraqi soldiers here can fade away quite quickly. If they come upon them, yes, the 13 POWs that they found this morning that they took into custody were wearing like jogging suits, black jogging suits. They did not look like they were wearing military uniforms.
We by the way are not allowed to film EPOWs once they come into custody so we can't show you. But, obviously they take them in for interrogation. They talked to them; they look for any sort of military ID. They are not going to simply go by the way of persons distressed to understand that they are a threat or not.
COSTELLO: Hey Martin you mentioned...
SAVIDGE: I'm running into a bit of a battery situation here. Go ahead, we're going to try to change out, but we'll keep going.
COSTELLO: Are you safe, Martin?
SAVIDGE: Oh, yes, we're safe. As relatively you can be.
COSTELLO: OK, so try to explain to us what just happened.
COOPER: They're switching batteries.
COSTELLO: Oh, they're switching batteries.
COOPER: Just so you -- for those of you who've just -- yes -- not yet, Martin, now we've got you back. Just for viewers who are joining at this hour. Martin Savidge is reporting live with a Marine unit. They came under some RPG fire -- rocket-propelled grenade.
Did not hit any of the Marines and hit a building they were passing by. They have been exploding a T-55 tank. At least one as far as I can tell. And we are just lucky to stay with Marin live.
COSTELLO: Martin are you back with us, can you hear us?
SAVIDGE: Yes, we can hear you -- we just have been repositioning ourselves so in case we have to move in a hurry we're prepared to do so. So that again the explosions you were hearing there sounded like .50 cal or the heavy machine gun ammunition that still cooking off inside that tank.
But, obviously, in situations like this, the tanks are fairly dangerous, which is why you want to keep your distance but when it is all said and done, and that's going to be hours from now, that tank obviously will be no good to anyone and that's the main purpose here.
COSTELLO: You were talking before about the Iraqis surrounding those tanks, some of them were in jogging suits and you had mentioned that the military believed they were paid to stay there as decoys. Can you tell us more from that angle of the story?
SAVIDGE: Well we're not quite clear. I mean that's really just the assessment of one Marine who was out there. I suppose it suggests this would be a slowing down device that in other words it would keep the Marines focused on the armor they see, the armor that is obviously in place. They spent a lot of rounds of ammunition on it today.
They had air coverage coming in. I'm not sure what is going on around the corner but we have another photographer down there. It's clear that there is a lot of fire coming from that region. But, back to the EPOWs it was just a thought that perhaps these people were left behind, the tanks left behind as sort of decoys to keep the Marines busy while other military units got out of town.
COOPER: Martin the TOW that you just referred to, that's the TOW missile -- that's the missile used to destroy generally armored vehicles, enemy tanks, things like that, correct?
SAVIDGE: Right, yes, the TOW is a very effective weapon -- it has a very strong warhead on it that can punch through armor and they've been using it quite a bit. All right, now they're coming back around the corner. The Mark-19 which is the other tan Humvee that you see there is automatic grenade launcher, I believe, that fires 40- milimeter explosive rounds.
That's a highly effective weapon as well, not so much against armor but certainly against personnel.
The TOW has been active this morning; there've been an umber of cat shots or TOW shots that they've been taking and of course they use it sometimes against armor or sometimes against fortified positions. We've seen both in the last ten minutes I suppose.
COOPER: Now Martin, I'm assuming what we're seeing here are the cameramen there taking a shot down the road a little bit.
You know, describe for us if you can what it's like for the Marines for yourself even what it's like being in this situation where you're not exactly sure what is going on and there are explosions going around and, I imagine, the adrenaline is pumping quite fast right now through you. Take us there; tell us what it's like.
SAVIDGE: Well it was -- it was early this morning when we woke up. We woke up to an artillery barrage. You hear fighting around you all the time but much of it can be at a distance of several kilometers.
As a journalist, you sort of frustrated, because you want to be up there where it is but you also know that the battlefield is a very confusing place and it isn't as simple as hopping in the car, getting on I-90 and driving out there.
It would be highly hazardous to roll up on a situation if Marines didn't know you were in the area you yourself could become targeted. So if Scott McQuiddy, my cameraman I've been with for some time, was lamenting he said, aren't we ever going to see any action?
And then we were told they were going to start blowing up some of these tanks and Scotty said, well, let's go check this out, so we thought it was going to be a simple demolition project. We're in a small convoy of Humvees with our own CNN Humvee.
And then whiz right past us was the RPG the shattering of glass and that's when the adrenaline jump kicks and you try to figure out, all right, who has fired, where have they fired from, and for goodness sakes, are they going to fire again.
And that's when you saw the Marines immediately draw their weapons, get down into hunker positions behind their vehicles and then immediately try to assess the situation.
You had the commander get on the radio and instantly called for TOW vehicles to get op here because you want to have something with a lot of firepower in addition to the standard machine guns and automatic grenade launchers.
And that's what they've done. I mean, technically, they've done a very good job here. It may look from our untrained vantage point here being chaotic or perhaps dangerous, but you can tell the way they've got this street on both ends covered the way they've continued to focus on demolishing these tanks while still facing a potential threat that they know their job and they do it well.
COSTELLO: Martin, they do look pretty calm. Carol Costello again. You can see the thick smoke coming out after they hit those tanks. Is that coming your way? What does it smell like? Is it clouding the air?
SAVIDGE: We're going to back up a bit because we think another tank is going to go soon. So just bear with us, we'll try to stay with you.
OK, wait, let me get out -- we can't see out of the back of our vehicle so while we're reversing we don't want to hit another military vehicle. Keep going (UNINTELLIGIBLE), keep going. You're OK, keep coming, keep coming, they're going to keep going. Sorry that you have to listen to our directions, but it's a team effort.
COOPER: We're going to hang with you. Believe me, we're hanging with you at every word you say. It may not be interesting to you, but it is unbelievable to watch.
SAVIDGE: OK. So, yes, we sure play multiple roles here. Actually my production assistant is running the camera right now.
Gerhard the engineer who normally takes care of the technical stuff is driving the vehicle, and Scott McQuiddy, who is the other photographer, is out rolling tape.
Let's see if we can read on what exactly is going to happen here, but -- it looks like they might be getting ready to -- you know hat if that tank is going to blow I don't think we want to be quite this close.
COSTELLO: Oh, yes, please back away if you must.
SAVIDGE: Come on back. As the saying goes.
What's going on, Scottie (ph)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Then shot the engine blocks with a .50 cal, to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
SAVIDGE: OK. So, Scottie was just telling me he was forward with the forward camera. That they blew up two tanks there and then opened fire with the .50 cal machine guns. Which is what we heard going through the engine blocks of some personnel carriers.
Again, all of this to deny access to the anyone to use it should they come across it later.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Came through down the ally way, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
SAVIDGE: The RPG that came at us was actually fired from inside the village.
It's getting hot! Let's go!
That looks like the personnel carrier.
There goes your tank, down the end. And a secondary explosion. You are all right, Gerard. Keep coming back. Let's pull back.
So, the concern obviously, that RPG is that came from the village and now who fired it. And do they have another one, obviously, which is why we're not going to linger too much longer. But there are more tanks to go, so if you miss that one. There will be another one soon enough.
COSTELLO: Martin, are the Marines now going through the town, too, Martin?
SAVIDGE: OK, we're losing our support. Let's get out of here. Stretch (ph), you have to get in now, because we're moving.
It's going to blow and we're right by it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
SAVIDGE: That tank. You're all right. Back it up. Go down where you were. Let's get out of here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scottie!
SAVIDGE: Don't wait for Joe (ph). He's behind us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where do we go?
SAVIDGE: Just go around that corner. Straight ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get running.
SAVIDGE: Go! Go, go, go!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get in.
SAVIDGE: OK, we're going to get Scottie back in the vehicle.
Can you still see us, Atlanta? Are you still with us.
COOPER: We still have you, Marty. And we are watching and listening.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God damn!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is good stuff!
SAVIDGE: All right, we're still live. So, let's control the language.
COOPER: Don't worry about the language, Martin. Let's keep rolling.
COSTELLO: And just keep safe.
SAVIDGE: Obviously, what we're doing now is we're withdrawing from here. They have set the charges. So, they've done a enough. And I think they're obviously concerned, too, about the fire we took from the village. So, the safest thing at this point is to withdraw and asses the situation, figure out how to move from there.
Certainly, this was not just a routine demolition that they thought it was going to be about half an hour ago, when we made our way in.
COOPER: So, Martin, are they going to return to that village? You said they RPG, the rocket propelled grenade, came from the village. How big a concern is that for Marines and is that just simply someone else's problem at this point?
SAVIDGE: Well, you know what, Anderson. Your guess is as good as mine right now. We'll try to find out just exactly how they're going to deal with it. Right now, it is always good to stay with the folks in green, at least at this in the point, when you are embedded with them. So, that's why what they do, we will do. And we'll try to assess the situation here as to what comes next.
It's clear they're keeping an eye on this village. You have a couple of TOWs right here that are in place, as well as .50 cal machine guns.
COOPER: If I were you Martin I would stick very close to those TOWs.
SAVIDGE: We want to make sure that we're not in the way of these vehicles, too, when they have to roll. You want to be free and clear of them because they tend to move quickly. And when they fire you don't want to be anywhere near the backlash of that TOW missile. There is just no way to tell you how loud it can be.
It looks like we're going to be moving again. You are obviously seeing this, as we are, so I'm trying to ascertain exactly what's happening.
COOPER: Are you able to communicate with the Marines.
SAVIDGE: It looks like the team is going to withdraw.
Well, if you mean do we have a radio and a means to talk to them from our vehicle. No, we do not. Obviously we talk to them, we have a great rapport with them having lived with them now for a couple of weeks. We live as they live. We do as they do. And as a result of that we are accepted amongst them. So, yes, we talk quite a bit. We just haven't had a chance since this situation came down.
COSTELLO: And of course, this kind of thing was discussed with them before. I mean, of course they would tell you how to stay the safest, correct?
SAVIDGE: Well, they do. I mean, one of the rules or one of the deals that was made for the imbed process was that we would -- you can be with the military, you could be with the Marines, you're embedded. Yes, they worry about safety, but they worry about safety for their own forces. So, our regard is taken no more highly or any less seriously than it would be for the average Marine.
In other words, they aren't trying to shield us from anything. They don't say, don't go up there because it might be dangerous and you're in the media, we're not. No, that has not been the case. If we want to go anywhere we make the request of the commander and usually shortly it is fulfilled. They'll tell you, Hey, watch out here on the left. We could get some fire from there. Watch out on the right. And make sure you don't go here or there.
But they are not there to protect us because we are simply civilians reporting from the battlefront. We signed on, so that means we took the danger.
I think -- let's see what we're coming upon here. It is also British armor that has been moving into this area. The British are doing what's called a -- well, they are replacing the Marines. The Marines are ready to move on to other objectives. So, the British have decided to come in, in the oil fields here to the south and the
oil facilities. And they are doing a relieve-in-place, it is called. So, British tank is up, right over here. As you can see.
And this is the other area where the Iraqi tanks are. In fact, Stretch (ph), let me open the door for you. Wait a minute. Sorry. There is still a lot of activity going on here. I'm trying to peer around the corner to find out what's going on.
If you look in the direction where the camera is pointed, now you see the British tank. It is guarding right over an number of Iraqi tanks. Perhaps you can see there is a muzzle just sort of poking out of the ground. You'll also see some smoke. That is coming from an armored vehicle that they blew up earlier today.
COOPER: We should inform him that he's on international and that -- does he want to do a recap?
SAVIDGE: And so, that's why the British are in place over there. You want to pan back to the village, Smudge (ph)? You can see that there is a lot of smoke rising from over there where -- we've got a mixture of things going on actually in the distance. You have a number of oil fires. You have a number of -- still some ammunition going off. And then you have the tanks and vehicles that were demolished over there. So, it is darkening the sky around here.
COSTELLO: Martin, you mentioned the oil fires. Martin, when were those oil fires set? Were they set before you got there, or as the Marines arrived?
SAVIDGE: It is unclear, Carol. Really. We're trying to -- when we came in the area they were already burning. Now, we haven't seen oil wells, per se. What we have usually seen are oil pipeline that have been burning.
This whole southern area of Iraq is crisscrossed with oil transmission pipelines. And it appears that somehow they were damaged, whether intentionally or in the initial battle here of artillery and aerial bombardment to clear the way for the ground troops to come in. They were struck as a result they caught on fire and that is why they're burning. It is nothing like, the say 700 wells that were burning in Kuwait after the original Gulf War. It is only plumes of smoke here and there on the horizon.
The Marines obviously aren't outfitted to deal with those. Their job is to secure the perimeter of the oil facility because they are more worried about that facility going up. Someone would sabotage, more so than they are about these spot fires.
Eventually experts will be brought in. And perhaps even the local oil workers, there are a lot of Iraqi oil workers here and once they've been cleared they'll go back to their job because it is their oil and the Marines and the military want to make sure it goes to the Iraqi people.
You can see more explosions going off over here, more white smoke. OK, now Gerard (ph) is telling us we're getting ready to move, which of course means, so are we.
COOPER: Martin, just so you know, we are being joined by out CNN International, our international viewers. And whenever you get a moment you might want to just recap a little bit about what has happened in the last 30 minutes or so, with you, but at your leisure.
SAVIDGE: OK. Well, to recap for you. We are near the area of Basra, outside of a major oil facility, Iraqi oil facility, where the Marines grabbed the objective yesterday. It was considered to be a primary goal because securing the oil wealth of this nation for the Iraqi people is number one with them.
As a result of that they began pushing out and as they were pushing out they came across Iraqi armor. They engaged that this morning. And then found other pieces to be abandoned, tanks, APCs, that sort of thing. We were on a routine demolition mission, going into a small village where these tanks were posted nearby when suddenly we were fired upon with an RPG, and that is what sort of began this operation here of trying to maintain, for security, the RPG came from within the village, and continue the job of demolition.
Because these Marines aren't the sort of fighting force that stays in place long. They have other place to go and they have a mission to fulfill. So, just because they get shot at it doesn't take them off their timeline.
And that has brought us to where we are. You can see that the concern is still out in the area, looking forward here, from these Hummers, this is another wide open area that is filled with earthen berms, filled with all sorts of trenches. And an area where they have received fire from earlier today.
In fact, the first Hummers that came down here this morning said they turned in, saw the tanks and nearly had a heart attack. Opened fire quickly with their .50 cal machine guns and then withdrew to fire TOWs and took out the tanks. So, it is -- you know it is very much a fluid battlefield here. You don't necessarily have huge massive battles that take place. You have sporadic -- altercations isn't really a good word, but you have sporadic fighting.
And if you're in the middle of that sporadic fighting, of course, at that time it seems pretty severe. In the overall theater, though, it has been relatively calm and it is usually only in the distance that you hear the fighting. So, it just happened to be that we came across one of those sporadic incidents.
COSTELLO: Tell us again about the Iraqi troops, or the alleged Iraqi troops around those empty tanks, Martin.
SAVIDGE: Well, it was a situation that when they discovered they didn't find anybody in them. But they did see a group of about 13 men somewhat in the distance, maybe about 200 yards away, not dressed in Iraqi uniform. The men had their -- this was how it was described to me, I was not there. But the Marines say that the men had their arms in the air as if they were ready to capitulate, to surrender. And somewhere, somebody then opened fire on the Hummers that had come to accept that surrender.
Well, you can imagine that chaos that caused. They opened fire with their .50 cal machine guns on the tanks and then withdrew and fired on the tank positions. The EPW were eventually taken into custody, the prisoners of war, and as far as we know there were no casualties, not of Iraqis and not of Marines, as well.
So, in any soldiers mind that is the best of scenarios where you destroy the weaponry and the people survive. And in this case they've been taken into custody and are being interrogated now.
And the British tank, here, is starting to move. It is handy having the TOWs, but obviously a tank is even better when you still have some question as to what the threat may be in the area. So, the British are coming up. Just have their sense of backbone here with that kind of firepower.
COSTELLO: Martin, it is interesting that British...
SAVIDGE: Those continue to be focused down the street.
COSTELLO: Martin, it is interesting that British troops are now involved, but this is under American military command. How many British troops are there with you?
SAVIDGE: Well, you know, I don't know how many British troops actually are with us. There was an overall force contributed of about 45,000 British troops. And they are British Marines and also in this case you have British armor. They have been working, obviously, in conjunction. They are part of the coalition. They have their own military objectives. They are working in the command structure of the U.S. military, but they are also working as independent units themselves. Meaning they don't necessarily mix with the American forces, at the same time, they are given an objective. They are told that is what needs to be done in order to fulfill the coalition's desire. And they carry it out.
In this particular case, what they're doing is, the U.S. Marines came into the area near Basra yesterday. They were designed to race in grab it and hold it for about 24 hours. Then a heavier British force would follow on and it is this British who will remain here and keep it secure. And that will allows the Marines, obviously, a much more mobile fighting force to continue on their way and continue the fight and continue to Baghdad, which is the eventual goal.
COOPER: Martin, does an operation like what we've seen, in this last hour with you, does it slow up the other forces that are out there, that are traveling in conjunction with the troops, with the Marines that you are with? When one unit takes an incoming RPG round how does that affect the larger unit?
SAVIDGE: Well, I suppose that is a good question to ask. The truth is, no. It does not effect the overall operation. If someone thinks that by opening fire on a couple of Marines that all the Marines are now going to close on this area and that the airpower is going to come in and that allows someone to sneak out the back door, that is not the case. The Marines are well equipped, even with these small units, to deal with most of what comes their way.
So, they simply take on the task, take out the threat. The remainder of the Marines continue doing their job, patrolling the perimeter around this oil facility here. Or rearming, refueling the vehicles, getting ready to move on, getting rest, getting meals, digging in -- if that's the case -- or handing over to British forces that come upon their position.
So, this really has no impact whatsoever on the overall effort. That is continuing and well on its way. It is just another day on the job for this particular unit. They know they can handle it. They know they don't have to call in massive reinforcement. They're fine for now. If they need them, they're standing by, just in case.
COOPER: Martin, you're cameraman was showing us plumes of smoke in the distance, white smoke, dark smoke. Do you know what that is from? Is that from other ordinance, other exploding tanks, or oil fires? Do you know?
SAVIDGE: It is not oil fires that you're looking at there. That is basically the demolition of Iraqi military hardware. That's what the black smoke -- the white smoke could be you know, any sort of different things inside of those vehicles going off. But that smoke that you're seeing right immediately here is just -- there goes another one. I don't know if you saw the flash there. It is just Saddam's hardware being taken apart piece by piece. And that is something that the U.S. military wants to do and did extensively after the Gulf War.
COOPER: You probably didn't get much of a chance to examine the...
SAVIDGE: I'm just...
COOPER: Go ahead.
SAVIDGE: I'm just being told there is a number of enemy forces down the highway here, beyond where we were. And they have been taken out now by -- what is Cobra attack helicopters, Scottie (ph)? And I think the British forces are going to move on?
All right. As I get in front of the cameraman, do the reporter now.
As the assault was carried out in this farther village, where there were Iraqi forces, by the Cobra attack helicopters, it is a very maneuverable, high-speed and heavily armed helicopter. That has dealt with the threat there. The British forces that we've seen, the tank moving down the road, they're going to move down and watch over that village. One, to protect the non-combatants who are there. And also to keep an eye on at least one guy with a RPG, who is a pesky one, this afternoon, for us.
I think that is pretty much about it, from here, for right now. And I think we all need a moment just to sort of collect ourselves a bit and get our gear in order to move along. So, if we could we could pass it back to Anderson and Carol. And we'll just take the well- needed rest for the moment.
COOPER: All right, well deserved. Stay safe, Martin. We'll check in with you a little bit later on.
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