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Strike on Iraq: Marines Face Pocket of Resistance in Umm Qasr

Aired March 22, 2003 - 2:55   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Christiane, I'm sorry to interrupt. We have Jason Bellini on the phone. He's also in Umm Qasr. He's embedded with the U.S. Marines.
Jason, are you on the line right now?

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am at the new port of Umm Qasr -- I'm sorry, the old port of Umm Qasr. We were at the new port. The old port there are ongoing operations right now. They're still going building to building, seeing if there are any more POWs, enemy prisoners of war to round up. We've been told that we may be hearing some mortar fire very soon because there are pockets of resistance that they're trying to deal with right now. The town of Umm Qasr, mostly small arms fire is what they tell us. And they also say that there may be needed as well in this area.

The other thing, right now we're standing in a port administration facility where they have basically set up their command post and are basing operations here in the south. What we're being told is that these operations will be going on, dealing with the resistance and that also Cobra helicopters are engaged as well, dealing with a situation that they describe as still volatile.

COSTELLO: Jason, those helicopters that we're seeing, are they British helicopters or American helicopters, do you know?

BELLINI: I believe they're American Cobra helicopters.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Jason, it's Anderson here. I just want to clarify, you are in the old port you were saying?

BELLINI: That's correct, the old port of Umm Qasr.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We also, Jason, just so you know, we are line -- Christiane Amanpour is also on the line with us. And I believe she is in the new port. We want to just try to keep both of you on to just follow this ongoing situation.

Christiane, I don't know if you could hear what Jason was saying. He is in the old port where Marines are going building to building, searching out for any pockets of resistance. Where you are it is far calmer, is that correct?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And we have just had briefing by the commander -- Commander Waldhauser of the U.S. Marine 15th Expeditionary Unit and the brigadier of the British 3 Commando who have joint operations here. In fact, the U.S. are under -- unusually, under the command of the British in this area here and in this operation.

And in broad terms, they've told us that this operation is ongoing in terms of finally mopping up the pockets of resistance. And just to repeat, they say there are in some instances Iraqi soldiers in uniforms, but in many instances those uniforms have been removed and people are in civilian clothes. And there have been use of weapons, for instance, some in terms of snipers we've been told they've been firing mortars and other kinds of weapons.

But for the most part they're saying, the commanders, that the opposition, if you like, the Iraqi resistance is not that organized. It doesn't look like it's serious, organized, chain of command type of resistance, but just resistance of opportunity so to speak. These pockets, these individual soldiers deciding to take on people when they can. Some people are determined to resist.

COSTELLO: Definitely so. Jason, I just wanted to ask you about this U.N. compound that supposedly is infested with these resistance fighters. Can you see that compound from where you are?

BELLINI: From where I am right now, no. Unfortunately, I can't. And just trying to gather information on that. We don't have anything new at the moment beyond what you're already reporting. The only thing I can add to what Christiane was saying is that the company that I'm with had encountered late last night as they were making their way from the new port to the old port small arms fire. Those pockets of resistance that Christiane was describing, that was most of them were sort of sporadic and they were able to deal with fairly easily. They were able to find secure spots along the way as they hoofed it from the new port to the south port.

COOPER: Hey Jason, it's Anderson again. I've got a question for you. As you well know, a well-trained sniper with a good rifle can keep a large number of troops pinned down. You've characterized the kind of fire as small arms fire that the Marines have encountered thus far in Umm Qasr, and sporadic you've said.

How concerned are the Marines about the quality of these Iraqi forces who apparently are still out there in some small number or some number -- we're not really clear on how much, the sporadic pockets? How good are they? How concerned are the Marines?

BELLINI: Well, you know, Anderson, the resistance they've been seeing is more than they were anticipating. We were in briefings prior to embarking on this mission, and they really didn't anticipate there being very much here. They thought this port was going to be pretty much abandoned, pretty much empty, there might be some port workers.

So it was -- it really slowed them down considerably. They were hoping yesterday to have by early in the day yesterday the entire port stable and safe, be able to set up shop, because their intention is to get humanitarian aid rolling into here as quickly as they possibly can. That's been emphasized to us again and again that that's, you know, a key part of their mission and why they wanted to -- why they were sent here. So early in this fight to secure this area, but at moment, things are, again, still volatile and still moving around and still unclear who is still out there. We've been told that mortar rounds are being used to try and take out any enemy positions. Most of those coming from the town, but they're discovering them as they go -- Anderson.

COSTELLO: All right, Jason, I know you have to go to CNN International, so we're going to let you go.



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