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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Strike on Iraq: U.S. Army 3rd, 7th Calvary on Second Day of Drive Into Iraq

Aired March 22, 2003 - 02:03   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Walt Rodgers, the Bradleys and the M1A1s are poised for action again this morning, as the U.S. Army 3rd- 7th Calvary bears down on Baghdad. CNN's Walt Rodgers with the troops making their way toward the Iraqi capital.
Walt -- what's the latest?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Anderson.

You used the word "poised." I'd say they've paused now, and it's a prudent pause, because up this road over my shoulder there is an Iraqi detachment of undetermined size. The Army is calling it pockets of resistance. So rather than going and charging headlong into what could be an ambush, the 7th Calvary has paused along this muddy road in south central Iraq.

We have been here for well over an hour now, the reason being because the Kiowa helicopter scout went out and saw some Iraqi soldiers up there, an Iraqi unit. At first they were hoping the unit might surrender.

What happened then was that the Iraqi units began firing haphazardly and with no good aim at all, not on the Apache troops to which I'm assigned, but behind us on Bone Crusher troop and on Crazy Horse troop. They took some shells. No one was injured. No damage done at all. That indicated a hostile intent by the Iraqi detachment over my shoulder somewhat over that horizon down there.

What happened then was that the commander here in the 3rd Squadron, 7th Calvary called up his huge 155-millimeter pallitan (ph) guns. They're two to three miles in that direction, and they can send off and fire whether they're sitting 20 miles over our heads back in the general direction of where the Iraqi detachment was.

But there had been a volley of shells first about half-a-dozen 155s. Then we heard more booms for about a half-hour or so.

A few moments ago I saw the Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters flying out again and indicating that this is a battle field. They stayed very, very low in case the Iraqis had shoulder-fired missiles. The Kiowa helicopters going out to do a reconnaissance after the shelling staying no more than 30 feet above the earth itself, 30 feet above the deck. They raced out to see how much damage the 155 millimeter pallitans (ph) did. At this point, we can't report, but we saw the Kiowas return. And at this point the Apache troop, still the point of the spear, is still at a stationary position while the big guns to the rear are slugging it out with that Iraqi detachment behind me -- Anderson.

COOPER: Walt, I'm just interested in sort of the logistics of all of this, and we saw those pictures last night of you just moving fast, moving furiously through the desert. How do you get the information -- how do the troops get the information that there is enemy ahead? Is it from the Kiowa helicopters, which are flying in advance of the 7th Calvary?

RODGERS: Well, let me stand out of the way, Anderson, and then you can see some of what's down the road behind me. What you're looking at, of course, is the main battle tank.

Every main battle tank has a radio in it, and when the helicopters, the Kiowas, which of course are equipped with radios, when the Kiowas go out and fly their reconnaissance and zone reconnaissance ahead of the armored column that you're looking at, they radio back and say, we have a detachment of Iraqis here, or we don't have a detachment and it's safe to proceed.

They found people up there who appeared to be a threat. They weren't sure. And when they began firing on some other units here, then it was determined they were a threat. The big guns were called up, nothing of any note, though, anywhere near the position we're in, and no one was injured at all in the 3rd Squadron, 7th Calvary.

By the way, that big vehicle that just went through is a heavy lifter. If a tank breaks down, its engine needs replacing, that heavy lifter, which travels to the rear of the main troops, can do any of the lifting.

If you're looking in the direction I think you're looking now, you can tell that we've been paused for some time because they've removed the air filters from all of the tanks, cleaning out huge clouds of dust. You would not believe the dust that we were breathing last night. It was just unbelievable. In your mouth, in your -- you have to clean every piece of equipment. There is nothing that is immune to the dust. There is no sanctuary from which you can retreat from the dust.

But again, there was a hostile encounter here. The 7th Calvary has not moved forward quite as quickly as it had anticipated. It is no great delay, but it was a prudent decision on the call of the officers in this unit to call up the heavy artillery, let the artillery take it rather than expose his men to hostile fire.

We're still waiting to see if that obstacle has been cleared -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, Walt, I'm interested to hear, you mentioned those Kiowa scout helicopters, which are moving in advance of the tip of the spear of the 7th Calvary, as you called it. You were saying they fly 30 feet off the ground, extraordinarily low, and you said that's to avoid shoulder-to-air missiles. Explain that a little bit. I assume that's because shoulder-to-air missiles need a little bit more air in order to actually become effective.

RODGERS: That's right. They need a higher trajectory. When a helicopter is flying at 80 miles an hour or so no more than 30 feet off the ground, it's very, very hard to hit with a shoulder-fired missile, which could, of course, knock it down. The most lethal weapon against it would probably be a 50-caliber machine gun, and I don't know what the Iraqis have in that category. But the 7th Calvary has lost no helicopters at this point.

They have a joke here in this unit that the most safety-conscious people in this entire 3rd Squadron, 7th Calvary are the helicopter pilots. They insist on the greatest security and maintenance checks, because they move so fast, so quickly above the ground and so low. But they keep those helicopters low to avoid being seen and to avoid taking small arms fire -- Anderson.

COOPER: Walter, just so you know, we're showing the viewers a graphic of the Kiowa helicopter, its military version, the Bell Jet Ranger basically, armed if necessary with rockets and missiles. It's an observation, a scout helicopter, as Walter has been telling us very effectively.

Walter, at what point do you get the word to move out? And how is it determined -- I mean, is it a question like of, OK, the heavy artillery has pounded the positions that you are concerned about, that the troop of the 7th Calvary is concerned about? At what point do military planners decide, all right, move forward, there may still be some remnants, but it's time to go?

RODGERS: Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) assessment has to be made after the artillery barrage, and when it's determined that there is minimal risk to moving forward -- that is to say that the pocket of resistance which they encountered has been cleared -- then of course they can move forward.

By the way, you were talking about the Kiowa helicopters. I can tell you a little bit about the armament on them. On the right side of the plane, they have a Hellfire missile, which there are two pilots in the plane, and the Hellfire missile can knock out a tank as big as the ones you're looking at now. Those are on the right side of the plane, there is one Hellfire missile.

On the left side of the plane, there's another rocket pod that can hold upwards of half-a-dozen or more 2.7 millimeter rockets. And they can take out thin-skinned vehicles like armored personnel carriers. They're less effective against the tanks. They could also be used against troop concentrations. Or alternatively on that left side of the plane, the helicopter commander could request before going up that a 50-caliber machine -- or excuse me -- a lighter machine gun go on there. I'm not sure it's a 50-caliber; more likely a 7.62.

So they can have a combination of rockets on a helicopter, but not all three -- Anderson.

COOPER: Walter, the picture we are looking at is just extraordinary, a live picture of a turret gunner talking on the telephone or talking on a radio, perhaps a field radio.

Walter Rodgers, we will come back to you shortly. Stay safe. Walter Rodgers with the 7th Calvary. They are paused in position because they have received information of Iraqi -- some sort of Iraqi troops, forces ahead of them. They fired some heavy artillery, and they're waiting to see.

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