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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 - 03:17   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Right now we want to check in with Walt Rodgers, who is, of course, with the 7th Calvary. At last check, they had stopped.
Walter -- are they on the move again?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, Carol. A few moments ago, the commander of the Apache Troop with 7th Calvary drove off down the road behind me in his tank. I believe he was going out to survey the damage done after the U.S. commanders ordered up an artillery barrage of an Iraqi position of undetermined size down this road. We're not sure how many kilometers, but certainly close enough for us to hear those 155 shells going off.

As I say, the tank commander drove down the road behind me. In the distance you can see the panorama there, and that panorama somewhere out there was an Iraqi detachment, unknown size. It's been called "pockets of resistance." But it was of enough concern that the commanders decided not to send the 7th Calvary Apache Troop further down this road at this point.

Now, there have been constant helicopter reconnaissance flights over the area after the artillery barrage landed. And -- but apparently the Iraqi detachment, which had indicated a hostile intent, decided that it was still going to put up a fight. That being the case, we can still hear the occasional 155-millimeter shell fired by a pallitan (ph) self-propelled gun roaring over our heads and then down, as you can see, into the distance there.

The 7th Calvary, 3rd Squadron, 7th U.S. Army Calvary is intent on going down this road. This road points north, and north is, of course, the road to Baghdad. But they have taken what we would call a "prudent pause" here. There was no point in sending these tanks from the Apache Company, and then Bone Crusher and Crazy Horse as well, down this road if indeed the Iraqis had set up an ambush.

You wouldn't call this serious resistance so much, because the Iraqis only got off a few shells. None of us -- none of them hit us here in the Apache Company. Most of them were fired back towards Bone Crusher. Nothing was hit. Nobody was hit. No casualties. But that indicated hostile intent of a known Iraqi force up ahead, and so the Army called up its big guns, 155 millimeters, and they have intermittingly been pounding that Iraqi position up there.

There has been several surveillance -- there have been surveillance flights since. Additionally, the captain of Apache has driven off in his tank down that road to see if it's sufficiently clear now that he can return and call up the rest of his tank unit to proceed northward down this road, which by the way has turned to quagmire. One of the soldiers was joking a few minutes ago after it had begun raining and the road turned to mud. "If it ain't raining," he said, "the Army ain't training." And that seems to be a vital ingredient of all wars: mud.

That's where we are pulled off in the mud waiting for the road to open up -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, Walter, at least the dust dies down because of the rain.

A question for you, just so our viewers understand and I understand, too. That skirmish up ahead of you by Iraqi troops, what happens? The reconnaissance helicopters see them, and then is part of the 7th Calvary sent ahead to take care of that matter? And do they come back? Or do the rest of the troops join them? Tell us.

RODGERS: Because of earlier reconnaissance, the 7th Calvary knew well in advance that there was an enemy detachment up that road. This was the route of travel selected by the 3rd Squadron, 7th Calvary U.S. Army. They knew they were there, and of course, the standard operating procedure is that when the Calvary is moving forward, a detachment of helicopters, light helicopters, the Kiowas, again lightly armed, fly out, do a reconnaissance, a zone pattern over the suspected area. They determine if an Iraqi unit is there.

It was confirmed an Iraqi unit was there. What was missing at that point was hostile intent. There was indeed some hope that the Iraqis might surrender and just get out of the way, throw down their arms. That was not the case. The Iraqis in whatever size they are over there decided they were going to shoot at the oncoming U.S. forces. Again, there were scattered shots, never were a threat to anybody, but having indicated hostile intent.

The commander of the 7th Calvary then ordered in his big pallitan (ph) self-propelled guns. They are probably a mile-and-a-half, two miles back of where I am standing. They already had their coordinates from the helicopter reconnaissance flight. They pound the area with 155 millimeter. Those are extraordinarily lethal. Each shell has a killing radius of about 500 meters, which means if you lay out six shells, you are putting out a deadly front of fire for a better part of a mile, I'd say -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So no face-to-face combat, Walter.

RODGERS: Well, certainly not for the United States. You wouldn't even call this a resistance. They just indicated hostile intent. So the U.S. commander simply decided to do a very prudent thing, have his tanks park on the side of the road while he called up his artillery. In terms of face-to-face contact if indeed you are an Iraqi and you've got a 155 millimeter shell bearing down on you, that's very hostile -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Oh, you're not kidding there. Let's talk about the weather for just a second. You said it has rained there and the dust has turned to mud. Is that better for the movement of troops for the 7th Calvary?

RODGERS: It's kind of hard to say. Both of them are afflictions, if you will. There were extraordinary gusts last night. I can give you a relative position of where we are. I'd say we were in south central Kuwait. You could probably determine that by looking at a weather map and see where the clouds are.

Having said that, these roads are normally heavily clogged with dust, and then since early morning just about dawn, there began a light rain. It's been often intermittent. It has not been what you would call a downpour. But once it hits that (UNINTELLIGIBLE), it turns -- it just turns everything into a quagmire. And of course, you know you're in the Army when you're standing in the mud. As I said, one soldier said to me a few moments ago as he was slogging through this quagmire, "If it ain't raining, the Army ain't training."

And so, of course, the Army is used to that, but it's not pleasant slogging around in this stuff.

COSTELLO: I can only imagine...

RODGERS: But it's not impeding the progress of the unit.

COSTELLO: Oh, that's good. That's good news.

And, Walter, I know you told us yesterday that you're literally encrusted with dirt, and it must be just so uncomfortable for the troops moving through Iraq.

RODGERS: It is. I was talking to a soldier, well, an hour or two ago, and he had told me that he had been going 60 hours with no sleep. That goes pretty much for all of us. And when I look at his face, it was heavily cake with what you and I would think on first blush was pancake makeup. In point of fact, he was just layered and layered with mud, all of us -- or rather dust. And as soon as it becomes rain -- as soon as the rain comes, it turns into mud.

And so everyone here is now caked in either dust or mud. There is no sanctuary from the dust in the Iraqi desert. It clogs the air filters on the tanks. These tanks have to have their air filters cleaned once a day. And we clean the air filter on our Humvee vehicle once a day. Otherwise, we'd conk out in the desert.

I'm trying to give you some idea. You can't eat a meal without having dust -- you're consuming dust. Every ounce of clothing I have I promise you I will throw away as soon as I get out of here.

COSTELLO: I understand.

RODGERS: The camera gets fouled with dust. It's bad.

COSTELLO: But it's doing a great job so far, because we're seeing these amazing pictures. Walter, I wanted to ask you, too, about the frustration, because I know that they go through intense training, but this stopping and starting and waiting, it just must make the tension level rise so much.

RODGERS: I'm not sure that's the case. You know, the soldiers know that their commanders are looking out for them. The foolish and imprudent thing would be to send these tanks and armored vehicles down the road knowing there was a hostile force down there and not knowing the size of it.

So what the commander has done very prudently is send his helicopters out, do a reconnaissance, determine the size and the intent of the force. The soldiers would rather sit on their tanks and eat their MREs than go charging foolishly into blazing guns. No commander in this day and age would do that. These are all very -- this is an all-volunteer army, very professional, and the men and the equipment is being spared for what’s anticipated will be a much, much larger fight the closer they get to Baghdad.

So the commanders are actually acting very prudently, and the soldiers appreciate that -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, I wanted to ask you about that, too, because we saw the intense bombing on Baghdad, the shock and awe campaign has begun, and it was met with very little resistance. Is this a sign that the 7th Calvary will have an easier time of things?

RODGERS: I think we can't go that far. Remember the one thing they teach you in military science courses is the enemy always has a vote on the battlefield. That's what we've seen here today. The enemy decided -- the Iraqi force decided to shoot back. Does that mean the 7th Calvary will encounter large numbers of hostile forces as they go forward? They fully anticipate that.

The commander of this unit, Lieutenant Colonel Terry Fall (ph), said he fully anticipates the Iraqi forces to fight and fight very hard, especially as the army pushes closer to Baghdad where Saddam Hussein in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which we believe the 7th Calvary will take -- will encounter two huge divisions and two very professional Republican Guard divisions of the Iraqi army, the Medinah(ph) division and the Amarabi (ph) division. They are sitting up there waiting.

This is not going to be a cakewalk, and no one here is pretending it will be -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, you stay safe. We're going to give you a break now, Walter. Great reporting. Thank you so much -- Walter Rodgers reporting.

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