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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

U.S. Marines Operating Near Basra Destroying About a Dozen Abandoned Iraqi Tanks

Aired March 22, 2003 - 06:30   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A lot happening at this hour. Let's get a look. U.S. Marines operating near Basra have been destroying about a dozen abandoned Iraqi tanks. Our Martin Savage is with those Marines. He tells us the Marines were blowing up the tanks when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at them. This is not the grenade. That is one of the tanks blowing up. No one got hurt or hit with that RPG.
U.S. military commanders say they believe they have wrapped up capturing the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. Still, small pockets of resistance are being attacked, a U.S. helicopter gun ships and by U.S. Marines going building to building. Several hundred Iraqi soldiers surrender there.

It is about mid afternoon in Iraq and the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry has been stopped in South Central Iraq since early this morning by Iraqi troops that are ahead of them, a couple miles ahead of them, according to Walt Rogers. The Army has used 155 millimeter artillery and also called an Air Force A10 Warthogs to attack the formation. They have apparently done so successfully, according to Walter Rogers. The 7th Cav is the leading edge of a large division of U.S. forces consisting of about 8,000 armored vehicles moving toward Baghdad. Imagine that, 8,000 armored vehicles moving toward Baghdad, a wave of steel.

Two British Navy Sea King helicopters collided over the Persian Gulf early this morning. Six British crew members, one American killed. The collision comes one day after a helicopter crash in Kuwait killed eight British soldiers and four U.S. Marines.

And here is the latest video of the allied aerial bombardment of Baghdad which is expected to continue for another eight hours. One target hit in Baghdad, the Republican guard palace compound along the Tigris River. This is some of the destruction seen today. Two other ceremonial palaces were struck, according to the Iraqi information minister who says those two sites were not strategic targets. That, of course, according to the Iraqi information minister.

Another potential problem developed this morning when 1,000 -- 1,000 Turkish troops began crossing the border into Kurdish areas of Northern Iraq. Now U.S. officials fear there could be clashes between Turkish and Kurdish troops. They certainly do not want that, just makes the situation all the more difficult.

In Ankara, the Turkish government has now agreed to open two air corridors for U.S. planes to use for air attacks on Iraq.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to CNN. These are live pictures you're looking at from Baghdad where it is half past two in the afternoon on day four of the U.S.-led military campaign. Very peaceful there now and of course this shot steady so we can't see any of the damage from yesterday's bombing.

COOPER: And peaceful in Baghdad. Not the same situation elsewhere in Iraq. In Northern Iraq and Southeastern Iraq, let's talk about Southeastern Iraq. You're seeing pictures of Umm Qasr right now, cobra helicopters. The coalition forces are battling pockets of resistance in the port of Umm Qasr at this hour, at this moment. Umm Qasr is Iraq's only outlet to the Persian Gulf.

Good morning everyone from CNN global headquarters in Atlanta. I'm Anderson Cooper.

COSTELLO: And I'm Carol Costello, 6:35 Eastern time. It is time to take a fast forward look at some war-related events expected to happen later today.

President Bush will monitor the war from Camp David this weekend. The Maryland retreat is fully equipped to keep the president informed and connected with all aspects of the military campaign.

Anti-war protesters say they will stage a die-in -- that's what they're calling it, a die-in -- at a home near Taos, New Mexico. The house belongs to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. It's one of six homes he owns in Northern New Mexico.

And Sunday's Oscar ceremony is a go, for now. The Academy president says that could change if circumstances warrant.

COOPER: Well, as we said, there is a lot of activity throughout Iraq. We showed you pictured just a moment ago in Southeastern Iraq, at Umm Qasr, also heading toward Basra.

Let's go now to Northern Iraq where there has been a lot of activity over the course of the last several hours. As we've just mentioned, about 1,000 Turkish troops believed to be entering some parts of Northern Iraq, Kurdish territory. Also word from yesterday that U.S. force, whether it was cruise missiles, planes, we don't know yet, bombed Ansar al-Islam. The group that Colin -- Secretary of State Colin Powell has linked to al Qaeda.

For the latest on all of this, let's go to Kevin Sites where he has been since this conflict began in Northern Iraq -- Kevin.

KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I'm in Cham Jamal (ph) which is midway between Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk and just a little sidebar here and we'll get to those other issues. Some of the Peshmurga (ph) here are getting a little bit excited. We're very, very close to the Iraqi front lines here, just about two kilometers away. We've been watching movements of troops here and they seem to think that there's movement. Some of these Iraqi troops coming a little too close to the border point area. They're worried maybe possibly there may be a defector here. We'll get back to you more on that later.

The major issues at play here though, the U.S. is -- various sources say the U.S. special forces may actually use air strips in Northern Iraq, Kurdish air strips, to launch operations from. They're getting very frustrated with the Turkish government, very frustrated. It took a long time to get fly over permission on those two air corridors that you talked about earlier and they're also frustrated about the reports of Turkish troops entering Kurdistan.

That creates quite a wild card political development here. The Kurds and the Turks are sworn enemies. Many of the Peshmerga say if the Turks come into Kurdistan that they'll fight them first. U.S. really can't afford this right now. They want a unified Iraq after this war is over. They need Kurdish support and right now it looks like Turkish troops here would provoke possibly a fight with the Kurdish fighters here, with the Peshmerga. It's something that the U.S. doesn't want to see happening right now. Initially we had reports of 1,000 troops coming into Kurdistan.

Now there are reports of possibly even more. Now on another flank, the border with Iran and Iraq, Ansar al-Islam that you also mentioned, that's the fundamentalist group, the mini-Taliban as some people have called them, that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has linked the Ansar al-Islam with Saddam Hussein and saying that that is his al Qaeda connection. That is the regime of Saddam Hussein's connection to the al Qaeda is with Ansar al-Islam.

Now they're located in Kurdish territory, so that's an interesting -- it was an interesting observation that you made. However, he does say Saddam Hussein does have a connection with that group and the U.S. military must think so as well. They fired, apparently according to our sources here, 30 cruise missiles at Ansar al-Islam locations along that border with Iran and Iraq.

Now those targets may have softened up a little bit and PUK (ph) sources, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan sources, tell us they may now attack Ansar al-Islam either today or tomorrow. This is another area that they're quite worried about, Ansar al-Islam has harassed Kurdish fighters here. There's been pretty much sporadic fighting on a daily basis between the border with Ansar al-Islam and these Kurdish fighters and now it looks like there may be a Kurdish offensive on that front.

COOPER: Kevin, all right, that is something we will definitely keep an eye on and come back to you later. Kevin Sites in Northern Iraq.

COSTELLO: And right now we want to head live to Kuwait City to check in again with Bill Hemmer. Pretty calm there this morning Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, thus far Carol. One tragic bit of news though for the British and the U.S. Apparently two helicopters did collide upon take off several hours ago, leaving an aircraft carrier out in the Persian Gulf. No survivors. Three crew members in each helicopter on the British side, a total of six dead, including one American for a total of seven as a result of that collision several hours ago.

Listening to Kevin Sites' report in Northern Iraq, it is an area that country, that we continue to monitor quite closely. Brent Sadler (ph) does as well. Let's check in with Brent right now with news at this hour that we have seen Brent now for about three days running with the situation there has been somewhat of a stalemate. Are things changing now Brent? Hello, good afternoon.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Bill, yes, static situation here from what you can see, but I can give you some fresh details just in a few seconds ago and it's additional information to the air strikes against those two very important northern cities, Kirkuk and Mosul we're hearing a lot about under Saddam Hussein's control. According to Kurdish military sources, USL (ph) rather coalition aircraft hit in Mosul, the Iraqi Army barracks, the headquarters of military intelligence and one of Saddam Hussein's palace compounds in Mosul.

As far as Kirkuk is concerned, an air base was hit there. That's a huge air base, the air base in Kirkuk. I was there back in '91 when it was taken by the Kurdish Peshmerga (ph) fighters. I can tell you it's a huge air base with many, many underground compartments, bunkers, ammunition stores and so on and so forth. That was hit last night. Also a munitions depot was hit and the headquarters of military intelligence also in Kirkuk hit.

Also Kurdish military intelligence here on the ground, which is working, we do know that, very closely with U.S. special forces. They are saying here that U.S. special forces have been involved in that targeting of Ansar al-Islam in that overnight strike that Kevin Sites was just talking about, very close cooperation between Kurdish special forces and U.S. special forces on the ground in that region, close to the Iranian border. Several hundred Ansar al-Islam Islamic extremists in that area and I understand from the Kurdistan democratic party, which controls this area, that their comrades if you like in the patriotic union of Kurdistan, the other political grouping which controls that area up to Halabjah (ph) which overlooks the Ansar al- Islam positions that the PUK and U.S. special forces are working together and then maybe some sort of planning for an attack against Ansar al-Islam.

Bill, let me just give you a very quick update on the Turkish situation, a lot of lose ends flapping in a diplomatic gale, really over whether Turkish troops are in here in greater numbers and what will happen if they do come in here. Will the Kurds reject them?

Now why is it so important? I'll tell you why it's important. This is the much talked about northern front. Let's just take a quick swing behind me here and you'll see this road bridge, I was talking about it yesterday. At this end we have the Kurdish control this bridge, at the other end the Saddam Hussein loyalists in one of the three Army corps (ph) which run along the whole 500-mile stretch of front line between Saddam Hussein's Army unit and the Kurds.

Now we've seen yesterday and again today -- maybe we can pick it up on the picture here, a lot of earth movement by front loaders under, in those Iraqi Army lines and the estimation is that they are laying mines, not only on the road, to destroy the road and probably to destroy that bridge, but also digging, putting in explosives in the soft earth by the side of the road, possibly as tank traps should there be a northern front because we're understanding that the U.S. has been so exacerbated with delays about deployments in Turkey for the much talked about northern front, that the U.S. is now planning to move things along through Jordan to bring special forces from Jordan through Iraq's western desert and deploy special forces and lay (ph) the airborne troops into this northern area.

Now if we move along the ridge line there fairly rapidly, you can see that front line here is static, remains static despite two nights of bombing by coalition forces. But to give you an idea, if we swing across, we'll come to the town, small town, village really of Kalak (ph) which is on the River Zabzar (ph). That's in the hands of the Kurds. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have that under those hills and that bridge you can see, that is under control of the Kurds.

You can drive over that bridge. We could do it now if we wanted to, drive over that bridge and then head along the road alongside the hills there, beneath the guns of the Iraqis. That's the road that leads up to the Dohuk, about three hours drive further north up there.

As you can see the cars running along that road now, you'll see that there's only maybe 100 yards between the lower portions of the Iraqi fortifications and cars that move along that side. So it gives you an idea why really there is concern amongst U.S. military planners for these lose ends to be tied up. There are about 140,000 Iraqi troops behind these fortifications, right away across that whole 500-mile front line, split into three Army corps.

We're told by Kurdish military intelligence that these Army corps are not very well equipped. They have old T54, T62 tanks, many of which are not serviceable and I understand from my contacts on the ground here that the Kurdish military intelligence units alongside U.S. special forces are trying to encourage defections, surrenders before we see any U.S. build up here. But certainly we are expecting as these days unfold, to see U.S. special forces first and then a build up of airborne coming in here to really get to grips with this northern front which remains static and unpredictable. Back to you, Bill.

HEMMER: Static for now, but certainly it will not stay that way for long, Brent Sadler. Hang with us a second here. You mentioned the town of Dohuk about three hours from your position there.

Jane Arraf is that town and she joins us now to bring us up to date on what she's been collecting so far today. Jane, hello.

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello Bill. We're about halfway between the Turkish border and the city of Mosul now, near Mosul, about half a mile away. We're still seeing Iraqi forces holding their positions during the call to prayer. They were praying, acting relatively normally in that spot at least. And at the Turkish border, around 40 kilometers, 25 miles from here, that small number of Turkish troops believed to have entered yesterday is keeping a low profile. In Akara, Turkish military officials say there was no incursion. However, U.S. defense officials and British officials say there does appear to have been a small unit that has crossed. British officials saying as long as it's a small unit, they're not too worried.

Kurdish officials are taking a similarly low-key position. If they had to make a fuss about it, they would actually have to do something. They have been warning for a long time that if Turkish troops came in, they would fight them. But so far this afternoon, it seems as if everyone is trying to calm down the situation caused by that small number of Turkish troops crossing into Northern Iraq, into Kurdish territory. Bill.

HEMMER: Jane Arraf, thanks. Keep us updated on what you're getting on the Turkish front there in Dohuk in Northern Iraq.

I want to get you to Baghdad quickly. There is some new videotape we want to share with you right now. Daytime video taken when the sun came up earlier today, there is some street traffic in the Iraqi capital, but not much we're told and that's to be expected.

Overnight, the coalition bombing did take out certain military installations, heavily bombing the Republic guard palace, government buildings as well located on the left bank of the Tigris River. The U.S. is saying that 300 missiles were dropped overnight. The Iraqis counter that. They say they only have evidence of 19, all they say in a certain small area in Baghdad. The information minister says as a result, 207 wounded last night, including women and children. They say they will take reporters to see this evidence at local hospitals.

Thus far we have not seen that report though in the form of (ph) videotape. Reuters is quoting an Iraqi health minister, also saying that three are dead as a result of the bombing last night and overnight.

Let's gauge the reaction now quickly throughout the Arab world, something that is very critical right now as this campaign goes forward. Massive protests in a couple of different spots. Number one in Yemen, capital city of Sana (ph). About 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. embassy on Friday, chanting slogans, chanting down with the U.S.A. Police opened up fire in the form of tear gas first. They say when that was ineffective, they used real live bullets. As a result, four dead in Yemen.

Let's go to Amman, Jordan right now. There were other people out in the streets of Amman, the capital city of Jordan protesting as well. A rally led by the Muslim Brotherhood, said to be 10,000 strong in Amman.

Further west in Cairo, we're told tens of thousands, not an accurate figure there, but only tens of thousands on the streets of Cairo. At one point in the central part of the Egyptian capital, they had to shut down essentially a four-block area right near the U.S. embassy.

Also protesters firing back at police who responded there, hitting them at times with rocks and vowing to burn down the U.S. embassy. Also in the streets, protesters taking turns burning flags, the American flag, the Israeli flag and now at times also the British flag. That was the scene in Cairo yesterday, something to gauge throughout the region.

Here in Kuwait meanwhile no sign of protests just yet. We do not expect any and so far that story has held pretty close to that line. More in a moment. Tommy Franks will come up here in about three hours, three hours time, check that about two hours right now, local time 5:00 here throughout the Persian Gulf. You'll see it at 9:00 a.m. Eastern time back in the U.S. and you will see it live here on CNN, the first briefing that Tommy Franks will hold with reporters since this military engagement began on Wednesday night. Back to Anderson now and Carol at CNN center.

COSTELLO: All right, Bill Hemmer, live from Kuwait City, many thanks to you. I want to take it back to the battlefield now. Ryan Chilcote is with the 101st Airborne Division. Ryan, in the past few days they've been just sitting around waiting for something to happen. Have they moved out?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, they have moved out of Kuwait. In fact we are now inside Iraq, 101st Airborne 3rd Brigade is on the move in a ground convoy. That convoy is stopped right now. That's why I'm actually able to do this report.

A lot of things I can't talk about for reasons of operational security. I can't tell you exactly where we are in Iraq and I can't tell you where we are going. What I can tell you is that late last night we passed over the border from Kuwait in a ground convoy. I was actually sitting on the back of a trailer in basically in a golf cart. The military calls them gators, but they're basically militarized or ruggedized golf carts that were parked on the back of this trailer, face backwards and a lot of soldiers taking the opportunity to get their picture taken as they went over the border.

No enemy contact in this area whatsoever. In fact lots of friendly contact as the convoy was moving, lots of Iraqis came out to wave to the convoy, to the soldiers as they passed by, pretty friendly. We've seen a lot of kids alongside the road, some soldiers passing out MREs, meals ready to eat to those kids and they had them tucked under their arms. So everybody very happy, very, very friendly scene here.

We did see a little bit of broken down vehicles on the way. In fact I saw one piece of U.S. military hardware that is actually like a support unit that basically unfolds into a bridge and on the side it was written (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was broken down on the side of the road.

We did see some T55 Soviet-made T55 Iraqi tanks off in the distance, difficult however to tell whether those are relics from the first Gulf War or whether those are -- have something to do with what's going on here now. Back to you.

COSTELLO: Ryan, I wanted to ask you more about this, because we always got the impression that the Iraqi people outside of Baghdad really didn't know what was happening with the U.S. military. But evidently they do now.

CHILCOTE: Well, anywhere, I'm not sure if I entirely heard your question, but if the question was do they know what the military is doing, certainly in the part of Iraq where I am now, the soldiers are getting a warm welcome. I have to say this is a desolate area. It's not as if there are a lot of people standing outside here. It's a little bit like being on the moon actually.

But we did pass through one populated area and there were quite a few people standing out alongside the road either waving or just simply watching the U.S. troops as they passed by. Like I said, a lot of kids out there. I noticed a lot of them holding onto these MREs, the meals ready to eat that have been tossed to them by soldiers as they passed through.

COSTELLO: All right, Ryan Chilcote reporting live from somewhere inside Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division.

COOPER: And as we have been bringing you the last several hours, Martin Savidge, who is traveling with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines came under fire several hours ago. A rocket-propelled grenade fired at the unit he was traveling with, came very close to him as well. No one, no reports of any injuries though. The RPG hit a nearby building in a town.

This was all part of a mission to blow up T55 tanks and other Iraqi artillery and equipment that had, is just basically lying around in this area outside Basra where he is. Let's take a look back at some of what it was like. Martin Savidge with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a cat (ph) team they refer to it. It's basically heavily armed with your mark 19 automatic grenade launchers and your two missiles which you're now seeing at the front and back of us. And these are very highly mobile. They can run and gun and they pick off armor. That's the way they work. They'll be other people that are out there spotting and say, we may see a tank moving. We may see this or we may see that. And you quickly call in a tow. They peak 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 (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You can take a look back here one more time. This tank continues to cook off (ph). 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. It doesn't appear that somebody's been using these very recently.

COSTELLO: 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 as we initially came in of course, once this, the firing and the explosions occurred, the people have the good sense to sort of melt away. They either get inside their homes or stay out of the line of fire because they realize of course that the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 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.

That's part of the problem for the military here is, yes, they loved to see the people. They're glad that the people seem to be happy to see them. However, force protection always being in their mind and not always being able to tell who has got 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 loud speakers just saying stay away, stay away, stay in your homes and you'll be safe.

So the interaction is on a very small level as it takes place, at least out here in sort of the front lines as it were because you're still trying to decipher the good from the bad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: And of course that's Martin Savidge with the Marines just outside of Basra. Those troops have moved on for right now and we understand no American casualties, at least none we know of as of yet.

We want to get some military expertise here though. For that we turn to our military desk and CNN's Renay San Miguel. Renay's with General Sheppard. Good morning Renay.

RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Carol. We got a lot to cover with a lot of activity going on all around the country of Iraq this morning. General Don Sheppard does joins us. Let's start with Baghdad. Just a few more hours until it gets dark, possibly the second night of the shock and awe campaign. We're going to run some video courtesy of earthviewer.com and Digital Globe. Tell us what we can expect, some of the same targets getting hit again?

GEN. DON SHEPPARD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yeah, you're going to have bomb damage assessment going on in the daylight hours to see what needs to be hit again Renay. Also there are many other targets in this confined complex on the west bank of the Tigris River and this is a military complex, a governmental complex. You got air defense operations center. You got other palaces. The palaces basically (ph) have blue tops on them if you will. You got the Republican palace. You got Bath (ph) party headquarters. You got the special Republican guard headquarters. So I suspect we will see more strikes in this confined area.

SAN MIGUEL: And the reason you would want to come back and hit something like this again which is the Republican guard or the Republican palace. There are Republican head -- guard headquarters -- is because of the bunkers that may be way deep underneath.

SHEPPARD: Indeed. There's specific aim points and you may or may not have him them on the first strike. You'll have to assess that and come back.

SAN MIGUEL: OK.

SHEPPARD: Of note also, there are three bridges connecting east to west across the Tigris River, east to west Baghdad. They have not been hit and again, an example that the U.S. military is not trying to destroy infrastructure.

SAN MIGUEL: OK, let's come on back now to the map here. We want to show folks our table map here and show folks what's going on with some of the ground troops, the ground campaign. The 3rd Infantry, 7th Cavalry, The importance there, Walter Rogers has talked about. They were moving very fast yesterday and now they are stalled. The importance of them being able to continue that advance.

SHEPPARD: Yes, the 3rd of the 7th is the lead element of the 3rd Infantry Division coming north out of Kuwait, swinging up toward Baghdad, across the hard surface of the western Iraqi desert. Now the 3rd of the 7th, that's the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, Custer's old regiment as a matter of fact, led by a young American captain probably 27, 28 years old. He's the lead of America in Iraq right now, amazing the responsibility we put on young captains.

Now when you say they are stalled, what happens is, when you come across some of these villages, you'll take some fire. You have to stop and decide, are you going to bypass that village or you going to go clean it out? Are you going to find out who shot at you? Are you going to blow up tanks en route? You have to stop and clean these things up and it takes time.

SAN MIGUEL: And because, and especially as we saw Martin Savidge -- he's embedded with a group of Marines -- you blow up those tanks because you don't want them to come back and haunt you later.

SHEPPARD: Indeed and it's dangerous, work. You can get shot from the front, from behind, from the side. You can move quickly, but you got to stop and take care of these things en route.

SAN MIGUEL: And one other quick point here, Ryan Chilcote reporting in saying that he is with the 101st airborne. They are now in Iraq. The air assault portion of that, just really quickly here

SHEPPARD: Indeed, air assault is by helicopters. They don't jump anymore. They go by helicopters. That's what air assault is about.

SAN MIGUEL: Got you. Major General Donald Sheppard, thanks so much. Back to you.

COSTELLO: All right, Renay San Miguel, General Sheppard, many thanks to you. I'm Carol Costello along with Anderson Cooper.

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