The Web    CNN.com     
Powered by
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
ON TV
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
TRANSCRIPTS
Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War on Iraq: Casualties, POW Headline Toughest Day Yet

Aired March 23, 2003 - 19:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: More resistance and slower going.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to take a while to achieve our objective. But we're on course. We're determined. And we're making good progress.

ANNOUNCER: Casualties, human shields, and prisoners of war.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: What I'm saying is that it's a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

ANNOUNCER: Cold, wet, hungry, and afraid to go home. Who will help the war's refugees? The polls say the war is popular, but many in the streets, they're saying something else.

Live from Baghdad, Kuwait, Washington, Los Angeles, and Kentucky, and cities around the globe, the war in Iraq, live from the front lines.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: It's just after 3:00 a.m. in Baghdad on a Monday morning. just moments ago, an explosion. There have been over the day a series of explosions.

Coalition Central Command denying now reports broadcast in Arab media that a Coalition plane was shot down in Baghdad, though Iraqis did make a show, if that's what it was, of firing into the river, into the reeds, presumably in their search for an American pilot or coalition pilot, leading a Coalition general to say Iraqi search and rescue technique, quote, "leaves something to be desired."

Good evening again, everyone. It is a reminder today that war is nasty business, difficult business, and often heartbreaking business.

I'm Aaron Brown at CNN Center in Atlanta.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live tonight from Kuwait City, where about two hours ago a Patriot missile intercepted an incoming Iraqi missile fired toward Kuwait City. Officials say the intercepted missile came down away from any residential area.

Meanwhile, U.S. ground forces are closing in on Baghdad. The 101st Airborne's 3rd Brigade has established a forward refueling and weapons depot in Southern Iraq. That will allow U.S. attack helicopters to penetrate even farther behind enemy lines.

And coalition forces are still running into Iraqis who prefer to stay and fight. There have been sharp battles. In other cases, Iraq's pretend -- Iraqis have pretended to surrender, or they've even posed as civilians, then pulled out weapons.

An undisclosed number of Marines, fewer than 10, say the military, were killed in action Sunday. The Iraqis also have captured their first U.S. prisoners.

CNN received the first pictures today of American soldiers killed and captured in action in Iraq shortly after the Pentagon said fewer than 10 of its troops are missing. They later said 12 soldiers had either died or were missing. The pictures were transmitted by Al Jazeera, the Arab-language satellite network. The video was shot by the state-run Iraq TV.

We want to let our viewers know that these pictures and the interviews were disturbing. CNN has made a decision not to show the video of those killed. Instead, we will use this single image with no identifiable features. In other images, it was apparent some soldiers had been shot, some of them in the forehead. We don't know their identities.

In addition, five soldiers were interviewed. Each gave their name and home state in the United States. The Pentagon tells CNN it's notifying the families of those who were captured and those who were killed -- Aaron.

BROWN: Wolf, good evening to you. It has been a tough and nasty day in this war with Iraq. Right now, the air raid sirens are going off in Baghdad. The big picture on the right of the screen, we'll keep an eye on that. This is the time of night, 3:00 in the morning over there, when coalition forces might well launch a strike, and we'll just have to see if that's what happens.

About five hours ago, there was an enormous explosion in Baghdad, and we'll just see what unfolds before us live.

Back to the sounds of Baghdad tonight. There are cameras in a number of locations, as many of you know, these are fixed cameras. In none of these shots do we see anything that indicates anything either going up or coming down. So we'll just keep an eye on it.

Iraqis have been seeing on their state TV today pictures of their forces that have been in combat. In some cases they have seen pictures of American dead and American POWs.

We can only imagine what this Sunday has been like here of the families of those POWs, the almost unthinkable anxiety of knowing a loved one is being held overseas, being completely powerless to do anything about it. It is a feeling, I'm sure, that is shared not just by the families but by many Americans tonight as they heard reports that the first POWs, American POWs, have been taken.

Many of the soldiers came from Fort Bliss, which is in the western part of Texas. CNN's Ed Lavandera is in El Paso. Ed, good evening.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Aaron.

Well, here there's a lot of uncertainty at Fort Bliss. There was a press briefing that had been scheduled for -- supposed to have happened in the last hour. The colonel here, the chief of staff of Fort Bliss, showed up in the building where this press briefing was supposed to have taken place, and he was walking to the podium, a three-star general from Washington called, and it was abruptly canceled.

The general -- the colonel left the building here without answering any questions, but we were able to speak with a couple of the spokespeople here at Fort Bliss. They say that there just isn't enough information to go forward publicly with what might have happened with the soldiers that are believed to have been taken in action in Iraq.

They -- what the base is doing in the meantime is that there has been a family readiness group, which is essentially made up of all the spouses that have -- of the spouses of the members of the military who have been deployed from Fort Bliss here, and there's some 4,000 troops here at Fort Bliss that have been deployed into the Middle East region.

These members, these members of these groups and also the chaplains here at Fort Bliss have been in contact with these family members, helping them get the information that they need to bring some ease to them, if you will.

But of course, the situation here, I asked one of the spokespeople, is if it -- if there had been something that had happened in the last hour or so that caused the cancellation of this press conference. And they do say that there's always such a fluid situation, and with what exactly is happening with these soldiers, it's not exactly clear at this point, so they just didn't fear, feel comfortable going public with the information that they have.

So needless to say, they have not released publicly the information of the soldiers that have been captured, and they're working with these family readiness groups to help them deal with what is going on. We're told that some of the family members are here and that there are some family members that are not here at Fort Bliss as well.

So the situation here continues to move as the higher-ranking officials here at Fort Bliss continue to get more information as to what exactly has happened in Iraq, Aaron.

BROWN: Ed, very briefly, do you know if the families of both the dead and the captured have been notified?

LAVANDERA: They won't comment precisely, but we do (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- it seems like some of them have and some of them have not at this point...

BROWN: OK.

LAVANDERA: ... quite frankly, from what we've been able to gather so far.

BROWN: All right. So that's important in a number -- for a number of reasons, and we'll just leave it at that.

The images of -- and we saw the tape that aired across the Arab world today, dead and captured U.S. soldiers, are a horrible reminder that the battle in Iraq is a long way from over, and in many respects is really starting. It is a reminder too that another mission is still going on in that region of the world. There is word out of Afghanistan tonight that a U.S. Black Hawk medical helicopter has crashed, and everyone on board has perished.

So it's been a tough day.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon. Jamie, we have a couple of things to work through. Let's start with the POW question. Add to what reporting you can, and we'll go from there.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, this is one of those days when, if anyone thought that there was a...

BROWN: Jamie, I'm going to stop you here. Jamie, let me stop you here. Jamie, thank you.

You -- the pictures you're seeing now are Baghdad. You can see the sky has been lit up in orange flame, if you will, coming up obviously, something going on now. I think if we just take the lower right picture full, because the others don't seem to offer as much here, guys. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaks in Arabic)

BROWN: This is an Arab-language feed, and that's why you're hearing foreign language reporting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaks in Arabic)

BROWN: Let's just keep an eye on this as it happens together. We'll all keep our eye on it and we'll go back to Jamie.

Jamie, pick up where you left off.

MCINTYRE: Well, Aaron, I started to say, this is one of those days where the Pentagon -- you know, the Pentagon said in the beginning, this was not going to be a cakewalk. But if anybody had the impression that this war was going to be easy or clean, this was the day that disabused them of that notion.

Nevertheless, though, U.S. military commanders insist the war is on track, and they are guaranteeing a U.S. victory.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): What military commanders call the sharpest (audio interrupt) occurred at the Southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, about 100 miles north of Kuwait. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today was a tough day of fighting for the coalition, but we continue our attack to remove he regime and to destroy the forces supporting it.

MCINTYRE: U.S. Marines thought the main fighting was over at Nasiriyah, but they were tricked, U.S. commanders say, by special Republican Guard forces who had infiltrated the regular Iraqi troops.

LT. GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, DEPUTY COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: In one incident, a flag of surrender was displayed, and it was followed up by artillery fire. In another incident, there were troops dressed in civilian clothes that appeared to welcome the forces and then ambushed them.

MCINTYRE: It was also near Nasiriyah where a U.S. military supply convoy came under attack after making a wrong turn.

ABIZAID: I can tell you for a fact that we are definitely missing 12 Army soldiers that are unaccounted for, some of whom, I believe, ended up on Baghdad television.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Now, Iraqi television aired those gruesome pictures that showed what appeared to be four dead soldiers and five captured POWs. Iraq said it would abide by the Geneva Conventions, but already Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused Iraq of violating those conventions simply by displaying those pictures on television, pictures, by the way, which CNN is not showing.

U.S. troops will now use more caution in the field in approaching what may be friendly Iraqi -- may or may not be friendly Iraqi troops or civilians. But the war plan remains intact. General Abizaid today said essentially that Iraqi troops are fighting -- are desperate people trying to save a doomed regime. And he promised that U.S. main forces would be near Baghdad soon.

BROWN: Jamie, thank you. We will get back to talk more about the incident in Afghanistan a little later.

Go ahead and take that poll for a second. As you can see, the pictures of Baghdad tonight now, about 3:15 in the morning, 15 minutes ago, when we went on the air, it was just, Wolf, as black a night as you could imagine. And now, as you can see from your position in Kuwait as well, there is that orange fire that is lighting up the skies.

There have been a series of explosions. I heard three in my ear while Jamie was talking to me. Very well have been more. Wolf, weigh in here, because...

BLITZER: All right.

BROWN: ... you were able to listen a little more intently than I was. I was listening to Jamie with one ear and the sounds of Baghdad from the other. BLITZER: I was going to say, Aaron, these latest bombardments, these latest explosions, huge explosions over the past few minutes in Baghdad, according to a Reuters correspondent who is on the scene just filed a report for the Reuters news agency, the reporter saying among the largest, the biggest to hit the city since A-Day. Let's listen in briefly.

(sounds of muffled explosions)

BROWN: Even, Wolf, as you were speaking, we could hear that pounding sound of the explosion.

BLITZER: And this one, we're told, was in central Baghdad.

Earlier, a few hours ago, there were a series of three blasts that hit the southeastern part of the city, this one in the central part of the city. The Reuters correspondent filing a dispatch just a few minutes ago saying that there was no prior warning from air raid sirens, no sign of antiaircraft fire, simply a huge bomb blast that went off, indicating that perhaps the Iraqi air defense system, their early warning detection system, the radar not necessarily working as effectively, or just speculating here, perhaps those Stealth F-117A fighters managing to penetrate through Iraqi air space without being detected.

The first sign any of those 5 million people in Baghdad might have had to this latest bombing was the actual bombing itself, because, as you know, Aaron, in the past, usually the Iraqis have some early warning. They fire those antiaircraft blasts into the skies. We see those tracers go up there. And of course the sirens blast throughout the city.

BROWN: Well, and I heard you earlier, earlier today, you were talking to General Shepperd, I believe it was, when this earlier run of explosions hit, and there was very little tracer fire, tracer fire being antiaircraft fire coming from the ground up. There was very little of that. And the general's suspicion was that there had been some degrading of the Iraqi defense, air defense around the capital.

As we look at this picture and even in the four other, or the three other cameras that we have available to us, we have yet to see any antiaircraft fire going up, whether that is in fact significant in and of itself, whether it means that their forces have been degraded, we wouldn't speculate.

But we can report the fact of it, we just haven't seen it, and that says something.

BLITZER: What it says to me, Aaron, is that our cameras are not necessarily positioned in the middle of the night, it's after 3:00 a.m. in Baghdad, to get, perhaps, the pictures that we would like to see. But those cameras, as you point out, are fixed, they're in fixed positions, and they're only allowed to see what they can see without being moved around.

So obviously we're limited in the actual pictures we can show our viewers, but eyewitnesses, as I say, we're getting these early reports from Baghdad, eyewitnesses saying perhaps these are among the most intense, if not the most intense since the first night.

And all of our viewers will remember the spectacular, the bombings that occurred on the first night, those huge plumes of smoke and the fires that erupted at those presidential palace compounds, as well as the Iraqi government ministry compound.

So if this is even more spectacular, then obviously it's another terrifying night for the people of Baghdad.

BROWN: It certainly must be that. Imagine being in your bed at 3:00 in the morning, and all of a sudden you hear this.

(sound of explosion)

BROWN: And you hear it without the advance warning of any air raid sirens or anything else.

So here we go again, is the way it looks to us. There's clearly some level of military strike going on in the Iraqi capital. As we've often said as we've shown you snapshots of this and that, they are just that, snapshots. The extent -- how extensive this particular attack is will become clearer, I suspect, as we go over the next couple of hours.

But what we can report with absolute certainty is, there has been this series of enormous -- not a word we use lightly -- enormous explosions in the Iraqi capital, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're also told, Aaron, that similar explosions, similar bombing raids are being done elsewhere in Iraq, throughout the country, indeed, going after Republican Guard positions, suspected weapons of mass destruction locations, certainly up in the north in Mosul and Kirkuk as well as in the home town of Saddam Hussein in Tikrit.

So this is not an isolated incident. Planes taking off from aircraft carriers, Tomahawk cruise missiles being launched from destroyers throughout the region, as well as U.S. Air Force war planes launched from bases throughout the region.

So this is obviously going to be a long, long night for the people of Baghdad and other cities throughout Iraq.

Meanwhile, the White House is warning that before the first strike (UNINTELLIGIBLE) warn Iraq would not be easy. The White House had warned that this is going to be along, difficult campaign. Now President Bush is dealing with a horror most Americans do not like to even think about, namely, U.S. soldiers in the hands of Iraqi troops.

Our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us now live with the latest from the White House -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I just talked to a White House official. He said that they are outraged here tonight by the apparent treatment of these prisoners of war in Iraq. He said that there is just absolute disgust about the brutal and cruel treatment of them.

And the president himself said when he arrived from Camp David this afternoon that he was briefed on the situation on the grim news from the war front on the casualties and on the prisoners of war.

He said that he was praying for them and for their families. And he said he went to church this morning to express that prayer. And he said that there is -- there should be a stern warning for the Iraqis who have the soldiers in captivity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The POWs I expect to be treated humanely. And just like we're treating the prisoners that we have captured humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: But the president did have some support and say that there was some progress in the war. He said that he was very pleased with the fact that they had -- that the U.S. coalition forces had taken over most of the southern front, particularly the oil fields. And he said that they feel that Saddam Hussein's days are numbers.

But, as you said, Wolf, they are concerned that Americans might think this will be a short war. He said that there are tough days ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I know that Saddam Hussein is losing control of his country, that -- that we're slowly but surely achieving our objective. It's important for the American people to realize that this war has just begun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, tomorrow the president will meet with top congressional leaders to go over the controversial subject of how much this war will cost. In the next coming days -- in the coming days we are told that he will ask for a large sum of money, between $75 and $90 billion. We're also told that it likely that the president will travel this coming week, perhaps to meet with troops and their families, Wolf.

BLITZER: Oh, which raises the question, Dana, is the president now himself on a war footing, namely meaning this is the only subject he's going to be concerned (audio interrupt) with other domestic or international issues at the same time, at least on a visible public scale?

BASH: Well, you saw this past week, we didn't get a chance to ask the president some questions. However, when he had a -- the few public appearances that -- where we saw him, he did make a concerted effort to talk about the domestic agenda, in addition to what's going on on the war front. He talked about the economy and education and other things.

He is likely to be -- to continue to do that, to try to stress the domestic issues. But of course all things war and all things related to the -- what's going on in Iraq will clearly take center stage.

BLITZER: I'm not surprised. Dana Bash at the White House, thanks very much.

Aaron, back to you.

BROWN: Part of the problem for the president, even if he wants to talk about other things, the fact is that news coverage right now on cable network, everywhere else, is almost totally, if not totally, about the war itself. It is a single conversation moment in the country right now.

Twenty-four hours ago, the conversation had to do with this attack at the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade, which is still stationed in Kuwait. U.S. Army officials are trying to figure out why a member of that brigade may have turned against his fellow soldiers, this is at Camp Pennsylvania in the Kuwait desert.

Man's name, Sergeant Asan Akbar, is in custody. He was taken into custody about 45 minutes or so after, it is alleged, he shot and then threw grenades. He's being interrogated now. Two grenades at the tents housing other members of his units. One of them, Captain Christopher Scott Siefert (ph), Christopher Scott Siefert, died in that attack, 15 others soldiers were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) were wounded, rather.

U.S. military sources say Sergeant Akbar is a Muslim and was against the war. He had been somewhat of a problem, a disciplinary problem in recent days, and a decision had been made to keep him behind, not allow him to go into Iraq. General Wes Clark -- Well, let's leave it at that for now and just watch these pictures play out.

These taken shortly after the incident yesterday at Camp Pennsylvania, one of four major camps up in the Kuwaiti desert, as they moved the wounded to medevac, most of them were medevaced out.

The 101st Airborne, one of the great legendary divisions in the U.S. Army, is based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. You can -- friends and family of the accused and the victims, you can only imagine how they must be feeling, the shock, the anger, the sorrow that is running through their collective minds tonight.

CNN's David Mattingly is at Fort Campbell -- David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, the newspaper from Nashville, "The Tennessean," reporting some very interesting findings on the life of the suspect, Asan Akbar, tonight. The newspaper identifying his mother as a woman from Louisiana who says that Akbar reportedly told her that he had some concerns about being a Muslim in the military, and that he told her that he was unable to participate in the Gulf War because he was a Muslim.

The woman identified in "The Tennessean" as Koran Delal (ph) says she believes that her son is innocent and that he is being accused because of his religion. Akbar reportedly was born under the name Mark Fidel Cools (ph), and his mother says that she changed his name as a young boy after she remarried.

Now, Akbar reportedly attended the Delal Islamic Center in Los Angeles and the University of California in Davis. People from both of those institutions are quoted saying that they never saw anything violent in his personality and expressed surprise that he might be accused of something like this.

Now, today the Army described Akbar simply as a sergeant of the 326th Engineering Battalion from here at Fort Campbell. It was his job in Kuwait to clear the battlefield of dangerous obstructions like land mines and other obstructions. No one has any idea why he might have been motivated to allegedly try to kill the officers of the 101st Airborne.

But one thing is clear, the people here at the base are talking about what effect it has had on morale, both on troops in the field and on the families here as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE HEATH, FORT CAMPBELL: I think morale is good here. I think the morale, and people are disappointed that something like this may have happened from inside the ranks. It's not something that you would expect to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: And we have reporters in several cities right now chasing leads on the life of Akbar. We hope to have more for you later, Aaron.

BROWN: Is a reality of war coverage that nothing stops to focus very much, Wolf, on one story, one strain of the story. It moves on. And the war with Iraq moved on today in dramatic and very difficult and heartbreaking ways.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com





ANNOUNCER: More resistance and slower going.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to take a while to achieve our objective. But we're on course. We're determined. And we're making good progress.

ANNOUNCER: Casualties, human shields, and prisoners of war.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: What I'm saying is that it's a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

ANNOUNCER: Cold, wet, hungry, and afraid to go home. Who will help the war's refugees? The polls say the war is popular, but many in the streets, they're saying something else.

Live from Baghdad, Kuwait, Washington, Los Angeles, and Kentucky, and cities around the globe, the war in Iraq, live from the front lines.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: It's just after 3:00 a.m. in Baghdad on a Monday morning. just moments ago, an explosion. There have been over the day a series of explosions.

Coalition Central Command denying now reports broadcast in Arab media that a Coalition plane was shot down in Baghdad, though Iraqis did make a show, if that's what it was, of firing into the river, into the reeds, presumably in their search for an American pilot or coalition pilot, leading a Coalition general to say Iraqi search and rescue technique, quote, "leaves something to be desired."

Good evening again, everyone. It is a reminder today that war is nasty business, difficult business, and often heartbreaking business.

I'm Aaron Brown at CNN Center in Atlanta.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live tonight from Kuwait City, where about two hours ago a Patriot missile intercepted an incoming Iraqi missile fired toward Kuwait City. Officials say the intercepted missile came down away from any residential area.

Meanwhile, U.S. ground forces are closing in on Baghdad. The 101st Airborne's 3rd Brigade has established a forward refueling and weapons depot in Southern Iraq. That will allow U.S. attack helicopters to penetrate even farther behind enemy lines.

And coalition forces are still running into Iraqis who prefer to stay and fight. There have been sharp battles. In other cases, Iraq's pretend -- Iraqis have pretended to surrender, or they've even posed as civilians, then pulled out weapons.

An undisclosed number of Marines, fewer than 10, say the military, were killed in action Sunday. The Iraqis also have captured their first U.S. prisoners.

CNN received the first pictures today of American soldiers killed and captured in action in Iraq shortly after the Pentagon said fewer than 10 of its troops are missing. They later said 12 soldiers had either died or were missing. The pictures were transmitted by Al Jazeera, the Arab-language satellite network. The video was shot by the state-run Iraq TV.>


CNN US
On CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNN AvantGo CNNtext Ad info Preferences
SEARCH
   The Web    CNN.com     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser.
CNN.com does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.