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Helicopter Assault Runs into Difficulties

Aired March 24, 2003 - 00:00   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Southern Iraq. There is a search and rescue operation for two missing British soldiers. The British Defense Ministry says the two were attacked on Sunday. Earlier Sunday, two British pilots were killed when their Tornado GR-4 was downed by U.S. Patriot missiles in Kuwait.
About 60 miles south of Baghdad, Apache helicopters attacked a Republican Guard armored division. Karl Penhaul accompanied the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment and he says the choppers ran into what he described as a wall of antiaircraft fire. U.S. helicopters targeted Republican Guard tanks and artillery pieces.

The Pentagon says U.S. troops have secured a facility in southern Iraq that may -- may -- have produced chemical weapons. The plant is in Najaf, that is some 90 miles south of Baghdad. Officials says it's unclear what, if any, materials are still present at the plant. The U.S. military says at least one Iraqi general was taken into custody in Najaf, and that he is talking.

And back in the States, the Academy Awards went on as scheduled tonight. There was tight security and the red carpet activities were cancelled. Adrien Brody was winner of best actor for "The Pianist." He received a standing ovation when he asked for a swift and peaceful resolution to the war in Iraq.

The Oscar for best actress when to Nicole Kidman for her work in "The Hours." Kidman said the Oscars had to go on in order to honor their tradition.

Those are the headlines at this hour. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

And, Aaron, I can tell you that the Oscars being broadcast live both here in Kuwait and according to the Web site in Iraq, as well. Back to you.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. That was the question I was going to ask. And, Daryn, I promise you, I know the difference between you and Heidi. I apologize for that.

KAGAN: Hair color if nothing else.

BROWN: Thank you. You have permission to call me Miles one time. Thank you, Daryn.

We haven't, so far, seen much of anything from northern Iraq in the last couple of hours. It's been pretty quiet there. So for all the talk about northern Iraq, we haven't seen very much there, just occasional reports of coalition bombing. But there is of course some indication, ground fighting, could begin there soon. And so, here's CNN's Brent Sadler.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A section of Iraq's northern front, less than a mile from our camera. Saddam Hussein's troops are spread along the ridge line. Uncertain strength lies to their rear.

But take a close look at what these Iraqi soldiers are busy doing, disregarding the threat of air strikes. They dig trenches, plant land mines and set explosives on the road to Mosul, an apparent effort to keep their foes at bay. It coincides with a reported changeover in some units manning these positions and follows Kurdish claims that some troops were on the verge of succumbing to defeat. Instead, it seems, new orders are being given and obeyed.

No sign of mutiny here. Soldiers maintain their weapons, adjust a mortar tube, and fire sporadic bursts from heavy caliber machine guns towards Kurdish lines. Kurds take cover in the virtual ghost town of Kalak. Kalak nestles beneath the Iraqi fortifications, a Kurdish front-line community that has lived in the shadow of Saddam Hussein's forces for 12 years.

Most people shut their shops here and fled their homes on the eve of war, but a few families remain, relatives of Kurdish fighters. And these two families, with 18 children between them. Their fathers say there seems no point in running away.

"I'll take a chance and stay here," says Kamal Smie (ph). "If it's my fate to die, I'll die in my own home.'

And for the few who remain here, a hope that the apparent resolve of these Iraqi soldiers will soon break.

Saddam Hussein's command and control of his troops along this northern front behind me are under greater pressure as U.S. and coalition forces fight their way towards Baghdad. But it may only be a matter of time before they start feeling the crunch, even though what you see today remains a static northern front.

One other change, as you can see here, in the last few hours, a dramatic change in weather conditions. Strong wind and rain now lashing those Iraqi digging dug out positions along the ridge outlook which lies behind me.

Back to you, Aaron.

BROWN: Just how far are you from the Iraqi positions?

SADLER: Aaron, from this position, I guess it would be about two miles. We were using a lens, a special lens, to get inside those positions yesterday. And we were less than a mile there. You can clearly see, as you saw in that report, what it's like inside there. And we do know that there were -- there have been sporadic attacks against this front line. But if you think about it in the broader picture, Aaron, for the moment this area remains fairly stable. No Turkish troops have come in here; no fighting, hostile actions by the Kurdish fighters against the Iraqis. Sporadic fire from Iraqi troops in these positions behind me, perhaps getting a little nervous, particularly as we move closer to watch what they are doing, the media that is. But for the moment, there doesn't seem to be much point in really changing the status quo here, shaking it to pieces, because that could in actual fact work against coalition interests by stabilizing this area before any American troop presence is on the ground here. Just one of the theories that's being tossed around here by Kurdish political leaders.

Back to you, Aaron.

BROWN: I have just one other thing, how different it might look, literally, on the piece of land you're standing on or at least two miles away, how different it might look if the Turkish parliament, back three weeks or so ago, had voted to allow the Americans to base in Turkey and launch a ground invasion as they wanted to from Turkey.

SADLER: Absolutely. You would have seen more than 60,000 U.S. troops in here, plus armor, really spread out along the front line, heading towards those two key northern Iraqi cities under Saddam Hussein's control of Mosul, which is over that side on my left shoulder, and of course of Kirkuk, those two main cities which sit atop Iraq's vast oil reserves in this part of the country.

You have the exact reverse now. You know, you don't have -- which is the positive side, it's good, you don't have the Turkish army coming into this area intentionally creating a Turkish-Kurdish fight. The Turks wanted to come in here along with the U.S. troops.

So really, it's a very strange feeling here, Aaron. Baghdad we could drive just perhaps three hours from here. We can see the level of fighting that's going on as the coalition forces make their progress towards Baghdad. Whereas here, in the northern part of the country, maybe 120,000 Iraqi troops, not the Republican Guard, of course, the hard core of Saddam Hussein's fighting force, but 120,000, three army corps, spread across a 500-mile frontline. This is a significant part of Saddam's army, controlled by hard-liners, officers from his Sunnite heartland area, places like Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein; Ramali; Mosul. So, really, this is a loose end, a problem sooner or later that's going to have to be taken care of.


BROWN: Thank you very much, Brent Sadler, up there in northern Iraq, sort of waiting for a boot to drop, General. You nodded that this is an area that ultimately is going to have to be dealt with, and dealing with it is no -- well, we don't know this, but should not be a walk in the park.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's just going to be a tough area. Because if you imagine the scenario that we're in right now, where you don't have the forces coming in from the north but you close in around Baghdad, and let's say you do defeat Saddam Hussein there and let's say you take over the government, you're left with all these troops up there and all these hard-liners who really aren't defeated. And you're left with the Fedayeen. And you really don't know what their attitude is going to be. But the initial response is going to be to try to use some of these guys to help you maintain control.

It's going to be -- it's going to be tough.

BROWN: I want to go back to something I didn't get to ask you earlier, if I can, you know, don't yell at me or -- we were talking to Mike Gordon (ph) at the time about trying to execute this operation with the number of troops that they have. And relative to the Gulf War, it is a much smaller force. And, yes, the weapons are much more sophisticated. Do you now believe or have some suspicion that -- do you believe there are enough forces in the area -- not to get the job done, not to affect the end outcome, but to do it in the quickest, most efficient, least destructive and safest way?

CLARK: No, I don't. I would have preferred more forces there. But the forces that are there now probably will be adequate to do the job. It all depends on the enemy. But when you're doing military planning, what you'd like to do is moderately conservative planning. In other words, you want to figure on some bad days and you know lots of things can go wrong. You still want to be able to handle it in robust fashion. We're missing three heavy Army divisions that never got there.

BROWN: And those three heavy Army divisions would have done what?

CLARK: They would have been with the 3rd Infantry Division, with the Marines, and you would have moved up through this country, you would have been more capable of dealing with the contingencies that we've already seen today. You would have taken out the missile launching sites in eastern Iraq. You would have had a robust rear area where you had continuous heavy armored forces moving through. You wouldn't be bypassing cities and then coming back to find the Fedayeen come in.

BROWN: The kind of thing we sat here and watched last night would not have happened and the CR unit from a...

CLARK: No, no. It would have happened, but you would have dealt with it with a much smaller proportion of the force. It wouldn't have any strategic significance.

BROWN: OK. And now, you're the secretary of defense. I've asked you to play about nine different roles over this four days' time. Now, you're secretary of defense, and you say, no, General Franks, you can't have that because why?

CLARK: I think he approved it. I don't fully understand everything that happened. I mean, we're not on the inside of operations.

BROWN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) CLARK: These divisions were scheduled to deploy.

BROWN: They just didn't get there.

CLARK: They didn't get there. One of them, you know, one is orbiting in the Mediterranean out there for 30 days waiting for the Turkish government to make up its mind. But we let it sit there. And I don't know all the factors, you know, that went into that decision. I'm not in a position to say it was a bad decision or a good decision. But it's simply a fact that when you look at the magnitude of the tasks, yes, our air power is wonderful and we should be able to handle this, but our boots on the ground strength is low. And what that means is we don't have the capacity to divert large proportions of the force to handling enemy prisoners, clear areas at zone, leave a squad to mark a critical turn on the main supply route and guard it. It's -- there's a very hard, tough, strong crust closing up to Baghdad.

BROWN: Then again, well maybe I make too much of this, but there is this long supply line we -- I don't know, it was an hour or so ago we looked at that refueling spot in the desert, FARP, is that right?

CLARK: Yes, Forward Armed Petroleum.

BROWN: Be careful around saying things like that. And it's a complicated logistical task to maintain the supply line; it requires people.

CLARK: That's exactly right; it does. It's a calculated risk. And the command believes it can do this job with the forces, that's what they've said. And I hope they're right. I haven't seen all the details of it. And I trust their judgment. But if you're asking me as an old soldier and looking at the magnitude of the task, I always like to have an insurance policy there.

BROWN: We were talking about air power a second ago. Bob Franken has been at -- I believe still is, at an air base out in Kuwait. No more detail on that than that. But Bob is on the phone with us now.

Bob, what is going on in your location?

BOB FRANKEN, AIR BASE NEAR IRAQ BORDER: Well, OK, first of all, the official description of this is an air base near the Iraq border. There have been some sensitivities with the government that are oftentimes difficult to sustain.

What's going on now is a continuation, pretty much a leveling off, of the number of flights that have come out of here. Basically, the areas that are covered by this air base are everything but Baghdad. It's at about 300 flights a day, military missions, that go out of here. And there are also is a center of search and rescue efforts.

Now, we were talking in the last couple of days about how heavily classified certain information was. We were not able to report, for instance, that search and rescue efforts for the downed British pilot, Royal Air Force pilot, had been conducted out of here. We can now report that, when this unit, the CSAR, which is the combat search and rescue unit, left here yesterday morning. They went out and searched for the British pilot, were unable to find him. We have no word that he has been found, as a matter of fact.

Then they were diverted, and this was also classified at the time, to a mission where seven Special Forces troops "deep into Iraq," quote, unquote, were under fire. They were able to successfully pull all of them out. The pilot said that they had to get out of the plane and in fact use their weapons themselves. Then they came back, took them to a safe location, and then went out again to take some inspectors from the British military out to the site of the British Air Force -- Royal Air Force -- crash.

So those are the details. It is -- search and rescue is one of the important missions at this base, as a matter of fact. We can also report that they have taken some of their helicopters, their operation, and have gone deep into Iraq themselves to set up what they call a forward location. We're endeavoring to in fact bring more information from there about that.

But this is a base that is very, very busy. It's a vital part of the air war that's going on right now. And it looks like it's going to stay that way.


BROWN: Bob -- thank you. Everybody's misidentified everybody today. Bob, can you describe how they go about these search-and- rescue operations? Are these done by helicopters? Are they by fixed wings? Are they both? How does that work?

FRANKEN: Yes, well, the helicopters of course are the vehicles for search and rescue. They are HH-60s, they call them the Jollies. They are really modified Black Hawks. And they go up in six-man crews, all specialists, heavily armed, of course. They call themselves the 911s of the Air Force. They are accompanied by combat planes. In the case of yesterday, they were accompanied by A-10s, the anti-tank planes, that really are so vicious and provide such combat -- such cover. That's the kind of thing that it specializes in.

So they go out in units like that. They also oftentimes refuel in the course of their mission, so they can be out hours at a time.


BROWN: Thank you Bob and thank you Bob. Bob Franken reporting on the air operations. Bob noted that two British pilots remain missing. It is a reminder not simply that there are 40,000 or so British troops in the region, that but in fact the British have suffered considerably in the early days of war, which is one of the things we took a look at today.

As the coalition forces push closer to Baghdad, the loss of life, as in all wars, is inevitable. But in this war, the British have suffered hard early. Today, the first British casualties of friendly fire. British military officials say one of their aircraft, carrying two pilots, was shot down near the Kuwait border by an American Patriot missile. Both pilots killed.


MAJOR GENERAL PETER WATT, U.K.: A detailed investigation is under way, so we must not rush to judge. We need to establish exactly how this happened so we can take steps to minimize the risks in the future.


BROWN: The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Myers.


GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I think every coalition member that is fighting in Iraq understands very much what they're fighting for. And they know that these sorts of things can happen, unfortunately will happen, from time to time.


BROWN: For the British, this has been the third tragedy since the war began, just four days ago.

On Saturday, a mid-air collision between two Navy Sea King helicopters, like this one, killed six British crew members and one American. A day earlier, a U.S. Marine helicopter crashed in Kuwait killing eight British and four Americans on board, the first casualties of the war, an accident.

The mournful reaction back home in England has been widespread. One of those killed played in his company's brass band. His instrument lay on his chair in his memory.

And in a local pub, a rugby teammate remembers his good and close friend, Lance Corporal Llywelyn Evans, one of this war's first casualties.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very, very close. You know, we like to (inaudible). We liked taking festivals out there.


BROWN: As I suppose most of you know, the British public was far less supportive of the notion. It was a very difficult political decision for Mr. Blair, Tony Blair. And, I don't know, maybe David, somebody back there, Jennifer, somebody could take a look and see if there's any polling in Britain to get a sense of how and if and how the mood in Britain has shifted as this war has gone on and they've taken some hits.

General, is there -- you've had to manage these multi-country sort of operations. Is there resentment in some ways towards the Americans because they call the shots and they're the big guys out there? Do the other ones feel that they're tagging along?

CLARK: Sure, there's some of that. There are always those who are envious of the equipment quality the United States has. The United States is the -- we're the big dog and we do tend to let people know that. And we do tend to call the shots. And we have to be very careful how we do that or we engender a lot of reaction.

But in -- you know, with respect to the British, they've been wonderful allies through many many different crises with the United States. Prime Minister Blair's been extraordinarily courageous. And the British public really love their armed forces. When their armed forces are deployed, they tend to support them personally. They tend to look to the commanders there for their courage and their integrity.

And we saw this in Kosovo, we saw this in the Gulf War, we saw it in the Falklands.

BROWN: Are these -- I'm trying to think of the right word -- essentially do these armies function in the same way? Do they have the same sort of tactical thinking and strategic thinking? Is it easy to integrate them, or do you have to reteach?

CLARK: Well, we're using the same kind of map symbols and we had NATO commonality, but we think differently because we're probably 10 to 15 years more advanced in terms of the army thinking, the army technology. The Brits are just now...

BROWN: Thinking or technology?

CLARK: It's both. The thinking drives the technology, but then the technology forces you to continue to work your thoughts.

BROWN: Give me an example of thinking?

CLARK: Apache helicopters and ATACMS missiles. We brought them in in the 1980s. We created a concept called "Deep Battle." It's the idea that -- in World War II, if you were a three-star general, you could tell people where to go on a map, but then you just -- you couldn't affect the minute-by-minute flow of the battle. Lieutenant General Scott Wallace who's the 5th Corps commander sent those Apaches in there and that was his striking power against the Medina Brigade and he was affecting battle, just as if he'd been a colonel or a captain on the front line. He was looking at real-time intelligence; he was going to affect the battle in the period of a few minutes after those Apaches were launched. And he had the launch authority for them.

So the British army has just now gotten its Apaches; it doesn't have the long-range missiles; and it's just now working its way into all the electronics of -- positional locations and so forth that we're very familiar with. We were driven to it, because if you're going to fight deep, you have to know where your forces are.

So with the technology, we've gone to another level of depth in terms of military analysis and thought.

BROWN: Do you go through the same war schools? Do you read the same books? Or do you -- for example, the British read the great British military strategists and generals and so on and the Americans read the great American strategists and generals. Or are you all reading the same thing, the guy's name escapes me, but the Chinese strategist?

CLARK: Sun Tsu or...

BROWN: Sun Tsu of 2000 years ago.

CLARK: Sure, and we're reading John Keegan, "The Face of Battle," and we're reading a lot of the similar stuff. And we send officers to the British schools and they send officers to our schools. And we send some of our officers to serve in their units, and they send some of their officers to serve in our units.

But, you know, it's that old joke about, you know, two people divided by a common language. And there are differences in the way people perceive military problems. There's a perception on the part of some of the British officers that the Americans don't want to take risks with their soldiers. There's a perception on the part of some of the American officers, that the Brits don't fully appreciate American technology. And you have to work through these things in practical ways and build on your common sense of purpose and common understanding to strengthen your relationship. And that's what's going on.

BROWN: Thank you. Thank you, that's really interesting to me, thank you, General Clark, as always.

It is Monday morning, literally Monday morning now in the East, 23 minutes past midnight. We'll take a short break. And our coverage of the war in Iraq will continue here on CNN.


BROWN: 8:25 in the morning in Baghdad, on a Monday morning. The city was hit by a series of explosions at various points overnight. The last one that we recall was about 3 or so in the morning, three or four very loud explosions. The night sky went from jet black to that orange look.

Now, it appears calm. And who knows what today will bring for the citizens. We see some smoke burning in the background there from one of the camera locations, moving across to the left side of the screen, fairly low on the horizon. And whether that is the leftover from something that happened overnight, or something that happened recently -- if it was something that happened recently, I know we would have heard it. I'm confident of that. So the nature of it, I do not know. I think it was General Shepperd who said it was his impression that the bombing had moved a bit closer toward the center of the city, the bombing that occurred in the nighttime.

And still it has been a difficult day. It was a difficult Sunday for the coalition side. And the Iraqis certainly made the most of it in terms of what they put out on TV for both Iraqi citizens to see and for the world to see, and specifically for the Arab world to see, in their hope that if they can put enough pressure on the Americans and on the British, on the coalition side, there will be international pressure for a cease-fire, because the Iraqis understand, as we do and as you do, that that is their hope: Their hope is that somehow international pressure will be brought to bear on the American government and on the coalition generally but specifically on the American government to stop the war before it makes its way to Baghdad. Ultimately they know, they certainly know, that they will not win the war with armies and so they need to win the war otherwise. And part of the reason they put out some of the pictures that they put out and they were -- those of you who have been with us since the beginning, I've described them as vile. I saw them. They were -- is to try and put that sort of pressure on the American side.

And about this time -- international pressure on the American side. And about this point last night, I guess it was maybe a little later, we found ourselves in a moment of both the war and journalism in collision when we joined up with the British pool feed of a live fire fight, as they tried to control an area outside of Umm Qasr. And it went on for four hours, as I recall, until air power finally brought it to a halt. Those who left it before it ended or didn't see it at all, here's a condensed version of how it played out. But just keep in mind that as you look at it on tape, this all played out around the world -- literally there were feeds of this going out around the world last night. It's reported by David Bowden, the British pool reporter.


DAVID BOWDEN, BRITISH POOL REPORTER: The situation has not come to a halt yet This is ongoing. It is not yet declared safe. And you can probably hear that those shadowy figures, they've got eyes on them as they say here now.

Mike, do you feel you're safe enough there?

Mike Donnelly (ph), my cameraman, do you feel you're safe enough where you are?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we've got two or three inside the window, moving to green khaki, which is two fast shots over the head, so we opened fire on them.

BOWDEN: When this all started off originally, it was just men with their M-16s and machine guns who ran up onto the top of this berm, started pouring fire down onto that area...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We brought the Javelin weapon system up to bear. The first shot went a little bit long. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's off; that was off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the second shot direct impacted that building. Once that building was hit, then it began -- it became very apparent that there was a lot of movement in that area. We had troops start moving back and forth. We've been engaging them with machine guns. And just people started just popping out of everywhere.


BOWDEN: They're still trying to clear this area. There are more instructions going out now. I can't hear exactly what's being said, but you can hear for yourself more live firing here at Umm Qasr.


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