CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
War in Iraq
Aired March 24, 2003 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Heidi, thank you very much.
There are a few things, I suppose -- a few images that we've seen that are as chilling for us, and I suspect many of you, than the ones we saw, of the POWs.
There was in the Al-Jazeera tape that made its way around the world yesterday, though not so much in -- well, not so much at all, that I'm aware of -- on American TV networks, any of them.
The members of the Army's 507th Maintenance Unit, which apparently took a wrong turn in the desert, and are now being tested in almost unimaginable ways, in a different but agonizing way, also, their families are being tested to.
More on that. Here's CNN's Brian Cabell.
BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The war has hit home in a very real and sobering way at Fort Bliss. Twelve soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company are officially listed as missing after their convoy took a wrong turn near Nasiriyah on Sunday.
But five have appeared as POWs on Iraqi TV, among them Specialist Edgar Hernandez of Mission, Texas. He is single, 21 years old.
Private First Class Patrick Miller, a 23-year-old father of two young children.
THOMAS HERSHBERGER, HALF-BROTHER OF U.S. POW: We're glad he wasn't killed. We hope he makes it back. We all love him, and we just hope that they treat him humanely.
CABELL: Also captured, 30-year-old Specialist Shoshana Johnson, a single mother of one, a chef in the Army.
NIKKI JOHNSON, SISTER OF U.S. POW: My sister's kind of had, always had like a little angel following her around. She always manages to get out of stuff.
So, this was not something we thought was going to happen to her, at all.
CABELL: Another POW on Iraqi TV -- Specialist Joseph Hudson, a 23-year-old father of one. ANECITA HUDSON, MOTHER OF U.S. POW: I could tell that when they interview him, I could tell that he was very confused and scared, because he don't have the smile on his face. He's a smiley boy.
And that time, he don't have no smile. He looks so scared. That's when I start crying.
CABELL: Where the five POWs are being held is unknown. Likewise, the fate of their seven colleagues is unknown.
The families of all 12 have been called to Fort Bliss to await news and draw support from the chaplain, the Red Cross and the counselors here.
Brian Cabell, CNN, Fort Bliss, Texas.
BROWN: Arlene and Norman Walters' son Donald is among the missing. And they join us tonight from their home in Portland, Oregon.
Mr. and Mrs. Walters, first of all, our hearts are with you tonight. This must just be an agonizing period of worry for you and all of your family.
NORMAN WALTERS, FATHER OF MISSING U.S. SOLDIER: Yes, it is.
BROWN: Have you ...
ARLENE WALTERS, MOTHER OF MISSING U.S. SOLDIER: Correct.
BROWN: I'm sorry. Have you heard much from the Army?
ARLENE WALTERS: Nothing from the Army at all.
NORMAN WALTERS: Not a thing yet.
ARLENE WALTERS: Directly to us, nothing. But they do call my daughter-in-law.
BROWN: So, and that would ...
ARLENE WALTERS: In Kansas City.
BROWN: ... so they -- that would, I gather, is pretty much standard procedure. They call the wife and let her know. And you have talked to her, I assume.
And what is she -- Mr. Walters, ...
ARLENE WALTERS: Yes.
BROWN: ... what has she been able to tell you?
NORMAN WALTERS: The first thing she told me was, Norman, Don has been taken captive.
And after that, I don't remember very much. But it was a shock.
BROWN: I assume shock is an understatement. Are you -- how are ...
NORMAN WALTERS: It is.
BROWN: ... how are you, Mrs. Walters, how are you coping with all of this? How do you maintain a sense of hope through all of this? This is just extraordinarily hard.
ARLENE WALTERS: Well, it's hard. But I just keep watching, naturally, CNN and looking to see if maybe, you know, I see a picture of him or something -- alive.
Other than that, it's -- today has been so busy, because I've -- there's been so much media here.
I think it's going to take a couple of days to really, you know, set in.
BROWN: Well, I don't anything would do ...
ARLENE WALTERS: But I calls.
BROWN: I'm sorry. Go ahead.
ARLENE WALTERS: Oh, I just talk to Stacy back and forth, you know. And she gives me what information she has.
BROWN: I was going to say, I don't think anything would give any of us more pleasure in the world than to be able to report that he is fine and well, and getting out of there. And we look forward to being able to do that.
Mr. Walters, will you tell me a bit about your son? Just tell me who he was. I don't mean his name and rank and serial number. I mean the kind of kid he is, and the kind of son he's been, and the things he likes to do and the things that you love about him.
NORMAN WALTERS: Well, he just -- first of all, he just loves life. That's just Don. He just loves life.
And he just takes big bites of it, big chunks of it. And just -- he just has a wonderful time. He enjoys his family. He enjoys his little girls. He loves to go fishing. That's one of his favorite pastimes.
And he's just a -- really a joyful person, wonderful to have around. He makes friends. Everybody is his friend.
BROWN: Did he grow up out there in the row (ph) city of Portland? Is that, was that his hometown?
ARLENE WALTERS: Actually it's Salem. BROWN: In Salem, OK. A pretty good ...
ARLENE WALTERS: In Salem, OK? Yes.
BROWN: Right. And my ...
ARLENE WALTERS: Pretty close.
BROWN: ... and my apologies for that. I know that area pretty ...
ARLENE WALTERS: That's fine.
BROWN: ... pretty well. So he's an Oregonian, in any case, a northwesterner.
ARLENE WALTERS: Well, he was actually born in Colorado Springs, but we moved here in '81.
BROWN: And you mentioned his wife, and briefly his children. How old are they?
ARLENE WALTERS: Five -- I believe five and seven, and then nine months.
BROWN: Mr. and Mrs. Walters, this is a -- this is a most difficult time for you. None of us -- none of us can imagine all of the emotions you're feeling.
But just know that all of us here, and I'm sure, every single person watching right now, has your son in their hearts and in their prayers tonight. Thank you.
NORMAN WALTERS: Thank you.
ARLENE WALTERS: Thank you.
BROWN: Thank you very much.
General, what do you say?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Oh, it's very tough.
BROWN: What do you say to a family ...
CLARK: Very tough ...
BROWN: ... in that situation?
CLARK: I think you say said the right thing. I mean, we're all praying for all these soldiers who have been captured. We're praying for their families and loved ones here at home.
It's a very difficult ordeal. And it's difficult for every parent who has a child and every spouse who has a loved one in this conflict.
BROWN: You know, I go -- I go -- I think all of us go back and forth about whether or not to talk to parents and spouses in these situations, except that I've come to believe that oftentimes they want us to know who their child is.
They want the country to know. And we never push our way into these things. I know sometimes you often think we do, but we really don't.
But that, you just -- that family, hang in there. We're all hoping for you.
CLARK: I think it's real important that we -- that America understands who the men and women are, what they're really like, who are serving in the armed forces, what their families are like, the concerns.
And this -- they're out there in uniform, in danger, representing everybody in this country.
BROWN: Jim Dwyer is out there. And I don't know if he's in any danger. He's one of the "New York Times" embedded reporters. He's with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, 101st Airborne.
Jim, it's good to have you on the phone. What is going on where you are?
JIM DWYER, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER, WITH ARMY 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION, 101ST AIRBORNE : Well, right now, Aaron, we're kind of hunkering down for another sandstorm today.
The 101st primarily flies attack helicopters. And they've just gotten themselves into position over the weekend and in the last couple of days to fly their helicopters and to try to break open some of the rings of armored defense around Baghdad.
Now, you should probably know, I'm sure, and the viewers know, that there were attack helicopters that went out the night before last and encountered a great deal of resistance from small arms fires and anti-aircraft artillery up around the Karbala area.
And those were not from the 101st. They were from another helicopter attachment.
And all of the helicopters that were flying that night -- well, two of them went down, and the crew is, I believe, listed as missing in one case. And the other crew was recovered.
But all 30 or 35 helicopters suffered some battle damage. That is, they have bullet holes in them, or in some cases worse.
And I believe about half of them are not able to fly at this point, because of the damage.
This was quite a surprise to -- well, it was a -- I don't know if surprise is the right word -- but because the helicopters that are flying, the Apaches are so high tech and equipped with the best radar.
And these hellfire missiles were attacking armored brigades. It seemed like a mismatch when people firing rifles and rocket, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) held (ph) grenades, were able to drive them off.
But one of the journalists here uses the phrase asymmetrical warfare being very difficult to fight. The Americans are fighting with very high tech systems. And by throwing up, basically, a wall of lead, the Iraqi forces around Karbala were able to really push back those particular helicopters fighters.
Now they're -- for the 101st, I don't think that's going to change their mission, but I think it will change how they approach some of their targets.
BROWN: Jim, just so -- I ...
DWYER: So, anyway, to ...
BROWN: ... I'm sorry. Just so you know, ...
BROWN: ... you mentioned the two helicopter guys who were missing. I can tell you that they have been shown on television now. They are prisoners of war in Iraq.
This -- I'm not sure -- I was not sure if you were aware of that or not.
DWYER: No, I wasn't aware of that. I just got up a few minutes ago.
BROWN: OK. So, ...
DWYER: Sorry to hear that.
BROWN: ... so that has gone on.
Also, we talked with your colleague, Michael Gordon, a bit ago. He said there was some concern about the weather out there.
He's in Kuwait. You are out there. Do you see signs that this is going to be a tough night?
DWYER: Well, we're actually -- it's now seven in the morning here, ...
BROWN: I know it is.
DWYER: ... it's 7:15 in the morning.
DWYER: Yes. We're -- did you say a tough fight? Or a tough night? BROWN: Is it going to be a tough day weather-wise?
DWYER: Yes. We're -- they're predicting winds of 40 knots today. It's quite breezy now, but it's not that, you know, difficult.
We had a tough day yesterday. And if it's 40 knots, they certainly won't be flying. The visibility will be virtually nil.
But, you know, I guess they're predicting that -- the sandstorms are very hard to predict. But they're forecasting that they should be over by tomorrow sometime, if they do come at all.
These forecasts are very highly hedged in their reliability.
BROWN: Jim, without, obviously, giving away anything that you ought not be talking about, do you have a feeling that things are coming to a critical moment? Coming to a head very soon?
DWYER: Well, I think so. It seems to me that, you know, the ability of the American and British forces to move, you know, to the edge of Baghdad, or to the rim of Baghdad, is pretty much unquestioned.
You know, they're going to meet some resistance, but I think that just the sheer weight of the forces will allow them to push through. The 3rd Infantry Division has advanced quite a bit.
And, you know, what happens when they get to Baghdad is really a crap shoot. You know, will the Saddam Hussein regime fold? Will, you know, will there be a surrender? I, you know -- will there be a siege?
You know, these are things that I think the next few days will certainly reveal to us, because everything is in place now for that kind of final confrontation, or approaching that final confrontation.
BROWN: Jim, it is terrific to talk to you. Thank you, you and the people you are traveling with. I hope you well and safe out there, and I hope we'll talk to you again soon.
Jim Dwyer of the "New York Times."
I think it is fair to say that we benefit enormously in terms of the breadth of our coverage, not just by the skill of our own people out there, but having the skill and the reporting ability of the people at the "New York Times," as well. They've been a wonderful and helpful addition.
We're joined now by Kelly McCann, a retired Marine Corps major. Kelly's with us. General Clark, you weigh in on this, too.
Kelly, I know you've been sitting listening for a while. I always feel in these moments, just to give you one of those hanging curve balls, as you've listened to all of this, what's been running through your mind?
Do you get the feeling that we're coming to a major moment?
MAJ. KELLY MCCANN, U.S. MARINES (RET.), CNN SECURITY ANALYST: I think that there's a momentum building, Aaron. And I think that it's obvious now -- Jim just talked about the asymmetrical battlefield -- of how that's been established kind of unethically by Saddam Hussein.
First with the threat of chemical weapons, still a question out there. Next with the irregular forces that blend in with civilians, runs contrary to the principals of war that we certainly observe.
And now, with perhaps a reluctance to go into the city -- not saying that we won't, and we will do dismounted infantry fighting. But those are all battle-shaping kinds of things that Saddam Hussein has been engaging in.
BROWN: All right. One of you -- General Clark, I'll make you do it since you sit next to me all the time -- you have to define for viewers asymmetrical warfare.
CLARK: Well, it means the opposite of ...
BROWN: Symmetrical warfare.
CLARK: ... symmetrical, ...
BROWN: That doesn't work.
CLARK: ... which is -- which is two equally equipped, modern, mechanized forces.
When we were fighting the Soviets -- or preparing to fight the Soviets -- we considered that symmetrical warfare. That is -- we never could call it that, because we had tanks, they had tanks. They had artillery, we had artillery. They had jets, we had jets. And, so, our development led their development. They'd catch up. We'd try to get ahead.
Then, when the Soviet Union went away, people were still left with the problem in the world, if they wanted to oppose the United States -- how?
Well, terrorism, unconventional warfare, guerrilla warfare -- some way to offset the U.S. technological advantage. That's asymmetrical.
BROWN: Just so -- I want to leave this in a second. Was Vietnam symmetrical or asymmetrical?
CLARK: It was -- it was both. It actually had the character in the popular imagination of being mostly asymmetrical.
But in fact, in the aftermath we discovered we were fighting a very, very well structured, very robustly supported, a very powerful conventional force controlled and directed by Vietnam, aided and supported by China and Russia. BROWN: Kelly, if you were out there making decisions right now, what would -- what are you worried about, given how this thing has played out over the last 48 hours?
MCCANN: At the unit levels, Aaron, the big problem is how to mitigate that asymmetry.
In other words, by -- with chemical weapons, I mean, I'm worried about driving through those chemical attacks and getting to the source, so that we can target them and destroy them.
For the people, the irregulars that are mixed in with forces, local area security, I'm very concerned about that.
I'm concerned about pushing buffer zones out and having a little bit more control on, you know, who comes around my unit? Can they be targeting me from a forward observer standpoint? How do we kind of ferret through that?
I mean, one of the principals of warfare is to not cause any more collateral damage than is necessary. But, if that irregular force is co-located with civilians, and it is a military imperative to take a tactical or a strategic objective, that really is a conflicted state.
And those are the kinds of things if, were I a unit commander, I'd be really looking at hard.
BROWN: Now, that's the -- there, all of a sudden, you have a political issue colliding with a military issue, don't you, General?
CLARK: You do. But if I could ask Kelly ...
CLARK: ... what he thinks about whether we've got a -- do we have, Kelly, a secret weapon here in our special operations forces? You were a special operator.
What's happening in northern Iraq, eastern Iraq, the areas we're not hearing anything about from our normal, embedded reporters?
MCCANN: Sir, I think we do. I think we've got some forces moving in spaces that are going to be positioned so that they can deny that capability to recede into the countryside.
I think we're going to occupy some spaces and set up our OPs.
And I also think that we have some less lethal weapons that may be interesting, that may not be publicly known or publicized, but will be very useful to sort through some of these things.
So, the special operations guys getting a foothold in the north and the west I think is key, sir.
BROWN: Did you say less lethal weapons? Did I hear you -- did I hear that right? MCCANN: That's correct, Aaron. It's weapons that can be used to sort through some of these combatant/non-combatant situations.
I mean, if you think it through from a discriminating shooting situation, someone rolls into a situation, you've got a mixture of combatants and non-combatants. There's furtive movement, hidden hands, people intent -- their intent is not easy to judge.
You need some, again, asymmetry in order to stall that, or in order to control it before you start to discriminately engage combatants.
And we have got 19, 20, 21, 23-year-old men out there who are going to have to sort through that at a rapid rate.
So, as the general points out, I mean, as he's been saying about the training of our men and women out there, we also have equipped them to handle these situations, thereby taking away the asymmetry that Saddam Hussein thinks he may have.
BROWN: Are you surprised by anything at this point?
MCCANN: I'm surprised that we went into it with this kind of feeling that it was -- it was going to be exhilarating, that it was going to be almost a carnival-like atmosphere.
BROWN: Who went into it that way?
MCCANN: I think globally, people went into it, Aaron. It's been a long time since I think we've ever had embedded journalists. And now, as those journalists do their jobs at great risk, and people start to see what it is to clash, a distant memory of Vietnam.
You know, distant memory of long battles and those that we didn't participate in -- the Rwandas -- places like that where it was very aloof from the U.S. people.
Now, suddenly, it's in their living room again. And I think that it's been an earnest kind of awakening.
BROWN: Kelly, that's a -- it's an intriguing thing to leave it on. It's -- and we always enjoy talking to you. Thanks for coming in and patiently waiting. Thank you, Kelly McCann.
MCCANN: A pleasure.
BROWN: Thank you.
Jason Bellini is embedded north, now -- that's as much as we need to say -- north of Umm Qasr, where that continues to be an ongoing bit of nastiness -- Jason.
JASON BELLINI, WITH USMC MARINE EXPEDITIONARY UNIT, 15TH ARTILLERY: Right, Aaron. Your last interview with -- you last interview with Kelly really shed light on the situation that's here.
Because the Marines we're with continue to be in the thick of that. It's a very murky situation of combatants who are not in uniform, who are amongst civilians.
And last night was another great example of that complexity that they're dealing with here on the ground. They -- we arrived in a new location, because in terms of what's happening now is we're kind of hop-scotching north, going from objective to objective to objective.
And, you know, we arrived here. And then shortly thereafter, we received some fire coming from an area where there was a building in the distance. The Marines immediately hid behind a berm and used fire that they -- to try to draw out whoever it was attacking them.
And they used a TOW missile. They used mortar fire. They used machine gun rounds.
Shortly thereafter we saw an ambulance pull up. And from our vantage points, it looked like somebody got in to it. And shortly after that, they had some people come out waving white flags.
Now, the people who were surrendering, the Marines here don't believe that those were the ones who were actually firing on them. If those were civilians who were there amongst those, and who wanted to get out of -- get out of the fire (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and get out of the return fire from the Marines.
So they surrendered. And among them were some women and children who came forward and are now being held as POWs.
The other thing that we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- in the briefing today from one of the commanders, he was trying to do a little bit of rumor control.
And one of the rumors they've heard -- it's an unconfirmed one -- is that, just in a situation where people who have surrendered haven't surrendered completely.
They'll come forward and then -- this is another Marine unit he's referring to -- that he believed -- where the rumor is -- some people came forward to surrender, and some of them surrendered, but not all of them.
And it turned out to be a very nasty fight in which Marines took quite a number of casualties.
So he's wanting his Marines to not become complacent when dealing with these POWs who come forward, because that can be a very dangerous situation. And some of them are using the guise of surrender as a way to get closer and to get some licks in -- Aaron.
BROWN: Jason, is -- as you're talking to us, things are -- I gather things are calm as you are talking to us, but that there's this -- you're living through a kind of constant anxious state where five minutes from now, it could change. BELLINI: That's right. And added to that tension, there are periodic SCUD warnings. Don't know exactly where they're coming from, where in theater (ph) those are coming from.
We end up several times a day putting on our gas masks, someone yelling, gas, gas, gas.
And the Marines here are -- they are becoming rather frustrated. They've expressed to me that, you know, what are we supposed to do here? We've got all this weaponry, this heavy weaponry. We can really blow out of the water anything -- anything that's attacking us.
But, they're being -- but they're being held back. They're having to make some very tough calls.
Just at the ground level -- commanders down at the ground level are having some very difficult decisions about what, you know, what level of force to use to try to respond to these pockets of resistance, to these periodic attacks that happen.
The other thing that we're doing right now in our position, is there's -- they're hearing that some of the British are encountering some Iraqi regiments that are putting up a strong fight. And there's concern that those -- that those Iraqi soldiers could decide to hightail it north -- or hightail it south -- in our direction.
So, there's a lot of standing by to see what happens. If all of a sudden there are going to be armed -- a conventional army with tanks heading in our direction.
BROWN: All right ...
BELLINI: So, I'd say that, you know, it's dirty and difficult and complicated -- Aaron.
BROWN: Jason, it is all of those things. Thank you, Jason Bellini, out there near Umm Qasr.
We need to take a break in about 30 seconds or so. General, just put a button on this, because we actually were talking about this whole thing with the British earlier. And this is all fitting into a piece.
CLARK: It is. I'd be surprised if the forces come back at the Marines.
But what it requires is patience, good command and control of the troops. You make sure they're oriented on the mission.
I'm sure that's what our commanders out there are doing. It's just, we're going to work and solve this problem.
BROWN: What I heard Jason say is he's got young Marines who are saying, look. We've got fire power. Let's just blow these guys out of here and let somebody sort it out -- the good guys and the bad guys -- later. CLARK: Sure. But the sergeants and the lieutenants and the captains and the colonels are saying, look. Here's the mission. Focus on the mission.
And, you know, we appreciate the fact that you guys are well trained and capable and skilled and aggressive.
Settle down. Focus on the mission.
BROWN: We'll take a short break in our coverage over here, now. Our coverage will continue in just a moment.
BROWN: Thank you, Heidi. Excuse me, the Army, the Criminal Investigation Division, the Army continues to try and sort out what happened the other night up at Camp Pennsylvania in the Kuwaiti Desert, where it is alleged that an American Sergeant, Assan Akbar attacked the command by both rifle and four hand grenades. That investigation continues to move forward, and we're learning more about it as we go. CNN's David Mattingly reports from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was three agonizing hours after seeing the news of a grenade and small arms attack on the 101st Airborne before veterinarian Cheryl Phillips (ph) got the call that her husband was among the wounded.
CHERYL PHILLIPS, WIFE OF WOUNDED SOLDIER: No one knew what was going on, and how this happened, and, of course, we first thought "How did the enemy get into the camp? And how did this happen?"
MATTINGLY: Major Sean Phillips (ph) was hit in the leg, one of fifteen hurt. The attack also killed Captain Chris Seifert (ph), 27, of Easton, PA, the 101st's first fatality. Made even more devastating by the belief that the attack was carried out by a U.S. soldier, 31- year-old combat engineer, Sergeant Assan Ahbar, now in custody, but not charged.
PHILLIPS: He's a horrible person. It doesn't matter, he's the man who killed one man and tried to kill many other people, and whatever his motives, just the fact that he did it, was -- I'm assuming. Whatever the motives were, he's just a criminal.
MATTINGLY: There are several details about Akbar's life at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he lived alone offpost in a small apartment. Neighbors say he rarely spoke, and always seemed to be alone.
WILLIE SHAMELL, JR., NEIGHBOR TO SUSPECT: There was no one in his house, he never came home with no one, he's not a loud person, there was no loud music.
MATTINGLY: No girlfriends, no friends?
SHAMELL: No. He didn't buzz no one over to his house.
MATTINGLY: Akbar is a Muslim, and according to published reports, complained to his mother that his religion could cause problems for him in the military. His step-father in Louisiana says Akbar complained of difficulties over a year ago.
WILLIAM BILLAL, STEPFATHER TO SUSPECT: It might have been a breaking point. Everybody got a breaking point. And he did, he was driven to push or whatever.
MATTINGLY: An Army spokesman in Kuwait said the motive was most likely resentment. Akbar had reportedly been reprimanded for insubordination, and ordered not to follow his unit into Iraq. According to the Los Angeles Times, soldiers heard Akbar after the attack saying, "You guys are coming into our country, and you're going to rape our women and kill our children."
MATTINGLY: And sources confirmed to CNN that the FBI searched Akbar's apartment here at Fort Campbell. The FBI is also assisting army investigators in California, this is where Akbar grew up, went to school, went to college and studied at a mosque. But people who say they knew him either as a student or as a Muslim say they saw no signs he was capable of such a crime -- Aaron.
BROWN: Do you know where he is now? Is he back at Forth Campbell?
MATTINGLY: Oh no, he is not here, he is still in Kuwait. In fact, people here at Fort Campbell sat it is not likely he will come back here unless he is convicted, and he will come back here for punishment, if that is the case.
BROWN: And just because it sort of begs the question, the FBI's interest in this is to see if he is in some way, shape or form connected to something?
MATTINGLY: Based on what we're told, the FBI's merely assisting the military investigation in this. The military is taking the lead, and they are trying to figure out what happened in Kuwait by looking into his background.
AARON: David, thank you. David Mattingly at Fort Campbell, Kentucky who has had his hands full over the last couple of days. So has Ryan Chilcote, who is travelling with the 101st on a windy morning. Tuesday morning in the Iraqi Desert Ryan joins us. It's good to see you.
RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A beautiful morning it is, Aaron. Well, we are still at a FARP, a Forward Area Rearming and Refueling Point. Behind me, you see a couple of Blackhawk UA-60 Helicopters gassing up right now. They need just a few hundred gallons more than your car takes, and they'll be ready to go, probably going to park somewhere else here at the base. Some news: The base yesterday came under mortar attack on just day two of its existence. So, obviously, this base no longer a secret to the Iraqi militia in the area, in particular.
The military said there were no casualties, they also said it wasn't very close to anyone, so more of a nuisance than anything. Perhaps an indicator that the militia plan to probe this base as much as they can.
Also yesterday, we talked about embedded reporters like myself. Yesterday they brought in three unilateral reporters. These are reporters that travel into Iraq on their own. They were actually inside a town near here, when there was a firefight they got separated by their car in that firefight that they were covering. And, the Iraqi militia, according to these three journalists, destroyed their car, basically sprayed it with gunfire.
Those journalists told another reporter here about how they hitchhiked with the military convoy back in the States. Once they got here, the military shipped them back to Kuwait, which is the practice with unilateral journalism. The military does not accommodate them too much. So that's pretty much what I have from here, Aaron.
BROWN: OK, just we'll -- you look like you're about to get blown off the desert, Ryan, and we'll let you at least tie yourself down. Thank you. Ryan Chilcote who is out there.
And we'll answer the journalistic question and then we'll move to the other one. There are embedded reporters who are moving with units, and we prompted them, and Ryan is one of them, and we talked a lot about that. There are also news organizations that have been free to send in reporters as they would in any other situation. They have no specific co-operation from the military. They are not bound by the embedding rules, nor, as Ryan indicated, does the Army have any particular obligation to deal with them at all if they don't want to. And they're on their own. So that's the difference there. General. The weather problem that -- we talked about forty knot winds coming up, and it looked like a pretty nasty, windy day. How much of that is a problem for a high-tech army?
CLARK: Well, 45-50 knots is a problem. Those weren't forty knots because those helicopters were flying, kept their blades churning, and so forth. And, doing OK. And with a UH-60, and the Apache, you can have higher winds.
BROWN: Now Michael Gordon had mentioned, too, when we talked to him, that as the day builds they expect the weather to get worse and worse. That works to the -- Does it work necessarily to the advantage of the Iraqis? To have winds? Or is it just neutral? Everybody has to deal with it.
CLARK: I guess if you keep the helicopters out of the sky entirely and you delay our ability to leapfrog with helicopters, well, that's probably an Iraqi advantage. On the other hand, if they move their equipment somewhere, it sends up a big dust wing, also, so we've got a better chance of seeing it. And, if they're trying to obscure by oil fires and things like that, this wind is going to blow it away.
BROWN: And -- actually, when he talked about the mortar fire, I saw you kind of drop your head a little bit, and I always try to keep half an eye on how you react to things. What were you thinking of that one?
CLARK: I'm not happy with mortar fire up there. This FARP is set up somewhere in Iraq, we're not quite sure where it is...
BROWN: FARP, that is a forward refueling area?
CLARK: Forward Area Rearm Refuel Point. FARRP.
BROWN: For those who don't speak the language, now you know.
CLARK: They'll learn it.
BROWN: Yes they will.
CLARK: And we're all going to learn about FARRP, because that's the basic way you leapfrog these helicopter units around. And, of course, if you're not secure in the area, that might mean more forces out on the perimeter, patrolling, observing, watching, looking, guarding. And all of this soaks up combat power that you want to economize on, because you want to apply it at the point of the spear into Baghdad.
BROWN: Just before we leave this, I want to say one of the things we have all come to learn and understand is how complicated the logistical issues are in running this sort of operation. We have these giant tankers out there, and water's being brought out, and it's a very complicated logistical task going on in the desert. Out at sea it's a little bit of a more controlled environment for the Navy out there. They're not dealing with all of these supply issues in the same way. They clearly have issues of their own.
Frank Buckley is on the USS Constellation, a giant aircraft carrier, and he has provided us with an extraordinary look, honestly, at some of the work of those pilots and those sailors on that giant carrier.
FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An F-14 in the night sky. Destination: Baghdad. It is the first night of coalition airstrikes, the beginning of A-Day. A radar intercept officer in the backseat of another F-14 Tomcat is shooting this home video through his night vision goggles. The F-14 and other jets are from the USS Constellation in the Persian Gulf, and as they approach Iraq, the jets of each strike package get gas from tanker planes. It is a beautiful starry night, but the lights down below are even more striking.
On the ground in Baghdad, the source of the lights. Explosions from coalition airstrikes and cruise missile hits. Triple-a, seen as small bursts of light in the air, and Surface to Air Missiles, not seen on this take, are going up. Pilots returning to the Constellation describe a spectacular light show.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just continuous, constant explosions going off all over the place. I saw the triple-a coming up, occasionally you see some missile bursts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think anything we could have thought of could have prepared us for what we were going to see happening on the ground out there.
BUCKLEY: Their job done, strike packages fly out of Iraq and return to the Constellation. The plan, known as the "Shock and Awe" campaign, is under way.
(on camera): Flight operations have continued aboard this aircraft carrier since that first night. Strike aircraft hitting fixed targets and providing close air support for coalition troops on the ground.
Frank Buckley, CNN, aboard the USS Constellation, in the Persian Gulf.
BROWN: Again, all that video was shot on the first day of the air attack, A-Day. That is something to see. We've been getting a fascinating look at what's been going on in Iraq from our embedded reporters. Obviously, and that was a great example of it. We thing we run the risk of losing a broader picture of the battle plan. General Clark keeps us pretty honest. On that we're joined now by Mackubin Thomas Owens of the U.S. Naval War College. He is in Providence, Rhode Island tonight. General, you should also feel free to weigh in here.
Let me ask, Sir, the question I asked the General last night. We'll see if you agree or not. Are there enough soldiers out there now to do the job?
MACKUBIN THOMAS OWENS, U.S. NAVAL WAR COLLEGE: Oh, I think so.
BROWN: You have no concerns?
OWENS: I think, given the plan -- it's always nice to have a reserve, and I think that given the air support and the other capabilities that we have, I think we've got enough folks right now.
BROWN: Does anything you've seen so far, Sir, been surprising to you? Has the plan unfolded -- the way air power has been used or not used, the sense that some of these towns have been tougher to take and make safe? Any of that?
OWENS: No, I tell you, I think that everybody who was any military experience knew that this wasn't going to be a cakewalk. I've been struck by the boldness of the plan. I think the whole idea of the rapid drive towards Baghdad, recognizing that it was going to extend out these supply lines and lines of communications, that they took that opportunity, because they recognized that Baghdad is the center of gravity. What's been happening is tragic, but it's part of war. But it's also a distraction, I think, from the main effort. I think that this is going reasonable well, I mean, extremely well, actually. BROWN: Are you concerned, Mr. Owens, of the way that the story is being reported by the embedded reporters? A snapshot here, a snapshot there, as giving either an unfair or unrealistic look at what in fact is happening out in the field?
OWENS: The problem I have -- actually I think the embedded idea is very good. I think that's it's working out very well. The danger is always -- and this is always the case. It's not so much negative reports going back, but it's the lack of contacts. If you see the sort of things that were happening yesterday, it was a bad day. If you focus on those -- and, of course, that's the most timely -- the realtime sorts of broadcasts that you're getting. The problem is that you forget the greater context.
You tend, as a result, to look at isolated failures and not recognize that overall the plan is progressing quite well, and that we're achieving our objectives, at least so far.
BROWN: At the risk of sounding slightly defensive: Is it not possible to do both at the same time? That is to say, to provide these intimate snapshots of this event or that event, while not losing site of the broader picture, and present both to viewers, and to readers in a way that gives them the advantages of both?
OWENS: Well, I think that your commentators, the commentators on all the channels I've seen, I think they've been doing a pretty good job of putting things into context, but I think that the danger has always been -- and I think the Pentagon recognized it when they went to the approach of embedding reporters, was that if you didn't have some way of integrating the story, you're always going to be left with isolated stories, and especially if they tend to be negative, that might have some adverse impact down the line.
BROWN: And I'm going to bring the General in, but just let me ask you briefly: Isn't it the job of CENTCOM, in a sense, at its daily briefings, the Pentagon in its daily briefings, to provide the big picture and allow the embeds to provide the snapshots?
OWENS: Well, yes, I think so. But I think that a lot of the people who are watching don't get a chance to watch the CENTCOM briefing.
BROWN: That's absolutely fair.
OWENS: And those are good, that's their purpose. You expect them to provide the big picture.
BROWN: Good, that's a very fair point. Though we wish it were otherwise, we are well aware that people don't watch 24 hours a day. General, you have almost a -- almost unique -- perhaps because of the amount of time you've spent up here with me over the last week or so -- a unique sense of what both the journalist goes through and what the military guys go through. So just weigh in on this. Have you grown concerned that the large picture is getting lost? I figure I'd get an elbow in the ribs if you did. CLARK: No, I think we're trying to portray the large picture, but it's harder to get the large picture. And the reason it is, Aaron, is because you've got the eyewitnesses there and you've got the details, you've got the TV, you've got everything there for you with the snapshots. Whereas the large picture, it is a General in desert standing up and trying not to disclose information on a map, or a bunch of retired Generals trying to explain things without giving away plans. So it's a lot harder to make it graphic.
BROWN: And in that regard I agree with both of you, that one of the things that does concern me is that I'm -- and I think it concerns all of us, all of the people behind me -- is that the power of the picture is extraordinarily compelling. Mr. Owens, you've been here, and so you see the picture of a given event, you see the POWs, those faces, you see whatever, and the power of the picture overwhelms the power of the Tommy Franks, or whoever is giving the briefing, or Victoria Clark or anybody else. Is that how it's really happening?
OWENS: Again, I think that the picture is very powerful, there's no question about that. But I think that as long as the context is there, that's the most important sort of thing. I think this was not done blindly. I think the Pentagon weighed the pros and the cons of this whole thing, and I think they recognized that any of the costs would be outweighed by the benefits. So I think that the program's working reasonable well, and given the misgivings I have about the fact that you're going to have perhaps bits and pieces, or a piecemeal approach, but I think, once again, as long as context is provided -- and your commentators do that, so that's what they've been doing, and I think they've been doing a very good job of that.
BROWN: General, give me the last word, but I want Mr. Owens on a very quick point. If you had been allowed to make the decision to embed or not embed reporters, would you have, would you have made the decision to do so?
OWENS: Yes, absolutely. I think that it's the best alternative available. Given technology, the battlefield is going to get covered by somebody, and I think this is the best way to do it. At least with the least tension between the two sides.
BROWN: Mr. Owens up there in the Naval War College. Thank you. Hang on one second.
CLARK: I want to ask Mr. Owens a question...
BROWN: Absolutely. You're going to take my job, though. I'm starting to worry.
CLARK: What I want to ask is a strategy question. Well you said I could jump right in on this.
BROWN: I know, I'm kidding. CLARK: I want to ask you a question on strategy. What's your guess on Saddam? Is he going to use the chemical weapons against us when we get in that red line (ph). Will he see it in his advantage? And how is he going to do that when he is denying that he has these weapons?
OWENS: I'm sorry, I didn't understand.
CLARK: Is Saddam going to use chemical weapons against us when we get inside this red line around Baghdad? The reports this evening suggests that there's a red line that's been given to Republican Guards, which supposedly authorizes them to fire chemical weapons at us. Do you think that's real -- that he's really going to do that?
OWENS: I think that's a plausibility. As you know, that's been considered to be one of the worst case scenarios. But on the other hand, I think that the -- we've been training for this, we've been planning for it, I think the equipment is far advanced over what we had in the past. I think that it would be a big mistake for the Iraqis to do that, but I certainly think that it's a possibility. I don't think it will change the outcome, and as a matter of fact, as a number of people pointed out, it would probably solidify the support for the allies.
BROWN: Mr. Owens, thank you very much. Good to talk to you, interesting conversation.
OWENS: Thank you.
BROWN: Later you and I talked about introducing a new topic in the last question of an interview. General Clark, thank you. We'll take a short break and continue in a moment.
BROWN: And we have assembled some of those pictures, the stills of this, to give you a sense of how it looks to their lenses.
VINCENT LAFORET, NEW YORK TIMES STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER: My name is Vincent Laforay, I'm a staff photographer with the "New York Times," and I'm out here on the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf, documenting the lives of the sailors and aviators out here during the war.
They've been out here for nine months. It's one of the longer deployments, and living here is kind of living through Groundhog day every day. They're incredibly focused. The carrier deck has been called one of the most dangerous 400-yard areas in the world. It's really easy to get seriously injured, if not killed, on the deck if you don't always keep your wits about you.
They're very professional, everyone knows their place, they know when to go and when not to go. Obviously, you can't hear anything on the decks. Everything is done through visual signals, hand signals. You have these huge jets taking off from zero to almost 200 mph in a matter of seconds, and landing in less than two seconds, and it's actually a very small deck when you're on it.
One of the big challenges of photojournalism is to not only show pictures of jets taking off, but to give people back at home a sense of what it's like to live on a carrier with five thousand other people. These people have very little privacy. They have ten, 15, 20 minutes a day where they can spend in total silence by themselves, reading a book, or sleeping, but they live in living quarters with up to six people stacked up top of one another. So, whenever they can, when things slow down, they try to take a little nap here or there.
I'm just (ph) amazed to how mature, how professional, how hardworking they really are. Try and find an 18 or 19 year old anywhere in the world that will work seven-day weeks for nine months straight, and be in charge of guiding a 20 or 40 million dollar jet across the deck. It should really impress the people.
BROWN: That's Amanda Townshend (ph) of the NEWSNIGHT staff who put that together. Those of you who don't normally watch NEWSNIGHT we hope you will, but we have a great affection for the still photographers, and those aircraft carriers, general, there may be a more exhilarating experience in the world than landing and taking off on one, but I've never had one.
CLARK: Yes, Sir, it's a great weapon of war, and wonderful and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
BROWN: And you have nearly six, I think the Constellation has 6,000 people living on it. Close quarters, incredible noise when it's going on. And they have become central to the way America fights wars.
CLARK: Absolutely. We've had that argument about large carriers versus small carriers, for thirty years, we still like these large carriers.
BROWN: And they don't sit out there alone, they sit out there with a battle group around them to protect them, because, as they say, it's not easy to turn a carrier around. We'll take a break. We're coming up on midnight here in the East. Daryn Kagan will join us to update the major stories of the day, we have a lot of way to go here on this expanded version of NEWSNIGHT as our coverage of war in Iraq continues on CNN.
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