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Sandstorm Continues in Kuwait City

Aired March 26, 2003 - 02:00   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Daryn Kagan, live in Kuwait City. It is 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning here. A sandstorm continues to blow through this city.
Let's go ahead and take a look at the top headlines.

Heavy fighting marked another day near Najaf in southern Iraq. The Pentagon says as many as 200 Iraqi soldiers were killed in battle.

Our Walter Rodgers is embedded with the 3rd Squadron of the 7th Cavalry. He reports the Iraqis are using weapons not previously accounted for. The report that Iraqi forces are using TOW missiles or something similar mounted on the backs of pickup trucks.

And last night, fighting two M-1A1 Abrams tanks were knocked out by those missiles.

U.S. Central Command confirmed that a coalition strike hit the building that houses Iraqi TV in Baghdad. Several explosions were heard around the city about 9 p.m. Eastern and Iraqi TV's domestic broadcast went dark for several hours.

The Pentagon says that Iraqi TV had long been on a list of potential targets in Baghdad as part of the campaign to erode command and control.

British forces fighting in and around Basra had targeted the Baath Party headquarters as part of their plan to crush Iraqi forces in the city.

A civilian uprising against Saddam's troops took a toll and coalition forces helped by peppering Iraqi forces with mortars and missiles. But, as the battle continued United Nations fears it may be too late for many of the children of Basra. A UNICEF spokesman estimates that at least 100,000 children are at risk as water and food supplies dwindle.

The Associated Press reports that a second serviceman has died from wounds suffered in a grenade attack blamed on a fellow soldier. More than a dozen other soldiers were injured in that same attack. Sergeant Ackman Ackbar is in custody in Germany under suspicion of tossing grenades into a tent and firing off small arms.

That stat brings to 16 the total number of American soldiers killed in combat situations, including 10 Marines killed during fighting around Nasiriya. Eight others have been killed in non-combat situations. Accidents have taken a heavy toll on the British. Fourteen soldiers were killed in two separate helicopter crashes, and seven American soldiers have been taken prisoner by the Iraqis. Two of those were taken when their Apache helicopter went down near Karbala and five more were taken when their maintenance convoy was ambushed.

Debate on reinstating the United Nations oil for food program is set for Wednesday. The seven-year-old program was suspended last week when U.N. personnel were pulled out of Iraq. Also it is expected that representatives of many Arab countries will ask the U.N. to condemn the U.S. and Britain for attacking Iraq.

The Senate voted to cut President Bush's tax cut time in half. The president had proposed a $726 billion plan, but it was approved a plan of $350 million. A handful of moderate Republicans sided with Democrats in trimming the tax cut.

Coming up this hour when CNN's coverage of the war in Iraq, the tip of the spear, the U.S. 7th Cavalry charges deep into Iraq, going up against Iraqi forces and a massive sandstorm. Our Walt Rodgers is with the troops and he will be with us to bring us the latest.

Also humanitarian aid to Iraq. I'm going to have much more on getting these much-needed supplies to those people, especially the children of Iraq.

And, drawing fire. We're going to give you a sampling of opinion about the war from newspapers around the country. Also, all around the world as the news continues right here on CNN. Back to Atlanta.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Battle in the sand. U.S. soldiers take on Iraqi forces and the weather in some of the most fierce fighting of the war so far.

Good morning to you. It's Wednesday, March 26. From CNN's global headquarters in Atlanta I'm Carol Costello.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good morning, I'm Anderson Cooper. It is 2 a.m. -- or four past two a.m. here on the East Coast. Four after 10 a.m. in Baghdad.

Coalition forces are now on Baghdad's doorstep as the Pentagon puts it. And they don't expect a welcome mat to say the least.

Intelligence reports say the Republican Guard may be waiting with chemical weapons. It remains to be seen. The Defense Department says U.S.-led coalition forces killed as many as 200 Iraqis east of Najaf about 95 miles south of Baghdad.

That was on Tuesday and possibly the biggest fire fight so far. Elsewhere in the south, British forces say they assisted Iraqi citizens rising up against the ruling Baath Party inside Basra, Iraq's second largest city. The British reportedly fired on Iraqi mortar positions and destroyed the Baath headquarters with a missile strike.

And, as Carol mentioned, intense sandstorms gave coalition ground forces cover as they rolled toward Baghdad in what may become the grimmest showdown of the war.

Some of those picture telling the story. Sandstorms turn the desert into a haze leading many unable to see more than three feet in front of their faces. Our Walter Rodgers went through the storm with the 7th Cavalry, 3rd Squadron and he filed this report.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we're showing you is the convoy in which we're riding heading north again in the general direction of north in a very strong sandstorm. It's like being in a blizzard except, unfortunately, the sand doesn't melt as the snow does.

Now, this gives some temporary military advantage to both sides although the greater military advantage falls to the Iraqis.

We have been under heavy fire for the past couple of miles. Mostly a small arms fire but the sandstorm has enabled the Iraqis to come very close to the road and if I sound a little nervous it's because we're in a soft skin vehicle and everybody else is in armor.

The 7th Cavalry literally had to run something of a night ambush on both sides of the road last night crossing one of the canal bridges that preceded the Euphrates River and that fight was, as I say, more than significant -- there were machine gun tracer bullets flying out on either side of the road, every Bradley, every tank, was firing.

Imagine looking out into total darkness in an agricultural area. You can't see, oh, more than 40 or 50 meters without night vision goggles.

And you know, there are people out there. We had no idea how many people were out there, but it turned out to be several hundred, three-four hundred Iraqi dismounts.

The U.S. Army 7th Cavalry has just taken three Iraqi prisoners of war. Actually they are very close that is to say no more than 40 yards away. But the dust and sand are blowing so badly you're getting these vague images.

They were captured by the U.S. Army up the road, not very far ahead of us. They were driving a truckload of weapons, and that's when the Army apprehended them; they've had their arms tied, they're lying in the sand now. No evidence of any hostility on their part now but the only mistreatment is that which we all suffer which is to say an abusive mother nature by a sandstorm.

COOPER: All right, Kevin Sites joins us now from northern Iraq where we understand there may be some air strikes going on at this moment. Kevin in Chamchamal. Kevin what can you tell us.


COOPER: Go ahead Kevin.

SITES: Anderson, we're watching the ridge line here about a thousand meters from us, this is a rocky position that we've been reporting on the last five days since this war started. We've witnessed no less than four attacks against the position.

Earlier this morning, about 5:30, we were awakened by a huge, huge explosion that rocked the whole ridge line. Sent an orange glow across the sky. And basically it just rocked the whole house that we were in.

We came up here as light broke and are looking at a command bunker that we had been watching for the last five days. It was completely obliterated.

Now just about 30 seconds to a minute ago, there was a third strike on that ridge line and it seems like these coalition jets are intent on taking out this front line position which is on the road to Kirkuk.

If I can describe the ridge line to you -- basically, there are two command bunkers up on hilltops. And the road to Kirkuk basically runs, intersects, through the middle of them, so this is a defensive position.

The Iraqi forces there could basically defend anyone trying to travel into Kirkuk and fire upon them from their positions. But at this point it looks like coalition jets are trying to take out the whole ridge line and make sure that those bunkers that have been manned with Dushka, Russian-made, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns -- it looks like they're trying to take them out completely.

As I said, the one command bunker was taken out a little earlier this morning. There's nothing up there but scorched earth at this point and then there was a second attack on it a little later, about 20 minutes later at 5 -- about 5:50 in the morning.

And then, as we had done a live shot here about an hour later, there was a third attack at the bombing men seemed to hit behind the hillside behind this command bunker that is still standing and now lastly there was another attack just before we went on air with you, jets roaring overhead and hitting the intercepting road basically between these two command bunkers.

We saw a huge puff of black smoke go up. It's dissipating very quickly here because of the strong winds and overcast conditions. But, obviously there's been talk about -- you know -- opening up a northern front. And at least the air war against this particular defensive position on the road to Kirkuk has begun in earnest here. This is one of the front line positions they are going to have to roll back if coalition forces are going to advance on Kirkuk -- Anderson.

COOPER: Kevin, just so you know, the picture we are looking at that your cameraman is taking is that and if we could put that back up. It's of that ridge line that you are talking at. Now we are pulling back. You said two command and control bunkers were on that ridge line and basically the road to Kirkuk went between them. The jets that you saw -- did you actually see jets, and was there any anti-aircraft fire targeting the jets?

SITES: You can -- we don't see any anti-aircraft fire at this point. I think those -- those guns have been taken out during the earlier attacks. But these are roaring pretty much overhead. We hear them first and then usually you hear an explosion after it and you see the -- puff of black smoke coming up...

COOPER: Are you hearing them again?

SITES: ... all the Iraqi soldiers -- I'm sorry?

COOPER: Are you hearing them again right now? I'm hearing...

SITES: All the Iraqi soldiers that have been up there -- yes -- those are the jets overhead. We don't see an explosion yet. Usually it follows shortly after we hear them go overhead. Let's just watch that ridge line for a second...

COOPER: Let's just listen to the sounds for a little bit.

All right, Kevin, do you have...

SITES: At this point, Anderson...

COOPER: Seems like it's dissipating a little bit. Do you have any sense about...

SITES: We're still hearing the jets; it sounds like -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

COOPER: Do you have any sense of how many Iraqi troops were on that ridge line?

SITES: Well as I said we have been reporting from this position all week and we've seen as many as a couple to three dozen troops up there. Initially they had Dushka heavy machine guns and at least one anti-aircraft gun.

We know that because the first day of the air war we saw them firing that anti-aircraft gun as the attack on Kirkuk began, some of the bombing that occurred there. At this point I think all of their heavy guns have been taken out.

And, it looks as though all the Iraqi troops that were on that ridge line have certainly taken cover.

They had a chance to see what happened to the other command bunker and you know as I said it's been obliterated and the concussion from these bombs is really strong.

We're hearing the jets again. I don't know if they were taking a turn to assess the damage and they may be coming back for another run. I'm going to be quiet here for a second so we can watch this.

COOPER: Kevin we've been talking to General Wesley Clark several days ago who was saying in these kind of situations where there is probably not much ground fire coming up the fighters often they will just circle overhead, sort of doing a reccky (ph) if you will, kind of looking at the immediate bomb damage assessment seeing if they need to come back, so perhaps those -- the sounds you are hearing are the planes sort of circling over head as you said examining the area.

I want to ask you about that ground offensive. There has not been that northern offensive that so many people had discussed, at least not a ground offensive in any sense. Are the Kurdish fighters who you are with and have been with now for several days -- are they surprised that they have not...

SITES: Anderson, I'm going to stop you for one second. Sounds like they're going in for a run here. They may have done the reccky (ph) that you talked about, assessing the damage and now it seems like they're streaming back overhead.

They obviously are not afraid of any Iraqi guns on this position. I think they're confident that they've taken them out and as you have mentioned they have been in this area for a little while circling overhead. We think they're going in for their run. We just can't be certain.

We talked to -- just to answer your question. We talked to our sources; a local commander came. They're really gratified that this is happening right now. They're feeling like this has been along time coming. They have not said, however, that once these positions are gone, that they're going to immediately advance on Kirkuk. That's a decision they've said they need to wait and get orders on. They will, however, possibly occupy these hills after these troops are gone. And then take it step by step.

There has not been, as you know a huge ground campaign here yet. It is just at this point an air campaign.

COOPER: And Kevin...

SITES: And the talk of opening up a northern front here.

COOPER: Just for our viewers who are just joining us what we are looking at -- that ridge line on the horizon sort of to the left in the camera position -- that is the ridge line where the Iraqi positions were?

SITES: That's correct. What we're looking at right now is a wide shot that shows both command bunkers. There was one on the right side that was obliterated in early morning attack; there's another command bunker our photographer Bill Skinner (ph) is pushing left to show you right now on the left hand side. Basically this sets up an intersecting ridge line where there is a road that follows all the way into Kirkuk, we're about 40 kilometers away from Kirkuk that runs through the center of these two command bunkers.

It was defensive position that would allow the Iraqis to fire on that road and to halt any advance going west in the direction of Kirkuk.

Now, coalition forces took out one of those bunkers earlier this morning in a pretty ferocious attack, which has left literally nothing but scorched earth where the bunker was before and now they have made several more attacks along the ridge line and there is one command bunker left on the left hand side and we have been listening to jets flying overhead.

As you had mentioned, our expert General Wesley Clark was telling you that sometimes after these bombing runs if pilots feel like they're not in danger of anti-aircraft fire they will circle the area and assess the bomb damage -- it seems like that's what's being done right now. There is one command bunker left and it seems that they're going to finish the job here. They'll probably come after that perhaps once they rearm and get a good look at this and see exactly where the position is.

COOPER: Kevin, I just want to remind our viewers a little bit of the situation in northern Iraq as we continue to look at this ridge line waiting to see if there will be another air strike called in. And Kevin I'm not asking you to comment on this because I'm not sure you're frankly able to.

But, you know, according to what we know there are about 200 U.S. military personnel in northern Iraq, most of them members of the Special Forces, working with Kurdish counterparts to try to make contact inside Saddam-controlled Iraq with officers in the Iraqi army and in particular in Kirkuk and in Mosul both cities under control.

Kevin as far as you know right now, you talked about that road to Kirkuk. Do you get much information about what's happening on the ground in Kirkuk?

SITES: Actually, the first few days of the war we did, Anderson. Some of our Kurdish fighters here that we speak with everyday have family in Kirkuk and in fact many of them actually are from Kirkuk, their houses are still there, but when the borderline was drawn after the Gulf War they've been separated from their homes.

Yet they're still in contact and they made phone calls that the city was bombed and were able to talk a little bit about what was happening there. Although many are still in fear, they feel that within the city itself their telephones have been tapped by Iraqi Secret Police, that people are listening in on their phone calls, so they're not as candid as they might be, but we haven't really heard what the situation is there, whether there are actually bombs dropping on the city.

Or, as our sources said to us in the early days of the war that their family members were telling us that the bombs had been dropped were not actually hitting the city center but were actually flying west of the city into the Halide (ph) Military compound, there's a major Iraqi military base northwest of Kirkuk.

It contains both an air base as well as munitions storage and the Iraqi First Legion so that's where those bombs were going according to the people in Kirkuk.

COOPER: All right, Kevin we're going to leave you now. I'm just going to ask you one quick question and just a brief answer if you can.

The fighters you are with, the Kurdish fighters you are with -- how badly do they want to make it back to Kirkuk? How badly do they want to get back there?

SITES: So bad they can taste it. They want to see their families, they want to cross into that area and get back home. However, they are -- they're a disciplined fighting force. They say they don't have orders to do that yet and so they're not going to do it. I think it's going to be a -- possibly a long, slow advance when it does happen but this is one of the first steps.

COOPER: All right. Kevin Sites live in Chamchamal, northern Iraq, stay safe Kevin. Take care -- Carol.

COSTELLO: We're going to leave Kevin Sites picture up? I believe we should. Maybe we'll -- not for a minute, but we will. Let's head to Walter Rodgers right now with the 3-7th Cavalry.

Walter, are you with us? You're somewhere in central Iraq. What is your status right now?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct Carol. We are in north-central Iraq and we have moved considerably north towards Baghdad. I should say war is full of surprises and certainly this one has been a full of surprises at least for the 7th Cavalry.

Yesterday bone crusher unit, the bone-crusher troops, had two of its tanks knocked out that was certainly a surprise. Knocked out by not regular Iraqi forces in a force-on-force engagement, but in quasi- guerrilla warfare.

The Iraqis have acquired something equivalent of a TOW anti-tank missile, that's a wire-guided missile a range of almost four miles. They've mounted this missile on the back of pickup trucks and they're driving around the countryside trying to hit U.S. tanks. Now, when those two Abrams tanks were hit, the previous day, no soldiers were injured but the tanks were definitely disabled and pulled out of action.

Another surprise for the U.S. commanders at least along this central Iraqi front, that is that the Iraqis have not engaged in force-on-force confrontations yet. That is to say they're not throwing their large tank regiments up against the advancing U.S. tanks and artillery pieces.

What they are doing is they are resorting somewhat to guerrilla warfare tactics as I described. Putting heavy machine guns and TOW missiles on the back of pickup trucks giving them much more mobility and nimbleness.

Enabling them to try to hit U.S. forces and again with some success yesterday also the Iraqis are wearing, according to U.S. Army officials, no longer their regular Army uniforms, they're blending into the civilian population, this is classic guerrilla warfare, looking like civilians and suddenly popping up and fighting using the civilians at times as screens.

There are other surprises here and this is the last I want to mention but the Iraqis are good fighters, very intrepid. I was speaking with one officer who was returning from an engagement a short while ago he said that yesterday he was confronted with Iraqi units who would mount pickup trucks and dump trucks and they would come charging at these heavily armored U.S. columns with Bradley fighting vehicles and tanks and the Iraqis were coming in these pickup trucks with AK-47s blazing the way.

They didn't have a hope in Hades of hurting the heavily armed U.S. convoy. Nonetheless they came charging like some Rambo movie with their AK-47s blazing away. Everyone here is a little surprised by the -- by the courage of some of these Iraqi soldiers -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Can you get into at all how many Iraqi forces were killed in this battle?

RODGERS: Several hundred on the job I am told. I know the unit with whom I'm moving -- those Cavalry has been taking killing them. The previous night I actually was two nights ago when we were approaching the Euphrates River -- actually the canals -- before the river -- I spoke to one officer who said that they had estimated that they had killed anywhere between two to three hundred Iraqis but these are essentially (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

These are Iraqi infantry, which are being thrown up hopelessly against U.S. artillery and U.S. tank convoys.

The real force-on-force confrontation between the armored Republican Guard units and the U.S. Army's Cavalry units and it's armored columns -- those force-on-force engagements have yet to take place. So you can expect some severe and bloody fighting for the coalition forces in the coming days -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Walter is there any way to tell if members of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard were involved in this attack?

RODGERS: In which attack? The Republican Guard has been involved in the south of Iraq -- down river to Nasiriya and then over to Basra.

What Saddam has done -- he's playing the best cards he's got -- he puts some of his best officers and men and integrates them into regular Army units and the tough Republican Guard fighters puts steel into the spines of the regular soldiers or they put fear into them and that encourages them to fight harder than they might normally do.

That's -- that was until the line was broken -- the Euphrates River defense line was broken by the 7th Cavalry yesterday when the rolled on through.

We're relatively close to Baghdad and it's only a matter of time when all the other positions are moved into position that is the other units move up on either side of the 7th Cav that they'll be in a better position to move against the tank regiments up there.

COSTELLO: Understand. I wanted to go back to the Abrams tanks that were destroyed. You say that all of the American soldiers got out safely. Can you kind of describe for us what that was like and how they managed to get out after being hit by a missile?

RODGERS: Well that's an extraordinarily heavily armored tank. It is build to be survivable even when it's hit with an anti-tank missile like that. I -- that's in bone crusher troop which is a little to the east of us. I didn't actually see this tank myself so I can't tell you whether it was a tread that was taken out or what exactly it was.

Perhaps it was the engine it's not that heavily armored half, but these are extraordinary tanks in the sense that they were essentially built for a U.S. Soviet cold war confrontation and they are in some respects nuclear war survivable.

So they can take an anti-tank missile if they put them out of commission but there's an enormous amount of steel around the crew inside and remarkably the crew wasn't injured -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I was just wondering if there was some sort of escape hatch or if they had to come out through the top of the tank.

RODGERS: Well there are several escape hatches there but as you point out those two hatches at the top, one for the loader on the left side and one for the commander on the right side are possible escapes.

Then there's an escape forward that the driver can use and they can get out any of those, so there are two -- at least three portals that I'm aware of on a main battle tank which gives them --- gives the crew an escape route -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I was curious about the weather, too, because as you reported yesterday and as we saw there was a fierce sandstorm going on. There is a fierce sandstorm right now in Kuwait. How do the troops there get the weather report and do you expect bad weather again today?

RODGERS: The troops -- the commander gets the weather forecast and then he distributes it over the radio to his tank commanders and so forth. Weather forecast for today is yet another sandstorm; it's blowing up very cold, very sandy and dusty.

It's not as bad as it was yet yesterday but there's every indication it's going to be at least as intense as yesterday so weather forecasts are crucial and I need to point out that in yesterday's altercation the sandstorm actually works to the advantage of our 7th Cav column moving forward because it provided something of a smokescreen for us.

The Iraqis had arranged ambushes but they were sitting back off the road two to three hundred meters in bunkers and because visibility was less than 100 meters.

They could hear the convoy moving up the road; they opened fire blindly at it and were shooting blindly but they did -- the scored no causalities. That is to say they didn't wound or kill anyone so for the United States at that point, the sandstorm was very fortuitous especially in view of the fact that the tank gutters have a special optical gear, which enables them to see through a sandstorm. The tank gunners can see 200-300 meters off into the sandstorm, and then they could fire back at the bunkers and the soldiers that were coming across the field. But, again, some of those Iraqi soldiers were charging very, very courageously, almost foolishly at the tank column with nothing more than a clash and a (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And when they emerged out of the sandstorm within full normal view of the gunners on the Bradleys and the tanks, then they were cut down with machine guns. But these are not soldiers who are less than committed -- Carol.

COSTELLO: No, and they suffered many casualties. Walter Rodgers, we're going to let you go. Keep your head down. We'll check back with you periodically throughout the morning here on CNN.

COOPER: And it's 2:30 AM here on the East Coast. Let's check with Daryn Kagan in Kuwait City for the latest.


COOPER: We're just getting word right now of more explosions in Chamchamal. I assume it's somewhere in northern Iraq along that ridge line. Let's take a look right now. You're looking at a live picture. Kevin, what can you tell us?

SITES: Hi, Anderson. Just seconds ago, another jet run on that command bunker to the left. You see a puff of black smoke drifting to the north with the winds. It seems like it hit just behind the ridge line.

The jets were roaring overhead, dropped their ordnance, and yet that bunker is still there at this point. So this is obvious a target of these coalition aircraft. They're determined to get it and they're trying this morning. That's what we're seeing right now is a determined run at this thing.

COOPER: And, again, did you see any anti-aircraft fire as this plane went in for a bombing round?

SITES: No. There's no sound of return fire whatsoever, Anderson. The only thing that you here are the roar of the jets and the drop of the explosives. We don't see any Iraqis anymore. I think they're probably hunkered down, if they're smart.

There has not been any kind of small arms fire, anti-aircraft fire or machine gun fire of any kind. So I think basically these jets are free to fly overhead. Probably will assess what this particular bombing run did, and then go again for another run down the line.

Now while you were watching our picture I got some information from our local sources here. They say since 1995 Iraqi snipers from these ridge lines above that we're seeing being attacked right now have actually shot five Kurdish people and killed them. Iraqi snipers shooting toward the city of Chamchamal, killing five people here since 1995, including one on the roof where we're standing right now.

They actually have been firing sporadically in this particular area. Our Kurdish sources also say that most of the houses here have been hit with either mortar fire or machine gun fire at some time. You know this is definitely the front line of the conflict zone, and most of the people that live in this town have been facing it every day.

Now, for the most part, the town is empty right now, Anderson. The men here have sent their women and their children away to safety. They know how dangerous this can be. When the conflict kicked off, you know, they wanted to ensure that they were safe, so they sent them away.

It is mostly just Peshmerga fighters left here and some men, maybe even some boys. But, for the most part, it is a ghost town.

COSTELLO: Kevin, this is Carol Costello. I just wondered, do you have any idea how many Iraqi troops are over that ridge line?

SITES: Well I can't tell you how many are over the ridge line, Carol. I know that in the last five days we've observed them moving around up there. Probably a half-dozen to maybe three dozen troops. You see a whole series of different structures that are up there. And you would see maybe half a dozen moving around at one time in any particular structure.

Now what we can't see is what's behind that hillside. You know there could be a whole encampment there. I've been reporting over the last several days that there's a division behind that hillside perhaps five to 10 kilometers away. The Al-Muthana Division; that's a fully equipped Iraqi division.

But on this ridge line itself, I'm not sure if there's another encampment over there or not. But what we've been able to witness is maybe just a couple of dozen, maybe three dozen all together.

One of our sources told us also the attack that we saw just before this one, just before the one we're talking about now that hit in the center of the ridge line between the two command posts was an ammunition warehouse. There were no secondary explosions, so we can't really tell if it was hit or not. But that's what our sources are telling us.

COSTELLO: I was also wondering about the Kurds that you are with, because Brent Sadler was reporting that they really want to get into the fight and they're just waiting for the order from U.S. troops.

SITES: They are on high alert here. You really don't see an adult man in this town without an AK-47 slugged over his shoulder. They're bristling with extra ammunition clips. They want to see the regime of Saddam Hussein go by the wayside.

I think they're willing to fight to help that to happen. I think their primary concerns, you know, are to see their families are safe. They would like to get back to their homes, if they had to leave their homes after the Gulf War. But they are definitely motivated. They would like to work with U.S. troops.

Our sources here say that they have not, strangely enough, had contact from American forces, though. They have not been contacted by Special Forces, or at least that's what they're tell us, even though there are reports that Special Forces had landed on airstrips just in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) only about an hour, hour and a half from here.

COOPER: All right. Kevin Sites, live in Chamchamal. Thanks very much. We will continue checking in with you throughout the morning.

We should also just let you know at home we've just received some word that, according to the British brigadier general, Jim Duddon (ph), he on Wednesday told reporters that Umm Qasr is secure. This, of course, the port city, and we have been following the action that has been going on there really all weekend long and into the last several days. He says that they plan now to have the first shipment of humanitarian aid arriving on Thursday, and at this moment commandos are literally going house to house in Umm Qasr just checking out and making sure that the town really is secure, that there aren't individuals hiding out in houses, and also bringing small amounts of humanitarian aid door to door, just in case people need it.

You're looking at some pictures, taped pictures of the British troops walking on patrol on the streets of Umm Qasr. You're seeing the pictures for yourselves. You can interpret them as you will. And though the city is secure, he says there may be one or two, as he described them, "bad guys" still taking pot shots at coalition forces. But, by and large, the situation is secure. And that's a picture of some of the aid, the food, the water that they are literally just handing out, out of this bin, as they go through the streets on patrol.

COSTELLO: Yes. And they're also checking the waters around Umm Qasr still for mines. I think Australian forces are doing that, and, of course, the dolphins.

COOPER: That's right. We learned the other day U.S. Navy troops bringing in dolphins to actually check for mines underwater.

COSTELLO: Yes, specially trained dolphins. It's just amazing what you can do, isn't it?

OK. Let's move along now. We want to take you live to the Pentagon right now. The Defense Department is warning the worst in Iraq may not -- may be yet to come, I should say. CNN's Chris Plante live at the Pentagon -- Chris, good morning to you. And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the United States is much closer to the beginning of this war than the end.

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. And one of the major concerns, as you just mentioned, is the possibility of the use of chemical weapons. And as we were reporting last night, as troops advanced, coalition troops advanced toward Baghdad, intelligence indicates that orders were issued to Republican Guard units in the field advising them to use chemical weapons when the allied forces reach an imaginary red line that has apparently been drawn by the Iraqis around the city of Baghdad. The concerns were elevated earlier today when Marines found themselves in combat over a hospital near the town of Nasiriya down south. And when they finally took the building, they discovered that the Iraqis had in place, after they took about 170 POWs and a couple of hundred small weapons, discovered approximately 3,000 brand new chemical weapons suits with gas masks and additional -- the accoutrements that go along with these, like Atropine pins, which are used to drive into your own leg as an antidote if you are exposed to chemical weapons -- Carol.

COSTELLO: OK. Chris Plante, just to interrupt you to let our viewers know what they're seeing to the right of you. And maybe you can glance over, too, Chris. This is from Chamchamal, and apparently U.S. air strikes have been going on here, because Iraqi troops are located right over that ridge. They've already taken out an ammunitions warehouse.

We don't know if there's been a second air strike. We're going to get back to Kevin Sites in just a bit.

But we want to continue on with you, Chris. You know we heard a lot about this alleged chemical plant that was found, too. Is there any new word on that?

PLANTE: That's a perfectly good question. There is no new word on that. The U.S. military took possession of that facility, which was a suspected weapons of mass destruction facility, a suspected chemical weapons location. And it was taken very specifically because of that.

Now they took about 30 Iraqi prisoners at that location, including an Iraqi general. And, clearly, they've had time to go through the facility. And apparently no smoking gun there.

They are expecting at some point that they will find chemical weapons, perhaps as they get closer to the city of Baghdad. But, so far, other than the intelligence suggesting the orders and the discovery of the chemical weapons suits, which are a pretty good indication of something, no hard and fast evidence, no smoking gun on the prohibited chemical weapons stockpiles.

COSTELLO: Oh, but they're still searching. Chris Plante, live at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

I want to throw it back to Daryn Kagan live in Kuwait. We're keeping track of the weather. A sandstorm moved through Kuwait City, but it seems to be dissipating now, Daryn.

KAGAN: Well, a little bit, Carol. But excuse me as we blow around here a little bit in the elements. It is still very much blowing through Kuwait City.

We want to talk about a big story that's developing here in Kuwait, and that is all the humanitarian aide that basically is stockpiling in this country, just waiting for the opportunity -- aid workers are -- to get it over the border. Specifically, we want to focus on this hour the children of Iraq. They are suffering, they were suffering before this war, and they will continue to suffer.

We have with us right now Sonia Khush. She is with Save the Children. And she can give us a lot of information just on what the children of Iraq face. Sonia, thanks for being with us.


KAGAN: First of all, I don't think people realize it's a large amount of children there are in Iraq, to start with.

KHUSH: Yes. You know, almost half of the Iraqi population is under the age of 15. And they were starting out at a very vulnerable point already. You know, even before this war started, there was a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

One out of four children didn't go to school; one out of four was malnourished. Death rates of children have doubled in the last 12 years. So what we're seeing now with this war is that situation is being made much, much worse.

KAGAN: And we're also learning about certain areas where we're finding even more information, such as Basra, in the south central part of the country. This is a city. This is the second largest city in all of Iraq, 1.7 million people. I understand as many as 100,000 children just in the city of Basra could be facing a severe health crisis.

KHUSH: Yes, that's true. And a lot of that is due to the lack of clean water in Basra right now. And that has severe consequences for children's health, because clean water is essential for their long-term development. You know there will be water (UNINTELLIGIBLE); there is an increased risk of cholera. And if children aren't immunized, we're going to see a rise in the measles rate. So what we need to do is get in as soon as it's safe for ourselves to get in and start implementing life-saving programs in the areas of health and water and sanitation and food.

KAGAN: And therein lies the frustration. I mean, you're here, Save the Children is here. And you can't get there basically because it's just too dicey and it's not safe to send your own people in. How frustrating is that just to be standing by right now?

KHUSH: It is very frustrating to stand by here in Kuwait. We're so close, yet we're so far. We can't get in because the coalition forces have not opened the border yet to humanitarian relief organizations like Save the Children.

So all we can do at this point is be as prepared as we can be. You know, get our staff on standby, have our programs ready, have our supplies ready, so that as soon as it's safe for us to go in, we can start our programs for children.

KAGAN: And once you do get the green light, what will be the order or priority? Where do you go, what do you do?

KHUSH: Right. Well, what we're doing here in Kuwait is coordinating with the other humanitarian organizations here in the country so that you don't have, for example, six agencies going to the same place or the same types of supplies.

KAGAN: You don't want everyone heading to Basra.

KHUSH: Exactly. We don't want everyone heading to Basra with water. So we're working a lot of those details out here, and we're going to send in our security team in first to take a look at the situation, and then he'll clear the way for the rest of our program people to go in and do programs.

KAGAN: Well, we wish you well when you do get in, in helping the children of Iraq. Thank you so much, Sonia Khush with Save the Children.

We'll continue to track it here and look at other humanitarian aid needs. And basically the big frustration, Carol and Anderson, about just being stuck here in Kuwait and not being able to get that help to the people of Iraq.

COSTELLO: It's just continuing to be in a holding pattern. Daryn Kagan, reporting live from Kuwait City this morning.

COOPER: And we should just remind our viewers, unrelated to that story, we just heard from a British general who says that the first humanitarian relief going to Umm Qasr will arrive on Thursday, that the city is now secure. That, according to British forces.

We're going to check in with Tom Mintier at CENTCOM right when we come back from this short break.


COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the war in Iraq. "The New York Times" is reporting that some missing American soldiers may have been executed by Iraqi soldiers, possibly in a public forum. The newspaper cites American officials who say the information came from a single source. They are trying to check out from other sources, but they say it came from a single source.

Pictures of those soldiers were taken by Iraqi TV and shown on the Al-Jazeera network. Seven other American soldiers are being held as prisoners of war by the Iraqis.

And it was difficult enough for the families of troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom for them to know their loved ones were heading off to war. But as Ed Lavandera reports now, the resolve of some families is being tested even further.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN DALLAS BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): News comes in quickly from the Iraqi battlefield, but not fast enough for the families of seven prisoners of war and at least seven others whose fate is unknown. They know their loved ones are in danger, but uncertainty ignites anxiety, and that makes this ordeal tougher to handle.

David Williams' son is one of the Apache helicopter pilots captured by Iraqi soldiers. He knows there's nothing he can do for now.

DAVID WILLIAMS, FATHER OF POW: It's very difficult. But it's something that I know that I have enough support through friends and family and through god. I said for support that I'll be able to make it along with our family.

LAVANDERA: Twenty-year-old Jessica Lynch is part of the 507th Maintenance Company out of Fort Bliss, Texas. Five of her fellow soldiers are confirmed POWs. She's listed as missing. All her family can do is hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was excited about going to Kuwait. You know everybody else was worried about it, but she wasn't worried about. She said, "I've been trained to do a job and I'm going to go do it." A very proud kid.

LAVANDERA: In Edgar Hernandez's home town of Mission, Texas, yellow ribbons decorate the street where his family lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's heartbreaking. But, at the same time, you feel a sense of pride. The community is coming together and pulling for the family.

LAVANDERA: As these families wait for news from the front lines, they look at the pictures of their loved ones in captivity and try hard to imagine what they must be thinking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He seemed to be in good spirits. And, you know, I'm sure he doesn't like being there. But I'm sure the situation, he'll make the best of it.

LAVANDERA (on camera): The U.S. military is concerned about the interviews many of these family members have been giving to the news media. The military says the Iraqi government could use their comments as propaganda, taking them out of context. But the military insists each of these families still has the right to talk, and many of them do want to talk.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Fort Bliss, Texas.


COSTELLO: And we have more details coming out about the two U.S. Apache helicopter pilots captured by Iraqi forces. Our Susan Candiotti spent the day with the family of Ronald Young and tells us how the family is coping with the uncertainty.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A family friend writes a message into wet cement outside the home of captured American Army pilot Ronald Young. The Army phoned his parents, explaining how hard they tried to rescue Young and fellow pilot David Williams after their Apache helicopter broke down. Two attempts called off after heavy ground fire from Iraqis. Shooting so intense, one of the rescue helicopters started to burn.

RONALD YOUNG SR., FATHER OF POW: They really had a tough time. They said that the whole battalion was really upset because they had to leave two guys behind. And I'm sure that they did. I think they did what they had to do to try to get them. It was just that they were coming against overwhelming odds at the time.

CANDIOTTI: The parents were told the pilots tried their best to avoid capture, despite being surrounded.

YOUNG: They got away and eluded capture, I guess, that for that night and part of the next day, until they were finally taken.

CANDIOTTI: Throughout the day, kindness from strangers at the Youngs' home. Including someone who dropped off a POW MIA flag. Another unexpected site: an 18-foot high flagpole donated by the city and installed by a contingent of prisoners from the county jail. At an impromptu flag raising, the Young family overwhelmed by all the support.

KAYE YOUNG, MOTHER OF POW: It's sad. It's sad. But you know it's very touching. It makes me feel cared about.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): For now, the Young family has decided to go into seclusion. In part, letting these words speak for them: "United we stand." -- Chief Warrant Officer Ron Young.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Lithia Springs, Georgia.


COSTELLO: And you know we've been seeing a lot of those POWs on Iraqi television. But earlier this morning, U.S. coalition forces bombed the TV station, but now we understand the TV station is up and running. We're going to update that as the morning progresses.

COOPER: Yes. We're going to be right back and have more coverage as we continue.


COOPER: Welcome back to continuing coverage of the war in Iraq. U.S. Central Command says a coalition strike in Baghdad hit the building housing Iraqi TV today, as Carol just mentioned. Our Tom Mintier is at CENTCOM headquarters in Doha, Qatar. Tom, what's the latest?

TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Anderson, it was asked yesterday at the coalition briefing why Iraq TV hadn't been taken down. And basically they said it's not on the timeline right now. But apparently it was very close on the timelines because it didn't occur overnight. The transmissions were halted after Iraq TV was indeed hit with laser-guided munitions. And apparently, now, as Carol was reporting, they're back up on TV. So we'll have to wait and see if it goes back on the targeting list.

The weather has indeed been a factor in the last 24 hours, a factor more for the troops on the ground. Coalition briefers saying that it has made it uncomfortable, but it has not in any way impeded their ability to bring the battle forward. They say they have the ability to see through the sand and the rain, while it does make it uncomfortable on the ground. And the pictures we've seen of the sandstorms, where you can barely see 20, 30 feet in front of you, it may make it difficult for the troops, but as a tactical problem they say it doesn't exist. That they have sighting that can see through this, and that it's not a real serious problem.

An update on Basra in the last few minutes from Group Captain Al Lockwood, the British spokesman here, saying that overnight there were indications of an uprising in Basra and that Iraqi troops put up mortar positions inside the city and started mortaring the people in the streets to bring this demonstration under control -- or uprising. Apparently, then British troops set up their own mortars and rocketed the positions of Iraqi troops inside Basra. And then calling in an air strike to take out the mortar positions.

So the word is from the British right now that all is quiet on the streets of Basra. Asked when they might be launching an operation to move troops inside the city, because they now have declared it is an objective, they say in good time, when they make the decision to go into Basra they will. But they probably won't announce it publicly -- Anderson.

COOPER: And that had been, of course, the fear in Basra, the sense of getting sucked in. That term we've heard a lot in the last 24 hours or so. So it seems like the coalition troops right now have sort of formed a ring around the city. And, as you said, are calling in the mortars against the Iraqi mortars.

I'm interested to know, though -- I had heard a report that some British troops actually seized a Baath Party official somewhere on the outskirts of Basra. It was an operation that they -- apparently some sort of Special Forces operation. They went in and they seized this guy and removed him.

There was a fire fight. And they were in and they were out. Have you heard any update on that?

MINTIER: No update on that, but it is quite obvious that they're moving inside the city of Basra with their Special Forces troops. The information that they seem to have about how this uprising was attacked from inside the city would clearly indicate that they do have intelligence on the ground inside Basra and are aware of the location where these artillery pieces and mortars targeted Baath headquarters that was using short-range mortars against the civilian population, according to the British.

So apparently their intelligence is quite good on the ground, and it's quite necessary. Because before they start to move into the city, this is what the planners feared most, is a battlefield in an urban environment. They didn't want to be sucked in to a heavily populated area, an area that has a large number of civilians.

And they have said in recent hours and days that the Iraqi military has used them as human shields in many, many cases that they can report. Calling it a cowardly way to act on the battlefield, to use civilians as human shields and fire from behind them in the hopes that fire would not be returned. So we'll have to wait and see what happens in Basra, but it's obvious sooner rather than later.

COOPER: And just to follow up on that, British Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier yesterday making the statement encouraging people to rise up. Saying, "My message to them today is that this time we will not let you down." That's from British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Tom Mintier, thanks very much, live from CENTCOM headquarters, Doha, Qatar -- Carol.



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