CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINES: Series of Explosions on Baghdad's Outskirts Reported Tonight
Aired March 26, 2003 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have an effective plan of battle and the flexibility to meet every challenge.
ANNOUNCER: And the challenges keep coming.
WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Major column of Iraqi elite troops are moving south from Baghdad.
ANNOUNCER: Fighting the enemy, the darkness, the sand and keeping the supply lines open.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold the lines open. Make sure that the truckloads of fuel can get through. Imagine what tempting targets those huge fuel tankers would be.
ANNOUNCER: Delivering food to the hungry. And trying to avoid civilian targets.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any casualty that occurs, any death that occurs is a direct to Saddam Hussein's policy.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Baghdad, Washington, Kuwait, Coalition strongholds in Iraq and cities around the globe.
ANNOUNCER: "War on Iraq": LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINES.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The now familiar scenes at night, 3:00 a.m. Baghdad. There have been a series of explosions on the city's outskirts tonight. The last ones reported just over half an hour ago, but so far it's nothing like last night's heavy bombardment that temporarily, and only temporarily knocked state-run Iraqi TV off the air.
Good evening, everyone. I'm Aaron Brown at CNN center in Atlanta.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Kuwait City.
Good evening, to you, Aaron, as well. Right now, 1,000 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade are in control of an airfield in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.
CNN's Steve Nettleton reports the airfield will be used to bring in tanks to open a northern front in the Iraq war.
Just over an hour ago, senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre reported that the U.S. military can find no evidence that an Iraqi military column has left Baghdad heading south toward Najaf. Officials report is base on inaccurate intelligence. U.S. forces are waiting, among them the same U.S. Tanks that battled through a sandstorm to take a key bridge over the Euphrates river. Because of the lingering sand storm, Coalition air support around an Najaf is limited. A column of Iraqi armored vehicles did try to break out of the southern city of Basra on Wednesday, but reports say it was attacked and broken up by Coalition jets.
Iraqi officials are accusing the coalition of bombing a Baghdad market killing 15 people. These bloodier images of injured civilians and damage were shown by news agencies here in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. The U.S. Central Command says it did target Iraqi missiles and launchers that were placed in residential areas of Baghdad, but officials say it's not clear whether those strikes hit the marketplace. The Pentagon insist no area in that specific area of Baghdad was targeted by any U.S. missiles.
That's today's first public session of the U.N. Security Council since the war started. Iraq's ambassador bitterly complained about what he called the criminal and barbaric American-British military invasion. The ambassador says it has led to thousands of casualties, among them women, children and the elderly. The counsel was supposed to be a debating session on how to get food and humanitarian aid into Iraq. Some trucks are indeed getting in, but there are worries that sea routes into Iraqi ports have been intentionally mined.
Now for more on this hour's top story. U.S. Paratroopers taking an airfield to help open a new front in northern Iraq.
Steve -- CNN's Steve Nettleton is embedded with the unit in an airfield in Europe and he's joining us now live.
You broke this story a couple hours ago, Steve. Tell us the details.
What's happening right now?
STEVE NETTLETON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was here at this air base that the us air base in Europe, that's as much as they're allowing me to tell you that the 173rd Airborne launched an assault on an airfield in Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Iraq. A thousand paratroopers dropped from the skies in a single sortie, one of the biggest air assault -- airborne assault drops in recent decade. The purpose of taking this airfield is to secure a northern front. The long-awaited northern front that was supposed to come in from Turkey with the 4th Infantry Division. When that was stalemated, the 173rd Airborne changed the plan and decided to seize this airfield and pave the way for an airlift of armor that would come in from Germany and other countries. The 163 Armor from the 1st Infantry Division or bring in Bradley fighting vehicles and Abraham's main battle tanks to begin to build a force in the region to deal with the many different problems, not only Iraqi, mechanized divisions in the area, but perhaps creating a diplomatic problem for the Turks so they won't invade and take Kurdish territory. So to keep the Kurds in line and to watch out for other extremist groups who may be in the area. This is Steve Nettleton reporting from the us air base in Europe.
BROWN: Quick look from the European side of how this force has moved in. Over to the Pentagon next and the latest developments out of there.
Jamie McIntyre is our senior Pentagon correspondent, and Jamie joins us now.
You want to start with the air drop?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: (AUDIO GAP).
Bring you up on the latest. The long-awaited northern front has opened up with that landing of the airborne troops about a thousand of them. There will be a lot more behind them. In addition, the Pentagon has revealed today that the 4th Infantry Division that was originally going to go into Turkey to open that northern front, they've gotten deployment orders. They'll be moving before the weekend, flying to Kuwait to meet up with their equipment and begin to continue the force flow into southern Iraq beefing up the forces there.
So the Pentagon is bringing more troops in and we are going to begin to see a little bit of that squeeze play that was in the original war plan of having troops coming from the north and the south. Now at this point the U.S. is saying that the -- an earlier report that's a substantial number of Republican Guard units was moving south to challenge American forces apparently was based on inaccurate intelligence. Further investigation revealed no such major movement of Republican Guard troops. It does appear that some Republican Guard units are repositioning essentially to get in defensive positions and to move around so they're not in the same place that they were the day before.
The pentagon today insisted that the unexpected -- excuse me, stiff resistance that they got from some of those fighters was not throwing them off their game plan. And today Defense Secretary Rumsfeld also said that this big movement of troops into Iraq has nothing to do with what's been going on in the south.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The force flow is something that you put in motion months ago and it has been proceeding exactly as planned. And there isn't an hour or a day that goes by that there aren't an increased number of troops in Iraq in one or more locations. And in any given day they go up by a nontrivial number. And they will continue to until it's done. And it will be done at some point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCINTYRE: We're seeing a continuation of the air campaign. The U.S. is continuing to hit Republican Guard positions in and around Baghdad. They're also providing a lot of close air support for the troops on the ground who are calling in air strikes when they need help. It was one report they may have hit a column of Republican Guard or Iraqi military, I should say, forces in the south.
So the Pentagon insists that despite what some military analysts have suggested is a less than robust campaign, that they're right on track and that once we see how this war plan unfolds, we'll see that it is indeed going according to schedule.
BROWN: Jamie, thank you. Jamie McIntyre, senior Pentagon correspondent. In fairness we heard that sort of criticism in the early days of the Afghanistan battle as well.
The lead tonight clearly is that a second front now has been opened to the north with the paratroopers going in. They have an airfield. That is not a simple task. Miles O'Brien is over with the generals to layout what they have to do to secure an airfield. Miles, gentlemen, good evening.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, Aaron. And I'm with General Wes Clark and General Don Shepperd. U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, retired, respectively.
Gentlemen, let' first of all talk a little bit about the 173rd Airborne. It's a group of folks based in Europe.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Vicenza, Italy.
O'BRIEN: OK. And down they went. Let's take a look, well give you the specifics on this particular group of fighting men and women, 173rd Airborne, base in Italy. Fought at the Battle of the Ridge. That's a famous one in World War II.
Part World War II, part Korea, part Vietnam.
O'BRIEN: All right. Let's give you...
CLARK: ... tough fights in Vietnam. Lost a lot of friends in that...
O'BRIEN: All right. Let's give you a sense of where they are. Here's a big region. We're talking about Kurdish-controlled country which is a little patch of Iraq up in the northeastern corner. Let's zoom in on the first one, Sulamania. Now, tell me about what we know about this location, why it's strategically important.
GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well basically we've had reports that two airfields have been worked on for the last few months. One near al Sulamania, another one (UNINTELLIGIBLE) called Hareer to the east of Erbil.
Now this is Sulamania. It's basically there a pretty rough strip and some rough terrain around there. So obviously a lot of work had to be done on that. It could be that this is one of the airfields.
O'BRIEN: All right. An we're going to go head over to Erbil.
O'BRIEN: And we'll show you the other strip there. Once again, not the most improved. This -- we're not talking about international airports here. But for the kinds of operations we're talking about adequate?
SHEPPERD: Remember this, yes, adequate, for jumping forces in or seizing the airfield. But a lot of work has to be done to improve this to bring in C-17 and C-130 aircraft to bring in the equipment for the 173rd Airborne.
O'BRIEN: All right. Let's look at some tape, yesterday's Central Command briefing. They showed a little bit of videotape shot by a group called Combat Camera during a C-130 drop at a desert landing field, not named. But this is the kind of operation that we're talking about here.
These, Wesley Clark, are lightly equipped by Army standards. Not an armored division. What is their mission and what is their role in the north?
CLARK: Well, their mission right here is going be get control and secure that airfield. Support the flow of follow-on forces. So they're going to spread out, they're going to establish O.P.s, they're going to get the high ground on various sides of the airfield.
O'BRIEN: Observation post?
CLARK: Absolutely. They'll have reaction force. There should be a little artillery that comes in with them or mortars.
As soon as we'll land armored vehicles with that force, and we'll have engineers there to improve it and just keep continuously build that force.
O'BRIEN: OK, so it's a staging point as much as...
O'BRIEN: All right. Let's move down to the south and let's talk about some of the interesting -- we go back to that cliche now, the fog of war. But we really were witness to that today with the discussion about a column of 1,000 vehicles moving south of Baghdad. It turns out that's not the case.
SHEPPERD: Turns out that's not the case.
O'BRIEN: Give us the latest. SHEPPERD: Basically you've got the Medina Division facing the 3rd of the 7th Cav, the leading elements of the 3rd Infantry Division, a battle shaping up there. And basically they've had sandstorms that brought everything to a halt except for sniper attacks and Fedayeen attacks against the convoys coming up to support it and the elements moving from the 3rd Infantry.
Now, again, what's shaping up there is that air will start to be employed, not against the preplan target, but against these emerging targets. As vehicles start to move, as formations of Republican Guard divisions start to move, air will be employed against this. And you'll have interdiction strikes as well as close air support strikes, Miles.
O'BRIEN: All right. That's all the time we have for now. That gives us a good basic situation. Difficult to follow this. Just stay along with us. There're going to be a few occasions like this where we end up with down a bit of a cul-de-sac, at the very least and please bear with us. We're reporting this story in real time -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And you're doing a great job. The generals as well as you, miles. Thank you very much for that explanations.
Another windy day across much of the Persian Gulf region and coalition forces continue to be injured by blinding sandstorms. But conditions could be improving very soon. These pictures of Kuwait City where I am right now give you some idea of just how bad it's been.
CNN's Walter Rodgers, who's embedded with its 3-7th Cavalry, tells us the swirling sand has prevented Apache helicopters from flying for two days.
For a look at what coalition forces can expect Thursday, let's go live to CNN's Orelon Sydney in the CNN Weather Center. Orelon, I have a personal interest in knowing what the weather forecast is for this part of the world.
ORELON SYDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It looks pretty good, Wolf. I show you this satellite picture first to shoe you this is where the area of low pressure has now made it into the southern part of the Caspian Sea. You can see that most of Iraq stretching down into Kuwait and the Persian Gulf, the low pressure system no longer in influence. And you're getting a clearing here, especially right across the central portion of Iraq that should be working its way southward throughout the evening.
This is the next thing I'm looking at. After a pretty good Thursday, Friday and Saturday, another area of low pressure expected to develop across first the western portion of the Mediterranean. There's also a second area of low pressure that could develop somewhere around Greece and this one may be of interest by Monday.
As far as Sunday is concerned look for showers across Turkey and then Greece. But this will get on the move by Monday, start to work its way up through Israel and continue into Turkey. Out ahead of that, remember, we get those gusty winds and behind it may be the big story.
This, though, to me is a little more interesting. A stronger area of low pressure that could affect the region by Tuesday -- Aaron.
BROWN: Orelon, thank you very much.
President Bush is preparing to host a key international ally. His best ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mr. Blair landed at Andrews Air Force Base just a bit ago for crucial strategic war talks with the president. The two leaders will huddle to Camp David tomorrow, compare notes on the war's progress and other matters.
And there are other matters. We go to our senior White House correspondent John King. Mr. Blair and the president agree perhaps on how the war is being prosecuted, but there are areas of difference that have emerged.
JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are, Aaron. One key area of disagreement, first two areas of agreement. We are told the two leaders will discuss war strategy, especially as coalition forces advance on Baghdad.
They also will discuss joint efforts to accelerate the flow of humanitarian aid. Some progress on that front today. Both leaders agree more has to be done.
Now here's where they disagree at least on to a degree. Mr. Blair has been outspoken in saying he believes the United Nations should have a very quick and a very broad role in running a post-war Iraq. The administration is quite skeptical.
It says the United Nations should have some role, but it is being deliberately vague about how big a roll. But making no secret of the fact that especially in the early days just after combat and the early weeks in months, it believes the United States with the help of Great Britain and Iraqi dissidents should run Iraq, not the United Nations. So that is one point of contention in an otherwise good relationship. That will be discussed tonight and tomorrow up at Camp David.
Now on most days, the president gets his detailed war briefing here at the White House. Today it came in Tampa, Florida. Mr. Bush traveling to MacDill Air Force Base, the headquarters of the Central Command. Here you see him in the Intelligence Center, the maps on the wall behind him. Mr. Bush getting a briefing on the war effort in -- throughout Iraq and also in Afghanistan.
The main point of his trip to Central Command Headquarters was to rebut the critics who says that something has gone awry in the U.S. and coalition battle plan. Mr. Bush was to say in his speech that the allied troops were ahead of schedule, but he edited that line on Air Force one. Here's how it came out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Our military's making good progress in Iraq. Yet this war is far from over. As they approach Baghdad our fighting units are facing the most desperate elements of a doomed regime. We cannot know the duration of this war, but we are prepared for the battle ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So ahead of schedule became good progress. Aides insisted after the commander in chief simply being conservative in his public assessments of the war effort. They say by no means does Mr. Bush doubt battle plan or its implementation of the battle plan.
The president also had tough words for any Iraqis holding Americans captured. He said if those captives are mistreated, and there are indications that some have been, Mr. bush said the day of Iraq's liberation in his words would also be a day of justice -- Aaron.
BROWN: John, thank you. Senior White House correspondent John King.
Iraqi civilians are dying. We've seen pictures of that. But who in fact is to blame? We'll take a look at the damage and of course, there is always finger-pointing when this happens. That and much more as our special coverage continues here on CNN.
BROWN: Thousands of Iraqi nationals living in the United States are being watch by the FBI tonight. The agency expected to wrap up its controversial interviews with these nationals, these Iraqi nationals soon in its hunt for terrorist links, if in fact there are any.
CNN's Justice correspondent Kelli Arena joins us now with more reporting on what the FBI has found or has not yet found -- Kelli.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, the FBI hopes to wrap that up as early as this week. Its goal was to interview as many as 11,000 Iraqi nationals living here in the United States. Some of those also being naturalized U.S. citizens. We caught up with one Iraqi naturalized U.S. citizen who was interviewed by the FBI. And we start by telling his story.
ARENA (voice-over): Sammy Jawad (ph) got a surprise phone call from his 17-year-old son last week. FBI agents showed up at his California home unannounced. Jawad is an Iraqi native, one of about 11,000 the FBI wants to interview by the end of this week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They asked me, do you know some people that supporting the Iraqi regime, Iraqi soldier? Absolutely no.
ARENA: Jawad, an importer is a naturalized U.S. Citizen who says his family was tortured by Saddam Hussein's regime. He says the FBI agents who came to his home were polite and friendly, but some questions bothered him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They ask me do you have anyone related to Hezbollah? I was bothered from (UNINTELLIGIBLE), from this question. Because they know me very well. I don't like to be profiled.
ARENA: FBI officials say they need to seize every opportunity in their fight against terrorism.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we are intending to do is simply afford an opportunity to individuals who may not normally feel comfortable providing information to government officials.
ARENA: Sources admit there hasn't been gleaned from the interviews on the terrorism front, but they say interviews with individuals whose relatives are still In Iraq have helped in the ground war there. Agents say the same was true during the last war with Iraq, but the Iraqi community says after 9/11, the situation is far more delicate and fear of retaliation is greater.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have asked the government to respect the privacy of the people that they're interviewing. We have asked the FBI that they do it discreetly.
ARENA: So far it's been hit or miss, depending on the agent knocking at the door and that may pose a problem for the FBI which is heavily dependent on help from the Arab-American community in the war on terror -- Aaron.
BROWN: What a delicate topic is this. These interviews are voluntary, correct?
ARENA: That's right, Aaron.
BROWN: So they come and they say we'd like to talk to you, and if you don't want to talk to them, you don't have to.
ARENA: We were told by many people in the community that it was not clear that the interviews were voluntary. They felt pressured to invite the agents into their home although everyone has said, everyone we've spoken to, we've spoken to many people who were interviewed and they said it was a very polite experience, a friendly experience, but nonetheless, some of them did feel somewhat coerced.
BROWN: Kelly, thank you. Kelli Arena, the Justice Department working on that.
As the war in Iraq unfolds, Arab media are rushing to cover developments as quickly as those of us in the west are as well.
For a sampling of the Arab voices, we join Octavia Nasr who has been monitoring that. What a fascinating glimpse into how this war is being reported around the world.
OCTAVIA NASR, CNN SENIOR ASSIGNMENT EDITOR: Right. And this time on Arab voices we are going to see how competition, new to the region, of course, is showing how the different networks cover breaking news. Sound familiar to the way things work in the U.S. on U.S. Television. In some ways, it is. In some ways, it is not.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NASR (voice-over): Let's take this video and this Al-Jazeera anchor calling the city to breaking news. Trouble is the video is from almost 12 hours ago. Yes, U.S. stations sometimes fall into the same trap, trying to make all videos seem more exciting. Here's another example from Abu Dhabi TV. The anchor might look different, but he talks in the same hurried, yet reassuring manner of a CNN anchor, but there is one difference. The anchor is repeating what a reporter has told him and what you cannot hear is there is no sourcing, no government official or anyone else with firsthand knowledge sighted. CNN's own reporting found no basis for the story. We steered clear of it despite it being repeated on Abu Dhabi TV throughout the day.
NASR: And no, we won't even tell you what the story was. And Aaron, one of the new things you see in a break with a past and how they cover news that is out of sync with the Iraq's government position. These stations are now using breaking news to cover Iraqi losses in the battlefield, something unheard of before as they often fell in line with how Iraqi TV was covering the war. More competition has encouraged more independence.
BROWN: There was a point made the other night by an Arab reporter based in London, that in fact the Arab world is getting a far greater variety of opinion and coverage than they did 12 years ago.
NASR: That's right. That's right. Remember the first Gulf War there was nothing, but Iraqi TV to watch for any news out of Iraq. Right now when you think about it, you have Al-Jazeera, you have Abu Dhabi, Al Arabia, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and a score of other smaller networks, all in a race for breaking news, for first footage, for U.S. guests and so forth. It's very healthy competition that we're watching unfold. Definitely.
BROWN: So the Internet is there and you have a whole mess there.
NASR: That's right.
BROWN: That's a fascinating look at that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Aaron. A glimmer of hope for U.S. Soldiers now in enemy hands. The International Red Cross says its teams in Iraq and Kuwait are negotiating for access to the five POWs captured in Nasiriyah and the two pilots seized after their Apache helicopter went down during a furious three-hour battle with Iraq's elite Republican Guard.
Forty-five Coalition troops have died so far in operation Iraqi freedom. CNN's count shows 25 Americans and 20 British troops have died. 21 of those deaths came in combat, all, but two of the others are a result of accidents. Two Americans died in a grenade attack allegedly by a fellow soldier. Iraqi officials say at least 93 civilians have died and hundreds have been injured since the war began. The Iraqis are not giving totals for military deaths. If you are just tuning in, a recap of the headlines is just ahead and when we return, we'll look at Coalition charges that the Iraqi regime was intentionally putting its civilians at risk because pictures like these -- like this one, in fact, make good propaganda.
BLITZER: As war rages, there's growing concern for Iraqi civilians getting caught in the crossfire. But are some being deliberately placed in harm's way? CNN's Alessio Vinci takes a look at guerilla-style tactics some U.S. Marines are up against.
ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. Marines in Iraq burying the body of a 6-year-old boy. His head facing Mecca, according to Muslim tradition. A casualty of a New kind of war, killed along with his father as their vehicle approached a Marine checkpoint at high speed. The man, Marines say, was an armed combatant.
Marines say they want to avoid killing civilians, but they pose a threat, commanders say, because Iraqi paramilitary groups recruit them to run scouting missions in U.S.-controlled territory, often accompanied by young children.
SGT. NASSER MANASTERLI, U.S. MARINE: Some of them have told us that they've been told, "You need to fight. If you don't fight, we'll do something to your family."
VINCI: The danger, U.S. military officials say, is that paramilitary groups are conducting guerilla-style warfare against U.S. positions.
LT. COL. RICKY GROBAWASKI, U.S. MARINE: I mean we expect that. We're ready for that. And they may want to train, and they're very well trained in guerilla warfare. But we're very well trained in anti-guerilla warfare as well, and we'll -- if they want to come at us with that, we'll be waiting for them.
VINCI: When possible, suspects are cuffed and taken in for questioning, or sometimes civilians are simply sent back from where they come from.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Write, "No Entry, Road Closed" on this one.
VINCI: And to minimize as much as possible contact between civilians and U.S. Marines, the military is putting up signs in Arabic, warning the local population to stay away and remain in their homes.
(on camera): Marines say they do not know how many civilians may have been killed so far, but they say they were surprised to see women and children in the streets of Nasiriya while the fighting was raging on. "Clearly," said one commander, "there is somebody among the Iraqis who is not concerned about the wellbeing of innocent civilians." Alessio, CNN, with the U.S. Marines in Nasiriya, Iraq.
BROWN: So what you seem to have shaping up is one part guerilla war in one part of the country and one part conventional war in the other part of the country further north. Ken Pollack joins us. He's an analyst of ours and has helped us through the diplomatic fight earlier on and now the military side. Ken, it's good to see you tonight.
There is a sort of element of guerilla warfare going on. Is that a surprise? Should that have been a surprise to the military side?
KEN POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: Well I don't think it really should have been a surprise. And I think that the military was anticipating it to some extent. I just don't think that they put enough grievance in the numbers that they would face or that the Saddam Fedayeen in particular or some of the paramilitary troops would be willing to fight quite this hard.
BROWN: The Fedayeen, you described them the other day as essentially thugs. They have a two-pronged purpose, it seems, doesn't it? They're causing the coalition forces trouble, but they also cause trouble to the civilian population, keeping them in line?
POLLACK: Exactly. And you put your finger on it perfectly, Aaron, which is they've got two roles. One, they're there to bloody our forces, to slow us down, to make it as hard as possible as kind of an adjunct of the conventional forces which Saddam has farther north. But they're also there to keep control over Iraq's population.
That's why they were created. That's one of their principal missions and it has been back to when they were formed in the end of 1994.
They do it very well. They are extremely brutal. They have absolutely no compunction about whoever it is. In fact, before Operation Iraqi Freedom, what they were famous for mostly in Iraq were things like, they'd walk up to a woman in the street, they'd accuse her of being a prostitute, and they'd cut her head off on the spot.
BROWN: Are they under a command or are they just operating in one city or another in a kind of freelance or ad hoc sort of way?
POLLACK: Well, obviously, we don't have I think perfect information on this, Aaron. But my best guess, you know, based on my experience with the Iraqi armed forces, is that while these Fedayeen Saddam do have a centralized control back in Baghdad, all of these groups out there in the periphery are probably acting by and large on their own. Chances are they were given orders.
They were placed in these cities before American forces ever got there. And they were probably told, your job is to hold the city, keep the population down and cause as much trouble for the Americans as you possibly can. And that's effectively what they're doing. And if that's your orders, and if all you want to do is kill a whole bunch of people, you can do it. And it's worth noting they are giving us a lot of problems, but they're really not killing large numbers of American soldiers.
BROWN: In fact, we don't know that they're killing more -- they may be killing more Iraq civilians at this point than they are American soldiers.
BROWN: Now move north. Do groups like this have any role to play in what will ultimately be the major battles of this war?
POLLACK: I think we absolutely have to expect, Aaron, in two senses (ph). First, there will be a battle around Baghdad at some point in time. When the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division and the U.S. Marines are on line and ready to assault Baghdad, they will encounter the Republican Guard. And I think it's pretty clear that there are going to be Fedayeen Saddam accompanying the Guard, both to make sure that the guard stands and fights, and secondly just to provide additional harassment. Acting as traditional military skirmishers, to add that much more confusion to the battle.
But even after that fight is over, it's also pretty clear -- and this was always to be expected -- that we're going to find a whole bunch of Fedayeen Saddam, along with other members of Saddam's security services. His secret service, his general security director, the special security organization, all of these different groups are different aspects of Saddam's security apparatus.
They are all located in Baghdad in numbers. And like the Fedayeen Saddam, they are intimately tied to Saddam Hussein and they know that if he goes down, they go down with them. They, too, are likely to fight pretty hard.
BROWN: Ken, thank you. Ken Pollack, helping us understand this aspect of the war. And, ultimately, these people will have to be dealt with after the war as well. Our coverage "Live from the Front Lines" continues after this break.
BLITZER: Coalition aviators have been experiencing some of the worst flying conditions a pilot will ever see. Landing on an aircraft carrier is difficult enough without having to worry about a sandstorm. CNN's Frank Buckley remains embedded aboard the USS Constellation. He's joining us now live. Frank, what's happening tonight?
FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, better conditions tonight than what the pilots were facing last night. Six diverts of aircraft. We showed you earlier an EA-6B Prowler that was damaged by hail. The radome, the front actually imploded. Fortunately, that aircraft and the crew were able to get back to the Constellation safely.
Tonight, we have two F-18 drivers who just got back from a mission over Iraq. Commander Mark Hubbard (ph) and Lieutenant Mike Hall (ph) from the Vigilante Squadron. First, gentlemen, tell us what was your mission tonight?
CMDR. MARK HUBBARD: Tonight it was an attack mission in Baghdad. We attacked one of Saddam's MiG basis.
BUCKLEY: And give me a sense of -- Lieutenant, what was it that you found in the air? What was the air defense situation when you were over Baghdad?
LT. MIKE HALL: I noticed about half a dozen surface-to-air missiles being fired up at us. That's not the first time I had actually seen that it in person, coming (ph) up tonight.
BUCKLEY: Tell me what it was like as a first-timer seeing the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) fire incident presumably directed at you. What was that like?
HALL: Well they appeared to be far enough away, they weren't a threat to us. So it seemed more like a curiosity than anything else. Although it was -- it's something you definitely don't want to disregard when you see something like that out there.
BUCKLEY: We've been told that one of the primary missions right now for strike aircraft is actually close-in air support. That wasn't your mission tonight, Commander. But give me a sense of what you're hearing on the radio and what are the areas that are needing a lot of support?
HUBBARD: Well, there are a number of air assets that were checking in at the time and then were handed out to different controllers. You know they sought their support, our special operation centers and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That's all going on behind the scenes and generally well below us.
We were in deep strike interdiction. Part of the goal here is to achieve air superiority and be able to maintain and sustain that throughout. We don't want any of our soldiers to fall prey to any attacks from Saddam's airplanes. So part of that for us was to go downtown in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) runways and render his (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and runways useless so he can't get his MiGs airborne.
BUCKLEY: There are several hundred aircraft in the Iraqi Air Force, and yet, as far as we know, not a single air engagement. It doesn't appear as if the Iraqi Air Force is going airborne to come after the strike fighters.
We've heard that the U.S. forces believe that's because they're afraid. Are you concerned at all, however, that they might be holding something back? That there might be a strategy behind it?
HUBBARD: Well, you never want to let your guard down. You know you train for a 10-foot tall giant, and then when something less shows up you feel pretty powerful. So we don't want to sell him short.
You know he's got some very capable aircraft. I'm sure he has some very capable pilots, though we have yet to see them demonstrate any of that capability. But you can never let your guard down. I mean the MiG-25, the MiG-29, it's a pretty bad airplane. So it get's my attention.
I'm glad he's not flying it. It's a good choice.
BUCKLEY: And, Lieutenant, you said this is the first time that you've had (UNINTELLIGIBLE) fire directed in your direction. What about -- was this the first time you released ordnance on a target, and what was that like?
HALL: It's actually the second time I have. And it was a pretty satisfying feeling to see the target actually get hit the way it's supposed to and mission accomplished.
BUCKLEY: Can you tell me -- there's talk about the dust and the weather affecting your mission. Tell me how that affected your mission, if at all?
HUBBARD: Well (UNINTELLIGIBLE) clear night. And we got some great (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and we saw the bombs go off. We easily acquired the surface-to-air missiles that were shot at us. Even though they were at range, we were within their tactical capability.
Unfortunately, you know they weren't guiding -- did not guide on us. And, again, it's a tactic again. We need to be consciousness not to let our guard down. It was clear tonight, a little bit of wind at altitude about a 100 knots, 270. So that slows you down a little bit. But put the wind to your back and get a good ground speed.
BUCKLEY: All right. Commander Mark Hubbard (ph) and Lieutenant Mike Hall (ph) of the Vigilantes, thank you very much. F-18 pilots just back from a strike right into the center of Iraq -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Frank.
And our viewers are going to be looking at these live pictures from Baghdad right now. Right now, Reuters is quoting an eyewitness correspondent that they have in the Iraqi capital as saying that 10 -- repeat, 10 -- explosions have just hit Baghdad. They are also hearing anti-aircraft fire.
Those aviators Frank Buckley was speaking to said they were in the Baghdad area hitting a MiG base, a MiG aircraft base in the Baghdad vicinity. Unclear whether the smoke that we're seeing now is from those raids. I doubt it, since it probably was a good 45-minute or hour flight back to the aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.
But 10 explosions Reuters now reporting from Baghdad have hit the Iraqi capital. You're looking at the enormous amounts of smoke that apparently come from those explosions. The Iraqis, as they always do in those circumstances, firing anti-aircraft weapons into the sky, hoping to shoot down a U.S. plane. Certainly not another quiet night in the Iraqi capital. I don't think there's been one quiet night, Aaron, that the residents of Baghdad have had since this war began one week ago.
BROWN: Not really. And the shot we're looking at now, I believe behind that building is the Information Ministry. Whether in fact that was a target or not, it would hardly be surprising given that the coalition went after Iraqi state TV last night.
It is, just as an aside, remarkable that while you look at pictures of the smoke rising from Baghdad, while you look at these pictures, you are also hearing live from two pilots who were a short time ago, an hour or two hours ago involved in strikes in the general area. Whether they actually hit that spot or another spot, we can't see. It doesn't change the remarkable reality of how this war is being reported.
BLITZER: And it's interesting that they went after a MiG base, a MiG aircraft fighter base. The Iraqis, so far, according to Pentagon and Central Command officials, have not flown one plane. Have not tried to take off even once to challenge engaging U.S. warplanes as they go ahead and have, not only dominance, but complete control of the skies over Baghdad.
Still taking no precautions, Aaron. The U.S. Air Force and the Navy pilots are going ahead and destroying apparently some of those Iraqi air bases, including the MiG base outside of Baghdad that those two aviators were just telling Frank Buckley about.
But, once again, smoke rising from various locations in and around the Iraqi capital, suggesting more U.S. bombs. Ten explosions, if you believe what a Reuters correspondent and eyewitness in Baghdad is now saying. Ten explosions heard only within the past few minutes in Baghdad. Certainly something that's almost definitely, Aaron, going to continue in the hours and days ahead as this war progresses.
BROWN: Well, it's a couple of hours before daylight. We'll know more about what is burning around them. We'll take a short break. Our coverage continues in a moment.
BROWN: So where is the country today? In Washington, dozens of people were arrested in Lafayette Park across from the White House for protesting without a permit. Among more than 60 anti-war activists, two Noble Laureates and prominent Vietnam era figure, Daniel Elsberg (ph), who has also been outspoken against this war.
Quite a different picture in the Arizona town of Tuba City, where there was an outpouring of support for Private First Class Laurie Piesawa (ph). She is one of three women of the 507th Maintenance Company that's based in Fort Bliss, Texas. And she is among the group of American soldiers who are still tonight listed as missing in action in Iraq.
It was a week ago today that the coalition bombers took aim on Baghdad for the first time, hoping to take out Saddam Hussein and his chief lieutenants. The results of that attack are still open to question and considerable debate, but one thing we do know for certain, it started a war that has been talked about only in the abstract for many, many months.
It is not abstract anymore. Candy Crowley takes a look at how Americans are dealing with the reality of a country at war. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It has been a full week, 24/7 television, blanket coverage in the papers. The fortunes of war have played out good, bad, ugly, fearful, courageous, inexplicable. And inside Carmine's (ph) Restaurant in Tampa, the bartender has heard changes on the home front as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a lot of people now realize this is the real thing. You know people have lost their lives and now we have some POWs as well. Yes, not as enthused, I guess, as we were a week ago.
CROWLEY: Fifteen hundred miles west, you can hear Florida's echo at a flower shop in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it would be a little more quicker, a little more swift. I thought it would end by now, just like bam, just go in and come out and that's it.
CROWLEY: Reality has come to call. Just last weekend, 53 percent of Americans said the war was going very well; 37 percent said moderately well. Monday and Tuesday, the "very well" category dropped 19 points. Most Americans now assess the war as going moderately well.
No analysis needed. The reason is evident at the newsstand. No farther away than the remote control.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This week I guess a got a little worried because of what's happening as they are closer to Baghdad. I think that's the thing that shocked me was when they captured and they got some of our soldiers over. And that's the thing that really got to me. I really started worrying then.
CROWLEY: At Veterans' (ph) Barbershop near the base at Fort Stewart, Georgia, they think the changing mood is not so much impatient as naivete.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of them thought it would just be a picnic. But a war is never a picnic. Any time you have a war you have casualties. You can count on that.
CROWLEY: Still, despite the painful images of the real cost of war, a large majority of Americans, 68 percent, believe the situation in Iraq is worth going to war for. A 15 percent jump from pre-war days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Otherwise it just opens the door to more terrorists. And, you know, we have to protect our own country. It's not about oil. It's not about anything other than protecting Americans.
CROWLEY: Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And let's get back to these live pictures from Baghdad, where only in the past few minutes, according to eyewitness accounts, 10 -- repeat, 10 -- explosions have been heard. Reuters is now reporting some of those explosions in the city's center, others outside the city of Baghdad.
The Iraqis have responded with anti-aircraft fire which can be heard throughout the city once again. This is still the middle of the night here in this part of the world. Baghdad, a city of five million people, once again being hit by U.S. bombs in the middle of the night. It's become a nightly occurrence since the war started almost exactly one week ago. But since then there have also been daytime bombing raids in and around Baghdad as well.
We're going to continue to monitor what's happening on the streets and over the skies of Baghdad. But we're going to take a quick break. Much more coverage of the war in Iraq when we come back.
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Baghdad's Outskirts Reported Tonight>