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Details of 101st Airborne's Aviation Brigade Attack

Aired March 29, 2003 - 06:14   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, we have another one of our embedded journalists ready to go. The U.S. Army's 101st Airborne has been ferrying troops closer to the front battling Iraqi forces.
Our Ryan Chilcote is embedded with the 101st and joins us now.

Ryan, hello.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, first, on the reports of U.S. casualties in the city of An Najaf, the 101st Airborne does not have any troops in that city. But it was informed -- commanders from the 101st were informed that there was a car bombing. That's how it was described in what's called a Situational Awareness Report. Those are the reports that go out to other commanders so that they know what's going on on the ground. A car bombing in An Najaf with U.S. casualties. The initial figure is that five U.S. servicemen may be dead in An Najaf.

Now I want to report that -- I want to caution you that the 101st doesn't have any soldiers in An Najaf, and that this is secondhand information. It is the information that one unit puts out to other units in the area so that they understand the situation on the ground. It is by no means an official hard confirmation like we would expect from Central Command. And I understand we're still awaiting that. But it is an indication, obviously, that there obviously was something in An Najaf.

Now back to the 101st. Last night, the 101st Airborne's Aviation Brigade, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Aviation Brigade went out on their first deep attack inside Iraq. This is actually a very big deal. They went southwest of Baghdad. I can't tell you exactly where, but within the vicinity of 100 miles, somewhere in that area, and they attacked the Medina division. That's an elite Republican Guard unit.

Now I actually have a pilot with me who was on that mission. He can describe it a lot better.

First, Mr. Montjoy, can you describe what it was like?

CWO CHRIS MONTJOY, 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION: We first got up there, we were holding at an ABF or a holding area to get into our ABFs. The first company, Alpha Company, was on station. They did a battle hand over with us, giving us the situation on the battlefield. From there we went in and relieved them on station. They gave us some really good grids. We slaved over there. First we found it was a truck with numerous personnel around it. We shot some rockets at that. We hit it the second time around. From there we had personnel scattering. A couple personnel started coming towards the aircraft. We tried to shoot the...

CHILCOTE: And actually, if I could stop you there. We have an Apache attack helicopter behind us. If we can try and show it just a little bit. When you say you fired rockets, that would be...

MONTJOY: The rockets on the outboard pylons here...


MONTJOY: ... on the left...

CHILCOTE: If you could...

MONTJOY: ... and the right, the far left and the far right.

CHILCOTE: And then he started -- some soldiers started -- Iraqi soldiers started running...

MONTJOY: They were running at us. From there we shot a -- tried to shoot the 30 millimeters, which is the gun right here.

CHILCOTE: Show the -- if we could show the 30-millimeter. This is a little bit difficult but...

MONTJOY: It's the gun on the bottom of the aircraft right there. The gun jammed. We couldn't fire the gun, so we shot a PD at the personnel. It knocked him down.

CHILCOTE: PDs are rockets.

MONTJOY: PDs are rockets. From there the flames from the Air Force came in. They had knocked out a couple of tanks prior to us getting in there. The flames started dying down. We found numerous tanks on the road or highway -- the highway. They shot the ones on the southern side. And when the flames burnt down, we saw the tanks on the other sides, on the northern side of the road in the embankments.

CAAT (ph), which is the Air Force, was 10 or 10 to 11 minutes out. So what we did is we shot the lead vehicle with the Hellfire, which is the ones on the inner wings here, the left and the right. We knocked out the first tank and then the Air Force came down and knocked out the rest of the tanks. And then the British Harriers came out and wiped the rest of them in the middle out.

CHILCOTE: Explain that. That sounds like a real synergetic relationship between the Air Force and the attack helicopters. How does that work?

MONTJOY: Basically we've got four different radios in there. We've got the VHF, the UHF, the FM and the FM2. We just communicate with them on their frequency. We push up to them and talk to the fighter personally.

CHILCOTE: And why would you pass a target -- why would you ask them to fire on something as opposed to firing on it yourself? Or how does that relationship work, without...

MONTJOY: Well their...

CHILCOTE: ... giving away any operational you know...

MONTJOY: Well their ammunition is a lot bigger. It's more out to destroy more with one than -- you know my Hellfire shoots one and I can kill one thing. As the Air Force, when they down a bomb in that area, it can go linear or circular so they knock out more than one tank with the bomb.

CHILCOTE: Well thanks a lot.

MONTJOY: No problem (ph).

CHILCOTE: So lastly, there were two crash landings, part of that mission, both at the beginning and the end. Two Apache attack helicopters rolling as they attempted to land in brownout conditions. That's when the entire helicopter is covered in sand and the pilot can't exactly see where he's landing. So those helicopters were rolled. It's a very, very dangerous situation, but I'm happy to report there were very minimal injuries. Just one soldier broke one leg. That's really quite miraculous when you consider the power of these helicopters colliding with the ground.

Back to you.

KAGAN: Incredible details of that operation. Ryan Chilcote, with the 101st Airborne, thank you very much.

It also sounds, from Ryan's report, like news of that suicide bombing at Najaf that took the life of, it appears, of five American soldiers is making its way to other units around Iraq. We're going to hear about more from that -- about that. In about 40 minutes, a CENTCOM briefing will take place. You'll see that live from Doha, Qatar here on CNN. But even before that, we're going to get one of the top officers at CENTCOM to join us and give us the information that they know.


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