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CENTCOM Reports Casualties in Car Bomb Blast

Aired March 29, 2003 - 06:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's about half past the hour. Let's go ahead and check the latest war developments at the half hour, beginning with the car bomb that has exploded at a U.S. military checkpoint in Najaf. U.S. Central Command says there are casualties. The Associated Press and Reuters are reporting at least five U.S. service members died in that blast.
A British military official is denying reports of a four to six day pause in the push toward Baghdad. The official says that coalition air and land forces are continuing to press toward the capitol city. The Pentagon says that war planes are targeting Iraq's Republican Guard south of Baghdad.

Iraq's information minister is calling President Bush a war criminal. Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf made the comment at a news conference about an hour ago. You saw that live here on CNN. He said that Iraq would support any move by legal experts from Arab and European countries to sue Mr. Bush.

And the latest attempt to secure the southern city of Nasiriya. U.S. Marines today launched the daybreak attack against Iraqi resistance. Reports from the scene indicate a number of Iraqi tanks have been destroyed. Four bodies believed to be U.S. servicemen have been found by Marines engaged in the latest battle for Nasiriya.

To Baghdad now, where there were over overnight explosions. The Iraqi information ministry building was shaken by a huge blast, as the city came under coalition air attacks for the eighth straight night.

A missile that was fired to Iraq evaded radar and swept close to a Kuwait City shopping mall. It is the first time the Kuwaiti capitol has been hit since the war began. I'm going to have further details about that Kuwait missile strike coming up in just a few minutes.

A report from North Korea says the Communist nation will not allow U.N. nuclear inspections. Pyongyang reportedly fears what it calls the same miserable fate as Iraq. And that is according to an editorial in the state-run newspaper in North Korea.

It is a busy morning on the war front. Coming up this hour, reaction to the Baghdad blast. Civilians are killed when a missile hits a marketplace. Also, we're going to take you live to the frontlines for updates on the moves made in the ground war. We're also going to replay an emotional reunion from the war zone. A U.S. Marine talks to his very pregnant wife back in the States.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And it is half past 2:00 in the afternoon in the Iraqi capitol. And you are looking at a live picture where smoke fills the sky on the horizon. 6:32 a.m. here in Atlanta. Good morning from CNN Headquarters. I'm Anderson Cooper.

KAGAN: And I'll say good afternoon live from Kuwait City. I'm Daryn Kagan.

COOPER: Let's get things started right now by giving you a visual sense of where some of the hotspots are inside Iraq at this moment. In central Iraq, Najaf is where that car bomb attack took place that we told you about. We're going to keep you updated on that.

We'll also take you to Nasiriya for an update on the new fighting there. It is pretty intense, we are told. And in northern Iraq, we'll check in with our Jane Arraf, who's with U.S. troops setting up shop at Harir Airfield.

Turning now for an early briefing on stories that will be news later today, U.S. Central Command will give its daily news briefing in about 30 minutes from now at 7:00 a.m. Eastern. As always, we bring it to you live. Americans are again planning to take to the streets to voice their opinions about the war. There will be anti-war protests, as well as rallies for the troops in cities across the country.

And it is family day at Fort Campbell, Kentucky with the 101st Airborne Division deep inside Iraq. Members of the family back at the base are hoping to ease tensions with some well deserved family fun.

We're going to get our look right now on the latest developments. Kathleen Koch is at the Pentagon. Kathleen, what do you have?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the Pentagon is confirming the numbers of the first Marine Expeditionary force today found four bodies in the area of Al-Nasiriya that they believe are U.S. service members. Of course, you'll remember that it was last Sunday that a convoy, that maintenance convoy of the 507th Maintenance Company took a wrong turn, the six vehicle convoy, and was ambushed by Iraqi forces. Not long after that, we saw those five U.S. soldiers on Al-Jazeera TV. Also, some eight members of 507th were also unaccounted for.

Now the Pentagon will not say whether or not these remains are connected to that incident. They will only say that they're going to be taken very soon to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for identification -- Anderson?

COOPER: The other story we have been following this morning, this -- the story -- this car bombing, alleged car bombing, according to the Associated Press. What do you have? What is the Pentagon confirming at this point?

KOCH: The Pentagon confirming that it did take place. Obviously, as you said, we're waiting for that briefing in about 30 minutes. We'll get more details from CENTCOM on that. The Pentagon saying that the attack took place early this morning. And again, something that they were aware was a possible threat in the region. Iraq's foreign minister claiming earlier this month that they had trained tens of thousands of suicide attackers to take on U.S. forces in the region. Obviously, Anderson, truck bombs planting quite a toll with U.S. forces over the years. You'll remember the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. That was back in '96 that claimed the lives of 19 U.S. servicemen. And then the very tragic bombing in Beirut of the Beirut Marine barracks claimed 241 lives. That was back in '83.

COOPER: Just one more thing for troops on the ground to worry about, Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon. Thanks. We're going to go now to Kuwait City and Daryn Kagan.

KAGAN: All right, Anderson, we have a chance now to check in with Christiane Amanpour. She's calling in on the phone. Very close to Basra, the second largest city in Iraq. And Christiane, what do you have?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, coincidentally, we also have something to report about suicide bombings. When we were in Umm Qasr, the port city which has been secured, we were this morning on a patrol with U.S. Army civil affairs people who are interacting, and trying to gain, you know, information about what the people are thinking.

Well at one point, the humvees that they were in stopped and two men jumped into it. We later found out that these two were Iraqi soldiers. They said they were part of the Saddam Fedayeen integrated into the Iraqi army. They had been sent from Baghdad. And their mission was suicide attacks, to strap explosives themselves they told the American colonels, and then to hurl themselves at U.S. or British forces.

They said that they did not do that because they did not want to die for Saddam. They've been hiding, they said for several days. And then when they saw the opportunity to jump into an American car, they did so. And we saw them being handed over to the British, who are in command of the Umm Qasr area.

So that on a day when there are reports of a suicide attack up further north is rather corroborating evidence that this is something that probably had been planned. Now also, near Basra, this is another area of focus. There are Red Cross is up there today handing out packets of aid. And what the aim now is to try to stabilize the population, both in Basra and in Umm Qasr, and try to provide aid and turn the population towards the U.K. and U.S. forces.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Basra remains a flash point. About 2,000 Iraqi civilians tried to leave the city when, say British military spokesmen, Saddam Hussein's loyal militias fired on them and sent many fleeing back inside. The British then fired on the militias. British forces still trying to disengage the civilians from the regime's political control say this incident suggests the militias are keeping the population from leaving on pain of death.

One weapon for winning over the civilians, humanitarian aid. And on Friday, the first big supply ship docked in southern Iraq.

(on camera): The British ship, Sir Galahad, has come with 200 tons of aid. It's aim, not just at relieving humanitarian needs, but also sending a powerful psychological and political measure that the British are here, along with the Americans, to liberate the people of Iraq.

(voice-over): Water, food packets, and staples, as well as medical supplies and blankets will be unloaded and slowly distributed to the population. Commanders here acknowledge they have a way to go before convincing the Iraqi people to trust them and the outcome of this war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the civilian population have got very mixed feelings. They're still very nervous. They're (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of uniforms. They're not convinced actually that Saddam Hussein's going to be beaten. So they're sort of hedging their bets at the moment. You'll still see (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the town. But bit by bit, they're starting to realize we're here to help. And small steps everyday, but nervous.

AMANPOUR: So to instill confidence, the British want to look like benefactors, not just bombers. It took about a week to secure the port of Umm Qasr and fight off the Iraqi military resistance. Commanders say the Iraqi regime had sent units from Baghdad to try to defend the port. Since seizing this part of the south, the British say they have rounded up about 3,000 Iraqi prisoners of war.


AMANPOUR: Now again, we had some very interesting opportunity to take sort of the pulse of what people are thinking in Umm Qasr, which essentially is the main town that they now consider on site, secure, and sort of coming over to the so-called allied position. We talked to a lot of people, some of whom said they were very happy to see the U.S. and the U.K. forces in Umm Qasr. Others saying that they were still afraid. They weren't breaking out into celebrations because they still believe that Saddam Hussein, as long as he's there, is not -- the end of him is not yet there. So they're worried. And they don't want to show their cards until they -- one said to us, until we see his body in the street.

In any event, a lot of other people were very hostile, saying that you Americans, you British promised us that things would get better. We still have no water, no food. And there's a lot of different feelings out there, but in general, in general I would say, the overwhelming reception was one of increasing friendliness and acceptance. And they're just waiting to see whether the Americans this time "finish the job and get rid of Saddam Hussein." Daryn?

KAGAN: And we'll be watching that through your eyes. Christiane Amanpour, thank you so much.

Want to talk about what's been happening here in Kuwait. This country has become a casualty of the war in Iraq. People in the capitol city cleaning today after a missile fired from Iraq at Souq Sharq shopping mall in Kuwait City overnight. That mall was closed. It was like 1:45 in the morning when the missile hit. One person did suffer minor injuries. Our Sanjay Gupta reports the missile appears to have swept water, skimmed across the pier, and then hit the mall. Pieces of a circuit board recovered. It shows Chinese figures on that piece. A spokesman for the Kuwaiti information ministry says it is believed the missile is a Chinese made Seersucker.

Also, want to go ahead and take a look at what has been happening in Baghdad overnight. It's been a very busy night here in the Persian Gulf. Two significant targets taking place. One, the information ministry in Baghdad, that was hit. And yet later, we heard from the Iraqi Baghdad information -- the Iraqi information minister showing that they are still up and running there.

Also, a market in a popular section of Baghdad was hit. And the information minister saying a number of Iraqi civilians lost their lives in that attack. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right, Daryn, thanks for -- thanks very much.

So much happens here in the early morning hours. We want to step back from time to time, try to get an overview of what is going on militarily inside Iraq. For that, we turn to CNN military analyst, retired General Don Shepperd and our own Renay San Miguel. Gentlemen?

RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Anderson. Indeed, a lot going on here. We will be talking about that Kuwaiti City missile attack in just a second. But first, I'm going to ask the general about this apparent suicide bombing near Najaf. We're waiting for Central Command to brief us more about this, but the Pentagon confirming this attack did take place apparently at an Army checkpoint.

Let's talk about the security issues involved here.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Renay, what they're doing in the rear, of course, is establishing checkpoints all along these roads, along the Euphrates, to ensure the -- that supplies can reach the frontlines. This, evidently was a truck bomber, the same thing that we've seen going on in Israel and the Israel-Palestine dispute. Very difficult to defend against. The only way to defend against it is make people get outside of their cards way away from you, open all the doors so you can see, and approach it very carefully from a distance.

If you let someone drive a truck up around the checkpoint where there's several guards, and set it off, there's almost no defense against that.

SAN MIGUEL: I mean, we're talking more and more about terrorist type tactics as accused by Central Command being used allegedly on the part of the Iraqi military here. A turning point do you see going on here?

SHEPPERD: I don't think it's a turning point. I think it's something we're going to face for the foreseeable future there in all of these lands that are occupied and then liberated, it's going to be a long time before we really establish security across this country. It's gaining the trust of the people, as well as military action.

SAN MIGUEL: Okay, there is what we're talking about there with Najaf. Some other activities going on. Nasiriya, the U.S. Marines very active there, launching a daybreak attack against Iraqi resistance, using Cobra gunships and tanks as well, apparently knocking out an awful of tanks there.

SHEPPERD: Yes, indeed. Still tough fighting going on around Nasiriya. Fairly large city around 560,000. Next to Basra, which is 1.2 million. And all of these areas down here are really tough. They lie along the Euphrates River. They have bridge crossings. They have large populations. And again, the Fedayeen Saddam is evidently embedded in the population there with guns to their heads saying you either fight or you get killed from behind.

SAN MIGUEL: And then in Basra as well, we had two F-15E Air Force jets bombing a building in Basra, believed to contain some of 200 Iraqi militia, some Fedayeen Saddam?

SHEPPERD: Right. They'll have to sort that out from the ground, but that F-15 is a very accurate bombing platform. Reportedly, they use delayed fuse bombs to get inside the building and blow it up. And they're going to go in now and see if indeed that was what they believe it was.

SAN MIGUEL: Let's go ahead and talk about the Kuwaiti City attack with this missile. A change apparently in tactics here as well. We have a full screen graphic showing exactly what kind of missile we're talking about. Could be a Chinese made Silkworm or Seersucker.


SAN MIGUEL: But much different than the al Samouds and the Husseins and the el Babiles (ph) that been firing that direction.

SHEPPERD: Yes, Seersucker or Silkworm missile is a shore to ship missile. It's an anti shipping missile with an autopilot and active radar. Now they -- the Iraqis have tested these and modified them. So it could be all sorts of modifications. But they basically were manufactured by Chinese and then sold all over the world, used by the Israelis, used by Iran. And of course, they've now showed up in Iraq.

It's a low flyer, hard to detect on the radar, small missile. It has about 1,000 pound warhead. Luckily, this did not actually impact the mall, but hit and then skipped into the mall evidently and did a lot of damage in the mall, but no shrapnel and no direct impact.

SAN MIGUEL: Okay, General Shepperd, thank you for your insight. We appreciate it.

Anderson, back on over to you.

COOPER: All right, thanks, gentlemen. When we come back from this short break, we're going to bring you a very human story of war. You will not miss it. Stay tuned.


COOPER: Welcome back. We are anticipating a CENTCOM briefing in about 13 minutes. Over the last week or so, we have all, I think, been mesmerized by this technology that has allowed to bring you, the viewer, literally to the battlefield. This technology allows for some extraordinary reporting. It also, from time to time, allows for some extraordinary moments. We had one earlier this morning. CNN helped bridged the gap at least temporarily between one sergeant, a Sergeant Craig Martin of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and his pregnant wife, Kaycee Martin in California. They talked by videophone.


COOPER: You're eight months pregnant, I believe. How has this been for you?

KAYCEE MARTIN, SOLDIER'S WIFE: It's been difficult. It's hard without him. I'm doing OK, but it would be much better if he was home with me.

COOPER: If I could just ask, I mean, and you know, I don't want to pry. So anytime I ask something you don't want to say, just tell me to shut up, but what is like for you watching all this coverage, I mean, watching you know the access -- the pictures that you're seeing really historically and what we are able to see, is it more -- does it make it more difficult? Does it make it easier?

K. MARTIN: It's very difficult. It's hard. The whole time, though, you're just sitting there. I'm trying to catch a glimpse, just to see if maybe one of the people on TV is him. But you know, he tells me, "Don't watch, don't watch. You know, it's going to be difficult." But like I said, it's just too hard. I want to be able to see, just to make sure that he's okay, just catch a glimpse of him.

COOPER: How does he look to you right now?

K. MARTIN: He looks all right, but dirty.

SGT. CRAIG MARTIN, MARINE: I lost my tooth.

K. MARTIN: Oh, beautiful. Thanks for showing me.

COOPER: How'd you lose your tooth?

C. MARTIN: Sorry.

COOPER: Can I ask, how did you lose your tooth?

C. MARTIN: When we came across the bridge, the Army launched some 155 artillery rounds. It came pretty close. And the concussion knocked by tooth out. Yes. It was fun, though. We're all right.

K. MARTIN: Doesn't sound like you're being too careful.

COOPER: Sergeant Martin, I don't know if you can see your wife sort of shaking her head.

C. MARTIN: As careful as I can be. So it's all good.

COOPER: Sergeant Martin, is there anything else you...

C. MARTIN: I love you.

COOPER: Is there anything else you would like to say either to your wife or to all the people who are watching this? I know this is awkward, you know, doing this on TV. And I hate to put you in this position, but feel free.

C. MARTIN: Yes, I've got a couple things real quick. To my old man, this is not a distraction. To my wife, we'll be home soon. And I love you. That's all I got to say.

COOPER: Well, that says a lot. Kaycee, anything else you want to say?

K. MARTIN: I love you very much. I miss you very much. Everyone is praying for you. And I just want to come home safe and soon so you could see our new baby.

C. MARTIN: One more thing, you look really beautiful right now.

K. MARTIN: Thanks. I'd like to say the same to you.

C. MARTIN: That's the stylist. Don't worry, we'll take it home.

K. MARTIN: Well, just come home soon.

C. MARTIN: Without a doubt.

K. MARTIN: Well just come home soon.

C. MARTIN: I'll try, baby.


COOPER: In addition to the baby on the way, the Martins also have a three-year old daughter. We'll be right back.


KAGAN: Welcome back live to Kuwait. Several American political leaders are combat veterans. They know what it's like to kill another human being. Shortly before the current war started, our Candy Crowley sat down and talked with them about their experiences.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are, we are told, well trained.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, ARMY VIETNAM VETERAN: This is a messy business. There's nothing very pretty about the training that you take to prepare you for combat, because it is to kill people.

CROWLEY: In the spring of 1970, a squad of U.S. soldiers spotted a small unit of Vietcong that has been circling for days. Staff Sergeant Tom Ridge opened fire. A Vietcong soldier dropped dead.

Did you at the time or have you since looked back and pondered on killing someone?


CROWLEY: And what's that like?

RIDGE: It's one of those introspective times where it's just -- I'm just -- it's just an introspective time, not a public time.

CROWLEY: Duke Cunningham was a Vietnam fighter ace, shooting down five enemy planes. After his first, he returned to a ship deck full of sailors and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

REP. DUKE CUNNINGHAM, NAVY VIETNAM VETERAN: And one of the guys looked at me and says, "Duke, what's it like to kill somebody?" And all of a sudden, bang, it just hit me -- you don't think about those things. And it's removed. Just far off. It's not in close. And I went to the priest because it bothered me. I knew I could do it again, but it -- I didn't know it was going to bother me as much as it did. And it still does.

CROWLEY: Of all the wounds time does not heal, the ones that fester deep in the soul are the wounds you inflict.

RIDGE: It's not something that civilized people do. You don't -- I mean, it's just not a matter of being tormented, but troubled in the sense that that's not what we do unless we're called upon to do it under the most extreme set of circumstances.

CROWLEY: War may sometimes be a necessary thing, but it can never be a natural thing. Training bridges that gap. Sergeant Chuck Hagel was seriously wounded twice in Vietnam.

HAGEL: You were trying to kill people, because the alternative is if you were in combat, you will be killed. So your choices are not varied. It's very simple. And so you do what you're trained to do. You do what you're there to do. In Vietnam, it was body count.

CROWLEY: Training is what keeps you running toward the front, while trucks loaded with dead bodies pass you, going the other way.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK, ARMY KOREA VETERAN: It's hard to explain what training can do. Training such a mind to respond, not to commonsense and judgment, but to training. You really don't have time to think I'm going the wrong way. I should be going the other way.

CROWLEY: Later, when he was wounded and trapped behind enemy lines in Korea, Staff Sergeant Charlie Rangel led 40 men fighting their way to safety. He won a Bronze star. RANGEL: If your killing people is out of fear, not really in my opinion out of bravery, nobody's looking for medals. Everyone wants to live another day.

CROWLEY: Do not misunderstand, Rangel, Cunningham, Ridge, and Hagel are all proud, decorated combat veterans. It's just a decade later, killing still troubles the soul. Maybe that's a good thing.

Did you do it again?

CUNNINGHAM: I did. I shot down four more MiGs. And I often told myself, I said that if I ever get used to this, I shouldn't be here.

CROWLEY: Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


KAGAN: And that's going to do it for me for here in Kuwait City. Bill Hemmer steps into this chair next. Anderson, here's looking forward to not only the CENTCOM briefing to learn more from CENTCOM, especially about the suicide bomber, but also to a much quieter night here in Kuwait City. Hopefully, no more missiles and no more sirens.

COOPER: Yes, let's...

KAGAN: So we'll see you all at midnight tonight.

COOPER: Let's hope so, Daryn. Look forward to seeing you again.


COOPER: Midnight tonight. Also, just keeping an eye on that air strike that occurred in Basra, coalition planes look forward to hearing more about that from the CENTCOM briefing that is coming up. Also, the ongoing fighting in Nasiriya, we'll be getting updates on that in the coming hours and days.


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