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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

From Front Lines South of Baghdad

Aired March 30, 2003 - 03:25   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I donít know if you've watched this shift before, but it is the time where really there is some of the most activity that we get in broadcasting of what is going on in Iraq. And it's a time when many of our embedded correspondents are able to call in often for the first time in several hours. There is often a lot of activity.
We have on the line right now Karl Penhaul. He's with the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment south of Baghdad, we can say, and he joins us by phone.

Karl -- what's the latest where you are?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, again, Anderson, the commanders of the troops here at the U.S. airfield where I am at near the town of An-Najaf are still looking at the implications and the lessons of yesterday's suicide car-bombing attack on U.S. soldiers near this town.

Many of the soldiers, many of their commanders, seem to have been very surprised by the way that the Iraqi forces are breaking down into these small guerrilla units.

They were also obviously very shocked and surprised by this kind of suicide bombing that we saw yesterday, the first of its kind. It doesn't bode well in terms of how to combat this kind of thing, because the soldiers on the one hand are trying to present a friendly face to the Iraqi civilians, trying to convince them that U.S. forces are liberators, not invaders. On the other hand, they must obviously be wary of suicide attacks and drive-by shootings by Iraqi troops in civilian clothes.

As you'll remember yesterday, a taxi with two Iraqi occupants drove up to a military checkpoint near the town of An-Najaf. They gestured to soldiers that they were having some kind of mechanical problem with their taxi, and when four soldiers approached they detonated a car bomb, killing the four soldiers, U.S. military spokesmen have told us. The military spokesmen, however, have said that there shouldn't be an overall change in strategy. They say that these kinds of tactics are the symbol of a dying regime -- Anderson.

COOPER: Well, Karl, as you well know, even a dying regime can cause a fair amount of damage. How much training -- and again, I'm not going to ask you to say anything you can't answer, so if I go too far just let me know. But how much training have these helicopter pilots had in guerrilla warfare? I remember the first conflict that you told us about that they were engaged with was a more, I suppose, traditional attack. It was going to be against I believe Republican Guard units. Are they trained for this kind of thing? Do they have it in their playbook?

WEDEMAN: They certainly do have it within their training, both the helicopter attack pilots and other military units stationed around this airfield as well have those kinds of tactics in the training manuals.

From my conversations with soldiers, though, what is not necessarily an obstacle, it's a necessary obstacle if you like, are the types of (AUDIO GAP) civilians (UNINTELLIGIBLE) civilian deaths. And the Iraqis, from what we understand now, are really playing to those weaknesses. Some military emplacements, according to these helicopter pilots, the other day were placed within residential areas. We've seen Fedayeen -- Iraqi Fedayeen units broken down into small units and operating in civilian clothes and civilian trucks.

And so that makes it very difficult sometimes for the U.S. soldiers, from what they've told me, distinguishing exactly what the target is and to make 100 percent sure that these are military targets and not civilian targets before they engage them.

And so that is one of the problems here. It's not so much a question of tactics. It's more a question from what I'm told of identifying the targets positively -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Karl Penhaul with the Army V Corps, 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment, we'll come back to you in a little while. Karl, thanks very much.

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