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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

U.S. Says Suicide Tactics Won't Change Strategy

Aired March 31, 2003 - 01:00   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan live in Kuwait City. It is just after 9 a.m. on Sunday morning. The latest headlines for now, beginning with a fresh round of explosions, reported this morning just south of Baghdad, no word yet on intended targets or the results.
Last night, the Iraqi vice president took to state TV to say that Iraqis are ready to die for President Saddam Hussein, the proof, Saturday's suicide bombing that killed four U.S. soldiers. They thought they were responding to a civilian request for help.

U.S. military officials say the new tactic won't change U.S. strategy, but it will sharpen alertness on the ground.

And U.S. Marine Colonel Tom Bright, chief of joint operations of the Central Command, told CNN the U.S. war is on track.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. TOM BRIGHT, U.S. MARINE CORPS: The air strikes that we are conducting, our land campaign and our special operations campaign that we are executing against the enemy is having a very good effect, and it will allow us to stay on our plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: British Marines continue to weed out resistance in the deep water port of Umm Qasr. They have allowed for the opening of 12 distribution routes, primarily to Basra. The coalition forces can bring humanitarian aid into the country.

The American suspected of killing two U.S. servicemen is back in the states in military custody. Asan Akbar was captured after a grenade attack on the 101st Airborne in Kuwait a week ago. He has not yet been charged. Two men were killed, 14 were wounded.

On the home front, protesters took to the streets again to oppose the war. First to Boston, the city's biggest protest in 30 years. Protesters have said they support the troops, but not the war.

And unusual for San Francisco, people at this rally got behind the troops and the war.

In other news, gulf news if you can believe it, but we have it for you anyway, the Masters is rescinding a controversial polity, and were not talking about letting women to be members of the club. But according to the "Augustus Chronicle," Master's Chairman Hootie Johnson has dropped the policy that he set last year, which would have put an age limit of 65 on players. That kept Arnold Palmer off the green.

And, Aaron, I have to tell you from here in Kuwait, a country that doesn't even allow women to vote, the azaleas, and the green jackets, and the controversy over women in Augustus seems very far away.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: I'll bet it does. Honestly, I think that with all that is going on all of these minor controversies in life seem very far away, no matter where you are. We are in a middle of a war and we see everyday people dying and it's sad. It keeps perspective on the other things that go on in life. Daryn, thank you very much. Daryn Kagan who is in Kuwait. She is going to be working a lot across the morning here in about an hours -

We've got a lot of things going in my ear just there is what we got. Art Harris who we started the night with several hours ago is working with the 2nd Marine Division. They have been - this has been a very tough week for them in many, many ways. And Art is back on the phone. Art go ahead and tell us, again, for our viewers who are just joining us, where you are or roughly where you are, and the engagement you are involved in.

ART HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines and along the Euphrates River in Nasiriya. And there has been some heavy fighting the last few days. Last night when I came in along the Euphrates, there was a fire fight. They were engaging two apartment buildings across the rivers, RPGs, and opened fire from those buildings. As well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there was a lot of armored vehicles returned fire, and called in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ships for about an hour (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BROWN: OK, obviously, we are having a problem with Art's audio. We'll try and get that back if we can. Right. We'll try and get that back. But, again, I can tell you that Art's unit has been involved in this ongoing, now several day long - five- or six-day long fight for Nasiriya. And, hopefully, we'll get him back and he'll give us more detail. In any case, another night of air strikes on Baghdad as Daryn mentioned, with a difference on what we have been seeing in the last few nights.

The emphasis tonight, as best we can tell, and it's always a little tricky here, but as best as we can tell, appears to be hitting the Iraqi leadership in the neighborhoods where they live. CNN's Rym Brahimi knows the lay of the land. She was expelled from there also not that long ago. This is the first time we've had to day welcome back to you. It's good to see you. Tell us what you can.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, indeed, a series of explosions again overnight in Baghdad. Some of them I understand in three main different areas. One of them in an area known as Karaday (ph). It's actually a Christian majority residential area. The Christian minority and other people from the Christian minority live in that area. But it also is an area that hosts an intelligence office.

Another area that was targeted, apparently, an area on the outskirts of Baghdad, not far from Saddam International Airport, a place that is located, basically, where there is a prison and one of President Saddam Hussein's palaces. And, finally, I understand an area that was hosting a training center for the Fedayeen Saddam or those used that have been training to defend Saddam Hussein.

Now, we also understand that this morning a certain number of areas were hit, including residential areas on the outskirts of Baghdad. We are going to bring more details of that as we get them. But, definitely, a lot of smoke again in the Iraqi capital on this Sunday morning.

Vice President Yassin Ramadan - spoke to reporters. He praised the suicide bomber that carried out the attack, in which he said five Americans were killed. But he promised that there would be more of that to come. HE also praised the support that Iraq was receiving from the rest of the Arab public opinion.

But then, finally, Aaron, the President Saddam Hussein made another appearance on Iraqi TV. This time not one of those appearances where he is addressing anybody, but Iraqi TV broadcasting pictures of the president of other members of the Iraqi leadership -- Aaron.

BROWN: Do you want to take a stab at why in this picture, if we can maybe rerack it and look at it again, why he seems to be wearing a big, old overcoat. No one else in the picture is.

BRAHIMI: Well, that is a little bit trend (ph) of President Saddam Hussein, he tends to wear different things according to the situation. This may have been an attempt to show both, on the one hand, he has been wearing military outfits since the beginning of the war. On the other hand, he sometimes wears these overcoats as a sign of, I don't know, maybe something to do with the tribal rapprochement or something like that. It really could be anything. But he is sending messages, maybe a way of saying also that he is constantly changing, showing that it is a different picture, a recently taken picture, rather than one picture that we've seen. A lot of people would recognize file pictures on Iraqi TV. And this was the main message there when these pictures are broadcast, even if we knew they were pretaped probably is to say they are still in charge - Aaron.

BROWN: In Amman, tell me how the war is being reported and how Jordanians, Jordanians are right up on the border, they do a lot of business with Iraq. The king has been supportive of the American position to appoint, how are Jordanians receiving this news?

BRAHIMI: Well, the Jordanian government as you know Aaron is walking a very, very fine line. It's really a tight rope situation here, a small country in a rough neighborhood, as the saying goes. But definitely the government's interest in not contradicting the west too much is also what the people want to see. And the popular sentiment here in Jordan is overwhelmingly pro-Iraqi. It's not necessarily all pro-Saddam Hussein. But it is definitely pro-Iraqi. Very emotional as well as regard to the Iraqi people are going through. Definitely one interesting event, thought, Aaron, is the demonstrations that have been going on in Jordan on a regular basis, if you will, have been very pro-Iraq for the Iraqi people, except on Friday, and Friday and Thursday when there was the funeral of a Jordanian student who got killed in a bombing in Baghdad. Well, they started bringing out posters of President Saddam Hussein and hailing, praising President Saddam Hussein as well.

Now, that is taking a different turn. And I think we should expect to see a little more of that as Saddam Hussein claims victory over victory, even if it's not the general overview. And this is how they are able to present it. Well, we are probably going to see more of that - Aaron.

BROWN: Rym - Rym, thank you very much. It's good to see you, again, and have a chance to talk to you. I know it was a journey out of Baghdad for you as well. Thank you very much.

Let's try Art Harris again. Art is with the Marines. And we'll see if the battery and the phone are working. Are, are you able to hear us?

ART HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I can hear you well. Thank you. They gave me some power and I'm still on the bank of the Euphrates in Nasiriya with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines. And it is going to be a busy day for me. They tell them hover (ph) helicopter gunships (UNINTELLIGIBLE) overhead, looking up and down the river for targets of opportunity, looking for Iraqis who pop out with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, and alike, mortars, which have been ...

BROWN: OK, we'll see if we can get him to get more power. They gave us 20 seconds worth of power but not much more. We left you last time, actually, we were talking to Art last time just about the point our shift ended at 2 in the morning Eastern time. And they were engaged in some fairly heavy activity in Nasiriya. We could only hear what was going on at the time. Now, we have a better look, because when the smoke cleared the Marines could go in. And they could in their case take care of some unfinished and important business. Sad business it was, finding the bodies of fallen comrades.

The report now from CNN's Alessio Vinci.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): U.S. Marines here in Nasiriya are spending a considerable amount of time in trying to recover some of the bodies of the fallen comrades who were killed in action here last Sunday during a bloody fire fight between Marines and Iraq forces.

(voice-over): On Friday, U.S. Marines went back into Nasiriya, and recovered what they way were maybe five or six Marines, five of the bodies were recovered inside the burned-out truck, armored vehicle that they were traveling in, which was hit by Iraqi rocket-propelled grenades. And as they were recovering those bodies, Iraqi civilians approached those Marines and pointed them toward two shallow ditches. The Marines dig those ditches and they found what they say could have been the remains of at least the other two Marines. And then on Saturday morning, take some considerable risk because they had to go back into town again, U.S Marines back in there and they found two more shallow graves, also two graves that were pointed by Iraqi civilians to the U.S. Marines. And they recovered there what they believe are the remains of at least one maybe two Marines. The U.S commander here are telling us that they believe that almost all of the nine Marines killed in action, their bodies may have been recovered.

The U.S Marines also conducted some house-to-house searches near the site where the ambush took place, where that armored vehicle was hidden, because they believe that during the fire fight some of the Marines had seeked cover inside one of the houses. And, indeed, when they went into the houses today looking for more bodies all they could find were some personal belongings - the military flack jackets, some MOPP suits, some chemical suits, some gas masks, and even some mail that the Marines had written or received from their families back home.

(on camera): From here, the bodies of the Marines are handed over to the military affairs who will conduct a DNA test for positive identification, and then prepare their bodies for the final journey back home to the United states.

I'm Alessio Vinci, CNN, with the U.S Marines in Nasiriya, Iraq.

. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: The coalition forces came upon a number of chilling discoveries in that hospital in Nasiriya. First off, the hospital really wasn't a hospital anymore. Iraqis had turned it into an army post. Second, they found bloody U.S. battle fatigues that may have been worn by the members of the 507 Maintenance unit.

You will recall that this was the group that was ambushed when they made a wrong turn a week ago, on Sunday. Five people were taken prisoner of war. It's very hard to know precisely what happened to the others. They also found some sort of torture device that was a car battery wired to a metal cot. And there was more. The pool report was filed by James Mates

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES MATES, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In more peaceful times, this was a hospital. So with its strategic position at the southern entrance of Nasiriya, it had been taken over by the Iraqi army. A tank was parked in the ground. Military equipment and posters lined the corridors. There was evidence that it had become a local command center. But now in the hands of U.S. Marines the most disturbing discovery was that troops here had been issued with the means to fight a chemical or biological war. In one storeroom, enough protective gear to equip many hundreds of troops.

(on camera): This is clearly the central storeroom for their chemical and biological warfare and equipment, carrying bags here with gas masks. The masks from these boxes have already been issued, and around here the over boots that go along with chemical and biological weapons suits. And in this box, canisters attached to gas masks. These ones absolutely brand new and ready for issue. Also here, the auto-injecting antidote to nerve agents. They appear to have also been issued to their troops. There is little doubt from looking at this room, that the troops who were operating from this command center were at the very least prepared to be fighting in a chemical or biological environment.

(voice-over): And for the Marines here at least, that leads to only one conclusion.

WARRANT OFFICER GARY ALLEN, U.S. MARINES: We do not use biological or chemical warfare. The fact that they have it here in the hospital and ready to pass it, who knows.

MATES: Does it worry you?

ALLEN: A little bit, because they are a little bit better equipped than what I thought they were going to be.

MATES (voice-over): Better prepared than they thought they were going to be, that is something that will worry commanders right across this battlefield.

James Mates, ITV News, Nasiriya.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: We'll take a break. Our coverage continues in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Pentagon briefings tend to run too tight, same language more or less, same images more or less, but it absolutely was not that way on Saturday. The Department of Defense on Saturday launched its own salvo in what's come to be the battle of images in the international media, including the American media. It answered the pictures of dying civilians in Iraq with pictures of Saddam Hussein's victims from over the years. Strong stuff it was. And because we are endlessly fascinated by the different ways this war is being shown around the world and, if you will, fought around the world, today some news organizations carry most of the briefings. Other cut away from it, however. Tonight we want to show you how it played out in the briefing room as it happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VICTORIA CLARKE, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: People seem to have been surprised at the brutality, at what the Iraqi regime is doing to some of their people. And on the one hand, it is hard to understand that. It has been so well documented, it has been so well reported for years, what the regime has done to its own people. And we are going to show you a couple of clips here. The first one is an Iraqi women. Her names is Azana Alsawaj (ph) whose teenage cousin was tortured by the regime. And following that is a small BBC program about the chemical weapon attack on the town of Halabja. Terry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a 16-year-old cousin. She was in high school. And one day she wrote in her notes something against the government. I don't like Saddam. So the teacher saw what she wrote, and so the police came and they took her to prison with her mother, father, uncles, sisters, brothers and her cousin, and her aunt. One day, they took all of my clothes off and they threatened my parents that they are going to rape me. This torture lasted for 11 months. And after that they sentenced me to be in jail for 3 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Halabja was bombed with a cocktail of mustard gas, and the nerve agents tabun (ph) and sarin. On that day, up to 5,000 people were gassed. And this was not a one off. Forty other villagers across northern Iraq were poisoned. Cancer and birth defects have shot up since the war crimes. And every home contains its own horror story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CLARKE: So it is hard to imagine that people don't know, as I said, about the brutality of this regime.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: OK, that's just in brief what went on. Now, the significance here is that reporters and television networks, American worldwide, come to these briefings to get the news. And there was a feeling in the briefing room and certainly in the management hallways in a lot of news organizations that they were used, essentially, for purposes that were inappropriate in a news briefing. That's the controversy.

We are joined from New York by Pulitzer Prize winning military analyst Fred Kaplan who currently writes for Slate.com. And it is good to see you, thank you.

FRED KAPLAN, SLATE.COM: Thank you.

BROWN: Listen, let me argue the Pentagon's point here, we're getting - the Iraqis have no problem using full-blown information minister propaganda. And we're getting hammered in the international community. And we might as well do the same thing, two can play the same game, and we're going to do it. That's their argument.

KAPLAN: Well, you know, I think there is something to that. But, frankly, I am a bit saddened. And this is the best we can do, not doing very well. I don't think anybody in the world doubts that Saddam Hussein has been running a brutal regime, I think maybe we need to spend a little more time on not so much proving that he is a bad guy, but that we're good guys. Some of that footage was taken from the '80s when I'm sure somebody will point out the United states was sort of allied with Iraq in its war against Iran. And U.S. government officials knew what Iraq was doing with chemical weapons, and didn't seem to be making much a fuss about it at the time. Also, you know, if you're going to have this sort of footage being shown to the Arab world I don't know what good it does at this point to be putting in a defense department imprimatur on it. I don't think that's the best thing that can be done for its credibilities. So, I find it very puzzling. I find, you know, Victoria Clarke said at the beginning of it that she finds it hard to believe that anybody thinks Saddam Hussein isn't running a brutal regime. I don't think anybody disbelieves that. But what I find hard to believe is that the Pentagon during its war games and its war plannings did not take into account the possibility that Iraqi soldiers would be using guerrilla- style tactics, as people did in Vietnam, as Palestinians have done in Israel.

BROWN: Well, Fred, there has been reporting over the last few days that, in fact, they were told that that would happen. It's not a question of that they weren't told it was happening, so the reporting goes, it's a question of how much credibility they gave to that.

KAPLAN: Well, you know, it's an interesting thing, when the general who is the head of the army forces in the Persian Gulf said, the enemy isn't behaving according to the way that we've war gamed this. In fact, there was s war game last summer. It lasted for three weeks in July and August. It was in the works for two years. And the general - there was a man running what they call Red Force which was the force simulating Iraq. It was a retired three-star Marine general who had played Red Force and many war games. And he started doing interesting things. He started running suicide bombers against the fleets. He started using motorcycles to convey communications so that the command control network of red, which was simulating Saddam Hussein couldn't be intercepted by U.S. high-tech.

And the people managing the war game ruled all of these moves out of order. They said, no, that's not going to happen. We disqualify that move. We're not going to carry that out in a game. He quite the war game as a result, because this war game was testing the kind of concepts that the U.S. is using in this war. And he didn't want to be part of any game that would validate a concept that hadn't really been tested. So, in fact, the man who was running the pseudo-Iraqi army in the game tried to use the kinds of tactics that we see Saddam Hussein using now, but we didn't test our own forces against it. They were ruled, you know, too incredible, or disqualified for one reason or another.

BROWN: Let me throw one more thing on the table here. The "Washington Post" in a story in the Sunday paper will say that, Top army officers in Iraq say they now believe that they have to effectively restart the war. And that it may last now well into the summer.

KAPLAN: You know, the thing that I find disturbing, you can say, well, look, the war has only being going on for 10 days. It's too early to make any judgments. But the war plan that went into this, and I haven't seen the war plan, however, I have read the doctrines on which the war plan is based, and I've seen what we tried to do in the first few days. It envisioned - the reason why the troops dashed up to Baghdad, first thing, almost simultaneously as the bombs fell, bypassing all the other cities on the way, the idea was that by the time the troops got to outside of Baghdad the air strikes, very precise, very accurate would have so teetered the regime that all we would have to do is kind of give it a little shove and it will fall right over.

Well, you know, if it had worked, we would all be congratulating this plan as the most brilliant thing at all time. It didn't work and, yet, we had no backup. That's the reason why our supply lines are now coming under attack from the rear. People are wondering, well, why didn't you stop and take Basra. We have to go back and take Basra. We have to go back and take Nasiriya. The plan did not work. It was supposed to be war, and not even merely of weeks but of days.

BROWN: And that was a conversation we had earlier tonight on an issue that will I suspect there in your newspapers tomorrow.

We'll take a break. We'll update the headlines.

Daryn Kagan from Kuwait. And much more as our coverage continues in a moment.

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