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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

7th Cavalry Preparing for Assault on Baghdad

Aired April 1, 2003 - 04:10   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We have been following a lot of reports from U.S. military officials about Republican Guard units shifting from positions in the north further south trying to -- in preparing some sort of a defense of the city of Baghdad.
Want to check in with our own Walter Rodgers, who's with the 7th Cavalry, where last time we talked with him the troops he was with were in a meeting preparing for some sort of action of their own.

Walter, what's the latest where you are?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Anderson.

Well, as we are out here in the Iraqi desert, probably 50 or 60 miles south of Baghdad, I think what we're going to see in the coming days and weeks is a shift in the focus on the land war. The end game has always been Baghdad. And I strongly suspect that what you're going to see is a shift in the focus in the land war concentrating more and more on Baghdad.

The reason we say this, of course, is because behind us to the south, more and more troops are pouring in. These troops coming from the 4th Infantry Division. That means the 3rd Infantry Division is going to be strongly reinforced.

The original land war, of course, focused in the southeast at Basra and then up to An Nasiriya and then Al Samawah and An Najaf. Now those cities are all virtually encircled by U.S. forces and allied forces, British forces, at this point.

So again, that will, as more troops pour into this theater of operation, that will almost certainly free up the new troops, or at least the existing troops, to be reinforced. And then you will see, I strongly suspect, a big focus on Baghdad in the coming days and weeks -- Anderson.

COOPER: Walter, obviously I'm sure the troops you are with have heard about the suicide bombing attack on Saturday, don't know if they've heard about this latest incident of the shooting at a checkpoint. Has the mood changed among them? Has the sense of what the kind of things they're going to face, has that changed at all?

RODGERS: No, I wouldn't say any of those incidents, which you mentioned, affect the 7th Cavalry, the unit with which I'm attached and embedded at this point. The reason being, they are -- they're extraordinarily well trained. They have one focus. They know their focus is to get to Baghdad. And that's not just true of the 7th Cavalry, it's true of more than a few of the Army troops in this particular theater of operations.

They are totally committed to regime change, which is, of course, the goal of the Bush administration. They want a regime change. They want to throw the Baath Party out and they want to get this war over with as quickly as possible. They are prepared for a very stiff fight, if that's what it's going to take. But they are encouraged by reports they're hearing from their intelligence sources which say some of the crack Iraqi troops, the Medina division, has now been so heavily degraded by Air Force and Navy bombing that it's effectiveness may be reduced anywhere from 45 to 75 -- 70 percent. That being the case, again, there's no morale problem whatsoever here.

One interesting thing, of course, is that increasingly as the -- as this unit draws closer to Baghdad, and as I say, for about three days we have been within 50 miles of the south suburbs of Baghdad. The soldiers are relying increasingly on their good luck charms and avoiding anything which they might perceive as bad luck -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Walter Rodgers, thanks. I hope you have a good luck charm as well. Good luck to you. We'll check in with you shortly.

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