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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

American POW Safe With Coalition Forces

Aired April 1, 2003 - 19:00   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: I guess what we've heard from dropping in at the tail end of that congressional briefing is the fact that there is much sensitivity to the kind of criticism that has been laid out against the administration's plan. Secretary Rumsfeld responding in a quite pointed way earlier to that today. And now Senator John Warner weighing in saying he understands retired military personnel wanting to comment on these plans, but they should comment on them confidentially behind closed doors. It is not helpful to the war effort.
That's the latest from Washington, D.C. right now. Welcome to our special coverage tonight "Live From The Front Lines."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: A call for jihad. But why isn't Saddam Hussein reading it?

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The fact that Saddam Hussein did not show up for his televised speech today is interesting.

ANNOUNCER: Just who is in charge inside Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No Saddam! No Saddam! Good America, Good America!

ANNOUNCER: General Franks gets a green light to go after Baghdad. Is it time to start second guessing the war plan?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: It's been interesting, but it's not very useful to this discussion.

ANNOUNCER: The wartime president. He's a popular commander in chief, but will he be unbeatable once the war is over?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from Baghdad, Washington, Kuwait City, southern Iraq and cities around the globe. War in Iraq: "Live From The Front Lines." With Paula Zahn in New York and Wolf Blitzer in Kuwait City.

ZAHN: Welcome to our special coverage tonight. We are awaiting a CENTCOM briefing. We have just got word from Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. We are to expect some kind of announcement about a major ground offense being launched about the Medina Division against the Republican Guard as well as the Baghdad Division by the 3rd Infantry. This will not be considered a probing attack, but an attack and fight until it is over.

We'll have those details for you coming out of the CENTCOM briefing. You can see we are waiting for someone to take to the podium.

Also in this next hour we'll bring you the day's major developments in the Iraq war. We are also following an important story back here in the United States. The mystery illness called SARS. Health authorities are so worried about it they sent some American Airlines passengers directly from their plane to the hospital today -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Paula. It's just after 4:00 a.m. as all of us know in Baghdad. We are expecting this Pentagon briefing -- excuse me this, briefing from the Central Command at Camp As Sayliyah outside of Doha, Qatar. We'll have live coverage of that as soon as it begins.

But immediately let's go to CNN's Jason Bellini. He's with U.S. forces outside of Nasiriya. There seems to be a major U.S. offensive under way. Jason, tell us what you're seeing and what you're hearing.

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we were told to prepare ourselves for a very long night and it's certainly been that, 4:00 a.m. And there are still helicopters flying overhead, hearing planes as well, the periodic explosion.

This is a part of an offensive that has very been coordinated in advance, planned over several days to hit hard and hit fast. That's what's been going on tonight. We've heard Apache helicopters -- rather Cobra helicopters on the attack in the city. Tanks rolling through taking major roadways in the city.

We're with -- the company that I'm with is hitting some key targets that were preplanned. Among the targets being hit tonight here, the Ba'ath Party headquarters as well as the residence of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is a friend and ally of Saddam Hussein. As they put it one of his cronies here in this city. One of his top cronies, here in this city. They've taken a few POWs who they tell us are pointing out where some weapons cachets are.

This is different from the other attacks that have been going on, the other operations in that this is the beginning of a very concerted effort to purge the city of the militia element and that's just beginning tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is this part of a bigger plan as far as you can tell or is it simply devoted to Nasiriya, this town in southern Iraq?

BELLINI: I can only speak to what's going on in our area. Hard to tell where this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the bigger picture except that the only other city that they considered -- that they considered to be secure is Umm Qasr. That's where we started out. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit started out. And now they've been moved up to here to take on the same task as they did in that city. And that is to do the door-to-door searches, go block by block and find out who's here still. They've been told that many of these militia members have already fled, but they want to find where the remnants are. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) rather than waiting for the next ambush attack on them. A change of strategy is how the commander here described it to us.

BLITZER: All right, Jason Bellini, he's with U.S. troops outside Nasiriya where the U.S. appears to be engaged in a military offensive. We'll be checking back with you.

Paula, in the meantime, back to you in New York.

ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf. We are still waiting for the Central Command briefing to get under way. It could get under way as soon as a couple of minutes. We'll keep you posted on that.

Meanwhile, Associated Press is reporting some breaking news at this hour. That the United States has rescued an American prisoner of war. That is all we can tell you on the story. Highly unusual for CENTCOM to be holding a briefing during the night. It usually happens at 7:00 a.m. Eastern time. We are also told that we might get information about that story tonight in the CENTCOM briefing.

As well as what Jamie McIntyre broke at the top of the hour which is news that a major ground offensive is being launched against the Medina Division of Iraq's Republican Guard as well as the Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard by the 3rd Infantry. It's being characterized not as a probing assault, but an attack and a fight until it's over. We are hoping to get more details, once again, as this briefing gets under way.

We'll move on in the meantime and we might have to interrupt our next conversation with Nic Robertson because of that. President Saddam Hussein today called for all Muslims to fight a jihad or holy war to defend Iraq, but president Hussein didn't issue the call in person. In fact he was nowhere to be seen today. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is along the Jordanian-Iraqi border and just like everyone else, he's trying to figure out who's in charge inside Iraq. Good evening, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Paula. Very difficult to figure out why the Iraqi leader didn't want to appear on camera. Could it be because he wasn't able to? Could it be that his message was particularly sensitive? It was a very religious message, he may have felt inappropriate for him to make it. Did he feel it would compromise security by having a camera crew come to him or go to the television studios to have an interview recorded?

That's not clear. But what was very clear about this particular message delivered by the information minister, it is very focused, it was very short, it is very precise. It is calling on the Iraqi people as Muslims, as an Islamic nation saying that your country, your soil has now been invaded by the infidel. It is now time to take up your religious responsibilities. You should take up the jihad to fight against these infidels who are now on your soil.

Paula, the message, basically, said that you are a religious nation. That it is your duty and obligation as Muslims with an infidel in your country to take upon. He said that this is your opportunity now to find martyrdom. God will smile on you.

This is a sort message we haven't heard for the Iraqi leader before. It's very much an appeal to those people in Iraq who would hold the religious teachings close to their hearts. Now that is likely to be, this is likely to be an appeal to the Shi'a community in the south of Iraq who perhaps more than the -- more than the Sunni Muslims in Iraq hold their religious teachings along these lines to be very devout and follow the word of the Quran more, perhaps.

It doesn't exclude the Shi'a Muslims but for the Iraqi leadership for the moment, those Shi'a Muslims in the south of Iraq are absolutely critical in the defense against the coalition forces at this time. And perhaps it is to those particular Muslims in Iraq that the leadership was calling on -- Paula.

ZAHN: Nic, I want to break away from this for breaking news that the CNN can now confirm that a Navy F-14 crashed in southwest Iraq at 11:30 p.m. Iraqi time as reported by Harris Whitbeck. Apparently both of the aircraft's pilots bailed out of the jet at 20,000 feet in the air. They were later rescued. They're been taken to a U.S. air base on the Iraqi border according to officials. We are working that story as well.

Now, Nic, we're going come back to what you were talking about and the question of a status of Saddam Hussein. There was an expectation, perhaps, that hew was going make a national address at noon Iraqi time. That never happened. What do you make of that?

All right. We've lost Nic for a moment. So we're going check in with Jamie McIntyre. A lot of different stories developing at this hour.

Jamie, I'm not sure where to start. Can you amplify the story about the F-14 crashing in southwest Iraq and the pilots being rescued?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Paula, I have no information on that other than what we just said. Apparently, they were able to -- they were rescued. But all we know is that at this briefing at the U.S. Central Command, we are told that they'll be announcing some good news for U.S. military personnel. The recovery of some military

personnel. And we're just standing by to get the announcement. Various Pentagon officials have been asked about it including Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and he said he would just let CENTCOM make the announcement -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Jamie, I'm sorry I lost you for about 30 seconds there. I'm not sure you might have addressed this in the last 20 seconds about what we might learn about this American prisoner of war being rescued?

MCINTYRE: Well, very preliminary reports that we are getting back here indicate that at least one prisoner of war may have been rescued or recovered or retrieved or somehow gotten back. It might be a woman, a female prisoner. But we have no name, no identification and no final confirmation of that.

So we are trying to be cautious and wait until the announcement is made. And in particular, I know officials want to notify the family of this person before they make any announcement about who it is.

ZAHN: Currently, there are seven Americans being held as prisoners of war. Jamie, I apologize if you have to repeat something you said because I did lose you for a little bit there. Come back to what you learned about this ground assault going.

MCINTYRE: Well this, is apparently the beginning of a major ground assault against at least two Republican Guard divisions on the ground. The Medina Division and parts of the Baghdad Division. We are told the majority of the fighting is taking place near Karbala.

And this could be the beginning of the so-called battle for Baghdad because once the U.S. begins to move against these Republican Guard Divisions on the ground, it's not likely they're going to stop or have any, quote, "operational pause." So we're waiting to see how the battle unfolds.

ZAHN: And I know that was hinted in a number of published accounts that you can see that getting under way in the next couple of days. What did Secretary Rumsfeld say about any time table today?

MCINTYRE: Well the big word that he had was patience. He said the U.S. would take the time to do it the way wanted on its terms. And they mentioned the fact they've been pounding these divisions day and night in order to degrade their combat capability. that by the time the U.S. moved against them, they expected to be able to basically have their way with these Republican Guard forces.

He also mentioned that Republican Guard troops being brought down from the north to reinforce the divisions there. But again, as they move, that makes them more vulnerable to U.S. attack from the air. So a lot of confidence expressed here that people need to be patient, that this war plan is only about two weeks in the making. We may be on the beginning of a major phase of it now.

They may bring us some indication of how the war is really going to go. And of course, one of the key factors is where's Saddam Hussein? All that speculation that you've already reported about, about whether he's alive or dead or in control. Pentagon officials have said up to this point they've seen no indication that Saddam Hussein is actually in control of these forces.

In fact, many of the Republican Guard units are failing to take what would be sort of some more basic defensive measures and they're being taken out in place by the airstrikes even before this ground assault began.

ZAHN: Jamie, if you wouldn't mind standing by. I want to bring Wolf into our discussion as we await this very important CENTCOM briefing. Highly unusual to have a briefing at this the time of the evening. We've pretty much gotten used to that unfolding at 7:00 a.m. Eastern time. Wolf, please join us.

BLITZER: It's very unusual. We are expecting to hear from the Brigadier General Vincent Brooks who has been briefing everyone 7:00 a.m. Eastern time, normally as you well know, Paula.

We are following three major developments right now. The apparent rescue of an American prisoner of war in Iraq, the start of a significant U.S. military-led offensive around the Karbala area in central Iraq, as well as the explosions that have just rocked Baghdad within the past few minutes.

A Reuters correspondent, an eyewitness on the scene saying once again it appears that a presidential compound has been hit in the Iraqi capital. It's been a relatively quiet night so far in Baghdad. That appears to be changing right now.

Let's bring back our Jamie McIntyre as we await the start of this extraordinary, highly unusual Central Command briefing literally in the middle of the night here in the Persian Gulf.

Jamie, first of all, let's talk about these latest airstrikes in Baghdad, in and around Baghdad. Earlier at the Pentagon today they said most of these most recent airstrikes have been devoted against these six Republican Guard divisions, protecting the Iraqi capital. Presumably, that's unfolding as well?

MCINTYRE: That's right, but they've never said they've taken other targets off the table. In fact, airstrikes have continued in the north and the west in the south and in Baghdad as they continue to attack what they call regime targets. Targets that help maintain the regime in power or at least the symbol of the regime in power. And also communication, lines of communication to troops in the field. So that air campaign is going to go on.

And of course, as U.S. troops advance on the ground, a key component of that is what's called Close Air Support. Being able to, as they encounter an enemy, call in an air strike on a location. So for instance, if a unit is advancing on a building and there's enemy fire coming from the building, one of the options they have at their disposal is to call in a satellite-guided bomb to take out an enemy position. So it's a combined air and ground operation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And let's talk about this prisoner of war. I believe there are seven official POWs who have now been listed as missing, presumably captured by the Iraqis. Several of them from the 507th Maintenance Unit, U.S. Army unit that got caught, apparently went the wrong way about a week or ten days or so ago. Jamie, is there any word yet on who this prisoner of war that might have been retrieved or rescued might be? MCINTYRE: There's far more that we don't know about this than we do know. We are getting preliminary reports that at least one U.S. military personnel has been recovered in some way. It's not clear if it's a rescue, it's not clear if the person might have been simply hiding for this amount of time.

But apparently one person back in U.S. hands from Iraq. And also apparently a female, we are told. Other than that, we don't know the circumstances. We don't know the identification and I think the announcement is being held up so that the family can be notified.

Paula, back to you.

BLITZER: Because that announcement was supposed to be, Jamie, it's supposed to be about an hour and a half or so. You're absolutely right. It is being held up.

Paula, we'll wait to see what they say at the Central Command at Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar. In the meantime, back to you, Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf. So the focus remains on the timetable, on any potential action in and around Baghdad. Pentagon officials telling CNN that General Tommy Franks has been given the green light to lead the charge into Baghdad as soon as he thinks the time is right. General Franks is not locked into a timeframe and is free to seize the tactical advantage without even first consulting with President Bush or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Now elements of the 1st Marines, the Army 3rd Infantry and the 101st Airborne Division are a massing on one side. And Iraq's Elite Republican Guard units on the other, many of them having relocated from northern positions and dispersed.

CNN's Walt Rogers is embedded with the Army's 3rd Squadron 7th Cav. He also says the signs are pointing toward something big.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we're seeing now are increasing indications both here on the ground and in other news reports that the focus of the land war will soon be Baghdad.

Here's how we come to that conclusion. First, there's that continuous pounding of the Medina Division by the Air Force south of Baghdad. The Medina Division, according to some sources, Air Force sources, has now been degraded by Air Force bombing by at least 50, perhaps upwards of 70 percent. That means the southern defenses of Baghdad have been weakened.

Again, gradually the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division has pushed northward. It crossed the Euphrates River yesterday below Al Hillah and the 7th Cavalry again as well as the 3rd Infantry Division is now within 50 to 60 miles of the southern suburbs of Baghdad.

Again all signs focus especially with more and more U.S. troops coming ashore in Kuwait, the 4th Infantry Division that there will be a major push toward Baghdad in the not too distant future. The reason, of course being you can see all those troops coming ashore. They'll be pouring into Iraq.

And again, the Air Force bombing around Baghdad. Everything hints to a change in focus coming in the coming days and weeks on Baghdad. It will be the entire focus of a war. Baghdad will be the endgame.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Walter Rodgers reporting from the front lines, one of our embedded reporters.

And as we wait for this their statement from the U.S. Central Command at Camp As Sayliyah outside Doha, Qatar let's check some other late developments in the war in Iraq. Iraq is accusing the United States of deliberately shooting and killing women and children after their van failed to stop at a coalition checkpoint. The U.S. military is investigating the incident in the in Najaf. But coalition commanders say it will not change the way they handle security in the war zone.

And we are also getting some pictures in Baghdad right now. More explosions in the Iraqi capital. Right now it's been a relatively quiet night so far, but once again explosions being heard in the Iraqi capital.

We are told by the Reuters News Agency, one of the eyewitness reporters on the scene, a presidential compound, once again being targeted by U.S. war planes. It's become a nightly occurrence now, almost exactly two weeks into this war. You can actually hear, obviously what's going on. Let's listen for a minute.

(SIREN)

ZAHN: We are pausing to give you a sense of what is happening in Baghdad at this hour. Reports of a number of huge explosions ripping through the city. Associated Press reporting that this is happening at the southern end of the old palace grounds in the capital.

We have no more information available on the air strikes, but we are going to continue to update you on something that Jamie McIntyre has learned from the Pentagon, that pretty much that Tommy Franks has been given the green light to lead the charge into Baghdad as soon as he thinks the time is right. He is apparently not locked into a timeframe -- excuse me, free to seize what he calls the tactical advantage without even first consulting with President Bush or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Now what we understand is going on south of here -- let's listen again.

(EXPLOSIONS)

ZAHN: The launch of a major ground offensive against a couple division of the Republican Guard. Now because of the white plume of smoke we're seeing, somewhat obscuring skyline there, you are not able to see any anti-aircraft fire. I've seen no evidence in the shot that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 30 seconds ago.

Let's keep an eye on this right now. The CENTCOM briefing will get under way in just about 30 seconds. We're going to stay with this picture and the sound until Brigadier General Vincent Brooks gets started. Let's listen again.

BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, CENTCOM: Ladies and gentlemen, I have a short statement to make and I will not be take any questions.

Coalition forces have conducted a successful rescue mission of a U.S. Army prisoner of war held captive in Iraq. The soldier has been returned to a coalition-controlled area. More details will be released as soon as possible. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: General what's the status of the other prisoner?

ZAHN: We were expecting maybe a more detailed briefing tonight, but a very contrite Brigadier General Vincent Brooks confirming the news that an American POW has been rescued and returned to coalition control. Identified as a female, no name released at this hour. There were seven POWs in Iraqi hands, that brings that number down to six.

Wolf, we were hoping that get a little more information than that, but I understand there are a lot of concerns that the hour to make sure that parents and family members have been notified. A lot of details to go through in this process, but very good news indeed. I'm making an assumption here, he didn't give us any details about the medical condition, but I did see one report tonight that suggested maybe the news is better than we all had anticipated.

BLITZER: Paula, the normal standard operating procedure in making this kind of announcement, since there are seven official POWs listed, presumably the U.S. Central Command would want to be in touch with the family not only of the soldier who was actually successfully rescued and is now under the custody obviously of U.S. military personnel, but they would also want to be in touch with the families of the other six POWs to let them know what's going on as a courtesy to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

That's why there was such a brief, very, very one-sentence statement from Brigadier General Vincent Brooks at the U.S. Central Command temporary headquarters at Camp Asaliyah (ph) outside Qatar. And as he was speaking, of course, just seconds before we heard several huge explosions rock the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Eyewitness accounts saying one of the presidential compounds was targeted. One of the compounds used by one of Saddam Hussein's sons was targeted. But those were very, very significant bombs that were dropped -- or missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, I'm not sure which one. But it had been in the hours leading up to only the past few minutes relatively quiet in the Iraqi capital.

We had not seen any bombing. We had not seen any activity. So we know that the air war is clearly continuing as the U.S. goes after strategic targets, Republican Guard positions on the ground, as well as leadership command and control capabilities in and around Baghdad and elsewhere throughout Iraq.

And even as we're getting word of the rescue of one American POW and these explosions, the latest bombardment of Baghdad, we are also getting word of a new U.S. ground offensive from our Jason Bellini, reporting that there's some significant U.S. military action happening in the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriya, and presumably further north -- further north as they move toward Najaf and Karbala. So all of these developments, significant developments we're going to be following throughout this night -- Paula.

ZAHN: And Wolf, for folks that are just joining us, we want to give them a sense of what was happening in Baghdad. Just about 12 minutes ago, Reuters not only confirming a series of explosions, Reuters now saying that two bombs actually hit the compound, this presidential compound Wolf was just talking about near the Tigris River. This is what it sounded like.

This is not the first time the compound has been bombed. It has happened several times in the past several days. We also have come to understand that Iraq's elite Republican Guard also have offices in this presidential compound. And I think, Wolf, you were mentioning it also happens to be where Saddam Hussein's son, Qusay, has his headquarters.

BLITZER: And as we watch all of these developments, Paula, the bombings in Baghdad, the rescue, dramatic rescue -- we don't know the details -- of one American POW, one prisoner of war, and more movement on the ground, an offensive of sorts that we're getting word from our embedded correspondent, Jason Bellini, outside of Nasiriya and presumably further to the north as well, we are following all of these developments. But certainly some significant, significant late- breaking news over the past several minutes.

Amidst all of this, Iraq is accusing the United States of deliberately shooting and killing women and children after their van failed to stop at a coalition checkpoint. The U.S. military is investigating that incident in Najaf. But coalition commanders say it will not change the way they handle security in the war zone. Of course the reality on the ground is a very different story, as correspondent Richard Gaisford explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD GAISFORD, CORRESPONDENT: We are as close to Basra as is safe to be. We are half a mile outside the city this morning. Behind me you can see Irish Guards on patrol manning a vehicle checkpoint. This is for people leaving the city.

Of course with the news overnight of the Americans shooting dead these seven people at the checkpoint, people deeply concerned here. And I've spoken with the major in charge of the Irish Guards. He said that if someone hadn't stopped at a checkpoint he would just let them go. He said it's not worth it. He said that would be one just let through.

And you might have just heard something just going off in the background behind me here. That is actually something that's coming from the factory unit behind me. And the Americans have been attacking that this morning with attack helicopters.

I am just going to actually disappear for the moment, because I'm told that we might well be under mortar attack. So we're just going to disappear for a second and just get in to the back of the armored wagon here. And then, if you can still hear and see us, we're just taking cover.

Effectively, what's been going on -- and there's a factory unit that we just showed you. That's where Iraqi militia have been holed up. They have been targeted by American Apache attack helicopters using Hellfire missiles this morning. And unfortunately that hasn't seemed to stop them.

And what it's meant is that the checkpoint has been released and all these (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We think that that is the tactic. That they have certain -- oh, OK. I don't know if you can see behind us

Some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has come off the road there. We don't know if that vehicle's been hit. But we believe the tactic of the Iraqis is effectively to put people in the queue that they want to get out of the city. And then when they know that they're close to the front of the line, they then send (UNINTELLIGIBLE) across, so that the British release the checkpoints. In that way the Iraqis hope they're going to get people out of the city.

It does appear that the mortar rounds have stopped just for a second. But I think we're going to stay under cover.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And we share with you just moments ago the good news coming from the CENTCOM briefing that an American prisoner of war is back in coalition hands. As soon as we get more information on it we will bring it to you live.

Meanwhile, more good news tonight for a group of journalists who disappeared while covering the war in Iraq. They showed up in Amman, Jordan today. "Newsday" reporter Matthew McAllester, his photographer, Moises Saman, freelance photographer Molly Bingham, and two other unnamed journalists all appear to be safe.

They disappeared a week ago. Mcallester says they were held in an Iraqi prison.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW MCALLESTER "NEWSDAY": We were in Abu Ghraid prison for seven or eight days. There were no specific charges. It wasn't much fun, but we were not physically hurt. And we are very happy to be out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And while we were watching that, we have just been given more information, breaking news on the staff status of the POW now identified as Jessica Lynch, one of seven Americans being held as POWs. Not a lot of information or any details about her captivity. just the U.S. Central Command confirming early Wednesday, there Iraqi time, the rescue of her. And she now is in coalition hands.

So, I don't know, Wolf, about you. We kind of knew we might be hearing about this in this hour. I think her family, obviously, is breathing a tremendous sigh of relief. However, we don't know at this hour what physical condition she's in.

BLITZER: You know -- and if I could just say, Paula, I'm getting some information about Jessica now. She was officially listed as missing in action, and she was -- she is 19 years old. And I think she was from West Virginia -- yes, Palestine, West Virginia.

We did some reporting on her over the past several days. She was with the 507th Maintenance that's based in Fort Bliss, Texas. She's listed as a supply clerk. Jessica Lynch, 19 years old, West Virginia. We had spoken to her father, some of her other relatives who had given us some information about her.

Good news for all of the people, all of the family members in West Virginia of 19-year-old Jessica Lynch. She is now back in control under U.S. control. A very dramatic word from Brigadier General Vincent Brooks just a few minutes ago. Good word for Private 1st Class Jessica Lynch.

We'll get some more information on how this was accomplished. We don't know the details. I'm sure we'll be getting those details. But once again, CNN has confirmed that 19-year-old Private 1st Class Jessica Lynch of the 507th Maintenance unit based in Fort Bliss, Texas, a supply clerk, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time when that unit veered off, got lost.

I believe it was near Nasiriya, captured by Iraqis. But now recaptured by U.S. troops. Good news for Jessica Lynch -- Paula.

ZAHN: And Wolf, I just wanted to review the math here for a moment, because the numbers may seem confusing to those of you who have been watching us from the top of the hour. At one point it was believed that there were seven prisoners of war. And as Wolf just said, Jessica Lynch was designated as missing in action.

Now it would appear as though she had been a POW. From what point, we are not sure. We're going to try to get more of that information to you.

We're keeping our eye on downtown Baghdad this hour, 30 minutes after reports of a series of explosions rocking the city. Reuters reporting that two bombs hit a presidential complex. A complex that housed not only Republican Guard units' offices, but the offices of one of Saddam Hussein's sons as well. Now Wolf, one of the things I guess we can talk about right now are all the questions being asked about the status of Saddam Hussein. At one point today in the United States folks were expecting to see him on national TV around noon Eastern Time. That didn't happen. And we are continuing to analyze all these taped appearances we've seen of him, which is really pushing forward the argument, is he dead, is he alive, was he severely injured the first night of that decapitation attack?

BLITZER: And there's no doubt that the Bush administration, the top officials of the Bush administration, including the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, earlier today virtually baiting the Iraqi leadership to make some evidence available about the fate, the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein. Did he survive that initial U.S. air strike nearly two weeks ago or not?

Certainly there's no hard evidence one way or another. U.S. analysts attempting to determine it.

Let's go back to this issue of Jessica Lynch, this 19-year-old former missing in action. She was officially listed as missing in action as opposed to POW. I think General David Grange is joining us, and we can talk a little bit about the differences between MIA, missing in action, which Jessica was listed as, General, as opposed to POW, the seven other officially listed POWs.

For our viewers who aren't familiar with the difference, what specifically -- would it qualify as someone to be listed as a prisoner of war, as opposed to MIA, missing in action?

GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, confirmed that they are in fact prisoners, regrettably, in Vietnam, we had two Rangers that ended up missing. One was confirmed as a POW once that soldier was released. And the other is still listed as MIA.

Then in Macedonia we had three that were initially MIA and became prisoners once -- were called POWs once we saw that they were captured by Serbian forces. So in this case you have a soldier that was listed as MIA, and we were just told that that soldier was rescued, picked up. It's hard to tell whether that soldier was rescued from a -- from captivity or rescued in the field herself while she was abating.

It's hard to say at this time. We just don't have all of the information yet.

BLITZER: We don't have those details, General. Also, the protocol, as far as announcing the name of someone who's been rescued. MIA, in this particular case, as opposed to POW. I was speculating earlier that before they released officially her name, 19-year-old Private 1st Class Jessica Lynch, they would want to notify some of the other families of MIAs and POWs just out of courtesy. Is that something that's standard operating procedure in a sensitive issue like this?

GRANGE: Yes, it is. It's very sensitive. And the parents, the relatives of that particular U.S. soldier, that U.S. citizen is to the family first. And once that's accomplished and that protocol is followed -- and it's very detailed, the protocol on this -- then it's made -- the information is put out to the rest of America, those that are viewing any media means.

BLITZER: So walk us through specifically the protocol. They go ahead and they have a successful search and rescue mission, they find Jessica Lynch, they bring her back. And then what do they do? They start make phone calls to her family? Is that it?

GRANGE: Well, there's a lot of confirmation, in fact, who they have. There's usually some kind of a quick debriefing of that rescued individual. Medical care, of course, immediately provided, as well as any psychological care because of the stress that that individual may have gone under.

It's reported back to the chain of command through Central Command, all of the way back to Washington, D.C. And then there's a program. There are administrative offices that handle these type of things for notification purposes.

It's done telephonically. It's may be done face to face. I'm not sure how it happened in this case.

But again, it's very sensitive because of the emotions, the stress that's involved. And you don't want a family member, the next of kin to see this for the first time on television or hear it on the radio or read about it in a newspaper. You have to have the personal aspects of that to notify the family directly through the military service that's responsible for that individual.

BLITZER: And you also don't want to raise expectations among the other family members, the loved ones of the other POWs, MIAs, and give them hope that will be dashed very quickly that their loved one, they're missing or POW, their military personnel has not been rescued. And as a result, you want to be very, very careful in releasing this kind of information so that expectations and hopes are not cruelly dashed.

GRANGE: This is an excellent point, because, yes, it is a very sensitive issue. And the government's very caring about this. And I say that from experience of how they deal with the families and how the chain of command later on will deal with the family. And it's very important.

Also, there may be other things going on that the military, the government doesn't want to jeopardize. And so we know about one individual soldier in this case, MIA or maybe a POW, but rescued, picked up. And so everybody has to be very careful that other things aren't compromised and put other soldiers possibly in this situation at risk from ongoing efforts or negotiations or whatever the case may be. So it's again very fragile situation that too much discussion or information that gets out at the wrong times may jeopardize a very serious, very dangerous ongoing operation.

BLITZER: It doesn't get much more sensitive than this. But General, having said that -- and you've been in the position, you've been a commander, you've dealt with these kinds of sensitive issues over your military career. So you know you have to believe that before Brigadier General Vincent Brooks went before the cameras, went out there at that podium at Central Command and announced that they've rescued one U.S. soldier, they went through the whole scenario.

Would this compromise the rescue of others? Would it endanger anyone else? And they would only make that announcement once they're convinced that it wouldn't compromise a potential future rescue or the lives of anyone else who may be MIA or POW.

GRANGE: Well, that's right. I mean, they did go through those procedures. And, in fact, I know, having worked with CNN and as an example right now, that it wouldn't even be discussed if some of the things were going on. Because everyone is very cognizant of the dangers there.

All I'm saying is they won't discuss procedures. They won't discuss the technique and how that happened, most likely, with other POWs or MIAs still out in the field.

BLITZER: And the notion, the decision that they made at Central Command, I'm sure it was made at the highest level. I'm sure that General Franks was directly involved in this decision to get everybody up in the middle of the night, 4:00 AM local time here in the Persian Gulf, and make this announcement, that was a carefully, carefully weighed decision designed to get this good news out as quickly as possible.

GRANGE: That's correct. And the other important aspect of this is one of the most sensitive as well as the highest priority missions is a recovery of lost service members, POW or MIA, even if the government knows that people most likely were killed to recover the remains. This is very -- it's a high priority, I know it is. It should be.

The other service members in the field, those Marines, those soldiers, pilots that are flying, engaging the enemy right now, those at sea, wherever they are, that the government will go to extraordinary measures. And, in fact, even risk other lives to recover missing or prisoners of war of the United States armed forces.

BLITZER: All right. And we are getting now official confirmation, General Grange, that the Pentagon has confirmed that Private 1st Class Jessica lynch, 19 years old, of Palestine, West Virginia, a member of the 507th Maintenance Unit based at Fort Bliss, Texas, a supply clerk, has indeed been successfully rescued.

General Grange, thanks very much. We'll be getting back to you for more analysis, of course, through the night.

A dramatic development, Paula. What else can I say? This is something that the U.S. military has been hoping for. They've still got their work cut out for them. There are other MIAs and other POWs still under the control, presumably, of the Iraqis.

ZAHN: And while so many questions have been raised by that very short statement coming from CENTCOM about questions surrounding whether she was rescued in captivity or what any of those details are, we have now learned that her father, obviously, has been notified. And he is saying to CNN that she has been taken to a hospital in coalition-controlled territory. And as Wolf mentioned, she was assigned as a supply clerk to the 507th Maintenance Division, Fort Bliss, Texas.

Now it is interesting to note the lone female POW at this hour is Shoshana Johnson. She was an Army chef, although she also trained in mechanics after enlisting in 1998. And I actually spoke with one of her relatives this morning who was hoping that Reverend Jesse Jackson will lead an effort to try to encourage the Red Cross to make some kind of contact with these American POWs being held in Iraq.

So far, most of the contact that has been made has been done through the Iraqi mission here in the United States. No movement at all, although U.S. government officials are hopeful that we may see some sort of Red Cross intervention at some point.

Now with so many new events and battles breaking out in Iraq today, we're going to take a quick check at the latest developments in the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: 9:11 a.m. Eastern Time, CNN's Martin Savidge traveling with the 1st Battalion 7th Marines, offers up new video of the Marines searching an industrial complex in south central Iraq. It's part of their campaign against paramilitary units, so- called death squads that are disrupting coalition supply lines.

11:05 a.m.: CNN's Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon General Tommy Franks, chief of the U.S. Central Command has been given authority to decide when to move on Baghdad without waiting for an OK from the president or the secretary of defense.

11:15 a.m.: nine U.S. troops injured in combat arrived in Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

12:00 Eastern Time, 9:00 p.m. in Baghdad: Iraq's information ministry urges Iraqis to take their chance for immortality by fighting U.S.-led troops.

1:30 p.m. Eastern Time: four journalists who disappeared from a Baghdad hotel a week ago turn up safe in Jordan. A reporter and photographer from "Newsday" and two other freelance photographers are reported in good health.

2:31 p.m. Eastern: Joint Chief's Chairman Richard Myers says two Iraqi Republican Guard divisions around Baghdad have been reduced to about half their fighting capability by U.S. air, artillery, and ground attacks.

2:58 p.m.: Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in Turkey to talk about continued cooperation in the war in Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So with British and U.S. troops locked in bloody battles in central Iraq, and two ground offensives being launched against Iraq's Medina forces, coalition forces are gearing up for a siege on Baghdad. A major obstacle could be the Karbala gap, which we've heard a lot about tonight. It is a region full of lakes and valleys south of the capital that could choke troop movements.

Let's bring back our Miles O'Brien in Atlanta and retired Brigadier General David Grange for some perspective. Good evening, gentlemen.

O'BRIEN: Thanks very much, Paula. The Karbala gap, you know when you look at Baghdad on the map, you might have the sense it's fairly easy to approach for armored and for infantry and for the U.S. military in general. It may not be as simple as it looks.

David Grange, give us a sense of some of the obstacles that are there, and why Karbala, in some sense, becomes a choke point.

GRANGE: Well, Karbala, as you know, is located just south of one of the large lakes and reservoirs on the western side of Iraq. There are two major reservoirs to the west of Iraq. And then to the east -- or Baghdad, excuse me. To the east of Baghdad, of course, you have the mountain ranges, and then north of Baghdad you have Tikrit and a major highway moving north and south.

And then the southern approach, like the coalition forces are engaged in now, is -- you have the Tigris River and the Euphrates River and you have a series of canals in that. So Baghdad itself is located geographically in a very -- it's rather tough accessibility to approach Baghdad with large military forces.

O'BRIEN: All right. I've drawn -- on a big view here, I've drawn -- with some pretty bad handwriting there -- there's Baghdad circled in red, and there is a blue arrow indicating a rough direction of coalition forces. And I want to highlight here for you -- there's the Euphrates River, and right around in here is the Tigris River. Without giving away state secrets here, we can presume, General Grange, that a fair number of the forces will be coming from that direction?

GRANGE: Well, that's one of the avenues of approach. There are several. That's one of the avenues of approach. Of course, the reservoir, the lake to the west, has a piece of key terrain, a dam that's key. Karbala area his several bridge sites that are key.

And so as you look at the two rivers, the lake, the built-up areas and the series of canals and berms along the roads that have irrigation, it's still a challenging movement to get into southern Baghdad from the south and as well as from the west. So obviously the Republican Guards are going to defend it using the geographical advantages of where Baghdad's located.

O'BRIEN: All right. Now what I've drawn here, there's Baghdad right there. We are kind of looking down to the south. This is the lake that is farthest north.

And as best we can tell from looking at the satellite imagery through the help of our friends at earthview.com, you've got a dam here which certainly could be something that could be breached if it was deemed strategically -- something that would want to be done by the Iraqis.

You go to this next one, this next lake, a little smaller body of water. It apparently has a dam down on this end. And, finally, this lake that has farthest to the south, closest to this gap, Karbala has the dam right there. And if it were breached, it would spill water all into this valley. Would that completely slow down the advance of U.S. and coalition forces?

GRANGE: It could slow down, Miles. It would slow down the advance, but it would not stop it. It's just, again, another obstacle that the coalition forces would have to contend with.

These things are taken into consideration on any type of offensive operation, weather terrain and the enemy force disposition. So that's one of the considerations. But the Karbala area is a key area. I'm sure it's critical to the coalition forces, and they're probably taking advantage where they can of the terrain, just like the Iraqi Republican Guard is doing the same.

O'BRIEN: All right. So these three dams are probably critical. Would it be accurate to say that that would be high priority items for Special Forces to secure and advance somehow?

GRANGE: It's key terrain. I would think that someone would secure that or deny the enemy's use of that to do something to the dams.

O'BRIEN: All right. So in the march toward Baghdad, it seems as if this Karbala gap is something to consider as being a very key piece of territory.

GRANGE: Very key.

O'BRIEN: All right. David Grange, retired Brigadier General of the United States Army, thanks very much for being with us -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Miles. We're going to keep our eye focused on downtown Baghdad. It was just about 45 minutes or so we heard a number of reports suggesting a series of explosions being heard. Reuters confirming that two bombs hit the presidential palace of Saddam Hussein, a place that housed not only his son's office, but in addition to that, some of the offices of the Republican Guard.

As soon as we get more information on that we will bring it to you live -- Wolf. Oh, excuse me. We've got Bob Franken up, who is standing by at an air base. We've heard so much, Bob, about some of the increased air activity over the last couple of hours. What's going on there now?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at the moment we're relying on figures now that have ended in the morning. What we have is the same kind of intensity we've had for the last couple of days, close to 2,000 air strikes, about 800 actual strikes. The rest are supportive, like refueling and airlifts and the like.

But what's interesting is about two thirds of them -- about two thirds of the strikes are against Republican Guard units -- two thirds of them. And of course the Republican Guards are the key. Everybody has already considered that those would be the key battles.

A number of those 800 flights, about 50 -- 50 of them -- were aimed at key spots in Baghdad. Command and control and the like. That is, of course, a rather large amount. It has been a consistent amount. And that's what they seem to be getting in Baghdad this evening.

Meanwhile, there's been such a quick turnaround. The A-10 flights continue to come in and out. We're told that there is about a half-hour turnaround. They will go out on a flight, they will spend the time that they spend in the air, they will come back. The maintenance men operate just like some racetracks (ph) somewhere, and they turn them around in about a half hour, and off they go again.

The A-10s, of course, are for the strikes against the Republican Guard. The different kind of planes that are used are used -- the bigger planes are used for the strikes in Baghdad. But there has been a focus on Baghdad. It has been consistent. What we'll have to watch for as the days go on is if that number increases as plans continue for a final strike on Baghdad -- Paula.

ZAHN: Bob Franken, thanks so much for the update. We'll be getting back to you throughout the evening.

That wraps up this hour of our special coverage this evening. Wolf and I will be back at the top of the next hour.

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