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Talk with Gen. Peter Pace

Aired April 2, 2003 - 10:02   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Let us begin with the extraordinary rescue of Jessica Lynch. Her family is due to hold a news conference at any moment. And we will be covering that when it comes about. We want to wait to get to that. We'll check in with General Peter Pace, who is the vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
Thank you very much for joining us this morning, General Pace.


ZAHN: I'm fine, thanks.

I would love for you to help us better understand some of the reporting we are hearing from embeds. Karl Penhaul reporting that U.S. forces southwest of Baghdad expect to cross into the southern edge of the capital by nightfall. We heard Brigadier General Vincent Brooks saying the dagger is clearly pointed on the heart of the regime.

Can you characterize for us any kind of timetable without in any way compromising the safety of the troops that might be involved in these activities?

PACE: Well, I think it's not wise to exactly specify timelines. But for sure, what is happening is a combination of airpower and maneuver on the ground is destroying the divisions, the Iraqi divisions that are in and around Baghdad and in and around Al-Kut. You have seen for the last several days, airpower has really done a tremendous job of pounding them to the point where they have been destroyed in large measure.

What is happening now is the ground maneuver is taking place to both destroy the remnants that are still there, and also to position our forces better to take advantage of airpower again. So the combination of air and ground will continue.

ZAHN: The British Central Command is cautioning against jumping the gun. Would you acknowledge that the British are pushing for a slower timetable than U.S. Forces?

PACE: I think that the coalition of U.S., the Brits, the Australians the Pols, all of the commanders are working very, very closely with coalition commander General Tom Franks. This is very much a team effort. Everyone gets a chance to put their ideas on a table as commanders, and I'm very pleased and proud of the cooperation, and especially the professionalism of the British troops, who are doing a magnificent job in and around Basra right now.

ZAHN: There is no discord, as far as you will acknowledge, between what the British want and the U.S. want? There's talk of the British wanting to spend more time in Nasiriyah at this point?

PACE: I have not heard any comments about that. The Brits are not in Nasiriyah right now. The U.S. Marines are in Nasiriyah. The Brits are in Basra and doing a fantastic...

ZAHN: Excuse me, yes, you're absolutely right, General Pace; I just misspoke, in Basra.

PACE: Yes, in and around Nasiriyah is where we were very fortunate last night to have the joint operation go as well as it did, to free PFC Jessica Lynch. So we're proud of that.

ZAHN: That was quite a risky, daring rescue operation, wasn't it? What was at stake there?

PACE: Well, we had some good intelligence that she was there, and we had a chance to put together a raid that included the joint forces, U.S. special operations forces, Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, Rangers. It was really a great operation. And the skills of those who went in and the bravery of those who went in to free her over time will be probably recognized and acknowledged.

ZAHN: Another thing that Brigadier General Vincent Brooks made reference to in the CENTCOM briefing today was the so-called red line, the point at which Iraqi forces may resort to using weapons of mass destruction, and he says not like you can draw a line on the map and understand where that is. Could you give an audience a better idea of what you all are referring to when you talk about the red line?

PACE: There has been one intelligence report of a line somewhere around Baghdad, that's supposedly is called the red line, that if U.S. coalition forces cross it, would result in some kind of different kind of tactics on the part of the enemy.

I would simply say this, the fate of the Iraqi regime is not in doubt. Saddam Hussein and his regime of thugs will be gone. What remains is for the commanders of the units on the ground, Iraqi units on the ground, they can still determine their own fate, they can still surrender, they can still not crimes against humanity, they can still not execute any kind of orders that would tell them to use weapons of mass destruction.

So for those not in the small circle of leaders in and around Saddam himself, they still have very clear choices to make, and their choices will have major impact both on the troops who look to them for leadership right now, and on their own personal fate when this is all over.

ZAHN: Want to talk about choices for a moment. Why do you think it is the Iraqis haven't used weapons of mass destruction yet?

PACE: I do not know. I believe that a lot of the commanders, in fact, do recognize that they do have a free choice in this, that they should not execute orders that are illegal and immoral such as any order to use any kind of a weapon of mass destruction. So I think that there are Iraqi soldiers out there who know what is right and who will in fact disobey illegal and immoral orders.

ZAHN: And finally, General Pace, we've got off the phone with Roland Benjamin of the International Red Cross, and he described having visiting a Baghdad hospital where he saw, in his words, hundreds of civilian casualties. He also described, although he didn't give a firm number, a number of dead Iraqis in the wing of the hospital he visited.

Can you tell us about any independent confirmation you might have of this information he shared with us just about 20 minutes ago?

PACE: Yes, I have no information on that. I can tell you, categorically, that our campaign, our bombing in and around Baghdad has been very, very precise. It is possible some of our weapons did not perform the way they should have.

On the other hand, the amount of anti-aircraft missiles and unguided missiles, and unguided missiles, surface-to-air missiles, that have been fired by the Iraqis, the amount of small arms weapons fired, all of that stuff goes up, misses the airplanes and comes back down. And in my opinion, a large measure of the casualties on the ground that are civilian are being caused by the inaccurate and very strong use of antiaircraft weapons, without having a target that they can actually aim at.

ZAHN: General Peter Pace, we really appreciate your time this morning, vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

Thanks again for your time.

PACE: Thank you for yours, Paula.


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