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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

15th Marine Expeditionary Unit Battle

Aired April 2, 2003 - 04:17   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Some of the most intense fighting over the last couple of days, at least for U.S. Marines, has been in and around Nasiriya. And that is where we go right now where Jason Bellini has arrived. He is with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Jason, what can you tell us?

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we arrived real early in the morning, it was about 3:00 a.m. And the Marines finally got a little bit of shuteye today, now waking up to a very beautiful day here on the Euphrates River, on the banks of the Euphrates River.

No Marines are going out for a swim though, they're on a state of high alert and continuing operations in this area. That, after last night, going in during and after a heavy bombardment of the city that we're quite certain woke up just about everyone who was here.

We were watching it from a distance. And the pictures we've sent in, these night vision pictures, were taken from perhaps two to three kilometers away. But you can still hear the helicopters, you can still hear the aerial bombardments, the assaults from -- assaults from Cobra helicopter gunships and artillery also hitting Saddam Fedayeen strongholds in this city. They considered it a successful mission that no Marines were injured in this very large assault -- very large preplanned assault that was conducted in real time with the rescue -- the successful rescue of a POW on the other side of where -- on the other side of the river.

They purposefully conducted both operations at the same time so that the very loud one, which the Marines we're with were a part, the very loud, very visible one, would, they hoped, take the -- take the Fedayeen holding the POW off guard. And it appears that that was a successful tactic last night. A successful rescue effort by Marine Special Forces as part of a task force that went in by helicopter to make that rescue...

COOPER: Sorry, Jason, I thought I'd just lost you there for a moment. I've got a question, as you were coming into Nasiriya, the Marines you were with, and we have heard so much about how fierce the fighting has been there. Some senior Marines telling CNN a couple of days ago that's the fiercest fighting the Marines have seen since the Vietnam War. Was there a sense of trepidation, a sense of excitement, a sense of a -- a sober sense among the Marines you were with as they -- as they knew they were going to go into Nasiriya?

BELLINI: Interesting question. I think in the days before this happened there was a somber mood, one that I hadn't seen up until this point, because their commander is the captain of -- the captain of Gulf Company (ph) warned them that this was going to be a very difficult and very serious mission. They were informed about other events that had happened to their fellow Marines in this city so they were in the process, they said, of mentally preparing themselves.

But I think as we went in, there was a real sense of confidence. I think there was a sense of confidence in their numbers, that by going in with such a large force they didn't think that these militia groups would dare to attack them, they would dare to sneak up on them.

They certainly maintained high security as we went along. Every time we stopped, a number of Marines getting out, providing security to the -- to this convoy as it went in. It turns out that everything, at least as far the convoy we were part of, went smoothly, went in without encountering resistance.

Now they're just concerned about the possibility of more ambush attacks and keeping up their vigilance -- keeping up their vigilance even -- oops, dropped my mike there, sorry, Anderson -- keeping up their vigilance even as you know -- even as you see civilians out walking about. You know it seems like a normal, very beautiful day out on the Euphrates River -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, I imagine things can change in a second there. Jason Bellini, appreciate it. Stay safe. We'll talk to you later on.

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