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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

U.S. Marines Take Over Air Base in central Iraq; Vernon Press Conference

Aired April 3, 2003 - 03:00   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A major land grab for coalition forces. U.S. Marines take over an air base in central Iraq. It is the latest military maneuver to unfold as a decisive showdown looms with Saddam Hussein's dwindling lines of defense.
Good morning to you. It is Thursday, April 3 -- day 14 of the coalition war against Iraq. From CNN's global headquarters, in Atlanta, I'm Anderson Cooper. I'm joined by Daryn Kagan in Kuwait.

Daryn, good morning.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Daryn Kagan in Kuwait City.

We're expecting an update on British operations in Iraq any minute now. A news conference expected from here. When that happens, as I mentioned, we will bring it to you live.

Anderson, I'm going to toss it back to you because I don't hear anything on our air. Have we joined the news conference? Let's go to the news conference.

COL. CHRIS VERNON, BRITISH ARMY SPOKESMAN: I'm talking particularly about the Basra province and the British area of operations. I can go slightly wider, but clearly my definition and resolution diminishes as I go outside the British area of operations.

In the Basra province, British forces are operating two types -- or against two types of opposition concurrently: Iraq's armed forces and irregular forces. We are conducting conventional war-fighting operations against the former, and internal security, counter- insurgency operations, against the latter.

Against the former, the conventional forces, we continue to destroy Iraqi combat power with purpose, agility, determination, discipline and endurance. To achieve the requisite effect against the irregulars, we need to focus on who they are, where they are and operate, and who are committed hardliners and who are coerced.

We need to deny them communications with the regime and with the local people. We need to exploit the fact in our area of operations that they are not amongst their own. We must separate the public from their total control, which is consequent upon absolutely fear. We must, in short, remove them from the community. A critical line of operation in this respect is to exploit the seam that exists between the irregulars and the civilian population. Working an effective hearts and minds campaign to win over the local population is absolutely critical in this respect.

The distribution of food and water is a key facet of this but equally, and perhaps more important, is their perception of us, the British forces.

We must appear authoritative but not threatening. We have to convince them that we are here to stay for the full term and that there is no chance at all that the Baghdad regime will remain in power. We are not there yet, but we are gaining ground day on day.

Our control of Azubaya (ph) is manifestation of initial success and all goes well for Basra.

In sum, we have already demonstrated our ability to operate effectively in our prosecution of two levels of warfare. And we will continue to do so, but on our terms and on our terms alone.

Questions please. Yes.

QUESTION: You emphasize, all military official emphasize (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You emphasize always that you take great care not to hit on targets in the civilian population (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We hear that you used a type of cluster bombs in Basra. Is that a sign of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and did you seek legal approval (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

VERNON: I can categorically state the British forces are not using any type of cluster munitions, either from the air or with artillery. Categorically state that. Yes?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

VERNON: Yes. I think, as I said, we're getting there, but it's slow. There is a hugely deep-rooted fear in the people. The legacy of the '91 put-down is really, really deep and they are not going to be convinced of us until they are convinced that the Saddam Hussein regime is gone, and that's the critical thing we are finding. And we've clearly got to work at that.

Now, clearly, the American reinforcement -- I've just driven down the main road from Iraq -- you've got American forces piling on in there. That is clearly to all of you a clear political statement of intent, but if you're living in Basra, where you don't see all this and you're cut off in communication terms, and what little you have is state-controlled meter (ph) anyway, they're not seeing that.

So we've just got to chip away at this, but the deep-rooted fear and the suspicion runs very, very deep indeed. Yes?

QUESTION: Chris, can you tell us, early, you or one of your colleagues suggested you were broadcasting into Basra, both on radio and television, and you just said that here in Basra you don't see this. Can you amplify a little bit on what you actually are broadcasting in?

VERNON: Yes, well, I eluded in my initial statement, we have got to remove the communication between the people and the regime. We have done that by taking out the TV towers and the radio capability within Basra. So that's de-linked the regime.

Whether locally they are able to get something going, we're not quite sure. But we are running radio stations which are transmitting into Basra. It's a mixture -- it's all in Arabic, of course. There's a mixture of Arabic and indeed Western music with the broad message that our argument is not with you, the people of Basra, it is with the regime, and particularly the Baath Party officials in Basra who support that, and the militia whom they are controlling, the irregulars.

COOPER: You have been listening to Colonel Chris Vernon, a British military spokesman, from Kuwait City. Nothing really new.

He's talking about the efforts in and around Basra that have been going on now for a week or more, talking about that it is important to, quote, "exploit the seam that exists between the Iraqi irregulars and the civilian population." To do that, to exploit the seam, he talked about the hearts and minds being important, distribution of aid is part of that. Also, the perception of the British, to show, as he said, "we are here to stay," and show that the Baghdad regime will be toppled. But he bid caution that the fear and suspicion is deep- rooted.

We want to -- we broke into the press conference because we want to give you an overview of what is going on right now and then we're going to talk to Martin Savidge very shortly.

As we told you earlier, U.S. forces have moved to within 15 miles of Baghdad's southern suburbs. The First Marine Expeditionary Force moved across the Tigris River, facing off against parts of the Baghdad division of the Republican Guard.

At the same time, the Army has moved several units along the Euphrates River, passed Karbala. The 3rd Infantry and 11th Attack Helicopter Brigade led the charge against the Medina Division of the Republican Guard. Coalition forces established control over many of the key river crossings while the 101st Airborne took control of Najaf.

And Martin Savidge is imbedded with the Marines near the frontlines. He joins us now from central Iraq.

Martin, what's the latest.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you caught me right in the middle of a mouthful of lunch here.

We have to eat when we can, so excuse me...

COOPER: I'll fill in -- there you go. Go ahead. SAVIDGE: We are located about -- we're located about 40 miles, maybe, to the southeast of Baghdad, near an area known as Numiniyah. This was an air base, essentially, that was secured by the 1st Battalion 7th Marines and it was their objective of yesterday.

They moved about 120 kilometers, coming up from the north, or coming up north. And this air base used to be an air force base. It was operated by the Iraqi Air Force. Of course, it's not anymore, it's been secured.

It's just off over in that direction, and already we have seen coalition aircraft landing there, helicopters, so it is quickly being put to use by coalition forces. Obviously a great staging area because now they hae aircraft and they have helicopters much closer to the scene of further operations, much closer to Baghdad, for any future fighting that may come up.

This morning we were awakened to a heavy sound of artillery. This was all out-going, coming from the U.S. Marines. It was all targeted about 25, 30 kilometers away from us. In fact, it was so distant that they were using a special kind of projectile, which is actually a Howitzer shell fired from a big 155-mm gun and then it's actually got a rocket motor attached to it that kicks it out even farther.

So that was flying directly over our heads. It's a little bit unnerving to hear it rocketing over, but you'd hear the rocket boosters kick in and it just sounds like a jet plane flying over, and then you hear the multiple sounds of impacts in that direction.

It died down. Guns pushed forward then resumed their bombardment several hours later, and now it's been very, very quiet.

The Tigris River is about 20 to 35 kilometers in that direction, or roughly about 15 or 20 miles. You already know that there are some marine units across that river. That is also in the general direction where this Baghdad division of the Republican Guard has been operating, known to be sort of straddling that river there.

The key input here is that you have marine forces that continue to drive forward, drive north, keep pushing toward the Baghdad region. At the same time, you have other marine units that are standing by and ready to engage Iraqi opposition if they do find it.

No one is stopping to fight. You have units that peel off. They do the fighting, if necessary, while the main body of the element keeps driving forward. Nothing is slowing momentum.

Maybe you can see in the background here, huge column of equipment still coming in, undeterred, uninterrupted by any fighting that may be taking place in this area. The force buildup right on schedule according to marine commanders here. No shortage of supplies, no problems with morale. They're glad to be moving and glad to be moving in the general direction of Baghdad.

We'll get more from the frontlines later. Our photographer, Scott McGuinney (ph), up there with one of the front units. We'll be expecting to check in with him. We're sort of stuck back here due to mechanical problems -- Anderson.

COOPER: Martin, before I quiz you on what you were actually eating and whether or not you've got milk, I want to just ask a little bit about the mood where you are. I mean, looking at those trucks behind you, it seems sort of almost pedestrian. It seems sort of the leisurely pace. Does that tell anything? I mean, is that true? What's the sense? What's the mood your hearing among the marines you're with?

SAVIDGE: Confidence. Confidence is the key word that you hear, and the sense that you get by being here.

Perhaps there is a battle taking place about 25, 30 kilometers down the road. We don't know that for certain. We're measuring that by the amount of ongoing artillery we heard, but the fact that you have obviously continuing convoys of just every kind of piece of equipment you could imagine, a lot of it looking very permanent in nature, is a clear sign that whatever they may have run into up the road is not going to bog down the forward progress of the marines, not going to bog down the military mission here in Iraq, and they can quickly come in after there has been any sort of fighting in a region. Once it's been cleared, they can begin setting up bases, begin setting up more supply lines, and begin pushing it all forward.

So there is an extreme sense of confidence, and when you hear -- when the marines are briefed in the morning about the prospect of running into combat, they don't flinch. In fact, they're excited about the prospect of getting out there and, in their words, taking the fight to those Iraqi forces that don't see it in their good sense to surrender.

So there is no harm as far as morale here, and as long as they are pushing forward, these marines are very happy, because they know the way home is that way, to Baghdad -- Anderson.

COOPER: Martin, a personal question, if I may. A, actually, what were you eating. I'm sort of curious to know what you eat and how often you get to eat. Also, how often do you get to sleep? I mean, I can't even imagine what it's like.

SAVIDGE: Well, what I was just eating was probably the worst food to possibly have just before you go on the air, peanut-butter and crackers. And I didn't bring my water bottle out here, so it was sticking right to everything in my mouth.

It's very warm today, just in case you don't know. Very high temperatures, perhaps some of the highest temperatures we have seen in a while. Of course, dressed in the full chem suit, which we are wearing, it only adds to the heat. The medics have been going around, warning the marines here to drink plenty of water, stay hydrated. They don't want to have any heat casualties on top of any fighting casualties, if there were to be some.

As far as sleep, you get it when you can, essentially. It's always wise if you have any downtime -- the marines already know this -- sleep when you can, because you never know when you may be moving. We have been moved in the middle of the night. We have been told at times that no, you can go ahead and bed down, get ready for a full night's sleep and then an hour-and-a-half you're being rousted and we're quickly throwing sleeping bags and gear into the back of the vehicle and heading off.

So sleep is something that's usually grabbed in a matter of hours, and you take it whenever you can find it. That's a good prescription out here -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, a very good description. Just very briefly, do you know which way the wind is blowing, north or south?

SAVIDGE: You know, it's a very light breeze that is blowing right now, and just as I check the compass, it feels like it's coming out of, roughly, the north, northwest. But not -- it's just a hint of a breeze.

COOPER: All right, appreciate it, Martin Savidge, and seriously, I think you're going to be a spokesman for milk soon, because that was like the ideal "Got Milk" commercial, doing a live shot when you're chewing peanut-butter. You handled it very well. You're always, calm, cool and collected under fire, even more so when eating peanut butter.

Martin Savidge, appreciate it. Stay safe and enjoy the rest of your lunch. We'll talk to you later.

SAVIDGE: Thank you.

COOPER: All right. We're going to go to break?

All right, we are. And when we come back, more of our continuing coverage of the "War In Iraq."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, as we've been covering all morning long, a lot going on right now on the ground in Iraq.

A Navy F-18 Hornet went down over Iraq, plus there is this offensive going on, heading toward Baghdad.

With more on all of that, we're joined by Chris Plante, live at the Pentagon -- Chris.

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson.

That's right, a Navy F-18 Hornet, flying from the deck of the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, operating in the Persian Gulf, went down earlier today. It apparently went down over Iraq after some antiaircraft fire and surface-to-air missiles were cited. It's not clear that the plane was shot down, but early indications are that it was.

There are also indications that the pilot was able to eject before the plane hit the ground and search and rescue efforts have been underway for some time now. We do not have word as to the fate of the pilot, perhaps picked up and rescued by now. We wouldn't get word until that pilot was returned to a safe area, and we have no further indication as to which way that's going.

Also earlier today a U.S. Army Black Hawk near the town of Karbala, shot down by small arms, perhaps AK-47's, maybe a rocket- propelled grenade. Not clear what's going on with that. Initial indications were that seven were killed and four were rescued, then the Central Command backed off of that and they say that it's much less clear now, rather than more clear, all these hours later, as to how many people may have been killed or injured in that. They say now that there may have only been six people aboard that helicopter.

This is the kind of thing that happens in combat. They may have been dropping troops off at one location and continuing on to another to drop perhaps several other troops off in a second location. Not really clear. We're still waiting for additional details. Again, not a good sign when they come out of the gate saying that there were a number of people killed, so we're basically waiting for additional details on both of these incidents -- Anderson.

COOPER: And a grim wait it is.

Chris, don't think you've seen this, but I just want to show our viewers, we have received some video from Iraqi state television. The video purports to show, according to Iraqi state television, it's -- they are reporting that antiaircraft artillery shot down what they have called an enemy plane near Basra. That is allegedly what they are showing in this video.

When the shoot down took place, who's plane it is, not reported. So really not much information on it, but just -- it's video that we got in just a short time ago, so I just want to show it to everyone. It's Iraqi television. Again -- Chris, go ahead.

PLANTE: I just have to say based on this video, it's almost impossible to say what that is. It's such a mess. It doesn't necessarily even look fresh, but it's very difficult to tell, if the wreckage had been up in flames before it was videotaped, that might explain the condition of some of it.

But, quite honestly, it's impossible to say whether that is a U.S. aircraft or a helicopter or what it is, and it doesn't necessarily even look brand new, quite honestly. You know, an F-18, which would be gray in color, I would think that elements of it, at least, would be identifiable. This is such a mess and again, doesn't look knew, that it's a little difficult to make any judgment on this videotape.

COOPER: Fair enough. Chris Plante, at the Pentagon, thanks. We'll check in with you later.

And now let's go back to Daryn Kagan in Kuwait City -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Anderson, there was an unexpectedly warm welcome for the 101st Airborne Division today as they entered the city of Najaf. Najaf is considered Iraq's holiest city and troops are concerned they might upset the Shiite Muslims who live there.

At first, residents were cautious, but ended up walking with troops, patting their backs and giving then the thumbs up during the slow four-hour procession through that town.

Moving north, more explosions in Baghdad overnight, and coalition troops are reportedly closing in on the southern suburbs of the capitol city. With more on that, we're joined by Rym Brahimi. She is in Amman, Jordan.

Rym, hello.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Daryn.

Residents in Baghdad that I spoke to said they couldn't sleep all night from the sound of bombing and of planes hovering over the skies of Baghdad.

Now I also spoke to some hospital sources. They told me about a maternity hospital that had been damaged. That maternity hospital is located near the Red Crescent building in a residential area of Baghdad. Both the Red Crescent and the maternity ward were damaged. However, the maternity ward had been evacuated at the start of the war, so there was nobody there, and the people that got injured from that bomb that hit the area were people who were really passers-by, people walking.

The real target, it seemed, or what ended up being targeted, was in fact the Baghdad International Trade Fair grounds that's located just across the road from that maternity hospital.

Now, as you know, Daryn, four journalists were released from an Iraqi jail, they've been in detention for more than a week. That's one of the happy stories, if you will. They're also a lot of difficulties, as you can imagine, for those who have remained in Baghdad. Other ones of our colleagues, journalists, who are finding it increasingly difficult to report from there, and Al-Jazeera has faced some difficulties.

One of their correspondents has been banned from reporting and another one of their correspondents has been expelled from the country. Now, Al-Jazeera has decided as a result to stop all its correspondents from working, and it says it doesn't know why the Ministry of Information made that decision, but it says until further notice it will just simply broadcast live pictures from its various live positions throughout the country -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Rym, I want to ask you about a story that's developing in Jordan, where you are, and that involves the king of that country trying to walk a very delicate balancing act here, saying exactly where his country stands in terms of this war.

BRAHIMI: Indeed, Daryn. In an interview given to "Petro" (ph), which is a Jordanian news agency, King Abdullah stressed again that Jordan rejects this war. Also stressed that he believed the war would have devastating effects on Iraq, but also on the entire region, saying that Jordan would exert every effort, again, to see a peaceful solution and a solution that involves the United Nations.

Now the timing of this is very interesting, Daryn. That's really the most interesting aspect of it. This comes after -- now we're in day 15 of the bombings. There have been a certain number of demonstrations here in Amman and other cities in Jordan.

A lot of people here in Jordan watching pictures of Iraqi casualties on Arabic satellite channels increasingly angered at what's happening. The king has to say something, has to walk a -- has to sort of -- he is walking a very, very tight rope, but he has to say something.

Also comes just two days after 95 people, including five former prime ministers, and the others were senators, former chiefs of staff, former other ministers and members of parliament. Well, they wrote a petition asking the king to sign it as well and to declare the war illegitimate.

So definitely, there was the need here for the king to say something at this point, again, to appease the people of Jordan, increasingly angry at what they're seeing in Iraq -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Rym Brahimi, reporting to us from Amman, Jordan. Thank you very much for that.

We will take a break and we'll be back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: Welcome back to Kuwait City.

It was harrowing and frightening experience for "Newsday" reporter Matthew McAllester. He is one of four journalists and a peace activist taken from their hotel room in Baghdad by Iraqi officials. They were detained for a week. They were released on Tuesday.

McAllester spoke with our Larry King last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW MCALLESTER, "NEWSDAY": The first 24 hours, I was assuming that they would hear somehow or they would just believe that we had been expelled, and they'd be waiting for a phone call from Damascus or Amman. And then, as the next 24 hours ticked by, they would start to get very worried. And then I decided that in the third day, their anxiety would have kicked in in a huge way. And at that stage, the organization would have moved into full gear and the -- you know, the wheels would go into motion, whatever those wheels were. And we -- it's funny, I was sort of, you know, remembering back to people like Jesse Jackson, who were involved in securing releases of hostages in Kuwait in '91 and American soldiers in -- during the Kosovo war. And he was involved, and all sorts of other people were involved. I mean, our thanks to people in "Newsday" and beyond, throughout the whole journalistic community, people we've never met I know have just performed extraordinary feats of kindness and generosity and work on our behalf. And without -- I don't think -- I mean, I know that we wouldn't be here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Well, speaking of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, he says he's willing to go to Iraq to help negotiate the release of U.S. POWs. He met yesterday in New York with Mohammad Al Douri, that is Iraq's U.N. ambassador.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: They need not be held as trophies. We hope that these hostages -- that this can come to an end, because they're so devastatingly concerned about prisoners of war and combatants, whether they are in Iraq or Guantanamo or Afghanistan.

But as for right now, the family members have been calling us. Are their relatives dead or alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Jackson has gone on similar missions in the past in Syria, Yugoslavia and Cuba. His trip to Cuba resulted in Fidel Castro releasing some political prisoners.

News now on Army Private Jessica Lynch. She is halfway home after her dramatic rescue from an Iraqi hospital on Tuesday. The 19- year-old was flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Wednesday. She is being treated at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for injuries that include two fractured legs. No word yet on how soon she will return to the United States.

"The Washington Post" is reporting today that Lynch did not surrender to the Iraqis without a fight. She reportedly continued firing her weapon, hitting several Iraqi soldiers, until she ran out of ammunition, even after she had sustained those multiple gunshot wounds.

Another break coming up here, but much more ahead. Our coverage continues after this.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: We're at least three-and-a-half hours away from the next briefing from Central Command in Doha, but we go to our Tom Mintier there with a look ahead. Tom -- hello.

TIM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Daryn.

As we have heard, the push towards Baghdad is not coming without a price being paid. A couple of incidents that are being investigated here at CENTCOM, and we're waiting for further information.

A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter went down overnight, as well as a U.S. Navy F-18 Hornet that went down. Search and rescue crews are apparently on the ground now on that operation.

But they are saying that the on-the-ground push at least and the softening up of the Republican Guard that has been going on for several days now is starting to bear fruit.

We talked to Colonel Tom Bright, a Marine Corps colonel, who is chief of operations here at CENTCOM, and he says that the push for Baghdad is going on schedule.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. TOM BRIGHT, CENTCOM JOINT OPERATIONS: It's been reported that we're now north of both of those rivers and making tremendous progress. We've continued to destroy the enemy that he puts in front of us one division at a time as we confront them from the south. From the west, we have made unbelievable good progress in that area.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MINTIER: The two rivers that he's speaking of, the Tigris and the Euphrates, there was concern here at CENTCOM in previous days that bridges across that river had been rigged with demolition, but so far the bridges are still standing.

Also this morning a briefing from the Australians, Brigadier Maurie McNarn, who met with reporters here at CENTCOM headquarters, and was asked about the Republican Guard, the fact that they had been pounded for the last few days and nights by air power and the reports of at least the Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard being destroyed, as CENTCOM officials put it. He says, however, that there may be tough days to come.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. MAURIE MCNARN, CMDR., AUSTRALIAN FORCES: We know their command and control has been severely degraded. There is increasingly disorganization and indications of some fairly (UNINTELLIGIBLE) maneuvering. Who is in control is very hard to say, and I think we'll find out more as we close on Baghdad. But their command and control systems have been heavily damaged, and their control is starting to slip away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MINTIER: The Australian general pointing out that there have been reinforcements coming down south of Baghdad, but no real indication of what these reinforcements are doing. As he indicated, the command and control has been seriously degraded, and where the orders are coming from and whether orders have been issued that are simply being carried out now, they say it's difficult to say.

But we expect in about two-and-a-half hours to hear from CENTCOM officials here in Doha about activities overnight -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Tom, much has been made of the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch, and understandably so, but also in that rescue there were 11 bodies found and not a lot of information given out about those bodies. Anything else coming out about that detail?

MINTIER: Most definitely not. We're not getting any information today at all. I went into the Public Affairs office this morning inquiring about this. The possibility is because there is a war crimes investigation possibly under way concerning this incident that that may be slowing down the release of information.

But we were told that 11 sets of remains were brought out on the mission that went in to rescue the pfc., but that's about the only information that's being provided by the Americans right now.

KAGAN: Tom Mintier in Doha, we look forward to that CENTCOM briefing seen live here on CNN.

COOPER: We check in now -- check in with northern Iraq with our own Ben Wedeman, who is in Kalak.

Ben -- what's the latest where you are?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hello, Anderson.

Well, here, the terrain has changed dramatically within the last 12 hours essentially. This morning we were with hundreds of Peshmerga fighters. Those are the Kurdish irregulars who are basically filling in a vacuum of about 13 kilometers on the road from Kalak to Mosul, which is about 28 kilometers -- rather miles to the west of here.

We saw as hundreds were marching down this road, which yesterday at this time was occupied by Iraqi forces.

Now, one of the Peshmerga, or Kurdish, commanders was telling me that the Iraqi forces have withdrawn to the village of Hasad (ph), which is really about halfway between here and Mosul. And he said that the Iraqis really left without a shot. There was no fighting in the area. They have just pulled back all that way.

Now, one thing we saw when we were with the Peshmerga fighters was that there's about a dozen American special forces with them. They did not explain what their role is, but we've seen in other areas that the Americans are basically providing targeting information to these planes, which I can hear over my head right now. And, in fact, in just the last few minutes, we've seen two very large plumes of smoke on the horizon in the direction of Mosul, which suggests that those soldiers are doing exactly that: providing directions for these U.S. fighters up there.

Now, there were also, as we were coming back from there, we saw hundreds of Kurdish villagers essentially tearing the Iraqi checkpoint on the other side of that ridge to pieces, picking up every little bit and piece that they can -- electrical wiring, frames, chairs. I saw one running around joyously with an Iraqi flag, really just tearing down any symbol, any sign of Iraqi control in this area.

Also, we saw dozens of cars of Kurdish villagers heading in the direction of Mosul. It's believe they're looking -- they're hoping to reoccupy homes they were expelled from by the Iraqi authorities, who over the last 12 years have been implementing a program called "Arabization," which means expelling the Kurds from areas they traditionally occupied and resettling ethnic Arabs in this area -- Anderson.

COOPER: Well, Ben, you said they are moving toward Mosul. Is the implication -- or have they said what their intentions are? Or how -- I mean, do they plan to try to take Mosul?

WEDEMAN: Well, they appear to be fairly coy on that point. I asked the senior commander there if that was their intention, to go to Mosul, and he told me they're waiting for commands from -- here's another explosion. We're just going to zoom in and show you that one. That's bombing the Mosul area.

Basically what he told me was they are waiting for commands from their higher leadership.

COOPER: Ben, how far away is that explosion from you?

WEDEMAN: It's hard to say, Anderson. I'd say at least 15 kilometers. That is, I must say, in an area or close to an area (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about an hour ago. I'm hoping it's beyond that 13 kilometer stretch of road.

And we do know that there are Iraqi positions out in that direction, but honestly I don't know they're hitting -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Ben Wedeman in Kalak, thanks very much.

KAGAN: We want to get more now on that F-18 that went down over Iraq.

We're joined right now by Becky Diamond. She is aboard the USS Kitty Hawk in the Persian Gulf.

Becky -- go ahead.

BECKY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, hello.

Well, it's a sober mood on board the Kitty Hawk this morning. As you said, a downed -- well, we don't know exactly the conditions of how this jet went down, but there is a report of a missing F-18 Hornet jet.

I apologize for the noise. There are flight operations continuing despite this missing jet.

Last night, a jet took off, an F-18 Hornet. It was reported missing as of midnight last night.

Of course, this is a close-knit group of pilots on board this ship. They hope for the best. Some of them fear for the worst. Everyone on this ship is hopeful and optimistic that the search and rescue mission that's under way for this pilot will be successful.

What we do know is that this jet went down somewhere over land in Iraq. What could be seen in the vicinity were surface-to-air missiles, as well as some anti-aircraft artillery, but it is not known how this jet went down -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Becky Diamond, I realize the information you are able to get on board the USS Kitty Hawk is limited, so we'll leave it at that report and come back to you when you have more. Thank you so much.

COOPER: One of the focuses of our coverage over the last couple of days has been what sort of an impact the war in Iraq is going to have on neighboring countries and the region at large. It's called by some the "law of unintended consequences." What it means is that the violence of war in Iraq could very well lead to peace elsewhere. That is one opinion.

Our Jerrold Kessel explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The flag of Iraq dominant now on Gaza streets, symbols of solidarity and concern that Palestinians seek to link their struggle and that of Iraq, a heavy- handed link. The radical Islamic jihad declaring its latest suicide bombing against Israelis a gift from Palestine to the people of Iraq.

Israelis worry that Iraqi actions against U.S. forces will embolden Palestinian militants; Palestinians worry about Israel using the cover of the Iraq war to escalate actions in the West Bank and Gaza.

International diplomats aren't just worrying or waiting.

TERJE LARSEN, SPECIAL U.N. ENVOY: What we are seeing now in the Middle East is front lines of war, but at the same time we can also see emerging front lines of peace.

KESSEL (on camera): The law of unintended consequences some of the diplomats heavily involved in this process are calling it. The fact, they say, that the Iraq war may not only revive the Israeli- Palestinian peace process, but go some way to promoting its success.

LARSEN: We have seen over the last few days, particularly where there is a very active embracement of the roadmap, a variety of key actors are calling for its implementation, and its implementation now.

KESSEL (voice-over): Thursday, diplomats from the so-called Quartet who are managing the peace process -- the U.S., Europe, the U.N. and Russia -- convened for an urgently called meeting in Brussels to map out the exact timing and mechanics for formally issuing their so-called roadmap to peace, and most critically, to devise the mechanics for supervising and ensuring the implementation of that roadmap.

In recent days, both the U.S. secretary of state and the national security advisor have stressed that the imminent issuing of the roadmap means that both sides are about to be put firmly on the peace road.

The Israeli leadership is seen as increasingly wary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Contrary to initial expectations that a swift American victory would allow the Americans to sort of dictate to the area what kind of peace terms there will be. The longer the war goes on, the more there is concern here that the Americans will be dependent in a post-war reality on Europe, on the United Nations, and will do much more in order to placate the Arab world.

KESSEL: Palestinians remain skeptical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't want words only. We need to see peace. We need something in practice. And I think people are very worried about one very particular thing, and that is that the roadmap itself is still hostage to Mr. Sharon.

KESSEL: With no letup in demonstrations of anger against the coalition within much of the Arab world, the Palestinian-Israeli peace road does seem to be emerging as a concreted drive to ensure that alongside the drums of war, drums of peace begin to beat.

Jerrold Kessel, CNN, Ramallah on the West Bank.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We are receiving just some reports literally over the last couple of minutes or so. If you are just joining us, Reuters is now reporting that -- and this is significant -- advanced armored units of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division are just 10 kilometers, or about 6 miles, from the southern edge of Baghdad; this, a report coming from Reuters.

Reuters correspondent Luke Baker (ph) is quoting U.S. military sources who gave him this information.

Also, a Reuters correspondent inside Baghdad saying she heard an intense and sustained anti-aircraft barrage coming from the southern outskirts, where U.S.-led forces had been bombarding targets in that area.

It would seem things from this are moving quickly. But again, all we can say, according to Reuters, six miles from the southern edge of Baghdad, advanced armored units of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division.

This is a story we are going to be covering a lot in the coming minutes and hours here on CNN.

We are also hearing the reports out of Basra in the south from British military officials, British forces using long-range artillery, including multiple rocket systems against targets in and around Basra, and targeting Baath Party as well as Iraq military sites. We just heard briefly a little while ago.

Also that, according to Richard Gaisford, who is an embedded correspondent with the Desert Rats, that retreating Iraqi forces actually lit oil trenches as the British soldiers were advancing in the area of Basra.

We're going to check in with Walt Rodgers, who filed this report just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Throughout the day as the U.S. Army 7th Calvary punched northward in the general direction of Baghdad, we have seen huge convoys of supply troops moving ever northward. Indeed, all of the arrows on the Army's maps seem to be pointing in the direction of the southern suburbs of Baghdad.

Earlier in the day, the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division took Karbala with a minimum of fight, and then the 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division secured the town of Karbala.

Additionally, the 7th Calvary has pushed onward in the general direction of Baghdad. Yesterday, we were about 50 miles from the southern suburbs of Baghdad. We have perhaps half of that distance.

Throughout today, we have watched the 3rd Infantry Division bring in prisoners of war, Iraqi soldiers glad the war is over for them, perhaps 100 at a time.

There were times when the 7th Calvary itself got into some skirmishes as it pushed forward, again, in the direction of Baghdad.

There was a bit of a firefight when the 7th Calvary came upon three Soviet-vintage 20mm anti-aircraft guns, Akak (ph) guns. The Iraqi unit in possession of those guns fired mortars in the direction of the 7th Calvary, the Apache Troop. The Apache Troop opened its tank guns, opened its own mortars, decimated that unit, put it out of existence and probably killed some 20 Iraqis in the process. This, as it continues to push ever closer towards the southern suburbs of Baghdad.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, with the U.S. 7th Calvary in the Iraqi desert.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We just want to point out, Walter Rodgers filed that a few hours ago, so obviously it seems things are moving quickly on the ground. We've been reporting on the rescue efforts for Private First Class Jessica Lynch. It is known that she is from Palestine, West Virginia; also known that when she comes back to that small town there is going to be big homecoming in store for her.

CNN's Jeff Flock tells us how her family and her community are waiting to welcome her back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The yellow ribbons are everywhere and the signs and the flags and the joy.

That's Jessica's parents, Dee and Greg Lynch, after watching the green, grainy images of their daughter's daring rescue that even they couldn't believe.

GREG LYNCH, SR., JESSICA LYNCH'S FATHER: I just figured this was just an April Fool's deal.

FLOCK: It happened on April 1, but it was no fooling.

DEE LYNCH, JESSICA LYNCH'S MOTHER: I love her, and she's been so badly missed.

FLOCK: At the Methodist Church, a service of thanks. At the courthouse, a tree full of ribbons. In her yard, a POW-MIA flag. She's been both in the last week.

GREG LYNCH, JR., JESSICA LYNCH'S BROTHER: It's just -- it's outstanding. It just brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.

FLOCK: Jessica's brother, Greg, Jr., watches the first pictures of his sister arriving in Germany on CNN.

LYNCH, JR.: It's good news that she's on her way home.

FLOCK: And when she gets home, the 19-year-old, who had enlisted in the Army to help pay for college so she could become a teacher, will get her wish.

GOV. BOB WISE (D), WEST VIRGINIA: There will be a full scholarship for her, whenever she wants to go to college.

D. LYNCH: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you so much.

FLOCK: We listened as West Virginia's governor, Bob Wise, tells her parents the state wants to show its thanks.

WISE: The people, the state of West Virginia, we're going to make sure she goes to school.

FLOCK: And over at the high school where Jessica graduated not two years ago, her old principal says they will hold a job for her. KEN HEINEY, PRINCIPAL, WIRT COUNTY: To be able to stand in front of a classroom, whether it's kindergarten students or high school students, what an event, what a story she's going to be able to tell. Here is a hero in our midst.

FLOCK: Jessica Lynch wanted to be a teacher, not a hero. When she gets back home to West Virginia she's going to be both.

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, Palestine, West Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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