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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Coalition Troops Closing in on Baghdad

Aired April 3, 2003 - 02:00   ET

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

(NEWS BREAK)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. Marines in close combat with Iraqi troops, as coalition forces close in on Baghdad.

Good morning, it is Thursday, April 3, from CNN's global headquarters in Atlanta. I am Anderson Cooper, along with Daryn Kagan, in Kuwait.

Good morning, Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you from Kuwait City. Anderson, let's take a time check. 2:00 AM on the East Coast, 10:00 AM here in Kuwait City, and 11:00 AM in Baghdad. That is where Operation Iraqi Freedom is now in day 15, and we have a lot of news at this hour.

But Anderson, I am going to have you start it here with the latest coalition forces that are pushing their way toward Baghdad.

COOPER: All right. Daryn, thanks very much.

Wednesday began with U.S. troops launching an offensive against two Republican Guard divisions, south of Baghdad. Then Pentagon officials reported that Iraqi reinforcements were on the way south from Baghdad. Now that may have all changed. Michael Gordon, of "The New York Times," has been reporting for us from the U.S. Central Command Headquarters in Doha, Qatar, and he says there is an interesting new development in Iraqi strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL GORDON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CORRESPONDENT: There really is a pretty interesting development, which is that the Americans had a very decisive advancing. Iraqis that have responded by summoning all their Republican Guard forces to return to Baghdad to take up positions inside the capitol, protected by buildings and civilian areas, and fight the final battle, urban battle, from within the city. It is a very new development. It is something that has not happened before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Now, let us get a closer look right now at the coalition's latest offensive, as near we can tell you. The First Marine Expeditionary Force moved across the Tigris River, facing off against parts of the Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard. Baghdad sits along the Tigris, just northwest of the Marines. At the same time the Army moves several units along the Euphrates River, pass Karbala. The Third Infantry, an 11 Attack Helicopter Brigade lead the charge against the Medina Division of the Republican Guard. Coalition forces established control of many of the key river crossings, while the 101 Airborne took control over Najaf.

Let us go back to Daryn Kagan, in Kuwait City.

KAGAN: Anderson, as you know, one of our lead stories this hour is the loss, the downing of an F-18 Hornet Jet. It took off from the USS Kitty Hawk, and that is where we find our Becky Diamond. She is on board that ship, as she joins us now on the phone -- Becky, hello.

BECKY DIAMOND, CNN CORRSPONDENT: Daryn, hello. It is a somber mood here on the USS Kitty Hawk. Last night, about midnight, there was a plane that took off. It took off prior to midnight. But at midnight, it was reported missing. This is a F-18 Hornet, a single- seater, reported missing somewhere overland in Iraq. The conditions of how it went down are unknown at this point, but other aircrafts in the area reported seeing anti artillery aircraft fire, as well as Surface-to-Air missiles.

Now, there is a search and rescue mission that is underway. I am not sure how long that will last. But of course, everyone on this ship hopes -- hopes that it will be successful. This -- this news comes on the heels of good news, yesterday, when two pilots were ejected over land, in Iraq and were rescued. They were brought on board the ship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This fairly surreal experience is the best way I can describe it. From sitting in the warmth and comfort of your cockpit to violent wind blasts and hitting the desert floor pretty hard on the parachute, falling back on our training, and the things that the very professional people on the search and rescue forces do. Basically got on the ground, got out of COM gear, starting talking with other airplanes and setting up the rescue trying to get our position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: Now, Daryn, this gentleman's call sign is Gordo. He is actually the F-14 weapon's officer, not the pilot. He received minor bruises associated with ejecting. But both he and the pilot were in good spirits yesterday. They were part of a land detachment that was flying not actually off the ship, but near part of a squadron, an F-14 squadron on the ship. But he is back home with his colleagues and the whole ship was extremely happy yesterday. And of course, that is what they hope for today -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Sounds like a -- Becky, getting back to the story of the F-18. Do you know how long it was from the time the F-18 took off to the time it was reported missing?

DIAMOND: Well, seeing journalist out on the field, those are the exact questions we asked, but unfortunately we do not get answers. So all we know right now is that at midnight, this plane, this jet, was reported missing. And we only know that there were visual sightings of anti aircraft artillery, and Surface-to-Air missiles. But we do not know for sure what brought this jet down -- Daryn.

KAGAN: OK. We will leave it at that, and leave you Becky, to go gather more information, if possible, aboard the USS Kitty Hawk. Becky Diamond, thank you so much.

Anderson, you take it from here.

COOPER: Daryn, thanks.

Well, the ground forces move ahead. Two incidents in the air over Baghdad have the attention of officials. With more on that, we are joined by Chris Plante at the Pentagon.

Chris, what -- what is the latest?

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. Well, as Becky was just described, the F-18 down off of the Kitty Hawk. Also, a U.S. Army Black Hawk -- pardon me down near Karbala today. Initial reports still a little bit sketchy, even though it happened a number of hours ago. The first reports were that seven U.S. Army personnel were killed, and four were rescued after the fact. Then word came from the Central Command that there may only have been six people aboard the helicopter, and now there is less like than there was before.

We do not know how many were rescued, if any. How many were killed, if any. We are still waiting for additional word on that from the Central Command. But clearly not a day for aviation, two aircraft down. The pilot from the F-18, as Becky was describing, still missing at this time. Search and rescue missions are still underway. And the situation with the Black Hawk helicopter still utterly unclear -- Anderson.

COOPER: And apparently was shot down by small arms fire. That is what the early reports say, right?

PLANTE: That is what was indicated earlier on, certainly. And again, everything is very sketchy, but the indication was that it was small arms fired that would indicate that it was low to the ground. When it happened, AK-47's may be a rocket-propelled grenade. But light arms not a Surfaced-to-Air missile or any heavy anti-aircraft fire in any event.

And also you know, a suggestion that there were survivors would also indicate that it was very close to the ground. It is possible that they may have been dropping troops off at a location or picking troops up when the incident happened. But again, we just do not have any clarity on that.

COOPER: And Chris, as far as we know, this -- the operations that have been going on, and still going on, I guess, so far, moving along, I guess, as best as be expected? PLANTE: Well, that's right. And we are also hearing about movements of Republican Guard troops up around Baghdad. We heard about from the briefers at CENTCOM a number of hours ago now, the apparent victories of the First Marine Expeditionary Force over by Kut, to the south and east of Baghdad. And also, the Army's Third Infantry Division, by Karbala taking on the Medina Division.

We are hearing now that there may be troop movements coming either coming south from Baghdad toward the U.S. positions or maneuvering in the area between Baghdad and the U.S. forces. It is again, not at all clear what the movements are. The U.S. is watching these movements very closely. As Michael Gordon was saying, it is quite possible that these units are moving back closer into Baghdad, tightening the ring or shrinking the ring around Baghdad of defenses by the Iraqi forces. But the U.S. is monitoring their movements very closely, and ground combat continues. Air pounding continues. So, we have got a lot of war. We have got a lot of fog.

COOPER: Al right. Chris Plante, thank you very much. We will check in with you very shortly.

Moving on to the story of the Private First Class Lynch. The quote that caught our attention: "We love her. And the little brass caused a big stir in this country." Those are the words of Greg Lynch, the very relieved father of Private Jessica Lynch, who was rescued, of course, Tuesday, in Nasiriyah.

Jessica Lynch arrived in Germany about nine hours ago. That was the picture right there of her being taken off the aircraft. She was transferred to the Landstuhl Medical Center. She is being treated for gunshot wounds and broken bones in both legs and one arm; those broken bones caused by gunshot wounds, we are told.

U.S. Central Command has released dramatic night scope video showing part of her rescue. It was a mission that included Special Ops Forces, Army Rangers, Air Force Pilots, Navy SEALs and Marines, who fought their way into the hospital, were she was being held.

Lynch, you will remember, had been missing since March 23, when Iraqi troops ambushed a supply truck near Nasiriya. Her brother, Greg Lynch, Jr. is elated, to say the least, by his sister's return. But of course, mindful that others are still unaccounted for.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREG LYNCH, JR., BROTHER: Everybody was shocked, but you know we want to -- we really want to think that just because my sister is made it home safely, and she is on her way, hopefully. But we still have -- we still have others missing, and that you know, lives are being lost. And we are astounded by the news but yet, we are still looking forward to hear of good news for the other families as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: As are we all with Jessica Lynch found, there are still 15 U.S. troops listed as missing in action, and seven others who are known to be prisoners of war at this time. Forty U.S. troops have died in combat in Iraq, 10 in non-combat situations. Those numbers are likely to change as soon as reports on the downed Black Hawk helicopter are factored in. We are waiting word on that.

Also, the pilot from the F-18 that went down in Iraq has not been classified, as search and rescue operations continue.

Twenty-seven British Troops have lost their lives, six of them died fighting in Iraq. Another 19 died in non-combat activities. And it is still to be determined how two British Troops died.

A total of seventy-seven coalition troops have been confirmed to have died during the war.

We're going to check in with Martin Savidge who is on videophone with the First Marines 7 Battalion in southern Iraq.

Martin, what can you tell us?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Anderson. Well, it appears that there is a battle shaping up in the area where we are. The way that we measure that is the fact that we been hearing a lot of outgoing artillery from the U.S. Marines. It started this morning actually around 6:30 this morning when there was an initial barrage coming from what they call RAP, that is rocket assisted projectiles. And that is essentially 155 Howitzer firing rocket-propelled, essentially artillery shell.

You can hear them actually firing behind us going back that way, flying over our heads. It sounds very much like the sound of a jet aircraft flying over. That's the artillery round united with the rocket booster going over our heads. And then after that, a couple of seconds later you hear the thunderous impact.

It's believed that what is going is the First Battalion 7 Marine involved in an effort to take on members of the Baghdad Division, which is part of the Republican Guard that is located up in this area. A lot of the units pushed out this morning. They didn't meet much opposition on their up to this area yesterday. Yesterday, they grabbed an airfield known as al Miniyah (ph), that airfield once belonged to Iraqi Air Forces but however, that is now under the control of coalition forces. And they continue to build upon that success and now First Battalion 7 Marine have pushed on them.

Fighting, if there is any taking place is way in the distance that way. We can't get any closer than this because of the fact that we have a breakdown in the vehicle we are hitching a ride along with.

However, there has been artillery continuing to pour out of here. No artillery has been incoming. No opposition fire that we have seen at this position point there. Photographer Scott McQuinny riding up there with the Amphibious Assault Vehicles, we hope to check in with him later and perhaps get a closer vision of what is taking place up there. But yesterday there was no sound of artillery, today, artillery. And the artillery units continues to move forward as perhaps, well, you can see in the background here to, other Marines units continue to drive forward.

There is not any attempt to slow down even if they run into pockets of resistance. The orders that are given to other units, simply leapfrog around them. Units that engage will take care of those Iraqi forces that they may run across, don't stop the momentum, don't the push, don't stop the drive. Keep heading north and keep heading in the general vicinity of Baghdad.

That's the way it's shaping up right now Anderson.

COOPER: Martin, in the last 24 hours what sort of activity have you been seeing around. I think the last time you and I talked, you were with -- and I'm not sure if you're with the same group, a group of Marines who are basically sort of patrolling around main columns going after these irregular fighters as needed. Is that still the general situation you've been doing in the last day or so?

SAVIDGE: No, that changed dramatically early yesterday morning. Essentially what happened is we formed back into our convoy positions and began driving a huge, massive military force north. And so, it was been much to the relief of the Marines that have been involved with that security job, they realize that's important of course but they much rather be pushing towards Baghdad. They much rather feel like they're a direct part of whatever fight that may be shaping up.

So we transited for over 100 kilometers yesterday all in a northerly direction. They were able to secure that airfield, that's a vital asset now for coalition forces, helicopters already going in. A base being established there that projects air power, of course, farther forward closer into the Baghdad area. It also allows for Medivac if it is needed.

So, once that airfield was grabbed, pushing on again today. Clearly the effort is going to be to head for the Tigris, get across the Tigris, some units we understand, already there. Of course, there are also said to be units of the Republican Guard and that is probably who is being engaged. But again, no indication that there is firing coming back in our direction; it has all been headed towards whatever Iraqi forces are being seen up there -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Martin Savidge, we'll check in with you shortly. Thanks very much.

We're going to go back to Daryn Kagan now in Kuwait City -- Daryn.

KAGAN: OK, that's fine. All right, Anderson. Thank you very much.

We want to head now to Doha, Qatar. That's where our Tom Mintier is standing by with the latest from command headquarters.

Tom, good morning.

TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Daryn. A lot to go through right now. The news barometer, if you will, here at CENTCOM headquarters is a good reader of how things may be going out on the battlefield. There are a lot of meetings going on right now. It's very difficult to get information confirmed.

We do know that a Black Hawk helicopter went down overnight; just how many were on board is still up for discussion. At CENTCOM, they have one figure, at the Pentagon another. Also, an F-18 Hornet also went down, search and rescue teams out all effort looking for that single seat pilot on that aircraft.

Also it appears as you heard Martin Savidge just reported that things are progressing in the Baghdad area. Also in Basra, we're hearing reports of some artillery firing by British forces but not a major engagement.

Joining us now, Group Captain Al Lockwood, spokesman for the British military.

We understand that there is action in Basra, but is everything going on in and around the Republican Guard near Baghdad?

GRP. CAPTAIN AL LOCKWOOD, BRITISH MILITARY SPOKESMAN: Well, near Baghdad you'll heard we made very good progress yesterday and two of the Republican Guard divisions have been assessed as having limited fighting capability. Things are going well but it's still early days yet we have to take it carefully.

MINTIER: We hear the military talking about limited fighting capability but yet you hear at the same time a warning not to be too optimistic; that the worse days may still be ahead.

LOCKWOOD: Yes, certainly so. We tend to take every day as it comes. We've seen before in this campaign the ability of the regime to mount attacks from a totally different and unexpected direction. So, we have to be aware of what might happen today. So as I say, carefully each day at a time, but we're making good progress at the moment.

MINTIER: There are reports that reinforcements are being brought in from the north to re-establish some of these divisions that have been decimated by the bombing in the last 24 to 48 hours.

LOCKWOOD: We're obviously on the lookout for them. Our reconnaissance assets will be looking to see if there is any reinforcement. If they move, we'll find them. If we find them, they're finished.

MINTIER: All right. Let's talk about Basra for a second. It's been looking like a standoff. People come, people go. Soldiers come, soldiers go. Engagements start, they stop. What's the situation in Basra this morning?

LOCKWOOD: Well, it's stabilizing by the day. You know that obviously the greatest concern is the people who live there. We do get the odd little bit of paramilitary fire from out, but we deal with it very promptly.

But as I said yesterday, progressively and more importantly, the people are coming to us. They're providing us with information of where these paramilitaries are and who they are and we're dealing with them.

MINTIER: There are reports that people are looting inside Basra. That they're stealing from one another, which is may be an indication that the paramilitaries is no longer in control of the situation there.

LOCKWOOD: We've taken that as an indicator that the regime is loosing grip in there. They don't have the control over the people that this use to have. This indication of looting, although not ideal, is a sign that the control that the regime had over the city is disappearing rapidly.

MINTIER: All right, Group Captain Al Lockwood, British Military. Thank you very much for joining us.

Again, as I say the news barometer here Daryn, the doors are closed, the meetings are underway. We'll have to see what comes out of CENTCOM in the next few hours.

KAGAN: All right. Tom Mintier, I understand the next CENTCOM briefing would be about four hours away and change.

MINTIER: That's correct.

KAGAN: OK, look forward to that. You'll see it live right here on CNN. Sorry for the delay there with the satellite.

We're going to take a break here. We'll be back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Right before we went to break, Tom Mintier was talking about the latest information from Basra. We should also point out that CNN has learned from Diana Muriel, who is an embedded correspondent with our British troops in that area.

According to her, British soldiers have received reports from Basra that the Fedayeen fighters have been evicting people so that they can takeover their apartments and live in their apartments. Obviously, that being a concern to British forces making it all the more difficult to root out these Fedayeen fighters. That is the latest information we have here from what is going on in Basra.

In Baghdad, more explosions overnight and coalition troops are reported to be closing in on the capitol city. There's also been this report of the Republican Guard of "The New York Times" telling CNN that the Republican Guard forces believed to be in pulling back, such as they are into Baghdad.

With more about all this going on in Baghdad, we're joined by Rym Brahimi who is in Amman, Jordan -- Rym. RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, lot of bombing again overnight. Residents in Baghdad that I spoke to said that they couldn't sleep, the sounds of bombs and planes hovering over the skies of Baghdad all night.

Now, there were rumors that a maternity in Baghdad had been hit. What actually did happen and I heard from Baghdad sources themselves, what actually happened was a bomb hit a maternity that is not being used any more. It's a maternity that belongs to the Red Crescent in Iraq, in Baghdad.

The building of the maternity and the building the Red Crescent building that is next to it were damaged but they were damaged more by the blow of what was hit across the road, which was the trade fair. The grounds of the International Trade Fair. The injured people were actually injured people from the street, not from the maternity. The maternity in fact, had been evacuated just at the start of the war.

Now, as you also know Anderson, one piece of good news in the middle of all this; in the past 48 hours, four journalist that were -- had disappeared in Baghdad and were detained there for more than a week were released and they arrived in Jordan a couple of days ago.

Other journalists in Baghdad are still finding it difficult to work under the conditions. Al Jazeera in particular, is now still having a problem. One of its correspondents has been suspended -- has been banned from working in Iraq. And another one has been expelled. Al Jazeera has decided to freeze all the works of all its correspondents and just broadcast live images from its live positions in Mosul in the north, Basra in the south and Baghdad in the center -- Anderson.

COOPER: And this is quite significant. I mean Al Jazeera has had extensive access really throughout Iraq throughout this conflict. How serious is this for them?

BRAHIMI: It's very curious. I mean as you say, it's very significant because Al Jazeera is one of the networks that has been able to maintain a lot of access. Just being able live positions anywhere else and in Baghdad is a sign that they've been allowed by the authorities to do a lot of work. So, it's interesting that they would be restricted at this point.

It's not the first time however, Anderson. The same correspondent Diarel Amouri (ph) who's been banned now is an Iraqi journalist. Well, he was banned last year. And he was banned for 10 days but then was re-installed after four or five days after the newspaper that was run by the president's son Uday, the newspaper known as Babel issued an editorial criticizing the Ministry of Information's decision. Now, whether that will come into play this time or not is something else.

The Al Jazeera says they do not know why the Ministry of Information made that decision and they haven't been told for now -- Anderson. COOPER: All right. There was interesting interview that the King of Jordan gave to the Jordanian news service that I want to ask you about -- we've got to go right now to something else. But next time we talk I'd like to talk to you about that because it was very interesting what he had to say.

Rym Brahimi in Amman, Jordan. Thanks very much.

One day after they arrived across the border in Jordan, four journalists as Rym mentioned, held in a Baghdad prison met the press. Mat McAllester of "News Day" said he knew that he and his photographer were taking chances by staying in Baghdad after the attacks began. Molly Bingham, a freelance photographer didn't see the reason for her incarceration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOLLY BINGHAM, FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER: It's unclear to me why I was taken, I don't know. They certainly asked me whether I was a spy and asked me under what auspices I had come to Baghdad. And I told them repeatedly and quite clearly that I do not work for my government. I do not work for any government. I'm an independent journalist who's come to Baghdad to tell the story of the normal people -- the normal Iraqi people and how they manage under a war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was Molly Bingham, a photographer.

We are showing you right now pictures from Iraqi Television. They are saying this shows a downed coalition plane. We have no information on whether or not it is. There is -- it is known that right now there is an F-18 Hornet that is down, went down over Iraq Thursday. But we know a search and rescue effort has been launched. The Hornet of course, a single seat fighter that went off from the USS Kitty Hawk as our own Becky Diamond mentioned a little while ago.

That's really all the information we have on the Hornet and again, this video is from Iraqi Television. They are saying it is a coalition aircraft; they have not, to the best of my knowledge, made the linkage to the Hornet that is down. That's simply all we have. These are the pictures Iraqi TV is showing; we're showing them to you. This is the first time we are getting a look at these pictures so we're just going to let them sort of play out a little bit.

Obviously, not only is the -- there are two aircrafts that of concern right now to coalition forces, this F-18 Hornet that was downed. There's also a Black Hawk helicopter that is said to be downed in the apparently, the crash of the Black Hawk happened near Karbala about an hour's drive from Baghdad. What we know about that is apparently it was shot down by small arms fire in south-central Iraq.

Conflicting statements about the number of people involved in that incident; originally we were being told, CENTCOM was saying that seven people had been killed, four others were who were wounded were all rescued. Then a statement from U.S. Central Command said only six people were on the Black Hawk and it did not confirm any casualty figure. So, that's sort of an opened question.

All right, so those are the pictures that we have just been getting.

We're going to go now with British embedded reporter, Richard Gaisford, not sure exactly where he is. He is around Basra as has been reporting for us from that region for several days now.

Richard, what's the latest from Basra?

RICHARD GAISFORD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can actually say that we are now in Basra. Overnight, the Desert Rats, the Seventh Armored Brigade of the British Army have moved into the city. Not to takeover the city by any means but to give themselves a good foot hold pretty much on this edge.

But if you can see behind -- in fact, let's just wait on that for a moment because there's so much smoke coming from this oil trench. As they move into the city, the Iraqi soldiers retreating lit an oil trench. And you can see the pipe in the foreground of this shot, that is still feeding this particular fire and the broil engineers of the British Army behind us working valiantly to smother the flames using sand. And at the same time further up the line try and turn this oil pipe off.

It is dangerous work, they have come under fire this morning as they've been doing this. And the Desert Rats now hold a key section on the edge of Basra.

This is quite significant because up until this point they've been may be a mile away from this position. Now they have somewhere that they could launch an attack on this city if they possibly wanted to.

Now, Anderson and Daryn, I don't know if you could see through the smoke. Just through that shot there but there is the city and for the first time, I think we are reporting now live from Basra. You can see there in the distance Challenger 2 tanks of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, that is the force that moved into Basra this morning.

And I have to stress, this isn't to take the city by any means. They would need a much bigger force for that, although they do feel that at some point in the near future they are more incapable of achieving taking Basra.

But they are here giving themselves a good foot hold on the edge of the city and pushing Iraqi forces back.

COOPER: Richard, the last report we had received about what was going in Basra was basically that overnight there had been some long range artillery, including multiple launch rocket systems used, and also there was a report, I believe from Diana Muriel, who is embedded I think, with the 7th Armored Brigade, that she was hearing from British soldiers that they were receiving reports that some of these Fedayeen fighters had been evicting civilians from their homes and moving into their complexes, I guess, in advance of fearful -- or expecting some movement into the city.

Have you heard those reports, or could you at least tell us what the night was like? Was there a lot of long range artillery from where you were?

GAISFORD: There most certainly was. Actually at the camp based just outside of the city, long range artillery was being fired constantly throughout the night. We saw white arcs of light coming down towards the city, illumination fires over the city, and heard the explosions in the distance as well, and you knew that something big was going to happen. And at 3:30 U.K. time -- morning, the Desert Rats moved into Basra. There was a squadron of tanks -- a company of Irish guards -- Infantrymen, and they have a taken a factory complex. Let me show you that complex just behind me here -- just go past our armored vehicle and you can see that.

Now it might not look significant really, but it really is. If you look at the location of where it is on the map, and you think that up until just a day ago Iraqi troops had been firing mortar rounds at British troops from this particular location.

So this is a significant gain, it gives them the edge. And the reports you've had about civilian homes being taken over by Fedayeen -- that is exactly right. We've been hearing that in fact for the last week, that during intimidation and fear tactics -- homes that have previously been showing a white flag from civilians who wanted no part in the action, have been taken over, being used as ammunition dumps, being used as bases and command posts by the Fedayeen.

And we do think -- the Intelligence reports we're getting now from British forces -- that maybe the Fedayeen is on the run inside the city, that now is a good a time as any for the forces to go in. No decision on that by any means, we're still waiting for British armed forces to decide when and exactly how they're going to get into Basra itself.

But as you can well see, the job may well have been started this morning, and they're all engineers behind me working very hard in very dangerous conditions to put this oil trench fire out, and it's casting a huge ball of smoke right across the city of Basra.

COOPER: A remarkable image there. And while you were talking we were also showing some images from overnight of these phosphorus -- and, I believe, flares over the city of Basra.

We had received a report that those were as much a tactical method -- a tactical strategy as well as sort of a psychological one, showing the residents of Basra the -- Fedayeen fighters there that the British are in control and can literally turn the night into the day -- just remarkable pictures.

GAISFORD: Absolutely. And that phosphorus fire -- the illume is what the forces call it -- puts that huge light right over the city. It's fired from some distance away, with a very loud explosion, and stays maybe in the air for 60 seconds or so.

As you say, psychologically it just shows them who's in control. We're out there, we're watching you -- we can do whatever we want from above. And we have seen more aerial strikes as well, going in. There are helicopters in the air.

So it would appear that action around Basra is certainly stepping up. Whether this is going to lead to an immediate invasion of the city, we're not sure, but as I say, this position the Desert Rats have now achieved, led by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and their Challenger II tanks -- I'm sure that that gives them a great foot hold for any possible further move into the city.

COOPER: Richard, I know you're very busy -- just one more question -- do the British officials that you are talking to -- military officials -- do they seem pleased with the level of information they are getting from what is going on inside the city of Basra?

GAISFORD: Yes, I believe they do. And without wishing to give away any military secrets, I know that they have very good information coming from the inside of the city, and also from people they're meeting on the outskirts as well. Quite often we'll be on patrol and we'll see people out there who will be talking to soldiers, not just prisoners of war, but other people who have good information about what's going on in the city.

A lot of people now appear to be coming over to the coalition side. We were out yesterday to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) treatment plant in Al Zubayr, just a few miles away from Basra -- the management team there quite happy to work with the British forces -- again, the Royal engineers helping to supply water to the people in this area. And everyone it seems, once they get to meet the soldiers -- once they get to meet the troops -- happy to do business with them, but not keen to go on camera.

I have to say and denounce the Saddam Hussein regime -- there is still that level of fear there. And until the British forces move into the city I think that will probably remain. They've been let down once before by U.S. and U.K. and the other allied forces 12 years ago. They don't want to make the same mistake again. They won't fully jump ship until they see the Desert Rats go just further down this road, right into the city's center behind me.

COOPER: Very understandable. Richard Gaisford, appreciate it, always good to talk to you. Good luck to you. Take care.

We're going to go now to Daryn Kagan in Kuwait City. Daryn?

KAGAN: Anderson, a couple of military notes for you here -- first, British Colonel Chris Vernon will be giving a briefing within the next half hour from here in Kuwait City. When that begins you're going to see it here live on CNN.

Also as the inevitable battle of Baghdad approaches, military analysts are trying to access what remains of the Iraqi military and what kind of fight it will put up, especially with the Elite Republican Guard troops.

General Saber Al-Suwaidan joins me now to talk about these questions. He is the former commander of the Kuwaiti Air Force, also a former POW held seven months inside of Iraq.

General, thank you for being here with us.

GENERAL SABER AL-SUWAIDAN, FORMER KUWAITI AIR FORCE COMMANDER: Good morning.

KAGAN: I want to go right to the air war here. Has it surprised you -- the lack of presence of the Iraqi Air Force?

GENERAL: Well, no. I know the Iraqi Air Force -- I know they are -- I know their capabilities. I know they cannot be a match for the might of the United States Air Force. Therefore it was expected that they would not be a threat at all.

KAGAN: There has been a huge fight by the U.S. Air Force and other U.S. troops. Their quote in today's paper -- I just want you to comment on it -- it talks about that there has been overwhelming overpowering command of Iraqi sides. The battle of Iraq, though, is becoming a shooting war on the ground, a bloody grind of street fights, ambushes, and unpleasant surprises. Is this how you expected this war to unfold?

AL-SUWAIDAN: Well, originally no, because I thought that the United States Air Force would start the war. But as you know, this plan -- a well-written plan -- a well-executed plan -- different than Desert Storm -- different than (UNINTELLIGIBLE). So a lot of people were surprised from the absence of the airport initially. But I think that the airport now are doing a lot of pounding on the Iraqi Republican Guards, and I believe that was written in the plan.

KAGAN: And as a former Air Force commander, you're comfortable with that -- that you can see why this was a good plan to go inside of Iraq this way?

AL-SUWAIDAN: Well I'm very comfortable when I saw the plan, yes. But initially I said, where is the airports, but...

KAGAN: Even you, yourself said, where is the airport?

AL-SUWAIDAN: Yes. But when I saw the plan -- actually I didn't see the plan, but when I read about it I thought that that was the best thing to do -- to go ahead to let the land force go very quick to secure the oil fields and then let the Air Force do the rest -- prepare for the battle of Baghdad.

KAGAN: Also, some of the numbers that we're looking at here -- about 100,000 coalition troops inside of Iraq -- 300,000 in this region -- many here in Kuwait -- but when you compare to '91, about a half million U.S. troops here to do what some people consider a much smaller job of liberating Kuwait. Do you think there are enough troops here in the region to do the job? AL-SUWAIDAN: I think so, because we did have, in the last 12 years, evolution in military technology. And it's reflected now on the battlefield where we can see so many things -- new things never seen before, even in Afghanistan. And I believe that's contribute to the reduced number of the troops in the battlefields.

KAGAN: What about the pace of this war? A lot of people believe, like you said, just like there ought to be more Air Force power -- a lot of people think this could go a lot more quickly?

AL-SUWAIDAN: Well, a lot of people were under the impression that it would be a short war -- they say one week -- 10 days -- but the Pentagon never said that it was 10 days war -- never said that three days war -- they say it's a long weeks or months war.

But I believe a lot of people, including a lot of media personnel -- a lot of people here in Kuwait thought it would be a very, very short war. They were disappointed initially, but now they know that it's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they know it's going to be finished very soon.

KAGAN: On a personal note, I'd just like to ask you a couple questions about your POW experience. You were sharing with me before we came on that you were the commander of an air base here in Kuwait. The second day of the war the Iraqis came and took control, took you prisoner -- seven months inside of Iraq. How were you finally liberated?

AL-SUWAIDAN: Well the Red Cross came and one month after liberation they took us from Baghdad to Saudi Arabia, then back to Kuwait -- after seven month in Baghdad.

KAGAN: And what was that day like, when you realized you were a free man once again?

AL-SUWAIDAN: I did not believe that I'm free until I crossed the borderline between Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

KAGAN: A day you'll always remember, I imagine?

AL-SUWAIDAN: Oh yes, never I'll forget that day.

KAGAN: Congratulations on that. General, thanks for your insight

AL-SUWAIDAN: Thanks.

KAGAN: Appreciate it -- we'll have to have you back. Thank you.

We're going to take a quick break from here in Kuwait -- much more of the Middle East, as well as Anderson in Atlanta, after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In southern Iraq our Ryan Chilcote is along with the 101st Airborne Division. He went with them door to door in Najaf as they were looking for trouble, but hoping not to find any -- take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Troops from the 327th Infantry 2nd Battalion, better known as No Slack, marched through a patch of palm trees, black clouds of smoke, and 69 landmines into Iraq's holy city of Najaf -- the second day of an attack to route out Fedayeen paramilitaries who have used the city as a safe haven to launch attacks against U.S. forces for more than a week -- the goal to deny the Fedayeen's movement for causing minimal disruption in a largely pro-American Shiite population and its religious sites.

Searching house to house, street to street, is slow, tedious and dangerous work. If it comes to this in Baghdad things could take a very long time.

But first some of the cities on the way to Baghdad, like this one, will have to be secured. Teams of four move with painstaking procedure a dozen blocks deep into the heart of the job.

Sergeant Michael Bowers from Virginia, sharing my take on the day -- what do you think about this door to door, street to street stuff?

SERGEANT MICHAEL BOWERS, 327TH INFANTRY 2ND BATTALION: Long and tedious.

CHILCOTE: No Slack took no casualties and no return fire. They did see a lot of visibly pleased locals, though. Many of the Fedayeen, they were told, fled north to Baghdad. Still, they could come back and there's no telling how many of them are still at large. Ryan Chilcote, CNN, with the 101st Airborne in Najaf, Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: There was an interesting article in New York Times today by Jim Dwire (sp). I just wanted to read out one of these, Daryn, I don't know if you've seen this yet, but apparently when the 101st were coming in Najaf, one man -- a local resident -- was asked what did he hope to see now that the Baath Party had been driven from power in his town? And he said, "democracy, whiskey, and sexy." One man's definition of liberation, I suppose, Daryn.

KAGAN: That might be one, or perhaps many as well, Anderson. Thank you for that update on that.

I want to check in now on the U.S. Army 7th Cavalry. It came under fire as it pushed closer to Baghdad on Wednesday. Our Walter Rodgers is embedded with the Unit and he filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Throughout the day as the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry punched northward in the general direction of Baghdad, we have seen huge convoys of supplied troops moving ever northward. Indeed all the arrows on the Army's map 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 Cavalry has pushed onward in the general direction of Baghdad. Yesterday we were about 50 miles from the southern suburbs of Baghdad. We have perhaps halved that distance. Throughout the day 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 Cavalry itself got into some skirmishes as it pushed forward. There was a bit of a fire fight when the 7th Cavalry came upon three Soviet-vintage .20 mm. anti-aircraft guns -- AGAT guns -- the Iraqi unit in possession of those guns fired mortars in the direction of the 7th Cavalry. The Apache troop opened its tank guns -- opened its own mortars -- decimate that unit -- put it out of existence and probably killed some 20 Iraqis in the process.

This, as it continues to push ever closer to the southern suburbs of Baghdad. Walter Rodgers, CNN, with the U.S. 7th Cavalry in the Iraqi desert.

KAGAN: We're going to take quick break now, but as we do we want to leave you with some live pictures of downtown Baghdad -- no evidence of bombing on this particular day -- just a hazy shot of the downtown Iraqi capital. Much more ahead after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Some of the many images of war we have seen today. British troops in southern Iraq are still clearing most areas one door at a time, and as Clive Myrie reports, one of those doors hid a very dark secret.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLIVE: Outside a police station in southern Iraq stands a mural of this country's leader. Saddam Hussein's dreaded internal security police were based here. This cabinet is locked. Saddam's portrait adorned every room. Not anymore. And downstairs -- cells -- this one barely four feet by eight, with no windows, and a filthy pillow and mattress.

In other rooms, hooks hang from the ceiling.

This room is bare but for two old tires and an electricity cable. We are later told the torturer might use the tires to stand on while water is poured on the floor and the prisoner electrocuted.

And in this room are the identity cards of scores of Iraqi men, aged between 20 and 40. It's a crime here not to have your ID card with you at all times. Why do these men no longer need theirs?

We later found one man who didn't want to be identified, who gave up some of the secrets of the police stations. He tells me there was a tariff system. If you committed a crime but paid enough money, you wouldn't be tortured.

We spent days trying to find more people willing to speak on the record about torture in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. This man would only talk to us within the safety of a Royal Marines commando base. And if he was a prison guard and Saddam Hussein walked into his jail? "I'd cut him into 50 pieces" he tells me.

In the distance the smoke rises from a battlefield -- Iraq's tools of repression are being taken away. Clive Myrie, Abu Al-Khasib, southern Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: U.S. troops are getting closer to Baghdad, but when they get there, what will they find? Our Miles O'Brien takes a look at the possible scenarios.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Colonel Pat Lang joining us now from Washington, who has a lot of experience in Baghdad as well as a lot of experience with the military -- United States Army, Defense Intelligence Agency -- among other things on his resume.

Colonel, good to have you with us.

COLONEL PAT LANG, U.S. ARMY (RET.): My pleasure.

O'BRIEN: All right. This prospect of door to door fighting in Baghdad is something that I suppose someone with military training would be very concerned about. Would you be among them?

LANG: Oh, sure. I mean, this is a difficult place to fight a battle, but it isn't an unmanageable place. You saw what that soldier from the 101st said when he was asked what he thought of this -- he thought it was rather tedious and took a long time, which was an interesting response.

But, you know, first they have to break through the Republican Guard's hard shell around Baghdad, which they're doing very well. The Air Force seems to have taken them apart nicely. I would think once they get through that they're going to start patrols into Baghdad, you know, fighting patrols to test the strength of the resistance at various points around the perimeter. And then if it looks soft they'll probably go in with the forces at hand.

If it looks pretty tough, they might sit down and wait and bring supplies forward and wait for the 4th Infantry Division to come up.

O'BRIEN: So what's your best sense, then? I mean, what we're seeing thus far -- we've seen a lot of movement as that vanguard force gets closer to Baghdad. Is what we're seeing probing right now -- just trying to test those Republican Guard forces? Or is the idea to just get rid of that defense that encircles the outer part of Baghdad as best they can, deal with them before they perhaps retrench back into the city?

LANG: Well, you have to deal with things sequentially, you know. The Air Force has prepared these Republican Guard Divisions enough. And what you're seeing, I think, is the real deal. The Marines and the Army 3rd Infantry Division, and the 101st, to some extent, are all going in right over the top of them against not very strong resistance, because they're either dead or they've run by now. And they're going to keep going in across that until they come up against the city, and then make the kind of decision I was talking about before.

O'BRIEN: Now, as I'm talking to you right now, Colonel, we're looking at some very long, wide avenues there in Baghdad, and that is very typical of this city. Who does that favor? Of course, you mentioned earlier that the defense always has an advantage. How does the layout of this city perhaps help the defense?

LANG: Well, there are parts of the city that are the typical Middle Eastern or North African (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of little tiny streets. But most of it is quite modern -- it reminds you of San Diego or someplace like that, especially in the western half of the city and the southeastern part of the city. There are lots of long straight boulevards, often four-lane, scattered 14 -- 20 story building with parks in between them, and communities of things that look like ranch houses.

And so as you've said, the defensive is inheritantly the stronger form of combat, although the offensive is the more decisive. And so all these buildings make good places to fight from, and the open places make good things for long fields of fire. So those are advantages of the defense.

On the other hand, we've got all this air power which we would use in attack of buildings, both with fixed wing and helicopters. We've got a lot of artillery and a lot of tanks going in with the Infantry. And in the end there would be no doubt whatever what the outcome would be, it's just a question of how long it took and what it would cost.

O'BRIEN: Colonel, we have just a -- not too much time, but if I could get a quick sense from you as to how good our human intelligence assets -- the U.S. human intelligence assets are inside Baghdad right now. Do you have any sense of it?

LANG: Well, one can only guess. But I used to be in that business, and I would be willing to bet you with all the friendly Iraqis there are around from the Iraqi National Congress, the Shiite, and things, that you've got some American intelligence operatives in there working with friendly Iraqis, and we probably have a very good observation coverage of the streets and movements inside the city.

O'BRIEN: Colonel Pat Lang, retired U.S. Army, thank you very much for being with us, we do appreciate it.


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