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Battle for Baghdad Airport

Aired April 4, 2003 - 04:11   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We have now reestablished connection with Walter Rodgers who, if you're just joining us, has for the last hour just provided an extraordinary, up close, live look at what combat is like.
Let's go back to Walter Rodgers with the 7th Cavalry.

Walter, what's the situation where you are now?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we're showing you live pictures from the northern most penetration, the U.S. Army's 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry.

For about six hours now, it has been under constant fire from Iraqi forces, Iraqi irregulars. But at several times, there were some Iraqi tank units, a company of tanks, approximately 10 tanks in mixture with some fighting vehicles, armored vehicles, armored personnel carriers. They were taken out.

As you pointed out a short while ago, (INAUDIBLE) an Iraqi soldier beside the road that the Army and we had assumed to be dead. And suddenly upon closer examination, we discovered this particular Iraqi soldier had managed to crawl out of a burning armored personnel carrier, seek refuge in a ditch. He had some severe wounds to his buttocks and to his leg, but Army medics came up and pulled him out. And he is in the rear and he should be receiving the best the Army can give him by way of medical treatment in the very near future.

But it has been a very combative past six, seven hours. You lose all track of time when you're under fire. At one point, the Iraqis were actually using anti-aircraft bursts, firing over the heads of the tanks. It appears that they could retreat back into a warehouse not very far from where I'm standing. But before the fighting was over, we believe the Iraqis lost at least 16 tanks, at least that many armored personnel carriers and some 30 trucks as they tried to overrun U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry. They have not been successful at that, and they have paid a dear price for it. The estimates are there are over 400 Iraqi soldiers lying about on either side of the road in the killing fields -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, Walter, we have some of those pictures just from moments ago, from about a half an hour or so ago, of the treatment that the Iraqi soldier was receiving. We're probably going to play -- we're playing some of those now. Just tell us a little bit about the process of how this came to pass, how the soldier was discovered and what has ultimately happened to him, as far as you know. RODGERS: Well, Paul Jordan (ph), our AKE security officer, a former Australian SAF (ph) soldier, was walking up the road with Jeff Barwise (ph), and they were looking for souvenirs, or at least looking to see the carnage. And as they walked past a number of Iraqi soldiers who had been dead for a number of hours, they came upon one Iraqi soldier. They took a closer look and he was not dead. In fact, he was still alive.

So Paul, being extraordinarily experienced with first aid, one of the reasons we have him along with us, went over and began using an IV treatment on the soldier, holding an IV bag, trying to bandage his wounds. And it became determined -- we determined fairly quickly that the Iraqi soldier had some serious leg wounds. Actually, the wounds went up to the buttocks, but there was nothing affecting his vital organs.

And as soon as the Iraqi soldier, an officer, judging by the star on his epaulet board, a big gold star, judging by that, he seemed more than welcome to see both the CNN medic, as well as the Army's medical corps, which came up as soon as we could let the Army know there was a live Iraqi beside the road there. In fact, the live Iraqi started to recover very quickly when he was given water and the IV first aid treatment.

The U.S. Army's medics came up 10 to 15 minutes later. They were called straightaway, but they couldn't make it up straightaway because the -- they were under fire. The Iraqis were firing on the rear echelon units of the 7th Cavalry. So it was the Iraqis firing on the first aid vehicle which prevented their own soldier from getting more immediate treatment.

Nonetheless, Captain Davis, an Army medic, and several other of the soldiers attached to the 7th Cavalry, as well as Jeff Barwise and Paul Jordan, began trying to treat this soldier with first aid. And he appeared in pretty good shape when they put him on the stretcher. He did not appear to have any life-threatening injuries. By now he should be in a rear echelon unit under professional medical treatment by Army medics -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, Walter, talk to us a little bit about the battle that has been going on in your area around the airport. Categorize it for us, if you will, what it's been like, what sort of fire have you been taking or what sort of resistance have the U.S. forces there been meeting? What is the status, as far as you can say?

RODGERS: Let me give you -- let me correct two misunderstandings. We are several kilometers from the airport. We are not in -- under orders to advance. That is to say the 7th Cavalry is in a standing position, protecting the flank of the 3rd Infantry Division which is over at the airport. That is where 7th Cavalry has been taking the fire. It has not been advancing forward, because this is as far forward as it was instructed to go. It is on the protective flank of the 3rd Infantry Division.

But for hours, this unit has been under fire. As I say, there was an Iraqi armored company, mostly tanks, came down the road about two hours before sunrise here. The Army, with its night vision goggles, spotted the Iraqis. Before the Iraqis could ever take aim on the 7th Cavalry, the armored column was put out of existence very quickly.

The Iraqis then a few hours after sunrise began firing at the armored column. Again, trying to move up infantry units and armored personnel carriers. Again, the Bradley fighting vehicles, with their 25-millimeter guns, took aim on the attacking Iraqis. The Iraqis really never got close in either of those assaults on the 7th Cavalry.

And there has been intermittent fighting ever since. Some time of -- sometimes it was quite severe, especially when the Iraqis began firing aerial bursts over the head of the armored column of the 7th Cavalry, over our heads. We could see these big black clouds of smoke, shrapnel falling all about us, but they appear to have been put out of business now as well -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, Walter, the situation now, as we look at this picture, in -- is that -- is that Commander Lyle's (ph) vehicle. I know we saw Commander Clay Lyle earlier, is that his vehicle? And were they able to locate -- about an hour ago when we were with you live, we heard those rocket-propelled grenades coming in. Were they able to locate the position those came from?

RODGERS: Yes to the first question -- no to the first question, yes to the second. What you're looking at is a Bradley fighting vehicle up there. That may be Sergeant Birdsong's (ph) Bradley. He has been in the thick of it throughout the morning. I can see Captain Lyle's tank.

What happened was it was very difficult to take out the Iraqi position because they were off to the left. There are some pretty heavily forested areas there, that is palm groves, date palm groves. And it turns out that what the Iraqis had was a large warehouse over there with weapons so that as soon as one weapon was taken out, one anti-aircraft gun or one rocket-propelled grenade was fired, they could dash back in, grab more and keep attacking as soon as they fired. Now the RPG is just a fire and release weapon, but they were able to go back and resupply themselves constantly, which is why the 7th Cav. has been under a pretty heavy sporadic fire for the past several hours -- Anderson.

COOPER: Well, Walter, for the last hour or so we have just been transfixed listening to you, your reporting and the work of your crew and obviously, the men of the 7th Cavalry. We are going to cut away from you, let you take a breath and come back to you as soon as we can.

Walter Rodgers, thanks very much. We will talk to you soon.

Simply extraordinary hour, hour and 20 minutes or so.


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