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War in Iraq: Eight U.S. MIAs Moved to Killed in Action List

Aired April 5, 2003 - 01:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll take a break, update the headlines, our coverage continues here at CNN in just a moment.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in the CNN Newsroom.

Here is what's happening at this hour. This story just in. The Pentagon confirmed that seven of eight bodies found in a raid that led to their rescue of Private First Class Jessica Lynch were from her unit. Eight names that were on the missing in action list have now been moved to the killed in action list. Lynch and her unit were ambushed in Nasiriya. The U.S. soldier death toll from the Iraqi war now stands at 74.

Another story we are following for you, U.S. soldiers are now operating inside Baghdad. And you look at this picture from Baghdad, after day break Saturday morning. It appears as though it's business as usual, but it's anything but. Several tanks from the 2nd Brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry rolled into this city on a reconnaissance mission. That's according to CNN's Walter Rodgers who is embedded with the 3-7th Cavalry. The troops are carving the city into zones to firm up control there. With U.S. troops now inside the gates of Baghdad, Iraqis are beginning to flee the city, which, again, endured heavy bombardment from U.S. airstrikes overnight.

U.S. troops with the 82nd Airborne rushed deep into central Iraq to flush out remaining pockets of Iraqi paramilitary fighters trying to reorganize. They also secured two major crossings over the Euphrates River in Samawa.

British forces had yet to take Basra, but they say Iraq's second- largest city is contained. As fighting continues, relief efforts are being stepped up. Troops are distributing food and water and hope to restore basic services there.

Those are the headlines at this hour. Now back to Aaron.

BROWN: Fredricka, thank you very much. Thank you very much. It's nice to have you with us.

We are talking to Jim Wilkinson at CENTCOM a little bit ago. And he reminded that for all the exuberance, if you will, of the last couple of days, the rush to the airport, and now today, tanks of the 3rd Infantry Division moving into Baghdad proper. There is still a bunch of danger. And we also are reminded now there is still plenty of sorrow that is coming out of the Pentagon tonight, that we now can -- we now must move some names from the missing in action to the killed in action in list. Kathleen Koch has the duty. It's a sad duty. We welcome her to the program tonight.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, this is very tough news for these eight families -- these military families who have really been clinging to that old saying that, perhaps, no news is good news. These soldiers had been listed as simply missing. But now tonight the Pentagon has changed them to killed in action. Now, seven of the eight were with this maintenance company that disappeared on March 23rd when they -- just like former POW Jessica Lynch -- when their convoy took a round turn near Nasiriya. They were ambushed by Iraqi soldiers.

I'll read down the list of the eight names first. Master Sergeant Robert Dowdy, 38 years old of Cleveland, Ohio. Private Ruben Estrella-Soto, 18 years old of El Paso, Texas. Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villarreal Mata, 35 years old from Amarillo, Texas. Private Brandon Sloan, 19 of Cleveland, Ohio. Sergeant Donald Walter, 33 of Kansas City, Missouri. Also, Sergeant James Kiehl who is 22 of Comfort, Texas. And then there is a last name, an eighth name and that is Sergeant George Buggs. He is 31 years old of Barnwell, South Carolina. Now he was with the 3rd Division Support Battalion of Fort Stewart, Georgia. Also in a convoy that was ambushed that same day on March 23rd, also missing.

Now, we are operating under the assumption that the Pentagon has not confirmed this yet. But these are likely, but not definitely, the bodies that the commandos found in that late night raid where they rescued Private Lynch. We were told that they found 11 bodies, about nine of them believed to be American. So, now, here we have eight names. That still leaves one name, one perhaps American body that they haven't identified. So, maybe we'll get more on that later on. What we have been told, though, at least nine bodies have been returned here to the United states to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to be identified.

Of course, Aaron, the remaining good news if there is any to draw from this is that those five POWs who were shown on the Al -Jazeera television, as far as we know of they have not been found. And at this point, we are operating under the assumption that they are still alive.

BROWN:; Kathleen, thank you. The number now killed in action in the war of Americans stands at 75. As we were looking through those names and that list, you had Hispanic Americans, you had young African-Americans, young Caucasian Americans. Lori Piestewa is a native American from Tuba City, Arizona. It was very much a cross section of the country, that all apparently died on that same day, on that first Sunday of the war, part of the 507th Maintenance group. The five members of which remain prisoners of war, as best anyone knows in Iraq tonight.

On now to what has been the lead story of the day, clearly, the lead story. And in some respects it will probably stay that way for some time. CNN's Walter Rodgers broke it to us, the news that elements of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, the 3rd I.D. have entered the city of Baghdad. Here's how Walt reported it.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: U.S. Army forces have confirmed through CNN that elements of the 3rd Infantry Division Brigade armed with very heavy tank units have now moved well into the heart of Baghdad itself, not exactly the city center but, nonetheless, deep within Baghdad itself. Iraqi citizens probably received quite a jolt this Saturday morning when they awakened and saw U.S. army tanks, elements of the 2nd Brigade 3rd Infantry Division, literally rolling down their streets inside the Iraqi capitol itself.

Having said that, U.S. forces are meeting some resistance. So far, the Iraqis have not put tanks up against the U.S. army tanks inside their capital. Nonetheless, there is a fair amount of shooting with rocket-propelled grenades. These are bouncing off the U.S. tanks. But there is also 20-mm anti-aircraft fire, shot horizontally down the corridors, the canyons of Baghdad's streets. And they are slowing the progress somewhat of the 3rd Infantry Division as it moves through the city.

For some of these U.S. soldiers, this is their first baptism under fire. That may account for the fact that the 3rd Infantry Division has slowed somewhat. We cannot tell you what their ultimate objective is. But, again, it must have been a jolt for the Baghdad residents to see U.S. army tanks rolling in their city. The objective, overall, appears to be for the army to bite off a chunk of Baghdad at a time. That appears to be what we are seeing at this point, the 3rd Infantry Division with its tank units, essentially on a reconnaissance mission. But as soon as a reconnaissance mission is conducted, heavier units are brought up behind it. And Baghdad is about to see a large chunk of it fall under American control.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, with the U.S. army's 7th Cavalry on the outskirts of Baghdad.


BROWN: And Walt reported that about 90 minutes ago if memory serves me.

Today, some of the most vivid images of the war have come from in and around what was called Saddam Hussein International Airport, now re-named simply Baghdad International Airport. A look now at what was taking place, how they tried to hold it and how it looked. And you can imagine how it felt on the ground.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am giving you orders to shoot that thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shoot that thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The javelin will not lock on to them. Can you see it from here?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, you need to move up closer. All the way to the Guard rail, go.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can see it over here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right over the guard rail, right over top of that pole, next to that guard tower, that is where they are. Let's go get them. Can you see them?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is right there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You already hit one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is something wrong with the missile.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, bring that one up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, we need a missile.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, man, put it down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring it over here. Bring it over here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, this one's messed up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep moving down, Move up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have got a sight on it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are moving. They are moving. Can you see that split between those two trees, to the right of the Guard tower, that is where they are. Do you see them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get that other javelin.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, big blue one. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 200 meters in the air. There were three next to them. I don't know what the hell happened to it. We shot (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


BROWN: That was 12 miles outside the city of Baghdad, in the area around the airport. In the city itself, on this Saturday morning, now, must be making its way just a bit past 10:00 in the morning. You can see the skyline, what now must seem like perpetual smoke to the four to five million residents of that city. And somewhere in that city, and we don't know, or at least cannot report precisely where, there are elements of the 3rd, the American Army's 3rd Infantry Division, a reconnaissance mission it is described, part of a plan to take little pieces of the city, one at a time. Try to own those pieces and then move on to take other pieces, until eventually the regime has nothing left.

As we have been told again and again, in the last several days, when talking about urban combat, there are many dangers. And this shot in and of itself doesn't give you a full feel of how tight some of the alley ways and streets are, how tall some of the buildings are. Each one of those windows presents a danger. There could be snipers anywhere. We learned today, yet again, that the danger of suicide attacks has hardly passed. There was another today. So, a reminder, at least, that as the Americans enter the Iraqi capital, two and a half weeks since the beginning of the war, that the possibilities of trouble have hardly gone away. And that, in many respects, it is certainly possible, if not likely, it is certainly possible that there is plenty of trouble ahead.

Rym Brahimi keeps track of Baghdad from Amman, Jordan, for us. She was part of the team of CNN correspondents who was asked to leave the country now. And she joins us again tonight. Rym, good morning.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Aaron. Well, you saw those pictures, of course, President Saddam Hussein apparently making a public appearance in the streets of Baghdad. Well, of course, that raises a huge question. You can look at the tape and, of course, you will see the smoke in the background indicating that this is recent footage, after Baghdad has been bombed. You can look at his secretary standing by him. That definitely looks like the secretary that always stands by him in all the footage we have seen of him. But then the pictures are really blurry. The angle is also not very clear. You would have had to ask the question of, if his last public appearance was three years ago at a parade for the Jerusalem army, why on earth would he be coming out into the streets of Baghdad at a time when his own survival is at stake.

And then there is the address President Saddam Hussein apparently made to the Iraqi people only a couple of days ago, calling on them mainly to fight, but also talking about the Apache helicopter that was downed by a peasant, and telling these people of Baghdad that they have to fight.


SADDAM HUSSEIN, IRAQI PRESIDENT (through translator): Hit them hard. Hit them with the force of belief (ph) whenever they approach you, and resist them, you the people of the brave glorious Baghdad, whenever they approach you, and try to attack you, it depends on God.


BRAHIMI: Now, many people in Baghdad this morning seem to have taken another option, that of leaving the Iraqi capital, we understand. But at the end of the day, the question of whether this was Saddam Hussein or not doesn't really matter. Well, clearly, it means that there is a system in place no matter what. And that system is able to respond to the coalition forces, clearly the message -- the pictures are not intended to impress anyone from the Iraqi public. There is no electricity in Baghdad, very few people would be watching TV. And, secondly, would the foreign minister be seen broadcast on Iraqi TV at the mosque on Friday. Would the information minister be able to call up a press conference, and threaten coalition forces based at Saddam International Airport if there weren't still a system in place -- Aaron.

BROWN: So, whether it's Saddam or not there is a regime in place, that's the point of all of this. How much power the regime has is something else, but there is a regime there.

BRAHIMI: Well, absolutely, Aaron. There is a regime there. And that I think is more the significance of all these tapes that we've been seeing, one after the other. Also, the significance of the press conferences, the regular military briefings as well that have been seen on air. And don't forget, Aaron, a few days before the war started, the whole of Iraq was sort of partitioned or divided into four different military areas in terms of military administration. And Baghdad and the center of Iraq were given to Qusay Saddam Hussein, President Saddam Hussein's youngest son, who is head of the Republican Guard, also head of the security forces. He is in charge of that area. These people have everything to lose in this attack. So, it is likely that they will do all they can to stay in place -- Aaron.

BROWN: And, again, there are reports of lots of people fleeing the city. But whether we are talking about a few thousand or tens of thousands, we don't know at this point. We expect we'll know a bit more as the day goes on. Rym, thank you for that reporting out of Amman, Jordan. It is tough getting phone calls through, but our correspondent has done a terrific job in doing that.

Now, onto southern Iraq and British forces who are dipping a toe, as they put it, into the city of Basra. Dipping a toe into Basra has meant a lot of danger and complication for the troops. We can only imagine what jumping all the way in would mean. Here is a report from British journalist Alex Thompson.


ALEX THOMPSON, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Challenger tank and a taxi, an everyday encounter in this increasingly surreal push for Basra. The British want to have a war here, the Basrans, on the whole, just want to get on with life. The soldiers say they've cited militiamen in this western suburb. But what's this, yes, civilians simply getting on with things. And in the way -- dressing as civilians, mingling with them, the militiamen's most potent weapon. The army's only answer, aggressive patrolling, as they call it. First, find your target. In this case, the soldiers say it's a man with a rocket-propelled grenade in this building. So, all day, tank patrols have been moving into Basra, attacking and pulling back to their base at the city's edge. The soldiers said that killed eight militiamen, but there is no way of verifying this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The opposition they are encountering isn't particularly significant. I mean, they don't have a great capability. They have got small arms. They have got RPG rocket launchers. And they have got, to some degree, an effective mortar system. And we saw the effects of that today, landing very close to our position.

THOMPSON: Some shots were more than close. This Warrior armored fighting vehicle hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The rounds still embedded in its armor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is quite a few RPGs going around. And this vehicle was hit once from the side, and it had a second one which bounced off the road in front.

THOMPSON: Only yesterday, a senior British officer described this operation as dipping a toe in to see what happens. What's happening this morning is incoming rounds from Iraqi positions just across there in the shantytown. And all the while, Basra is bombarded with propaganda, the psy-ops, psychological operations front has opened up. Radio Nakrane (ph), the army station, telling people the invasion is good for you, good for Iraq. They've even brought in a cartoonist, although he didn't wish to be identified.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't try to give the impression that we are anything other than British forces. There is absolutely no deceit involved. We tell the truth. And the reason we tell the truth, is because, it's absolutely critical that we retain credibility with the Iraqi people.

THOMPSON: A current work in progress shows Saddam Hussein being arrested by a squaddy and marched off. A personal message from Tony Blair is in the offing. There already were arrests this afternoon. These two men suspected of being involved in the killing of two British soldiers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turn around. Place your arms in the air.

SGT. IAN LISTER, BRITISH ARMY: They are suspected of a killing. This happened right in this area. I can't say anymore than that at the moment, until there is further evidence.

THOMPSON: The army translator claimed these men were influential with direct links to Saddam Hussein. This policing operation, all part of what is a war here, on several fronts.


BROWN: A British pool report. We will take a break, and our coverage continues in a moment.


BROWN: Earlier tonight we talked to Tom Ricks, the Pentagon correspondent for the "Washington Post". He has been a must read over the last two-and-a-half weeks, and we are glad to have him back with us tonight. We talked with him shortly before Walter Rodgers reported that Americans had entered the city of Baghdad.


BROWN: Tom, let's just start with what is the lead?

TOM RICKS, "WASHINGTON POST": What is the lead for tonight's paper?


RICKS: Really, the U.S. settling down around Baghdad, getting ready to go in. The marines pushing up closer in the southeast. And probably the most worrisome thing out there is that the marines are reporting that some of the fighters they have encountered are not Iraqi, but Egyptian and Jordanian.

BROWN: Sorry. So, we've seen over the days some foreigners, some non-Iraqis trying to get into the country, and there is at least some evidence now that they've made it.

RICKS: Yes, I was talking to one guy when I plugged into defense intelligence today and, he said, that made him very worried that you would have kind of suicidal street fighting in Baghdad.

BROWN: On that theme, do we have yet many clues as to what the battle for Baghdad itself will be like?

RICKS: I think nobody can tell you what it will be like. I know what the U.S. military would like it to be like. What you are seeing is kind of a loose cordon being set up around parts of the city. You will see forays into the city, both armored columns, and much more quietly, special operations. I think you will see some very precision bombing of certain targets, as they really try to take apart the regime while affecting as little as possible the lives of the average Iraqi citizens. But they were pouring out of the city today, a lot of the citizens, because they sense and smell a big fight coming.

BROWN: And are there clues at this point to how willing the Iraqis are to fight to the end?

RICKS: That really is the question on which this will all turn. The U.S. military is pretty confident that if it is just the special Republican Guard, the body guards around Saddam Hussein, even suicidal foreign fighters, that they can take care of that fairly quickly if the population is with them. If the population is actively against them, then they got a huge problem, because as one guy said to me, it is a city awash in small arms, with AK-47 assault rifles distributed across the population. The key issue is going to be which way those rifles are pointed.

BROWN: Do we have any clues as to when this will start?

RICKS: I think it started in small ways already with special operations movements, and additional bombing. We saw today, the marines trying to move up closer to eastern Baghdad, which is key because it is Shiite and, though, presumably, less friendly to the regime. But they encountered pretty fierce fighting, the marines had three tanks disabled, one destroyed and two immobilized. As they attack, they were being hit by well-coordinated volleys of rocket- propelled grenades. So that indicates it is a pretty tough fight going in. The worry is that Saddam's fighters will be happiest to fight in neighborhoods that they consider unfriendly like Shiite neighborhoods, and will invite mass destruction in those areas.

BROWN: There is no sign yet, or there are -- well, let me ask you this question, are there signs yet that the Iraqi military has lost the ability to command its troops?

RICKS: That is probably the great theological debate in the Pentagon, and among military experts right now. There are some people who say, the simple fact that you are still seeing fighting, you are still seeing volleys of rocket-propelled grenades, you are still seeing ambushes, indicates that at least at the brigade level, say of units of two to 4,000 troops, there is some command and control going on. At the higher level, between divisions, there seems to be some also, because you are seeing coordinated movements of large units and reinforcements of the Republican Guard, by regular Iraqi army. But the oddity is, it is kind of very herky jerky, very slow. One marine officer told a "Post" reporter in the field today, the movements all seem 24 hours too late. As if the message were getting through, but either incomplete or after much interruption.

BROWN: And, finally, is anything that's gone on in the last 24 hours from the sources you've talked to, are they surprised by any of this? RICKS: Yeah, actually, I will tell you something out of left field, the most puzzling that happened today that I could see was the marines relieve the commander of one of their major units on the battle field, the 1st Marine Regiment out of Camp Pendleton. Central Command didn't even put out a statement, but they would confirm if you asked that, yes, that the colonel commanding the 1st Marines was relieved in the battlefield. This was the unit that attacked up toward Al Kut the other day, as two other regiments attacked toward Baghdad. It is very puzzling relief to me. I am not sure -- I have no idea why it happened. And a lot of marines I've talked to today were puzzled as well.

BROWN: So, so much for the follow up question, why?

RICKS: Your guess is as good as mine.

BROWN: We'll leave it at that. Tom Ricks of the "Washington Post." Your reporting has been terrific through this all. And we are always pleased to have you with us. We hope you will come back again.

RICKS: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

BROWN: Thank you.


BROWN: Recorded that a little bit earlier. That is an intriguing little thing that he dropped at the end, that the marines relieved an important colonel in the midst of the battle. Something happened and, at some point, we will know what and why, but we don't know it tonight.

We'll take a break. Update the day's headlines. Our coverage continues on CNN after this short break.



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