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Baghdad Attack Under Way

Aired April 7, 2003 - 04:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: He was your interpreter. Suddenly, repeat it if you will, suddenly seeing his sons who he hadn't seen in quite some time?
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well when he came, he was recognized. And people went to fetch -- when people went to fetch the interpreter and there was this reunion.

One second, please. Hang on just a second. The translator I want to talk to is upstairs translating. We won't be able to get him now.

Let me ask you a question, if I can? I'm talking to Major Dan Sweeney (ph), sorry, Dan, who is acting as our handler here. What are those soldiers there carrying out?

MAJOR DAN SWEENEY: Looks like they're carrying out some mortar rounds right now. There's various forms of ammunition that are in the building and the Marines are being very careful to identify it and move it out in a very safe manner.

FRANKEN: Very careful, Anderson, being put in trucks and they'll be taken away and exploded. That's what they've been doing with the weapons and ammunition.

COOPER: All right. Bob Franken, we're going to let you regroup a little bit and we'll come back to you in a little while. Events moving fast on the ground both where Bob Franken is north of Nasiriya as well as all over Iraq at this point. Bob, we'll check in with you in a little bit.

It is just past 4:00 a.m. here on the East Coast of the United States, just past noon Baghdad time. There is a lot to talk about, a lot to tell you about. Just want to recap as briefly as we can what we know.

You're looking at a live shot of Baghdad where it is 12:01 p.m., smoke and haze and smog obscuring visibility somewhat. There has been since 6:00 a.m. in the morning in Baghdad, some six hours ago, an operation, some 70 tanks, believed some 70 or so armored personnel carriers belonging to the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division moving into the center of Baghdad.

Earlier it was described perhaps as a probing operation, an incursion. Later on, Captain Frank Thorp with CENTCOM says no, it was an armored raid through the city. A security and stabilizing operation, according to Walter Rodgers. Regardless, it was an operation that met early on light to moderate resistance, small arms fire, automatic weapons fire, some rocket-propelled grenades. The column moved into the presidential compound and now occupies a park in the center of the city where we heard from Ron Martz, a correspondent embedded from "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution." Battle lines being drawn around the Foreign Ministry, Information Ministry as well.

Let's check in with Walt Rodgers who's with the 3rd, 7th Cavalry outside of Baghdad.

Walter, what can you tell us about the situation?


What we're seeing with this latest 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division inside the city of Baghdad, this is the third day in a row, what we're seeing is a changing complexion of the battle for Iraq. And it's changing again in a way which is favorable to the United States and its ally, Great Britain, in all of this.

We have seen last night here with the 7th Cavalry on the western suburbs of Baghdad the first night in at least two weeks in which we haven't really been shot at and indeed there's been no outgoing artillery fire.

Joining me to talk about this change in complexion of the battle here is First Lieutenant Chris Wade, the Fire Support Officer for Apache Troop.

Lieutenant, what's changing?

LT. CHRIS WADE, 7TH CAV. FIRE SUPPORT OFFICER: It seems like since we've come under heavy contact a few days ago, we've seen everything from, you know, light small arms, RPG, mortars mixed in with the populous to Republican Guard tanks. And over the last few days, we've had just sporadic sniper fire, some sporadic RPG fire. But it seems as if now that the division cordon (ph) 360 degree of the city, it seems like things are turning around. And like last night was the first night in almost two weeks that we haven't had to call any sort of indirect fire, either mortars, artillery or cass (ph) and it seems to be quieting down a bit.

RODGERS: When word got out yesterday that the city was now -- Baghdad was now totally encircled by U.S. forces, Marines and the Army, what was that -- what was the effect of that on the troops here in your unit?

WADE: Morale is great. This unit, we've seen everything from ambushes, like I said, you know along the way for the past two weeks. It's been a roller coaster ride. And we really -- when we found out that the city is pretty secure and that we've taken control of the airport, it's exhilarating and it's great to know that we feel a little -- a lot safer. And by no means is it completely safe. I mean it's still a 360 degree battlefield with, you know, many, many arms in -- within the populous in these small pockets of resistance in these towns. But we feel that the heavy force-on-force army, you know, armored clash fighting is doctrinally is coming to a halt. RODGERS: You're a career officer, let's get personal, West Point Class of 2000, the past two weeks has been your baptism under fire. Talk about it.

WADE: OK. The training that the commissioning sources provide and the officer basic course has been -- it's been wonderful. It just took over. You know before you go into combat, you wonder how you're going to -- how you're going to perform and...

RODGERS: And how did you perform?

WADE: First couple times when we were hit with ambushes in the south it was -- it was pretty intense. It was just training took over.

RODGERS: What does that mean pretty intense? Tell us what intense means? That's a euphemism for...

WADE: Right. Yes.

RODGERS: ... having people shooting all over at you.

WADE: It's just your heart -- your heart races. The impacts are all around you whether it's -- you're not sure if it's friendly. You know we had the -- we had the A-10s overhead dropping bombs, we had artillery fire and you don't know if it's friendly or enemy hitting around you. It's just -- it's exhilarating when you're -- you're glad you make it through it and...

RODGERS: I see. Did you take out any Iraqi armored vehicles?

WADE: Yes, sir.

RODGERS: What was that like?

WADE: We -- it was a good feeling knowing that they were -- they were after us and I'm just -- I'm glad I was able to perform my job for the troop. And we brought in some -- we brought in mortar, artillery, and with the help of some Air Force personnel, some cass.

RODGERS: In the background is your Bradley Apache on the warpath. Did it perform well? Tell me about your crew, how did they perform? Every one of your soldiers, first time under fire, a baptism under fire.

WADE: They were wonderful. They performed just great. My NCO, Sergeant Sandlin (ph), has been great, young, professional NCO.

RODGERS: Your closest call out there past two weeks?

WADE: Closest call is when we went up the road here a few K and had -- engaged with the T-72s and BMPs. I think they obviously shot back a few times, had a couple close rounds come in, but we made it out.

RODGERS: Did you -- were you taking RPGs or small arms fire off the side of your vehicle? What's it sound like?

WADE: It's -- flies right overhead. It's a lot of cracking, a lot of stuff going off. You're hoping that's not the one that's going to get you. But as we were pulling out, we were able to -- we engaged with direct fire, took out most of them and called it some immediate suppression missions with artillery as we were pulling out.

RODGERS: Short answer, what have you learned in these combat operations of the last two weeks and they have been hairy?

WADE: Stay alert, stay alive, you know stay calm. Watch your buddies 360 degrees. It's never over. It's either super hot or super cold but it's -- you never know what's going to happen.

RODGERS: First Lieutenant Chris Wade, Apache Troop, U.S. Army 7th Cavalry, the Fire Support Officer, thank you very much.

Back to you -- Anderson.

COOPER: Walt, just great to hear form Lieutenant Chris Wade. I got a question for you, he mentioned 360 degrees. He's talking about, you know, it's a 360 degree battlefield. But in this urban environment, in this close combat, it's not just 360 around you, it's above you, it's below you, it's multi-dimensional. It's got to be extraordinarily difficult.

RODGERS: It is. It's -- it is. And when you say it's multi- dimensional, that's an excellent description. Normally you think of a battlefield as a plane, but really you're fighting in a box as well. And the great threat in this box as the 7th Cavalry and the other U.S. Army units approach Baghdad, the great fear was the vertical box which is that the Iraqis might have used chemical and biological weapons.

Again, the box opened up somewhat last night because the U.S. Air Force was able to send in cargo planes to Baghdad International Airport for the very first time. Now granted it was under the cover of darkness, the Iraqis did open up with anti-aircraft fire. We could see the tracers going up in the air, 20-millimeter anti-aircraft fire. And as soon as they opened up, what the Iraqis did not know was that the U.S. Air Force was overhead protecting its own. Two F-16 fighter- bombers whizzed down, dropped bombs and that was the end of the anti- aircraft fire -- Anderson.

COOPER: You know there have been conflicting reports all morning long about sort of how to describe what is going on on the ground right now in Baghdad. You mentioned it before, it's a security and stabilizing operation, a SASO as they call it. Some have called it an incursion, a probe, but we have this guy, Captain Frank Thorp over at CENTCOM saying it's an armed raid through the city. Whatever you call it, do you get the sense that something has changed today?

RODGERS: Yes, we have, principally because there was no real fighting where we are in the western suburbs last night.

I do need to clear something up, what is happening inside Baghdad, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division is conducting yet another heavy armed reconnaissance. It is a very heavy armed reconnaissance with tanks and armored personnel carriers, Bradleys and so forth.

COOPER: Walt...

RODGERS: They are looking for Iraqi pockets of resistance and blasting them out. But what's happening after that, the SASO unit is happening out in the suburbs where we are where we're seeing a transition from a battlefield operation to an occupation of a certain plot of land, real estate -- Anderson.

COOPER: And that will be interesting to see in the coming minutes and hours whether or not they hold on to that real estate or whether they decide to draw away. Regardless of what happens, I'm sure CENTCOM officials will point out that they make the decision on what to do at a time and a place of their choosing.

Walt Rodgers, thanks very much. We're going to check in with you a little bit later on.


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