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Column of U.S. Tanks Launch Assault on Baghdad

Aired April 7, 2003 - 00:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in the CNN news room. Here's what's happening at this hour.
The Iraqi general who reportedly ordered a deadly chemical attack against the Kurds in northern Iraq 15 years ago is likely dead. British officials say Chemical Ali, as he is known, probably died two nights ago when coalition forces bombed his home, this palace in Basra, seen just before the attack, right there. Chemical Ali's bodyguard was among those killed at that home.

New gunfire echoed through Baghdad as residents in the besieged city awoke to a day 20 of the war. Explosions jolted the city periodically overnight, and we have reports this hour of a possible drone flying over Baghdad. So far, it has not come under Iraqi fire.

Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, U.S. special forces unleashed a barrage of heavy artillery upon Iraqi soldiers. The predawn assault lasted a solid hour, according to CNN's Thomas Nybo, who is embedded with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Aboard the U.S.S. "Constellation," pictures of Navy jets taking off as another night of strikes on Iraq begins. The U.S. Department of Defense reports that from 6:00 a.m. Saturday until 6:00 a.m. Sunday, there were 1,870 coalition sorties, 600 of those missions were for military strikes.

CNN crews in southern Iraq report that British forces are taking up key positions in Basra, having met little resistance in a morning raid. The British have been encamped around Basra for days. Military sources say an air attack two nights ago left what was one fierce resistance, quote, "in disarray."

Those are the headlines at this hour. Now back to Anderson Cooper and more coverage of the war in Iraq -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Fredricka, thanks very much.

It is just past 12 midnight here on the East Coast of the United States, just past 8:00 a.m. in Iraq, where there is a lot happening on the ground. A new day has begun. Let's take a look at the last -- at the major events of day 19 of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


COOPER (voice-over): Early in the day, U.S. forces announced they now control all the highways in and out of Baghdad, and for the second straight day, conducted reconnaissance raids into the heart of the Iraqi capital.

CNN's Walter Rodgers, embedded with the Army's 3rd Division, 7th Cavalry, confirmed heavy losses suffered by the Iraqi forces in and around Baghdad.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Iraqis are just outmatched and overmatched here. Within a 24-hour period, 7th Cavalry killed over 400 Iraqis. I think any time the Iraqis put their heads up now, they get shot, they get killed. We have seen many Iraqi tank units simply parking their tanks in groves of trees, parking their armored vehicles in groves of trees, and then taking off.

COOPER: A symbolic sign, the first U.S. military plane landed at the newly named Baghdad International Airport, just hours after the Iraqi information minister again denied the airport had been secured by U.S. troops.

MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER: When we stop pounding them, they push some of their units towards Saddam International Airport. We notice that. Those units all before be filmed and for propaganda, hollow, empty propaganda purposes.

COOPER: Signs of life, the daily call to prayer, now mixed with sounds of war, the daily bombing of Baghdad. Iraqis continue to flee the capital despite a new message, said to be from Saddam Hussein, calling for resistance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): From Saddam Hussein to all of the fighters of the Iraqi armed forces, peace be upon you. When it is in hard or difficult for any member to join their own respective unit, they can link up with any other unit, and they will be counted as such until further notice.

COOPER: CNN's Martin Savidge, embedded with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, reported house-to-house searches for Iraqi fighters in suburbs southeast of Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Open the door. Open the door!

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A very poignant scene at one point the cameraman, Scott McWinny (ph), found, as these Marines moved in on a house. They came across this one family. It's through voice and through hand gestures that they tried to get them to come out of the house. And they do, but it's clear, you can tell, that the family is terrified in the presence of these Marines.

COOPER: On the northern front, allied Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, now an hour's drive from Baghdad, still face stiff Iraqi resistance. CNN cameraman Chris Matlock shot these pictures of an F- 14 dropping a laser-guided bomb on an Iraqi position near Dibaga in northern Iraq.

A couple miles away, another U.S. war plane mistakenly bombed Kurdish Peshmerga fighters traveling in a convoy, killing at least 18 and wounding 45.

CNN's Jane Arraf reported from the scene.

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was an absolute horrific scene, a bomb dropped on this convoy, injuring more than 45 people, including seriously injuring the brother of what people refer to as the president of the regional government here. His son was also wounded. Among the dead was a BBC translator as well, the BBC traveling in that convoy. Altogether, it was truly a horrific scene.

COOPER: To the south, after days of heavy fighting, British forces finally rode into Iraq's second-largest city, Basra. British Desert Rats faced light resistance but have not yet taken full control.

CNN's Diana Muriel reported.

DIANA MURIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As the tanks rolled into the center of Basra, the people came out to stare, some to wave, and to deliver thumbs-up.

COOPER: Securing the southern part of the country, however, remains difficult. More mines are discovered every day. These were found close to Basra.

At last count, 110 coalition service members have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 80 of them American, 30 British.

DAVID BLOOM, NBC CORRESPONDENT: If you talk, you got to yell to me, because it's really hard to hear out here.

COOPER: And today, word that NBC correspondent David Bloom died on the front lines, of natural causes. He was embedded with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division near Baghdad. He's survived by his wife, Melanie, and three daughters.


COOPER: Well, we want to find out what the latest, what is going on in the ground in Baghdad, as close as we can tell. Want to check in with our Rym Brahimi now.

Good morning, Rym.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Anderson.

Well, as you know, a C-130 plane from the U.S. forces has landed at the airport that's been renamed by the U.S. not Saddam International Airport, but now Baghdad International Airport.

The president of Iraq has made another -- has made -- sent another message on Iraqi TV to the fighters. This was read by a TV presenter. And also, it was read on Iraqi TV, the president calling on fighters who've been separated from their units to just go and fight and join any unit, just to continue the battle itself.

Now, people, Anderson, have been seen preparing for that assault, just as also the president, again, was shown on TV again, on local TV and on satellite TV, shown with a group of advisers, again a sign that the government is still keen to show its presence in the capital.

Now, the CENTCOM -- U.S. CENTCOM talks about 3,000 casualties among Iraqi soldiers. The whole episode of the airport continues to be denied by the Iraqi media as well as by Iraq's information minister, who insists that coalition forces do not hold the airport.

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf yesterday speaking to reporters said that the Iraqi forces had actually retaken over that whole area and that the U.S. forces would only step in from time to time to be able to be filmed in the airport and show that as propaganda.

Meanwhile, a high number of casualties, according to humanitarian or humanitarian aid workers, a lot of concern there that hospitals are gradually being overwhelmed. The Red Cross has said in the past few days that there were about 100 casualties a day. Well, that 48 hours ago turned into 100 casualties per hour with the airport battle.

And, of course, overnight bombing, very heavy, especially in the center of Baghdad, Anderson.

COOPER: Rym, in the last 45 minutes or so, we were watching image of a -- some sort of unmanned drone flying over the city of Baghdad itself, not being shot at. You spent, obviously, a great deal of time in Baghdad. Talk a little bit about -- my understanding is, there are many, or there were many antiaircraft batteries, and they were spread out in many different places, even civilian areas.

Can you give a sense of how widespread the network of antiaircraft was?

BRAHIMI: Yes, absolutely, Anderson, you're right there. Well, a lot of antiaircraft artilleries that were placed on the roofs of buildings, not only government buildings, like certain ministries, for instance, or on top of the gates of one of the presidential palaces, but also on some civilian buildings, or what seemed to us, at any rate, as civilian buildings.

Now, why that drone wasn't shot down is not clear at this time. That obviously raises many questions. How much of the antiaircraft artillery is actually left in Baghdad? How much hasn't been taken down?

I heard from people that I've been speaking to in Baghdad that on a couple of occasions, U.S. forces seemed to have come up with some sort of operation at night, when it's pitch-black, no electricity, of course, by helicopter, and they take out buildings with such antiaircraft artillery.

Now, again, this is just a second-hand report from sources in Baghdad, but that could be the reason why these kind of aircraft are now less threatened. That, and, of course, the fact that there's been a constant roll of aircraft, U.S. coalition aircraft, over the Iraqi capital since the airport was taken, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Rym Brahimi, appreciate it, live in Amman, Jordan. We'll check in with you shortly. Want to check in now with Thomas Nybo. He is in northern Iraq with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Thomas, what's the latest where you are?

THOMAS NYBO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Anderson, it's been an especially busy night here for members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. They've been working (audio interrupt) for forces to essentially (UNINTELLIGIBLE) an especially tough group of Iraqi soldiers who just refuse to leave the area around the green line.

Essentially, what happened was, U.S. special forces patrolling the area would call in the coordinates to coalition airplanes. They would drop bombs. But these Iraqi soldiers would see them oncoming. They would jump in underground escape tunnels, and basically avoid a lot of the destruction.

So what happened was, they brought in the 173rd, and surprise is what they bring to the game. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) week and a half ago, when they secured the airfield in northern Iraq. They did the same thing tonight, with two Howitzer cannons attached to Humvees. They drove in under the cover of darkness and essentially unleashed a one- hour barrage of heavy artillery.

Now, they tell me, the Army tells me that the Iraqi soldiers on the ground have no way of knowing what's coming until the shells start hitting. And so essentially they were hit for an hour straight of heavy 105-millimeter shells.

Now, the early word is the attack was a success, but that comes from one special forces operative with night vision goggles. Daylight has arrived here, and in the coming hours, they will have a better indication of just how successful that attack was.

COOPER: Thomas, give us a sense of the weapon that was used, the Howitzer, give us a sense of what it's like witnessing that being used, the crew as they go through their training of loading and reloading. It's got to be an extraordinary thing to see.

NYBO: It's unbelievably efficient. In total darkness, you have a five-person team on each of these Howitzers.

COOPER: OK, we...


COOPER: Go ahead.

NYBO: OK, I can hear you. But essentially, a five-person team on each of these Howitzers. And for viewers not familiar with the Howitzer, it's a cannon that's towed behind, in this case, a Humvee. So these guys, essentially, each person has a role. The coordinates are called in by special forces, and they have a truck load of ammunition, in this case they have one hour, two guns, to fire 50 rounds. And they're all operating with night vision goggles.

It is just efficiency at its greatest, one after another, one round after another, hammering down on the Iraqi position in northern Iraq along the green line.

COOPER: You talk about this green line, that represents what, just the Iraqi position, the zone between...


COOPER: ... Kurdish control? Go ahead.

NYBO: Yes, it basically separates Kurdish-controlled Iraq with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And so that's basically kind of where the line has been drawn in the sand, and this especially tough group of Iraqi soldiers, they're just not leaving that area, despite near-constant bombing from coalition war planes, one of the reasons that the 173rd was brought in.

COOPER: All right, Thomas Nybo with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, we'll let you go. We'll check in with you in a little bit.

We're going to now check in with another correspondent of ours in the field, Harris Whitbeck. I'm not sure exactly where he is, but let's find out, somewhere in southern Iraq.

Harris, what can you tell us about what's going on where you are?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Well, Anderson, we are at a forward air base in Iraq. This base was taken over by coalition forces several days ago, and both the Army and the Air Force have been making great efforts to prepare the space to accommodate eventually thousands of troops.

Among the services they're trying to provide, the soldiers and airmen and -women here, is the chance to worship if they choose to do so.


WHITBECK (voice-over): Fighting men and women lay down their weapons for a moment of worship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Holy, holy, holy...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Holy, holy, holy...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Holy, holy, holy...

WHITBECK: The first Sunday church service to be held in this recently secured Iraqi air base in south central Iraq. Air Force personnel here are close to the front lines. Being so close to the horrors of war, many of them look for a connection with their religious traditions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just think it's important, because I think that's a huge link to my family as well. My family has been religious, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) family spent together was, you know, church services, church picnics and so forth. So to come to a service once a week for maybe an hour or so is definitely reminiscent of the family and what's important to me back in the States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ask in the holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.

WHITBECK: Chaplain Kleet Barclay's job is delicate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I seek You with all my heart. Do not let me stray from your commands.

WHITBECK: He ministers to the spiritual needs of combatants, men and women who go into battle, who, in the line of duty, are often forced to bring suffering upon others.

Outside his makeshift chapel, I asked him about reconciling those actions on the battlefield with the biblical teachings that stress love of mankind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So there are times for self-defense, there are times when justice will come about in ways which aren't very pleasing. So I can support that. I don't support the inhumanity of war. That's tragic. I don't want either side to suffer casualties. But sometimes (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about it in pretty dire ways.

Father, we ask blessing upon...



WHITBECK (on phone): Now, Anderson, the chaplain here says that he also tries to provide religious services to people of the Jewish faith and to Muslims and also to Catholics. So really, a lot is available out here for those who seek it, Anderson.

COOPER: Harris, what sort of -- what -- in general, what's the morale like with -- among the troops you're with?

WHITBECK: It seems to be pretty high. Obviously as news trickles in of the events on Baghdad, people are very pumped up. A lot of people here want to be involved in a more direct fashion in the operations in Baghdad, although this forward air base is crucial to those operations, a lot of patrol flights, a lot of combat flights are taking off from here to participate in this 24-hour patrolling of the skies over Baghdad.

So people here do feel very proud that they're taking in part of that, but obviously a lot of people would like to be closer.

COOPER: All right, Harris Whitbeck reporting from a forward air base somewhere in Iraq. Harris, thanks very much. We'll try to check in with you a little bit later on.

In the fog of war -- and we have heard so much about the fog of war -- things can go terribly wrong. It happened today in northern Iraq, where U.S. special forces are working with Kurdish fighters.

Julian Manyon reports.


JULIAN MANYON, ITV NEWS (voice-over): It is another friendly fire disaster. This morning, an American bomb destroyed a convoy carrying high officials of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which have been fighting alongside the Americans on the northern front. At least 17 Kurdish commanders and their guards were killed, along with an interpreter working for the BBC. More than 40 were injured.

The military chief of the Kurdish KDP, the brother of their leader, Masoud Bazani (ph), was gravely hurt.

(on camera): Trying to organize a northern front with just a few hundred U.S. special forces troops, and the poorly armed Kurdish Peshmerga guerrillas, was always going to be a high-risk exercise. The idea was to open the way with heavy, sustained American bombing of Iraqi positions. But today it all went disastrously wrong.

(voice-over): Even as we filmed the wreckage, U.S. jets were still dropping their bombs nearby. Giant explosions erupted down the road.

Earlier, we had joined another convoy of U.S. special forces troops and Kurdish fighters as they tried to move south through country abandoned by the Iraqi army. At first, all was calm. American troops controlled the operation from a rooftop.

Then, as the Kurds advanced again, the Iraqis opened up.

(on camera): Now we're hearing the boom of Iraqi guns as they fire towards our positions. All morning, the Kurds have been trying to advance, and that was the shell going off.

(voice-over): The Iraqi gunners rapidly found our range, and we took refuge in an abandoned farmhouse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down. Get down!

MANYON: We finally managed to get out by car.

Here in the north, Iraqi tanks and guns are still firing, and the American effort is looking a little ragged.

Julian Manyon, ITV News, on the northern front.


COOPER: The bonds between those fighting in war are so intense that when there's an incident of friendly fire, they often refer to it as "fratricide," the killing of a brother.

Miles O'Brien now to show how friendly fire or fratricide accidents can happen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mistaken identity can be very costly in the midst of a war. The Pentagon is investigating just such a case right now, which left at least 18 people dead, 45 others injured. Those people predominantly members of a Kurdish faction that is allied with U.S. troops, special operations in particular, in northern Iraq.

To talk a little bit more about this so-called friendly fire incident, we turn now to one of our military experts, retired General David Grange, joining us from Chicago.

General Grange, before we get started here, I just want to set the scene as to where we are, what part of the world we're in, using our satellite imagery. We'll zoom in on the town in northern Iraq of Erbil. And this convoy was moving along in this area. And at the time, members of U.S. special operations forces, presumably the Green Beret, working closely with Kurdish fighters there, were designating targets using a laser beam to bring in bombs.

And this accident happened, this convoy contained some Kurds who are allies.

And I suppose in these situations, as we look at the remnants of this convoy, I suppose in these situations, where you have special operations dealing with almost guerrilla-type home grown mercenary, whatever you want to want to call them, operations, I suppose it is a lot harder to identify friend from foe.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, it's harder, but again, that's why you have these special operations forces placed throughout the region, to establish relationships and work with the Kurdish forces, just to keep the fratricide down, the friendly fire, just so you strike the right units at the right time and place, you coordinate efforts on attacks and defense and movements of all the forces involved.

And that's why they're there.

O'BRIEN: All right. Now, shortly after this unfortunate incident occurred, we had an interesting demonstration, which we captured on tape, showing how it works, and works very effectively. The target in this case was an Iraqi tank over a ridge there. You see some of the special operations folks working in concert with the Kurds here, engaging in some mortar fire and some other activity.

And here you see an F-14, and it just launches a bomb there, and I -- we've frozen it. You can see, this is a laser-guided weapon on its way to its target. What you can't see in this picture is, on the ground, as we keep that tape going, on the ground there is somebody who is actually using a laser beam to light up the target, as it is called, and that is what guides it in.

And as we say, most of the time this is what happens, right?

GRANGE: That's right, and you have a kind of a variety of special operating forces there in some of the pictures that you're displaying. It's mixed of Air Force and Army as well as there are some airborne forces also in some of the pictures, like with the mortar fire.

So the mortar fire would mean the enemy were close in. The target designator can engage -- can designate targets fairly close, all the way out to some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) versions 10, 10 kilometers out, whatever.

So they can hit targets at quite a distance from their friendly location.

O'BRIEN: Now, among the 45 wounded were some relatives of the leader of the Kurdish faction which controls this part of the world. What does this do to the morale, the camaraderie between the special operations and the Kurds in a situation like this?

GRANGE: Well, I think the relationships will remain intact. I had the opportunity to work with some Kurds with Iranian special forces in Iran years ago. And usually you really establish trust and confidence between both parties. And they know accidents happen.

I think in this case, the Kurds know it may have been their fault on communicating it was a friendly unit or enemy unit, that probably did not happen. And like you said earlier, there's a mix of civilian vehicles and military vehicles, and a mix of uniforms. And if you don't have the right communications on the radio saying who it is, mistakes can be made.

O'BRIEN: And it happens awfully quickly, doesn't it?

GRANGE: That's right.

O'BRIEN: All right. General David Grange, thanks very much for your insights. Appreciate it.

Back to you.


COOPER: Thanks, Miles.

Coming up, the battle for Basra. British troops move on Iraq's second-largest city. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back.

You are looking at a live picture. We're going to stay with this picture for a moment because coalition planes, we are told, have been flying very close over the city of Baghdad. We don't see any visible now, but we're going to just stay with the picture to see if we can.

If you have been with us for the last hour or so, you will have known that there was a drone of some sort, an aerial drone, flying overhead over Baghdad for a good amount of time. Significant because there was no antiaircraft fire targeting that drone, so it was flying virtually unimpeded, gathering intelligence, gathering information, sending back visual images in real time to battlefield commanders, giving them the tactical information.

Retired General Wesley Clark was with us. He said that drone was "out looking for trouble," in his words. And according to Reuters, a U.S. officer says the presidential palace was hit. Apparently Al Arabiya also reporting that war planes are apparently over Baghdad. You are looking at a live picture from Al Arabiya.

Apparently an -- we were -- I was just -- we just got these -- this live shot. I was informed before we came on the air that you could actually see some coalition aircraft from time to time.

This coming in from Reuters, a column of U.S. tanks and armored vehicles have launched an attack on central Baghdad, this according to a U.S. officer who told Reuters this, quote, "We're attacking right down in the center of the city right now," said Major Michael Birmingham. He's the chief public affairs officer for the U.S. 3rd Infantry. Said, "The other day was just an incursion, this is for real," he added, referring, of course, to that foray that Walt Rodgers reported on into southwest Baghdad.

That, of course, was on Saturday. That really the first time there had been a probe, as they often say, into the heart of Baghdad, pushing to see what sort of resistance they got, and they got quite a deal of resistance.

Some of the images we saw from AP TV, among others, intensive fire fight that occurred on Saturday between units from the 3rd Infantry, armored units, fighting what they said were Republican Guard barracks, filled, those barracks filled, there was smoke, intense firefighting. We saw a tank erupting in flames in front of the camera.

That all on Saturday, that really the first probe into the city of Baghdad since the airport was seized by U.S. troops, by coalition forces. But what we are hearing now, according to Reuters, is that a column of U.S. tanks and armored vehicles has launched an attack on central Baghdad, and that the quote from Major Michael Birmingham, who gave the information to Reuters, he said, quote, "We are attacking right down in the center of the city right now. The other day was just an incursion, this is for real."

We're going to continue monitoring this shot. War planes apparently over Baghdad, according to Al Arabiya. What we have heard so much in the last 24, 48 hours from CENTCOM and the Pentagon as well is that there's going to be a change in the coalition strategy of using air power, not just a question of dropping munitions on the city.

Now aircraft are going to be circling overhead, over Baghdad 24 hours a day. There you see one believed to be a coalition aircraft flying over the city.

But this new coalition strategy, it means that there are going to be overflights 24 hours a day, at least two planes capable of being called in at any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in order to bring close air support in to troops on the ground, to Marines and soldiers moving on the ground inside Baghdad.

And there is now, we understand, substantial movement on the ground in Baghdad.

Again, you are looking at this live picture from Al Arabiya. Reuters, according to U.S. officer, saying armored column in central Baghdad.

So much of this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of that probe on Saturday was not just a military strategy, not just a military tactic to probe and see what kind of resistance there was, to see how far they could go. Also psychologically, sending a message. We've heard so much about those psy-ops, those (UNINTELLIGIBLE) psychological operations over the last 24 hours or so.

Part of the message is sending a message to both the leadership in Baghdad but also the Iraqi people that the U.S. coalition is here, the U.S.-led coalition is here, is on the ground in Baghdad, because so much of the information they were receiving from Iraq's information minister, among others, was that U.S. troops were nowhere near Baghdad, and that images of U.S. troops in the airport were faked.

They -- again, there, you're looking at this from a different angle. This is a Al-Jazeera image. We're not hearing at this point the sounds of fighting, not hearing the sounds of munitions. We did hear that earlier, I'd estimate about an hour or so earlier, we heard what sounded like some sort of rolling thunder off in the distance.

According to the Abu Dhabi TV at the time, it was gunshots. It sounded more like some sort of rolling munitions, some sort of munitions being dropped, but it was hard to tell. It was definitely off in the distance.

Let's just listen in for a few moments.


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