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Interview With Capt. Frank Thorpe

Aired April 9, 2003 - 06:19   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Carol, listen, thanks.
Getting word from London right now, the office of the British prime minister, Tony Blair, saying, and quoting right now, "The command and control in Baghdad appears to have disintegrated." I think it's quite evident as we watch these images and pictures of regular Iraqis who have come out of their homes today, possibly for the first time in many days or even weeks since this war got under way. However adding, 10 Downing Street is saying that the U.S. and British forces could face stubborn and fierce paramilitary resistance.

We've talked about the Fedayeen possibly working in and around Baghdad, and we know that the forces there could be quite heavy, 28,000 they say. Whether or not they emerge, though, is a wide, open question, and something that we have not seen so far today.

Based on the reports we're getting from our journalists, our embedded journalists with the U.S. military, with the Marines in the east and the Army in the west, the amount of resistance seems to be much less today than even yesterday and the day before on Monday.

And I think Rula Amin makes a great point: That journalists right now living and working at the Palestine Hotel for the past 12 years have been greeted by an Iraqi minder every day they leave that hotel to go about and do their job in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. They're accompanied by a member of the Iraqi government, but today, those minders have not shown up. Instead, we get the images and the pictures, the celebrations, the chanting, and also the widespread looting of a lot of government offices and military offices in Baghdad.

I want to get back down to CENTCOM headquarters there for the U.S. military in Qatar. We're going to get a briefing in about 28 minutes, but I understand Tom Mintier again talking to more members of the U.S. military.

Tom -- what are they saying now, again as the images come in not just from Baghdad but also in the north in the town of Erbil?

TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, they are watching these images that are coming, but they are expressing cautious optimism.

And you were talking about the minders in Baghdad. That is really the canary in the coal mine, if you will. These are the birds in the cage that were the first early indication that something was not going to be a normal day, when they didn't show up for work, when police did not show up on the streets, when people came out and started looting and expressing their opinions openly, tearing down the pictures of Saddam.

Early indications of a sweeping change, even in front of the cameras, not maybe everywhere, and that's what military officials here at CENTCOM are saying, that what you're seeing is a snapshot on one street corner, on one minute of one hour of one day. They say that hostilities indeed are still continuing in other parts of the country. You're not seeing them in the streets of downtown Baghdad; you're seeing jubilation.

Joining us now is Captain Frank Thorpe, a public affairs officer here CENTCOM.

We're looking at pictures of people rejoicing in the streets, but you're telling me it's not over.

CAPT. FRANK THORPE, CENTCOM SPOKESMAN: That's exactly right, Tom. Those are great, great visuals to see. They've been the objective of what this operation is all about.

But I want to -- exactly. I want to share that caution that there are still many days of perhaps fierce fighting to follow. We have forces in the heart of Baghdad. We continue to operate. Over the last 24 hours some sporadic, brief, but fierce fire fights have occurred.

And there are other areas of the country that we have yet to be at. Tikrit, the city of Tikrit, where air power -- Air Force, Navy, Marine, as well as British aircraft -- conducting strikes against military targets, command and control targets of the regime.

So it's not over. We're seeing good signs here, but I would definitely stay on the cautious side, to say we still have more to come.

MINTIER: We heard from one of our embedded journalists, Bob Franken, in the last hour that local townspeople were taking them to sites where missile batteries were located and abandoned, that equipment was simply out, tanks along the road, the people were gone. Where have these people gone?

THORPE: Well, there are still some there, but the good thing is, is that the Iraqi people are seeing that the coalition forces are there, in fact, to liberate them. We're still seeing some of these Special Republican Guard fighting. We can't forget that these people get their power and influence, these Special Republican Guard get their power and influence from the existence of the regime. So they're willing to fight, because when that regime goes down, their power and influence is gone.

So we have to be very steady that even as we're working through the cities and working with the Iraqi civilians who we've been working so hard to liberate that it's still a combat situation. We have to stay on our toes and know that this operation still has some future hostilities to fight.

MINTIER: A couple of days ago I talked to Brian Burette (ph), who is a British commander of forces in the theater, and I asked him about the looting that was occurring in Basra. And it was almost as if he expected to see it. That was a signal that the regime no longer controlled the local population.

Are you seeing the same thing this morning in Baghdad?

THORPE: I think what you're seeing is exactly that. We have a population here who has lived under a grip of torture, fear and barbarism for decades, for two or three decades, and finally they're able to go out in the street and express themselves as a free people. And they look around and there's nobody to enforce and to clamp down on them and prevent them from expressing themselves freely, like you and I are used to doing every day.

And so what's happened down in Basra I think is probably a good indicator of what's going to happen in other cites, where people are expressing themselves and being just free and to walk around the city. And we will have some looting.

And what the British are doing is doing a very good job of transiting to more of a stabilizing force, more of a security situation. And we'll probably see that in other cities.

MINTIER: At what point do you have to do that in Baghdad? At what point do you have to transition from combat to civil operations?

THORPE: Well, I think it's not a single-point thing where you'll see the switch. It's an ongoing thing. We have civil affairs troops in Baghdad or in Iraq and throughout the country at this point that will help the country establish their own infrastructure, their own food distribution system, their own police forces as a free society.

So those forces, those Army forces are highly trained. Those civil affairs units know how to work with the community. They have Special Forces who are trained to interact with the community and let them take over for themselves the operation of their cities, and eventually their country.

MINTIER: I know here at CENTCOM and at the Pentagon they've said this is not about one man. There was a strike against leadership targets in downtown Baghdad. Is what we're seeing today possibly a result of that?

THORPE: I think that the strike that you're talking about may have been one step. We don't know. There have been numerous steps. For three weeks, we've been conducting military operations, which have demonstrated that what we've been saying for months, that we're committed to the end of this regime, we were committed to the ridding of weapons of mass destruction, that we were true in our word, that we're fulfilling our commitment.

And so there's, I think, innumerous things that are providing the Iraqi people that freedom, that feeling that they can express themselves. I don't think it's any one thing that will make that happen.

MINTIER: All right, Captain Frank Thorpe, public affairs officer here at CENTCOM.

And in about less than 25 minutes, we will have the CENTCOM briefing here in Doha, where we will hear what the last 24 hours have indicated, maybe what caused what's going on and what we're seeing now on the streets of Baghdad, the early signs possibly that they knew that this was coming.

Bill -- back to you.

HEMMER: All right, Tom, thanks -- Tom Mintier.


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