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Aired April 12, 2003 - 19:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: The regime is gone. After tough combat in the south, coalition forces moved quickly and took Baghdad.

The battle plan that swept through Iraq in four weeks and the struggle that may still lie ahead.

Miles O'Brien, CNN correspondents and military experts explore THE FALL OF IRAQ: HOW IT HAPPENED.

Now, from the CNN Center, Miles O'Brien.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: As any general worth his medals will tell you, no good battle plan survives the first shot of any war. And since we're not privy not plan of the campaign we've watched under fold over the past few weeks, we cannot say for certain whether that axiom still holds. If the war planners and the Pentagon and its Central Command were surprised by anything that unfolded on the battlefield of Iraq, we will not know until long after the dust is settled and the guns are silenced.

But many of us were surprised by a campaign that went against the grain, apparently by design.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): It is a campaign that seemed to stand conventional wisdom on its head. It did not begin with a long air war, it started on the ground with preemptive seizures of old fields in the south to prevent them from being set ablaze, and air fields in the west to insure they would not be launch pads for Israel-bound Scud missiles.

(on camera): When they write about this in the textbooks, the military textbooks what do you think the lead paragraph will say?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Oh, I think they'll say that it was a successful campaign that advanced 350 miles in desert terrain, through built-up areas and resulted in a very, very innovative takedown of a huge city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vehicles approaching from the east! O'BRIEN (voice-over): In the south, U.S. and British forces expected the resistance would be light. The Shiite majority there, oppressed by Saddam Hussein's regime, seen as natural allies for the U.S. and British forces. But they were wary, understandably.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Remember, we encouraged them to revolt in 1991 and they did so in Basra and also in Karbala. And they were smashed by the Saddam regime. So they are very suspicious of us or any coalition forces. They want to make sure the bad guys are really gone before they come out on the streets and react.

O'BRIEN: Before the war, it was nearly a foregone conclusion that Saddam Hussein's army would try to use chemical weapons on U.S. and British forces. But that didn't happen either. Why not? Perhaps the Iraqis never had a chance.

SHEPPERD: I think the campaign was so fast, with lightning speed, that the Iraqi forces did not have time to erect things such as weapons of mass destruction, did not have time to assemble their forces in the fighting that we thought was going to go on south of Baghdad and in Baghdad itself.

O'BRIEN: Speed kills. The man who formulated this war plan, General Tommy Franks, apparently took that cliche to heart and used it to his advantage.

J. KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: But if you think about it and you think of the distance moved in how many days to arrive in the center of Baghdad, it was audacious. And it was audacious in the face of a lot of people, nay sayers, who said, well, they don't have enough troops.

The fact is they did exactly what they have, you know, stepped out to do with the troops that they had at hand.

O'BRIEN: It was by most accounts a thin force with an ambitious objective. But it may not have mattered where it counts, where force meets force, or as the military types call it, the tip of the spear.

SHEPPERD: It's always wise to have overwhelming force, overwhelming force at the point of contact. And General Franks is did have overwhelming force everywhere he needed it. If is it wasn't the forces on force that he needed, he had the air power or he had the firepower he needed.

MCCANN: I think that by engagement you actually saw overwhelming force. In other words when the combatants met on the field, battle for battle, there was overwhelming force.

O'BRIEN: It was, of course, enough force to bring down the regime. And even though the Pentagon insists these scenes have been overplayed, clearly the U.S. and British forces have not been able to keep peace in the power vacuum that immediately followed.

CLARK: And you ask yourself, if we had another 20,000 troops available, could they be handling simultaneously Tikrit, could they provide more strength on the ground in Baghdad, could we have reduced the looting, improved the humanitarian situation and overall finished this earlier? I think the answer's yes.

O'BRIEN: Perhaps the Iraqi forces were overrated. Their ability to command and control forces in the field seemed limited at best. But when they write the textbooks on the U.S. campaign, it may well be remembered as a triumph of lightning speed enabled by overwhelming technology.

MCCANN: Speed surprised violence of action. It's the same thing when we're talking about doing a small raid on an objective. And evidently the same as doing a full-scale conventional war on a country.

SHEPPERD: It's the shock and awe of being able to bring the combined arms force, combine it with intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance, command and control it and get firepower on targets and hit those targets, day or night, any kind of weather. No one else has ever been able to do that before. So in this case, it's a textbook case for the war colleges for the future.


O'BRIEN: More from Don Shepperd in just a moment.

But let's go back to Andrews Air Force Base. Just outside of Washington, D.C., Private Jessica Lynch is now on her way to the Walter Reed Medical Center. These pictures came down just a few moments ago while you were watching that story. Somewhere behind that phalanx of people there is Jessica Lynch, 19-years-old, rescued in a daring commando raid in Nasiriya after she had been taken prisoner.

There are still five other members of her company considered POWs. There are also 49 other casualties on board that C-17 which came in from Ramstein Air Base. But of course Jessica Lynch's story has captured a tremendous amount of attention because of that rescue, unprecedented in U.S. military history.

Pictures now also from West Virginia. Friends and family gathering in Palestine, West Virginia, applauding, as they call her, Jessie's return home.

We're talking just before that about what might be taught about this campaign in Iraq in the war colleges. But there is still to be some fighting to be done before the war college professors ever get ahold of this one. Joining us for an update on where things stand at this moment retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd.

General Shepperd, today a lot of talk about weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons. Let's begin, first of all, with the report we've gotten from our people on the ground in the north.

SHEPPERD: Yes, indications, Miles, that in the city of Kirkut, specifically the airport that was seized at Kirkut, they may have found, they may have found some chemical weapons. They tested them on a scale of 0-6, it registered 1 which is low-level. That is commensurate with leakage from a chemical warhead. These appeared to be rockets so the analysis is ongoing, but just could be one of the things that forces are looking for -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Worth reminding people there have been quite a few dead ends on this one in the past.

SHEPPERD: Indeed. This search will go on and a lot of the success of the search will be from individuals that are either captured or come forward to the coalition such as the chief scientist that did earlier today. We're going to have to have a lot of leads on where because there's a lot of places in that California-sized country that you can hide weapons of mass destruction.

O'BRIEN: All right. More from Don Shepperd a little later in the program. You stand by, thank you very much.

We were able to watch much of this war on television thanks to some new Pentagon rules that allowed our reporters intimate and frequently hazardous access to several military units. The Pentagon felt the front line blackout of the first Gulf War did not serve it or the country well, and so off went our intrepid embeds to report on a war for the first time in real time.

From the comfort of our homes, we watched some very uncomfortable scenes. Let's begin our look back.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Day one, March 19. Campaign to oust Saddam Hussein begins at the top. Acting fast on a tip, the U.S. launches more than 40 cruise missiles toward a home south of Baghdad where Saddam Hussein and his inner circle are supposedly meeting. The Bush administration calls it a "decapitation attack."

Day three, March 21. After a lull to see if regime heads did indeed roll, the day of Shock and Awe. Fifteen hundred bombs and missiles target Baghdad. On the ground, U.S. and British troops move quickly to secure oil fields in southern Iraq. Only a few are set ablaze in stark contrast to the oil-fed conflagration of 1991.

Day four, March 23. Twelve members of a U.S. Army maintenance unit make a wrong turn and are ambushed near Nasiriya. Iraqi TV captures video of five POWs as well as the bodies of at least four others. The grim scenes are aired on the Arabic language news channel Al-Jazeera.

Day five, March 24. Iraqi TV releases video of a downed Apache Attack helicopter. The Pentagon confirms the pilot and gunner were taken prisoner.

Day seven, March 26. A thousand U.S. paratroopers dive into the darkness and set up camp at an airfield in a part of Iraq controlled by Kurds. On this day, there is an explosion at a Baghdad market. Iraqi officials say 15 civilians died. And a U.S. bomb is to blame. The Pentagon says the market was not targeted. (END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: We'll continue our look back at the war throughout the program.

And we'll talk more about the air war in Iraq just a moment from now with General Shepperd.

And more scenes of chaos in Iraq's capital. We'll have a live report from Baghdad.

Lightning speed versus brute force. What worked and why in the coalition's military strategy.

And later, were the overall objectives achieved in the war with Iraq? Is America any safer? We're hear from both sides, a special "CROSSFIRE" debate for you. You're watching a CNN special report, THE FALL OF IRAQ.


O'BRIEN: Saddam's regime may be gone but the war is far from over in Iraq. Pockets of fighters continue to hold out against U.S. forces. Military sources say one Marine was killed today at a checkpoint in Baghdad.

And beyond the shooting war, looting crime and a looming humanitarian crisis all weighing heavily the Iraqi people. CNN's Christiane Amanpour joining us with more from Baghdad.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Baghdad wallows in the wreckage of war. Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles blown up on the city streets, cars and trucks still waving the white flag, lest they be mistaken for the enemy. And here right in the middle of a residential neighborhood, a missile, we're told a Sam II.

Marines are here to make sure it's safely towed away, and the people complain loudly about the fallen regime placing such targets in their midst. They said they were afraid of U.S. bombs dropped in this neighborhood, perhaps aiming for the missile.

(on camera): This is a deep crater caused by a bomb. And around what seems to be the remnants of some kind of vehicle. But just 20 yards away, there are private homes. And the doctors here tell us that they've received many more civilian casualties during this war than they did during the first Gulf War of 1991.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a shell to the abdomen. We open the abdomen, and have injury to the bowel.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): At this one hospital alone, doctors tell us they have received 500 civilians, with everything from slight to critical injuries, and they conducted 170 major operations in just 21 days of war.

DR. ABOUL MOHAMMED HAKEEM, ORTHOPEDIC SURGEON: In the first war, we didn't see such a huge number. This is number one. And secondly, the type of injuries here is more serious, as I note, than before.

AMANPOUR: And now, with the looting, Dr. Hakeem says he simply can't get the staff to come to work. Today, no anesthetists, no radiologists.

HAKEEM: But thank God, we cope. What to do.

AMANPOUR: That's because they brought their own guns to keep the bandits at bay. U.S. Marines have set up a position near another hospital. Children bring them flowers, and the Marines say they're trying to calm the fears of the past few chaotic days.

CPI QUENTIN MELROE, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We let them know we're not here to harm them. We're here for peace now. That's our mission, is to give them security.

AMANPOUR: Inside the hospital filled with more war wounded, including this 5-year-old boy with a shrapnel wound to the head, the doctor says he's got mixed feelings. Relief that Saddam Hussein is gone, but a deep desire for more security.

DR. ABDUL KARIM YAKHGAM, NEUROSURGEON: When Mr. Bush and Blair and others decided to bomb to change the regime, should be planned immediately.

AMANPOUR: Down by the main Marine base, a group of Iraqis decided to make that demand more clear. Waving a banner, calling for a new order, and yelling for peace. At one point, it got ugly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here for your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) freedom. So back up right now!

AMANPOUR: In the end, though, calm prevailed with both the Iraqis and the Marines deciding that discretion is the better part of valor.


AMANPOUR: Now with so much heated temperament because of all this looting, the Marines have been trying to go around and try to get some of the remnants of the past civil administration to come back to work, for instance, the police force.

And today one of the senior police commanders did come to talk to the Marines and they're going to try to set out on foot patrols and get the Iraqi police force here in the city back on its feet and to try to calm the looting and the current disorder that we've seen over the last few days -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Big job. CNN's Christiane Amanpour in Baghdad, thank you very much. Some have called it an inside-out strategy, make a bee line for the center of gravity without getting too bogged down during the way. Up next, we'll dissect that technique which seemed to favor sheer speed over brute force.

But first, some of the most dramatic moments of the war captured on tape.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: These are live pictures of the 7th Cavalry racing across the desert. You've never seen battlefield pictures like these before.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Seven aircraft did drop bombs over Iraq. Where exactly they dropped bombs, I can't tell you.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The reason we had to stop was the fact that there was simply too many Iraqi tanks out there.

RODGERS: The dust and sand are blowing so badly you're getting these vague images. It's like being in a blizzard except unfortunately the sand doesn't melt as the snow does.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Around Basra, the battlefield has become a true twilight zone, where fact and fiction are indistinguishable in the inky blackness of a moonless night.

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On the main road to Mosul the...

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the cockpit right now it's very crowded...

DIANA MURIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The British are fanning out through the city of Basra...

THOMAS NYRO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These guys, they're 19, 20- years-old. This is their first time in a situation jumping into combat...

RODGERS: This is alive as it happens, real time war.

SAVIDGE: The smoke has completely obliterated the bridge site.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can see now people are just coming to this statue, this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and just hammering it.

SAVIDGE: We're way beyond sniper fire. This is all-out complete engagement here. We've got mortar far, heavy machine guns, fires now burning on the campus. This is Baghdad University and this is warfare on this campus at this moment.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back to our CNN special report, THE FALL OF IRAQ.

With the success and setbacks coalition forces experienced in the first week of the campaign, the pressure intensified going into week two and the stakes felt even higher.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Day nine, March 28. With the Gulf waters finally cleared of mines, the British ship Sir Galahad arrives at the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, its cargo hold brimming with supplies to avert a humanitarian crisis.

Day ten, March 29. Four U.S. soldiers died when an Iraqi suicide car bomber attacks a checkpoint in Najaf in south central Iraq.

Day 13, April 1. Special Forces swoop down on a hospital in Nasiriya rescuing Army Private Jessica Lynch of the maintenance unit that was ambushed the day before.

Day 14, April 2, the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division completes its dash to Baghdad, reaching the southern edge of the Iraqi capital.

Day 15, April 3. With Baghdad inexplicably blacked out, U.S. forces seized Saddam International Airport only 10 miles from the heart of the city.

Day 17, April 5. Coalition aircraft strike the Basra home of Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin and close confidant of Saddam Hussein. He's the accused mastermind of Iraq's use of nerve gas 15 years ago on thousands of Kurds, earning him the sobriquet "Chemical Ali." He is presumed dead.

Day 18, April 6. The vice tightens on Baghdad. U.S. forces close off all major highways in and out of the Iraqi capital. To the north, a tragic mistake. A U.S. war plane bombs a convoy of Kurdish fighters near Mosul. Eighteen are dead, 45 wounded in the friendly fire attack.


O'BRIEN: Friendly fire, as awful as it is, it remains a stubborn fact of war even in an era of pinpoint precision bombardment.

Besides that episode in the north, there are other friendly fire mistakes we know of. A British Tornado and most likely a U.S. F-14 were downed by Patriot missiles.

But measure that against these statistics. So far the combined air forces have logged more than 14,000 strike sorties over the past 25 days. Back with more about the air war now. Major General Donald Shepperd.

General Shepperd, first of all, let's talk about -- start at the beginning. The decapitation raid. Cruise missiles, focusing in on a specific target, human intelligence on the ground. In a sense, that shows the power of air capability. It also shows some of the limitations, doesn't it?

SHEPPERD: It shows some of the limitations, but it shows the ability to fuse intelligence and react quickly in a constrained period of time, and even hit things in a populated area. Effects-based targeting is what that's about, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. There was a lull one night and then the night that was called "Shock and Awe." There's some I've talked to who said that may not have been the correct way to characterize that initial night of bombing because it was so precise and so honed in on specific targets. How would you characterize?

SHEPPERD: Well, I've learned long time not to -- or be careful about naming things because it creates expectations. Some people look at it, say well, that's not as shocking, as awful as I thought it was going to be. But there were a lot of bombs that went into the confined area, the Republican palace complex, the heart of the regime in downtown Baghdad, hitting only that and not the surrounding area. Supposed to take out key nodes of command and control and leadership targets.

O'BRIEN: Seems to be the air war that we have witnessed over the past 25 days or so can be incapsulized (ph) in the one event: the attempt to, and perhaps successful, to target Saddam Hussein and his sons in this al-Monsoor (ph) neighborhood west of the central part of Baghdad.

We have a new animation we want to show you. Essentially what happened was a B-1B bomber was in the air. Human intelligence got the word that Saddam Hussein and his sons might be there. Within 45 minutes the bombs went away. Describe how this kind of pulls together the whole big picture for us.

SHEPPERD: Yes, what we have is persistent intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance from space all the way to low-flying drones to human intelligence. And the ability to take that intelligence and fuse it into the command and control networks that can get bombs on the proper target, the proper bombs.

What happened was in 45 minutes, 12 minutes of which was time en route to get there, they basically planned an attack in a populated area and perhaps decapitated the leadership with four bombs.

O'BRIEN: That is a stunning statement particularly for somebody like you who has a background in Vietnam where the time frame would be an entirely different scenario.

SHEPPERD: We could never have done it then. This is sensor to shooter, this is command and control, and this is effects-based targeting. Put it all together in this one strike.

O'BRIEN: All right. It's tremendously powerful and yet you still are left with the need to have people on the ground, aren't you? SHEPPERD: Indeed. This is the Combined Arms Campaign, the value of everything. You need it all. Everything from the foot soldier and the ones that supply him all the way to the satellites in space and everything in between.

O'BRIEN: Major General Don Shepperd, thanks as always for your insights. We appreciate it.

Well, from the lofty world of white scarves to the down and dirty reality of secret soldiers in camouflage. Coming up, in the past three weeks or so we may have witnessed a coming of age for U.S. Special Forces. We'll tell you as much as we can.

And while Saddam Hussein's regime has fallen, U.S. troops remain very much in harm's way. We'll look at the dangerous road ahead.

And we'll continue our look back at the war a little later. Stay with us.



O'BRIEN: During the first Gulf War, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell coined a military doctrine that was widely heralded and embraced in the halls of the Pentagon. That doctrine holds that war must have clear objectives and be waged with overwhelming or at least with decisive force.

Sounds like common sense, but this time the Powell doctrine got an overhaul. It was finely tuned to answer the need for speed. We asked two of our military experts, retired General Don Shepperd and Retired Army Lieutenant General Dan Christman for an assessment.


O'BRIEN: General Shepperd, General Christman, thanks very much for being with us.

General Christman, I want to ask you about this concept of overwhelming force, the Powell doctrine it is called. Did this campaign change the view of that in some way, even some minor way?

LT. GEN. DAN CHRISTMAN, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think this war is revolutionizing the way doctrine is conceived and how warfare will be viewed in the coming years.

This was an awfully significant high roll, high risk roll of the dice. And we see this just in terms of the forces that were deployed here. This would have been a high risk roll of the dice even shading the Powell doctrine had the 4th Division come in from Turkey. It didn't.

And what the coalition provided here was one heavy division. That was it. Coming in from Kuwait to Baghdad, the 3rd Division. The 101st is air assault, the Marines were relatively light in tanks, the British were constrained (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in operating in Basra, one division.

And to see the advance of this division all the way 500 kilometers to Baghdad in seven, eight days, it was breath taking, Miles. I think doctrine is being rewritten as we speak. It has enormous significance here going forward.

O'BRIEN: Big statement there, General Shepperd. How much of it do you agree with? Is it revolutionary?

SHEPPERD: I agree General Christman on a couple things, but let me give you a little bit of a different take.

I think the Powell doctrine is still alive and I think the Rumsfeld doctrine is applicable. You still want overwhelming force at the point of contact and we have had that. That overwhelming force doesn't have to be in numbers of troops, it can also be in firepower and of course some of that firepower is air power. We have tremendous advantages in all of those things and our intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance have enabled us to see where the enemy is and what he is doing and keep the enemy blind about what we are doing.

So on the side of numbers of troops, remember during the Gulf War we had about 600,000 deployed troops. And the Iraqis had somewhere around 1.2 million. This war we deployed around 280,000 and the Iraqis have around 430,000. So the troop ratio is about the same.

On the other hand, the idea of Secretary Rumsfeld, of swift movement, smaller, lighter forces combined with special operations forces and then bringing the heavy artillery and tanks at the point of contact where you need them is also very, very smart. We need to get lighter in the future and quicker in the future, but we have to stay flexible. So I think both doctrines are still very applicable in what we've seen.

O'BRIEN: General Christman, though, is it safe to say or perhaps maybe too simplistic to say that speed can make out for sheer numbers?

CHRISTMAN: You can compensate to some extent and in this case it has. One will be disagreeing I'm sure for months or years about the nature of the opposition that the coalition forces faced. But in this case speed kills. And speed was applied in a breath taking way by a very, very small, relatively small number of assets.

O'BRIEN: If -- war gaming here for a moment. If the 4th Infantry had been put in play and there were bigger sheer numbers, how would it have gone differently? In other words, would there have been some greater degree of measurable success?

SHEPPERD: Well, I think you certainly would have seen the same thing in the north that you saw in the south which is a rapid movement to seize the oil fields. As it turned out, the oil fields of the north were secured much later. And they weren't really secured, the troops simply walked away. So we could have done those oil fields in the north and south much quicker, perhaps advanced on Baghdad from both sides, and it could have been a little bit shorter. But the plan that General Franks had basically worked. And he had alternatives. He knew from the very beginning he might not have the northern front, and he basically took the chance, designed his flexibility around the forces he had available -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: General Christman, General Franks made some bets and it appears so far that he's won. But in retrospect were the odds perhaps a little too long, do you think?

CHRISTMAN: I think it was -- it was a high risk. I wouldn't say they were too long. Look at the north that we talked about with Don here a second ago. Couldn't agree more with the assessment. Even though we had a 173rd Airborne Brigade, in essence not much more than a diversion, and some Special Ops personnel in the north, their achievement was extraordinary. Ansar al Islam, Kurdish-Turk separation, disappearance in an entire corps in that north. It was a high-risk venture.

But I'd say the only area to this point, Miles, where the coalition may have come up short with respect to the number of forces that are there, is the timing. Probably would have been in Tikrit right now and in northern Baghdad, and here I think the real issue lies with respect to numbers. What we saw with respect to the looting and all in Baghdad and elsewhere may well have been precluded had we had the additional 60 or 70,000 personnel coming from the north to provide security there in the city.

So they were long odds but I think the long odds have been matched here in terms of combat success.

O'BRIEN: General Dan Christman, General Don Shepperd, thanks very much.


O'BRIEN: It's time for us to take a break. And then, a look at some of the dangers coalition forces still face.

But first, gone but never forgotten. A remembrance of those who paid the ultimate price.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every Marine who dies in the line of duty leaves comrades who mourn their loss. There is a tradition in the Corps that no one who falls will be left behind on the battlefield.

No one who falls will be forgotten by this grateful nation. We honor their service to America. And we pray their families will receive God's comfort, and God's grace.

COL. ROBERT WOODS JR., U.S. ARMY: We should salute them for their honor that they showed each other. We should salute them for their integrity, for staying sincere until the very end. We should salute them for their personal courage. God bless our loved ones, our heroes, their families, their friends. Hooah.



O'BRIEN: Operation Iraqi freedom accelerated and hit a turning point in its third week. Suddenly the regime was vanquished or just vanished, but as freedom came to the surface so did some very ugly, very dangerous scenes.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Day 19, April 7. Decapitation, part two. A U.S. source on the ground supposedly spots Saddam Hussein and his sons in a Baghdad neighborhood called al-Monsoor. Only 45 minutes later a quartet of satellite-guided bombs lands on that very spot. It is unclear who lies beneath the rubble. Iraq's Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf continues his denial suggesting there are no U.S. advances even as the 3rd Infantry conducts a bold raid deep into Baghdad. To the south, after days of beating back unexpected resistance, British forces finally secure Basra, Iraq's second city.

Day 20, April 8. The fighting moves to central Baghdad and three journalists are killed in the crossfire. In all, nine reporters and photographers lost their lives covering this war.

Day 21, April 9. Crowds of Iraqis celebrate the apparent end of the Saddam Hussein regime with laughter and looting. U.S. Marines helped jubilant Iraqis topple a statue of the dictator.

Day 22, April 10. Celebrations and looting in Kirkuk as the Iraqi regime loses control there.

Day 23, April 11. The northern city of Mosul falls without a fight. With Iraq's brutal power structure now vanquished, or vanished, the country devolves into chaotic spasms of celebrations, violence and plunder.


O'BRIEN: Behind the scenes U.S. Special Forces have played a key role in the war with Iraq and that's just the stuff we know about. We'll take a closer look at what happened far away from the embedded reporters.


O'BRIEN: As we told you earlier, this was a campaign that placed lightning speed at a premium. But before the cavalry could make its mad dash to Baghdad, before the Air Force could rapidly target specific locations where Saddam Hussein and his inner circle might be, small teams of Special Forces soldiers had to accomplish some dangerous covert missions. Once viewed as misfits or cowboys who worked in a world of their own, they played a crucial role in this wore. We asked General Dan Christman for an assessment.


O'BRIEN: General Christman, thanks again for being with us. Let's talk about Special Operations. They've come a long way from that terrible day in the desert of Iran, Desert One I'm talking about, that failed attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages.

And out of the ashes of that event flourishes these Special Operations units in all branches of the services. You have the sense watching what unfolded over the past three weeks in Iraq that this idea of use of Special Operations really has kind of come of age. Is that accurate to say?

CHRISTMAN: If anything, it's an understatement. I think one of the major stories of this war will be the role the Special Ops have played.

Your description, I think, Miles, is very, very accurate in terms of where this command started from in the '80s and grew from to maturity in the early '90s. One often forgets that the role of Special Ops in Desert Storm was almost an afterthought.

There was a very telling statement by General Franks early on in the campaign, one of his very first press briefings, where he discussed the sequencing of forces here in Iraq. And if you recall he said this particular sequence is not air and ground, A.G., it's S and G and A. Special Ops, ground and air. I think it's a perfect reflection of the emphasis that he has placed, and the secretary of defense have placed, on this critical command for all sorts of missions that are under the screen, but decisive for the ultimate victory.

O'BRIEN: It really turns the order of battle, as you guys call it, on its end, doesn't it?

CHRISTMAN: Absolutely. The initial placement of Special Ops in the theater -- in terms, for example, Miles, of simply protecting these critical oil assets, the platforms in the south, the oil fields in the north, the POW rescue. Those relatively visible aspects of Special Ops have drawn the attention.

But it's this welter of activities under the screen that have taken place that I think very few people realize. For example, Miles, I wouldn't be surprised if the success on weapons of mass destruction precluding them from being fired, the emphasis in terms of securing bridges and dams, a little bit discussed there. The whole operation in western Iraq that was entirely Special Ops initiated and conducted. The air fields and the seizure of those Iraqi military assets in the western part of the country, all that was Special Ops alone.

And this is an incredible story that will be a fascinating read as the history of this thing is written.

O'BRIEN: And we're anxious to read it someday. Of course Special Ops was not ideally suited for the Cold War confrontation. I guess you could make a case that Special Ops is perfect for the era in which we live. CHRISTMAN: I would predict here, in these coming years, that post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan we'll see a major growth in Special Ops formations. Ranger for the Army, SEALs for the Navy, Delta for the joint forces and so on. It's a very, very important combat multiplier in this very different world order that we're now confronting.

O'BRIEN: of course we as Americans tend to look for silver bullets. Special Ops is not a silver bullet. What are the chief limitations and where should the Pentagon be careful about its use or perhaps overuse or over reliance?

CHRISTMAN: That's a great question. I think in a wide variety of military contingencies around the globe where heavy formations are not present by a potential adversary, the Special Ops comparative advantage is enormous. You link their intelligence, their maturity, their weapons systems with information technology and you have a tremendous combat multiplier.

O'BRIEN: General Christman, thank you very much.

CHRISTMAN: Thank you, Miles.


O'BRIEN: With all the focus on the success in liberating the Iraqi people, it's easy to forget that the goal in the war with Iraq was to make Americans more safe. A goal that's hard enough to quantify much less settle in a debate.

That said, we commissioned a short donnybrook with our "CROSSFIRE" team, and that's coming up after a break.




BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): ... patrolling for months before a new government is elected and society fully functions again without massive humanitarian assistance.

And while the Iraqi military is largely destroyed, finding out what happened to the country's now vanished leaders remains a priority, if only to reassure a still nervous Iraqi public that they are gone from power.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We still must capture, account for or otherwise deal with Saddam Hussein and his sons and the senior Iraqi leadership.

STARR: Marines may find clues in the next few days as they move north to Tikrit to confront the final remnants of the regime. It could be the final major battle.

Still, on the to-do list, the main reason for going to war: finding weapons of mass destruction. So far, none has turned up. And an administration that appeared certain of the evidence before the war, now has a new strategy for getting information about weapons and the so-called death squads.

RUMSFELD: Rewards are available to those who help us prevent the disappearance of personnel, documentation and materials. Good lives and a better future are possible for those who turn themselves in and choose to cooperate with coalition forces.

STARR (on camera): And there is one more job before the war will be done: finding the seven Americans still being held prisoner of war.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


O'BRIEN: So are you better off than you were 25 days ago? After toppling the regime in Baghdad and waging an ongoing war on terrorism, the question is are Americans any safer? CNN's "CROSSFIRE"'s Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala wage a war of words on that question.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Thank you, Miles. Tucker, I will begin. Of course Saddam Hussein has never a threat to America, we know that now. If there's any lesson from the speed, the swiftness, the overwhelming victory that America had, it's that Saddam Hussein was never a threat to America. He couldn't defend his own country for more than three weeks. If he had weapons of mass destruction he didn't use them when we were invaded. So, of course, he was never a threat to us.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Right, he was never a threat to America. That's why he became a formal alliance with al Qaeda as early as 1993. That's why Iraqi intelligence officers trained members of al Qaeda in the use of chemical weapons in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

He wasn't a threat? That debate is over. We know now he was. We know the world, not just the U.S., but the world is safer now that this lunatic is no longer running a country.

BEGALA: See, this is one of the things that our president does, apparently his fellow conservatives. They conflate 9/11, a terrible, terrible act of terrorism...


BEGALA: Excuse me for talking while you're interrupting. A terrible act of terrorism committed by al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein, a secular, Stalinist thug, that had nothing to do with 9/11. If we want to get the guys who did 9/11, Osama bin Laden's still alive. I hope we get him.

CARLSON: Simply because you don't understand the facts doesn't mean you should accuse me of conflating two events. I'm not.

BEGALA: You did. CARLSON: I'm simply stating the fact that American intelligence has determined that Saddam Hussein began a relationship with al Qaeda. Nobody is claiming he was responsible for 9/11, but we know for a fact that he had a relationship with al Qaeda....


BEGALA: That's not true.

CARLSON: ... trained members of al Qaeda in the use of chemical weapons.

BEGALA: Had he trained them, they would have been greater threat to him. Osama bin Laden hated Saddam Hussein as much as he hated America, because he was you an anti-religion, secular thug who oppressed the religious people in his country as well as..


CARLSON: ... then the secretary of state, the head of the CIA, the national security adviser are all lying.

BEGALA: Well the CIA all said there was no link, over and over again.


CARLSON: Let's get to the point at hand and that is now Saddam Hussein is gone, there's no way to argue the world isn't safer. And there's also no way to argue that countries like Libya and Iran and Syria, countries that potentially a threat to the United States aren't going to look at this example and be taught something and that is to back off or face consequences.

BEGALA: No, they're going to learn -- look at this and say -- North Korea's going to look at this say we better put our nuclear program into high gear. Iran, which has a nuclear program helped financed by the Russians, Mr. Bush's friend Mr. Putin, they're going to say I've got to get a nuke right away. This is going to expand proliferation, it's going to inflame Islamic radicals into terrorism, and no won't make us safer...


CARLSON: ... Islam radicals into terrorism. I guess if there is a lesson of the year and a half ago, it's there's a very large population that is already inflamed.


CARLSON: ... simply because there's an invasion of Iraq doesn't mean there's a suspension in the search for al Qaeda.

BEGALA: Actually it does.

CARLSON: These people hate us already, Paul. (CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... no way this is going to inflame them more.

BEGALA: Here's -- you know what else? We have ignored them, or neglected them. We have not -- you can't tell me that we move a half a million men, all of our intelligence assets, the president's attention over to Iraq. You can't tell me we're still pursuing bin Laden and his thugs with the same fervor that we did...


CARLSON: ... that that's literally true in the mountains of Pakistan, you as you know.

BEGALA: No I don't.


BEGALA: If we could put the 101st Airborne in there, we don't have enough resources to go and chase bin Laden. There's no way you can say that we're not neglecting the war on terrorism...


CARLSON: But we're going to have to now go back to Miles O'Brien at the CNN Center.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, gentlemen.

Minutes from now Wolf Blitzer picks up from Qatar with more of CNN's coverage of the war in Iraq, including a tour of the building that was headquarters to Saddam Hussein's secret police. Make sure to tune in for that.

Thanks for joining us, I'm Miles O'Brien. We leave you with some images of this war none of us are likely to forget.


BUSH: At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will be a campaign unlike any other in history. A campaign characterized by shock, by surprise, by flexibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm getting increasingly concerned by humanitarian casualties in this conflict. And I would want to remind all belligerents that they should respect international humanitarian law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Specialist Joseph Hudson.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: U.S. soldiers have been captured by Iraqi military forces and are being held as prisoners of war. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are do you come from?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An American soldier POW has been rescued.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the first priorities is to rescue our people and bring our people back.

MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER (through translator): Hit them hard. Hit them with the force of belief whenever they approach you.

Saddam airport was a graveyard for them. Hundreds of their bodies are now in the airport.

RUMSFELD: We're seeing history unfold, events that will shape the course of the country, the fate of a people and potentially the future of the region.



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