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CNN BREAKING NEWS

American POWs Found

Aired April 13, 2003 - 06:38   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking developments to tell you about involving American POWS. Apparently, some have been found. On the line with us right now, James Kitfield from "The National Journal."
James, bring us up to date. What do you know?

JAMES KITFIELD, "THE NATIONAL JOURNAL": I'm with 5th Corps Forward Tactical Headquarters near Baghdad. And word just came over that the Marines, who are moving north, direction Tikrit, did find six U.S. POWs alive, and that they are in Marine custody now.

COSTELLO: Do you know exactly where they found them?

KITFIELD: I do not know exactly where. The information right now is pretty sketchy, at best. Very fresh. I did confirm it with a very reliable source who I trust. So I felt comfortable going with it, but the -- I'm sure until they get them out of there and have them exactly where they want them, the information's going to be sketchy for a little while, but I do have confirmation it was six. And they're all alive.

COSTELLO: This is just unbelievable news. And I know many Americans have so many questions. And I understand the information is sketchy, but I'm just going to go for it and ask you questions and see what you can answer.

When they found these six American POWs, were they in a prison? Were they in a compound? Do we know?

KITFIELD: You know, I am -- and I'm -- I would like to be more helpful, but I am a headquarters. So it was -- this is the not headquarters that found them. Word just got through here, and I checked it to confirm it. The Marine Expeditionary Force is going to release the specifics apparently quite shortly. And I think I better leave it for them, because I don't want to put any erroneous information. I did run by the information I gave you with them. And they -- and that was confirmed.

COSTELLO: I understand perfectly. Well, look, can you talk at all about their physical condition?

KITFIELD: I can only tell you that the word that was reported was they were all alive. And I don't know more information than that. But clearly, everyone here stood up and cheered when it happened. It's a piece of very good news that they've been waiting for, for the last week or so here. So I wanted to pass it along, but again, the -- it's very sketchy now. Wouldn't want to go with the first report, but I did confirmation that what I was reporting to you was reliable. And I think I probably had better leave it at that and wait for a little more substantial firsthand information to get out.

COSTELLO: Can you tell us a little more about the ongoing mission to find the POWs and whether this band of Marines, if that was their mission? Or they just happened to come across the POWs?

KITFIELD: Again, I don't know that. I know there has been, from both the Marine side and from the Army side, very strenuous operations going on, most of them obviously secret for obvious reasons. And this one looks like it had hit pay dirt. You know, these words that these were -- this is not in Baghdad, where there was some indication of -- the prisoners had been here. At one point, this was north of Baghdad. So maybe some of the people who were scared out of Baghdad and went north had these POWs. But again, that is speculation.

Honestly, what I am comfortable reporting on this, I've given you on the six U.S. POWs who have been found alive.

COSTELLO: Yes, and we know there are seven POWs that were missing, but you say six of them have been found alive. And of course, you don't know the answer to this question about which have been found and the one is not?

KITFIELD: No, I don't. And trust me, I have as many and as urgent questions as you do. And I'm going to try to track them down, but I'm also -- we have embeds, and I'm sure you do too, with the Marines. And that's probably where the story's going to break after this. But it's a piece of good news that was -- I wanted to get out there, because I think it's important.

COSTELLO: Well, stay with me. I'm going to run through the names now of the POWs that we know of. Army specialist Joseph Hudson from the 507th Maintenance Company, Private First Class Patrick Miller also from the 507th, Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams. He was an Apache helicopter pilot, Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson with the 507th, Army Support Specialist Edgar Hernandez from the 507th and Sergeant James Riley of the 507th.

And let me see, I hope I'm not forgetting anyone. Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Young, who was also an Apache helicopter pilot. And we all can remember those images of that Apache helicopter down on the ground being broadcast by Iraqi television with no sign of the two pilots until later, they showed on Iraqi television pictures of their drivers licenses. And of course, those frightening pictures we saw of the POWs from the 507th maintenance company giving their rank, telling their names and where they're from.

James, can you tell me again the reaction when the word came in that six of these POWs have apparently been found alive?

KITFIELD: Well we were everyday in the tactical headquarters, I get a briefing on what happened the last 12 hours. And we were going through that briefing. And an officer stood up with this information and stopped the whole briefing and said, you know, it's just been reported to me, you know, reliable channels that six U.S. POWs have been found and they're all alive. And the place just went up in cheers, stopped the whole briefing. And as you can imagine, led to quite a joyous scene here.

COSTELLO: We know that they found some bloody uniforms in a prison in Baghdad. And of course, that put a lot of fear into many people here. Is there a sense that the Iraqis have been moving the POWs from place to place constantly since coalition forces moved into Baghdad?

KITFIELD: Again, it's speculation on my part. I mean, clearly, that none of them were captured in Baghdad. So certainly that was one of the things that people were thinking. But again, the operation to actually track these people down had been very secret. So I have not had any visibility into whether, you know, they had a line on them being moved.

But I think clearly the assumption was that might be the case. And if this indeed -- this does seem to be reliable information, which they were north of Baghdad. So clearly, they were being moved. And it's good to the Marines that they actually got them.

COSTELLO: Correct me if I'm wrong, you're with the 5th Army Corps, is that correct?

KITFIELD: Army Corps Tactical Headquarters, right.

COSTELLO: Okay, and what is their normal mission?

KITFIELD: Well, the 5th Army Corps Headquarters is managing all Army maneuver forces and the battle of Baghdad. That's been their responsibility since the war began. Clearly, that responsibility, when it came into Baghdad, brought in the Marines under the commander here, who's General William Wallace. But the Marines who are moving north are under the Marine Expeditionary Force command and control. And that we just go word from them of what happened.

COSTELLO: Having said that, how big of a priority was it for them to find these POWs?

KITFIELD: Oh, if you spent any time with the military, you know that that is a -- you know, they don't leave anyone behind if they can possibly help. So that was a huge priority. And you know, this is something that the Marines, as well as the Army, they take very, very seriously. And I would say a top priority.

COSTELLO: And again, can you confirm the number found at six, because we know seven are in the custody of the Iraqis, but you're saying six? And that is confirmed have been found alive?

KITFIELD: I'm saying six was confirmed to me by a reliable source, that I have found reliable throughout the whole war. So I believe that.

COSTELLO: Now you said cheering went up when they found these POWs, then you have to wonder did they always have a high dose of optimism that they were going to find the American POWs alive?

KITFIELD: I don't know that there is, you could say optimism. Everyone obviously is concerned for the worst. So I would say determination. They were going to try as hard as they could. And it looks like that paid off. That's how I would characterize it.

COSTELLO: Yes, and I know I'm asking you a lot of questions you don't know the answer to, because you're just getting the information yourself, but as you know, many American families here in the United States are just thrilled with this news and wanting to know as much as they can. When do you think more information will be coming your way as to the names of these six POWs who have been found?

KITFIELD: I think that'll happen fairly shortly. I know everyone here obviously is as sensitive to this good news as the people back home, and realize that people back home are as worried as they can be. So I think that'll be coming forthwith. And that is the impression I got.

COSTELLO: Oh, we certainly hope so. James, we'd like you to hold on. We want to go live to the Pentagon and check in with Kathleen Koch.

Any word yet from the Pentagon, Kathleen?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, we called Central Command directly when we got this news. And right now, they can't say much. I talked to Lieutenant Heard Josie (ph). He's a spokesman at Centcom. And he said, "We have heard these reports. We cannot confirm them at this time. It's something we're running down right now. We are trying to make sure our information is absolutely 100 percent. As soon as we have it, we'll get it out."

Carol, they're obviously being very, very careful. Clearly, this discrepancy of six POWs, when we have seven who are missing, is one point of concern. They -- one family, obviously, is not going to be getting the news that they're hoping for.

So they want to -- before they release these names, they want to contact the families and give them the good news. Or if there is bad news directly to the families themselves before passing all that on to the media.

COSTELLO: Yes, and one of the things we don't know is whether they found all seven -- let's ask James this question. And I don't know if you'll able to answer this, but you said they found six POWs alive. Did they find seven people all together, or we don't know that right now?

KITFIELD: I do not know that information. So I cannot comment on that.

COSTELLO: I'm just getting word, and I'm sorry I'm not paying close attention, but we're just getting word that General Tommy Franks said that he will make public the fact that seven POWs will be released. News on -- actually news on seven prisoners will be released soon.

Actually, he's saying now in the next 12 hours. So we may be waiting quite a while. That is according to the Associated Press.

James, any reaction to that?

KITFIELD: I'm hoping that the seven are safe. And if that's true, that would be great news. Again, I don't have any additional information to add to that. Hopefully, the seven are safe.

COSTELLO: Yes, just to make it clear, General Tommy Franks is saying he'll have information on seven POWs to be released within the next 12 hours. Back to the Pentagon and Kathleen. Of course we all remember those frightening pictures from Iraqi television as they were questioning those POWs on TV.

KOCH: Well, Carol, the United States military has put out the message very forcefully since that day, saying you must treat these prisoners properly. You must treat them according to the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. has complained that the American Red -- or the International Red Cross has not had access to them. As is required under the Geneva Conventions, we have given them access to all of the Iraqis who have surrendered to the U.S. forces in Iraq. And so the U.S. has been very, very concerned about the fate of these POWs.

But again, it's looking like we're going to be getting some good news today.

COSTELLO: Yes, and it's -- back in the 1991 Gulf War, it was normal for the Iraqis to move prisoners of war from place to place.

KOCH: It was. And obviously it looks like that apparently is what must have happened in this case because when it comes to these POWs, the two pilots there, the Apache helicopter. That went down near Karbala when it comes to the members of the 507th. They were attacked in that ambush near Nasiriya.

Now so if they were found by forces moving north of Baghdad and going toward Tikrit, they'd certainly been moved at least from where they were initially captured.

COSTELLO: It might or might not be interesting, but they were actually moving towards Tikrit, although you might expect that, since that's the only city not under coalition control right now.

KOCH: Well, certainly. And the expectation was that as Baghdad fell, and that Saddam Hussein and his supporters, any of his remaining loyalists might indeed flee toward Tikrit, and perhaps, we don't know if this is true, but perhaps they might have considered taking POWs with them as they fled, to use them perhaps as some sort of bargaining chip in some final last stand.

Again, we don't know if that's what's occurred, but it certainly then might make sense for them to be found in that area.

COSTELLO: I understand. James, can you expound on that? Had you been hearing that with the unit you're with? James Kitfield. I think we've lost him, but of course, we're going to try to effort him again. But again, if you're just joining us, we believe that the Marines have found six POWs, six American POWs alive. They were in the custody of Iraqi forces moving north towards Tikrit from Baghdad. That's about all we know right now. General Tommy Franks is going to come out within the next 12 hours. He says he has information on seven American POWs. And we don't know what General Franks will say.

Back to the Pentagon and Kathleen Koch. This is obviously the greatest news that not only families could get, but armed forces as well, as well as the U.S. government?

KOCH: And you know, there's also another family that we do need to keep in mind, who might be waiting hopefully for some news. And that's the family of Captain Michael Scott Speicher, Navy Captain Michael Speicher, who was shot down on the first day of the war, the Persian Gulf War, back in 1991.

Now initially, they had classified him as killed in action, but last year, the Navy changed his status for a variety of reasons. Among them being they had a chance to apparently examine the FA-18 Hornet and concluded that the initial damage to the aircraft indicated that he could have safely ejected and survived.

Also, Iraq turned over his flight suit. There was no -- there were no signs of crash impact on the flight suit. And apparently also an investigation of the wreckage of the cockpit showed that it had been expertly dismantled perhaps in an effort to conceal the fact that he would have perhaps survived that crash.

So he had been reclassified by the Navy as missing. So there is that very slim possibility out there, and obviously some extreme hope on the part of his family, that he might also be found in these waning days of the Iraqi war.

COSTELLO: Oh, that would be truly amazing. Amazing, too, that they found these POWs because as Saddam Hussein's regime fell, communications were difficult, especially to intercept communications from the Iraqi regime as to why -- to where these POWs might be.

KOCH: Correct, Carol. And there was also the fear that any troops who were fleeing might not exercise due caution, might not treat the POWs properly, and that they might either be left behind in some sort of underground bunker, underground prison with no air, no food, or that they might simply be killed on the spot. But again apparently, the good news that is coming today is that at least six of them or perhaps seven have survived.

COSTELLO: We hope so.

Do we have James Kitfield back on the phone, by the way? Not yet. He's from "The National Journal." He is the one that broke this story. He's with the Fifth Army Corps. He's embedded with them. And when he got word at his base that these six POWs were found alive, a huge cheer went up. And then, and the troops were much gratified.

I can only imagine the reaction from the troops there, Kathleen.

KOCH: Well, you know, I wasn't the one who had a chance to run down the hall to talk to the Pentagon folks about this, but I did call Central Command. Again, the person I spoke with was very reserved. He's saying that they're doing everything they can to verify -- carefully verify this information, before they put anything out.

But I can certainly imagine that when Centcom got the news, that a huge cheer went up there as well.

COSTELLO: Definitely. So let's talk a little bit about the POWs themselves and what they must've gone through, you know, the least of which was the fear of being held in captivity for that long.

KOCH: Well, certainly, the first people who were taken, those were the five soldiers from the 507th. They were taken prisoner on March 23. And then the two Apache helicopter pilots on March 24. Perhaps not as fearful as the -- or as intimidating as the length of time that they've been held captive as what they may have endured.

Because we had heard reports from prisoners, U.S. POWs from the first Persian Gulf War that they were not treated well by the Iraqis, that they were tortured, that they were abused in a variety of ways. So we can only hope that that kind of treatment did not befall these POWs.

COSTELLO: Yes, and we heard the Iraqi information minister when he was giving his press conferences every day that they were being treated by Geneva Convention standards. But on the tape, there was some evidence that some of those POWs might've been beaten?

KOCH: Well, certainly, they might been injured in their initial capture. And it was very unclear. It was very hard to tell by watching those short clips on television, at just how those injuries might have occurred.

Another thing that gave a lot of people reason for concern and pause was as these prisons were being overtaken by U.S. forces, as some of these hospitals were being freed, one would find instruments of torture. One would find metal cots with batteries, car batteries fastened to them, hooks from the ceiling, a variety of different means of torture.

So it was very unsettling to the U.S. forces who were discovering that. And obviously, to the families of these POWs back home.

COSTELLO: Very unsettling, too, that Red Cross officials were not able to talk in any way to these POWs?

KOCH: And we did know that the Red Cross was making every effort, right up until the moment that the regime seemed to really fall apart mid week this week, they were making every effort, talking on a regular basis with Iraqi military authorities.

But never really heard any clear reason passed on from the Red Cross as to why they were being denied access -- Carol? COSTELLO: Yes, I wish we could tell people more details of how these POWs were found, but all we know right now is somehow the Marines ran across them with Iraqi troops on the way to Tikrit, which of course, is one of the last cities, not under coalition control. But we do understand from you, Kathleen, that Marines are now inside that city?

KOCH: Well, we were told by Central Command that they were operating all around Tikrit, which is again the ancestral home of Saddam Hussein, a very small city by comparison to the city of Baghdad. But again, the city that they believe could be the final stronghold for any remaining supporters of the regime, could be perhaps where Saddam Hussein, where his sons, where again any remaining cabinet members of the -- of Iraqi government might flee.

But at this point, again, they have seen no concerted resistance, no extreme fighting or resistance from within the city of Tikrit. Of course that city, Carol, has been heavily bombarded since the war started more than three weeks ago. So it's really taken quite a pounding And the hope here being that any remaining forces there might simply give up, might melt away into the populace.

COSTELLO: Yes, and if the POWs were being taken into the city of Tikrit, there would be many hiding places, you know, despite the bombing by coalition forces because there are numerous military bases there. There are vast palaces there. And who knows what's underneath those palaces, as far as bunkers are concerned?

KOCH: Certainly. And also, when it comes to prisons, facilities like that, any sort of military facilities, and again, Saddam Hussein's palaces, it was the expectation and indeed the finding as U.S. troops have gone through the area, that there were these very ornate, carefully built, underground bunkers, places where Saddam Hussein and his supporters could flee in case of attack. So you have lots of areas that people could hide and be hidden.

COSTELLO: And again, if you are just joining us, we just got word that six American POWs have been found alive. Apparently, they were in the custody of Iraqi forces apparently on their way to Tikrit, one of the last cities not under coalition control.

We're getting that word from James Kitfield, who was with "The National Journal." He is embedded with the 5th Army Corps. And a call came in during their briefing that these POWs were found. I guess the Marines have been operating out of their base as well. And the Marines actually found these POWs. And when the call came in to the 5th Army Corps base, a cheer went up.

Again, six American POWs found. And we understand that General Tommy Franks, within the next 12 hours, will have information on all seven known POWs that were held in captivity.

We have some additional clarification. I'm getting word now. Okay, let me get that to our viewers now. According to General Tommy Franks, six Americans have been found but they are not necessarily the American POWs that we've been showing you pictures of. Some of them might be soldiers or troops that were missing in action. So we don't know who these POWs are right now.

Six Americans listed as missing in action right now. Some of those found might be them, in addition to the POWs that we know of. We just aren't clear on that for now.

Let's get some clarification from Kathleen Koch. We're just getting that word in, but that makes sense, doesn't it?

KOCH: Well, I suppose. You know there are operations ongoing in the field right now. And obviously, you could have forces who could go missing from their unit, that we might not have been informed of yet, and that then could have been found again. And maybe again in the haze of battle the information that was passed on to the reporters who first announced this may have been that we found some troops who were missing. Maybe that was misinterpreted as POWs. So we'll just have to wait and see now what they mean by that.

COSTELLO: Yes. So, again, it could be some of these POWs we've been hearing about, it could be soldiers or troops missing in action. We just don't know. That word, according to General Tommy Franks.

Apparently he's going to have new information coming out within the next 12 hours. But I'm getting word now in my ear that there's new information right now. What is it?

So six Americans missing -- listed as missing in action have been found and healthy. This is according to The Associated Press. And they're quoting General Tommy Franks that six Americans who have been missing in action have been found in the custody of Iraqi forces. They're alive and well and now in the custody of coalition forces. Apparently those troops were on their way to Tikrit.

Kathleen Koch, try to help me make sense of all of this.

KOCH: Well, again, apparently there are roughly some six members of the military who are MIA, and I'm trying to get those names right now. Again, there is this bit of confusion here, so we'll just have to wait until the military sorts that out. I'm trying to get my hands on the information right now. If you guys give me a few minutes, come back to me, maybe we can have some more clarification -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes. I'm just getting more conflicting information in my ear. So we'll leave it this way right now.

We do know that six Americans held in captivity by Iraqi forces have been found alive and well. Apparently they were on their way to Tikrit. U.S. Marines now have those Americans in their custody right now. And all of this is according to James Kitfield, with "The National Journal." He's with the 4th Army Corps.

Apparently some Marines are working out of the same base, and they were looking for American POWs or America's missing in action, and they came across these six Americans held in Iraqi custody. And they are now in the custody of coalition forces.

Have we managed to get James Kitfield back on the phone? He is out getting new information right now. Let's go back to the Pentagon and check in with Kathleen to help me keep this moving along while we continue to get new information coming in.

KOCH: Carol, let's talk about what's going on in the area of Tikrit, because that's been the focus of a lot of the attention today of these forces with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Left Baghdad yesterday, on Saturday, headed toward Tikrit. Again, the ancestral home of Saddam Hussein, and again an area where they believed that a lot of his loyalists could be holed up.

The forces got there relatively quickly. We're now being told by Central Command that they are operating all around the city of Tikrit. And at this point we're not hearing reports of any sort of heavy resistance. The city was quite heavily bombed from the first days of the war.

And the Pentagon, though, took great care in sending aerial drones over Tikrit, predator drones, unmanned drones to check out the area. Didn't see any huge massing of opposition forces, didn't see any defensive preparations underway. It's also well understood that there are some Special Ops forces in the area, and they've been going in on the ground, checking out the situation. And again, also not seeing any concerted resistance underway.

And when our own Brent Sadler made his very bold and dangerous foray into the outskirts and then into the city itself today, he found those -- at least two deserted military facilities, with not a single sole in sight. So in many ways confirming some of those reports that we've been getting from the Pentagon as recently as yesterday. That perhaps this resistance has simply melted away, as it has in other cities -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Well we saw that frightening thing unfold with Brent Sadler, though, as he tried to approach the city and went into the city and came under fire.

KOCH: Very astonishing video. And we were simply riveted to the screens here, as were all the Pentagon officials on hand. Many of them marveling at Brent Sadler's chutzpah to go in and take an action like that. And them warning us, also though, that it is very dangerous to operate unilaterally like that on a battlefield.

It's incredibly different and incredibly more dangerous than when you are embedded with U.S. forces. When you are with U.S. forces, if something goes wrong you obviously have some serious firepower with you. And then if anyone is injured, you can very quickly be either attended to by a medic or evacuated by a nearby field hospital.

And when you're out there on your own, you're simply on your own. And there's very little help to back you up.

COSTELLO: Interesting pictures, though. As people were coming out of the city of Tikrit, Brent Sadler's crew was actually stopping vehicles and asking them if the Saddam Hussein regime was over. And all of them said, "Yes, Saddam is finished." KOCH: They were saying Saddam is finished, but that clearly didn't indicate that the entire city was ready to turn itself over immediately to U.S. forces, the coalition forces. And as Brent found, as he went through one checkpoint, was turned back and was trying to leave the city, clearly they did not want him to leave. They were trying to redirect him to -- I believe it was the governor's office of the ruling Ba'ath Party there.

So some -- if maybe Saddam Hussein was finished there, the Ba'ath Party was not finished. And obviously Brent thought that would be very dangerous to try to go on to the governor's office, and instead made that rush through the checkpoint. And very lucky to be alive today, I'd say.

COSTELLO: OK. I want to bring our viewers up to date. Kathleen, you stay with me.

This is the latest that we have right now. Six U.S. prisoners of war have been found by the U.S. Marines alive north of Baghdad, and that's according to James Kitfield. He's a reporter embedded with the U.S. Army's 5th Corps in the Iraqi capital.

The POWs are in Marine custody. And the Marines had been moving north in this direction of Tikrit. Now officially, the Pentagon lists seven American POWs, but we understand from General Tommy Franks that these might not necessarily be the POWs we've been hearing about. It might involve those troops missing in action. That military personnel didn't know whether they were alive or dead.

And of course this has been a very important mission for the Marines and the rest of the troops to find POWs or those missing in action alive. Right, Kathleen?

KOCH: Yes, Carol. It's been incredibly important information from the start. The Pentagon, at every turn, has deployed forces throughout the country of Iraq, has made certain that they explored every single potential building where POWs could be held. And that could range anywhere from a prison, from a hospital.

We've seen in many areas of Iraq that Iraqis were using hospitals as military command and control centers. So they carefully examined those. Schools, for instance; weapons were hidden there. They would check those areas.

So they have used great care throughout to check any and every possible location for these POWs and for MIAs, or as the military now refers to them -- DUSTWUN is the abbreviation. It's duty, status, whereabouts unknown. It's the new term for MIA -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Understand. We're just getting new information in now, Kathleen, from Wolf Blitzer, who has been talking to his sources. Now American military personnel are saying six or seven missing Americans have been found alive and they are now in coalition custody.

OK. Back to you, Kathleen. That they found anyone at all is pretty amazing, because the communication systems within Baghdad, within Iraq, have been pretty much been totally destroyed, which would make it difficult for them to intercept intelligence of any kind.

KOCH: Certainly. But they have been managing, Carol. I think you heard the reports in the last couple of days that U.S. officials had managed to intercept conversations...

COSTELLO: Kathleen, may I interrupt you? We have a sound bite from General Tommy Franks. Let's listen to it now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: As a matter of fact, when I was walking out to come over here to talk to you, I got a report that six or seven -- in fact, people we had listed as missing. And that's an interesting point, because I don't know that -- I know they're in good shape and I know that they're in our hands and under our control now, and that's very good.

What I don't know is if they are from the ones we had listed as prisoners of war or whether they're from the missing category. So in the hours ahead, we'll get better definition, but that's where we stand right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So you don't know if these are the five from the 507th Maintenance Company...

FRANKS: That's correct. That's correct.

BLITZER: ... or one or two of the Apache helicopters?

FRANKS: That's exactly right. And that's the reason that I've been a little bit reluctant to pass anything on. I just don't think we ought to talk about what we don't know yet. What we know is that we have under our control this group of Americans, and we're not sure from which category they come right now.

BLITZER: Are there any women? Can you tell us that?

FRANKS: I can't tell you that. Don't know.

BLITZER: But basically, the six or seven...

FRANKS: Six or seven.

BLITZER: ... but you're not sure exactly how many?

FRANKS: Not sure.

BLITZER: They're all in good shape?

FRANKS: That's correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: OK. I know it's frustrating for many of you families out there hearing that. Let's go live to Doha, Qatar and check in with Tom Mintier. Of course that interview with General Tommy Franks will air later on "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER." Just wanted you to know that so you could hear more of it.

But right now, let's talk with Tom Mintier. How do you interpret that, Tom?

TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is really important news, Carol. Six or seven missing Americans. Now they will not say whether these indeed were the ones that were listed officially as POWs, simply that they are missing. Saying that they appear to be in good shape and in our hands now, as General Franks said.

Now this story has been percolating for the last 90 minutes or so, since the embedded reporter in Baghdad said that the Marines indicated that they had secured some of the missing. How this relates to whether they indeed were the POWs that have been officially listed and has been seen, or possibly some of those who were listed as missing and have not been seen, that has not been clarified by the military, it has not been clarified by General Franks. But the first indication when he first talked about it was that in the next 12 hours we should know.

What he will say is that the six or seven appear to be in good shape, in our hands, apparently in the custody of the U.S. Marines. Located somewhere near Tikrit, as the U.S. Marines were advancing. Probably being moved by helicopter now as we speak somewhere out of the battlefield area and moved quickly back.

General Franks doing an interview right now with Wolf Blitzer that you heard that sound from. There will probably be much more on "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER." But early indications are that six or seven of those who are listed as missing have been recovered and are in U.S. hands now -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, you have to wonder if this was just an accidental find or something that the Marines had heard about and checked out.

MINTIER: Well, we knew 24 to 48 hours ago that they found some uniforms at the Rasheed prison. This was on the outskirts of Baghdad. They secured the prison, they did not find any of the POWs there or any human remains.

So they continued to search. They will continue to search for all missing Americans, considering them missing or POWs. As long as there is a chance or a possibility that they may find them, they continue to push forward on that.

General Franks was asked if this was his highest priority. He says it's a very high priority; it may not be his highest. He's still doing combat operations. But always searching for POWs, MIAs.

As you are well aware, that continues to this day in countries like Laos and Vietnam, where they're still looking from the last military conflict in southeast Asia nearly 30 years ago. In many instances, they're still looking for MIAs from previous wars. COSTELLO: Understand. And that these missing Americans were being moved into Tikrit kind of gives credence to the theory that the Iraqis have been moving these prisoners of war, those missing in action around through Iraq.

MINTIER: We had a good indication from General Brooks yesterday in his press briefing here in Doha that when they did sweep through that prison they did find uniforms. They wouldn't specify who the uniforms belonged to; that they were American uniforms, but they didn't find anything else. So they said the search continues.

So it appears today that six or seven Americans have indeed been located, alive and apparently in good condition, according to General Tommy Franks, a man who should know, and are currently being moved away from the front area. These found somewhere near Tikrit, where the U.S. Marines are pushing forward with their operation.

COSTELLO: And it's interesting too that they found these missing Americans with Iraqi forces moving on to Tikrit. And of course maybe that makes perfect sense, because Tikrit is one of the only major cities not under coalition control.

MINTIER: Absolutely. This is possibly one of the one or two last frontal areas where combat operations are occurring. And if, indeed, forces that were holding these prisoners decided to surrender, they probably found a way to bring these missing forward and use them as a negotiation, if you will, as they were surrendering. Saying straight away to an American commander, possibly, we have your Americans and we're willing to hand them over to you.

So the details surrounding this recovery of missing Americans yet to play out. But all we do know right now, according to General Tommy Franks, six or seven appear to be in good shape and are now in U.S. hands.

COSTELLO: Can you bring us the latest on what you know is happening in Tikrit or around it.

MINTIER: It's really difficult. You know we got a good idea what was going on north of the city from Brent Sadler this morning when he made his way through a couple of back areas, if you will, where a lot of military equipment was abandoned on the ground. And at the second base, where the Republican Guard was located, he found that there was no equipment on that base; they were out somewhere else. Possibly moved south to defend the southern edges of Tikrit.

And when he went into the city, found that at least at checkpoints there was a very hostile attitude. They were fired upon. So the Marines, as of yesterday, and the 4th Infantry Division -- the 4th Infantry Division was crossing the border of the lead elements more than 24 hours ago into Kuwait. And more than 24 hours ago, the first Marines started moving north out of Baghdad, which was a pretty good indication that Tikrit was the next target, if you will, for the U.S. military to move into.

They had been "shaping the battlefield," as they call it, for many, many days. And we saw in some of the pictures that Brent Sadler sent back that many of these warehouses and locations where military equipment had been located had been bombed heavily by the coalition aircraft. So we're seeing the pictures, and hopefully in the next few hours we'll have pictures of these six Americans that have been rescued.

COSTELLO: Oh, we hope so, because many Americans are wondering when General Tommy Franks will release the names. But they have to be very careful about this process, don't they, Tom?

MINTIER: Absolutely. I think before General Franks would even classify them as former POWs or those missing, I think when you include those missing, it includes both the POWs and the MIAs. And there is a process that is probably being under way right now, where the families of these missing are being notified that their son or daughter has been found alive.

General Franks wouldn't even be more specific, dividing whether there are any females amongst those who are missing or not. Simply saying that these are the missing and we're in the process of notifying their relatives and next of kin that they've been found alive.

COSTELLO: I know it's been a big issue for them to find these Americans missing in action and the POWs. Was there a sense of optimism though all along that they would find some of them alive?

MINTIER: Well, it was very difficult to say that there was a real sense of optimism. I think there was a sense of great concern when they went into the Rasheed prison and found the uniforms and didn't find them. They apparently had some pretty good intelligence that some Americans were being held at that location. And when they moved in there, not to find them must have been a bit of a disappointment, raising the level of concern, if you will, if they had been moved from that location to somewhere else unknown and the trail had gone cold.

So that was where we were 24 hours ago, that the trail simply went cold. They went in, they found the uniforms, but didn't find anyone they were looking for. So that's always a concern, when you have good intelligence and good information, you act on it and find that you're a few hours too late, that the situation on the ground has changed, that the battlefield has changed, if you will, or the circumstances. But 24 hours after they talked about these uniforms being found in recent days at the prison, they now have six or seven U.S. soldiers that they have taken back into U.S. custody.

COSTELLO: And talking about an intercepting intelligence, are they getting most of their information from Iraqi citizenry right now? Because most of the Iraqi communication systems have been destroyed.

MINTIER: That's true. It's very difficult, I'm sure, to make a cell phone call or a telephone call or any type of communication inside Iraq. And as we saw, when the U.S. secretary of state long before this conflict began had the ability to play back tape recordings of what appeared to be phone conversations before the United Nations.

I asked one of the commanders of CENTCOM about the ability now to monitor communications between different military units, because that's one target that they've been hitting very hard since the beginning of this campaign, was command and control and communications. Each day as they'd come into the briefing they would show us examples of communications facilities that they destroyed.

I asked if you were still able to monitor the communications, and that really didn't get an answer. Because that was an ongoing operation and something apparently the U.S. military felt it was not something they wanted to comment on. But there is still good intelligence coming out, I'm sure, because they were able to track and find these people.

Or it may have simply been pure luck. That those members of the Republican Guard or whatever unit that was holding these soldiers, simply when they surrendered decided to surrender the prisoners as well.

We just don't know the details following their recovery, except the fact that General Franks said six or seven. And that's basically what we know.

COSTELLO: Yes. You mentioned General Franks. We want to run his sound bit again. He talked with our Wolf Blitzer just a short time ago. Here's what General Tommy Franks had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKS: As a matter of fact, when I was walking out to come over here to talk to you, I got a report that six or seven -- in fact, people we had listed as missing. And that's an interesting point, because I don't know that -- I know they're in good shape and I know that they're in our hands and under our control now, and that's very good.

What I don't know is if they are from the ones we had listed as prisoners of war or whether they're from the missing category. So in the hours ahead, we'll get better definition, but that's where we stand right now.

BLITZER: Are there any women? Can you tell us that?

FRANKS: I can't tell you that. Don't know.

BLITZER: But basically, the six or seven...

FRANKS: Six or seven.

BLITZER: ... but you're not sure exactly how many?

FRANKS: Not sure.

BLITZER: They're all in good shape?

FRANKS: That's correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: General Tommy Franks just a short time ago. You can hear the rest of that interview on "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER."

Let's head live to Washington, D.C. now and check in with White House correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, does the president know any of this yet?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's unclear. We don't know if the president has been briefed on this yet. He is, of course, at Camp David for the weekend. And while he's there, he generally gets very frequent updates about the situation on the ground in Iraq.

He has his national security adviser with him. He also has very -- all of the technology that he needs to have video conferences, even with Tommy Franks over in Qatar. So he does get frequent updates. But it's unclear at this point what he knows, if he has any of the information at this point.

He generally, even on the weekends, gets regular intelligence briefings and meets with his war council. So if he doesn't know by now, he certainly will be having that meeting within the next hour.

But it's important to note that the president is -- has been very clear that he understands that when he orders a war, orders a military strike, that he's talking about men and women. And he has the human side of it sort of in the forefront of his mind. He talks about that frequently.

And he has visited over this past week -- even on Friday he visited some of the wounded who came home from Iraq. And when he was there he discussed the fact that he understands that there are some prisoners of war and missing military men and women in Iraq. And he said that it is a top priority. As Tommy Franks said, a top priority to find them, to get them back alive, safe and sound.

He said that he will use every resource in order to do that. And I was thinking that yesterday, of course, we saw Jessica Lynch come back to Walter Reid medical center just here in suburban Washington. And the day that Jessica Lynch was rescued it was a jubilant day here at the White House, but it was tempered by the fact that the president knew that there are other men and women who are still missing or captive prisoners of war.

Of course it's important to note that we don't know whether or not these six or seven men and women were either prisoners of war or missing in action yet. But regardless, their whereabouts were not known, and the president has certainly kept that in the forefront of his mind. But again, unclear at this point what the president knows. But we should be getting that information very soon -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes. And talking about those POWs that we know of, those images on Iraqi television, certainly are clear in everyone's minds, Americans and the president's, too, I would suspect.

BASH: Absolutely. And it was actually three weeks ago today that those images were broadcast. And the president that day, three weeks ago this Sunday, arrived back at the White House from Camp David and was pretty vocal about the fact that he was upset about them.

And said that he wanted to make clear that he felt that the prisoners of war in Iraq needed to be treated with the humanity that the Iraqi prisoners of were being treated by the American military. He made clear that he wanted it to be done by the Geneva Convention.

He was very upset about those images and about the fact that those prisoners of war seemed to not be treated well. But again, important to note that we don't know whether or not these six or seven that have been found were prisoners of war or whether they were missing in action -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And just counting up the number of missing in action that we know of, one, two, three, four, five -- at least six missing in action that we know of right now, in addition to those seven POWs. And, as you said, it's not clear who the six or seven Americans were that were rescued by the Marines in Iraqi custody.

Let's go back to the Pentagon and check in with Patty Davis. She has some new information -- relatively new information to share with us. Good morning, Patty.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Obviously huge news here at the Pentagon. But as you heard Central Command, General Tommy Franks say, it's unknown yet exactly -- or at least they're not saying -- whether these people who have been found are on the prisoner of war list or the missing list.

Seven prisoners of war. Of course five were with Jessica Lynch's unit, the 507th Maintenance, which took a wrong turn near Nasiriyah on March 23.

And then you had the next day the two Apache pilots shot down who appeared in good shape. You heard General Tommy Franks say that all of these people appear to be in good shape. And our embedded reporter saying that they are now in Marine custody.

You also had these six who have been considered missing here by the Pentagon. Various incidents. There are about four different incidents starting March 23.

Two separate incidents on March 23, where soldiers and other went missing. April 3 and then April 6 again. It had been a priority here with the U.S. military forces to find these people who had been taken by the Iraqis, as well as those considered missing.

And there had been concern because the International Red Cross had not been allowed to get near these people. So there was no way to verify the shape they were in, where they were. And there had been lost contacts in the past week or so since the U.S. moved into Baghdad, along with coalition forces. So there had been a lot of concern. Obviously a lot of happy faces here at the Pentagon. They were hoping to hear more as the days go along about exactly who these individuals are -- Carol.

COSTELLO: You know it's such a slow process for obvious reasons. You have to find out who these Americans are, get their names and call their families before anything goes out publicly.

Should we run down the list of names of those we know who are missing in action or who are POWs? Let's do that right now. Let's start with the POWs, shall we?

Army Specialist Joseph Hudson, from the 507th out of Fort Bliss, Texas; Private First Class Patrick Miler, also with the 507th; Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, he was an Apache helicopter pilot -- he is, I should say -- Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson, with the 507th; Army Support Specialist Edgar Hernandez, with the 507th; Sergeant James Riley from the 507th; and Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young, Jr. is also an Apache helicopter pilot. All of them we know are American POWs in Iraqi custody. Maybe they are right now, maybe they're not.

Those missing in action: Private Jonathan Gifford from Decatur, Illinois; Private Nolen Hutchings, Bowling Springs, South Carolina; Marine Lance Corporal Donald J. Cline, only 21 years old, out of Sparks, Nevada; and Private Tamario Burkett, 21, from Buffalo, New York. And I apologize if I'm mispronouncing the names. Marine Corporal Kemaphoom Chanawongse, 22, from Waterford, Connecticut; and Army Sergeant Edward J. Angiano (ph), 24 out of Brownsville, Texas.

Those are the Americans we know are missing in action. Don't know if they were found in this latest recovery effort by the U.S. Marines. But we do know that six or seven Americans in Iraqi custody are now freed of Iraqi custody. The United States Marines ran across them in the custody of the Iraqis on their way to Tikrit.

Do we still have Tom Mintier with us? We do. Let's go back to Tom Mintier now to talk more about this.

Anything new on your end, Tom?

MINTIER: Not yet. As General Franks said, it's going to be some time in the next 12 hours before they really have any details that they want to talk about. But I think it's important that we've seen some of these from Iraqi TV, the first five and then the two Apache helicopter pilots.

But more of the missing have not been seen or heard from at all. So that's a concern that General Franks expressed when he started talking about these missing that had been recovered, which list were they on. He wasn't quite sure.

He didn't want to bring any hopes and expectations unnecessarily to many of these families that are very, very concerned about their loved ones. Wanting to make sure that they started the process from the Pentagon of notification, which should be going on as we speak. Families getting a call or a visit from a U.S. military officer, coming to tell them that they're loved one is in safe hands now. All six or seven, as General Franks put it, now in the custody of U.S. forces. They have been taken from the Iraqi forces that apparently were holding them and are now on their way out of the theater, probably, in the next few hours.

But as General Franks said, it's going to take the next 12 hours to really sort out the details of who has been found and who still remains missing. As you do the math, there are seven listed POWs and six missing, for a total of 13. So if they have found six or seven, there are still nearly as many more that will remain after this day listed as either POWs or MIAs.

So the work is not done. They say that they will continue their operations until the last one is located.

COSTELLO: All right. Just another question, because it's truly amazing that they found these Americans alive and well, apparently; in good physical condition. But you know, coalition forces are busy trying to take control of an entire country. And I'm sure in the backs of a lot of people's minds that the first and foremost priority was not to find missing Americans.

Tell us about that. Was it? Do they have a special unit that went out just to try to find them?

MINTIER: Well, I think that any commander in the field would have the information and the intelligence. Indeed, if they had any information on the POWs or MIAs in their region, it would be on their list of orders. They would be aware of the possibility that the Iraqi troops moving may be holding U.S. forces in this area.

So while General Franks said it's not his highest priority, it is indeed for all military men not leaving anyone behind. Even when people are killed on the battlefield, commanders -- it is a high priority to make sure that they are treated with respect and recovered and taken home. So it's something that to all military men is extremely important, military men and women I should say, that it's extremely important that if you have one who is missing that they never have the feeling or the perception that they might be left behind by their comrades.

COSTELLO: Yes, you certainly got that sense with the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch. I wish we could tell people more about the operation of the Marines who came across these Americans. We just don't know. We first heard about this from James Kitfield from the "National Journal." He's with the 5th Army Corps. He's embedded with them.

And apparently they were at their briefing in Baghdad and a phone call came in from the Marines who said they found these six or seven Americans alive and well. They had been in Iraqi custody and are now under Marine control. And that's about all we know. We don't know if it was an accidental find or if the Marines set out to find these Americans. We just don't know much information as of yet. Let's listen again to General Tommy Franks. This is about all the information we have right now. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKS: As a matter of fact, when I was -- when I was walking out to come over here to talk to you, I got a report that six or seven in fact people we had listed as missing, and that's an interesting point because I don't know that -- I know they're in good shape and I know they're in our hands and under our control now and that's very good. What I don't know is if they're from the ones we had listed as prisoners of war or whether they're from the missing category. So in the hours ahead, we'll get better definition but that's where we stand right now.

BLITZER: So you don't know if these are the five from the...

FRANKS: That's correct.

BLITZER: ... 507th Maintenance Company...

FRANKS: That's correct.

BLITZER: ... or one or two of the Apache...

FRANKS: That's...

BLITZER: ... helicopters?

FRANKS: That's exactly right. And that's the reason that I've been a little bit reluctant to pass anything on. I just don't think we ought to talk about what we don't know yet. What we know is that we have -- that we have under our control this group of Americans and we're not sure from which category they come right now.

BLITZER: Are there any women, can you tell us that?

FRANKS: I can't tell you that. Don't know.

BLITZER: But basically the six or seven?

FRANKS: Six or seven.

BLITZER: But you're not sure exactly how many?

FRANKS: Not sure.

BLITZER: They're all in good shape?

FRANKS: That's correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Good here. Good news for coalition forces and good news for some families out there who have been wondering about their loved ones.

Let's go to Bob Franken now. He's embedded with the Marines. He is somewhere south of Baghdad.

Bob, do you have new information for us?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're awaiting the arrival of the six here at a unit that is not the one I'm actually embedded with. But here's what we've been told, it was sketchy information.

According to the sources here, the six were being held by an Iraqi unit north of Samarra -- that's as close as we've been able to pinpoint it, Samarra in Iraq -- when the Iraqi officers of that unit abandoned. They deserted. They left. So some of the junior people, the guards, took the servicemen, the Americans, until they found a light armored unit of the Marines nearby just up the road. They were turned over to the Marines. We don't know what happened to the Iraqis.

We're told that the six are in pretty good shape. They are supposed to come back here and then will be returned to Kuwait, if they needed further medical attention. But apparently this all came about because of the desertion of the officers who were in charge of the unit who were holding those Marines.

COSTELLO: Bob, I'm getting much information in and you have wonderful information for us, but can you clarify again the name of the town?

FRANKEN: Where they were being held?

COSTELLO: Yes.

FRANKEN: OK, hold on a second. I'm by an airfield, as you could tell. They were being held, the best that they've been able to pin it down, somewhere north of Samarra. That is the best location we can give. As they said, the information is still sketchy and then they were taken back by their captures when the officers of that unit deserted.

COSTELLO: And then those captors turned them over to American Marines, right?

FRANKEN: Right. The Marine unit was -- they actually walked to the road. They were actually coming up the road and the Iraqis spotted them, flagged them down and turned the six over.

COSTELLO: So this appears it was an accidental find. I want to check on the numbers again because General Tommy Franks has been saying six or seven, but you're understanding six.

FRANKEN: OK, but I'm not about to contradict General Franks here. The number that the people have here is six, and that could be a slight mistake, but the number they're using here is six.

COSTELLO: Well I'm going to ask you a bunch of questions you probably don't know the answers to, do we know who these six are, from what units?

FRANKEN: You're right, I don't know the answer to it.

COSTELLO: And when they come in to where you are, what will the process be?

FRANKEN: They will be taken -- they will be taken to a field hospital nearby. By nearby I mean less than a mile away.

By the way, we're walking up now to the strip where we hope to see them landing. They will be taken to a strip hospital nearby. They will be checked out and then they will be put on another plane. And if the plan holds up, they'll be flown to Kuwait, the international airport there, where they will get further testing and debriefing, all that type of stuff.

COSTELLO: What are you hearing about their condition?

FRANKEN: What's that?

COSTELLO: What are you hearing about their condition?

FRANKEN: Well the best -- quite frankly, the best information we've gotten on their conditions came from the interview Wolf Blitzer did just a moment ago with General Franks that they seem to be in generally good condition and that's confirmed here.

COSTELLO: The reaction now of the troops you're with when they got word that the six Americans would be coming?

FRANKEN: Very proud. Very proud indeed. The first thing they did is to talk about the fact that the Marines had been rescued. They were extremely happy. They had to wait for a while before it could be confirmed, but they couldn't wait to tell us when we arrived at this spot.

COSTELLO: Understand. Bob Franken, we'll let you go. Hopefully that aircraft will land soon with those six Americans aboard and we can rejoin you live somewhere south of Baghdad.

Going to bring in General Shepperd right now. Wow, just this -- it's just amazing, isn't it?

MAJOR GENERAL DON SHEPPERD, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Good news. This is really good news.

I can tell you what's going on right now and what -- and why we're not getting more information. They want to inform the families. There's all the families out there, the 7 POWs whose faces we have seen on TV, they're expecting it to be their sons or daughters. The missing are wondering if it's their's, and so there's this fog of information here not knowing exactly who the people are. They want to make sure when they put out information that they are in good shape, they have the right names and that all those families have been notified before the names are released on TV. But this is really good news -- Carol. COSTELLO: It is. And it seems like it was an accidental find, according to Bob Franken who said that these Americans were being held by Iraqi troops and the leadership of those Iraqi troops sort of like left and then the prisoners went into the troops control and then they handed them over to the Marines.

SHEPPERD: Yes, it fits into a pattern that we've seen of the leadership deserting their troops, leaving them in the field and then the troops left on their own. There's some really good news here. The good news is that it appears the Iraqis understand the value of prisoners of war. Whoever has those prisoners will curry great favor if they will turn the prisoners over in good shape to the coalition forces, and that's very, very good news that that word has probably spread among the Iraqis as well.

COSTELLO: Yes, Bob Franken didn't know what happened to those Iraqi troops that turned over the Americans to the Marines, but what do you suppose might have happened?

SHEPPERD: A couple that are very important things. Anybody that had touch with those POWs and the POWs themselves are being interrogated for every piece of information. When did you last see who? What other names? Where were you held? How did they hold you? What was around you? How were you allowed to communicate? Were you kept together? Were you kept apart? All those are vital pieces of information as other people seek to look for the remaining POWs and MIAs out there. So they're being -- they're undergoing -- even though they have been POWs, they're being -- they're being held by our folks now for every piece of information they can, and the Iraqis as well.

COSTELLO: And of course this gives credence to the theory that the Iraqis are moving Americans held prisoner from place to place.

SHEPPERD: Yes, and again, that's good news also. Our chances of coming across them are better when that happens.

COSTELLO: And that they were found somewhere near Tikrit. I believe they were found north of Samarra, which is not far from Tikrit, but of course that is the last city not under coalition control.

SHEPPERD: Yes. And again, some other information coming out is that it does not appear that big defensive positions, coordinated defensive positions are around Tikrit. That may mean that we won't have a last battle. We'll simply be able there to go in there and things will fold away as they have other places. So lots of good news coming out of this this morning.

COSTELLO: Understand.

Let's go back to Doha, Qatar and Tom Mintier.

Tom, I understand you have a question for the general.

MINTIER: Yes, general, we heard 24 hours ago from General Vincent Brooks here that they indeed found American uniforms at the Rasheed Airbase prison and that was probably the dead end of their intelligence. They had an idea that they were in that prison. They got there, they found the uniforms, apparently the trail went cold after that. Is this a lucky find today?

SHEPPERD: Hard to say. Hard to say, but I think it perhaps is a lucky find. Although it appears that because of the Rasheed and other things that we're getting bits and pieces of information and people coming forward all over the city to point out equipment, to point out members of the Baath Party and so we're probably getting bits and pieces everywhere. But my guess is that this is a lucky find by disorganized troops that have been left by their leadership and the POWs happened to be in their -- in their custody. So whatever the -- whatever the reason, this is -- this is sure good news for everybody.

COSTELLO: As far as a...

MINTIER: What about the indication that their officers had -- their officers had left? We have seen throughout the campaign that a lot of senior military people have basically packed up their bags and moved away leaving their troops to make the decision for themselves. Does it say anything where we are in this campaign?

SHEPPERD: No, I think it just fits a pattern that we've seen across the country, except for the early -- in the early portions in -- of fighting in the south where you had the Special Republican Guards and the Fedayeen Saddam holding -- Saddam holding guns to the back of people's heads. It appears that up north the senior officers, who are most often Baath Party loyalists and even relatives of the -- of Saddam or the Tikriti -- members of the Tikriti clan, have just left their troops and then the troops are left to look at each other and finally walk away.

We saw it a couple three days ago with those streams of soldiers walking south, unarmed, no equipment. They just walked away because their officers had left them about a week before.

COSTELLO: You know we're seeing a lot from Tikrit, at least we were seeing a lot early this morning. I don't know if you saw Brent Sadler's report when he came under fire. Him and the CNN crew came under fire from somewhere inside the city of Tikrit. Along the way, though, there were many people streaming out. He was stopping cars and asking people if the Saddam regime was over and they were telling him yes.

SHEPPERD: Yes, a couple things about that. This is an extremely dangerous time because there is chaos among the troops. And when you have chaos among the troops and they can't communicate, they can't issue orders, they can't coordinate their activities, they're kind of left in limbo as well. So it's a dangerous time. It's a dangerous time not to be an embedded journalist. If you're in there on your own as a journalist, you're in great danger right now.

COSTELLO: And of course Brent is not embedded.

Tom, you had another question for the general. MINTIER: Yes, general, I didn't get an answer at the briefing the other day, maybe you have a better idea. What would the level of communications be now, would it be down to field radios and they don't have the ability to talk to other units at great distances, that the small radios they may have and the ability to talk amongst themselves? How much has the communications been degraded for the military?

SHEPPERD: Well the communications have been degraded to a great extent, Tom. It's -- we put great effort in to bombing central command and control, leadership facilities where communications were. And the good news about the degrading in communication is it gives them fewer and fewer means to communicate and therefore you don't have to monitor as much.

The bad news is you can't monitor the real high levels. It's simply not there any longer to gain -- to get the big intelligence you want, which is where are the really big guys, what are their plans, et cetera. So you're left to monitor the field radios that are remaining and of course the few telephone calls they can get out. So it's easier, but the level of information coming out is not as useful as it was in the beginning.

COSTELLO: Yes, we're just getting this word in, and I'm going to read this to you. General Franks -- General Tommy Franks has told Wolf Blitzer we have a sample of Saddam's DNA and he will be in Baghdad in a few days.

SHEPPERD: Yes, the message embedded in that, of course, is we do not know, we haven't been told whether Saddam was in the strike that hit the Mansour neighborhood or not, but clearly that there are people in there, there are bodies in there, there are body parts in there. And clearly the message in that to me is that they want to match that with -- that strike, and perhaps earlier strikes as well, to find out were there any of Saddam or Saddam's relatives -- is Saddam there or his relatives there. And they've got the DNA that they can match now.

COSTELLO: And General Franks said he is going to Baghdad. It's so...

SHEPPERD: Yes, it was an interesting combination.

COSTELLO: Yes.

SHEPPERD: Now the other thing is I understand with field tests now that you can do a field matching in two or three days, is what I'm told. It may not be definitive matching, but you can get a pretty good idea.

COSTELLO: Understand. So we may know for sure whether Saddam Hussein was killed. As far as the war is going right now, what would be your best guess?

SHEPPERD: Yes, I -- my prediction right now is there are going to be pockets all across that country for a long period of time. There's going to be some shooting. It's not going to peter out here in another couple three days, but you're going to be cleaning up pockets in Baghdad. They're going to pop up in other cities and what have you. It's going to be a dangerous place for a long time, perhaps as much as several months.

On the other hand, I'm predicting that you won't see the final big battle in Tikrit that we've been worried about. There may be some strongholds there, but you go in and some significant fighting, but it won't be any kind of organized battle at all.

COSTELLO: Yes, that was supposed to be the big last stand.

We're going to talk more about Tikrit in just a bit, but we do have that sound bite from General Tommy Franks who was talking to our Wolf Blitzer a short time ago about Saddam's DNA. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Where is Saddam Hussein?

FRANKS: I don't know, he's either dead or he's running a lot.

BLITZER: What is -- what is -- what's your hunch right now?

FRANKS: I don't -- I -- my boss doesn't permit me to have hunches, Wolf.

BLITZER: You think he's...

FRANKS: He'll simply be alive until I can confirm he's dead.

BLITZER: Are you looking for his DNA at that crater in Baghdad?

FRANKS: The appropriate people with the appropriate forensics are doing checks you would find appropriate in each of the places where we think we may have killed regime leadership.

BLITZER: Do you have DNA of Saddam Hussein and his sons?

FRANKS: Of course. Of course.

BLITZER: You do?

FRANKS: Of course.

BLITZER: So you'll be able to confirm,...

FRANKS: Of course.

BLITZER: ... make a positive confirmation if in fact he was in that building?

FRANKS: Well unless the remains were removed. I mean one wouldn't ever want to say for sure 100 percent, you know, you can do anything, but what you -- but what you should know is that we have the forensic capability to chase these things down and we'll chase them down, every...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Well that came out of that interview with Wolf Blitzer. You can see more of it on "LATE EDITION" that airs at noon Eastern Time.

Let's talk more about that DNA, general. Where did they get Saddam's DNA you think?

SHEPPERD: It's really interesting, it's just like you watch on TV and in the movies and what have you. DNA can be gotten from licking an envelope, it can be got from a cigarette butt, it can be gotten from a hair sample, of course it can be gotten from relatives, and they have had access to many of his relatives along the way here. So many, many places, not hard to get.

COSTELLO: So we may know in two or three days, you're saying, whether Saddam Hussein was killed in any of these two bombing runs?

SHEPPERD: Yes, you're leaving DNA right now, if you don't even know it. You touched that paper. They -- somebody can grab that piece of paper and get some of your DNA. Now the fact about this is we're all zeroing in on the Mansour because it's the most recent, remember those early strikes as well could have killed Saddam Hussein.

COSTELLO: The initial bunker-buster.

SHEPPERD: The initial.

COSTELLO: Yes.

SHEPPERD: And so the key to this is to get the DNA, but to match it to the body parts to find it out. So you have to have the right body parts and digging through that rubble and so it may be some time before this is cleared up.

COSTELLO: And a grizzly operation.

Let's get back to Bob Franken who is somewhere south of Baghdad. And we understand those six or seven Americans that were rescued by U.S. Marines will be landing soon. Have they done that yet -- Bob?

FRANKEN: Carol, no they have not. First of all, we have now confirmed the number is seven. And we also have new information and, as you can imagine, it's trickling out.

We are now told that two of them suffered gunshot wounds. We do not know the extent of the wounds, anything more about it, but that two of them had been injured.

And just to recap, according to the sources here, they were being held somewhere north of Samarra in Iraq when the officers in the unit that was holding them captive deserted. The junior members of that unit decided to help them become free, so they escorted them until they ran into a Marine unit, an armored -- light armored unit that was going up the road and turned them over. Now they're heading here. They will be checked at the field hospital at this base, which, as I said, is about 65 miles south of Baghdad. Assuming they check out OK and can be transported, a plane will take them, in all probability, to Kuwait for further testing and debriefing.

COSTELLO: Bob, I have General Shepperd here, and you have a question for Bob.

SHEPPERD: Well, Bob, I just wanted -- you said that some of them had been wounded. Was there any indication they were wounded during the capture or could this be the ones that we saw before on TV, which obviously had some wounds as a result of being captured?

FRANKEN: In this particular case, general, I am telling you every single thing I know. I'm not holding anything back whatsoever. Not only that, but telling you everything they know at this stage. This is a story that is developing. And as they're finding out information and I'm getting it, I'm passing it on to you.

COSTELLO: OK, just about the numbers again, Bob, seven. We know we have confirmed seven will be arriving where you are, two of the seven have been shot.

FRANKEN: No, no. No, two of the seven, sorry if I heard you wrong, Carol, two of the seven we're told have gunshot wounds.

COSTELLO: Gunshot wounds. We don't know when they were shot. They could have been shot days, weeks ago or today.

SHEPPERD: Yes, it was obvious to me those original seven, of pictures we saw, that they had received gunshot wounds also. So it could be that these are the original seven, it could be some of the MIAs, to be sorted out.

COSTELLO: And let's get into these junior officers that Bob was talking about who wanted to free the Americans that might not have been for the very best of intentions as far as wanting to free someone who has been held captive.

SHEPPERD: Yes, they understand the value of these POWs. They understand how serious Americans are about recovering POWs and accounting for every missing person. And so people are leading us to bodies. And people, of course, understand the value of the POWs, and the junior officers would understand that they would curry, again, great favor with us if they could turn them over. So it would ensure probably their own safety and good treatment, if you will, that they -- that they turn these people over.

COSTELLO: And that they were apparently being brought to Tikrit makes sense, because of course that's one of the only cities not under coalition control. And there are many hiding places there as well, because there are -- there are huge palaces of Saddam Hussein's there and many military bases as well.

SHEPPERD: Yes, this is a huge area up in Tikrit. It's his largest palace area, if you will. It's around, as I remember, two miles by two-and-a-half miles, so huge. Lots of palaces, and there are VIP housing around there, reportedly bunkers everywhere underneath there connected by tunnels. So evidently we have a lot of intelligence and know a lot about that.

But it's like Baghdad, when you get in there, you're going to have to find these, you're going to have to clear them all out and there may be people remaining. It's a last stand for people of the Baath Party. This is the ancestral home of Saddam. It's also his clan and tribe, both of which are important in Iraq.

COSTELLO: Yes, everybody expected this to be the strong last stand of the Saddam regime, but that's really not the way it's turning out, as it appears right now.

SHEPPERD: We've been surprised all along. I certainly am surprised, and I think it was generally understood it was going to be pretty easy in the south because of the Shi'a, not much fighting, and then as we got to Baghdad it was going to be very tough. Turned out to be just the opposite. And it may also be in Tikrit that we expect it to be very tough because of the location and the clan and tribe loyalty, the Sunnis up there, it may turn out to be just the last big side.

COSTELLO: Yes, and from what we understand from the Pentagon there are U.S. Marines around Tikrit and some actually inside the city now, is that right?

SHEPPERD: That's what I've heard reported. I haven't seen the reports confirmed by Central Command, but there clearly are Special Forces all over that country and have been for a long time, and that information has been coming out. They will be telling the troops that are coming up their latest intelligence, where to move, where there's defended and where there's not, so it all makes sense to me.

COSTELLO: In case you are just joining us, we want to bring you an update. We understand Marines have managed to rescue at least seven Americans held captive by the Iraqis. We don't know if those troops were missing in action or whether they were POWs. We just don't have that information right now. We do know they're just about to land at a military base and that's where Bob Franken is now.

So bring people up to date, once again, from your perspective, Bob.

We lost Bob.

Well apparently those rescued Americans are being helicoptered in to where Bob is, and then they'll be checked out at a military hospital there and then they'll be flown to Kuwait. And I'm sure that military officials will have many questions for them.

SHEPPERD: We've got a lot of experience on handling POWs. And the first thing that you do when you get these POWs is make sure that they are OK, they don't have any life-threatening injuries that you have to deal with. As soon as you establish that they're OK, then you start getting information from them. And what you want to know is where is everybody else, who you've been in contact with, what names do you know, who have you heard, who have heard about, how were you held, how many together, where, what kinds of rooms, what kinds of guards did you have, all that's very valuable information for teams that will go looking for others.

COSTELLO: And I'm sure there is training that troops go through as far as capture is concerned and what kinds of things they should listen for?

SHEPPERD: Yes, we all go through various types of training. The soldiers in the field will have some minimal training. Those most likely to be captured, Special Forces, Delta Force, pilots, that type of thing will receive really intensive training on interrogation, on POWs, how to stay together, how to communicate. We're taught how to communicate as POWs. So some very good training out there and everybody has some level of it.

So these POWs will have something in their back pocket that was valuable to them. And the main thing is, try to stay together, try to be aware, try to listen, try to bring back everything you can about your situation and the people around you.

COSTELLO: Yes, you know it just must be difficult to train people psychologically for in the event that that happened. And you look at Private Jessica Lynch, and her family keeps saying what good spirits she's in and how she's joking with people, it's pretty amazing.

SHEPPERD: Yes, it is. But I'll tell you, all -- I've got many friends that are -- that were POWs, and they all say the same thing, you never know how you are going to react until you yourself, despite your training, until you yourself are put under pressure. It's a terrible, terrible ordeal. You're at the mercy of everyone else and you're left with your strength, your convictions, your faith in God, and that's what you bring with you, and then the faith that America will come get you no matter how deep the ocean, how dark the night, how strong the wind, America is going to come get you, so don't lose faith.

COSTELLO: And that certainly has been the message out of Doha, Qatar. We have Tom Mintier live again.

Tom, anything new from your perspective?

MINTIER: Well, Carol, as I'm listening to this, I'm reminded that more than 30 years ago I was in South Korea when the crew of the USS Pueblo were brought in to the hospital after being released by the North Koreans. I was an Army cameraman at the time, and we did the debriefings of the POWs from the Pueblo. So it is really the first thing that goes on. It goes on while they're receiving their medical treatment.

I'm sure that when PFC. Jessica Lynch was being removed, not while on the helicopter, but once she arrived in the rear in the area for medical fixing that there was a documentary crew from either the Pentagon or the Defense Department there taking that debriefing as it was taking place immediately because they wanted the information as fresh as possible because it's quite clear that that information provided by these former POWs or MIAs could be useful in the hunt for the others.

If they knew of someone else being held that they had been seen by one of these POWs and are not amongst the group, that will lead them to be able to mount operations in a particular area to possibly go after more. So it's extremely important, I think, the information that's provided within the first five to six hours of being picked up.

COSTELLO: Understand. Tom Mintier.

Go ahead, general.

SHEPPERD: Yes, I -- just some points on that. Tom makes some very good points. When you plan one of these raids, like the Special Forces raid that picked up Jessica, you put the plan together and then you brief. In the last minute before you briefed, you're going to tell these people look, here's what you expect, go in and get her, but as soon as you get her, we want the following information.

What came out of that raid, remember, was the location of other bodies. The soldiers there didn't know anything about that until they went in and then they were told. They went and dug those bodies out with their hands and brought the bodies back with them. So that's the kind of important last minute, last second information that comes up in one of these things.

We've had several unsuccessful attempts over the years, the Sung Tai Raid (ph) in Vietnam, Desert 1 (ph) where we tried to go into Iran to get our hostages, that have not ended up so well. We're getting a lot better at that.

COSTELLO: Yes. A quick recap for those of you just joining us. Apparently U.S. -- not apparently, we do have it confirmed. The U.S. Marines have managed to rescue seven Americans who were either missing in action or who were POWs. They were found in the custody of Iraqi troops on their way to Tikrit. We understand that the leadership of the Iraqi troops simply gave up and went away leaving those American prisoners in the custody of the junior troops, as Bob Franken put it.

Those junior troops decided to go up to U.S. Marines and say hey, we've got some prisoners -- American prisoners, we want to turn them over to you. And of course the U.S. Marines took those Americans prisoners. Those Americans now in U.S. Marine control. Actually, to be more specific for you, those Americans held custody were found north of Samarra and Tikrit is not far from there.

And, general, all of the families out there hoping that their loved ones will be found. This is very difficult because we can't give the names of those who have been freed. But this does give you a sense of hope that more Americans missing who are held captive will be found alive.

SHEPPERD: It does indeed. It's difficult for POWs, but it is doubly difficult for the families who don't understand what they're going through and who hang on every piece of information. You can clearly see what's developing in the minds out there. We hear the number seven, we've seen the number seven before, the five of them, the 507th Maintenance company, the two pilots.

COSTELLO: OK.

SHEPPERD: And so everyone is assuming immediately that it's them. It may not be them, and so everyone out there that has an MIA is sitting on the...

COSTELLO: Right.

SHEPPERD: ... pins and needles and they're going to be notified...

COSTELLO: And we know of at...

SHEPPERD: ... as soon as we know.

COSTELLO: We know of at least six Americans...

SHEPPERD: Right.

COSTELLO: ... missing in action right now. And according to Bob Franken, those seven Americans who were freed, two had been shot, don't know when, but the others are in good physical condition.

We're going to take a break right now. We'll be back with much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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