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AMERICAN MORNING

Hunt for Saddam

Aired June 23, 2003 - 07:03   ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Back to the search for Saddam Hussein and attempts by the U.S. to try and identify those killed last week in that attack on a convoy.
Barbara Starr from the Pentagon now tracks the latest from that.

What more are we learning -- Barbara? Good morning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Bill.

Yes, U.S. military and intelligence officials are now trying to identify who they may have killed last Wednesday when the U.S. conducted an attack against an Iraqi convoy moving very close to the Syrian border. We are told that all of this unfolded based on intelligence that the U.S. had received from Iraqis in detention.

It began near the town of Al Qaim inside Iraq near the Syrian border, known to be a very well-traveled smuggling route. We are told that it began with an air attack, several air platforms launching weapons, possibly Predators, unmanned aerial drones launching Hellfire missiles, possibly AC-130 gunships involved.

But now the task is to figure out exactly who was killed in this attack and also identify several people who were captured, because after the air attack, then ground forces moved in. The attack essentially being carried out on the ground by a group known as Task Force 20. That's a special operations unit formed inside Iraq just to carry out these types of missions.

And, Bill, perhaps most mysteriously, U.S. officials confirmed this morning that there was some activity, they call it, on the Syrian side of the border. They will not say what, they will not say whether the convoy crossed over into Syria, whether the U.S. conducted some portion of the attack on the Syrian border. No details on that, other than to say there was some activity on the Syrian side.

And officials telling CNN at the moment at least they have no particular reason to believe that either Saddam Hussein or his two sons were in this convoy -- Bill.

HEMMER: Interesting details there. Barbara Starr from the Pentagon.

Military analyst retired Army Brigadier General David Grange is our guest now live in Oakbrook, Illinois.

Good to see you again, General. Good morning to you.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Good morning.

HEMMER: Hellfire missiles, these things kill. They can be fierce and they can be deadly. Is that the effort right now to kill Saddam Hussein as opposed to taking him alive?

GRANGE: Well, it depends on the target, Bill. If it's a fleeting target where the only opportunity is to strike it, let's say from the air in the case of a Predator as an example, probably so. I think they would want to capture Saddam or his sons or some of the other key officials that work for Saddam if they could. But if it's a threat to the force that's doing the operation or the means to take him down requires a long-range platform to fire, then they would kill him first, yes.

HEMMER: What do you make of the news that Barbara is talking about and breaking right now on the Syrian side of the border? How secure is that border? How much is it sealed off, and if it's not, why not?

GRANGE: Well, the border has never been truly sealed off until the war started, and then the coalition forces continued to increase the effort to seal it. And I think it's being watched very closely by coalition forces with strike elements ready to go on a moment's notice if an indicator appears of a target. And so, these high-value targets, whether it's a signal intercept or from human sources, whatever the case may be, if that comes about, then these strike forces go in right away on that target. But I think it's sealed off much better than it was, you know, prior to the war, but it was porous.

HEMMER: What about Task Force 20? Barbara mentioned it. It was involved at one time in the rescue of Jessica Lynch. What do you know about this group?

GRANGE: Well, what we can talk about on Task Force 20, it's a special operations force made up of several services that all bring different capabilities to this task force. It could even have coalition members from British forces as an example. It has primary missions are to go after the card deck of 55, the top people, to kill or grab these enemy leaders, hostage rescue, and also sensitive or highly sensitive possible WMD sites. There are other forces that are looking for WMD as well, but very critical sites with key intelligence they would probably go after those as well.

HEMMER: In a few words here in the time we have left, why has it been so hard to track down Saddam Hussein and his two sons? Why has he been able to evade this?

GRANGE: Well, he's had years to practice from -- and prepare, from not only external threats, but also internal threats. And, you know, take a country the size that's obviously not all desert, you look at Baghdad, it's like looking for someone in Chicago in the same population, the infrastructure not quite the same, but a lot of places to hide. He's paranoid about someone coming after him. So it's difficult. It was -- they didn't confirm Hitler's death, I don't think, for six months after World War II. Look at bin Laden, look at some of the other leaders that have been chased around the world. It's a tough mission.

HEMMER: David Grange in Oakbrook, Illinois. Thanks, General. We'll talka again.

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