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Syrian, U.S. Troops Exchange Gunfire

Aired June 23, 2003 - 20:27   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Today, we learned about a recent incident near the Iraqi-Syrian border involving U.S. troops. Officials say U.S. forces attacking a suspicious convoy in western Iraq ended up exchanging gunfire with Syrian border guards. Five Syrians were wounded.
Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the capture of General Abid Hamid Mahmud last week, Saddam Hussein's closest confidante that led to the attack carried out by Task Force 20, a U.S. commando force whose existence was only recently acknowledged by the Pentagon.

It wasn't what Mahmud said, sources tell CNN, but other intelligence related to his capture that led the U.S. to target a convoy of a half dozen vehicles leaving a compound in the border town of Kaime (ph) Wednesday night believed to be carrying former senior leaders of the regime. There was at least a hope, said one Pentagon official that Saddam Hussein or his sons might be among them.

According to sources, a U.S. Air Force Predator drone armed with Hellfire missiles tracked the vehicles which split into two groups. A Special Operations AC-130 gunship was called in. At some point, the Predator launched its Hellfire missiles. The AC-130 opened fire with its 105 mm canon and a commando team from Task Force 20 moved in.

According to sources, after the initial attack a person was spotted on foot near the border with Syria. U.S. Special Operations forces pursued the individual and some Syrian border guards showed up.

Pentagon officials say at that point the U.S. troops may have crossed the border into Syria. In any event, there was an engagement and three Syrians were wounded and had to be given medical treatment by the U.S. military. It's not clear if they were shot from the ground or the air.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Some local villagers have claimed that the people killed in the attack by the U.S. military were sheep smugglers. Pentagon officials say they may have been smugglers but U.S. intelligence indicates what they were smuggling was Iraqi regime leaders. About 20 people captured in the raid most of them have now been released and Pentagon sources say that DNA tests may be used to make sure that Saddam Hussein was not among those killed -- Paula.

ZAHN: Jamie, do we have any idea how long that process might take?

MCINTYRE: Those kinds of tests usually take several weeks.

ZAHN: All right, Jamie McIntyre we're going to leave it there this evening. Thanks so much.

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