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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Pentagon Keeps Mum on Attack on Convoy

Aired June 24, 2003 - 20:02   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The Pentagon still isn't saying much about last week's U.S. Special Operations attack on a convoy in Iraq. It may have been carrying former high level Iraqi officials, perhaps even Saddam Hussein himself.
Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre has gleaned some new details for us this evening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pentagon sources tell CNN the attack on this compound near the Syrian border is believed to have interrupted a smuggling operation that was essentially a pipeline for fugitive Iraqis to move in and out of Syria.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There were reasons, good reasons to believe that the vehicles that were violating the curfew that existed in that area were doing it for reasons other than normal commerce.

MCINTYRE: Almost a week later, Rumsfeld remains tight-lipped but Pentagon sources say last Wednesday's nighttime attack, which leveled the compound and destroyed several trucks traveling on a nearby highway was carried out by Apache helicopters, Air Force F-15s, and an AC-130 gunship.

Sources say the people targeted had ties to Saddam Hussein's captured senior adviser General Abid Hamid Mahmud. Mahmud has told interrogators he briefly went to Syria after the fall of Baghdad along with Saddam's sons but that they were expelled.

Were the people killed in the attack the same ones who smuggled Mahmud out of the country? The U.S. won't say but officials are saying that along with Mahmud the U.S. captured a mother lode of leads in the search for Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants.

And, forensics experts are combing through what's left of the compound trying to figure out exactly who was killed. No one in the Pentagon, though, thinks it was Saddam Hussein.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that senior Iraqi leaders were, in fact, taken out?

RUMSFELD: I have no reason to believe that.

MCINTYRE: But the Pentagon says it has no doubts it hit a legitimate target.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I'm confident we had very good intelligence.

MCINTYRE: Although the Pentagon won't acknowledge it, some U.S. troops apparently did cross over the border into Syria in hot pursuit of a suspect and wounded three Syrian border guards in some sort of an engagement.

(on camera): Now, six days after the fact, Syria is demanding the return of its guards, something sources say is in the works, although some Pentagon officials are questioning whether the border guards may have played a role in what appears to be a well used smuggling route.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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