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U.S. Operation Under Way in Baghdad

Aired November 12, 2003 - 13:37   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to CNN's Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon, and hopefully she can fill us in on a few of the details -- Kathleen.
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, just as these explosions began, I was on the phone with a spokesman for the U.S. -- for the coalition in Baghdad, coalition spokesman Danny Martin. And he explained to me that the U.S. military was hitting a specific building in southern Baghdad. The way that he described it, is that it is a known meeting, planning, storage and rendezvous point. This building for elements which are currently conducting attacks on coalition forces and the infrastructure.

Major Martin said that the destruction of the structure would deny enemy forces any use of it in the future. Now I asked him if this was similar to the aerial bombing raids that we had seen in the Tikrit area on Friday and Saturday, where three 500-pound bombs were dropped, Friday and Saturday, again taking out a building, and then again on Monday, south of Baghdad, there were two 2,000-pound bombs that were dropped also on structures that were being used, they believed, by enemy forces, either those loyal to Saddam Hussein, or to insurgents that had come in from outside the country.

From what Major Martin said, he wasn't sure if it would be to the same extent as those attacks. Those were aerial attacks, really hadn't seen the likes of for several months. Major Martin said he wasn't sure if it would be aerial, if they would cordon off the area and take these buildings out. But he made it very clear that journalists should be quite careful about approaching this area until all the firing had stopped -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Kathleen Koch, did they give you any sort of indication as to whether there were multiple targets in all of this, or is it focused on this one structure that you referenced?

KOCH: Miles, he said a specific building, singular. So as far as I know, according to one Major Danny Martin, the spokesman, it's only one building, but he did not describe it in any great detail.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's bring up Ben Wedeman, who is live in Baghdad. Ben, based on what you have heard, do you have the sense these explosions are focused on a very specific, single location?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, from what we heard from the roof of this hotel, we certainly did hear a succession of blasts coming from a very specific area to the west of here. It sounded rather distant, not like last night, for instance, when two mortars hit the green zone, where the Coalition Provisional Authority is located. Those blasts were very close, very close indeed in fact, but these are far more distant.

And all we're hearing here is from coalition forces that an operation is under way in the western part of Baghdad. Precisely what their target is, what they're up to is not clear, however.

But, certainly, the coalition authority, the green zone, as they call it, has come under rocket and mortar bombardment repeatedly in the last week or so.

So there was an anticipation that something would be done, whether an operation launched from the air or from the ground, to put an end to these mortar and rocket attacks -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: We've said it time and time again, Ben, that one of the big issues for the U.S. is intelligence on the ground. This implies that the U.S. is focusing on specific locations that might be the source of weaponry used by the terrorist, might be planning facilities. Is the intelligence improving? Is that your sense of it?

WEDEMAN: We do hear that in many cases, more and more Iraqis are volunteering information and intelligence that does oftentimes lead to specific operations or arrests.

It's hard to tell in this case what exactly is behind it. But certainly coalition officers and officials have said that they are increase -- they basically, when things improve on the ground in terms of the general standard of living here, they find there is a response and they get more local intelligence than they would otherwise -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Kathleen Koch, at the Pentagon, do you have a sense there in talking to the people you talked to, as to whether this intelligence effort has improved such as they can pinpoint these locations where terrorists might be either hording weapons or planning attacks?

KOCH: Well, Miles, the Pentagon is saying that they do believe they are getting better information, better intelligence, from the Iraqis, and that's how they are targeting the specific buildings. For instance, the buildings that were hit in this area, south of Baghdad, again, on Monday, with these two 2,000-pound J-DAM bomb, these are areas where they thought they were getting good intelligence. These were also areas where U.S. troops have been targeted in a number of recent ambushes. They got this good intelligence, went in, searched this area, searched this particular building several times and found a lot of very interesting information, found equipment used to make homemade explosives, found actual maps where they had targeted specific locations where they were going to -- where these terrorists or these insurgents were going to try to target U.S. forces. So then U.S. forces then went in, told the locals, the friendlies in the area, to clear out, to get out of the area, and then they went in and dropped those big bombs on Monday.

But again, they do point to what they say is better intelligence from the Iraqis -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Ben Wedeman in Baghdad.

Ben, if you could give us a sense there of how -- when the U.S. begins engaging in bombing, smart weapons or not, inevitably, there will be what the military uses the euphemism of collateral damage. And this, as we look at some tape from earlier, this obviously is directly against the effort to win the hearts and the minds of the people. I guess what this says is, as the U.S. military ups the ante here, it shows that things are deteriorating. Is that accurate to say?

WEDEMAN: We've heard from the head of coalition forces in Iraq that they're adopting a get-tough strategy. And this may be part of it. Part of the problem, however, is that many Iraqis think this is a case of overkill. I spoke to somebody the other day, who said that while Saddam Hussein was in power, then bombing was in a reasonable way to conduct war against Saddam Hussein for the United States. But the United States currently occupies Iraq, and some Iraqis find it rather puzzling that they have to resort to such extreme measures as drop two-pound bombs on basically the suburbs of Baghdad. They expect -- many Iraqis expect that certainly given the American strength on the ground with their armor, with their troops in addition to their helicopters that they could go about it in a somewhat more subtle way; 2,000-pound bombs are very big, and they cause a lot of damage, and that damage has also been inflicted, many people say, to reputation, to the extent it still exist, of the United States in Iraq -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Ben Wedeman, we're going to let you go and help you have an opportunity to figure out precisely what's going on there.


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