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Air-Ground Assault in Baghdad

Aired November 13, 2003 - 13:31   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to Baghdad now. We've got some breaking news in, a series of explosions once again heard, again, about the same time that we heard them yesterday, obviously day two of the renewed offensive on the part of the U.S. military as it tries to nip the terrorism that is well past the bud at this point. '
CNN's Ben Wedeman joining us live now from Ba'ath with the latest.

Ben, what are you hearing? What are you seeing?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Miles. We certainly did hear those explosions, fairly distant, not quite as loud as last night's. We're hearing from coalition military sources that these are part of ground and air assaults against what they describe as terrorist elements in the Baghdad area, conducted by the 1st Airborne -- Armored Division, excuse me, as part of Operation Iron Hammer.

This is not unexpected. Operation Iron Hammer kicked off last night, as you said, at about this time, and it was expected that operations against those behind the attacks on coalition forces would increase, would accelerate.

In fact, we heard from a coalition official today that -- we were told actually to expect more offensive operations against those attacking the coalition forces in the next few days. Their new attitude is basically they are not going to wait for the enemy to attack them, they are going to attack the enemy first, and we've seen this evening that they are making good on their promises, so to speak -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Ben, of course, the key is, the needle in the haystack situation here, when you talk about singling out terrorist operations, warehouse, safehouses, that sort of thing, it can be very difficult to locate. Any sense as to where this, I guess, more focused intelligence might be coming from? Are there more people dropping a dime, if you will, helping the U.S. military?

WEDEMAN: Well, that is what coalition sources are telling us, that they're getting more and better intelligence from Iraqi sources themselves. People coming in and telling them, giving them tips where there are people involved in anti-coalition activities, who they are, what they're doing. That is what the coalition is telling us, that, especially in this operation, that they have benefited greatly from basic human intelligence that has oftentimes been lacking here in Iraq. O'BRIEN: And just to clarify, yesterday it was quite audible to us here, just watching the satellite feed, certainly to you there what we heard. In this case, you haven't heard so much from where you sit, correct?

WEDEMAN: No, Miles, it was -- it appears to have been much further away. Yesterday's attacks occurred in -- one was in southwest Baghdad, and I think that was the loudest. In that instance, the AC- 130 Spectre gunships went into action. Those are C-130s mounted with gatling guns sectionally. Those are very noisy. And we were told today not only were the AC-130s were involved, but also Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which have some very heavy, noisy guns on them. So that's probably what we heard in that video feed last night -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, Ben Wedeman, well, obviously this story is developing, as we hear of yet another night of Iron Hammer, renewed offensive on the part of the U.S. military, focusing out these terrorist operations. As soon as you get some more information, let us know.

Let's go right out to the Pentagon. Kathleen Koch has been working her sources there.

Kathleen, what can you tell us about the targets on this night?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, we basically have gotten the same relatively sketchy information that Ben had, again, that this is -- these are air and ground operations against what they consider to be terrorist elements in and around Baghdad. Again, part of an operation Iron Hammer.

But as Ben pointed out and you were asking, is this coming because Iraqis are dropping a dime, essentially, helping coalition sources? In discussion with Pentagon officials this morning, it was made clear that is happening more frequently, often because we're dropping a dime in their pocket. So our commanders on the ground in Iraq are authorized to give rewards for information, in varying amounts, depending on the quality of the information passed on to us. So they believe that is having a significant impact. One thing that was pointed out to us, there were six major weapon caches found in Baghdad -- excuse me, in Iraq yesterday, two in Mosul, four in the Baathist Triangle. They found things including 125 mortar rounds, 130 rocket-propelled grenades, 85 RPG launchers and 70 million dinars.

So this is the kind of thing that is very important, and as time goes on, indeed, General John Abizaid, the head of CENTCOM, this morning, was talking about that, how we've got to get at the money, how the U.S. needs to get at the weaponry in order to stop those insurgents. And General Abizaid pointed out this morning those insurgents may only number about 5,000, 5,000 up against some 130,000 U.S. forces and 25,000 coalition forces in Iraq. But still, they're obviously having an impact -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: I guess, as we look, by the way, at a live picture coming out of Baghdad right now, in the larger part of your screen there, Kathleen, they certainly hit pay dirt yesterday. I assume they're quite pleased?

KOCH: They are, indeed, and they're hoping to have continued success. Just as Ben, we were advised here at the Pentagon, that we would see operation iron hammer continue as needed. But General Abizaid made a point this morning that it would continue, that these actions would be forceful, that they would be pointed, but that they would also be very cautious at the same time to protect civilian lives, make sure that the U.S. doesn't cause undue anger in taking these actions, that the U.S. gets those they're going after, those who are going after coalition forces, but harms no one else in the region -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon. Let's go back to retired Major General Don Shepperd, U.S. Air Force, out of Los Angeles today.

General Shepperd, good to have you back with us.

It's strikes me, Kathleen Koch talking to her sources at the Pentagon, saying there may be only 5,000 of these terrorists. That's a small number. But when it comes to terrorism, you don't need a lot of people, do you?

MAJOR GEN. DON SHEPPERD, (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You really don't, Miles. The smaller you are, the easier it is to hide, the easier it is to conceal thing, the fewer telephone calls and traveling you have to do. So it makes them a very difficult target, even though small in number -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: And identifying the target really is the key in this case. This is not conventional battleground with front lines and no man's lands and so forth. We're talking about needles in a haystack. And I guess the concern might be that unwittingly, the U.S. military might be called in to settle some old, personal grudges.


Miles, to give you some perspective. Hundred, if not thousands of tips come in every day about where the bad guys are, what they're doing. Some of these are, indeed, to settle old scores. So you've got to sort through these. The key is to go in and get the really bad guys in an urban environment and not injure anybody on the outside, so as Kathleen said, you're making more enemies. And it really is a need until a haystack, very difficult, but it appears the United States, rather than waiting, will take a more aggressive stance, repeatedly and quickly here -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: The issue all along has been intelligence on the ground. Do you have a sense from people you talk to at the Pentagon that the U.S. has turned a corner on this? Because going in, there were so few just Arabic speakers in the military, that it was very difficult for them to even contemplate getting good, solid intelligence.

SHEPPERD: Yes, no, I think we have turned the corner. I think the key to turning the corner is two things, to get the Iraqis providing their own security, so that we don't have to go out and do it, they're doing it, they won't let you blow up their neighborhoods and kill their people, but the idea in doing this is to make sure that we do not, in the process, lose the confidence of the Iraqi people, so that they think the American forces that are there, rather than protecting them, providing security, are drawing fire and explosions into their neighborhoods. It's a fine line to walk, and we haven't turned the corner, miles.

O'BRIEN: Talking about that line, even with the incredible platform that an AC-130 is, and as smart a weapon as it is, as we just talked about a little while ago -- we can probably show that animation one more time to show people how it works. As specific as it is, and as focused as it is, there is nevertheless the risk when you're shooting from the air at night that there's going to be the military term is collateral damage, innocents, property and lives, caught in the cross fire. And that's a risk the military is taking in this case. Clearly, that shows the stakes, doesn't it?

SHEPPERD: It does indeed, and the trend is more precise weapons, to make sure you really hit, not just come close to, but really hit what you're after, and that's laser-guided weapons and global- positioning system, satellite-assisted weapons. And also, that you pick your targets very carefully, model them if at all possible, to make sure.

But no matter what happens, explosions and shrapnel cause collateral damage.

The other thing is we're trying to go to smaller weapons, trying to go to smaller weapons, not bigger weapons, the idea being to only hit what you're after and nothing else, and it's a tough business -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, when you say smaller weapons, nevertheless, when you take the attack to the air though, that does represent an escalation, doesn't it?

SHEPPERD: It does, but the air is just one of the weapons available. You've got helicopters available, as well as the AC-130 and bombs from the fighter aircraft, and of course you have the Army on the ground. You will see all these used in the targeted attack. They will let air go in and do what they can do, and then you will see the area surrounded and the area stormed by ground troops. So it's a coordinated, precisely planned attack in most cases -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: During the invasion phase of all this, we talked repeatedly, you and I, about the tremendous superiority that U.S. airpower provides the U.S. military. To some degree when it comes to urban combat, a lot of that is negated, isn't it?

SHEPPERD: It is indeed, because when you've got troops out in the open or you've got vehicles on a road away from cities, you're free to use almost any weapon you want. When they're inside the city, your overriding concern is to not kill or make more enemies than the people that you're after. It's a very difficult business, and 500 and 1,000, 2,000 pound bombs are blunt weapons -- Miles. O'BRIEN: And the fact that this is occurring almost like clockwork, 24 hours after it began, this escalation began yesterday, is that part of the message as well?

SHEPPERD: I think, indeed, it's a part of the message to send to the bad guys, particularly in the Sunni or Baathist Triangle, out towards Fallujah, Tikrit, Ramadi, and those areas out there, that really (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and you're going to be suffering severe consequences. It remains to be seen whether that will really work, but the key is to go and get these 5,000 guys that are doing the damage. Many Iraqis know who those people are. So if we can get the intelligence, and get real information on where they are, then we can go get them. And again, it's a very tough business and dicey, and we're walking fine lines.

O'BRIEN: General Don Shepperd, don't go far, we'll be checking in with you shortly as you watch the story unfold in Baghdad and environs. Thanks much.

SHEPPERD: Certainly.


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