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Tuchman: Republican Guard is the main target

CNN's Gary Tuchman
CNN's Gary Tuchman

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(CNN) -- CNN Correspondent Gary Tuchman is embedded with the U.S. Air Force at a base near the Kuwait- Iraq border.

He shared these impressions from his location via videophone.

TUCHMAN: The first thing I want to tell you is an observation. The Pentagon has allowed us to stand by this one and only active runway at this base near Iraq, 24 hours a day to watch their warplanes take off. We're not here 24 hours a day, but we are here the great majority of the day, and we've never seen it busier than it has been the last few hours.

This particular air base, the exact location we're not allowed to tell you, has had 300 sorties in the last 24-hour period, 850 over the last few days at this one location alone. Meanwhile, Air Force officials are telling us that all their locations, they're expecting a total of 1,000 battle sorties today (Monday). That's 1,000 airplanes going into Iraq with bombs and missiles. There will be up to another 1,000 airplanes going in to support those missions. Those are supporting ground troops or dropping leaflets. But 800 of those 1,000 are going for Iraqi Republican Guard troops.

Now, yesterday we told you about some helicopters that took off at this base for search-and-rescue missions. We also told you the Air Force would not tell us why the search and rescue missions were taking place. These are Jolly helicopters, known as HH-60s. We have now learned why these helicopters left here, for two reasons. One, they were looking for two downed British airmen. The British airmen were aboard Tornado warplanes. They were shot down, unfortunately, by a Patriot missile battery.

The search-and-rescue mission was not able to locate the two men who are missing and presumed dead, but the other search and rescue mission was more successful. Seven special operations force members were pinned down amid enemy fire in Iraq. The helicopters flew out there, extracted the men, rescued them, and safely brought them back to this base near the Iraqi border. At this base, where we are right now, we've had two sirens today for ballistic missile alerts. We have heard that Patriot missiles have shot down three Iraqi missiles in this vicinity. When the missile siren goes off here, it causes quite a commotion.

My photographer, who is with me here, my producer and I, have kind of gotten used to these sirens...when we were in the Kuwait City area, the civilian areas; but when you're on a base, it's a whole different situation. People start running. People put on their chemical suits, their gas masks. They stop absolutely everything they're doing and go into bunkers, and it's happened twice this afternoon at this base near the Iraqi border.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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