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Bob Franken: Revived airfield crucial to supply lines

CNN's Bob Franken
CNN's Bob Franken

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models

SOUTHEAST IRAQ (CNN) -- South of Baghdad, U.S. forces are restoring an abandoned airstrip that the U.S. Air Force plans to use. CNN's Bob Franken, who is traveling with Air Force personnel, talked to CNN anchor Bill Hemmer on Saturday.

HEMMER: In Nasiriyah [there are] bridges that help take the [coalition] supply line about 300 miles into Iraq. They have to get that area secure. And part of the way they're doing it is by air.

Bob Franken, embedded with the U.S. Air Force, can tell us a bit more about that and other things that are happening at that airstrip where he is now located.

FRANKEN: Hello, Bill. And you are absolutely on the money. This air base has become vital because the fact that there is so much need to clear all the area north of here, and this is 150 miles north of the original air base, which, of course, is in close proximity to where you are.

In any case, this air base was an Iraqi air base, but it hasn't been used for the last 10 years because it is part of the southern no-fly zone and it was just put out of commission during the first Gulf War.

But the airport is in remarkably good shape. The runway is in good repair. It is a very long runway, meaning that it's going to have quite a bit of use. And probably its most important use is going to be its ability to handle the A-10s. We saw the first ones land and take off here today.

The A-10s, of course, are the now-famous killer machines, really. They are planes that can dive. They're slow-moving, but they dive with their weaponry, which just rips to shreds anything on the ground. They've been extremely important when it comes to supporting the ground actions, and they're going to be extremely important in continuing to do so.

The ground actions now are so very important. As I said, we saw the first ones land and the first ones take off, all made possible because of the convoys this week that finally got the fuel up here, which is the necessary ingredient to make this a viable airport.

With that, there has been just a large population that has been growing here in the last 24 hours. There is a major defense surrounding this, including missiles. We can't be more specific than that. But this is very, very serious here.

And the other two important parts of this airport are going to be, one, its use as a transit station. We've been seeing C-130 airports come in throughout the day. They've been depositing members of the 82nd Airborne. They are going to fan out, Bill, in parts of the country to see to it that what they've been calling Ambush Alley is secure, and that in fact the logistical needs can be met by the coalition military.

In addition to which, this is a launching point now for CSAR. That's combat search and rescue. The helicopters that you see in back of me are being used for search and rescue. This air base puts them within 150 miles closer to somebody who might need to be rescued.

So you can see the importance of this airport. It is important that they get it up. Getting the convoys up here to get things going was an extremely difficult task, but now that they're here, this airport is becoming very quickly the vital link that everybody hopes it would be on the U.S. and coalition side, Bill.

HEMMER: One thing [CNN anchor] Paula [Zahn] and I are wondering throughout the day here about these reports about a pause of four to six days. Have you taken note of any of that to be true?

FRANKEN: Absolutely none. Nobody would talk about that. I know it's being denied elsewhere. But, no, things are going here, if anything, much more intensely than they were before.

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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