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Franken: Dramatic return for ex-captives

Bob Franken said that all seven former captives walked under their own power.

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CENTRAL IRAQ (CNN) -- Two helicopters ferried in seven rescued American troops Sunday to a coalition air base about 65 miles south of Baghdad, and after a brief hospital visit, the troops boarded a transport plane destined for Kuwait -- but not before one raised his fist in celebration.

CNN correspondent Bob Franken, who is embedded with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, witnessed the dramatic and noisy scene at the air base, describing it as it happened to anchor Leon Harris.

FRANKEN: We are racing toward the field hospital now. There were two ambulances carrying the rescued [troops]. We rolled past a gauntlet of Humvees full of Marines, who applauded [the rescued troops] as they went by.

The seven of them were taken off the two CH-46 helicopters. In the first helicopter, all five raced to their ambulance.

Only one had his arm in a sling. They were in various stages of dress. Some of them were wearing Marine T-shirts and pants. One had on striped pajamas and another one had [on] some sort of desert-colored pajamas.

In the other helicopter, both were able to walk to their ambulance and both were limping. We had been told two of them suffered gunshot wounds.

The story ... is that they were recovered after Iraqi officers deserted the unit that was holding them north of Samarra, Iraq. Some of the underlings thought they would take the [then-captives] to the road.

The Iraqi fighters then flagged down [a U.S. Marine] light armored unit and [the now-rescued American troops] were taken.

We do not know what happened to the Iraqis who handed over the Americans. We also do not know the exact nature of the American troops' injuries, but as I said, they were all walking under their own power.

They'd been taken to a field hospital on the base, which is where we are right now, 65 miles south of Baghdad.

They will be taken from here, we are told, to the Kuwait area where they will receive more medical treatment and debriefings.

HARRIS: Have you been able to get any sense of the rescued troops' identities?

FRANKEN: I do not have an identity and there are restrictions about passing that on until certain procedures have been followed, including notification of families. So we have no information about their names.

I'm being told -- contrary to what I'd heard earlier -- that they were soldiers, which would mean they belonged to the U.S. Army. Quite frankly, I've had two versions of this, so I'll have to check further.

They are, I will tell you, at a U.S. Marine facility and they were picked up by a Marine unit ...

After a brief interruption, Franken returned to CNN air with new developments.

FRANKEN: We are seeing them getting taken off the ambulance now. What you are hearing is the roar of the C-130 airplane that is waiting for them. They are being taken off the ambulance [and heading toward the transport plane].

They are running. One of them, I can tell you right now, is a woman. She is limping toward the plane, and [another] has his arm in a sling.

One of them raced toward the plane. He raised his fist in the air [in] celebration.

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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