Generals: Iraqi movement 'good news'
(CNN) -- Two CNN military analysts spoke with CNN Correspondent Miles O'Brien on Wednesday about a column of up to 1,000 Iraqi military vehicles that was reported moving south of Baghdad, according to U.S. Army officers. (Full story)
Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Grange and retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd discussed the large force reported heading toward Najaf, the site of an earlier battle with U.S. forces.
O'BRIEN: First of all, we've got to temper what we hear -- and we're not going to question people in the field, but let's just put a dose of skepticism in this, just because that's what we're supposed to do here, and talk about this 1,000-vehicle column.
Does that ring true to you?
GRANGE: Well, it seems a bit high in number, and it would surprise me that the Iraqis would move that much armored force, or even soft-skin vehicle force, south out of protected positions towards the coalition forces.
In fact, if that is true, I would say -- and at coalition headquarters -- that's good news.
O'BRIEN: Good news. Tell me why.
SHEPPERD: I was just going to set up the situation a little more. We've got the elite elements of the 3rd [Squadron] of the 7th [Cavalry] down here at Najaf and these reported vehicles headed toward them, the other elements of the 3rd Infantry Division closing. We've got [these forces] coming up against the Medina Division [of Iraq's Republican Guard], and likely these vehicles would be coming from the al Nida Armored Division in the Baghdad area to reinforce. [That] is what looks like has taken place, if all of this is true.
O'BRIEN: All right. Make your point there.
GRANGE: Why [is this] good? Because we want the Iraqi forces to move. That's what the coalition forces want. They're easier to destroy in a formation like that.
O'BRIEN: So the presumption would be, anytime you're moving forces, particularly away from Baghdad, you're better off. Safe to say?
SHEPPERD: Yes, safe to say. Lousy weather with good weather coming. During lousy weather, what we've got is things such as the JSTARS [Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System] over here looking and watching those movements, relaying coordinates. We have airplanes such as the F-15E designed to deliver in bad weather on radar.
And when the weather gets better, you've got other elements that can deliver satellite-guided weapons and laser-guided weapons with forward air controllers.
O'BRIEN: All right. CNN's Walt Rodgers is on the very tip of that pointy spear that we're talking about. That same group [3-7th Cavalry] that he remains with yesterday encountered some heavy action. Three M1A1 Abrams tanks were lost. That's the first time they've ever been lost.
O'BRIEN: Disabled. The crew survived. First of all, let's talk briefly about the tank and what we think brought those tanks down. The M1A1 tank, the Abrams, is pretty darned impervious, and it takes a lot to bring it down. As a matter of fact, from the front, it's almost impossible to bring down.
We're not going to get the specifics on it right now, but just tell us what we know about it.
GRANGE: Some of the protective capabilities of the Abrams tank are classified. But unclassified, anti-tank weapons around the world, for instance, weapons like the coalition TOW anti-armor missile can take it down, can take out any armored vehicle in the battlefield, not just the M1 tank. But there are some tough AT-3s, AT-4s and MILAN missiles that can give tanks trouble.
O'BRIEN: All right. There you go. You've got 120 mm cannon, a cruising speed of 30 mph, combat range. But let's look at what we think might have been the weapon used against it, the AT-3.
GRANGE: Three or four Soviet-bloc MILAN-type missiles ... wire attached, launched from a vehicle or from a ground-mounted tripod at the tank. And probably what happened was it knocked the tread off or maybe hit part of the engine.
O'BRIEN: Tell us the significance of that, though. They knock a tread off, the crew walks away. That's heavy fire. Does that mean it's an organized campaign, or could this be just skirmishes going after these columns?
GRANGE: It means that you have more robust enemy forces, most likely not the paramilitary forces that Walter Rodgers encountered the other day, with RPG fire and sniper fire. It means that you probably have lead elements of Republican Guard-type units. What's significant about it, the crews walked away. They can fix the tank.
O'BRIEN: Let's talk about close air support here. Things like A-10 Warthogs, maybe a little bit of F-16 cover. How's the Air Force playing in all of this?
SHEPPERD: Basically right now, with the weather bad, it's unknown. When the weather clears, you can get forward air controllers in there, and the forward air controllers will employ A-10s, F-16s, F-18s and Navy aviation Harriers. And the idea is to smack all of these vehicles, especially coming south.
O'BRIEN: And the idea would be to soften those targets up with the Air Force first? Is that usually the way you go?
GRANGE: Air Force first, depending on the distance from the coalition forces, or simultaneously -- maximum fire from a combined arms team.
Retired Brig. Gen. David Grange and Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd are two of CNN's military analysts, along with retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark. Their briefings will appear daily on CNN.com.
Grange was in the U.S. Army for 30 years. He last served as commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division, the "Big Red One." In that position, he was in Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. During his military career, Grange was a Ranger and Green Beret. Grange is an executive vice president and chief operating officer at the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation in Chicago, Illinois.
Shepperd served in the U.S. Air Force for almost 40 years and flew 247 fighter combat missions in Vietnam. He served at the Pentagon as the Air National Guard commander and was directly involved in planning the use of Air National Guard forces during the Persian Gulf War. Shepperd now runs his own defense consulting firm called The Shepperd Group.
EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.