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U.S. commander: Hard work paid off

Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno
Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno

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TIKRIT, Iraq (CNN) -- When U.S. soldiers found Saddam Hussein hiding in an underground hole during an overnight raid, the former dictator raised his hands above his head and said, "I am Saddam Hussein. I am the president of Iraq and I want to negotiate." One of the troops responded: "President Bush sends his regards."

The raid was conducted by 600 4th Infantry Division soldiers and special operations forces. CNN anchor Anderson Cooper spoke Monday with Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division troops.

COOPER: How are you all doing this morning?

ODIERNO: We're doing great, sir, thank you very much. Everybody's doing fine. Of course, we're back out doing missions again today.

COOPER: Does this capture at all change the facts on the ground for you and your troops?

ODIERNO: I really don't think it does. What it does, it's a psychological victory I think for us ... but we still have insurgents on the ground, still conducting operations so all the soldiers must stay focused and mission-oriented as we continue our mission here on the ground.

COOPER: There are still insurgents on the ground. Are they Saddam insurgents? I mean, the numbers of insurgents who were motivated by support for Saddam, for his former regime, are they still out there as far as you can tell?

ODIERNO: What I would say is, you had a large majority who were probably on the fence, and the capture of Saddam Hussein has probably moved them forward to probably wanting to move ahead and support coalition forces now. I believe you had some hard-core loyalists that have nothing to lose and will probably continue to fight against coalition forces.

COOPER: He had some $750,000 with him in hundred dollar bills, we are told. Do you have any sense or a gut sense of whether he was actually using that money to fund attacks against Americans?

ODIERNO: I would say he was not. My guess is that money was there for his own survival and he would pay people so he could move around, for protection and probably use that just for his own good. I don't believe he was using that to pay [for] any type of attacks. That was just so he could survive.

COOPER: You've been hunting for this man for quite some time now. In the last weeks, it got more intense. At what point over the weekend did you realize you had actionable intelligence?

ODIERNO: Well, there [were] several times over the last several months we thought we had actionable intelligence on several HVTs (high-value targets), both mid-level managers and people such as Saddam Hussein. We thought we had a fairly good tip because of the individuals we were picking up; we were getting closer and closer to the people who we knew were associated with him.

And based on that, we thought we might have a good tip here. But you never really know until you actually get on the ground. So we never try to get too excited or too low about any tips and try to execute each raid the same. I will say, we were very pleased when we found out in fact we had captured him.

COOPER: You mentioned high-value target, that's what you call them. At what point did your troops realize the HVT was actually Saddam Hussein? And if you can, what exactly was their reaction?

ODIERNO: First, as we first took him, captured him, of course, the word went out over all our nets that we had captured him, just for reporting procedures. I think based on that, everybody then understood who we had.

We still wanted to wait to ensure it was him, as everybody else did, because we have all heard that he has body doubles and we wanted to make sure it was him. So we kind of waited for final results, but the soldiers were very pleased.

They've worked extremely hard and I do want to make that comment. The soldiers we have here are so dedicated and loyal to their country and their hard work absolutely paid off. They still have a lot of work to do here, but there is some satisfaction they were successful on this mission.


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