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Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman


Sassaman
Sassaman's role is part soldier, part diplomat.

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Iraq
Nic Robertson

BALAD, Iraq (CNN) -- In CNN Presents "Hope and Fear: Journeys in the New Iraq," CNN's Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson follows six very different individuals, and hears their hopes and fears for the future the country. He begins with an American soldier.

The following is a transcript of Robertson's TV package:

Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman. West point quarter back 1985. Now, hard-charging commander of 600 men tackling one of Iraq's toughest neighborhoods -- Balad in the Sunni triangle north of Baghdad.

Sassaman: Nic, this is where they fired from the other day.

A mortar position used by insurgents to fire on his base.

Robertson: And you returned fire right away?

Sassaman: Yup, in less than five minutes. It's more of a show of force. It definitely galvanizes the community towards rallying around finding who these two, three or four folks are.

More persuasion is coming. In less than an hour's time, an F-16 is going to drop a bomb right here, and that is designed to send a message to the insurgents, not to fire mortars.

Sassaman pulls his men out.

Sassaman on radio: What I want to do is get everyone in their houses by 1700 tonight.

But despite coordination with the air force, the F-16 will arrive before curfew.

Sassaman warns local farmers: "We're having them drop a bomb from where they shot at us yesterday."

Soldier: Five minute window sir -- they want to drop it now.

Sassaman: OK, they're good.

(Plane drops bomb)

Sassaman: That's better. Better than that other 500lb bomb.

Pressed for time Sassaman heads for base.

As darkness falls on the way back, news comes over the radio of an Iraqi shot by Sassaman's troops.

(Injured man lies on the ground)

Sassaman: Who is working on him -- who working on him -- Pointer how bad?

Within minutes Sassaman is on the scene.

Sassaman: Did you find an exit wound?

Taking charge of the potentially explosive situation.

Sassaman: He was going at about 50 to 60 miles an hour.

Soldier: There was about two in the front -- and then that's when he passed us -- and then we fired into the rear end.

Sassaman: Firing low?

Soldier: Firing low.

Eventually Iraqi police arrive to take the luckless driver off to Balad hospital.

Sassaman: They stabilized him. Better ending then him dying for running that check-point. What do you think? Just another day in Balad.

Robertson: How does that feel after 10 months of that?

Sassaman: I'm going to tell you it's wearing on me and it's wearing on all the soldiers too. We're, you can tell, the folks are tired.

Back at base, there's little time to rest. But it's more than tiredness. There's anger here and disappointment.

Sassaman: I had set a goal that I could bring everyone back. I really thought I could do that and now I'm going to come back down two. I hope that's where it ends. Two dead and 35 wounded. I shed a lot of tears over them -- my heart's broken.

His resolve is not.

Sassaman: You've got to meet aggression with controlled violence. A lot of people will say violence leads to more violence, I'll tell you that controlled violence leads too no more violence.

That's the way he was trained. But much of this conflict doesn't fit in to any military text book.

In this conflict, Sassaman is part soldier, part diplomat.

(Sassaman meeting Sheiks)

Sassaman: The second point is I am really after two guys right now, Fawzi Younis and Ahmed Dalab Marzouk.

Among this crowd Sassaman has earned respect.

Sheik: He's a brave, strong man. When he had trouble he was standing on the tank, not hiding inside.

Barely 12 hours later, on a pre-dawn raid.

Sassaman: OK. They're saying Hamdan was with us yesterday?

Sassaman suddenly realizes one of his targets is a sheikh he met at the meeting the day before.

Sassaman: Good. While we're at it, how did he think the meeting went yesterday?

Robertson: So how does it happen yesterday he's a good guy.

Sassaman: He is still. That's a riot isn't it. This is not the first time this has happened -- where we've had meetings with individuals -- and then that night we've actually had them targeted. It's not about hearts and minds. Nobody told me that I was supposed to win hearts and minds over here. They did tell me that I had to keep the peace.

The raid ends without the weapons they were expecting to find.

A few people, including the sheik's uncle, taken in to detention.

Another pressure on Sassaman, the number of detainees suspected of aiding the insurgency is mounting.

Through the day, more brought in to the primitive lock-up.

This rare glimpse of detainees reveals poor security giving the captives full view of informers arriving to brief Sassaman's men.

Some of the soldiers here are on the edge.

Soldier: Suck my ass bitch OK? Say OK. Stick my foot in your ass that's what I want to do.

That was a soldier addressing a detainee.

Another told us he wanted the prisoners to try to escape so he could shoot them.

Sassaman acknowledged detainee security was inadequate. But he is acutely aware of the stress on his men.

Sassaman: It is very hard being away. My son has lived almost two years without his father. My daughter misses her dad. And then my wife -- we're probably going to start over with some dates getting to know each other.

Time to reflect though is rare.

The sun is going down, but it's far from the end of Sassaman's 20-hour day.

(Handing candy to children in hospital)

A visit to Balad hospital. This one bringing him some joy. The skeptic in me asks what good can handing out candy in a hospital do. But as I watch, undoubtedly hearts are being won.

Sassaman: When you invest a year of life, when you've had a couple of your soldiers die on this soil, we have paid a high price. The challenge here is it's not going to look like a democracy in the States or in Europe. I mean you've got some serious religious relationships and ties and foundations. And then you've got some serious tribal lines that run very deep. The final solution is Iraqis making those decisions for Iraqis. We just have to set the conditions, so that they can have long-term security and peace.


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