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Breaking News

Airstrike Against Iraq: Planes Target Command/Control/Communications Sites Near Baghdad

Aired February 16, 2001 - 4:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers who are just rejoining us here on CNN, we want to bring you up to date on the events as they've been happening and as we've been reporting throughout the afternoon.

Coming about 12:30, between 12:30 and 1:00 o'clock Eastern Time -- that would be between about 8:30 and 9 o'clock local time in Baghdad, we have reports that there were airstrikes made against targets around Baghdad. In fact, five targets in Iraq, four outside of what is called the no-fly -- the southern no-fly zone. Coming very close to Iraq -- coming very close to Baghdad, at command-and-control sites, as they've been reported to us by the U.S. State Department. Radar sites, in some cases, around Baghdad.

Now, we bear in mind that there have been regular strikes against sites within the no-fly zones of Iraq over the last few years. But in the last two years, no strikes have come as close or as hard to Baghdad.

So CNN is investing a great deal of time and additional coverage on the events of the day in Iraq. And on that note, we will be hearing reports shortly from correspondent Jane Arraf, who is in Baghdad and who was there to witness the events as they occurred late in the evening.

CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, who will report to us from London shortly, and at the U.S. State Department, CNN's Andrea Koppel.

But before we get to that, we want to explain that throughout this day here at CNN we thought that the big international news of the day would be the U.S. president, George Bush's, first trip outside of the United States as president, and that is to Mexico, where he was having meetings with the Mexican president, Vicente Fox.

He, though, in the news conference after their meeting was peppered by a number of questions regarding the airstrikes, of course, to Iraq.

Mr. Bush explaining in a very calm way today that he considered this a routine operation. And he said that he was both informed and had authorized the mission, but he made very clear that he depended on his decision-making on the commanders in the region.

Let's hear what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The commanders on the ground rightly make the decision as to how to enforce the no- fly zone. I want to assure those who don't understand U.S. policy that this is a routine mission.

Some of the missions require the commander in chief to be informed. This was such a mission. It is not the first time it has happened. Regrettably so.

We will continue to enforce the no-fly zones. The no-fly zones are enforced on a daily basis. It is -- it is a part of a strategy, and until that strategy is changed, if it is changed at all, we will continue to enforce the no-fly zone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: And on the insight from the U.S. Defense Department that led Mr. Bush to his decision to authorize this particular mission, we look to the Pentagon today, where a commander explained today why today and why specifically this action was taken.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD, JOINT STAFF DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS: The military operation was conducted because the Iraqi air defenses had been increasing both their frequency and the sophistication of their operations.

Both the frequency and the more sophisticated command and control of their operations had yielded an increased threat to our aircraft and our crews.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JIM CLANCY, CNN ANCHOR: There you heard a matter-of-fact businesslike tone coming from both the Pentagon and the U.S. president. But it was anything but business as usual for the people of Baghdad and the region around Baghdad. That city of 5 million people shook with the heaviest air raids by allied warplanes in some two years.

CNN's Jane Arraf is standing by in the Iraqi capital -- Jane.

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, President Saddam Hussein has been holding an emergency meeting of his Joint Revolutionary Command Council, and the Baath Party leadership. No statement yet from the Iraqi government, but we're expecting one shortly in the aftermath of this attack.

Iraqi television, satellite channel or the official TV, has just announced the first civilian casualty, as it calls it, of the airstrike. It says that a woman died in hospital and surgeons were unable to save her. Iraqi television earlier showed pictures of wounded civilians, women and children, that were taken to one of the main hospitals in Baghdad and treated after this airstrike that happened just about three hours ago.

No details yet from the Iraqi government on what was hit or where, and none are really expected. Those details have come from the Pentagon.

The only thing, so far, that state media has said is that the White House -- it refers to the White House as the "Black House" -- has admitted that it authorized this attack.

And civilian casualties, Iraq says, reporters other than state media reporters have not been allowed to that hospital, but this was a Friday night in Baghdad. Friday, the Muslim holy day, and the streets would have been full and were full of people tonight -- Jim.

CLANCY: Jane, as we look at these pictures, we saw there some of the wounded. I'm wondering more about how this confrontation between British and U.S. warplanes, and the Iraqi missile sites plays out on a daily basis. How much do the people of Iraq hear about this confrontation?

ARRAF: Unless they're directly under the airstrikes, which some of them unfortunately are, in the south and the north, on a regular basis, it does not have a lot of impact in Baghdad.

This is the first attack that has happened in Baghdad, just outside the no-fly zones, on the outskirts of the city. And it, as you say, has really hit home.

This evening, on what was a quiet Friday evening where people were out with their families, the air-raid sirens were heard for the first time in a long, long time here. People looked at each other and couldn't believe there were air-raid sirens. And just about 10 minutes later, I heard a loud explosion. Other people started hearing things across the city, and people realized that actually there was an attack.

The official media played military music, and security was out in force in the streets. It's now quiet, but everyone is expecting what comes next -- Jim.

CLANCY: Clearly, the leadership there in Baghdad believes the no-fly zones are illegal, that they don't exist under U.N. sanctions, but at the very least, some say that these bombing raids that go on a regular basis, in order to maintain those zones have really dropped more tonnage than many people would ever imagine.

ARRAF: That is one of the ironies of what is essentially a low- grade war that has been going on now for years. Iraq has said that it is going to continue to try to shoot down a U.S. and a British pilot to make -- to drive home its point that this is what it calls an "illegal occupation of its skies." In the last few years, it's managed to get much more political support for its opposition to the no-fly zones. The French dropped out of their participation in those zones some years ago. They're still getting support from Turkey, where some of the raids are launched in the north and from the U.S. Gulf allies.

But in terms of political support, Iraq does feel that it has gained a lot of support in the region among its Arab allies for its feeling that these no-fly zones are illegal and shouldn't exist anymore.

Lately, Iraq has been raising the tension a little bit by saying that it's going to attack Israel. President Saddam Hussein has been holding himself up as the champion of the Palestinians now that tension is increasing in the West Bank and Gaza, and there has been talk here that Iraq is expecting a military strike -- Jim.

CLANCY: Looking at the overall situation, there are two no-fly zones: one of them in the south of the country to protect the Shia Muslims, another in the north to protect the Kurds. What is the situation in both of those zones? Does Iraq, in fact, exert complete control and influence there, or is its influence, is its authority challenged?

ARRAF: A very interesting case. In 10 years after the Gulf War, one of the main aims of the Iraqi government was to stay in power, obviously, and to keep Iraq intact, something that the U.S. has said it shares. It shares the view that Iraq should remain enact, that it should not be split north and south.

In the south, there are frequent reports of unrest that are -- seem to be very quickly put down by the Iraqi military. Although Iraq's military was considerably weakened by the Gulf War, it has still managed to retain quite tight control in the south.

There are sporadic reports of unrest, but nothing so far that's seen as threatening the Iraqi leadership in Baghdad.

In the north, that has become essentially an autonomous region for the Kurds, but still to some extent under Iraqi control. There are checkpoints between Iraqi government territory and the northern territory, which is basically partitioned between two Kurdish factions. That is administered by the Kurdish factions, and there is sporadic violence there as well.

But it has essentially in the past 10 years become autonomous, although in terms of how the Kurds feel in the north and in terms of how the Iraqi government feels here, there does not seem to be any great expectation that that situation will change.

The expectation is that the north will remain and has to remain part of Iraq -- Jim.

CLANCY: All right, Jane Arraf there, reporting live. The latest from Baghdad, shaken just hours ago by U.S. and British warplanes, bombing five different targets just below or just above the 33rd parallel that marks the northern edge of the no-fly zone.

CHEN: Jim, following up on what Jane Arraf reported about what Iraqis know about the present situation and what they know about the airstrikes that came close to Baghdad earlier in the evening -- we understand a little bit more about what they know about the new U.S. president's decision-making in the course of authorizing this particular strike.

Iraqi TV, we understand, was airing earlier in the evening a report which showed the U.S. Pentagon briefing. Now, in the course of this Pentagon briefing -- we don't know how much of it appeared on Iraqi television. We can't tell you that now. But we do know in the course of that statement by the Pentagon, they referred to this as a routine mission and essentially an act of self-defense. There you see the spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense speaking with reporters earlier today.

Of course, this also was an action taken in partnership with the British, who have continued to patrol with the United States the no- fly zone in northern and southern Iraq. And on the question of the British and their stand in this particular situation, we turn to CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who reports to us from London -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joie, indeed, the British have confirmed that British warplanes took place in this strike against targets in Iraq today. And although the U.S. is calling it a coalition attack, really it's only the British that stand staunchly behind the United States both in military activity and in sanctions activity against Iraq these days.

Britain says six of its warplanes, six of its fighters took part in the attack. There was a total of 24 U.S. and British warplanes. The six planes of Britain came from a base in Kuwait, according to the Ministry of Defense. The Ministry of Defense says they've successfully hit their targets and returned to the base. However, they say that they'll have to wait until daylight before they can go back over the site and do a proper bomb-damage assessment to see just what they've struck and how effectively they truck it.

According to a Downing Street spokesman, this was they're calling a measured response, specifically targeted in response to what they're saying is increased Iraqi military activity against their planes flying and patrolling the no-fly zone.

As a way of sort of trying to demonstrate how seriously they view the situation, the British are saying that in the month of January of this year, 2000, the number of Iraqi engagement with allied aircraft exceeded the total number that happened in the year 2000. So that from the British point of view.

Now in terms of the authorization for this strike, we are told that it was the British minister of defense, Geoffry Hoon, who was in consultation with Washington who made the decisions for Britain. Obviously, Prime Minister Blair was kept informed. He is at his prime ministerial weekend residence, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), being kept informed of what's going on.

But the conversations and the consultations between Britain and the United States took place on a ministerial level from the Ministry of Defense.

Now, of course, already there has been some criticism outside of Britain. Russia has already said that they disapprove of this. In fact, they called it an illegal action. And you know, that Britain, as I said, is pretty much the only U.S. ally that can be depended on right now to continue to support the military action and the sanctions action against Iraq. This quite controversial in the allies, within the allies on how to deal with Iraq -- Joie.

CHEN: Christiane, on that particular question, on the amount of support there is in Europe for continuing the no-fly action over Iraq, you say the French, of course, dropped out earlier. But what about the general public's response to this? Is there a sense, particularly in Britain, that this is something that is effective and that Britain continues to need to be a part of?

AMANPOUR: I think the general public here in Britain is similar to the general public around the world. Many, many people see the pictures that Iraq transmits of suffering Iraqis and they don't like it. They don't like to see suffering Iraqis. So in terms of the popular sentiment, wherever you go, whether it's the Arab world or in parts of Europe, even in parts of the United States, people do tend to distinguish between the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government.

But broader than that, there is a sense amongst the powers that be in Europe that the -- these sanctions have outlived their usefulness. As you said, it's only Britain and the U.S. that patrols the no-fly zone.

There's been a fraying, more than fraying, if you like, of the sanctions regime. You've seen over the last few weeks and months an increased number of humanitarian flights that are going to Iraq from all sorts of countries, from the Arab nations, from Europe, from Russia. And there's a general sort of wearing-down of what the coalition had in the years immediately after the Gulf War.

It's interesting, because the new U.S. administration has been saying that they want to re-energize the sanctions policy. But it's going to be exceptionally tough for them to do that given that there is no, virtually no support in the rest of the world for these sanctions. And one of the things that they've hope be able to do is try to take evidence, for instance, to the neighbors of Iraq, the Arab neighbors, and see if they can convince the Arab neighbors that Iraq actually poses a threat to them, that the U.S. and Britain is keeping them safe, and for them to come back on board.

But this is obviously something that the Clinton administration tried as well and it didn't particularly make a big impression on the Arab leaders.

So how the U.S. plans to do what it stated, re-energize the sanctions regime, is going to be interesting to follow. CHEN: CNN's Christiane Amanpour reporting to us from London. And then we want to correct here a statement we made going into Christiane's report that had to do with some of the video that you were seeing.

It was not video taken from Iraqi TV, we're now told. It was not Iraqi TV that showed the Pentagon statement, but a 24-hour Arabic channel, news channel that is available in the Arab world, not based in Iraq, that did show some of the Pentagon report -- Jim.

CLANCY: Yeah, Al Jazir (ph), a well-known source in the Middle East.

We're going to take a short break here, but we're going to be back. We'll talk with Andrea Koppel at the Pentagon, get the latest from there. We want to remind you -- at the State Department, rather. We want to remind you before we go that if you go to our Web site, cnn.com, you can get information, detailed information about the airstrikes that were carried out this day as well as maps and other background information about the 10 years of confrontation and conflict in the Persian Gulf.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CLANCY: Bringing you up to date now on the major story that we are following: Baghdad is announcing that at least one female civilian was killed, other civilians, Iraq says, were injured when U.S. and British warplanes launched airstrikes against airstrikes against five targets both north and south of Baghdad, the warplanes approaching from the south, below the 33rd parallel that marks the northern edge of the no-fly zone there, striking at least four targets that were inside the -- or rather outside the no-fly zone, targets very close to Baghdad. In fact, the residents of Baghdad were rattled by the sound of air-raid sirens, anti-aircraft firing and the shuttering of heavy munitions exploding on their targets.

But we are told it was not a crowded civilian area where these airstrikes took place, but rather Iraqi radar and control stations, command-and-control stations that were posing an increased threat to allied -- meaning British and U.S. -- pilots who patrol the no-fly zone in southern Iraq.

Let's get the latest now from the U.S. State Department, CNN's Andrea Koppel standing by there live -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, earlier today, members of the Bush administration here at the State Department met with members of the Iraqi opposition. As you know, the Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell has been trying to review the U.S. -- existing U.S. policy toward Iraq. Secretary Powell himself hoping to re-energize sanctions against Iraq. He'll be traveling to the Middle East later this month. In fact, at the end of next week meeting with people throughout the Arab world as well as with Israel and Palestinians.

Now what the Bush administration really wants to do here, Jim, is to do a better PR job of selling exactly what existing U.N. sanctions are. They are not, according to the Bush administration, meant to make the Iraqi people suffer. They are meant to keep Saddam Hussein from reconstituting, from rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction.

In fact, there's a problem called oil-for-food begun by the Clinton administration, which lets Iraq sell as much oil as it wants and can buy then humanitarian aid -- food, medical supplies and what- not.

And what the Iraqi regime, what Saddam Hussein is so good at are putting pictures like what we just saw on television, of wounded Iraqis, Iraqis suffering in hospital beds, and basically pitching not only to the United States and people in the Western world, but really pitching to the Arab world, hitting home at just how much the Iraqi people are suffering.

And in fact, when Secretary Powell is out in the region next -- later this month, he will be meeting with Jordanian officials, with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egyptian officials, and trying to rebuild the coalition that we heard Christiane mention just a few moments ago, has been weakened over the last 10 years. He'll be meeting with them, and what he will hear, Jim, from many of these Arab leaders is that they understand, they appreciate the fact that Saddam Hussein is a potential threat to the region if he were to rebuild his weapons of mass destruction, but that they are under pressure. They are under pressure from their own people who see those pictures on the television, who've been watching for the last five months as the Palestinian Intifada goes on, and are really under pressure to lift the sanctions against Iraq -- Jim.

CLANCY: Andrea, there's no doubt about it. Within the Bush --- this Bush administration, there's no one perhaps that better understands the Iraqi military and the challenge to the United States in all of this than Colin Powell. Has he had anything directly to say? We haven't heard anything yet.

KOPPEL: Not just yet. Our understanding, of course, he's with President Bush in Mexico for -- for that state visit there. And he -- we've heard from President Bush, but we have as yet to hear from Secretary Powell. But this really is for Secretary Powell an issue that's near and dear to his heart. As you know, Jim, he was the top U.S. military officer 10 years ago during the Gulf War -- Jim.

CLANCY: All right, Andrea Koppel, reporting to us there from the U.S. State Department -- Joie.

CHEN: Jim, a little bit more analysis on the military strike and the situation as seen through a retired Air Force general's eyes of the United States, Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, joining us on the telephone line.

General, can you talk to us a little bit -- I'm sure you've been watching throughout the afternoon and heard some of the DOD statements and so forth. Can you talk to us a little bit about the weaponry and the point of the attacks, the strikes in Iraq today? RETIRED LIEUTENANT GENERAL THOMAS MCINERNEY, USAF: Yes, Joie, they use standoff weapons, and probably some more high-speed anti- radiation missiles. They also use what we call AGM-130s and the Navy Slams that are electro-optical and IR. Remember, this was a night strike. Normally, most of the action over there is in the daytime in the north and the south no-fly zones.

So it was probably somewhere between 50 and 60 airplanes total, 24 strike airplanes, and they went specifically against the radar sites and other command-and-control that had been using more networking, for a common word, and sophistication to launch the missiles -- the SA-6 is a more sophisticated missile -- at our airplanes.

CHEN: General, can you explain to us for those of us civilians what stand-off weaponry means? Essentially, you're protecting your forces better, even though they are launching fairly precise attacks.

MCINERNEY: Yes, they're launching them somewhere from 20 to 30 or 40 even 50 miles away from the target area. So -- and they all stay south of the 33rd parallels. And so it gives them more survivability. It doesn't put them in as high a threat an area.

CHEN: Is it -- is there some reason why they couldn't just fly over the area that isn't in the no-fly zone?

MCINERNEY: Well, they physically could have done that. They could have used laser bombs if they wanted, which are even more accurate. But they elected for political reasons I think to stay south of the 33rd, but they could easily have done that if they wanted. It would have been more risk, though.

CHEN: All right, Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney on the telephone line with us. He's retired from the U.S. Air Force with his perspective on the strikes against Iraq -- Jim.

CLANCY: All right, the Iraqi government has some more to say in all of this. Let's go now live to Baghdad and CNN's Jane Arraf -- Jane.

ARRAF: Jim, the Iraqi government has just released a statement from President Saddam Hussein's meeting with the Revolutionary Command Council. In it, he condemns the attack and says it is not just an attack by the United States, but in fact what he calls a joint attack with the United States and Israel, which Iraq refers to as the Zionist entity.

He says that if anyone needed proof that America is aligned with the Zionist entity, as they call it, then this was it. And he says that this is just a prelude to what they expect will be a greater attack from Israel on the Arab nations and the Palestinians -- Jim.

CLANCY: All right, Jane Arraf continuing to cover the situation there live from Baghdad, the Iraqi capital that was shaken this day as heavy weapons fell, standoff attack weapons fell on suspected radar sites in Iraq. CHEN: And CNN has continued to follow this story since we have gotten it in this afternoon. We will continue to follow up as we learn more developments. We're going to turn it over to CNN's Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff in the next hour or so, that they can continue to follow the story. Stay with CNN for all the latest developments.

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