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CNN BREAKING NEWS

More Than Forty Cruise Missiles Launched

Aired March 20, 2003 - 02:00   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Around 9:30 PM Eastern, the United States began a strategic campaign against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. More than 40 cruise missiles and F-117 stealth fighters were used in a strike of opportunity against the Iraqi leader. The strikes came from positions in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
President Bush addressed the nation at 10:15 PM Eastern time, announcing that the strike on Iraq had begun. The president said there were -- these were the opening stages of what would be a broad and concerted campaign. President Bush also said the United States would make every effort to prevent casualties among Iraqi citizens.

President Saddam Hussein appeared on Iraqi TV, this morning. In the address, he accused President Bush and his aids of crimes against Iraq. He gave today's date, Thursday, March 20, in the taped speech.

And welcome to our continuing BREAKING NEWS coverage from CNN's global headquarters in Atlanta. I'm Anderson Cooper.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Heidi Collins.

It is Thursday, March 20. 1:00 AM on the east coast. 10:00 Wednesday night on the west coast and nine in the morning in Baghdad, which is where we head, now, to our CNN's Nic Robertson, standing by with the very latest.

Good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Heidi. Well, it's somewhat quieter now than it was a few hours ago. There are a few more cars out on the road. The anti-aircraft gunfire that we heard before has subsided. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of fire that was going through the air is now gone.

The city, however, is a city that is still absolutely quiet. There are only a handful of cars around, most of them government vehicles. Streets that would normally be bustling, at this time, are quiet. The stores are closed up. There seems to be, for most people here, no reason to go out.

And certainly, hearing from President Saddam Hussein on Iraqi television that he is alive and well, that there was no indication despite the fact that U.S. forces had led a strike against him directly targeting him on intelligence information, apparently, that he is actually alive and well and calling on the people of Iraq to lift up their swords, to lift up their guns and know that they will be victorious. Also, for the first time apparently, laying out the strategy, saying he hoped that the United States would begin to feel -- would begin to realize that it was losing. That they would sink into despair. That they would realize that this was a war that they couldn't win -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Nic, I do have to tell you looking at these pictures that we're seeing live from Baghdad, here, the amount of cars and even some buses that are going, I am surprised to see any of that at all.

ROBERTSON: Indeed, it's -- Baghdad has been through this a number of times before, in 1991 and 1998. In some ways, people say, on the surface, that they've seen it before, that they can go through it again. The majority of vehicles from where I'm standing that are going by here are government cars. I can look down the river and see a number of bridges with a number of vehicles going across the bridges.

But at this time of day, normally, the bridges in the area that you're looking at would be absolutely full of traffic. It would be backed up. There are normally big traffic jams at this time of the morning. The level of traffic is much, much lower than what it would be normally.

COLLINS: All right, CNN's Nic Robertson live from Baghdad.

And we are, now, going to take it over to Kuwait. We have Wolf Blitzer standing by. We want to hear the very latest from him -- Wolf, hello.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello Heidi and Anderson. Here in Kuwait, which is obviously not all that far away from Iraq, it's a normal day, so far. There's no sign whatsoever of any serious developments unfolding in the streets of Kuwait City. It's still the morning here, but traffic is bustling. People are beginning to move about.

Up in the northern part of Kuwait, U.S. military forces, British military forces, more than 150,000 U.S. and British troops are massed along the Iraqi border. No indication they're about to move in southern Iraq from northern Kuwait. Although, they are, by all accounts, prepared to move in at a moment's notice.

The initial plan, as you well know, was to let the air strikes begin with a massive amount of air strikes for day one, day two. And only eventually, after a few days would the ground war begin.

Very much different than the Gulf War a dozen years ago, when there was almost five weeks of air attacks before U.S. and coalition ground forces moved in to liberate Kuwait, which is where I am, right now.

On the whole, though, people are watching very carefully what unfolded. This effort to supposedly decapitate the Iraqi leadership, to go after Saddam Hussein, specifically, to see if this war could be preempted, if you will. Could be stopped short by destroying the Iraqi leaderships.

Saddam Hussein appearing on Iraqi television. We don't know when that videotape was made. He did refer to March 20 in the videotape, but there were not other indications in his actual comments that would suggest that the videotape was, in fact, made after the Tomahawk cruise missiles hit those targets in and around Baghdad.

The bottom line is that no confirmation what happened, what the bomb damage assessment was from those cruise missile strikes -- Heidi.

COOPER: Actually, Wolf, it's Anderson Cooper in Atlanta. Got a question for you. What -- in Kuwait, where you are now, what is the scene? I mean, are you hearing anything on Kuwaiti television? Is -- has the mood there changed at all?

BLITZER: Well obviously, there's great concern here, but people are watching television. They know what has happened. They know precisely what viewers in the United States know. Namely, what the President of the United States said, what Saddam Hussein said on television, what some of the other top Iraqi leaders have said. They watch it very carefully. All the Kuwaiti channels, as well as Al- Jazeera, the Arabic language channel that comes out of Doha, Qatar, what they're reporting. But by and large, the Kuwaiti leadership very supportive of the Bush administration going forward with Operation -- this new operation designed to, in the words of U.S. officials, liberate Iraq.

COOPER: All right, Wolf Blitzer, live in Kuwait. Thanks very much, Wolf -- Heidi.

COLLINS: The president addressed the nation to say the strike on Iraq had begun. And that the U.S. will not accept anything short of victory.

With the latest from the White House, now, our Chris Burns joins us live. Hello, Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Heidi. The president having made this early decision. This is not the prescripted shock and awe. This is something that the president had not expected to happen, but he did get information from the CIA during his afternoon meeting on Wednesday, the war planning meeting, that there was a possibility to strike at senior leadership in Iraq. That is as far as the White House goes.

They say there was some kind of senior leadership. That this was a major leadership target that they could strike at. And that if they didn't strike soon, they would miss that opportunity.

So even though there were, perhaps, weather problems in Kuwait preventing an offensive on the ground, even though it was not immediately obvious that they would attack right away, this was taken -- this chance was taken with more than 40 cruise missiles to try to strike at leadership targets. One to try to, perhaps, cut off the head of the leadership. But also perhaps, a psychological strike at the military to show that the U.S. forces did know where some of the leadership was. Perhaps to try to damage some of the confidence within the Iraqi military before a full-scale assault would happen.

President Bush, in his speech, saying that they do intend to spare lives in this offensive and that they do -- they also attacked President Saddam Hussein and the leadership for allegedly using human shields to try to prevent some of the attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In this conflict, America faces an enemy who has no regard for conventions of war or rules of morality. Saddam Hussein has placed Iraqi troops and equipment in civilian areas attempting to use innocent men, women and children as shields for his own military. A final atrocity against his people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNS: The president, also, trying to argue his case of preemptive war, saying that, now, we should attack -- the U.S.-led forces should attack with troops instead of, later, waiting for armies of firefighters and police to address a terrorist attack inside the United States, itself -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Chris, is there any way to know, at this time -- I would imagine it might be far too early. But just to discuss for a moment, if we could, about how the CIA actually got this information. Been working on this for a very, very long time, I realize. But as far as who possibly could have given him up, we've been talking, earlier, with our security analysts about someone probably having to be very, very close to him in order to get this information.

BURNS: Obviously. Well, this is not something that could have been seen from the air from -- there's plenty of satellite surveillance and so-forth that is going on, but this is, obviously, something that had to involve some reconnaissance on the ground, contacts on the ground. The exact indications were not given to us from that meeting.

But obviously, the president getting some good, hard evidence from the CIA during that meeting that they were planning ahead of the deadline, the eight PM deadline. That they got that information and decided it was time to act before they lost that opportunity. Any further details we don't have, at this point -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, CNN's Chris Burns from the White House, thank you.

COOPER: Well, nearly 300,000 U.S. and British troops in the Gulf are awaiting word on their next move. Our Chris Plante joins us from the Pentagon. Chris, what's the latest word you're getting?

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. Well, as Chris was just saying, tonight's episode was sort of a pop-up opportunity, a target of opportunity, as the Pentagon calls it.

It wasn't -- they weren't expecting to launch the campaign this evening. In fact, all indications at the Pentagon, earlier today, were that everyone could go home and get a good night's sleep. That the main campaign would begin much later.

At the last moment, as Chris was describing, the president got some intelligence that they may have known where Saddam Hussein was. They decided to take the opportunity. Forty cruise missiles, 40 plus cruise missiles were launched from a series of ships in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. In addition to that, two F-117 fighters dropped bunker buster bombs on the locations.

You can see the cruise missiles launching from one of the ships, here. CNN had personnel aboard one of the ships, the U.S.S....

COOPER: Chris, I'm sorry to interrupt. It's Anderson in Atlanta. We're going to have to come back to you, shortly.

Right now, we have Frank Buckley on a, I believe on a phone line, on the U.S.S. Constellation. It's awful hard to get live reports, so we just want to go to him, directly.

Frank, what are you seeing and hearing?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we're getting deal of detail, now, of -- more detail than we had before from Rear Admiral Barry Costello, who is the Constellation battle group commander, about both the first strike and some of the ongoing sorties going on into Iraq.

He, now, tells us that were, in fact, six U.S. Navy vessels involved in the first strike. We have the names of the six vessels, now. They were the Cook, the Cowpens, the Cheyenne, the Milius, the Bunker Hill and the Montpelier. All of them sending Tomahawks into Iraq in this first strike.

We're also being told, now, that -- you heard Chris talking about the F-117 strikes that took place. That two EA-6B aircraft, these are the radar jamming aircraft from the U.S.S. Constellation also helped the F-117s, supported them in that mission.

I asked the Admiral why the F-117s would need that assistance, given that they have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) technology. He said, quote "You can never have enough."

Additionally, he tells us there have been 24 strike sorties into Iraq, southern, western and central Iraq during the past 24 hours. Targeted in these strikes were military installations, communication facilities and air-defense sites. Those air-defense sites near Basra. And that these occurred during, what he descried, as a transition period between Operation Southern Watch, which is what the Connie has been involved in for the past several months, and the first strikes of the war that have been planned for quite some time.

He described these strikes that have been ongoing as more in the area of prepping the battlefield. And also, reaction to SAFIRE incidents, that is surface-to-air firing incidents, of recent days.

One last bit of information. Pretty significant. The aircraft flying over Iraq have dropped, now, 2.5 million leaflets were dropped over Iraq during the past 24 hours, alone. They encourage people to surrender and to suggest that they not use weapons of mass destruction and tell them what radio stations to tune into for information from coalition forces -- Anderson.

COOPER: Frank, we have been following this story that has been circulation, now, for a couple of hours that this initial strike was obviously a decapitation attempt, an attempt to get some of the top leadership, including Saddam Hussein. A strike based on, what we believe to be, human intelligence on the ground in Baghdad.

What is interesting to note is that when the information -- when the order was given from the White House, the Tomahawk cruise missiles on some of these ships had to be recalibrated. Do you have any information on how long that took? It certainly is a sign of how far things have come from this conflict to the first Gulf War in 1991 when that, simply, would not have been possible to do in such short amount of time.

BUCKLEY: Well, in fact, I did talk to one of my colleagues who is on the Bunker Hill. The Bunker Hill sent 13 Tomahawks on this particular first strike. And this person, who's actually with another news organization, was telling me that the e-mail -- that they did have to wait for some period of time. I believe it was roughly an hour, perhaps 45 minutes, while they were retargeting. And that during that period, the officers on the bridge had to continually move the ship to keep it steady and to keep it in the proper waters. So there was a period of time when the targeting was put into place.

These new Tomahawks, compared to 1991, have GPS. They've always had the internal navigation systems. Now, they have GPS. They're supposedly even more precise than the Tomahawks that were used in Gulf War One or Desert Storm that had roughly 85 percent kill rate.

COOPER: I was, also, interested to know, you said that the EA-6B Prowler was used. I believe you said. Which is, I think, information we had not heard before.

My understanding is that's an electronic, sort of, jamming aircraft and would be used, I guess, to accompany the F-117 to sort of jam any radar, anything that might pose a threat to the F-117. Is that correct?

BUCKLEY: That's absolutely right. And the EA-6Bs, the Prowlers do, in fact, jam radar. The F-117s that went in on this first strike have stealth capabilities. So in theory at least, they shouldn't have shown up on Iraqi radar at all, but the EA-6Bs went in in support of those F-117s, jammed the radars. One of the ECMOs, as they call the electronic countermeasures officers, has told me that, in effect, what happens is that, as they're flying into a target, what they attempt to do is to jam the other person's radar and that what that person would see, in effect, is like a white fuzz. Almost like you would see on your old black and white television. The Prowlers, on this ship, describe their mission as opening a window, letting strike fighters go in to do their job and then, as they come back out, closing the window behind them. And, in this case, they did that for the F-117s.

COOPER: And, Frank, just so I'm absolutely clear, you had, also earlier in the report, said that six U.S. Navy vessels were involved in this operation, which I also think is new; previously, we had only heard about, I think, three. But the F-117s, they also were dropping Tomahawk cruise missiles, is that correct?

BUCKLEY: That part, Anderson, I don't know. I'm not sure what the F-117s were dropping. I'm not sure what the munition was for the F-117. But you're correct, the information we have, now, is six U.S. Navy vessels. Again, the Cook, the Cowpens, the Cheyenne, the Milius, the Bunker Hill and the Montpelier. A raid both in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. All involved in the first strike of Tomahawks.

COOPER: OK, Frank, I should just inform you, we're showing our viewers, right now, of the F-117A, the Nighthawk, the stealth fighter. I should point out that it's got various laser-guided bombs, GBU-27, otherwise known as bunker busters. And I think, by now, just about everyone in the United States and around the world has heard the term bunker busters. So that would seem to be what was used, we can only assume, at this point, in that preliminary strike ordered by President Bush at a meeting of his top advisers earlier. This evening -- or last evening at approximately, I believe, we are told the order was given around 6:30 PM.

Frank Buckley on the U.S.S. Constellation, thanks very much. Stay safe -- Heidi.

COLLINS: I believe that we are going to back to Baghdad, is that correct? With Nic Robertson standing by?

COOPER: Yes, we're...

COLLINS: Kevin Sites.

COOPER: OK. Actually, we're going to go to Kevin Sites, who's in northern Iraq, right now. Kevin, what are you seeing here?

KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I can hear you. We're at Chamchamal at a border post. This is free Iraq. This is Kurdistan. This is the area that the Kurds control. And right behind me in the hills behind me are the forces of Saddam Hussein. That's the area that he controls.

Now, this has been a very active area in the last couple of days. We talked to the PUK commander here. He says that, initially, there were six tanks that were up on those hills, and he says they moved back towards Kirkuk. That's the oil rich city of Kirkuk, possibly their defense.

Now, there's also been other activity. We talked to the mayor of Chamchamal (ph), which is a town of about 50,000 people. He said, yesterday about 3:00, allied fighter jets flew over the city of Kahlanjier (ph). That's about 20 kilometers from here. And they also were fired back upon with anti-aircraft fire.

Here, however, last night about 9:00 PM, there, apparently, was a Katyusha rocket attack. I'm going to interview, in a second, a local PUK commander here. But what he says is that they counted 40 Katyusha rockets fired into this region towards the town of Sadan (ph).

Now, we don't know why they were fired in there, if there was any provocation. But that's one of the activities that happened here.

Also, there's reports that Iraqi defectors came across this line, a few days ago. So this has been a very active area, so far, in the early stages of this war.

Now, what I'd like to do is talk to Ibrahim Oshid (ph). He is the PUK commander. That's the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Now, you're not going to see my translator, Mohammed (ph), off camera, but I'm going to talk to him and ask him a few questions.

Ibrahim (ph), can you tell us what happened last night at 9:00 PM, when these Katyusha rockets went off?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Last night, they were here standing and watching the Iraqi line. They hear about the Katyusha, the sound of the Katyusha rockets. They think it hit the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) region to the north of here.

SITES: Why would they fire on that particular area? Why would the Iraqis fire there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It seems that the Iraqi are afraid of being attacked by the Kurds, so they do such a thing to have the upper hand on the Kurds.

SITES: Thank you, Ibrahim (ph). It is quite an interesting day for this attack to being. We are told, today is New Years Eve for the Kurds. This is the beginning of the new year.

And also, on this day in 1991, the Peshmerga, that is the PUK forces and the KDP forces, those are the Kurdish fighters, actually took the city of Kirkuk during the Gulf War. That was in 1991. So this is kind of an ironic day for all of this to begin. Fairly symbolic.

Now, this particular border point, we expect more activity here, as I mentioned. We talked to the mayor of Chamchamal earlier. He says this town of 50,000 has emptied out. It's completely empty.

People are very concerned about chemical or biological attacks here. There were no gas masks. There's not a whole lot of protection. And this is in range of Iraqi artillery. So basically, people are afraid and have moved away from the region. We're going to keep monitoring this area. This behind me is the road to Kirkuk, so if there's a major battle going on there, as everyone has mentioned, the fight to take those oil fields, this will be the road that we can travel in on to actually see that particular battle.

Back to you.

COOPER: All right, Kevin, we have, of course, been hearing reports that the Iraqis have been trying to reinforce the area around Kirkuk protecting, perhaps, those oil fields. I've got a question for you, though, Kevin. You're in PUK territory. The organization, I think founded in 1975, and it's often considered the most western- leaning, the most friendly toward the United States in that region.

How has the mood there changed in the last eight hours or so, since word of the strike in Baghdad came? Is there a sense of things are going to happening quickly? And is there a sense of they want things to happen quickly, and they're ready to go?

SITES: Well, Anderson, these people, obviously, no friends of Saddam Hussein. They've suffered incredibly under his regime. AS you remember, the attack on Halabja with chemical weapons. Five thousand people died there. Ten to 15,000 were injured. We visited that a few days ago on the 15th anniversary of that chemical attack.

People, there, across the board, are going to be happy to see Saddam Hussein go, if that's what happens in this particular event. They're anxious for this to move on.

There isn't word, however, that forces from here will actually move into Kirkuk. We talked to the local PUK commander. At this point, there has been reports that the PUK will come under U.S. command control. That their forces will operate under U.S. command. But the PUK says they haven't had contact, in this particular area, with representatives of the American forces. So it isn't clear, at this point, whether they'll advance from this area or, actually, stay put.

However, there are a lot of Kurds that have their homes in Kirkuk. They'd like to go back and reclaim them, to, in essence, go home after this fighting has cleared Kirkuk, and they can return safely to where they're from -- Anderson.

COOPER: Last question to you, Kevin, and then, I'm going to let you go. I know it's a busy time for you, right there.

You talked about gas attacks. These are people who know, first- hand, what that is like. Are the troops on the front line where you are, do they have any equipment? Do they have gas masks? Any sort of protective equipment?

SITES: No, that's the irony of it. These people have suffered so much from chemical and biological attacks. And in fact, there's probably no people that are more experienced in that. During the Irani and Iraqi war from 1980 to 88, Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons 40 times. They've experienced this. They've suffered from it. Yet, there are not supplies here. There are very few supplies.

We were in an Army surplus store, recently, in one of the markets in Tilliminia (ph). There were a handful of gas masks left. Most of them were not actually for the type of chemical or biological weapons that could occur here or are in Saddam Hussein's stockpiles.

So they have experienced those type of things. Yet, they're not protected against them -- Anderson.

COOPER: And yet, they remain on the front lines. They remain defending their side. Kevin Sites, thanks very much. Stay safe -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, Anderson, we are now going to go to Baghdad. Although, it is not Nic Robertson. We have Rym Brahimi. She is on the phone, now, for us from Baghdad.

Hello -- Rym. Rym Brahimi, can you hear me?

All right, we're going to check back with Rym in just a little bit.

Actually, we will try with Kelly McCann in D.C. in our Washington bureau there. Kelly McCann, can you hear me?

KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: I can hear you, Heidi.

COLLINS: I'm so glad that you can. Tell us what you have for us. So much going on. And specifically, you had mentioned, earlier, a few of the things about what's happened tonight. In particular, this intelligence from the CIA. And that is what I'd like to talk with you about. About the knowing where Saddam Hussein was.

MCCANN: Well, colloquially, you know, you call it wiring a country up. I mean, basically, we've been in there for some time. And that should produce quite a bit of fear in Saddam's understanding of just how capable we are.

But in order to place someone at a particular time in a particular place that wasn't expected -- this was just a regular house on a roadway. It wasn't one of the palaces. It wasn't one of the ministry of interior. It wasn't a government building.

This was, supposedly, a residence. That, obviously, indicates direct eyes on the target. Which would mean that it is not only being seen, but reported real-time back through the chain of command to inform people that there is an opportunity. And if you do a little bit of math and you think about from the time that's said until the time the hour goes by where they're reconfiguring the Tomahawks and then, impact, it's astounding.

COOPER: Kelly, this is Anderson Cooper in Atlanta.

MCCANN: Hi, Anderson. COOPER: Hey. You know, we had talked a little bit off-camera about this kind of stuff. Let's talk a little bit about, as you said, this indicates some sort of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) capability on the ground in Baghdad.

Without getting too much into specifics, how does that work? I mean, are we talking about U.S. forces on the ground? Are we talking about Iraqi nationals? Or do we know, at this point?

MCCANN: Yes to all of what you just said. I mean, the bottom line is a unique blend. It could be foreign documentables. It could be some of the 5,000 Iraqi dissidents that were trained for this that agreed to act as interpreters, translators, guides, kind of partisans, if you will. And it could also be Americans, born and bred, who have esoteric capabilities they're being brought to bear.

COOPER: Esoteric capabilities. I like that term. I've never heard that before.

You know, so much -- we learned so much in the Afghanistan conflict. There were such development in terms of U.S. Special Forces. And since that conflict, so much information has come out about the role of Special Forces played in that conflict.

Are you expecting a similar kind of learning curve on this conflict that months from now, news will filter out that Special Forces were on the ground, you know, at this time? I mean, as we speak at this moment. And perhaps, have been for several days, if not weeks, already?

MCCANN: It's doctrine. They had to have been. In other words, you wouldn't go into a battle without having eyes and ears, without having reconnaissance surveillance out, without having your OPs out, your observation posts. Without being able to confirm target lists, without being able to make sure that you can confirm routes of axis, troop movements. You absolutely have to do that.

I mean, special operations becomes a quote unquote "bastard child" only when it's not included at the very beginning of a planning process. Clearly, we've had the time to plan this out.

Now, the plan is animate because your enemy is animate. So, as they are animated on the battlefield, you adjust your plan based on what they're doing, and they do likewise. It's a very dynamic situation.

So you never, in the final regard, end up executing the plan exactly as you laid it out. Suffice it to say that they've been there for quite some time, and they've had direct and ongoing input to the planners.

COLLINS: Kelly, Heidi Collins, again. We're kind of ping- ponging back and forth here with you. I also wanted to ask you...

MCCANN: You doing that on purpose, Heidi?

COLLINS: No. Definitely not. Believe me, it's confusing enough.

I do want to ask you, though, about some of what we've been hearing and the Special Forces going after these weapons of mass destruction.

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