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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Kuwait Officials: Warheads Conventional

Aired March 20, 2003 - 04:00   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And we have just got in confirmation from Kuwait officials that the missiles that were fired were conventional, i.e. not chemical. That's obviously also information we had heard from Sanjay Gupta, who had got the all clear, and we are going to go to him live, right now, in northern Kuwait -- Sanjay.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, after I left you as well, we saw a helicopter with a red cross take off from just 100 meters or so from where we are. It appeared to be a medevac helicopter. It appeared to be heading in the northwesterly direction for us.

Again, we are in the northern desert of Kuwait. This was heading in a northwestern direction, appeared to be heading towards the border. Again, a medevac helicopter, from the looks of it. It has not returned yet.

Shortly before that helicopter took off, a Marine did come by and confirm that -- quote -- "hits had been taken." He would not elaborate on exactly what "hits" meant, as in whether or not possibly these missiles landed just in the middle of the desert or, in fact, there may be casualties involved. He could not confirm that, but a medevac helicopter took off just moments after that -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. We will obviously be following this story with you, Sanjay. Keep our eyes open and we'll come back to you shortly.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, it is 4:00 A.M. on the East Coast and already, just a little after noon in Baghdad.

Here now are the top news at this hour.

More than 40 cruise missiles were launched at Iraq's capitol city and a second target near the city in an attack aimed at President Saddam Hussein this morning. Pentagon officials called it a decapitation strike.

But Saddam Hussein apparently escaped injury. He appeared on Iraqi television about 3 hours after the missile and bomb strike and made a point of mentioning Thursday's date. The Iraqi leader condemned the U.S.-led attack and pledged to confront what he called criminal Zionists.

President Bush went on U.S. television shortly after the attack on Baghdad. He said the campaign against Iraq would not involve half- measures and would end in victory. The president also had encouraging words for U.S. troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To all the men and women of the United States armed forces now in the Middle East, the peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you. That trust is well placed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: In another war zone, more than 1,000 U.S. troops have raided an area in southeastern Afghanistan. The target: members of al Qaeda.

Military officials say Operation Valiant Strike began with an air assault near Kandahar after radio transmissions were detected coming from caves in the area. No word yet on the success of that operation.

COOPER: As we said, it is about 4:05 here on the East Coast, about five minutes past noon in Baghdad, and that is where we go at this hour, to Rym Brahimi, standing by, live -- Rym.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, as you mentioned, it's coming up to a little after noon here in Baghdad.

Very, very quiet streets still here in the Iraqi capitol after this morning of first air strikes -- of air strikes that the United States had been threatening for some time now. Well, that happened just before sunrise, at about 5:30 A.M. here.

There were several antiaircraft -- the sound of several rounds of antiaircraft fired. There was -- we could see orange tracer fire at one point. Of course, there were air raid sirens, and then a couple of times there was an air raid siren and a couple of hours later the all clear sign, and then again a new air raid siren and an all clear signal a couple of hours later.

Now it seems now things have calmed, but not business as usually, definitely, Anderson. Nobody is really venturing out in the streets here in Baghdad. Very few people, very cars. This time of day would be total madness in terms of traffic on a normal day. Well, that's not happening today.

And also -- also, Anderson, we are hearing, at the hotel, for instance, a lot of Iraqis who work here did not even show up to work. So people are probably doing what we understand many of them have been told to do, which is just stay at home the minute that starts -- Anderson.

COOPER: You know, Rym, a couple of hours -- I believe 3 hours after we saw those first attacks, we saw Saddam Hussein on Iraqi state run television on a taped broadcast.

You have covered this region, you have covered Saddam Hussein for so long now, I was interested to hear from you what you saw in that broadcast. The Saddam Hussein that presented himself to the Iraqi people at that hour, was it a different looking Saddam Hussein than you had seen previously? Was the message any different? Did he appear different?

BRAHIMI: He appeared maybe a little more strained than he has. Interestingly enough, in the past week or so, we've been seeing him on a regular basis. He's been shown on Iraqi TV, meeting with military commanders, meeting with members of the ruling Baath Party, members of the leadership of the party or his ministers. And always we've seen him very relaxed, a little bit almost laid back, smoking a cigar.

It's only been in the past 24 hours that we've seen him wearing his military uniform. On this speech he seemed a little more strained, clearly making a point that today was the 20th of March, 2003, a way of saying I am still here. A way of maybe putting a date on his speech to say I'm still here after the strike.

That's probably also after there were rumors that his Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz had left the country or been killed. Well, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz came out at the Ministry of Information and spoke to reporters very soon after again, to allay those rumors, and there will be a lot of rumors coming out that the leadership here will try to allay.

Now, the president also seemed to be addressing not only his own constituency, not only -- it wasn't only for internal consumption. His address was also for a worldwide audience, trying in a way to portray this conflict as a battle waged by the United States, not only against Arabs and Muslims but also against what he called the rest of humanity -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Rym Brahimi, in Baghdad, thanks -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, we're going to go to Karl Penhaul now. He is with the attack helicopter regiment which is in Kuwait. He's going to tell us what is happening where he is.

Hello to you -- Karl.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm here in the northern Kuwaiti desert, not far from the border with Iraq, continuing preparations here today.

Down on the flight line, maintenance crews, ammunition crews, are loading up the Apache attack helicopters with 30 millimeter rounds for the cannon, with Hellfire missiles, and with rockets.

As you might imagine, the soldiers down there are getting to grips with painting messages, personalized messages, on the noses of some of these missiles. Some of them are simply just signed with their name or their family name, others sending ironic messages to Saddam Hussein, some of them simply put a hasp (ph) on the nosecone, saying "Love to Saddam," and then I saw another that says "Hi from all my boys in Texas."

Certainly the mood down on the flight line is that the time is approaching for these helicopters and these crews are certainly wanting to send their message to the Iraqi regime.

COLLINS: Karl, we have looked a little bit at this Apache helicopter. We of course are looking right now at some of the air-to- ground missiles that it can carry, the Hellfire missiles.

But going back to the actual aircraft, the Apache, we're telling people and we're showing them that it is designed for all-weather around-the-clock operations, and of course one of those concerns has been these sandstorms.

Today, how are things looking? And what are the soldiers thinking about flying today?

PENHAUL: Well, the weather is very clear here today. There is no (AUDIO GAP) scrapping missions and keeping the helicopters turning over. Yesterday the helicopters were (AUDIO GAP) but that's not because they can't fly in sandstorms and high winds, simply it was a precautionary measure to reduce the maintenance needs for these craft.

Certainly the later model Apaches, the so-called Long Bows, are very high tech machines (AUDIO GAP) targeting equipment, and these fly day or night and almost in any weather at all, the commanders here tell me.

COLLINS: All right, Karl Penhaul, thank you so much. Reporting to us from Kuwait today, thank you.

COOPER: And what so many of the military commanders say about those Apache helicopters is that while they are an awesome fighting machine, the distance from Kuwait to Baghdad, I think it's some 403 miles or so, longer than they would like it to be to operate those Apaches efficiently, so they're going to have to establish forward command centers, basically, that will become virtually gas stations, refueling centers, for those Apaches. And that is probably going to be very early on in this campaign, when it gets underway.

You're going to see establishing those forward bases and perhaps even special forces already on the ground looking for territory that would be a good forward command post.

COLLINS: And it would be safe, because, of course, anytime you come down to refuel, you know, you become more vulnerable, so that's something they'll really have think hard about, I'm sure.

COOPER: Yes, absolutely.

So that was Karl Penhaul with V Corp. We're going to go now to Bill Hemmer, who has been in Kuwait City for quite some time now and he joins us live -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Anderson, thanks.

Just to follow-up on a couple of things you're reporting about no gas attached to those missiles, incoming, we have confirmed through the Kuwaiti officials that two missiles did land in the northern Kuwaiti desert just west and north of Kuwait City. Also, just to firm that up more, Kuwait state television also reporting now no unconventional material attached on board these two missiles.

We want to show you some videotape we just got in now. This is from the main headquarters, where British soldiers are now stationed in northern Kuwait. Upwards of 20,000 to 25,000 soldiers now on the ground here by the British.

We can see on this videotape soldiers putting on their gas masks, putting on their chemical suits. One soldier says this was the first real one, indicating that it was not a practice, it was not a drill. They say they heard bangs and everyone masked-up.

Now they're have been on several occasions over the past two months a number of false alarms that have been reported throughout these various military camps, but this clearly was an incoming missile fired from the north, going over the heads of the U.S. and British soldiers stationed out there in the Kuwaiti desert, and at this point we have no word, no indication, no word of casualties, whether that be fatalities or injuries.

We're also hearing that the missiles landed in a town called Jahrah. That's J-A-H-R-A-H, in an area called Mutlaa, M-U-T-L-A-A. The reason I point that out is because along this desert strip, Highway 80, if you go back to the Persian Gulf War, in January of 1991 into February, Highway 80 has come to be known as the highway of death.

When the Iraqi army started their retreat, this is where a number of Iraqi soldiers lost their lives in that retreat, coming under heavy helicopter and jet attack, fighter jet attack, by U.S. and coalition led forces. Thousands of Iraqis lost their lives along Highway 80. It is the main thoroughfare that runs north right up to the Iraqi border.

I can tell you from being out there over the past two months, there is virtually nothing out there. It is loaded with desert sand and Highway 80 is about the only thing you will see. That was up until about three months ago.

When the military, the U.S. military, started to build up their forces here in Kuwait, they took essentially camel country and the northern third of Kuwait, that was essentially given to them by this country to setup, to drill, to setup their tent cities, and over a three-month process, it was so impressive to see the military move half-way around the world, take this virtual desert camel country and within two weeks move 8,000, 10,000, 12,000 soldiers and marines into these various tent cities.

We are told that within hours the very tent cities can be packed up and moved and we have indications that many of them already have, as of 48 hours ago.

I want to get you back out to the Persian Gulf and Frank Buckley, again on board by way of videophone, on the USS Constellation. Frank, what's the update from there?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, they have the information and will have some sound, specifically from Rear Admiral Barry Costello on the air strikes that took place off the USS Constellation.

24 air strikes coming from the constellation during the past 24 hours. We are told by Rear Admiral Costello that these are during the transition period between OSW and the so-called shock-and-awe air campaign that is expected to come at some point.

These 24 air strikes targeted military installations, communications facilities and air defense sites, air defense sites specifically near Basra.

This air campaign also including the dropping of 2-1/2 million leaflets.

Here's Rear Admiral Barry Costello as he talked to some reporters earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADM. BARRY COSTELLO, U.S. NAVY: Tomahawk strikes came from six different ships and those six ships are the Cook, the Cowpens, the Cheyenne, the Milieus, the Bunker Hill and the Montpellier.

Those are the names of the ships. I cannot go into the specific number of missiles that they fired nor their exact locations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCKLEY: Rear Admiral Barry Costello is the Constellation battle group commander. He was describing just now the six U.S. Navy vessels that were involved in the Tomahawk strikes against Iraq. Two of those were cruisers, the Cowpens and the Bunker Hill. The destroyers involved were the Milieus and the Donald Cook, and there were two submarines involved as well, Los Angeles-class attack submarines the Montpellier and the Cheyenne.

Two EA-6B aircraft also left from the USS Constellation in support of those F117 stealth aircraft that deployed the Bunker-buster bombs against Iraq. Those two EA-6B aircraft from the Constellation are the radar-jamming aircraft.

We've talked to some of their crewmembers over the past couple of weeks and they tell us that their job in any operation involving strike fighters is to open a window, if you will, to allow the strike fighters in. They jam the radar, the strike fighters go in, the strike fighters do their job, they come back out, and then they close the window, is how they put it.

The ec-mo (ph) that I talked to, this is an electronic countermeasures officer, said that the EA-6B, would actually see in some cases simply a white screen, that it would look almost like a black-and-white television, that it would go to fuzz, so that it was -- any targets that might be on there, that is any strike aircraft, would simply disappear when those strike aircraft were moving in. That's what they mean by this idea of opening a window and closing a window for the strike aircraft.

One other thing, with regard to the dropping of leaflets, 2-1/2 million leaflets dropped just within the last 24 hours in Iraq, and this is one of them. This is showing an ominous photo here with people wearing gas masks. You can see an explosion. This has a message on it that translated says essentially do not use weapons of mass destruction, that if you use weapons of mass destruction, if you are an Iraqi military person, you will face serious retribution, and also that unit commanders who use weapons of mass destruction will be held accountable following any conflict in Iraq -- Bill.

COOPER: Thanks, Frank, very much.

We have a statement that was made by Geoff Hoon, the British defense secretary, shortly -- a little while ago, I'm told, outside 10 Downing Street. Let's show that statement now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEOFFREY HOON, BRITISH SECY. OF DEFENSE: We were fully informed and indeed fully involved in this operation. I was warned yesterday of the information and certainly this did not come as a surprise at all.

QUESTION: Was this attack trying to get Saddam?

HOON: This attack was part of our effort to deal with what is a dispersed command and control in Iraq. Everyone knows that the Iraqi leadership are terrified of their own people, which is why they hide themselves away in a series of different bunkers across the country. And this was part of an effort to deal with part of the leadership hiding away in those bunkers.

QUESTION: It wasn't the big attack that everyone was expecting.

HOON: Well, we will have to take the opportunities as they arise to deal with that dispersed leadership, but I assure you that there will be further operations in due course.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: That was the British defense secretary.

You're looking at a live picture, where the call to prayer is being sounded at Baghdad at this hour. Let's listen in.

It is 12:20 in Baghdad in the afternoon, roughly, let's see, about 6-1/2 hours or so after 42 cruise missiles were launched by a variety of U.S. carriers as well as some munitions from the F117 stealth. That occurred, explosions rocked Baghdad just before daybreak. Antiaircraft gunfire erupted throughout the city. The Pentagon and the White House say that was a decapitation strike, an attempt targeting Saddam Hussein directly, targeting some of his leadership.

Quite a different scene right now in Baghdad.

COLLINS: I wonder if that call to prayer is any different than what it has been in days past and several times each day that we hear that, after what has happened.

All right, moving on now, in his address last night, President Bush accused President Saddam Hussein of committing an atrocity by putting civilians in harm's way as war begins.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: 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)

COLLINS: About 3 hours after a barrage of U.S. cruise missiles attempted to decapitate the Iraqi leadership, Saddam Hussein appeared on Iraqi TV, forecasting failure for the American-led attack on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SADDAM HUSSEIN, IRAQI PRESIDENT: The criminal junior Bush committed, he and his aides, his crime that he was threatening Iraq with, and humanity as well. His criminal act comes from -- and acts of those who help him and his followers. This is added to the series of their shameful crimes against Iraq and humanity. This is a start for other additional crimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: The address was on videotape. Although Saddam Hussein is known to have look-alikes they never speak, and it is presumed this was in fact the Iraqi leader.

COOPER: We should point out that was a taped message, not a live recording, perhaps significant. It occurred some 3 hours after that cruise missile strike. Apparently, for all we know, they did not have live capabilities at that time. So a taped message from Saddam Hussein.

We're going to go to the White House now. Chris Burns, who has been standing by for us for quite some time -- actually, no, I'm sorry. We're going to go to Sanjay Gupta, who has been reporting for us in the last hour about the missile attack on Kuwait.

Dr. Gupta, take it away, in northern Kuwait. GUPTA: About an hour and 45 minutes ago, so, now, about 10:30 in the morning, local time, we're all walking around this camp here, Camp Iwo Jima, it's in the northern desert of Kuwait, when we saw something and heard something. We saw something moving very quickly. It appeared to be traveling north to south about 300 feet off the deck, and people who saw it best described it as being green with three yellow stripes, again heading north to south, very loud, very quickly. It did not appear to be mortar but rather appeared to be something self-propelled, a missile perhaps, or a drone. We could not tell at that time.

Shortly after that, we heard "bunker, bunker, bunker, masks, masks, masks" which essentially is the alarm to get all the marines to get their gas masks on and to get into the bunkers, which they did very quickly. They were there for about 45 minutes, in all of their gear, all of the gas masks.

During that time, we heard another alarm, "missiles inbound, missiles inbound." As you can see there, just how it looks there, people basically running into the bunkers, the missiles inbound alarm came as well.

Shortly after that, about 45 minutes into that, we heard that it was OK to take off our gas masks, and 15 minutes after that we were given the all-clear.

Now, Anderson, in the interim a marine did come by and tell us that, quote, "hits had been confirmed; hits had been confirmed." He could not elaborate on what "hits" had meant.

After that, we were able to confirm that more than one missile had been launched. That's all we could hear. More than one missile had been launched and appeared to land somewhere south of us, between us and Kuwait City, somewhere in the northern part of Kuwait. That is what we could confirm at this point.

We've also seen a -- what appeared to be a medevac helicopter actually take off from here, just several hundred meters away from where we are now. That helicopter took off and traveled in a northwesterly direction. It has not returned as of yet -- Anderson.

COOPER: Sanjay, so many journalists are embedded this go-around, it is really unprecedented, and lots of the reasoning behind that is to give a sense of what it is really like on the battlefield.

I'm curious to know, as you're sitting there for 45 minutes in a dugout bunker with the gas mask on and with this protective clothing on, what is it like? What are you going through? What thoughts go through your mind? We've heard it's incredibly hot. We've head it's incredibly uncomfortable. But what is it like not knowing if the air outside will kill you?

GUPTA: Yes, no question, that's a very good question, Anderson, and let me say a couple of things.

First of all, there have been a lot of drills for this sort of thing. People have drilled on this several times in the past, but this was the first real thing, the first time that there was an actual "bunker, bunker, bunker" call and it was the real deal. So when these marines were moving, they were moving for real this time.

A couple of observations. First of all, it was very quiet in there. In part, that's because everyone had their gas masks on. Very hard to speak about that -- speak when you actually have that mask on. It was also very hot. A lot of these marines wearing full gear. You can see I have a tee-shirt on, but most of the marines are actually wearing jackets, which is obviously very warm.

People were waiting for the all-clear. People were talking about where these missiles likely came from, and it was a very anticipatory sort of mood, very expectant.

But, you know, we spent a lot of this morning, Anderson, talking to marines, trying to figure out what their mood was after they heard about the missiles being launched last night. The mood was definitely optimistic in the sense that this may be a step towards going home. That's what I heard more than anything else, that this whole thing, they've been waiting so long for anything to happen. It's happening. And I think most of them welcome that now at this point after having spent so many months here in the desert.

Anderson, let me also just confirm -- someone just passed me a note saying -- confirming that no injuries at this point, no injuries from those missiles that we had previously described. No injuries confirmed.

COOPER: That is a good confirmation to receive. You know, as you said, a marine earlier had come up to you and said confirmed hits. Clearly, no information then about injuries, so you're saying no injuries are being reported at this time.

Dr. Gupta, Sanjay Gupta, thanks very much -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. We're going to go to Washington now where we have CNN's Chris Burns standing by and, Chris, before we go to you, I'd like to tell you we have some new Defense Department video that has just been released of the cruise missiles that, we have not seen this before, that were launched off of the USS Bunker Hill.

And you can see that now, on the screen. The video is not very long, but as we said this has not yet been seen, and you can see very well there the cruise missiles being launched right off of that, again, the USS Bunker Hill.

Chris, what can you tell us from Washington there?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, those cruise missiles you've been watching were not scripted in the first place. They were the result of meetings during the day.

President Bush beginning this week having had two war planning meetings, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, with the usual suspects, the members of the National Security Council, including George Tenet of the CIA, and he is the one who brought that information in the afternoon meeting, that there was a -- some kind of a major leadership target to strike at.

That was revealed during that meeting. The meeting usually last only about an hour. That meeting ran into 4 hours long, President Bush deciding about mid-way through that meeting that it was time to strike, that it wasn't the shock-and-awe plan, but it was time to do this certain kind of strike at two targets with more than 40 cruise missiles.

The president then at about 7:30, the meeting broke up. He went and had dinner with the first lady and then at the same time telling his speech writer to get busy and prepare this speech, the president giving the speech about 45 minutes after the attacks began at 9:30 Eastern time.

In the president's speech, not only laying out the plan for this attack against Saddam Hussein, but also apparently trying to win over hearts and minds, keeping in mind how the U.S.-led forces will be received in the streets of Iraq once they get there and also thinking about the Arab street beyond Iraq.

Here are President Bush's words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I want Americans in all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm. A campaign on the harsh terrain in a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict, and helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment.

We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice. We have no ambition in Iraq except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNS: Keep in mind, those points very important to make in anticipation of civilian casualties, which are quite possible in any military conflict, that is something President Bush addressing in advance of that offensive -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, CNN's Chris Burns, in Washington, thank you.

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