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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Artillery Assault In Northern Kuwait

Aired March 20, 2003 - 12:01   ET

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

PAULA ZHAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news. I am told that on the phone now I have a reporter from "The New York Times," -- couldn't even catch his name. I'll just say, hello John, and you can go ahead with your report. John, can you hear me?
JOHN KIFNER, "NEW YORK TIMES" FOREIGN REPORTER: Hello?

ZAHN: John Kifner, go ahead, please.

KIFNER: Okay, well it's just a minute or two after 8:00 here. We're with the 1st Marine Division, just short of the border. There's a tremendous artillery barrage that has just started up in the last couple of minutes. The marines had the first encounter late this afternoon. A marine patrol of light armored reconnaissance vehicles encountered a couple of Iraqi armored personnel carriers and destroyed them.

We have seen within the last two hours a wave of Apache helicopters heading north, an artillery barrage to our northeast on a sort of a major landmark hill on the border; and now, as I say, we're hearing a very, very strong artillery barrage just starting up.

ZAHN: John, are you able to tell us, in a general sense, where you are right now?

KIFNER: In a general sense I'm in Northern Kuwait, just a little bit short of the border.

ZAHN: And we understand not far over the border are three or four oil fields on fire -- the Pentagon confirming that a shade over an hour ago. Any signs of that from your vantage point?

KIFNER: Yes. We're told the whole schedule of things has been accelerated. Everything has speeded up. Because of these reports of destruction of the infrastructure, we are getting reports of the oil fields. We don't know whether it's anything else, whether it might be bridges or roads, but it's resulted in a speed-up of the schedule. The marines here that I'm with are digging -- they're digging sleeping holes and they have been told to sleep in their chemical suits with their boots on.

ZAHN: We just spoke with Bob Franken, who is at a U.S. air base some place near the Iraqi border, and he said they had been in and out of code red for the last several hours. Just describe to us what you have been through, as you've been embedded there in Northern Kuwait. KIFNER: They are really hammering. I really sort of need to get outside and look at this. They've moved 20,000 marines overnight in convoys up here into an advanced headquarters position, and they're just sort of digging in here. We've had four or five chemical drills or chemical scares -- however you want to put it -- putting on our masks, and at one point going to a full Mach-4. I think that was after the attack on Camp Commando, further south of here, which is the big marine headquarters (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

So we went to a full Mach-4, which is everything -- mask, chemical suits, these rubber boots that are extremely hard to put on over your hiking or combat boots, and gloves. As I say, there's a very, very heavy artillery barrage cranking up now.

ZAHN: All right. If you feel like you need to move for your safety, let us know. Are you able to answer one more question, John?

KIFNER: Sure.

ZAHN: You mentioned going into a full Mach 4. I know this is something the troops have trained for repeatedly. We have heard from other reporters embedded that going into code red over the last 18 hours or so is a bit of a surprise because the campaign -- they did not expect to happen for several days to come. Can you talk about timing for a second and whether there was any surprise among the troops you are embedded with?

KIFNER: Well, things have been speeding up for the last two days. These marines were scheduled for a regular -- a sort of a full dress exercise this week, right about this time. That was jumped up for a couple days, and then it was pretty clear that what was scheduled to be an exercise was going to turn out not be an exercise, but the real thing.

ZAHN: John Kifner, we're going to leave it there. I know it must be daunting to hear what you're hearing, and seeing what you're seeing. John Kifner of "The New York Times," who will be reporting from time to time for us here on CNN.

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