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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Strike on Iraq: U.S. Goes to War

Aired March 20, 2003 - 23:30   ET

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

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: So, we just, we welcome those folks at Fort Campbell.
RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, if I could jump in?

BROWN: Please.

CHILCOTE: Aaron, I just want to let you know that the troops here are just as happy to be seen as their families are to see them. I tell you, when these guys knew we're from CNN, when they found that out and that this is going back to the States. Almost all of them want to be on camera. They want to show their families back home that they're all right. So, it's a mutual thing here.

BROWN: Well, and we don't ever want to say anything that detracts from the seriousness of the business, but it is a wonderful little moment, isn't it? To see the smiling faces for all those families back in Kentucky and all over the country, certainly, represented by the 101st Airborne. This is a -- General, you know this stuff far better than I do this is a legendary and top unit of men, isn't it?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It is a great unit. Look at those faces. You look at the men. You look at the diversity there. That's America. That's what we stand for. And we're a great country because we embody the motto of these units. We believe in every person in America. And that's what these leaders believe in. They want every soldier to be all that he or she can be. And they work hard to make it happen. And that is what gives us this great force.

BROWN: They are, in perhaps hours, perhaps longer, we don't know, and perhaps wouldn't say if we did, they are going to head out. But for this moment they are being seen back home, back at their home base at Fort Campbell in Kentucky back home, around the world, where ever they are from. Perhaps that soldier's family and they probably haven't seen that young man in quite some time. It must feel great to see him and we hope they're watching.

David Mattingly, is it quite tense at the base? Is there, obviously, as this thing has rolled out in this kind of unusual way, what's it been like there? You've been there covering it now for a day?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the families have been preparing emotionally for this ever since the soldiers deployed back in February. And the anxiety level has been going up tangibly in the last couple of days. They know that the time is coming when their loved ones will be going into this fight.

And there is no war plan drawn up for the U.S. right now that does not include the 101st. So, they knew it was inevitable they would be seeing some action there. Now that it is happening, they are finally ready, waiting to see what their loved ones will be doing there.

CLARK: That's a hot breakfast you're watching right there.

BROWN: I was just thinking the same thing.

CLARK: If they sat on it or put it under their shirt for the night, otherwise there it is in that piece of plastic.

BROWN: I was just thinking the same thing. That's their breakfast. They were opening up MREs and I'm sure they're delicious. Because they are delicious, right?

CLARK: Well, we've done a pretty good job on them, but...

BROWN: You were eating officers' food.

CLARK: Listen, we all ate the same food. It's the United States Army. And there is not officers' food out there. All of our officers are eating just like these guys are. Because that's the mission and that's what we're out there engaged in.

BROWN: Then again, not to get too carried away with the moment and we have all gone through these difficult months of debate, sometimes angry debate, as I look through the e-mails, lately. Sometimes angry debate over whether the war should be fought. And whether everything that was done should have been done and was done. And all of the rest of it, and all of that still goes on, in our view at least, that is all well and good. That is also part of what the country is.

But you can't look at these faces and these men and not be proud of what they are doing. They believe in what they are doing and hopefully all of us -- all of us understand that whatever our feelings are, one way or another about the war itself, it has nothing to do with that kids right there, and the kid next to him. He's doing his job. He was asked by his commander in chief to do a job and that's what he's doing and enough about that.

CLARK: You're exactly right, Aaron. These guys are America's first team. They are on the varsity. They may have not have been an all-state football player, some of them probably were, but they are all-American soldiers and future leaders of this country. Right out there now, right now, serving their country. And they're proud. And they have a right to be. And we're proud of them.

BROWN: Precisely. We are proud of them and there is now way for us not to feel the anxiety of what they are about to -- perhaps what they are about to encounter. Because in the lower part of your screen, that shot, that shot right there, that is the 7th Cavalry, making its way there. On the move again, it looks like to me. They stopped down; they refueled their helicopters; they stretched their legs; they perhaps grabbed one of those fine MREs and they are heading to Baghdad, because that's how you get home.

CLARK: And they are moving.

BROWN: They are moving. They are moving about 40 an hour or so. They have been moving for probably now, four and a half, five hours, probably a little more than that.

Those of you who might have just joined us, mostly they have moved unimpeded. Again, these are live pictures. Again, we apologize to those who have been with us for a long time, for repeating ourselves. Those of you who have just joined us these are live pictures. This is, no matter how you slice this thing, this is an extraordinary picture of a moment in a war.

This is not the kind of thing that has ever happened before. The last time American reporters had really good access to American troops was Vietnam and by and large it would be two days before stories got back to the United States and got on the air. Those of us who have been in this business for a while would sit around and talk about that someday, maybe, there would be a war that would be broadcast live and now we find ourselves, literally, in the moment.

I mean, at 11:36:38, we are in the moment, where we are able to broadcast these men moving across the desert, engaged in a war, live. There are a lot of questions for us; that we have thought about, if combat were to start what would we show, what wouldn't we show. And we're very conservative in our decisions on that I will tell you now. That you're not going to see that sort of thing unfold live, by and large, that is not the business we're in.

But the technology is available and remarkable and it is hard not to marvel at what we are seeing, 7,000 or so miles away.

CLARK: And, Aaron, as you said, this is historic. We have never done this before. And you know, the men and women in these Army units, they really appreciate the fact that the media is in there with them.

I know the generals have concerns and people always worry, what if you give away the plan of the operation. But the men and women in the military, especially in these army units, nobody sees them. And after the Gulf War, of course, nobody saw what the United States Army had done at the Gulf War.

As I went through the last nine years of my career, and talked to people who had fought in there and we went over it again and again, we read the stories. We did the (INAUDIBLE) reviews that came out. There were remarkable things that happened that the American people should have understood. But we didn't have any way of recording the story.

BROWN: Yes.

CLARK: Now we do. And I think it is a great thing for the American people to have an appreciation for what the men and women here are doing.

BROWN: Well, obviously, I've been a reporter since I was 18 years old. I couldn't agree more. I know the tension that sometimes exists, but just to underscore the point you made. I've reported a number of stories on military matters over the years and was four weeks ago, I guess now, in Kuwait. And we were out in the desert, one of these forward bases. And I can't -- I don't recall a time in my life when I have been so warmly welcomed into a situation.

People would come up and if you get back, and you can say hi, to -- please do. And it is really nice. And they were so appreciative of the opportunity because they are proud of what they do. They believe in what they do. They believe in each other and they believe in their country. And you know, God bless them. This is tough work they're undertaking.

CLARK: It really is. And you know, I think one of the things that we've really discovered now, we've gotten past the Vietnam media allergy that the United States armed forces developed. And I think there is a healthy distance between the institutions of government, and the so-called Fourth Estate. And there has to be.

But on the other hand, there is also a mutual respect in there. And I think that's where we are today. And I think that is a very healthy outcome.

BROWN: And I think that, again, I don't really want to spend our night talking about us here, about the press and the military and that relationship, because it is going to unfold in the way that it is going to unfold.

But we are -- this process of embedding, which the Pentagon after some cajoling agreed to. And there were long negotiations as to what the rules are. But ultimately, what came out of it is the most extraordinary access you could imagine. That these 500 or so reporters, some of them from overseas, from all sorts of newspapers and television networks around the country have been living with units, sleeping with units, eaten MRE's with units, getting no special treatment at all, and we saw our friend and colleague Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Gupta, trained neurosurgeon, what his parents must have been thinking today, putting on a gas mask in a bunker in Kuwait, the northern part of Kuwait, he's been with the MASH unit there. They have developed relationships and trust, and we just are going to be very careful about what we say and what we don't say. And the company commander ultimately has the switch and can turn it off, if it's not appropriate to report, not appropriate to file, then that's the rule and we live by it.

But we are hopeful that this process will work, and in certainly in the early hours, and it has not nearly been tested or stressed yet. And that's the truth. There's this Marine unit out there, Marine units out there, and we don't really know where they are, and we don't really what we're doing -- what they're doing, but there are these Marines out there and there are embeds with them, and we look forward to seeing the reports that they're able to file. Miles O'Brien is -- I probably should have said at some point that our coverage is longer than our normal 10:00 to 11:00 Eastern time, we'll be with you until about 2:00 in the morning or so. Miles O'Brien is also with us.

Miles, I could pretend I knew what you were going to tell me, but I'd be liking.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's OK. That's OK. We're going to give you the lay of the land, shall we?

BROWN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: These remarkable pictures are going to be coupled with some remarkable capability that we have here. We're sort of putting some new technology to bear in all of this, and I want to show you just from a God's eye view, a satellite view exactly what it is looking like as this group of young men and women approach on Baghdad. Got a 300-mile run from Kuwait, that border, all the way to the city of Baghdad. Let's take a look. Let's move in close, show you the region.

First of all, obviously, Kuwait down in the south, Baghdad up to the north. Are you able to see it? There you go. Now we've got it. Let's move in a little closer on the country of Kuwait, at the southern tip there, and we'll just give you a sense of what we're talking about here. This area up here, this kind of darkened area above here, that is the drain swamp that Saddam Hussein, through a series of dams and so forth, had drained over the past five years or so, five, six, seven years. This group -- this armored group, the 7th Cav, has been appearing to stay to the west of it. As you move to the border of Kuwait, this area right here is Iraq, and you're kind of hovering over Kuwait right now, you'll see ahead what is the remnants of that swamp and that marshland, and off you go, off into this area, right up to the approach of the Euphrates river, which is right in here, there's the Euphrates river, some of the canals, some of those canals which have helped drained that wetlands, and on they go through this just expansive desert, which just impressed me watching it, for a couple -- three hours now, how little there is between Kuwait and Baghdad.

As we move a little closer and along the edge of this area, you'll see a very distinct change in terrain from east to west. An on they will approach, eventually crossing the river, eventually they're going to have to cross the Euphrates river, in order to get into Baghdad.

We were talking earlier with General Wesley Clark about where the best place to do that is, because obviously you've got a lot of heavy equipment that you want to get over that river, which snakes across this portion of Baghdad. Ultimately, the goal is the center city, and that's where things get dicey is up until this moment, they have had their 30-mile-an-hour run unopposed, but when things get into this -- when you get into this four to five million person city, and start approaching places like this, that is one of the main palaces that Saddam Hussein frequents, things get a little dicier to say the least -- Aaron.

BROWN: Miles, thank you. Again, the technology that is available to us, and we've seen a lot of it through the course of this day, as we've been sitting up here, I've been impressed with the ability to show viewers in as much detail as we can imagine the lay of the land, in this case, the weapons, the systems that are in play, how they work all of that. Thank you again.

I want to run through just a couple of things here, where the major events of the day, and perhaps drawing in a couple of correspondents while we do that. It is coming up on 8:00 in the morning in the Persian Gulf, in Iraq, and across the border, 350 miles, 400 miles or so away from Baghdad in Kuwait City. Daryn Kagan is there. It was a tough and difficult day in Kuwait. The airport was closed out of concern. Kuwait obviously right on the border. There's been concern all along that it might get hit. Daryn, good to see you, and any -- we're in the early morning, let me try and make a complete sentence here -- in the early morning, has it been quiet?

DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has been quiet, Aaron, but it was quite a night here in Kuwait City. We have been waken up no fewer than three times by the sirens, warning that the city was under attack. To give people an idea of what that means, if you're lucky enough to be asleep, you're awaken either by the siren or by somebody banging on your door, and then you grab all your things, including your gas mask and your camp suit and run down to the basement of the hotel where we are based here in Kuwait City, and then it's a waiting game. You stand by and wait first for the all clear, and also to find out, one, if the city was hit, and two, hit with what. There have been reports that as many as 10 missiles were fired from the Iraqi side over into Kuwait. None hit any targets, but the concern both being whether it is a Scud missile or something that could also include a chemical or a biological agent. The good, reassuring news from here in Kuwait City so far, nothing significant being hit, and of course, no chemical or biological weapons making it thus far as well.

But as you mentioned, we are very close to the border, and Kuwait definitely under threat from Iraq.

BROWN: All of these warnings that you have heard in the middle of the night, and for everybody there, sleep is a great commodity and it comes in short supply, unfortunately. Was there any -- anything ever happened, or was it just nervousness?

KAGAN: Well, not just nervousness. Sometimes it thrilled, but indeed, missiles have been fired across the border. Some of those have landed in the desert, some had been intercepted by Patriot missiles, and some have landed in the sea. So at times, you definitely are under attack, but the worst definitely has not happened.

BROWN: Stay with me for a second, if you will. I want to read something. We just got an e-mail. A little bit ago, we were able to show the men of the 101st, and at the same time we were talking to correspondent David Mattingly, who was at Fort Campbell, and I'm not sure that this comes from there, but let me read it to you. "Dear Aaron" -- believe me, I had nothing to do with it, but thank you -- "Thank you for allowing me to sit with my son as he crossed the desert in Iraq." I take this back. This is not the 101st. "He is a tank commander with C company 7th Cavalry, and I love him so much. Tonight has been awesome. I am so proud."

You just -- I'm glad we did that. I'm glad we could do it. Rosemary, I'm glad we could show you your guy out there tonight. I'm really glad you were watching and caught it. I know the odds of that sort of thing, because I know how many people watch it at any given time, and it makes you feel terrific. I'm glad -- don't thank me, thank those guys who are doing a lot of hard work out there, Walt Rodgers and his team, and we thank your son and we hope he stays very well. Isn't that something?

CLARK: Well, it is. I'd like to just say to Rosemary and to all the other parents out there, thank you for letting your children serve, and encouraging them to do this. You know, it's a big decision to go into the armed forces, and I've talked to so many parents who had so many reservations about it, but I think when you see what your children are doing in a moment like this, and you realize what it means for the country, what a noble thing it is for a young man or woman to give up their freedom and put on that uniform and serve their country.

BROWN: God bless. Hope that all works out.

Brent Sadler is in the northern part of Iraq tonight, and we haven't heard from Brent in a while, so if we can bring him in now, tell me what you're seeing up there. Well, I can see what you're seeing.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, some pretty extraordinary pictures here. This is what you're seeing, beneath the stronghold of the Iraqi army at the edge of the Kurdish front lines, extraordinary pictures here of a group there of Iraqi army officers. We've got a very long lens here, so we can actually get inside and see what they're doing. It appears they're either putting down or moving barbed wire across that row, with a couple of pickup trucks there as well. And not a lot of activity, but certainly we can get to see with this lens, this extended -- right inside what's going on over there. And if our shooter goes along the row there and tilts up to the hills, the rolling hills behind, I can tell you the kinds of things we've been seeing up there over the past couple of weeks, which is the Iraqi army -- these are really poorly fed troops, according to Kurdish commanders -- these are the military, really the front (AUDIO GAP) of the Iraqi army, which is ahead of Mosul, defending Mosul, if you like.

Now, these are expected to crumble pretty quickly once the military pressure starts to come to this area of the theater of war. We did see overnight, several hours ago, the first air strike against Iraqi troop position targets in and around Mosul. We know there was anti-aircraft fire. We know we heard thuds of explosions in the distance. Mosul important, because it's Iraq's second largest city, and obviously the psychological impact of attacking Mosul and perhaps seeing it fall to U.S.-led coalition forces would have a tremendous impact on the Iraqi army as a whole. So these cities, like Mosul, like Kirkuk, which you've heard a lot about over the past many months; Kirkuk, of course, at the center of the oil-rich area of northern Iraq; Kirkuk very, very important.

And we're hearing some detonations, I think, now possibly, certainly some thumps. I'm not quite sure what that was.

But anyway, Kirkuk, of course, very important. Now, if we can pull down from those rolling hills, perhaps I can show you with the shooter here the bridge which crosses the great (UNINTELLIGIBLE) next to a village called Callac (ph). This is as close, really, as you get to the Iraqi front lines. We actually the Iraqis on the hills, as I said, but this bridge, which is behind me, just to the right over here, has been very important for the oil for food program, which has been running for many years, since the end of the Gulf War.

And we're hearing now aircraft, actually, overheard, and if I just try and see what is going on over here -- certainly, this is the kind of thing we saw overnight, when we heard aircraft, we saw some contrails, and we heard the explosions, so certainly it sounds like an attack is under way in this northern area. I can hear aircraft. I'm not seeing any vapor trails as yet, but certainly some explosions, aircraft getting louder, and I can see some Kurds over there, gathering with their binoculars, looking to see what the Iraqi soldiers are doing on the other side. Perhaps, Christian (ph), if we can swing back to where you were and maybe see what those Iraqi soldiers are doing, live here, as it what appears to be the start of a second wave of attack against areas around Mosul.

So if we can just see what those Iraqi troops are doing. Let me get my binoculars out over here and take a look inside there.

BROWN: It is just an amazing thing...

SADLER: We can still hear the aircraft, Aaron.

BROWN: I'm sorry. It is just an amazing thing to sit here in Atlanta, Georgia, and look on one side of the screen, the left side of the screen, the barren desert of Iraq, that part of Iraq, and to see literally the American forces racing across that desert, and then on the right side of the screen, across the length of the country, at the other end of Iraq, to the north, a totally different look. It's the first thing we're seeing that was not khaki or brown in two hours, to see the green of the country, and to see far more importantly, Iraqi soldiers, on live TV, just before midnight in the United States of America, as if it were the most normal occurrence, the kind of thing you do every day of your life. Trust me, you don't, and we have it, and you probably never -- not probably -- I don't think ever in history has there been a shot -- two shots like this.

And you don't have to be a journalist to appreciate this moment. Those Iraqi -- you wonder what those Iraqi soldiers were talking earlier, you know, about American soldiers, somebody who watches CNN International tonight looking at that in Iraq and going, oh, my.

CLARK: Well, I think there may be -- I mean, you have to ask, what are they doing out there around the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Normally, with the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) like that, you're looking to figure out how to blow it up and destroy the roads, but I'm looking at the troops also, and I'm looking at, OK, I don't see any weapons on them. I don't see any security around them. Looks like they are wearing maybe berets or some kind of a knit cap. I don't see any helmets. I don't see the kinds of good equipment that we have. And they are not paying any attention. So, you know, I'd say that's sort of 1950s style army. That's not our kinds of troops, and you know, why have they sent so many people out there? What are they doing? Maybe they are looking for a way to escape and surrender.

BROWN: We can hope.

CLARK: You know, this is not a military unit that's moving with a purpose. This is a military unit that was sent out on a detail and it was told, go out and do something, and they say, hey, if I can just find another way to waste a couple more hours out here, then I won't have to do anything when I get back.

BROWN: Diana Muriel is embedded with a Marine unit. If my memory's right, Diana is on the phone. We'll just keep these pictures up while you talk. Go ahead.

DIANA MURIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Aaron. I'm lying on the embankment, the sand embankment that lies between Kuwait and Iraq. Just going past me now are Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. They are amongst the first in this land invasion, this allied land invasion. They're crossing a bridge which has been laid by the combat engineers from a British squadron, that is the 26 Armored Engineers Squadron, Royal Engineers. They have made two breaches in the Iraq-Kuwait sand bank, which marks the border. Two huge breaches, about four kilometers apart from each other, and on the far side of that breach, what I am looking at now is a huge trench, which is approximately 12 meters in width. I can't see the depth of it, but it looks quite deep.

They've laid across that a folding bridge, and then laid central section, allowing the tanks -- you can hear one coming past me now -- allowing the tanks to cross from the Kuwaiti side to the Iraqi side.

This operation began in 0300 GMT, and it's the first Marines started across this bridge around an hour ago, just under an hour ago. There are about 750 odd Marines crossing at this section, and about 750 odd crossing at the other gate. They are the first Marines, as I understand it, to cross into Kuwait (sic). They are forming up with their tanks, in a formation just ahead of the trench, and then they are starting to fan out into the desert scrub. It's actually quite green scrub, starting to fan out across in a phalanx.

Straight ahead of us, right in front of this bridge, I'm looking at five what looks like gas towers, gas installations. And I should tell you that in the skies overhead, there is thick black smoke. Soldiers have been here before in the last Gulf War, had told me that they believe that this is some sort of an oil installation, which has been set fire to. Behind the gas installation, to the north and to the west of it; that's just the prevailing wind direction, and that's certainly where the majority of this smoke has been coming from. It's so thick that it's occluding the sun.

It's now 5:00 GMT. That's 8:00 in the morning local time, and there should be quite sunny now, but it's not. It's still quite dark, although you can't see very clearly. What is happening then is the Marines are starting to fan out. Last formation is coming up to join it. This bridge where I am will remain here to allow other crossings to take place during the course of today. The other allied troops, including the Desert Rats, of which 26 Squadron are a small part, but they're coming up to join the Marines on the other side, and then fanning out to their targets. The other bridge will be taken back by the 26 -- men of the 26 Squadron, and then they will move forward at a later date, maybe later today; it's unclear, into Iraq, and they will be able to deploy that bridge as and when it's required by the allied forces there.

BROWN: Diana, that's something. I just want to hang on a second. We're not done yet. I just want to orient viewers again as we're coming up on the hour and we know that particularly now, out on the West Coast, some viewers will be joining us. On the left side of your screen in a small box, that is a live picture from the south Iraqi desert of the 7th Cavalry, making its way -- and we'll talk more about that in a moment, but they are literally making their way toward Baghdad at about 40 miles or so an hour. They stopped a little while ago to refuel their helicopters, grab a bite to eat, and they're on the move again. The shot on the right is a shot in northern Iraq. These are Iraqi soldiers, we think perhaps officers, and to General Wesley Clark's eye, not an especially disciplined unit at that, going about some business, and perhaps as Brent Sadler, who's been reporting this from a distance, and I think we can still hear me. He thought perhaps they were laying or moving some barbed wire for a defensive purpose or another. And then on the phone with us, Diana Muriel, who is with the British Marines unit as they make their way. They are just starting their move across the border from Kuwait into Iraq.

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