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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Pentagon: Beginning of Shock & Awe

Aired March 21, 2003 - 12:05   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: These live pictures of what's going on in Baghdad. We're hearing sirens going off in the Iraqi capital right now. Sirens usually anticipating some sort of U.S.-led airstrike. Sirens that have been alerted, clearly Iraqi air defense systems on the alert right now as they anticipate another round of potential U.S. strikes, airstrikes in Baghdad. It's now dark here, just after 8:00 p.m. That's usually when U.S. warplanes begin to move against selected targets in Baghdad.
CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us now from the Pentagon.

Barbara, tell our viewers what you're hearing, what you're seeing.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there has been tension here at the Pentagon all day about when things would begin to unfold. We are, of course, now hearing these live pictures from Baghdad air raid sirens. If things unfold in Baghdad the way they usually do, it looks like we're first seeing the first AAA antiartillery aircraft artillery possibly go off. The Iraqis have a long history in these types of events of very quickly turning on their air raid sirens looking at these live pictures, turning on their antiaircraft authority, basically shooting a wall of steel into the sky if they believe U.S. aircraft or U.S. Tomahawk missiles are coming at them. I suspect as this begins to unfold, we will see more activity in the sky.

We can tell you it is a well-known fact, U.S. B-52 bombers took off from England earlier today. We are not saying their destination. We are not saying their flying time. We're not saying where they're going. They often take off on various missions. They may or may not be involved in what will unfold over Baghdad.

Continuing to look at these pictures, it's not unexpected that we will continue to see air activity over Baghdad. The U.S. administration, of course -- it looks like another tracer there off to the right of your screen. The U.S. administration struggling with when to exactly begin the air bombardment of Baghdad. They had been hoping all the way along that the Iraqi military would basically revolt against the regime of Saddam Hussein, a very heavy propaganda campaign, of course, going on in the last days here, trying to convince the Iraqi military that they had no hope of winning, even rumors in the last several hours that a Republican Guard division was ready to defect.

So there had been a sense of maybe waiting a bit, seeing if the Iraqi military would basically give up, seeing if the leadership would turn against Saddam Hussein. The last two nights of their airstrikes we have seen over Baghdad have, in fact, been very much aimed at leadership, military targets aimed at Saddam Hussein, his family, his top advisers. They had called them, you know, decapitation strikes, but now it looks like other things could be unfolding in the hours ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, stand by over there at the Pentagon. I want to continue to show our viewers these live pictures of Baghdad, just the last two nights around this time, approximately just shortly after it gets dark in this part of the world, there were U.S.-led strikes, selected targets the first night, second night.

Now on this third night, we anticipate there could be more activity. Clearly the Iraqi air defense systems have been on alert and the Iraqi triple air fire antiaircraft fire already being seen over the skies over Baghdad. We'll continue to show our viewers these pictures. I want to bring back CNN's Martin Savidge.

He's in southern Iraq. He's still with the First Battalion 7th Marines.

Marty, I assume you can't see these pictures, but tell our viewers, I interrupted you before, what you're doing, where you are and approximately what the mission is as far as you can tell from your location.

Hold on, Marty. Before you start talking, let's listen a little bit to the sound of gunfire, anti-aircraft fire over the skies in Baghdad.

What you're seeing is Iraqi air defense systems shooting up in the sky. They're hoping, obviously, to knock down a U.S. or British plane. They're hoping to knock down perhaps a cruise missile. They're firing. They have indications, presumably from their radar, that U.S., British aircraft as well, are in the skies approaching Baghdad or hovering over the skies.

Let's listen a little bit more to this fire that's going on.

Our military analyst David Grange, retired U.S. brigadier general, is with us as well.

General Grange, tell our viewers what you sense is happening right now.

GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), U.S. MILITARY: Well, you know, I'm not really sure. My feel is, Wolf, that this may be the start of a larger strike operation from the air on targets in Baghdad and elsewhere, because a lot of results have not come back from the initial strikes. In other words, we haven't had a lot of -- even though there was talk about it. There weren't a lot of units surrendering or changing in the situation with the Iraqi army.

BLITZER: General Grange, on the first two nights the so-called shock and awe didn't necessarily materialize. There were very limited strikes against selected targets, leadership targets, Republican guard and high-government leadership targets, the first night presumably, including Saddam Hussein himself.

But there has been widespread anticipation as the ground war has begun in the south, U.S. and British forces moving in significant forces in the south that perhaps, perhaps we would see the start of that shock and awe campaign. Or perhaps not. Perhaps another third day of selected strikes in and around Baghdad. So we could go, obviously, either way as far as what we are trying to understand right now.

Isn't that right?

GRANGE: Could be. And the ground forces again are moving closer to some of the key objectives to the north. And so, you know, this may be air strikes and support of those operations. But the other is they may want to get to try to force a bigger change in the war. In other words, these leaders have been talking about surrendering and turning against Saddam and maybe they need a little bit more encouragement to do so. And this may be part of that effort.

ZAHN: And that would be part of the psychological campaign, to try to convince Iraqi senior military officers and regular troops that this is a no-win situation for them. It's not worth dying for President Saddam Hussein. We're going to continue to show these live pictures of the skies over Baghdad, Iraqi anti-aircraft fire, continuing to fire up in the skies, looking for targets of their own. So far, we haven't seen anything drop yet.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, what are you hearing?

STARR: Well, Wolf, officials here not confirming anything, but what we can tell you is basically they have been prepared, the U.S. military had been prepared, to undertake the campaign of shock and awe as it's now being called, for several days.

Over the last many, many hours, basically everything was in place, target sets loaded, everything ready to go, air force navy planes, tomahawk cruise missiles, everything in place. Most of the weapons that would be expected to be used would be guided to their targets by satellite, so they would be preprogrammed target sets having to be loaded in. Some hours before everything got under way, which means that simply waiting for the final go ahead, possibly from General Tommy Franks at the U.S. Central Command, at his headquarters in Qatar on the Persian Gulf.

But it still is going to remain to be seen how exactly things are going to unfold here. They are still very, very interested in getting to leadership targets, whether that takes us now to the next phase of shock and awe of thousands of missiles and bombs raining down on Baghdad still remains to be seen -- Wolf.

ZAHN: Barbara, stand by. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's medical correspondent. He's in northern Kuwait with U.S. Marines.

We have him with us. What are you hearing from where you are, Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT; Well, Wolf, we've been talking all day about the first marine that was killed in action earlier. We are just receiving a report about a second marine who was killed also from the first marine expeditionary force, died approximately 4:00 p.m. Local time this afternoon while taking actions against the enemy Iraqi forces near the port of Umm Qasr (ph). The name is obviously being withheld at this time. Mechanism of injury is also being withheld, although the reports are possible bullet wound.

There's also a report of an injury after a marine AH-1 attack helicopter was fired upon, and the tank was destroyed. A Marine was injured, receiving shrapnel wounds to his eye. No other injuries were sustained.

Again, Wolf, another Marine was, unfortunately killed in action today from the first Marine Expeditionary Force, and a third Marine now injured from shrapnel wounds to the eye -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, one quick clarification, the second Marine who was killed, was that in the same firefight as the first Marine?

GUPTA: We have not been able to confirm that, although all the logistics that we've been hearing. All the descriptions of the area and location we've been hearing sounds like it probably is. I have talked to several of my sources here with the marines. They have not been able to tell me that 100 percent. But from the sounds of things and piecing everything together, it certainly sounds that way, Wolf.

Also the timing sounds that way as well.

ZAHN: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our medical correspondent. He's imbedded with the U.S. Marines in northern Kuwait.

Thank you very much, Sanjay.

Barbara Starr is getting some more info on what we're seeing now on our screen.

These live pictures, the skies over Baghdad, Iraqi antiaircraft firing up at the skies, presumably looking for U.S. warplanes, looking for U.S. cruise missiles.

Barbara, what are you hearing?

STARR: CNN senior correspondent Jamie McIntyre has now been told by a senior defense official -- quoting -- this is A Day. That is the name that was going to be attached to the beginning of the air attack campaign. Senior official telling CNN's Jamie McIntyre that this is a day, but also cautioning there is still last-minute flexibility in the plan, the plan could still be calibrated, presumably if they saw Saddam Hussein, his sons, top military leaders, top regime leaders come out and agree to go into exile, they would begin to call this off. But you are there on those live pictures of Baghdad, seeing evidence of increased antiaircraft artillery being fired into the sky by the Iraqi military, already on very high alert in Baghdad and will remain on-station here seeing how things unfold.

But again, a senior defense official telling Jamie McIntyre, this is A Day.

BLITZER: A Day, the letter 'A," not D-Day, the letter A. A-Day suggesting that this is the beginning of the shock and awe campaign tonight, night three of the war in Iraq. Is that right, Barbara?

STARR: Indeed, Wolf. That is what we have been given to understand. The concept of shock and awe always was a blistering air campaign over Baghdad, hundreds if not thousands of precision bombs, Tomahawk cruise missiles, dropping on military and leadership targets across the city, making every effort to avoid civilian areas, and at the same time, a wave of U.S. and coalition ground forces moving across Iraq, beginning to take territory very clearly, moving toward Baghdad, plus the propaganda campaign that we have seen unfold over the last several days. All an effort to convince the Iraqi military that they have no hope, that they must give up, and that Saddam Hussein must go.

So far, of course, we do not know the fate of Saddam Hussein. Lots of rumors that he was injured in the first night of attacks. Just a little while ago, a senior official telling us, they are still trying to figure out exactly what happened to him, what his whereabouts may be, as well as the top advisers close to him.

No final word on that at this hour, as this campaign appears to be unfolding.

BLITZER: "A" day, the start of A-Day, the start of this big campaign called shock and awe. The original anticipation, over the next 24 to 48 hours, perhaps as many as 3,000 -- 3,000 Tomahawk cruise missiles, satellite-guided precision bombs laser-guided bombs would be dropped at various military targets not only in Baghdad, around Baghdad, but all around the huge country of Iraq. It's now approximately 8:18 in the evening in Baghdad, in this part of the world.

Barbara, stand by.

CNN's Martin Savidge is also in southern Iraq. We interrupted him earlier.

Marty, the U.S. troops you're with, they're moving rather quickly, aren't they?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Well, they are moving quickly. I should point out that shock and awe in southern Iraq took place last night. We were up moving into the attack positions with the ground forces as they were preparing to head into southern Iraq. And they met some resistance up there at the Kuwaiti-Iraq border. Well, that was quickly resolved. They called in Tomahawk strikes and air strikes that went on all night long.

There is an outlook there, a hill that's referred to as Safwan Hill. It's actually on the Iraqi side of the border. It is filled with Iraqi intelligence gathering. From that vantage point, they can look out over all of northern Kuwait. It is now estimated that that was hit so badly by missiles and by artillery, and by the air force that they shaved a couple of feet off of that hill. And anything that was up there that was left after all the explosions was then hit with napalm. And that pretty much put an end to any Iraqi operations up on that hill.

And then this morning they airlifted in U.S. military forces that now hold that vantage point. So, all last night there was an intense artillery, air and also missile bombardment throughout the southern part of Iraq. And that's what paved the way for the ground forces to begin pushing in.

One of the interesting things to note, as we came across the border and began moving into southern Iraq, was the fact that you saw the precision of those attacks. You would find artillery pieces blown up. You would find tanks that were shattered. You would find armored personnel carriers that were destroyed and still burning at the side of the road. What you did not see, though, was major buildings that had been damaged. You did not see that there had been homes or any sign of collateral damage. Clearly, that may have been happened, but there was not an overwhelming indication of that, which is really remarkable given the vantage point we had from the border and the light show that took place.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Martin Savidge, he's with the U.S. troops. They're already in southern Iraq. They're moving forward. They're clearly on the way towards Baghdad.

And you're looking at these live pictures of Baghdad, where Iraqi anti-aircraft fire has become rather intense. They're anticipating a U.S. strike. We are now reporting -- we are reporting that this is "A" day, the start of the campaign called shock and awe. An intense aerial bombardment expected over the next day or two against Iraqi military targets, not only in Baghdad, but elsewhere in the country.

I want to go back to northern Kuwait, not far away from right where I am right now, to our medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's embedded with U.S. marines in the northern part of Kuwait.

Sanjay, I understand you have some more information on this second U.S. marine killed in combat earlier today in southern Iraq?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We talked about that, a second marine killed in action, KIA. Died approximately 4:00 p.m. this afternoon local time and near the Iraqi forces.

Also, Wolf, I mentioned to you just a few minutes ago about an injury. I want to be a little bit more specific about that. A marine from the 1st Marine division was injured after a Marine AH-1 attack helicopter fired upon a Marine M-1 A-1 tank. The tank was destroyed. And the marine who was injured that we're talking about received shrapnel wounds to his eye. There was no other injuries in that friendly fire incident. But again, Wolf, a friendly fire incident resulting in the injury that I just described.

That is a third thing. There's first a Marine who KIA earlier this morning. We talked about that. A second now that died at approximately 4:00 p.m. A third who was injured, again, from a friendly fire incident.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Underscoring the hazards of war, not only the dangers from the enemy but also dangers, as we all know, from your own troops.

CNN's Barbara Starr has more information. She's at the Pentagon. Barbara?

STARR: Wolf, as this begins to unfold over the next hours, we are told to expect to see the full force of the U.S. military in the air. Not only some of the cruise missiles, of course, that we've seen for the last two nights over Baghdad. We are told to expect to see more cruise missiles. We are told that U.S. Navy aircraft flying off aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean are expected to be involved in this phase of the campaign as it unfolds over Baghdad.

Crucial, those carrier aircraft flying off carriers in the Mediterranean. Now expected to fly over Turkey, we are told, the overflight issue essentially being solved. It is likely we will also see some of the other assets that have been used.

On the first night, we saw F-117 Air Force stealth fighters. We can now tell you those stealth fighters dropping a new bomb never before used in combat over Baghdad. A new 2,000-pound penetrating weapon with a special fuse with guidance by satellites optimized to be used in an urban environment and not cause too much collateral damage in surrounding neighborhoods.

Those are the types of weapons we expect again to be used in these upcoming hours. Precision weapons, but also very heavy weapons. They want to take out the leadership targets, they want to take out the bunkers, rebutments, the other hardened targets where they believe Saddam Hussein and the leadership will hide.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, stand by over there at the Pentagon. We're going to come back to you, obviously. For our viewers who may just be tuning in, let me set the stage. We are now reporting, CNN has confirmed this is "A" day, the letter A, the start of the aerial bombardment, the intensive U.S.-led air strike campaign against selected military targets not only in the Iraqi capital, but elsewhere around Iraq. We had been told going into this war to expect during this first 24- to 48-hour period perhaps as many as 3,000 Tomahawk cruise missiles and other precision-guided bombs would be dropped, would be launched, would be fired from submarines, from destroyers, from aircraft carriers, as well as from aircraft poised throughout the region surrounding Iraq. That is what is about to begin right now. Iraqi officials clearly have an indication this is about to begin. They've been firing anti-aircraft fire in the sky looking for those U.S. planes, looking for those cruise missiles. Sirens continuing to wail throughout Baghdad.

Our senior White House correspondent John King is at the White House. John?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I have been speaking to a couple senior administration officials as we have watched the events of the last few minutes unfold. One saying that President Bush was briefed on all of this morning. Of course, this is in a military campaign plan the president gave his execute order to on Wednesday morning. So the plan has been in place for some time. But we are told the president was told this morning that the timing had been set for this aggressive bombing campaign today.

Also told this interesting information by another administration official. He says there is according to U.S. intelligence, there is, quote, "complete confusion," quote "complete disarray," in the senior Iraqi military leadership. This official says that in those communications that we heard Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld talking about yesterday, e-mail communications, cellular telephone communications between U.S. military and intelligence officials and Iraqi military and leadership officials that it was made clear to them that in the view of the United States, if Saddam Hussein is alive, he is, quote, "not in control or not in any minute to minute control" anyway, of his military and of his government.

These officials, senior Iraqi military officials, we were told, were encouraged to turn themselves in, to order any military units to lay down their arms. This official said he is not aware if there was ever any deadline expressed in those communications but that it was made clear that if that did not happen and did not happen soon, the United States would go ahead with its much more aggressive military campaign, "A" day as our Pentagon reporters have been reporting, the bombing we see today. But most interesting, this source saying that the U.S. intelligence community has decided that there is, quote, "complete confusion and complete disarray" in the senior Iraqi leadership.

Wolf?

BLITZER: But, John, no word whether Saddam Hussein is alive, whether he's dead, whether he's injured, what kind of role he may be playing right now?

KING: No, our David Ensor has had much more detail from intelligence sources saying that the belief is that Saddam Hussein is alive. That is the guess here at the White House.

They are very reluctant here at the White House to talk at all about any operational details, even more reluctant to talk about any briefings the president gets on intelligence. Senior officials privately say their operating assumption is that Saddam Hussein survived that first night attack, but they say they just don't know that for sure. And that's been what -- generally what I think our other correspondents have been hearing, that the assumption is he did survive but no one is quite certain of that.

But, again, an official I just spoke to just moments ago said whether he is alive or not, the conclusion of the intelligence community right now is that he is not exhibiting moment to moment control over the Iraqi government and the Iraqi military in any way.

BLITZER: All right, John, we'll be getting back to you as well. John king our senior White House correspondent.

One hour from now -- one hour from now, we anticipate a briefing at the Pentagon, the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be joined by the Chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers. They're expected to brief, in one hour, 1:30 p.m. Eastern time, one hour from now, we'll expect to get some more specific information at that briefing. Of course CNN and CNN International will have live coverage of that briefing.

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