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Strike On Iraq: British Official Says 7 Oil Wells Set Afire

Aired March 21, 2003 - 16:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. My colleague Wolf Blitzer in Kuwait City.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Judy.

People here in Kuwait not only in Kuwait City, but throughout Kuwait, are breathing a lot easier tonight as U.S. and British forces move on the ground against targets in southern Iraq. According to the Pentagon, they're 100 miles, already, some of those forces into southern Iraq. Other U.S. troops on the ground in western Iraq, as well as northern Iraq.

Earlier in the day, over the past several hours, huge explosions rocked Iraq's capital of Baghdad. Explosions that hit several targets, according to eyewitnesses, including the foreign ministry complex in Baghdad -- other government buildings as well. Explosions that could be heard throughout the city, all five million people of Baghdad clearly affected by the sounds, the fury, the pounding of those air strikes. The start of what the Pentagon is calling a-day, the beginning of the shock and awe air campaign that coincides with the ground campaign.

Elsewhere in Iraq, air strikes are continuing as well, including in the northern part of Iraq. In Mosul and Kirkuk, areas that have been under the control of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, areas with significant developments, significant resources as well. The air campaign continuing. The Pentagon saying several hundred more air strikes, including targets, of course, expecting over the next several hours.

CNN's Frank Buckley is aboard the USS Constellation, one of three U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, another two in the eastern Mediterranean. What's happening right now, frank?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've found another couple of aviators who were involved in the first strike off the Constellation into Iraq. They are part of the oscar bravos (ph) here attacking. We have lieutenant Pat Cronin, who is an EA 6B crew member, pilot or ...


BUCKLEY: ECMO. And Captain Bill Barber, an F-18 pilot from the Death Rattlers squadron VMF-323. First, let me talk to Pat, you guys fly the Prowler, the radar jammer. Tell me what it was like for you going into the area around Baghdad. CRONIN: Well, it was absolutely impressive. We came in and immediately could the sea land (ph) impacting in downtown Baghdad, and just continuous, constant explosions going off all over the place. We saw the AAA coming up, occasionally we see some missile bursts. And then, basically, as the air package flew in, you could see missiles coming off our aircraft. Other members of the package coming in, and just tremendous amount of activity on the ground coming up through the air, and, of course come down from us.

BUCKLEY: Was it what you expected?

CRONIN: I'm not even sure what I expected, but this was something I don't think I'd ever forget. It was really impressive.

BUCKLEY: That's exactly what Craig Fox was saying when he briefed you guys earlier, that you'd never forget this night, that you were going downtown, at least in the vicinity of Baghdad. There's been a great deal of discussion about the air defense ring around Baghdad. The air defenses in the south and the north have been eroded significantly during operations southern and northern watch. But the ring around Baghdad, your job is to jam that radar. How was it?

CRONIN: Actually, I think we couldn't have done a better job. We had tremendous asset support from the marine corps, from our other navy squadrons that are shore based. And, basically, we couldn't have asked for the jets to perform better. I don't think they even saw one of us. As far as I could tell, they were shooting ballistically and we're on track. So, everyone came out safe and that's our goal. That's what tells us we did our job right.

BUCKLEY: All right. Thanks, Pat.

And we'd like to move over to Captain Bill Barber. You're an F- 18 driver. You're one of the strike fighters. Tell me, first of all, first impressions of the night for you?

CAPT. BILL BARBER, STRIKE FIGHTER: Just an incredible experience. I don't think, like Pat said, I don't think anything we could have thought of would have prepared us for what we were going to see happening on the ground out there. You just, there's nothing that we do -- for all the training that we go through, there's nothing that's real world like that that can get you ready for it. And to know that they're down there really shooting at you and to be able to see it and -- it's pretty staggering.

BUCKLEY: And you guys, having -- you're veterans of flying southern watch missions. You've been shot at before. You've taken AAA and you have had the surface-to-air firings, the sap (ph) first incident. Is it comparable or ...

BARBER: Much lower intensity. That's not to say that the danger isn't there during the southern watch missions, you know, they're hoping for the golden b.b. (ph) that's going to come up and get one of us. But there's no comparison between what we saw tonight and what you see -- you almost call it a run-of-the-mill OSW mission, if that isn't too oversimplified. BUCKLEY: Your job is to unleash incredible munitions. And we've heard about the precision nature of these munitions. Did your missiles go off the racks as planned?

BARBER: Yeah. Tonight, we were dropping JSOW, joint standoff weapons, side weapon. So, by the time it gets to the target and does its thing, we're long gone, out of town, so we don't really get to see the fruits of our labor there. But we know just from what we tell them to do that it's going to get to where it needs to go.

BUCKLEY: Explain to people the, you know, how you guys handle it emotionally, the idea that you know what these munitions are doing when they leave the rails. How do you deal with that on a personal level?

BARBER: On a personal level, I'd say you just tell yourself, for one thing, if it wasn't me that was doing it, it would be somebody else. I'm going to get in and do the job as best I can so nobody else has to go in and do it, either do it later, again, to clean up my mess, or, you know, fix something that I messed up. So ...

BUCKLEY: In my time on this aircraft carrier and on various others, whenever I ask an aviator what is your biggest fear on a mission, it seems to never be I don't want to get shot down. It seems to be, I don't want to screw up. That's what I hear over and over from you guys. How do you feel about your performance tonight?

BARBER: I feel like I put a whole lot of effort into making this thing happen tonight and really gratifying to see it all come together, see it go as advertised. And, most importantly, see everybody come back unscathed and unhurt.

BUCKLEY: I'm sure your families, if they're watching, will be happy to see your face. Thank you very much, Captain. Thank you. Bill Barber and Lieutenant Pat Cronin.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Frank. Unfortunately, I have to interrupt you. I have to go to Judy Woodruff in Washington. She's got something important -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Wolf. We have some video that's just coming in, Wolf, and that is the Iraqi information minister talking to reporters.

MUHAMMED SAEED AL SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER (through translator): ... and guarantee the transparency and work towards establishing facts. This was prepared for them as a guest house and next to it there is the zahood (ph) palace. And it is an old palace from the royal era of Iraq. It was preserved and kept as is with its simple furniture and paintings and everything, so that it will be one of the landmarks of the contemporary history of Iraq. They destroyed it. And I will show you the zahood palace. Maybe now, it's dark, but tomorrow you can take footage of it completely. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Minister, do you expect that a change will happen in the battle structure to go to council attack to defeat the Americans?

SAHAF: We and our leadership of armed forces will decide that so that we guarantee their defeat. Those mercenaries defeat, God willing. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

WOODRUFF: We were just listening to the Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Al Sahaf describing some of the damage around the presidential palace. We weren't able to catch the first part of what was he said. But it sounded like he was, what his point was that it was an historic building that the American military, in his words, had destroyed. He said tomorrow, I will take you here. Tonight it's dark. I can't show you. And at the end, a defiant statement. He said our leadership will defy, we will defeat the mercenaries.

Well, that was the word from -- I'm sorry. I have a producer. We're looking now at -- oh, these are pictures coming in to us from Iraqi television of damage from U.S. missiles, U.S. weapons. And we presume this is in the Baghdad area. We are seeing this for the first time, as you are seeing it. We can't tell you where this is or what it is. But what we can tell is that the buildings that were hit have been described as all government buildings, or residences or so-called palaces of the Saddam Hussein regime. So we can presume that these pictures are from some of those buildings.

There is a palace in Baghdad, I'm just now being told, the Peace palace in Baghdad that we are looking at, pictures we're seeing right now. Clearly, a lot of this is in the dark. Peace, I'm sorry. Peace palace. And we're seeing these pictures again for the first time just as you are. Trying to make sense of what they are and where it is. Is there any sound with these pictures? Or is it just the video? All right, as we look at this and try to figure if there's something -- we saw a table and chairs there, but we don't know what else -- perhaps this was part of the scene that the information minister was describing, part of a palace complex. And he did -- we are told this is something called the peace palace.

While we're looking at this, we want to -- and we'll continue to show you these pictures from Iraqi television. We want to go to the White House to our correspondent, John King. And John, the White House -- the president has not been very visible the last few days, but he did make a brief statement to reporters earlier.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did, Judy, that was during a meeting with Congressional leaders. The bipartisan leadership summoned to the White House by the president so that he could brief them on the war plans. As we watch the photographs, obviously, we're in an escalation of the military campaign. And this is an escalation of the political risk if you will, for the Bush administration.

If there are, in fact, high civilian casualties inside Iraq, that could turn the politics of this debate. And the Bush administration, from the white house to the Pentagon, is emphasizing today the precision of these weapons systems, and saying that the targeting is only on government buildings, and leadership buildings and military buildings. And the administration is confident while perhaps there may be an occasional accident, that it will significantly limit the loss of innocent life. That message also underscored in this letter here. This is the official notification from the president of the United States to the United states Congress that he has decided to use military force. This notification coming to Congress in day three of the campaign. And the president says in this letter, "These military operations have been carefully planned to accomplish our goals with the minimum loss of life among coalition military forces and to innocent civilians. The president goes on to say in this letter that he cannot say how long this military campaign will go on because it's in such early stages.

Now, we are told by senior officials that in the planning, Mr. Bush was involved in selecting individual targets. That he would ask the generals, what else is in that neighborhood? How close is it to residential areas? What is the risk of civilian life if you strike that building? But, now, Ari Fleischer telling us at the White House briefing today, now, three days after the president executed the broad order authorizing the campaign, Ari Fleischer says the president is involved and consulting constantly, but he is not trying to micromanage the generals.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes that the best way to carry out a military operation is to very carefully, thoroughly, review the plans in advance, to ask the hard questions of the planners as the plan is being developed, to have a team in whom he has confident, to have a military on the ground that is superbly trained, well equipped and well paid. The president is satisfied those criteria have been met. He would not have authorized action had he not been satisfied that those criteria were met.


KING: The president at this hour is up at the Camp David presidential retreat. Here you see him walking to marine one earlier in the day. Up at Camp David for the weekend, after receiving a briefing here at the White House, in which he was told that this was the day the military would escalate the air attack campaign inside Iraq. We also have some behind-the-scenes photos of the president in the run-up to this military campaign provided by the White House. This actually is a photograph from Camp David, post-September 11, 2001. To those who might ask how can the president run a war from Camp David, here you see him in a National Security Council meeting. This, again, late 2001. On the wall there, those four screens, a secure videoconference link.

If Mr. Bush wanted to use that this weekend, he could pick up the phone, for example, and say, call General Tommy Franks, his commander in the region. I believe we also had some photographs from here at the White House in the run-up to the war. Mr. Bush. This is the president, the vice president and the defense secretary outside the Oval Office just moments after the president turned to Secretary Rumsfeld and said, let's go. This is inside the Oval Office. This is the meeting at which the president authorized, essentially, rewriting the battle plan on the fly, because of that intelligence that Saddam Hussein and some of his key leadership officials were in that residential compound in Baghdad.

CIA Director Tenet, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and others rushed over to the White House. This here is today a rare glimpse of the White House situation room, the most secure room here in the above ground White House facility where the president conducts his national security meetings almost every morning. You see the president at the end of the table, the full Bush, as they now openly call it here at the White House war council around the table.

So, Judy, Mr. Bush up at Camp David for the weekend. A key question continuing here today, is Saddam Hussein alive and is he running the Iraqi government? Ari Fleischer saying since that since that strike on Wednesday night, the United States has no conclusive evidence at all that either Saddam Hussein or either of his two sons have been issuing orders, keeping track of the military. One other senior official telling me behind the scenes that U.S. intelligence sources and Pentagon sources are telling the president the Iraqi leadership is in complete confusion and complete disarray -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Pretty strong statement. John, just quickly, the woman we saw in that picture in the Oval Office is Karen Hughes who, formerly, was in the White House on paid staff as a counselor to the president. She now has moved back to Texas, but she is very evident, very much with the president at key -- there she is standing on the left. I think one more indication that -- of her deep involvement, ongoing, in the decision making at this White House, and her influence on the president.

John, just very quickly, I was struck by the fact that the briefing when Ari Fleischer was asked if the president was watching any of the bombardment of Baghdad unfolding on television, he at first said, no, the president doesn't watch television. He later acknowledged, well, maybe he turns it on or glances at it every once in a while. But he wanted to make it clear that the president's not sitting in front of a television set.

KING: Yes, striking. Ari Fleischer saying he was with the president at the very moment the escalation of the campaign was being shown on our network and other networks across the country and, indeed, around the world. He said at that moment, the president was not watching. He could not say whether the president later turned on the television. But on this day and on many other days, we are told by senior officials, this is not a president who, especially, in the presence of his staff, spends much time watching the television.

WOODRUFF: All right. Thanks, John. At the White House, speaking of the television, administration officials reminding us at a number of occasions today that what we're seeing on television is just one part or parts of a much bigger campaign under way across Iraq. And for more on exactly what that campaign consists of, let's turn to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, where -- from a military perspective, where is this campaign right now? How far along is it? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, they've now crossed a key line today by beginning this massive air assault on Baghdad. By all accounts, they switched things around a bit. They put ground forces first, we are told, because there was a decision that they needed to ensure they could secure the southern oil fields over the last day or so, they began to see those oil fields burning. The decision was made, switch things around, get ground forces in, secure the oil fields, because that was a key signal to the world that the U.S. could control the situation.

And, then, today, they made the decision to go ahead with the very visible air campaign against Baghdad. We are told by Secretary Rumsfeld that they only did this as a last resort. Up until the last, they had some hope that perhaps the Iraqi high command, the top leaders around Saddam Hussein would surrender in some fashion, turn their back on the regime and, basically, push Saddam out of power. Secretary Rumsfeld saying when that didn't happen, they had no choice but to go to this effort.

Now, indeed, we are told there are things happening all over Iraq. According to the schedule, there will be some 1,500 munitions dropped across Iraq in this first 24-hour period of the air campaign -- in the north, in the south, and over central Iraq, over Baghdad. We are told the target is what you'd expect, air defense communications, communications, Republican Guard, special Republican Guard, the units closest to Saddam Hussein, some of the fiberoptic cable switching stations that they've been hitting for so many weeks now.

And what they're going to have to do at some point, very quickly, is try and do bomb damage assessment. Take a read of how much destruction they have successfully put on Iraq now, and make an assessment of the command and control capabilities from Baghdad. Whether or not the regime or what is left of it has an ability to communicate orders out to the field. That's going to be a key BDA or bomb damage assessment that they're going to make over the next several hours.

Officials are warning us here, there's still the possibility that they could run into trouble. U.S. ground forces only about 100 miles or so inside Iraq. Still largely in the south where the population was expected not to put up a large amount of resistance. The military force not, as they get closer to Baghdad and they begin to encounter the Republican Guard, there is concern that they could still fight. But right now, one of the assessments they're coming to is trying decide just how much the regime in Baghdad is still in control -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: That is the huge question of the hour. All right, Barbara Starr, our correspondent at the Pentagon.

Now, let's move back to Kuwait City and to Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Judy. CNN has reporters covering every facet of this story, especially the U.S. military as it makes its moves into Iraq. Kyra Phillips is aboard the "USS Abraham Lincoln", one of the aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. We're going to go to her shortly. But CNN's Bob Franken is in an air base in northern Kuwait, not far from the Iraqi border. He's joining us now live with late information that he has -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you have by now found out, one of the key spots where a-day began was at this airfield. It is not far from you. It is close to the border with Iraq. It's a major, major launching point for the United States air force, and the British royal air force uses it also with the arier (ph) jets. And many of these jets have been screaming out of here tonight. Countless. As a matter of fact, this is a very rare lull. And consider yourself fortunate, because we've had nothing but ear- splitting jet take-offs and landings throughout the night, right over there, right by the air strip.

The flight line which as you can see is in a rare moment of quiet. But as you can see also, the night has been filled with the flames of the jets and the loud noise as the jets have taken off to take the attack to Iraq. The attack, of course, we've watched on television to some degree in Baghdad. And also not watched on television when it's occurred in the many other parts of Iraq where the jets have gone. This is, I said, a major launching point. Some of the planes that leave are the F-16s and the FA-18s, which are both fighters and bombers. And then you have the A-10s, which are the anti-tank weapons, which have been so very active, sort of softening the enemy in the last couple of days, the enemy of the United States. It's been extremely busy. Other planes involved here, search and rescue and the like. And it seems that all of them were screaming out of here tonight and coming back. This has been a frenzy of activity. And as I said, there's a brief lull now but I can assure you, Wolf, it is brief. It is going to go on throughout the night - Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bob. Stay safe over there. Bob Franken, he is near the Iraqi border. We'll get back to you.

I want to go to Kyra Phillips now. She's aboard one of those aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, the "USS Abraham Lincoln." A busy night I take it for the crew, some 6,000 aboard the aircraft carrier -- Kyra.


Joint Chief of Staff General Richard Myers said yesterday that large-scale operations were approaching. Well, welcome to shock and awe from the "USS Abraham Lincoln." Let's take a look now at the first video elements that I just fed you. This is what strike fighter pilots have been training for. Massive air strikes, fast and furious. You're looking at video images from the flight deck here on the "USS Abraham Lincoln" after Tomahawk missiles were launched. Strike fighters engaged targets, military sites, air defense systems, government buildings, Iraqi leadership compounds and air bases. There were also restricted strike areas -- mosques, schools, water and electricity and chemical storage areas. I've been told if Saddam Hussein is hiding weapons in those areas, they will be taken care of by other means. Pilots say they were fired upon consistently. Threats they were up against, sand, surface-to-air missiles, old Soviet MiG 25s and lots of AAA fire.

In the strike briefs, we're going to take a look at the other video element that we fed into you recently. This is the strike brief that took place. We were able to observe this strike brief, a unique opportunity to be able to observe this. Lots of talk about preventing collateral damage. This took place in a number of ways, one of which, precision weapons between the F-18 and the F-14 jets. Weapons included JDAMs, LGB, laser-guided bombs, Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles, Sparrow, Phoenix and am ram (ph), radar-guided missiles.

Now, the squadron that led this strike off the USS Abraham Lincoln tonight, the F-31, the F14 (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Before the strike, squadron Commander Paul Haas stressed to his men situational awareness. This is what he had to say. I'm being told that we do not have that sound. We will try and get that up and bring that to you. But I can tell you that once the strikes over Baghdad began, as you can imagine, more video elements here. These are the strike fighter pilots that were not on the nighttime mission in their ready room. They remain pinned to their seats in the ready room, watching the air campaign as it went down live on CNN. As they observed the air strikes, they were not surprised. So far, they say, shock and awe is under way as planned - Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kyra, thanks very much. Before I let you go, did all the U.S. aircraft return safely to that aircraft carrier?

PHILLIPS: I can tell you, Wolf that yes, they did. Before we were able to go live off the "USS Abraham Lincoln", we got the word that all the strike fighters were headed back to the carrier, safe and sound, mission accomplished successfully.

BLITZER: Kyra Phillips aboard the "USS Abraham Lincoln" in the Persian Gulf. It's been a busy several hours as the warplanes took off and now returned, landed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. Kyra, we're going to check back with you often. Thanks very much. Now, let's get back to Judy in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Wolf. The fact that they did get back safely has to the got to make for very good news for the families of all of those pilots and all of the crew members.

A little while ago, a short time ago, we showed you some video of the Iraqi information minister. He had toured some of the damage as a result of the U.S. air strikes on Baghdad. And here is what he said. We have the full tape now of what he said to reporters. We just got this just moments ago. Let's watch and listen.

SAHAH (through translator): (UNINTELLIGIBLE)


WOODRUFF: Again, we're listening to the Iraqi information minister. Mohammed Sa'eed al-Sahhaf had seen -- had done a tour of some of the damaged area. But, again, it was very difficult to understand the translation. We're going to try to bring that up. And once we can, we'll try to bring it to you again in a way that you can understand.

A wrap-up now of the developments this hour. Let's go to Heidi Collins for a "News Alert."


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Kuwait City.

Frank Buckley -- CNN's Frank Buckley is aboard the USS Constellation, an aircraft carrier also in the Persian Gulf, an aircraft carrier that has seen a lot of warplanes take off and now return to that carrier.

Frank, tell us what's happening now.

BUCKLEY: Well, Wolf, we're continuing to talk to some of the Naval aviators as they come out of their jets from the first-strike package that left the Constellation, the Oscar Bravo Sierra package.

And joining me now: Lieutenant Mike Herbert (ph) from the Vigilantes, an F-18 driver, as well as Commander Walt Stammer also an F-18 pilot from the Kestrels Squadron.

First, we'll start with you, Lieutenant. Just your impressions of going into Baghdad?


The first impression is initially just, wow. It's a lost different than anything we've done in the past. And, in reality, it's just the culmination of everything we've ever trained to do. So, to me, it was just real eye-opening and actually kind of exciting. Like I told you, I still got a lot of adrenaline flowing around. So, I'm pretty excited about the whole thing.

BUCKLEY: You weren't a bolter when you came back, though, right? You were able to...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, negative. Nope. Came right down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something like that.


Commander, yourself, tell us about the mission. Tell us what you saw as you were flying over Baghdad.

COMMANDER WALT STAMMER, U.S. NAVY: Well, what we really saw was a lot of shooting going on. I think they -- lots of missiles coming up, lots of AAA. And it looked like probably the aftermath of some other strikes that were going on. I think the entire coalition played in this one.

BUCKLEY: The sight of going in -- and you've, obviously -- you were saying this is your fourth cruise here off in the Persian Gulf.

Your second cruise, Lieutenant.

You've trained this. You've flown into Iraq, but never above the 33rd Parallel. Tell me how it's different for you once you cross that line.

STAMMER: Well, when you cross the line, you know that you're getting ready to kick a beehive. And so that's what it is. They're coming after you. And they do.

BUCKLEY: And tell me the kinds of defenses that you faced. There was a lot of talk before this first strike that, while you had -- the U.S. forces, coalition forces, had eroded defenses south of the 33rd, there was a lot of concern about the ring of air defenses around Baghdad. Is it still a threat?

STAMMER: Absolutely. There's still plenty of missiles out there. There's plenty of AAA. And I'm sure he's got some tricks up his sleeve, too.

BUCKLEY: Lieutenant, yourself, this is your first wartime attack. Obviously, you've flown Operation Southern Watch, which are combat sorties. But a wartime situation, you're releasing munitions. Tell me -- walk me through the sensation of doing that and knowing what's going to happen when those missiles leave the rails.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, for me today, it was real exciting, because it's with a specific weapon I've been training to, specifically, for about 2 1/2 years just alone. And to finally get to use that weapon for what it's intended to, which is to stay far away from those defenses and be able to strike a target safely, while doing the work with the weapon itself, was -- honestly, it was really neat to be able to do that.

And, also, just -- I remember back to the Gulf War and seeing video from seeker heads of weapons and watching them fly into the target. And to actually do that myself for the first time, when I remember in high school seeing it on TV, being able to see that, now to actually do it, it's a whole different world. It's something I never really expected to do, even though I joined the military, because you never joined expecting to do something like this. But it was a heck of an experience.

BUCKLEY: And explain to viewers. You guys are talking in a sort of -- you say an adrenaline-filled moment. Every aviator that I've talked to says, look, we don't want war. I mean, it's not -- explain that feeling to the viewers, if you can, to try to distinguish between your professional achievement and also the knowledge of what your munitions are doing.

Commander, take a strike at that.

STAMMER: I think we all enjoy training. But when somebody is actually shooting at you, that's a little bit different. And so I think that's what changes the -- why we don't want war. We don't want to get shot at, quite honestly. We'd like to train to make sure that we can protect what needs to be protected. But to ask for something I don't think is necessarily what we would like to do.

BUCKLEY: Is there any emotion at all attached to knowing that these bombs are going to potentially kill people? How do you deal with that part of it?

STAMMER: It's a military -- we only go after military targets, so it's them against us. And I think that's the easiest way to deal with it, is try not to make it too personal and let them die for their country vs. us dying for ours.

BUCKLEY: Lieutenant, you take a stab at that one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as not wanting to go to war, really, as far as the training goes, we try to train hard and be the best in the world, so that no one wants to go to war with us.

And we are the best in the world. And to see that people are still opposing, basically, the whole world and this coalition and what we're trying to do, freeing the Iraqi people and keeping up with the U.N. resolutions, we train hard so that people don't want to fight us. And when it gets to this point, it's gone over the precipice, where we don't want to be. But that's why we train hard, in addition, is that we can take care of business if we're called upon to do it. And that's why we're here.

BUCKLEY: Captain Mark Fox, the air wing commander, in his brief this evening, earlier this evening, said to you: Gentlemen, you'll never forget this day. You're flying downtown.

I'll ask you both for your impressions. What are the memories that you're going to take flying in over the city? Tell me about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really, just seeing the amount of AAA and everything coming up for the first time. Like I said, it's like out of a movie. You watch old World War II movies of all the flak coming up. And then you add to that the sands that are coming up. And, again, from what we've seen in the news from the first Gulf War, seeing all the tracers and everything -- and we're wearing NVGs, the same kind of technology that was in the cameras that you could see stuff during the Gulf War.

BUCKLEY: Night-vision goggles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct. Sorry. Wearing night-vision goggles.

So you can see everything that they're putting up at you. And it's just a spectacular light show. And it's kind of grounded in the fact that they're actually shooting at you and trying to knock you out of the sky.

BUCKLEY: Commander, your just personal impressions? STAMMER: I think they've got plenty of stuff. They shot quite a bit more than I was expecting. And I think they've still got more to shoot. So that was probably the -- well, we're going to be there for a while I think is probably the best way to put that.

BUCKLEY: I try to imagine your families right now must be home. They've probably been worried about you. Hopefully, they're seeing your faces right now. Anything you want to say to them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, Kate (ph). I love you. And, everyone else, I'll be home soon, I hope.

STAMMER: Missy (ph), Walter (ph), Mary Kate (ph), mom, dad, grandma, hi, everybody.

BUCKLEY: Thanks, gentlemen. Appreciate your time.

A couple of the aviators. Look, these are human beings. And you get a sense of it right there. They're professionals. They are doing a job that is one that most of us, let's face it, couldn't do. And they are dropping bombs that are causing a lot of destruction, in some cases death. That is one part of what they do. The other part is the human part. And that's what they are, ultimately.

You got a sense of that right now, literally, just out of their jets and taking time to talk to us after this first strike into Iraq off the USS Constellation -- back to you.

BLITZER: Frank Buckley aboard the USS Constellation, speaking with those two aviators who have participated in the start of A-day, A-day, the start of this massive U.S. air campaign against selected targets inside Iraq.

Let's get some more analysis now. CNN's Miles O'Brien is standing by in Atlanta for that -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, and I'm joined by Major -- major -- General, I just demoted you. I apologize, General.



O'BRIEN: Wesley Clark, thank you very much. I'm a buck private right now. Thank you very much for being with us.

Let's talk, first of all, quickly about Naval aviation for just a moment, not necessarily your core expertise, but just to give folks a little idea of those two pilots and some of the aircraft there. I didn't hear whether they were flying F-14s or F-18s, but those are the two fighter attack aircrafts that are on board a carrier.

The FA-18 Hornet -- there's a Super Hornet version out now which has some additional capabilities, supersonic range of about 1,700, of course can be refueled, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles. So it has a fighter, which is air-to-air, and then an attack role as well, and, obviously, carrier based. The F-14, built primarily as an air- to-air, the Tomcat, but has, over the years, evolved into an air-to- ground role as the U.S. military has evolved. It has all-weather capability.

I wanted to bring up the point that the pilots brought up about how they felt that there was more stuff being shot at them than they thought they might anticipate. Did that surprise you?

CLARK: It did, actually, based on the comments we've been hearing, Miles, about the Iraqi command-and-control.

So I think two things. Obviously, from the discussion, they came in at the end of another package. So they got a little bit of the other package. They saw that in the distance. It sounds like they didn't go right over back downtown Baghdad and it sounds like there's still effective command-and-control of the air defense system, if they're launching a series of missiles at them.

O'BRIEN: All right, so what they intimated to us was that they were firing some weapon, although we weren't quite sure what it was. They didn't say what it was.

CLARK: They didn't say.

O'BRIEN: But it had what is called a standoff capability. In other words, the aircraft and pilot can do its job outside of true harm's way. This is pretty much standard operating procedure now for Naval and Air Force aviation, right?

CLARK: It is, but we didn't have these weapons in 1991, not these kinds of weapons. They've been developed during the 1990s. We saw the need to be able to outrange the enemy's air defense missile system and his target acquisition, close-in radars, and the flak guns. And so we basically can launch, we can guide that missile in from 15, 20, 30 miles out, depending on what the system is, and right into the impact.

O'BRIEN: All right, now, the likely aircraft -- and there are aircraft going straight over Baghdad. And we can make a supposition that that's possible. But there's a certain type of aircraft that would be involved. And we've told you a lot about them, stealth technology, radar-thwarting aircraft. I wouldn't say invisible to radar.

The F-117 is one to look at. This is about the size of an F-15, which is a conventional fighter that is seen by radar. It's not the fastest aircraft, not as fast as an F-15. But speed is not its weapon. And, obviously, that angularity of it makes it sort of difficult to see on the radar. But, as you discovered during Kosovo, it isn't exactly bullet-proof, quite literally.

CLARK: Well, we knew that. And we've always tried to do our best to be careful with these aircraft.

But if you get in an operating pattern where they expect you to come and you continue to fly over the same kinds of targets -- and we had some pretty limit avenues of approach in the Kosovo campaign, because the geography was a little more restricted. And there was a moon and there were clouds. And we don't really understand -- I don't understand what happened to it, but maybe they saw it at night.

In any event, it says one thing to you, that, don't lose aircraft if you don't have to. There's no reason to take unnecessary risks with these aircraft. We've got complete dominance here. We're working this step by step, exactly the right way, as I see this campaign unfolding, which is, you take down his air defense first. You protect your airmen and your aircraft. You only are going to use them if you have to.

O'BRIEN: All right, another stealth technology, the B-2 bomber, which has a little more payload capability, also, in addition to being stealthy, also has the capability of launching those satellite-guided weapons, which allows the B-2 to not necessarily be right overhead, necessarily, in order to do its job. The B-2 can carry a little more than the F-117. That's why it has an important role.

One other thing to think about is the BUFF -- the big, ugly -- well, we'll call it fat fellow at this point, for our cable audience here. The BUFF, the B-52, is also in this. And this is an aircraft that first flew in the early '50s. But it's outfitted in a way that changes its mission dramatically. It has the capability of carrying air-launched cruise missiles. Now, that comes into play in what respect?

CLARK: Well, these are able to go in and they carry a very large warhead. And they are able to go in just under the speed of sound from a long distance away. So the aircraft is totally protected.

The cruise missiles are such a small radar target that they're almost impossible to shoot down. And so it's a very effective weapon, especially in the opening stages of a campaign against a heavily defended target.

O'BRIEN: And whenever you talk opening stages, you talk about those cruise missiles, the Tomahawk, the Tomahawk missile. It's come into play. I've lost count of the numbers.

CLARK: It must be in the hundreds by this time.

O'BRIEN: In the hundreds already. And, once again, the key here is, this is something that isn't flying so fast. It flies about as fast as a commercial airliner. But it's going low, hugging the contour of the land, not easy to spot on radar. It doesn't have a big heat signature, which is a problem, and, as a result, is able to get inside, and then has this tremendous accuracy because of satellite technology, as well as terrain recognition.

Now, I want to ask you one thing. We keep talking about these precision weapons as if they're a complete panacea, almost antiseptic war. Nevertheless, there are going to be civilian casualties. What is the plan if the Baghdad regime tries to make hay out of that somehow? CLARK: Well, the first part of the plan is, don't allow unnecessary casualties in this campaign. And so we're doing everything we can to prevent it. Secretary Rumsfeld talked about it today.

But it's basically, use the right weapon for the target, the smallest weapon possible. Carefully look at the avenue of approach that you're going to -- the trajectory, so when it -- if it misses, it misses in the least harmful way possible. And so you'll get 98, 99 percent of these weapons right on target. And it's no problem. But you will have one or 2 percent who don't.

And it's very possible that, at some point, that will be exploited. It was in the Kosovo campaign, exploited by the Serbs. And it's one of those hard facts of life. I think you have to demonstrate your intent to avoid civilian casualties early on, as the United States is doing here. And then accidents happen, inevitably.

O'BRIEN: All right, the former supreme NATO commander, General Wesley Clark, thank you very much. Appreciate your insights -- send it to Judy.

WOODRUFF: Miles, we've been talking today about just how much command, how much control Saddam Hussein has over his forces, his military forces, and over the government of Iraq.

One thing is clear, though. There are people in Baghdad who think it's still smart to show their loyalty to Saddam Hussein. We want to show you some pictures that have just come into us in the last hour. These are people out in the streets of Baghdad showing defiance toward the American attacks. We don't know whether these are soldiers. I think what I see, at least a few uniforms, perhaps a few in civilian. We don't know who these people are.

But this is a video that was provided by Iraqi television. And so we're showing it to you. It's not translated, but whatever they're shouting is presumably pro-Saddam Hussein, pro-Iraq. You see an Iraqi flag being held up there and against the United States.

On the other hand, in southern Iraq, still inside Iraq, you see people who are cheering the arrival of U.S. troops, pulling down a poster of Saddam Hussein. It's the same country, different parts of the country. This is liberated southern Iraq, where, you can see, they are welcoming American troops, shaking hands, smiling, looking not at all unhappy to see U.S. troops in control.

So there you have two different, very different attitudes from inside Iraq.

It's somewhat counterintuitive at a time like this. We're watching bombs dropping over Baghdad. We know U.S. troops in harm's way, lives being risked. Some American lives have already been lost. Having said all that, the U.S. markets are jumping up. Today on Wall Street, we saw one of the most positive days.

And Christine Romans can fill us in on the details. Christine, I gather this has turned out to be one of the best weeks in years on Wall Street.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, stocks roaring higher here, the Dow up eight days in a row. That hasn't happened in more than three years -- and the best week in more than 20 years for the Dow Jones industrial average.

Battlefield progress and rumors that Saddam Hussein was killed in the early stages, that's what folks on the trading floor were talking. And it fueled a lot of buying, the Dow up 235 points today, and for the week, the Dow up nearly 8.5 percent. And now the Dow and the S&P are positive for the year, erasing all of those big losses from earlier this year.

Oil prices tumbling, coalition forces securing those key oil facilities in southern Iraq. And traders also saying there's a big wave of OPEC oil arriving in the West. And so the threat of shortages is not something people are concerned about here, oil prices down 25 percent in just a week, Judy. And analysts now expect gasoline prices at the pump to fall as much as 15 percent next month. That's good for consumers and the economy.

And gold at its lowest level since mid-December, down about $7 an ounce. It's often a safe haven. It had a spectacular run-up in the worries leading up to the conflict. But now those prices have plummeted by $60 an ounce since early February. So those fears that had put safe haven as the key to the market, they've left -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: It is fascinating to those of us who don't watch the markets closely every day, but to see this kind of reaction, both in the financial markets and, as you describe it, in the oil markets.

Thanks, Christine, very much.


WOODRUFF: To the State Department we want to go now. We've been talking about communications efforts between U.S. officials and some officials in the Baghdad and in the Iraqi military leadership chain of command.

Our State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel has a little more on that -- Andrea.


We've been hearing about these mysterious third parties for the last number of days. Well, CNN has learned who they are. They are Iraqi expatriates, primarily members of the Kurdish opposition in northern Iraq and also retired or exiled Iraqi military commanders. What we've been told by U.S. officials is that, in the last 24 to 36 hours, these Iraqi exiles, who had been prepositioned in northern Iraq, moved in to actually what is controlled by the Iraqi regime, that part of territory, and had been communicating with members of the Iraqi Republican Guard.

And they are joined by CIA operatives and by members of the special forces, the Pentagon. They all moved in to certain parts of Iraq -- we don't know where -- in order to have face-to-face communications about getting the Iraqi military to both lay down their arms and surrender. The question is, and what the U.S. and the Iraqi exiles have been trying to figure out, is whether or not the people with whom they're communicating in the Iraqi military can actually turn over Saddam Hussein, his sons, and other close members of Saddam Hussein's inner circle.

As one official put it, they don't want to be negotiating 400 separate peace deals with the Iraqi military. They'd like to limit it to as few as possible. So, we know, Judy, that these negotiations really began, actually, a number -- or contacts began a number of months back, with the Pentagon dropping leaflets, spam e-mails to people, just trying to reach out to people within the Iraqi military that they thought might be receptive to this kind of communication and negotiation.

And we know now that they've been going on for the last 24 to 36 hours inside Iraq. I'm told that some of the Iraqi Republican Guard left Baghdad to meet in an undisclosed location with CIA operatives, with members of the special forces on the U.S. side, and with the Iraqi exiles who are the go-betweens, knowing that they have the contacts to bring this all together. And, so far, no deal -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, Republican Guard actually leaving Baghdad, some of them, to talk.

Just quickly, Andrea, my question is something you touched on. How do they know that the Iraqis they're dealing with are people who can deliver?

KOPPEL: That is what they're trying to figure out, Judy. They don't want to be making a variety of peace agreements until they know that these are the guys with the goods, that they can, in fact, turn over vast amounts of the Iraqi military and, ideally, to turn over the Iraqi leader himself.

WOODRUFF: All right, Andrea Koppel at the State Department.

And while we're talking about the Iraqi infrastructure and about Saddam Hussein himself, with us is Ken Pollack, who is, I think you'd have to say, an expert on Saddam Hussein.

Ken, you've not only written a book about him and the influences that he's had in Iraq, but you've made this something that you've specialized in. If you're Saddam Hussein right now -- and we don't know whether he's alive, dead -- but if he's alive and if he's in good health, why hasn't he had his military put up more of a resistance than what we've seen?

KEN POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: Judy, you need to add other caveat to what you just mentioned, which is that none of us really knows what he's thinking. And Saddam has a track record of thinking things that nobody else really would ever think.

But, as best we can tell -- and we do have quite a bit of information in terms of what he has said and how he's deploying his forces -- it's pretty clear that Saddam doesn't really care about the hinterlands of Iraq. He was never planning to fight for the territory that we're moving through so quickly right now. He has left his regular army, which he doesn't have very much faith in, out defending the periphery.

And their job is really just to try to slow us down, maybe inflict as many casualties as they can. But he really doesn't expect much from them. He's really expecting to make the fight at Baghdad. That's where he's got his main Republican Guard divisions and his Special Republican Guard. He's dug in there. And, as far as I can tell, just looking out at what he's seeing right now, he probably isn't all that concerned, because everything that's happened so far is probably exactly in line with what he expected.

WOODRUFF: Even with the bombardment of these government buildings in Baghdad?

POLLACK: Actually, he probably was expecting that kind of bombardment right from the start. He went through it once in 1991. And this is obviously much bigger and much more ferocious. But he probably has been listening to CNN and all the other networks talking about the fact that it was going to be bigger and more ferocious. And the fact that it didn't happen for the first few days, that might have been useful to him.

WOODRUFF: So, if you're Saddam Hussein right now, you are still -- you could be, you're saying, still feeling like, not so much that you can ride this out permanently, but that perhaps world opinion will have some effect on the outcome?

POLLACK: Exactly.

WOODRUFF: Are you clinging to a hope like that?

POLLACK: I wouldn't say clinging. I think Saddam is actually quite confident. This is one of the things that we've seen about Saddam. He is a congenital optimist. And he can be confident in situations when everybody else around him is quaking. I think Saddam thinks that there are two ways that he is going to somehow win this war. That is, we're going to get to Baghdad and one of two things are going to happen.

Either international opinion is going to turn so against the United States that we won't be able to continue with the war, as you're suggesting; or the alternative, which is, we're going to get to Baghdad and we're going to find it ringed with his Republican Guards, dug in, armed with weapons of mass destruction, and risking the possibility of street-to-street fighting in Baghdad, and we're going to back off, because he believes that the United States just won't take casualties, and, at the end of the day, we won't have the guts to go in and dig him out of Baghdad. And that will allow him to negotiate a way out of this. WOODRUFF: What do you make of the report from Andrea Koppel just now that some Republican Guard may have left Baghdad to go and negotiate with representatives of the U.S.?

POLLACK: It's certainly very interesting. If it's true, it suggests that there is quite a bit of chaos in Baghdad. And the Republican Guard, these Republican Guard commanders are able to use that chaos to move off. It may not be that they came from Baghdad. These may be Republican Guards who are stationed in northern Iraq, where it would be much easier for them to move over and start talking to some of these people who have come over from the Kurdish positions.

But we should also remember, the Iraqi Mukhabarat, their intelligence service, is really good at this sort of stuff. And I don't think that we should assume for a moment that these people are genuine Republican Guards until we hear more from that.

WOODRUFF: All right, a whole lot to -- lot of questions for us to be thinking about right now. Ken Pollack, with an insight into Saddam Hussein -- Ken Pollack, thank you very much.

I am Judy Woodruff in Washington. That's it for me from here for now.



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