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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS
Fighting in Fallujah
Aired April 27, 2004 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: And, of course, we are continuing to watch these live pictures coming in from Iraq from just outside the city of Fallujah, where just about an hour ago fresh fighting broke out, just as you've heard. The end came to a two-day extension to a cease-fire, a cease-fire that had been holding for a number of days, back and forth. Speculation about whether it was going to reach any sort of successful conclusion. The evidence tonight, though, from this fighting, which got under way anew just about an hour ago, though, is, as you just heard from the Christian Science Monitor reporter, Scott Peterson, who was talking with Miles, they are nowhere near an agreement, nowhere near any sort of conclusion to this that would lead to a peaceful Iraq.
Right now, we are watching again live pictures coming in from Fallujah. When this fighting tonight broke out there were multiple explosions that shook the city, primarily, we are told, on the northern side, the so-called Jolan District, a neighborhood, we are told, of poor neighborhoods where -- an area of poor neighborhoods where we are told that many of these Sunni insurgents are concentrated and holding out.
We've been watching and listening to pool reporter Karl Penhaul describe up close what some of the fighting -- what some of the fighting has been like. I think that Ken Robinson, who is a national security analyst for CNN, is available now.
Ken, if you're listening, and as you hear what you heard, and as you see these pictures, what exactly are the U.S. forces trying to accomplish?
KEN ROBINSON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Judy, what we're not seeing is the beginning of an offensive. What we are seeing is a continued response to threats.
In the last 24 hours, coalition forces have been meeting with the commanders on the ground in Fallujah and in Najaf, discussing a way forward, talking to tribal leaders, talking to community leaders. But they were always very clear that any clear threat they had they would respond to it.
They've been developing human intelligence and identifying specific targets that they could use. The application of the AC-130 gunship is a targeted application of power on a specific location, possibly one building, or maybe two buildings, which may have been housing insurgent threats. And it's the perfect weapon for that system because it has low collateral damage. WOODRUFF: You're talking about the AC-130 gunship, which has been hovering or moving slowly in the air. Ken, why isn't this aircraft vulnerable if it's low and moving slowly?
ROBINSON: It is vulnerable to air defense weapons if the enemy has those, such as certain types of stinger missiles, certain types of surface-to-air missiles. However, the air defense system that they've spread around the city when they cordoned off the city should be providing protection for them.
WOODRUFF: Ken, how clear are they in the targets they're going after? We are told that specific targets were hammered. How well do they know what they're striking?
ROBINSON: Well, they know it from several ways. One, they have predator drones which have been covering the area almost continuously. Two, they have satellite imagery that has been imaging this location, and they've been analyzing the strongholds, such as the Jolan District, which is a known insurgent stronghold area.
You can almost refer to it as a cockroach nest for the insurgency because it's a poverty-stricken part of town where they've been able to move with impunity. They have on the AC-130 gunship thermal image systems which give a resolution which is very accurate and brings them very close.
Ranger operations and special operations use this gunship for danger close missions all of the time in training, where they have these weapons systems firing directly to their front in close proximity to where the rounds lands. That's how much confident they have in the system when they are doing their rehearsals for live environment training.
WOODRUFF: Ken Robinson, who is a national security analyst for CNN with me now on the telephone from -- let's see. First, though, we want to go back to our pool reporter, Karl Penhaul, who is on the scene and who is watching all this up close for about an hour. And let's listen in to what Karl is saying.
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A few minutes earlier, in a position about 800 meters or possibly a kilometer south of where we are now standing -- we're talking about three-quarters of a mile -- an AC-130 specter gunship -- that's one of the coalition aircraft -- has been pounding two suspected insurgent positions there. The attack, the strike started now approximately an hour and a half ago.
The AC-130 gunship arrived in position, circled overhead for several minutes, and then unleashed a barrage of what seemed to be 20 or 25 rounds from what Marines are telling us was 105-millimeter Howitzer cannon. Those blasted into that site, as I say, about 800 yards from where we are standing, sending showers of sparks and flames into the night sky.
That then gave way to heavy plumes of black smoke. The AC-130 gunship continued to circle, and then began pounding a second position about 150 yards away from the first. And again, sending in a volley of possibly 20 to 25 rounds of cannon fire. Again, heavy showers of sparks flying into the night sky and lighting up this northwest edge of Fallujah.
Before the attacks started, we heard a Marine PSYOPS team, a psychological operations team, driving through, or sending broadcasting messages in Arabic through some of the streets of Fallujah. Unclear what that message was saying.
It could be working on two levels. On one level, it may have been a warning to the civilian population about an imminent coalition strike. On the other hand, it could have been fulfilling one of the other functions of these Marine PSYOPS teams, and that's to play mind games with the Iraqi insurgents to try to spook them out.
But certainly, 20 minutes or so after that PSYOPS team went into cooperation, the AC-130 specter gunship began pounding those positions. No word from Marine commanders on the ground specifically what those targets may have been. The AC-130 typically will be operated under the command of the Air Force, the forces on the ground, Marines. And so that would possibly indicate why at this stage we have no specific word on what those targets may have been.
What we do know is that the Al-Jazeera Arabic language broadcaster, they have teams on the ground inside the city, deep inside the city, where Iraqi insurgents are also taking positions. Al-Jazeera has been reporting that that coalition strike was in the Al Jolan District of Fallujah. That's a district that the Marines refer to as the Jolan Heights of Fallujah, which lies on the northwest edge, the area that has seen the stiffest resistance from Iraqi insurgents against the coalition forces. Al-Jazeera was not able to specify what those two targets may have been.
What we have heard across the night sky in Fallujah, sounds that possibly the camera microphones won't pick up because of the distances involved. But there have been chants and songs going up from several of Fallujah's many, many mosques. We understand now that those chants have been some of the imams. The religious leaders of those mosques are chanting versus from the holy Koran.
Some of those chants were taking place before the air strike began. But the volume and the number of those chants did seem to pick up as the strikes were going on, and also in the immediate aftermath that those strikes. These almost certainly recitations and prayers both to the civilian population, some of which do remain in Fallujah, possibly also, too, the insurgent fighters out there on the ground as well.
These strikes come the day after the Marine platoon from the company where the U.S. Networks Pool is embedded were involved in heavy, heavy gun battles with insurgent fighters here in the northwest sector of Fallujah. That firefight began shortly before midday. A Marine platoon was pushed out from this position, this small base, and went to occupy two houses only about 200, 250 yards from the position where we are now standing.
That operation got under way before dawn yesterday morning. The U.S. Network Pool accompanied the Marine platoon on that mission. They crossed -- the platoon crossed a cemetery which lies just outside the base perimeter and occupied those two houses.
The Marine platoon was in there for about four or five hours, and it seems that Iraqi insurgents had massed around and close to those two buildings occupied by the Marines and then began opening up with everything, with rockets, with mortars, with automatic weapons fire. Some of them close enough to lob grenades at the building. And the Marines, after about an hour and a half of gun battle, had to pull back to base.
That firefight, though, continued to rage for about another two hours, making the firefight about three and a half hours in total, during which one Marine died and nine others were wounded. Three of those, we're told, pretty seriously. The coalition forces didn't stop around long enough to do an insurgent casualty count. Although Marine commanders have said that they are pretty sure that the insurgents took heavy casualties in that firefight.
Obviously, in the wake of that, Marine commanders have been keen to detect any potential insurgent positions. And it seems that the operations tonight by the AC-130 specter gunship have been in tandem with that -- hunt-out insurgent positions and to destroy those.
In the course of the coalition strike tonight, we did at one stage see secondary explosions. Flames leaping into the sky and more sparks flying off into the sky. That may indicate -- although, as I say, no confirmation -- but that may indicate that certain weapons were stored there. Possibly ammunition was stored there. But as I say, no confirmation from Marine commanders on the ground.
Now, for over the last two weeks, a cease-fire has been in place, supposed cease-fire, I say. That was agreed between coalition authorities and civic and religious leaders of Fallujah.
That cease-fire was agreed after fighting broke out between the insurgents and coalition forces in the wake of the killing of four U.S. contractors. They were killed in downtown Fallujah, and their bodies were taken to a bridge about a mile and a half from the position where I'm standing, and were hung there.
There were several days of fighting then. And then a cease-fire came into place, agreed between coalition authorities and civic and religious leaders. But Marine commanders on the ground say that the insurgents have never respected that cease-fire, and certainly this small base on the northwest edge of Fallujah has come under almost daily attack from insurgent mortars and rockets, and is also frequently the target of insurgent sniper fire.
WOODRUFF: We've been listening to Karl Penhaul, the pool reporter there on the scene just outside Fallujah, describe the action there over the last hour, hour and a half, with fierce fighting back and forth from the insurgents on the ground, from U.S. Marines on the ground, but also from a U.S. AC-130 gunship hovering overhead, firing rounds down into what must be described as nests of these Sunni Muslim insurgents. CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is with me as well.
Jamie, just to go back to square one here, if the United States' goal is to turn Iraq back over to the Iraqis, why then are people like these Sunnis in Fallujah fighting back?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Pentagon believes -- and again, this could be one of the overly optimistic wishful thinking scenarios -- but they believe that really the hard-core remaining resistance has concentrated in Fallujah. A combination of foreign fighters, former Ba'ath Party loyalists, and other really virulent anti-American forces. And they believe that if they're able to eliminate them from Fallujah, one way or the other, that will go a long way toward breaking the back of the resistance.
The Pentagon, the Coalition Authority, has continued to insist that a large majority of Iraqis support the U.S. action even though they resent being occupied. They do understand what's going on. In fact, they insist that a majority of residents of Fallujah would like these -- what the Pentagon calls terrorists -- to be eliminated from their town and to get on with life.
Of course, the problem is, to go in and take these people out requires some pretty messy urban combat. And the Marines are prepared to do that. In fact, they've been prepared to go for days, but they have been delayed in that offensive at each turn by a last-minute effort to negotiate a somewhat more peaceful resolution.
A couple of points to make here right now. One is that the attack by the AC-130 gunships -- and we are told, by the way, from Pentagon officials, one of the few details we've gotten from here, that two AC-130 gunships were actually involved in this attack, attacking two separate targets where the Marines believe there was a threat from insurgent forces. But those attacks were, again, in response to a threat and not part of this overall offensive that the United States has been threatening for quite some time now.
The Pentagon would still like to let this play out, allow intermediaries in Fallujah who seem to desire a peaceful settlement to try to work something out. They were hoping to start patrols today with Marines and Iraqi police side by side, to sort of start to test the waters. But at this point, there's no indication that the insurgents are willing to make any sort of good faith effort.
They have not turned in the heavy weapons, as demanded by the United States. They continue to fire at Marines and to threaten them. And it continues to draw this kind of response -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Jamie, and what sort of civilian situation are we looking at here? I mean, these insurgents have clearly planted themselves. Besides in mosques, we believe they are in places where there are a large numbers of civilians. So when U.S. and other forces go in, what are they dealing with here?
MCINTYRE: Well, on one level it's very complicated because, as you say, they are in -- essentially embedded, to use the term of art these days, in the civilian population. But on the other hand, it's also a somewhat simple problem for the Marines in that they'll be going in, when they go in, if they go in, with rules of engagement that permit them to fire essentially anyone carrying a weapon or anyone firing at them. So anyone who doesn't want to be seen as an enemy fighter needs to not be carrying a weapon and not be making a threatening move.
Now, the U.S. is concerned about unintended civilian casualties. They are aware that in this kind of combat it's almost inevitable that you're going to have these kinds of casualties. And that has a potential to fuel continued anti-American sentiment in an area that's already a hotbed of anti-American sentiment.
So that is the military tactical problem that the Marines face. They do have a plan to deal with it. They'll do the best they can.
And today, there was a lot of complaining here at the Pentagon about the fact that some of the insurgents that they're facing are operating out of mosques, are firing from what should be protected places, religious sites, that under the Geneva Convention are not supposed to be used for warfare. But the U.S. has also made it clear that when they're threatened from those sites, that that protection goes away, and they will take action and have taken action, as we've seen in the last day or so with Marines attacking forces that were holed up in a mosque -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Jamie, why couldn't they -- if the rules of engagement call for them to fire on anyone with a weapon, why couldn't they just go in and go after those with weapons?
MCINTYRE: Well, the can, and that's what they will do. And that's essentially the plan over the next couple of day. But over the weekend, there was a negotiation with some of the intermediaries, and, again, one of the frustrations that the Pentagon -- perhaps a better word would be challenges that they have -- is they're not dealing directly with insurgents.
They're dealing with people who, as I said, are intermediaries, some of the town elders there who profess a desire to try to work things out and try to be go-betweens. And so they get assurances from them, for instance, that people are going to hold their fire, and then they discover that they come under fire again. So there aren't many hopeful signs that this is going to end without that promised defensive, but as they said today at the Pentagon, they said it's worth a try.
WOODRUFF: All right. Jamie McIntyre with us from the Pentagon. And now joining us by telephone here in Washington, Mario Mancuso. He is a former special operations commander.
Mr. Mancuso, given the challenges that you're hearing Jamie McIntyre describe, what are the options? What are the choices for the U.S. and its allies?
MARIO MANCUSO, FMR. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMANDER: Well, one thing, Judy, I would say is that the direct application of firepower with the specter gunship may also provide an alternative momentum to settle the conflict in Fallujah peacefully. And this is what I mean: thus far, the cease-fire has not held. There has been violence.
By chipping away at the insurgents, we have two results. We have a tactical result, which we flush out and destroy those insurgent positions. But we also create greater incentives for leaders in Fallujah to try to reach some accord with those Sunni insurgents. Or, if they can't reach an accord, try to push them out.
WOODRUFF: Can you back up and explain what you mean by incentive? Are you saying that the intermediaries that Jamie was just describing, these town elders and others, that when they see this sort of action they have a greater incentive to lean on the insurgents?
MANCUSO: That's absolutely correct. Thus far, the reporting has indicated that the town leaders have had very little influence over the insurgents. But when the price of U.S. action comes to bear on Fallujah, it may be the case that their incentives are greatly enhanced. And that may provide an opening.
It's a shot, obviously it's not a done deal. There are no guarantees. But it's a shot.
WOODRUFF: What are the risks? We're talking with Mario Mancuso, who is a former special operations commander. He is with us by telephone. What are the risks of hitting, frankly, of civilian casualties in a situation like this?
MANCUSO: Clearly, there's a risk of overreacting. However, I believe -- you know, having been involved in the community and having been in Iraq and working with both the Army and the Marine Corps, that great care is being taken to minimize civilian casualties.
What we need to be careful about, I think, is, as we kind of pursue this operation, it has a tactical track and it has a political track. Clearly, by overreacting, you may risk in addition to human lives, both military lives, coalition force lives, and civilian lives. But we may also risk long-term buy-in to the transition plan that's about to get instituted.
WOODRUFF: Let me take that one step further. We are watching what's going on right now in Fallujah. This is a city where the insurgent, the problem, if you will, is primarily Sunnis, foreign fighters, others who were part of the Ba'ath regime, the Ba'ath government under Saddam Hussein.
What about in Najaf, another city in Iraq where you have Muqtada al-Sadr, the cleric who is hanging on, resisting all American entreaties? Would it be a similar situation in Najaf for U.S. forces?
MANCUSO: They are two -- they are two very different situations, Judy. They are both venues for insurrection, but they're very, very different.
The nature of the city is different. Najaf is the holiest Shia City. The nature of the micro-politics in Najaf is different from the micro-politics in Fallujah. Let me explain.
As I mentioned a minute ago, thus far, tribal leaders and clerical leaders in Fallujah have been unsuccessful in trying to persuade the insurgents in Fallujah to turn in their weapons. However, given the rivalries within the Shia community, it is a diverse community. It is not monolithic, especially between Grand ayatollah Ali Sistani and Sadr.
There is an opening for coalition forces to reach a relatively peaceful solution in Najaf. And I understand there was an attack last night, but that may be part of a larger political strategy.
WOODRUFF: Are you saying the prospects for some kind of a success in Najaf are higher than they are in Fallujah?
MANCUSO: I think the prospect -- what I'm saying is, is that I think there are alternatives. There are a greater set of alternatives to combat in Najaf, even though, clearly, combat can be out there. I'm also saying that given the status in Najaf is the holiest of Shia cities, given the presence of the two holy shrines, in addition to the largest Shia cemetery in the world, that the risks are also greater.
WOODRUFF: Mario Mancuso, before I let you go, so at this stage, how would you describe the reaction that we're seeing here, that we've been witnessing here in Fallujah by U.S. forces? Is this a measured response?
MANCUSO: I don't have the images in front of me, Judy. But what I do think is, based on the current reporting, I believe that chipping away at the insurgents has been highly precise and targeted and surgical. I have every confidence that extraordinary measures will be taken to prevent or mitigate civilian casualties. And given that it occurred in a district that housed a large number of insurgents, I would imagine that the target presented a high concentration of enemy fighters.
WOODRUFF: All right. Mario Mancuso, he is a former special operations commander joining us on the telephone.
Still with us is Ken Robinson, national security analyst for CNN.
Ken, would you agree essentially with what Mario Mancuso was saying about characterizing the nature of what the U.S. is doing here?
ROBINSON: I agree with everything Mario said, especially in Najaf. The dynamic there is incredibly different. However, it's volatile.
The coalition has to be careful not to elevate Sadr's revolt against the Coalition Provisional Authority and raise his stature at the same time. The grand Ayatollah Sistani is a moderate, and he holds great respect. And he has tried to moderate the views of the average Shia. But if an attack was to occur within Najaf, they would bring a lot of people in the street both in Najaf and in the Arab world, especially the Shia world. WOODRUFF: So are you saying something like what we're watching right here, right now, or what we've been watching in Fallujah, less likely to take place in Najaf?
ROBINSON: No. I'm not saying that. I think that if Mr. Sadr stepped outside to smell the roses, he would probably greet an AC-130 gunship as well if the target was available. Because their intent to kill or capture him, what I don't expect would be a large force and mass that would invade the city.
WOODRUFF: I see. And that's a piece of what's going on here in Fallujah that we have not been talking about for the last couple of minutes, and that is that there are forces, U.S. forces on the ground in Fallujah. Ken Robinson, talk about what their job -- what it is like for these Marines and others who are on the ground in Fallujah. What are they facing?
ROBINSON: First of all, they're facing one of the toughest jobs in the world. Combat is a very messy business. Combat in an urban area, military operation in urban terrain, as they call it, is probably the most dynamic.
It provides rules of engagement challenges, because in amongst the population is where these insurgents like to hide. They prefer to fire from a second story window that's full of women and children because it fits an objective of theirs, and that is to draw the fire of something like an AC-130, to get casualties, to get an information operations goal achieved by making it look like we are indiscriminately using fire, that the coalition is indiscriminately using fire.
The command and control is very tough. In most cases, they have to start with buildings from the top and work they're way down. It's very dangerous to start from the bottom and work your way up because of booby traps and because of the advantage of having higher ground.
And they have to do a cordoned search block by block to make sure that they don't leave enemy in their rear area. It's a very, very tough type of operation. There's always high casualties.
The U.S. military doctrine is to always try to have a four-to-one advantage when they enter into something like this. And the number of actual insurgents who are going to fight is really unknown right now. They really don't know the exact numbers, and they don't know how many people will pick up a weapon and choose to fight simply because they feel they're defending their city.
WOODRUFF: So, in other words, when the U.S. says that they believe the majority of people in Fallujah sympathize with the United States that this is a small minority of again, former Ba'athists, foreign fighters, and others, you're saying the numbers may be a lot less predictable than that?
ROBINSON: They may be less than what is estimated, but they may be quite more. And no one should kid themselves. The population of Fallujah is a population of people who are out of work. Most of the city is former Ba'athists. And they're no longer drawing a paycheck. And so they disenfranchised from what they see as the 30 June transition of power.
So they may be sympathetic to what the insurgents are doing, which is trying to disrupt the coalition's transfer of power to an Iraqi government that they don't want to subjugate themselves to. So they're trying to have an influence in that.
As well, they simply have subjugated the Shia population, the majority, for 30 years, in particular, and really for 1,000 years if you look at Mesopotamia. And they're not sure what the next century is going to look like for them if we leave them with what they say is a democracy.
WOODRUFF: So they're worried, clearly, about what shape this next government is going to take. In fact, it isn't known at this point even the precise shape of the temporary government that's going to take over, although the United Nations has recommended, made a recommendation.
But let me just back you up here, Ken Robinson, of what you were saying. You said most people in the town of Fallujah no longer drawing a paycheck, they may be sympathetic to what these insurgents are trying to do. Why aren't they drawing a paycheck?
ROBINSON: Because many of the people that live in Fallujah under the old regime were members of the Ba'ath Party and were part of Saddam Hussein's government. Many members of the former Republican Guard, members of the intelligence service, resided in Fallujah and in the outskirts.
WOODRUFF: And once Saddam Hussein's government went down they were out of luck. The decision was made that those people, at least at that point, were not going to be part of a new government.
ROBINSON: That's correct. And also there was a strategic decision to isolate and bypass Fallujah, even at the time that they were taking Baghdad. So there's a group within Fallujah that's festered now for almost a year.
And that's a disenfranchised group that is being taken advantage of right now by the insurgent groups that have moved into the city, very similar to the accurate reporting that Jamie McIntyre described earlier today in that there are former fighters, former Ba'athists, former die-hards, there's belief that there's Ansar al Islam, that member of Abu Zarqawi's terrorist organization which is aligned with Osama bin Laden are represented inside Fallujah.
WOODRUFF: We're talking with Ken Robinson who's a national analyst for CNN.
These live pictures coming in from Iraq, from outside the city of Fallujah where there has been fresh fighting tonight. We know there are U.S. troops, Marines on the ground. But in a more spectacular way we saw just about an hour ago bright lights in the sky as there were what is described multiple explosions after an AC-130 gunship, actually two AC-130 gunships fired on targets in the northwest quadrant of the city.
Now these are live pictures. And this appears to be -- is this new firing we are looking at here? The camera made a very quick pan there and we're trying to get a fix on what we're looking at. We're hoping that our pool reporter Karl Penhaul will join us for an explanation of what we're looking at.
Ken Robinson, help me here. What are we seeing?
ROBINSON: It looks like a stream of 40 millimeter or 20 millimeter cannon fire from an AC-130 gunship.
WOODRUFF: But the camera clearly panning a wide span on the horizon. We had been told they were focused on one section of the city. What was it called? The Jolan district in the northwest. If you know the geography of Fallujah maybe you can help me.
I am told that Karl Penhaul, the pool reporter, will be with us right now with a little more commentary. Let's listen.
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KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... on camera for the U.S. networks pool reporting from northwest Fallujah.
What we're looking at now, and I believe you can see those off in the distance, a number of illuminations, flares. Those have been sent up into Fallujah's night sky by coalition forces. Illumination rounds because they're lighting the night sky so that coalition forces can get a bead on potential Iraqi insurgent activity down there on the ground.
Now these illumination flares which we understand are on little parachutes, that's why they come down relatively slowly, going up there now, about three quarters of an hour after an AC-130 Specter gunship pounded two positions in a different location. And John (ph) will spin around and show that now.
But just south of our position the AC-130 gunship pounded the first position there with between 20 and 25 rounds from what Marines on the ground have told us, are probably 105 millimeter Howitzer Cannon rounds. The AC-130 Specter gunship then circled again through the night sky, returned again and pound a second position about 150 yards away from the first. And again sending between 20 and 25 cannon rounds slamming into that position.
Now, we have no word from Marine commanders on the ground what those positions may have been. Certainly suspected Iraqi insurgent positions, but no word on the precise nature of those positions. We did go after the initial shower of sparks and plumes of black smoke. We did see some secondary explosions.
Now that may indicate that some kind of ammunitions or weapons may have been stored there. But certainly at this stage, no confirmation from Marine commanders on the ground.
These strikes, though, do come after many, many days of attacks by Iraqi insurgent forces, excuse me, on Marine positions here on the northwest edge of Fallujah. A cease-fire had been agreed between coalition authorities and civic and religious leaders on the ground here in Fallujah. But Marine commanders say the insurgents have never adhered to that cease-fire and have regularly mortared, rocketed and strafed Marine positions here.
The Arabic language broadcast for Al Jazeera has camera teams on the ground deep inside the city. Areas of the city that are no-go areas for many Westerners because of the number of Iraqi insurgents on the ground. And in its broadcast tonight we understand that Al Jazeera said those strikes occurred in the al Jolan district in Fallujah.
That's the district that Marines refer to as the Jolan Heights. And that is in the northwest sector of the city. It's a position about 800 yards or perhaps three-quarters of a mile from the position where we are standing now. And it is an area that we understand from Marine commanders is ripe with Iraqi insurgent activity.
The strike on these two positions comes a day after Marine platoon from the small base where we are positioned now was involved in a heavy, heavy gun battle with Iraqi insurgents. That gun battle erupted shortly before midday yesterday.
It occurred after Marine platoon had occupied two houses about 250 yards from their base and Iraqi insurgents had managed to draw up and mass around those two buildings, close enough in some instances to lob grenades inside the building and also attack the building with mortars and rockets.
In that firefight, one Marine died and nine others were injured. Three of them, we understand, were seriously wounded. The coalition hasn't been able to give any accurate count of Iraqi insurgent casualties.
Obviously, you'll understand that the Marines have pulled back from that position and didn't hang around to count numbers of Iraqis they may have killed or may have wounded in that firefight.
And so in partial response to that, in partial response also to the repeated violation of cease-fire, as the Marine commanders see it, then this AC-130 Specter gunship in action tonight, trying to hunt down Iraqi insurgent positions and strike at any area that the coalition forces believe Iraqi insurgents may have been launching mortar attacks from, or may have been using a staging post for weapons or for personnel earlier tonight.
But now those sounds have died down. But earlier tonight we did hear from some of the many, many mosques in Fallujah. The imams or religious leaders are reciting verses from the holy Quran. Those sounds again filled the night sky over Fallujah. The echo of those chants grew as the coalition strike continued. And also in the immediate aftermath, a chance, possibly to the -- the relatively small numbers of civilian population now left in the city, a chance possibly also directed at the civilian population.
Also what we've heard -- and those sounds have also died down now -- but the sounds of the Marine Psy-Ops teams broadcasting messages in Arabic. The Psy-Ops team or Psychological Operations team would have been operating on two levels.
First, possibly to warn the civilian population of imminent coalition strikes. But also to try and spook, to play mind games with the Iraqi insurgent forces here on the ground.
As you see from the pictures we are broadcasting now the night sky over Fallujah once again dark. The flames from those two coalition air strikes on Iraqi -- suspected Iraqi insurgent positions. Those flames have died down. And the plumes of black smoke that we saw earlier have now ceased billowing from the two areas where those strikes occurred.
WOODRUFF: Karl Penhaul our pool reporter in Fallujah reporting for all of the television networks over there.
Ken Robinson, CNN national security analyst. So I guess those lights that we saw were what we heard Karl Penhaul call illumination flares.
ROBINSON: Yes. The illumination flares used to hang. It has a very slow drop time as it comes down and it illuminates a very large area. It has a thousand candle power. And it enables them to use their night vision devices more effectively on board the aircraft.
WOODRUFF: Ken Robinson, what would we consider a resolution of this? Is it just -- does it look to you as if the ally, the coalition forces are waiting for the insurgents to stop firing at them or what?
ROBINSON: Well this is really a complex task, Judy. The leaders that I spoke with on the phone yesterday and the day before said that every single targeted action that they were going to take in the next 48 hours was going to lead toward one objective and that was toward Iraqi governance with stability. Their intent is to root out all of the insurgent activities, but they're trying to do two tracks simultaneously.
They're trying to use the political track and they're trying to use the hammer and go after these groups. The marines on the ground have used a lot of gallows humor in saying yes, they're turning in their weapons, one mortar round and one bullet at a time toward them. It's been very frustrating for them as the politicians have tried to find out whether the people they're negotiating with actually have any clout, any real clout with the insurgents or if they're just buying them time to rearm and regroup.
That's one of the things they've been assessing, but also at the same time they've been receiving human intelligence from inside the city and communications has come from inside the city to both the marines and to Ambassador Bremer. And so they're hopeful that they may be able to resolve this with strong applications of targeted power.
WOODRUFF: You mean positive intelligence? Intelligence that gives them reason to think there's hope here.
ROBINSON: Well, the very strike that we saw that occurred today with this AC-130 is based on intelligence.
WOODRUFF: All right. Ken Robinson, stay with us. CNN national security analyst with us now on the phone, General George Harrison, he's a retired Air Force general. He's joining us from Orlando on the phone. General Harrison, as you watch and listen to these developments in Fallujah, what light can you shed on whether these are positive developments for the allies or a standoff. How would you describe it?
GEN. GEORGE HARRISON, U.S. AIRFORCE (RET): Well, I think Ken Robinson has it right. The things that we're seeing are based on intelligence. The AC-130s that are striking and firing now don't have the kinds of sensors that can go out and autonomously target. For them to be effective and to employ their weapons there has to be a great deal of intel work developed and I think that's an indication that the picture's becoming more and more clear. There's reluctance and appropriate reluctance on the part of the ground commanders to use air strikes unless they're absolutely positive that they're going after the right target particularly in an urban area. So on balance, this is probably a positive development.
WOODRUFF: How often would you say these AC-130 gunships have been used in Iraq since the, I guess you'd say the formal end of fighting in April of last year?
HARRISON: Very seldom, as a matter of fact. I seriously doubt they're used more than on the average three or four times a month. Again, because the ground commanders quite appropriately do not want to use an airborne asset, an asset that fires from that far away unless they're very positive of the coordinates, the identity, and the nature of the target.
WOODRUFF: From that far away and yet hanging there in the air, if you will, they're still vulnerable, right?
HARRISON: Not that vulnerable in this particular environment because the primary threat tends to be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not effective up to the altitude where the AC-130s operate.
WOODRUFF: So -- so, OK. So their belief is that there's nothing on the ground that threatens them.
HARRISON: No, they're in a relatively secure position. Obviously, somebody can get a lucky shot, but that's very unlikely.
WOODRUFF: All right. Thank you very much. We will take a very short break. We want to ask you to stand by. More live coverage coming to us from Iraq from the area in and around Fallujah when we come back. Just a short break.
WOODRUFF: ...that the allies, that the coalition is making progress here or do we just have to wait until we know more?
ROBINSON: Well, the indications from the decisions that CNN has had in the last 48 hours indicated that they did have hope that the people they were negotiating with would be able to deliver, but they had yet to see any real signs of that. Most everything that had been turned in to that point had been stuff that was broken and was not of any combat use in terms of weapons from the insurgents and the small pockets of resistance have continued to fire on the marines there since the quote, unquote, "truce and cease-fire" had started but they are trying not to give the insurgents a big psychological victory. As one officer told me, they don't want to turn this into the Alamo and then have them have a real sore point here that will really cause the next government a lot of problems.
WOODRUFF: We want to say that the pictures we're showing the audience now are pictures from a little over an hour ago. Right now we are not getting a signal. The video phone signal we were getting, we expect it to come back at some point and we're waiting for that, but right now it is down and that's why we're showing you the pictures that came in as they came in just about an hour and a half ago. Ken Robinson, CNN national security analyst.
Ken, you were talking about the effort to get these insurgents to turn their weapons over, but as I understand there never was any evidence that they were doing that at all seriously. That everything they were turning over was used, old guns, all rifles, nothing that would be any threat to the coalition right now.
ROBINSON: That's correct. Everything that was turned in was unusable. It wasn't combat-worthy and it was just token.
WOODRUFF: So in terms of what the allies, I keep calling them the allies, but in terms of what the coalition is trying to do right now, they want to smoke these people out.
But are they being given any indication even from these middlemen, if you will, the town elders, the people who are residents of Fallujah, who are serving as go-betweens? They must be receiving some positive signals from them even if the insurgents themselves continue to fight back.
ROBINSON: That's true, Judy, because the complexity of the situation is there are multiple actors they're negotiating with. There's just not one specific group of people, there's not one chain of command.
That's why the folks that CNN were speaking with in the last 24 hours were stressing that they're both talking with tribal elders and with specific community leaders who represent specific blocks and wards within Fallujah.
This specific district, the Jolan district, is an area that has been a hotbed and almost a cockroach nest for insurgency. And is one of the areas that has been their prime concern and one of the targeted areas for their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets because they believe that this was an area where the insurgency groups, and I use that plural, were finding safe haven.
WOODRUFF: All right, Ken Robinson, stand by because with us again on the phone is retired Air Force General George Harrison.
General Harrison, when you're dealing -- I know you're listening to Ken Robinson. When you're dealing with such a delicate political situation as what the coalition is facing, how much harder is that make the military piece?
GEN. GEORGE HARRISON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think that makes the military piece incredibly difficult.
And we all ought to, by the way, say thank you to every Marine that's down there on the ground because they're strong exercise a great deal of restraint. They're having to positively identify every single target every time they fire their weapons.
And these are very young men and women that are doing kind of operation. They're doing it very well, undoubtedly making occasional mistakes, but not very many mistakes.
So militarily it's very difficult down at the tactical level, one-on-one. And they just have to study hard, work hard and be very conscious of what they're doing.
WOODRUFF: Why do they have to exercise the great deal of restraint you describe?
HARRISON: Well, because they're working in an urban area and there are a whole bunch of targets in there that are a whole bunch of objects in there. People's houses, people who are not involved in the insurgency. The insurgents are obviously mangled, in a great sense, with the rest of the population, although they might have a building separation. They're certainly intermingling in those areas.
And you simply make the situation worse if you fire at the wrong target. So that restraint means they have to be very careful. They can't fire at everything they see. They can't do what in ground terms is called reconnaissance by fire. They have to move forward and do it with individual movement.
WOODRUFF: We heard, I believe it was Ken Robinson just a moment ago, speak about how there had to be to have been human intelligence available in order for those AC-130 gunships to know where to fire. How tricky was that getting that human intelligence?
HARRISON: Well, the military doesn't do human intelligence. Other parts of the government and the coalition do human intelligence. But it's a very delicate, tough operation. Primarily because it's very dangerous for the human intelligence collector. So it is tough. And when possible, obviously everybody would like to rely on technology, the intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance assets that Ken Robinson was talking about, the Predator drone that we've heard so much.
But you do have to confirm particularly in an urban, intermingled target environment, with a lot of human intelligence. And it's tough, it's dangerous work.
WOODRUFF: We're talking with retired Air Force General George Harrison as we watch pictures that came in to us earlier, maybe an hour ago, hour and a half ago about some renewed fighting in the Fallujah area.
Two AC-130 gunships firing on a quadrant, a part of Fallujah, the northwestern western district, the Jolan district. This is described as a poor neighborhood where the Sunni insurgents are concentrating. One of our analysts described it as a wasp's nest, a hornet's nest, if you will, of these insurgents.
All right. As we continue to watch for developments out of Fallujah, as we talk to our national security analyst Ken Robinson and to retired Air Force General George Harrison, we're going to take another short break. We will be right back with more coverage.
WOODRUFF: Well after a day of relative calm in Fallujah, the Iraqi city, tonight the big guns have rolled out. Fighting has gone on for about the last two hours between insurgent positions on the ground, mainly Sunni insurgents on the ground, and coalition forces.
Fighting both on the ground and tonight using two AC-130 gunships hovering over a northwestern neighborhood of Fallujah where they have been firing rounds down into the two specific locations, we are told, in the Jolan district. Again, a neighborhood where the Sunni insurgents are believed to be holed up and concentrated.
Right now we want to give you a little taste, if you will, of what some of the fighting was like a little earlier today or tonight in Fallujah. These are some scenes before the AC-130 gunships got into the picture.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just saw someone duck down in that middle window.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Upstairs?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), can we move in?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Negative. Just surrounded place. Do not go in. I say again, do not go in. Just make sure we got good 360 security on that place.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're going to have a Psy-Ops team come up and call them out. They're going to give them three minutes to come out, those who have been shooting at us from this mosque, OK? Break.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Move it on that side. Have proper respect for this place.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, we're ready.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just take up security positions where they were.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's that? You got it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, six.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go inside.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're taking heavy fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been hit!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who was hit?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go! Go!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you all right, dude?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's up, man?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you all right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I'm not hit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How bad is he? He got shot above.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got movement?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hellfire!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perfect. Direct hit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: That's just a brief part of what the Marines in and around Fallujah have been facing. You have an idea of just how dangerous it is for these young men and women over there. Marines engaging in a two-week standoff with insurgents in Fallujah, tonight culminating in the shooting down up on a part of that city from two AC-130 gunships firing down on two positions which are said to be where there are said to be Sunni insurgents holed up.
Former Ba'athists and other perhaps foreign fighters all holed up in that area fighting fiercely to the death, many of them, we assume, against the coalition.
That is it for our coverage right now. If we do get more from our pool reporter on the ground Karl Penhaul we'll be breaking in to live programming to bring that to you as soon as we see it.
In the meantime we will wrap this up and turn it over to "CROSSFIRE." I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.
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