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Interview with Scott Peterson

Aired October 14, 2002 - 12:24   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Whether it's one war or two, the U.S. military is making preparations.
Today in our "Guns and Ammo" segment, CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre is joining us from the deck of the "USS Abraham Lincoln." It is somewhere in the Arabian Sea. He is joining us live via video phone with night scope technology -- pretty impressive stuff, Jamie. Give us -- what's the latest on what is going on from your vantage point?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, dramatic nighttime operations here in the North Arabian Sea. (AUDIO GAP) these are planes actually returning from combat over Afghanistan. (AUDIO GAP) use the night scope because our lights (AUDIO GAP) -- I'm going to pause here a moment while a plane comes in and lands (AUDIO GAP).

BLITZER: It looks like we're having some technical problems which shouldn't be a surprise. We are using new technology aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea. Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, reporting. There are night flight operations, takeoffs and landings going on, training exercises for the possibility -- the possibility of war. I think we may be getting these pictures back. This is actually videotape of some of the takeoffs and landings aboard the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea.

We're not providing a specific detailed location for obvious reasons. We are going to try to fix that problem with Jamie McIntyre, see if we can connect, reconnect with him. Pretty amazing stuff going on over there, pretty amazing technology.

But now that the U.S. Congress has handed the president more power to go to war with Iraq if necessary, what kind of war can we expect? Would it be similar to Desert Storm or could it turn into another Somalia or Vietnam?

For our "One on One" segment, we turn now to Baghdad once again, where we're joined by Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor -- Scott, you have been there for a while, you know what's going on, what's the answer to the first question, are we anticipating another Persian Gulf War along the lines of Operation Desert Storm?

SCOTT PETERSON, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Well, I don't think so. I think that one of the main indications is, for example, is that the Pentagon has been really changing its thinking. I think that after September 11, we have seen a new way of deploying forces. I think that they learned an awful lot from the campaign in Afghanistan where they really had the target of overthrowing the regime, but they didn't feel the need to have so many large and conventional forces there, and I think that the comments that we have heard from the Secretary of Defense over the last several days really helped -- has helped to codify and confirm that that new thinking is underway. I mean, he is asking for the kind of things -- much more lean -- lean forces to come in and do the kind of operations that used to require the kind of massive troop deployments that we saw during the Gulf War. I would expect, in this instance, if the United States does decide to go ahead, that what we will see are much more focused Special Forces units, and that sort of thing.

Of course, the fallout and what military planners must be grappling with are that the risks of that kind of approach are much, much greater because, of course, if you get forces like that that are separate, separated and away from a major backup, it could spell trouble if they run into trouble.

BLITZER: And a lot of our viewers, Scott, may not realize that Baghdad is a pretty large city of what, 4 or 5 million people, finding Saddam Hussein in Baghdad or even outside of Baghdad might prove to be rather difficult, even with extensive U.S. military capabilities. You wrote an article the other day saying, Look, the U.S. has still not been able to find Osama bin Laden. Talk to me a little bit about that.

PETERSON: Well, that is exactly what military planners and also intelligence people and even Special Forces people who might be tasked with trying to find Saddam Hussein in any kind of a man hunt -- I mean, the administration has made it perfectly clear that they are trying to go for regime change, they would like to do it -- from their view -- in a relatively efficient way, without bringing in so many troops, but the -- the people that I have spoken to say that the difficulties are absolutely horrific, something, in fact, I think, that U.S. forces have never dealt with before.

This is a city, as you said, of 5 million people, trying to track anybody in this city or even in smaller cities -- in Somalia, the experience that we had there, I was in Somalia during that time when the U.S. was trying to track down General Aidid, that was difficult. I think that the examples and the fact that Rosco Malatich (ph) and Roda Vancaritage (ph) are still out loose -- still loose in areas of Bosnia that are ostensibly under NATO control also speak volumes about the difficulty of going after -- after a single individual, and especially in Baghdad where President Saddam Hussein has had years and years to perfect this art, it began before the initial Gulf War. One very senior general, former commander in chief here, told me that basically the United States intelligence about finding Saddam Hussein is so poor that they have no human intelligence sources on the ground here, and that is a real stumbling block.

BLITZER: Scott, the other day, I interviewed James Woolsey, the former CIA director, who made this point, he said Saddam Hussein is surround by a sycophants who tell him what he wants to hear, and he may not even know how serious the U.S. is about going to war against him and overthrowing his regime, making sure there is disarmament in Iraq. Do you get that sense on the ground there in Baghdad?

PETERSON: Well, I have -- get a feel looking at how the political moves are playing themselves out, that he has a very full understanding of what is at stake, what is at risk, and what is likely to happen if Iraq does not comply with whatever the United Nations Security Council hammers out this coming week and next.

I think he has a sense of that, and the other thing is that, regardless of what anyone thinks about the kind of advisers that he has, there is no question that he has proved himself to be an extraordinary survivor. Well before the Gulf War, there were attempts and things like that on his life, he has always had a difficult security situation to deal with, and of course, Iraq is one of the most difficult countries in Middle East to deal with because of its ethnic and religious makeup here, so it has been -- I think these are things that he's all well aware of, but he also has survived through an awful lot, far more, probably, than the United Nations -- or United States planners appreciate.

BLITZER: Scott Peterson, doing some excellent reporting for the "Christian Science Monitor" and doing a little bit of reporting for us just now as well. Thanks, we'll have you back. Good luck to you in Baghdad over there. Be careful.


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