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Strike on Iraq: Update on the Second Wave

Aired March 21, 2003 - 03:50   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: More extraordinary pictures out of southern Iraq, too, with members of the Iraqi military surrendering to British troops. And also civilians, it seems, with white flags.
I want to show those pictures right now and bring in our military analyst Kelly McCann to talk more about the POW -- the POWs, those people who will become prisoners of war, and how they might affect the military and what problems they may cause.

Kelly, are you there? There you are.


COSTELLO: All right. You saw those extraordinary pictures, did you not...

MCCANN: I did.

COSTELLO: ... of Iraqis with white flags surrendering to armed British troops?

MCCANN: Yes. Basically, Carol, there's two really dangerous times in combat, one is when you re-enter friendly lines, if security patrols are out and your brother soldiers and Marines come back into friendly lines. Also, taking prisoners. It's the same thing.

The British troops are obviously going to be -- having to profile for concealed weapons. They're going want to see hands. Even though an Iraqi may be very, very excited to be now in allied forces custody, he has to be very careful that that excitement doesn't translate to what's called furd (ph) of movement. If you couple furd of movement with a misunderstanding of the English language and a hidden hand, it can quite possibly turn into a shooting. That's just the nature of the game.

COSTELLO: Yes, I know that the military has been instructed on certain Arabic phrases that they need to pay attention to, but that's difficult, isn't it?

MCCANN: It's difficult when you're excited and you're that close to people who have been termed your enemy and that you are questioning whether they can hurt you and if they do have concealed weapons. There's been a lot of discussion about suicide attempts from people who were seated in some of these groups that may appear to surrender and they could -- that they could have explosives on them. So there's a tremendous control issue. Now once the -- you actually gain control there are what we call the five Ss which we basically take control. You search everybody, of course. You want to segregate them so they can't talk among themselves and also so that there's potentially not internal strife. In other words, if there are seated people in that group you take prisoner, some who are supporting Hussein, some who are not, our job then becomes to protect them from killing or hurting each other while in custody.

COSTELLO: Yes, the interesting thing about this, too, is that the U.S. government has told the military that the Iraqi people are not the enemy.

MCCANN: Right.

COSTELLO: So will these prisoners be treated different than the normal prisoners of war?

MCCANN: Well typically you want to establish control up front, Carol. And, quite frankly, you are expected to handle them roughly initially. And that is to exert yourself as unquestionably in control of the situation and in control of the people. And then you can lighten up once you've gone through those five Ss, segregate, speed. You've got to get them away from the battlefield.

I heard earlier, as you and Anderson were reporting, they go first to a collection point. And then after that collection point, which is the initial point they're turned over to the MPs, they go back further to a holding area. And obviously we always have to be concerned with their safety. So there's very, very entrenched processes involved here.

Done badly, you can remember what happened at Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan when people were not searched, they were not segregated and in fact they were seated with very fundamentalists and anti-U.S. elements that then took it into their hands to kill Michael Spann and create a revolt situation. So it's a very tense situation, and a manpower drain as well.

COSTELLO: Well, and I was just going to say, they're expecting tens of thousands of Iraqis to turn themselves in. What problems might this pose for the troops over there?

MCCANN: Well the way that it's being handled now is the attacking elements don't have time to get mired down in this. So the MPs and correctional personnel who are trained in these procedures extensively are following closely behind at those collection points so they can immediately establish them.

The capturing unit would then immediately turn them over and continue forward. The MPs have then full control and they would establish and hold that situation in control until -- and that might become the holding area. In other words, we might not want to use the assets necessary to move them further to the rear. Other MPs would then continue forward with the attacking unit and so on, leapfrog through the process, but important to establish complete control up front.

COSTELLO: Yes, I was just going to ask you about information they may get from these prisoners of war because no doubt there is much questioning going on of these prisoners, too.

MCCANN: Interrogator translator teams are used by the MPs. Once we've sorted out or they've sorted out through, you know, who they have got, do they have anybody that's other than battlefield fodder, are there officers, is there perishable information that we'd like to get, et cetera, they go through a whole process, not as detailed or at length as you would find in Guantanamo, for example, but battlefield interrogation. And at that point that information is passed to the S2, the intelligence officer, forwarded up to the joint intelligence center, if necessary, and acted on.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about the invasion itself, because there has been minimal efforts at fighting back. Does that surprise you? I know we all expected that, but there has been virtually none.

MCCANN: Well it depends on their operational order. You know, Carol, yesterday when we were starting to get the warnings all the time where, you know, Sanjay of course was into his bunker several times, as Walt Rodgers was, and all the reporters that are out in the field, that is doctrinally called harassment and interdiction fire. That was in the defensive plan by the Iraqis. It's in rocket doctrine, too. Over a period of time continue to fire what appears to be just harassment rounds which make you do something and thereby making you fatigued, making you frustrated and requiring you to not be able to get uninterrupted sleep. Which means, if you go into the attack at night, you're less than 100 percent. So that was a doctrinal approach.

Likewise, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense had issued two months ago a statement that said take the desert, there's nothing in it, we'll see you in the city. That was their battle plan going into this. And if you remember three weeks ago, Saddam Hussein withdrew his troops into Baghdad, a significant amount of them. The original plan to set up concentric zones around the city to prevent that withdrawal then became obsolete. So it's not unusual that we're not seeing some resistance. We're running into pockets of resistance, detachments left in contact, meant to delay, disrupt -- kind of disrupt the momentum, but we haven't seen this plan play out yet.

COSTELLO: Yes, and when the -- when the troops finally arrive in Baghdad, it may be a whole different story. We just don't know.

MCCANN: Exactly.


MCCANN: But that may be exactly the time when they do the shock and awe, if that's not going to be held in check, Carol. That may be the precise time when we bring Baghdad to actually engage that and then, thereby, mitigating military operations in urban terrain making even more surrender.

COSTELLO: Understand. We're going to bring Anderson in. He has a question for you, Kelly.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Kelly, we just got word a few moments ago that -- from the British Foreign Minister that British troops are receiving some resistance, strong opposition, in fact, on their road to Basra around Umm Qasr. Does that surprise you? I mean so much talk ahead of this had been saying you know it was going to be kind of a cakewalk into Basra, they were going to be greeted with open arms. Does it concern you? Does it surprise you?

MCCANN: Morning, Anderson.

No, it doesn't surprise me because this is a war and we've got to expect it. Now in those autonomous -- remember we've kind of broken up the command and control of the Iraqis to literally get current and consistent word out to the forward elements. Those troops that are -- that are resisting are acting on their last orders, undoubtedly, and may not have any information about the bigger picture, how deep we have penetrated into Iraq, the numbers of forces. And also, I mean they are defending a fairly crucial area there. So it doesn't surprise me. I mean we have yet to have any casualties, we have yet to inflict significant causalities.

COOPER: Right.

MCCANN: So I think there's more to come.

COOPER: All right.

COSTELLO: Kelly McCann, I'm sorry, we have to interrupt very great information from Kelly. And I know you've been sticking around all morning, but we must go to Bob Franken. He is at an air base in the Persian Gulf. That's as specific as we can get with his location.

Bob Franken, what can you tell us.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a teensy weensy bit more specific. It is close to the Iraq border. I can almost see Wolf Blitzer from here, but that's about as much as I'm going to tell you.

In any case, it is also one of the main bases for the -- for much of the air war that's going to be conducted from ground based aircraft. This is a base that uses fighter jets, the F-16, the FA-18. It also uses the A-10, and that's an important one. And the wing commander held a news conference this morning to say that in the preceding 24 hours there had been a huge spike in the number of sorties, which is their word for missions. The -- there had been 141 as compared to the mid-30s the day before. Most of those he said, this is an interesting part, were in support of the ground operation. An awful lot of the A-10, which is a very, very potent anti-tank weapon, preparing the battlefield is the terminology they use. In other words, clearing the way for the opposition to be -- the tanks to not be a factor as the U.S. troops advance.

They also concentrated on the city of Basra. That area a command and control center, certainly consistent with the ground war that is going on. That seems to be the main target of opportunity right now. The other thing that they did, which was so interesting, is that they went on a search. In the flights that came from this base, a search for the locations of the portable missile sites that have fired four missiles, they say, at the forces friendly to the United States, four of them. Those missile firings had caused a huge rash of alerts, red alerts they call them, where in military province (ph) you had to go to MOPP4, that's mission oriented protection, and MOPP4 is the highest level. That means an attack is imminent, if not already in progress.

Well the attacks turned out to be nothing of the sort. But before we would find that out, each time, nearly a dozen times, everybody on the base would have to put on his gas masks and his entire chemical/biological protective gear, wait in a bunker or some sort of protective area until the all clear was given just a little bit of time ago. But there's only been one since overnight and that is attributed by the commander to the fact that they're on the chase for these portable missile sites and they have intimidated them or stopped them from firing the missiles -- Anderson.

COSTELLO: Understand. Bob Franken, Carol Costello here, along with Anderson Cooper. Bob Franken reporting from an air base somewhere in the Persian Gulf.


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