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Strike on Iraq: March Into Baghdad Continues

Aired March 22, 2003 - 01:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: It's been quiet in Kuwait today, hasn't it, Daryn? I haven't heard any of the air raid sirens that we heard last night. You're having kind of a nice and quiet Saturday morning.
DARYN KAGAN, ANCHOR: Well, Aaron, the last time we heard was about 11:00 PM last night local time. It's very windy, and it looks like some kind of nasty weather is blowing into our area. And that's nice to be able to make that the lead story from Kuwait City this morning.

BROWN: I was going to say, if the least of your problems are a little wind, you've done well for the day, Daryn. Thank you very much.


BROWN: Daryn Kagan is part of the group. Bill Hemmer is over there, and Wolf is over there. Lots of our colleagues are over in Kuwait right now, part of the coverage, and they're doing long hours and terrific work also. It's a lot easier, obviously, to be here than it is over there. We're proud of them.

Someone just handed me an e-mail. I assume we're trying to get the cabview to pack. All right, go ahead and take the picture. This is up in northern Iraq where Kevin Sites was just reporting from. And I -- you guys are going to have to do this. That's Kevin -- I think that's Kevin walking away from the scene there. We'll get a little detail on what was going on as we go here.

It's a little hard to see, as I look at this. There's a monitor. People ask me why I'm looking off to the side. There's a big monitor there, and it's the best monitor I have to see what's going on. And I don't mean to be looking away from you, though it's not a big deal that I do.

They were doing a little dance, I guess. And I assume the camera has something to do with it. It usually does, but I'm not sure who they are. OK. OK.

Now, that's the 3rd Cav again. And we've told you before that this is a unit that's run by 30-year-old -- I think my memory is right -- 30-year-old Clay Lyle. So he's out there in the desert.

Our Capt. Lyle, can you hear me?

Walt, will you ask Kevin -- have you got Capt. Lyle next to you? WALTER RODGERS CNN CORRESPONDENT: Can you speak to Capt. Lyle? He's finding it difficult to understand you. Just check that you've got a cross quality as you can in his ear, please.

BROWN: We're just -- we're just...

RODGERS: Can you speak to him please?

BROWN: We're working out some technical things here. Just stay with us. We'll see what happens. On the telephone from Ft. Stewart, Georgia is Stephanie Lyle.

Stephanie, are you there? Mr. Lyle, are you there?


BROWN: May I call you Stephanie?


BROWN: We're working on this. Stay with me.

STEPHANIE LYLE: Well, that's OK.

BROWN: Well, I know. I really do believe that, actually. When did you last talk to Clay, by the way?

STEPHANIE LYLE: It's been a little over two weeks.

BROWN: The last couple of weeks?

STEPHANIE LYLE: No, it's been -- it's been a little over two weeks.

BROWN: OK. And are you able to -- have you been able to exchange e-mails or anything in that time? Have you had any contact with him in that time?

STEPHANIE LYLE: Well, no, sir. There have been no e-mails, but we have been writing one another.

BROWN: And have you gotten mail from him?

STEPHANIE LYLE: Yes, I receive mail. I received a letter yesterday. It takes about three weeks for them to get back here to me from Kuwait.

BROWN: So it's been a long time?


BROWN: Well, hopefully, we'll give you a chance to talk to him in just a second. Now, the downside of what we're going to do is about 3 million people are going to hear the conversation. So...

STEPHANIE LYLE: OK. I see him there. BROWN: OK. So don't be discussing family finances or anything, all right?


BROWN: Capt. Lyle, are you able to hear?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... directions from the producer/director in Atlanta. If there are details and we need to change the program, that's fine.

BROWN: Well, that's what's happening, clearly. Can you tell that's your husband?

STEPHANIE LYLE: Hi, sweetie.

RODGERS: Now, I would prefer to do it your way, Charlie (ph), but that's what...

BROWN: I'm not sure he can hear you yet. Just stand on. But Capt. Lyle, are you able to hear?

CAPT. CLAY LYLE, U.S. ARMY, 3RD SQUADRON, 7TH CAVALRY: ... can't understand (INAUDIBLE) Charlie (ph).

RODGERS: Not yet. Tell them not to come yet. He can't understand him.

BROWN: Pardon? OK. Stephanie, try to talk to him.


BROWN: We think he can hear you.


RODGERS: Hello, Aaron. We're standing here on a muddy road in south central Iraq. We're waiting for the orders to move forward. The man who will give those orders is Capt. Clay Lyle. He's the commander of the Apache Troop of the U.S. Army's 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry.

Capt. Lyle, how goes it? What are we looking at? What can you tell us?

CLAY LYLE, U.S. AMRY: We've been traveling for a long time, going hard, going far and fast, and we've dealt with sand and now rain and the enemy.

RODGERS: Some of your soldiers said they've gone 60 hours without sleep.

CLAY LYLE: It's hard to even keep track at this time. When we start bumping and since we began to move, it's been about 60 hours, going on three days now. I've had about 30 minutes of sleep, and most of the soldiers are in the same boat. RODGERS: Now, we have a bit of a surprise for you. We think we've established contact with your wife on the phone back at Ft. Stewart. We're going to try to see if she can speak to you at this point. We hope the IPF is working. Go ahead, talk to her.

CLAY LYLE: Stephanie.


CLAY LYLE: Stephanie, can you hear me?

STEPHANIE LYLE: I can hear you.



CLAY LYLE: Hi. We're all safe.


CLAY LYLE: We're all safe and a little tire.

STEPHANIE LYLE: We've all been watching you, and we're all very proud of you.

CLAY LYLE: Good to hear your voice.

STEPHANIE LYLE: We've all been watching, and we're proud of everything you're doing. You're in our thoughts and prayers.

CLAY LYLE: Well, as long as you -- as long as you and Emily (ph) are doing OK, I'm doing OK.

STEPHANIE LYLE: We're fine. We love and miss you.

CLAY LYLE: Everybody's -- all the guys are doing good. We've gone a long way, and we've dealt with anything we've encountered, but everyone's doing good. And we hope to come home real soon.

STEPHANIE LYLE: We're looking forward to it. We miss you.

BROWN: Miss you. Thank you.

CLAY LYLE: It's hard to hear you, honey, so -- it's hard to hear you, honey, so I'm going to go.


CLAY LYLE: I love you.

STEPHANIE LYLE: I love you, too.

CLAY LYLE: And I'll be home soon.

STEPHANIE LYLE: I love you. Be safe. BROWN: Stephanie, don't hang up yet, OK?


BROWN: All right.

RODGERS: ... signs on battlefields in the Middle East, in the Balkans, in the old Soviet Union as it was collapsing. But that was one of the most pleasant, if not the strangest -- a battlefield commander talking to his wife with a hostile enemy force not too far over the horizon.

That being the case, we're still with the U.S. Army's 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry. You were just listening to Capt. Clay Lyle, the commander of the Apache Troop, talking to his wife, Stephanie, all the way back to Ft. Stewart, Georgia in the United States. Back to you, Aaron.

BROWN: Thank you, Walter, very much. Do you guys have a picture of Stephanie that you can put up for a second, people look at Capt. Lyle's wife. We had a brief look at the Captain. There she is.

Stephanie, feel better?

STEPHANIE LYLE: Absolutely. It was wonderful to see him and talk to him. Thank you very much.

BROWN: No, actually, thank you very much. In a lot of respects, it's we who thank you. We appreciate your willingness to hang with us while we tried to make this happen and...

STEPHANIE LYLE: I appreciate it.

BROWN: Well, thank you. I think you just talked to, I think, a lot of military wives. You spoke for them. We're obviously not in the business of connecting everybody to everybody, but we're glad we could do it this once. And thank you for indulging us.


BROWN: Be well, OK.


BROWN: Thank you.


BROWN: Thank you.

He said to her, we're well and we're safe, and miss you. And there's a lot of miss yous that are going on out there.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There really are. I think that's amazing. And I think it's -- I think it's meaningful for every wife, every soldier who's over there to see that being done, because Stephanie Lyle represents everyone of them when she expressed her concern for her husband, her love for her husband, her concern about the unit, the other lives, and the admonition to be safe.

BROWN: You know, we've had the luxury the last 20 minutes or so to put a couple together, and it all felt great. And now we're going to take the other side -- see it from the other side of this.

Chris Plante is at the Pentagon. There's been some problems out in the field.

Chris, I don't know what precisely you've got, except it involves helicopters, and that's often not good.

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Aaron. Two British combat transport helicopters down in the Persian Gulf. Seven British sailors or troops aboard those two helicopters. The circumstances are not clear at this point, but officials telling us that search and rescue efforts are underway in the Gulf, in an effort to find survivors.

Again, two helicopters, British, with seven, according to the initial reports, seven crew members between the two helicopters, Sea Kings, which, honestly, could have been carrying a lot more troops over the water, the Persian Gulf. And U.S. and British forces are currently engaged in search and rescue operations there -- Aaron.

BROWN: Do we know how long ago this happened, Chris?

PLANTE: We don't. We're just getting the first details in now. And very sketchy details are still being flushed out. But search and rescue efforts underway, as I said, two helicopters down.

Very often, when you have a situation where two helicopters go down simultaneously, it's a case of them bumping into one another in flight, which is always catastrophic for helicopters.

BROWN: And we don't want to presume the worst here, but what we will say is that the British forces have, in just a couple of days, have had a tough to of it. In that helicopter accident yesterday, there were four, as I recall the numbers -- you'll know these...

PLANTE: Eight.

BROWN: Four Americans and eight...

PLANTE: Right. That's correct, four American Marines and eight British troops killed in a crash of a U.S. Marine Corps Sea Knight helicopter, a heavy troop transport helicopter that the Marine Corps has been using, like the B-52 for many decades now. And that's another unfortunate hit for the British.

There's still hope that there may be some survivors, but right now, search and rescue efforts are underway.

BROWN: And thank you. Chris, we'll get back to you as you are able to develop more information there. And we hope it's more good news than bad.

Out in the field, Martin Savidge is embedded with a Marine unite, as I recall.

Marty, the last time I saw you, you were looking pretty tired. Tell us what you can tell us about where you are and what you've encountered.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're back with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. We're located just outside of Basra. We're at the same facility that they rushed to grab yesterday. As you know, for U.S. and coalition forces, getting into the oil fields and getting specifically to the oil production facilities was vital in their mission because this is perceived as, well, the road to reconciliation, the road to rebuilding for Iraq.

And there was a great deal of concern that, as the Iraqi troops retreated from this area, they would do the scorched earth policy. The Marines here doing a change, obviously, mapping out how they're containing security around this facility and also figuring out where their next objective is going to be.

We'll show you something going on over here. You've heard about the fires that have been burning. We have not seen a lot of oil wells that have been burning here in southern Iraq. However, you can see that there is a large plume of black smoke rising in the distance there.

That is not an oil well. It's actually one of the myriad of pipelines that run throughout southern Iraq. It's almost like a spider's web. And it appears that it was damaged somehow, whether it was either with the initial attack in this region, whether it was intentionally damaged, we don't know. But it is burning.

No one is dealing with that at this time. No one's dealing with any of the fires right now because the first thing is to secure these facilities.

This particular facility we're at here, it is estimated that about 14 percent of the world's total oil production comes through this area. So that's how vital it is.

Military commanders stress they are not out here to get the oil to the United States; they are out here to get the oil and the oil production facilities back in the hands of the people who deserve it. And that, they say, are the Iraqi people.

There has been fighting nearby here, all morning long. Just about two-and-a-half miles away to the north, apparently, a number of Iraqi tanks, about eight of them, supported by ground troops, were discovered dug in, and there have been artillery barrages with them, as well as the Cobra Attack Helicopters.

Things have quieted down somewhat, whether that means that has been dealt with or not is unclear. What is planned today is that these Marines are expected to be relieved in places, they say, by British forces. And then we will continue to push on, Aaron.

BROWN: And do you know and can you discuss with us, when you say push on, where you are headed, what your ultimate destination is?

SAVIDGE: The ultimate destination, like most of the forces here, is eventually going to be Baghdad. How we get there, what route and what may stop us in the meantime is unclear at this particular point.

This objective is considered so important that, for three-and-a- half days, we were under an embargo for any communication. You couldn't even turn on a satellite phone because it was feared the transmission from those phones would give away the position of the Marine force as it moved.

It wanted to move in a very stealthy fashion. It got here quickly. It found that it had not been booby-trapped as they had feared. But had it been the case, and the Marines were on the property and it blew up, you can imagine there would have been a great deal of loss of life, Aaron.

BROWN: And just -- you may have said all of this. But just as you have made your way over these last three days, how many times have you encountered -- I use the term "you" here broadly, of course. How many times have these Marines encountered resistance? Is this piece of business that was going on a couple hours ago the first time, or has it been sporadic, every few hours there's something?

SAVIDGE: It's sporadic. Initially, when we were up at the area of departure, then pushed on to the attack area, right up by the Kuwaiti-Iraq border, we would have been about 12 kilometers away, less than six miles or so, from the border on the night we were going to push in.

There was a lot of opposition that was coming from Iraqi forces.


SAVIDGE: And that delayed the push into southern Iraq by several hours.

BROWN: Marty, just stand by for a second. I need to go to Walt Rodgers for a second because his unit, the Cav, has been sending some fire out -- Walt.

RODGERS: Hello, Aaron. The Iraqi detachment, which we were telling you about a short while ago, out over the horizon, in that direction, we have heard some explosions, perhaps half a dozen.

Now, it would appear that they were taking fire from other 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Artillery positions. There has been nothing from the Iraqis coming toward Apache Troop, but I am speculating that what we're hearing is artillery from the U.S. Artillery forces, the 155 Cavalry guns, back up the road behind us.

The engagement apparently began when the Iraqis, according to some of the soldiers we've spoken with, fired haphazardly in the direction of Bone Crusher Troop and Crazy Horse Troop. Again, Apache Troop has taken no incoming fire. And there was nothing of any seriousness that was happening to the other two troops in the 7th Cav.

Still, we have heard explosions over where the -- where the Iraqi detachment is, and that leads us to believe that some of the larger artillery pieces that travel with the cavalry, considerably farther to our rear two or three kilometers, with 155 millimeter piloting (ph) guns, probably were called in to fire on the Iraqi detachment on the horizon because they had fired first at Bone Crusher and Crazy Horse Troops.

That being the case, the big standoff guns, the 155 millimeters -- not the tanks which you're seeing now, but the 155 millimeters, which can reach out as far as 24, 30 kilometers, 18 or 20 miles, were probably brought to bear.

We don't have confirmation on that, but we do know we heard fire out in the direction where we believe the Iraqi detachment was. We haven't seen anything coming our way.

We do know that the Iraqis -- or we're given to believe that the Iraqis were firing on other detachments in the 7th Cav. Again, no casualties, nothing serious, by way of accuracy, but we've heard explosions from where we believe the Iraqis are. That strongly suggests that the 7th Cavalry's big artillery in the rear was called forth to punish those firing on Bravo and Charlie companies -- Aaron.

BROWN: Let's just stay with you for a second. There's just something terribly, General, surreal about this moment. We were, what, five, six, seven, eight, 10 minutes ago, putting together the 30-year-old captain on the telephone with his wife and I miss you, I love you, and stay safe. And it just shows you how this -- you know, anybody that thinks this is going to be a absolute cake-walk -- this is a war. And the distance can turn on a dime, and all of a sudden stuff's flying through the air.

CLARK: That's exactly right, Aaron. This is -- it is war. It's boring. A lot of it's very boring for the people that are in it. It's incredibly fatiguing. And all of a sudden, something goes wrong, and it can be incredibly dangerous and produce enormous stress and anxiety or uncertainty, as the case is here.

BROWN: And now, it's just the -- a few minutes ago, you had this young woman talking to her husband and feeling great about the fact that she was able to do so, and now that same young woman, no doubt, is watching this still, and I presume that her anxiety level has moved up a notch, as would make perfect sense -- all in the span of 10 minutes or so.

CLARK: I'm sure that's true. And that's, of course, the hazard of the medium that we're in here. And, as you've said, we'll see how this works out. This is the first time something like this has been done.

BROWN: And that's a great point. I mean we think about this all the time. What happens if we're alive and something far more serious than what we're looking at breaks out?

Patrick Tyler of "The New York Times," when we last talked to you before, the decision was made to go to war. He has made his way to Kuwait, and he joins us from there.

What are you writing these days?

PATRICK TYLER, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, basically, Aaron, from here, we're just trying to write a lead-all every day that captures the extraordinary scope of this unfolding military campaign.

You know, from here, we've got a 150,000, 200,000-man army deployed in the desert -- person army deployed in the desert that is going off on different vectors, Eastern front, Western front, straight up the highways to Baghdad. And then you've got this enormous air campaign that we saw unfold last night.

So just keeping up with it, our correspondents in the field who are embedded, much like you, and trying to pull it all together every day for the newspaper.

BROWN: And are you -- I need you to explain a little bit about your job at the paper. The title, as I recall it, is chief correspondent. You have tremendous leeway in what you want to file, the kind of stories you want to file, the stories you want to tell.

Are you painting big-pictures stories, Pat?

TYLER: Well, I think we've got -- the collective product of our correspondents, who are deployed with the Army, is a picture story. It is a picture of the military force going across the desert or headed up to Umm Qasr and Basra or watching, as John Burns did, the obliteration of a good part of the Baghdad suburbs.

BROWN: Do you know how many people "The Times" has in the region?

TYLER: I think it's on the order of about 30 deployed broadly from the Persian Gulf to Turkey and Cairo and Iran, Oman, Jordan, here in Kuwait, on the Arabian Peninsula, pretty much all over the region.

BROWN: Has it played out, so far, the way you thought it would play out so far?

TYLER: Well, I think there have been big surprises to this campaign. I think when they took a shot at the Iraqi leadership before the campaign even got off the ground was a big surprise.

I think the rapidity with which the 7th Cavalry has gotten out in front of the 3rd Mech. and raced up that western salian (ph) of the Iraqi desert to position itself on the western approaches to Baghdad has been a surprise, even though we knew that they were going pretty much in that direction.

I think the way the Royal Marines and the U.S. Marine Corps collaborated to take the watering approaches to Basra has been very interesting and was not known in any detail, except that they were interested in liberating the largest of the southern Iraqi cities, as both a laboratory and a message to the rest of the country that this was going to be a benign, liberating act. And in that way, undermine the resistance in Baghdad.

BROWN: I think it was about 10 days ago that we had you on the program in New York and that we last talked. Are you, at all, surprised how quickly the diplomacy ultimately ended and the war so quickly began?

TYLER: Well, I think it was very hard to predict, the last time we talked, whether there was going to be a final resolution. I think we saw, as those days unfolded, that the Bush administration made a very serious effort to hang on and try and bring back some unity to the western alliance.

Because I think the president understood that going to war with disunity in that alliance, with a fractures alliance, had potential consequences for the assistance Iraq and the United States and its allies might need in the post-war period in putting this place back together.

BROWN: Do you have any feel for how, ultimately, the Arab world will handle this American occupation in Iraq?

TYLER: I think that success would breed success. If this is a short duration conflict and there is an image of a constructive liberation that is very quickly in the hands of Iraqis and Iraqi figures, whose family names, after all, will be known in this part of the world and on this peninsula, where families wash over borders and big tribal structures cross boundaries, that that will radiate out into the region and comet.

I think we saw how sensitive the situation is when there were reports that the Marines had raised an American flag when they took the Faw Peninsula. And that triggered an immediate reaction. It was amazing how it rippled across the region where there were, as you know, already many demonstrations underway.

So it's brittle and hyper-sensitive, the Arab Street right now, but it will be directly and immediately affected by some sense that this is going to be a constructive liberation that enables Iraq to find itself.

BROWN: Patrick, we know you have work to do. We always enjoy our conversations. Patrick Tyler is the chief correspondent for "The New York Times." It's one of the truly premier and prestige jobs in the newspaper business, and we're always pleased to have him on the program. Thank you, sir. Have a good and safe stay over there in a pretty crazy region.

On the right side of the screen, Walt Rodgers, our correspondent, is with the cavalry unit that's under some stress.

Walt, can you give us any more detail on what is going on there? RODGERS: Yes, Aaron. There have been more explosions out over my shoulder in the horizon behind me. And it was, indeed, as I was speculating a short while ago. The big 155 millimeter (ph) guns of the U.S. Army, the 7th Cavalry's big guns to their rear, they were punching out.

That gun has a range of upwards of 20 miles or so. And what happened was the unit -- some of the units in the rear, Bone Crusher Troop and Crazy Horse Troop, took some sporadic fire from an Iraqi detachment out over the horizon behind me. No damage was done; no one was injured. But it showed hostile intent on the part of the Iraqis.

That being the case, the commander of this squadron called up his own artillery, these huge 155 millimeter palitons (ph) guns, out behind me. They fired perhaps two to three miles from the rear and then the shells went over our heads, went back out over the horizon and would have hammered very, very severely any Iraqi detachment out there, which had indicated its hostile intent by firing earlier.

I should tell you the killing radius of that 155 millimeter shell, when it hits the ground, is probably 500 meters. That's over four football fields, practically five football fields' radius in any direction. So whoever was out there, whatever Iraqi unit was very poor in its judgment when it decided to fire in the direction of the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry -- Aaron.

BROWN: And again, how far in the distance do you feel this action is taking place?

RODGERS: Well, I can't be absolutely sure, but I'm sure the palitons (ph) are probably two to three miles in our rear. I know the gun can punch out another 16 miles beyond where I'm standing. I don't think it was quite that far out, but we had heard a series of concussions on the horizon over there. It was first half a dozen, and then there was yet another valley.

So they could be probably at least a dozen miles beyond us. The Apache Troop I'm with has seen not hostile fire, no hostile intent at all.

Again, the only sporadic fire that came from the Iraqis fell far short and missed the other units in the 7th Cavalry. No one injured with these U.S. forces -- Aaron.

BROWN: OK. Well, step aside for just a little bit so we can take a look at the guys you're covering and how they are poised. Those gun barrels -- I hope that's the right term. I always worry when I'm sitting next to you. The truth is that they are point out in the direction that the problem is occurring. It's a ways away.

As you listened, General, to Walt's description, does that all pretty much make sense to you?


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