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Iraq Captures up to 12 soldiers, POWs Aired on Iraqi TV

Aired March 23, 2003 - 16:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Our coverage with the war in Iraq does continue. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. More fire and smoke on the Baghdad horizon. At this hour after large, new explosions rocked the city's south side. But for coalition forces, the most intense and disturbing battles of the war have been happening on the ground. In the past couple of hours, U.S. Central Command had the grim task of reporting that 12 U.S. soldiers are unaccounted for. And to believe to have been captured after Iraqi forces ambushed a supply convoy.
And U.S. officials say fewer than ten Marines were killed while facing the stiffest resistance yet by Iraqi forces outside the southern city of Nasiriyah. Given the fluid situation on the battlefield, the total number of coalition casualties is not clear. But before these new casualty reports -- before these new reports, 23 deaths had been confirmed. The most recent, a U.S. soldier who was killed in a grenade attack by a fellow soldier in northern Kuwait. And another soldier who was killed in a vehicle accident in southern Iraq. Two U.S. Marines were killed earlier in combat, and 19 U.S. and British troops were killed in a pair of helicopter crashes.

Right now, let's get the very latest on the military picture, both in the air and on the ground. Let's go live to our military affairs correspond at the Pentagon, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a very tough day of fighting is how the U.S. Central Command described it today in their briefing out of the region in Qatar. The Lieutenant General John Abizaid also gave a rundown of the opposition and he called the resistance that U.S. forces are meeting. He said the stiffest resistance to date has come at the town of An Nasiriyah where the U.S. felt that it had essentially secured the perimeter outside the city only to discover that they were meeting resistance.

Now, Abizaid said that the majority of the resistance they've seen has come from what he called Saddam Hussein's special security organization and the Saddam Fedayeen. The U.S. believes that the Special Republican Guard units have infiltrated into the south and are conducting attacks against U.S. forces. Here's a little bit of what general Abizaid had to say.


LIEUTENANT GENERAL JOHN ABIZAID, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Well, I wouldn't want to characterize the force that did the fighting in An Nasiriyah. Suffice it to say that it was a sharp engagement, but the Marines were successful. They defeated the enemy. The first reports indicated they destroyed eight tanks, some anti-aircraft batteries that were in the region, and also some artillery along with a number of infantry.


MCINTYRE: He was also in the An Nasiriyah area where a U.S. supply convoy from the U.S. Army ran into Iraqi troops apparently after taking a wrong turn. They were -- they were ambushed by those Iraqi forces. Twelve American soldiers are missing. Some of them are ones who turned up on Iraqi television after that being interviewed by Iraqi officials. The U.S. protested that that was a violation of the Geneva Convention against taking pictures and humiliating prisoners of war.

It said the United States does not do that. The Pentagon also said -- or the U.S. Central Command also said that what they're encountering now is what they're calling a series of ruses, false surrenders in which Iraqi forces who appear to be giving up are in fact attacking the United States. They said in one case Iraqi troops under a flag of surrender launched an artillery barrage against U.S. forces. In another one what appeared to be civilians welcoming the soldiers, in fact, ambushed them -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jamie, as we watch, as we are most of the time, the live pictures out of Baghdad where it's well into the evening, near midnight now. What -- Jamie, in the last day or two or three, the impression I think some or many of us had was that the military felt that they had secured large parts of southern Iraq. Was that because we were having a false impression, or did military brass think that they had largely secured those areas?

MCINTYRE: I think it's the former. I think that people were under a misimpression. The U.S. strategy specifically was not to secure large areas but to go around cities, essentially race through the desert, the unopposed area where they were to the get light resistance, in order to arrive at Baghdad at the soonest, possible time. The strategy was rather than try to go into the cities and try to, you know, take control of them where they would be subject to urban combat and perhaps a guerrilla attacks, they would simply try to surround them, secure the routes in and out, and then gradually make contact with the people in the cities.

And that's what's happened. They do believe that in places like Basra, for instance, the overwhelming majority of the population is going to be welcoming of the U.S. and British forces, but they also believe that there are small numbers of regime supporters in those cities who could launch guerrilla-style attacks. So they're being very cautious. And this -- these encounters that they've had today, which seem to bear out that there may be some reason for suspicion, will make the U.S. more cautious on the battle field. But the Pentagon says it will not change the overall war plan -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So ongoing challenges across the battlefront. All right, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, and now let's go to Wolf. WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Judy. Within the past couple of hours more explosions rocked Baghdad. Three huge explosions. Apparently U.S. bombs of various types rocked the southeastern portion of Baghdad. No word yet on which specific targets were attempted to be destroyed. No word yet on the extent of casualties, but clearly the U.S. air campaign continues against selected targets in Baghdad. We're also told the air campaign continues, indeed, around the country, around other portions of Iraq as well.

There's apparently not going to be any let up, U.S. officials say, until there's clear evidence that the Iraqi regime of President Saddam Hussein has capitulated, and U.S. troops are on the verge of entering Baghdad. They're still, by all accounts, at least 100 miles outside of the Iraqi capital, making progress. Although as you just pointed out, there's still some serious problems, some serious resistance, especially in the south central town of Nasiriyah.

CNN's Gary Striker Gary Striker is aboard one of the five U.S. aircraft carriers involved in this air campaign. He's aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is in the eastern Mediterranean. And Gary is joining us now live. Gary, tell our viewers what is going on aboard the Roosevelt.

GARY STRIKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've learned tonight that since Sunday afternoon, U.S. Navy ships in the Mediterranean have launched as many as 30 Tomahawk cruise missiles at undisclosed targets in Iraq. This is the first time that Tomahawks have been fired from the Mediterranean in this campaign. The missiles were launched by three ships accompanying the two U.S. aircraft carriers in the eastern Mediterranean. We're told that they came from the cruisers, Cape St. George and Anzio, and the destroyer Winston S. Churchill. Sources here tell us the missiles were fired through Turkish airspace.

And we understand that this is the first time that cruise missiles have been fired through Turkish airspace since the Turkish government allowed overflight there. Before then, we understand these launches were not feasible from this location in the eastern Mediterranean. But since the airspace over Turkey have opened up, these are now possible. Several ships from this battle group, more than a week ago, left the Mediterranean for the Red Sea, where they've been firing Tomahawks since the bombings began. And we can assume that those Tomahawks were sent to targets through airspace over Egypt or possibly Saudi. But we don't -- Saudi Arabia, -- but we don't have any indication of that from military authorities here, Wolf.

BLITZER: The -- any indication yet, Gary, about these 30 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the eastern Mediterranean from the U.S. warships using Turkish airspace, any indication of the targets that they had and how successful they may have been?

STRIKER: We have no indication from authorities on board this ship. What the targets were. They are undisclosed targets. One can assume that these targets might be in northern Iraq, which would be easier to reach through Turkish airspace than from positions in the read sea, Wolf.

BLITZER: Now that Tomahawk cruise missiles have used Turkish airspace since this latest agreement from the Turkish government has gone forward, can we assume some of those -- some of those warplanes aboard the Roosevelt, where you are, will begin using Turkish airspace to deliver bombs against targets in Iraq?

STRIKER: Well, again, we'll get no indication of that from Naval authorities on this ship, Wolf, but that's a reasonable assumption, I would expect.

BLITZER: I'm sure those aviators aboard the Roosevelt and the Truman in the eastern Mediterranean will be happy to fly over Turkish airspace. Gary Striker, we'll be checking back with you. Thanks very much for that report. Let's get back to Judy Woodruff in Washington.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Wolf. President Bush today returned to the White House from the presidential retreat at Camp David. And when he did, he said he was pleased overall with the progress of the war so far but he stressed, as our White House correspondent, Suzanne, Malveaux I think will underscore now, that we are just at the beginning, that this war has only begun -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, it is not an understatement to say this has really been a turning point for the war with Iraq. President Bush back at the White House, not only fulfilling his role as commander in chief, but also as the leader who must comfort the nation in time of crisis. We were told President Bush, when he was at Camp David this morning, was briefed CIA as well as the defense department officials. That initially those reports was that it was U.S. troops that had been missing, then captured, then killed, even some POWs have been paraded before the cameras on Arab television.

MALVEAUX: President Bush made it very clear this afternoon that to Iraqi officials that they must abide by the Geneva Convention accords, to treat those POWs humanely, other wise those Iraqi officials will be treated as war criminals.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The POWs I expect to be treated humanely, just like we're treating the prisoners that we have captured humanely. If not the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals.


MALVEAUX: The president, Judy, trying to paint a positive picture here but also being cautious as well. This campaign, the bombing campaign, saying, that yes, coalition forces have seized some of the south, that they've faced little resistance. Also saying, as well, that they have managed to secure some of those oil fields in the south and that Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge or in control of his country, but also, Judy, the president saying that this is going to be a tough road ahead -- Judy. WOODRUFF: Suzanne, you obviously observed the president very closely. Every day, you are there, covering him at the White House. How does he look physically? Clearly, he must be feeling the strain of this. Did any of that come across?

MALVEAUX: Well, obviously, the president is emotional about this as all of us are, but his aids say that he holding up, that he continues to exercise, to take good care of himself, that he is focused in this, and that he is very much aware of what this means to the American people, that he realizes the sacrifices and the president is emphasizing that he does. He says that his prayers are with the families, that he understands how they feel.

WOODRUFF: All right, Suzanne Malveaux reporting for us from the White House. No one bearing the burden of the consequences of this war, in every sense of that word, than President Bush.

My colleague, Miles O'Brien, has been, throughout this afternoon, talking with some of our military experts, including retired Air Force General Don Sheppard. Miles, there's so much to ask you about. I think one of the questions of this day is how is it -- I guess it's the same question I put a few minutes ago to Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. How is it that it can seem, for a short time, that progress is being made in a war situation like this but at the same time meeting significant resistance?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, those are good questions. And that shows you now complex all of this is. It calls to mind a lot of those cliche's about the fog of war, war is heck, if you will. But this is, to encapsulate a lot of these despot elements we've been talking about today you'd have to put it down as really a bad day for the U.S. and its coalition.

Don Sheppard, major general, U.S. Air Force retired, is joining us right now to talk about this. I guess if you had to put -- we don't know for sure - we don't have any bomb damage assessment yet, but this strike on Baghdad appears to be a sign that this air campaign is still in good working order, right -- Don Sheppard.

DON SHEPPARD, U.S. AIR FORCE MAJOR GENERAL (RET.): It appears to me, Miles that we're at the early stages of the air campaign. We've only been into it 24 hours now, and basically the first strike hit targets in the republican palace area there. I'm sure they're going back and cleaning up things, that their bomb damage told them that they didn't hit the first time, and going after emerging targets as well, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, that's one thing. We can't say much about this except to tell you it's a very loud explosion. Left a pile of smoke over Baghdad, and that was it. And beyond that, we haven't seen much of Baghdad today, have we?

SHEPPARD: No, we really haven't seen much of Baghdad. Most of the action have been further south, down in Nasiriyah and Al Faw peninsula, even the Umm Qasr port, Miles. O'BRIEN: All right, speaking of Umm Qasr, lets take the map out here., images from, you're looking now, right there, at the Persian Gulf, and we're going to zoom in on Umm Qasr which is the port right at the mouth of the Shatt el-Arab waterway. This is there because Basra, which is up the waterway a little bit, offers too shallow waters for those big tankers to come in.

This is a very crucial place. As you can see, right around in this outer area here, you're talk talking about some oil storage facilities. This obviously is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is very big here. Now here is why this is significant. The thinking was that this was sort of buttoned up to a degree, and that it was time to move on. Not exactly so, as we look at some of the activity that we've been watching from down in the ground there.

O'BRIEN: We've got some night vision images of British Marines involved in a fire fight. And note one of them not wearing a helmet there. But nevertheless, fairly heavy little fire fight here, Don Sheppard. What does that tell you about how well they are buttoning things up as they move north?

SHEPPARD: Well, this has been the strategy all along, that we will secure things that extremely important and make sure it's clear, but on the other hand, people are going to sneak back in behind your back. If you try to secure everything you came across, we would quickly one out of troops. The strategy, as Jamie McIntyre has just said, has been to bypass many of the areas and leave it for clean-up. But Umm Qasr we thought was secure, and it's very apparent now that there's still action there, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's move north and head to Nasiriyah, shall we, as we take our map in motion, we will go from the southern part, where the Shatt el-Arab waterway dumps out, move the map into Nasiriyah. And that is a place where we have also seen some bad news that has come across today. What we're talking about here is an issue where at least ten fatalities. Another dozen or so that are probably casualties, right? And then we've got this issue with the POWs.

All of this occurring around Nasiriyah, which is a crucial place because it has a couple of bridges here. There's one of them right there. And we know that those armored columns are right here, availing themselves of that bridge, trying to move onward and up toward Baghdad, which is the goal here. Now tell me this, Don Sheppard, this casualty situation there. Once again in Nasiriyah, the idea was not to sort of seize control of this part of the world, not a huge place, but still would tax your resources, wouldn't it?

SHEPPARD: It would indeed. And Nasiriyah, I believe, is a town around 5,000 people, much smaller than Basra, which is 1.2 million, which has been bypassed intentionally. But any bridge crossing becomes key. You want to seize all of these points from the military standpoint, and you also want to defend them. So any time we come across a key area, we're going to get attacked. We're going to take care of what's in front of us at that point, and very likely you're still going to have to worry about cleaning up afterwards, and people sneaking up behind your back, Miles. You're never safe in a military operation.

O'BRIEN: All right. We got to watch that -- check 6, as the fighter pilots say. Six o'clock being the back side. We do have some images, burned out U.S. tanks. Now, it's worth pointing it as we show this, that in that central CENTCOM briefing just a little while ago, they said that the resistance was not really a pure organized military resistance. It was more armed -- well, just a disorganized armed response. What does that mean to you when you hear that?

SHEPPARD: What it means is, there is not a centralized commanding control commanding a front or major military actions on the move. The Iraqis are defending points with what they have. These are small fire fights, unless you're engaged in them. Some of them include artillery and tanks on the Iraqi side. So some of them become fierce battles for a short period of time. But this is not a large- scale operation we're running into, but it's very important that we take care of these things as we come upon them -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. One other important point that came out in that briefing. We haven't talked much about it. I want to take you back to the map one more time here. We are up at a wide picture. I just want to orient you very quickly as to where we are. Right up here in the top is Baghdad. Right around in this area is Nasiriyah where we just had you a few moments ago.

Zoom in. I'm going to take you to the Tallil airfield. And in that CENTCOM briefing, they said that the U.S. had control of this particular airfield. It's to the west and north of Nasiriyah. Don Sheppard, you looked at this a little while, you said, wow that's a great airfield. Why is that a great airfield?

SHEPPARD: It is a great airfield because it has got double runways, they are long runways, and they have ramps and that type of thing. In other words, it's an established airfield, lot of dirt strip. It can be used as a forward operating base for helicopters or other Air Force aircraft and a resupply base when the area is secured. Here again the other day we heard that H2 and H3 were secured. Now today we are told it's only H2. So we have to take these things very cautiously this early in a military campaign. But if we control that airfield from the U.S. standpoint, it becomes a key asset as we move further north toward Baghdad, Miles.

O'BRIEN: And as we move towards Baghdad, let's remind folks what we're going to be watching for. Downtown Baghdad is an entirely different story. We've already -- the U.S. has met with resistance in places like Nasiriyah, in Umm Qasr, and once the situation moves to Baghdad, can we only expect more of the same?

SHEPPARD: We can expect more of the same in targets that emerge. I would like to make a couple of points about this. The Republican Guard is, of course, defending Baghdad. Clearly, much of their equipment is disbursed in populated areas that they think it will not be hit. We have the ability to hit it with precision munitions. On the other hand, if they want to put up a defense of Baghdad, they have to mass their forces. And when they mass their forces it becomes a target for air power and also ground power. There's no way out of this for them, Miles. The United States has the military capability to do what is required to defeat all of the Iraqi forces and to take Baghdad. It may be prolonged. It may be tough. It may be ugly. It may involve weapons of mass destruction, but they have the capability in the United States military to do this. There's no way out for the Iraqis, and lighting trenches full of oil is not going to help them.

O'BRIEN: All right, we are flying from Baghdad toward the south, and undoubtedly, they are massing at the edge of the city. Soon that sight will be seen. M1A1 tanks moving in. That's underneath, of course, the courtesy there. We will be watching for that, and we will keep you posted as progress continues. On this, a day where we can certainly agree, I guess, Don Sheppard, not one of the better days for U.S. forces thus far.

SHEPPARD: It's been a tough day for the military. There's good days in war and bad days and this was a very bad day. We had the POWs , the casualties at Nasiriyah, the casualties around the POWs, we had the Patriot missile, the incident at 101st, we had the correspondent -- the British correspondent killed. Fire fights breaking out in Umm Qasr. This is a very early stage, and I am reminded that do not beat your breast and clap your hands early in a military operations. It can get tough, there can be disappointments and reversals -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, those are words to remember. Don Sheppard. Good place to end it. Thank you very much. We always appreciated your insights -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Miles, those who said that this war was going to be a cake walk weren't even close. CNN today received, as we've been telling you, the first pictures of American soldiers killed and captured in action in Iraq. We were just talking about them. This came shortly after the Pentagon said that fewer than ten of its troops are missing. They later said that 12 soldiers had either died or were missing.

The pictures were transmitted by Al-Jazeera, that's the Arab language satellite network. The video was shot by state run Iraq TV. I want to let you, our viewers know, that these pictures and the interviews were disturbing. CNN has made a decision not to show the video of those killed. Instead, we will use this single image with no identifiable features. In other images, it was apparent that some of the soldiers had been shot, some of them in the forehead. We do not know their identities.

In addition, five soldiers were interviewed by the Iraqis. Each of them gave their name and home state in the United States. The Pentagon telling CNN now that it is notifying the families of those who were captured and those who were killed.

And for more now on the question of American POWs inside Iraq, I am joined on the phone by retired Marine Corps Major Joseph Small. He is joining us from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The major was shot down during over Iraq during the last Gulf War in February of 1991. He was held for nine days by the Iraqis until the cease fire was declared. Major Small, what was your thought when you heard today about those captured and killed?

JOSEPH SMALL, MARINE CORPS MAJOR (RET): Initially my thought was just pure outrage when I heard that they were shooting prisoners. That is completely against any kind of civilized activity that could be expected from a civilized nation.

WOODRUFF: Help us understand what they must be thinking as whatever they're going through right now.

SMALL: They're probably in a state of shock. Obviously, fear. But I think they're just keeping faith with each other and keeping faith with their training and their country.

WOODRUFF: How were you treated during those nine days that you were held back in 1991 by the Iraqis?

SMALL: It was rough, very rough. There were beatings. There was whippings. We were held in a target area so we were actually hit by our own allied bombers.

WOODRUFF: What do you mean by a target area?

SMALL: Well, the first two nights I was in Baghdad, the last two nights of the actual war, there were raids going on within, I would say, a quarter to a half mile. There was an anti-aircraft gun just outside of my cell, which was firing the whole time. So I consider myself as have been placed in a target area.

WOODRUFF: And how did the Iraqis treat you. The guards and the others who were with you or near you?

SMALL: In a word, brutally. I spent the first -- better part of the first day and a half tied up and blindfolded, and that's where the majority of the beatings were administered. You were completely defensive and in a position where you were completely at their -- at their whim.

WOODRUFF: How did you happen to fall into their hands?

SMALL: I was flying in support of the First Marine's Division's advance into Kuwait, and actually was shot down in central Kuwait. The aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile and rendered out of control and was forced to eject.

WOODRUFF: And, in fact, your observer on the aircraft with you was killed, is that right?

SMALL: That's -- that's correct. I found out later on, after the war was over, that he had been -- his body had been found and was told that it was fairly obvious he had been killed at the missile impact.

WOODRUFF: Major Small, what do you say to the families, the loved ones of those who are being held in captivity right now? SMALL: Well, first my thoughts and prayers are with them. I know that they're going through a very difficult time. I know it was extremely difficult for my family, not knowing their condition and not knowing their conditions after being held at the current time. I would hope that the world at large would be outraged by the reports that are coming in, and that somehow that that word would spread to the Iraqi regime and that they would treat these people in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

WOODRUFF: Well, that is certainly our wish as well. Retired Major Small is -- was shot down, Joseph Small was shot down in 1991 by Iraqi forces. He was held prisoner of war for nine days, and you just heard him describe a brutal experience. Major Small, thank you very much for talking with us. And we, of course, we join you in your wish that -- that these -- all of those captured be released and safely.

We've been talking to you about intense fighting between U.S. Marines and Iraqi fighters that broke out today at the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. We have a report for you now for a -- from a British Pool reporter named David Bowden. He was on the scene.


DAVID BOWDEN, BRITISH POOL REPORTER: We're assessing the situation here. People running up and down with messages. They've got binoculars on the area but this situation has not come to a halt yet. This is ongoing. It is not yet declared safe. Now you are overhearing -- maybe you can probably hear that those shadowy figures, they've got eyes on them, as they say here now.

Mike, do you feel you're safe enough there? Mike Donnelly, my cameraman, do you feel you're safe enough where you are? He says so- so. You probably saw that. Sorry man. It's a difficult call. We're trying to cover the war here but at the same time, as I say, this is not a soap opera, it's not being done for television, it's being done to carry out the mission here.

We're simply bystanders. We're tagging along. It is not easy to operate in these conditions when there is nobody firing at you. It is more difficult, of course, the adrenaline will be pumping. There is a life-threatening situation here, so it's very, very difficult to operate in these conditions, certainly, for the soldiers, marginally less though, for us obviously, because we're just a few yards back from what is de facto, the front line. But it is very hard, very difficult, very dusty, and the sand, as you know, and dust gets into everything.

Can I just ask you what's happening?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger. Right now we just got a confirmation that we've got some pop shots. Somebody is trying to return fire on to the tanks. I believe the first tank is about to take a shot right now. There we go. Apparently there's somebody back there who apparently wants to keep going.

BOWDEN: Word has just gone down the line here to keep your heads down. Shots are still coming out of the building still. But obviously the U.S. Marines are not satisfied that that building is safe so they are still pounding it. I suspect they will take it down brick by brick if necessary.


WOODRUFF: That was British Pool reporter David Bowden reporting on fighting -- intense fighting today in the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. This, the very southern most part of Iraq but still the U.S.-led forces meeting resistance there.

We've been talking about the Iraq theater. That's where most of our coverage is directed but we all know that there are U.S. forces remaining in Afghanistan where the United States fought a war about a year ago, more than a year ago. There are still Coalition forces there. And let's go to the Pentagon quickly now for a developing story -- Jamie.

MCINTYRE: This word just in from the U.N. Central Command, a U.S. Air Force, Black Hawk Helicopter has crashed in Afghanistan killing all six people on board. This helicopter was conducting a medical evacuation mission when it went down about 18 miles North of Ghazni in Afghanistan about 11:20 A.M. Eastern time. This is the air force version of the Black Hawk Helicopter, what you're seeing here.

The crash, the Pentagon says, was not a result of any enemy action. Again, six personnel on board, no survivors. The incident obviously is under investigation. But that U.S. Air Force Black Hawk helicopter crashed conducting a medical evacuation mission in Afghanistan. No survivors, six dead. No indication of enemy fire or hostile action -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jamie, very quickly, 250,000 U.S. troops in the Iraqi theater. What about how many in Afghanistan?

MCINTYRE: I haven't taken a look at the latest casualty figures in Afghanistan. Of course, in Afghanistan, the overwhelming number of casualties were from accidents such as this one, not hostile fire. That pattern by the way so far has held true in Iraq but as we're seeing much more heavy fighting in Iraq, that could start to shift. We are getting battle field deaths and casualties today as the U.S. forces meet some stiffer resistance, particularly they think from the Republican Guard units who are sort of cone sealing themselves in military units or passing themselves off as civilians. We'll just have to watch the casualty tolls in both of those theaters.

WOODRUFF: All right. Jamie McIntyre reporting on a downed helicopter in Afghanistan a country many of us don't think about on a daily basis anymore but it certainly was our focus more than a year ago when U.S. forces were fighting there. Thanks, Jamie, we will come back to you for more on that.

CNN's coverage with the war on Iraq continues. We will check today's headlines in just a moment. Also ahead, an update in CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar on some tough fighting involving U.S. troops.



WOODRUFF: I am Judy Woodruff in Washington reporting as CNN's live coverage of the strike on Iraq continues on this day, the U.S. military officials describe the campaign, war campaign, on target. Still, some dispiriting news of U.S. and Coalition forces meeting resistance. As we've been reporting, U.S. officials held another media briefing today at Central Command Headquarters in Qatar. Let's turn to CNN's Tom Minter on more reports there.

Hi, Tom.

TOM MINTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In a wide-ranging briefing U.S. and British Officials talked about the day's events, saying there were some casualties, that there are some POWs now being held by Iraq. They said that an ambush of a supply convoy resulted in 12 soldiers going missing. They did not give any exact numbers on those who were killed or injured in this incident, but said what they saw the pictures of broadcast from Baghdad of these prisoners they found disgusting.


ABIZAID: I regard the showing of those pictures as absolutely unacceptable. I would say the pictures are disgusting.


MINTER: Also discussed that length of the briefing was the incident involving a British Royal Air force plane that was shot down by a U.S. patriot missile battery inside Kuwait. British say the plane was enrooted from an operation in Southern Iraq when it was a hit apparently by a patriot missile. They say there is a full investigation now underway, and when its results are completed it will be made public. Tom Minter, CNN at Central Command Headquarters, in Doha.

WOODRUFF: Meantime here in the United States, army officials today confirmed that soldiers from the 507 Maintenance Company based out in Fort Blitz, Texas are among those now unaccounted for inside Iraq.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is at Fort Bliss, he joins me now by telephone for the latest. Ed the last time I spoke to you the military was in the process of getting in touch with these families.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Judy your right, and they are continuing to do that work at this hour as well. And they are still also trying to piece together all the details and the exact story as to what happened to the members of the 507 Maintenance Company here at Fort Bliss, this is a unit that usually worked with the air-defense artillery system. One of the spokes people at the base. Says you should consider this the home of the patriot missile.

But in this particular situation the details that we do know so far is that these soldiers were do to command the 3rd Infantry Division. And a maintenance unit, the way it has been described to us is just essentially just follows the infantry units and ground soldiers in this particular case, then they will be able to fix things along the way. But you need a maintenance unit as the ground soldiers have been making their way toward Baghdad. The officials here say that you need maintenance units so that everything's continues to work properly.

But to what has been put here in to place so far is that the Colonel of the base is asking family readiness program. Has been called into action here as well. Help the families here at Fort Bliss. There is a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of information here between the army and the families. It is also like a support group, if you will, getting these families information and being able to deal with the uncertainty that exist at this moment. Those groups and essentially this families readiness group are made up of spouses of the military members that have been deployed from this base. So, they are in the process of helping them. And calming their fears if you will. And helping them come to terms as to what is going on. And also passing along to them the latest information as they get it -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Ed, we know these support groups can be very, very important in helping these families when a crises like this arrives. It just quickly Ed. The name of this group Maintenance -- 507 Maintenance Company by its appearance one might think this is not a company that is going to be near the front line. Their going to be way back in the rear, they're going to be in a safer position. But we are reminded once again that anyone in the theater is potentially vulnerable.

LAVANDERA: Absolutely, I have just speaking here with a spokes person here at the base, and we were asking them if these particular soldiers are out there just like any other army soldier. And we were told yes, they do carry (UNINTELLIGIBLE) rifles, they are fully equipped with the gas masks and any other kind of gear all the other soldiers are equipped with as well. And they essentially follow many of these units right into the line of battle. All of these soldiers need all of the equipment, the trucks and all of the other equipment. To be working properly and that would be what this unit would be helping those other soldiers with.

WOODRUFF: Ed Lavandera at Fort Bliss. The Texas near El Paso, where the 507 Maintenance Company is based. This the company that was ambushed near Nasiryah near Iraq earlier today.

Miles O'Brien, my colleague in Atlanta at CNN Center.

Miles, I talked a few minutes ago to a prisoner of war, during the Persian Gulf War, 12 years ago, when I don't think anybody can underestimate, I should say over estimate just what an awful, awful experience it is.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting because clearly as Don Sheppard's going to tell you in just a moment. There's an awful lot of training that goes into this. But I don't think that any human being knows how they are going to react, until they are in that situation. Major Don Sheppard, U.S Retired Air force. Lets pick up on that point. You can train for this all you want, but when you are at the business end and the weapon, it is a different thing, isn't it?

SHEPPARD: When the day happens Miles, there is nothing that you can do. Other than rely on your training, your values, courage and your faith. We have had it happen to many of our people in the wars over periods of times, (INTELLIGIBLE) So families of these people should know that they have been trained and they are backed up by military and a country that is fully intense on hold those responsible for who captured them, who used them, and for their treatment. And when the United States military gets to them to Baghdad. This will come into play.

O'BRIEN: All right, lets talk a little bit about the training. We actually have a tape, a clip we have a good portion of the documentary not to long ago about this. Randy Seagle, Martin Savage, at Fort Bragg North Carolina. And what your watching is an army advanced training school, where they teach certain members of the army, we're not going to tell you that every permanent member of the infantry gets this kind of thing. We're talking about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) guys would get this high level, this high fidelity training everybody gets some degree of training. What they're trying to tell people is what to do in these cases. And most importantly what not to do.

SHEPPARD: They are trying to tell people what to expect. And trying to give them some training in the since if you will, we've been through some of this before. So your not totally blind sighted by any thing that happens to you. What they do not get in this training for is physical mistreatment and many POW's such as those, Judy, described got physically mistreated ,badly mistreated. During their captivity. So this is basically met for what can happen in a control situation. It is extremely good training. I've been through it myself, but for the Vietnam War, the old training that we had and again it's gotten by the people most likely to be captured. The commandos, the SEALS, the special forces, and pilots from all services -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, it is sort of like flying a simulator for an airplane, in the back of your head you know it's fate, and you know your safe.

SHEPPARD: Yeah, you do. Your going to get out of this. But of course when you are POW, you have no idea your going to get out of it. That what's made it a difference? But training for anything you do in the military is very important and this is excellent training. It was not fun going through it. But it became very, very valuable to many people during the Vietnam War.

O'BRIEN: You really have to have a good intestinal fortitude to say the least.

Lets just get the Nasiryah is our focus as we talk about this POW situation, we know now that there were 10 fatalities and perhaps 2 dozen casualties in total. Twelve missing, is that correct, am I getting my numbers right? Roughly what we are talking about here. SHEPPARD: It is a little unclear to me right now. We talked about the 10 people killed and captured. And then later it raised to as many as Twelve missing and then we heard other reports of more casualties in Nasiryah. I'm not sure that these are mixed up. We probably need CENTCOM to clear that up for us.

O'BRIEN: We could be double counting some people what we are talking about here. The point is there is videotape out there. There are some broadcast on Al-Jazeera comes from Iraqi TV. CNN is not going to put us out because it's inappropriate when families have not been notified and we can't imagine how awful that would be to find out on CNN one way or another about your loved one, so we are not going to put that on TV. The point is it shows Iraqi irregulars, I'm not going to say regulars because we don't know what kind of military they are. Using them as pawns.

SHEPPARD: Absolutely, against the Geneva Convention which Iraq is a signature. There is good news and bad news about this video. It's against the rules but now that we have the video we know that these people have been captured. We know they're in Iraqi custody. They had better come back and those responsible for handling them from the time they were captured to the time they are returned are going to be held responsible. So there's some good new in this and comfort to the families knowing that they're alive.

O'BRIEN: I wonder if the end game here and the goal, which is to unseat the regime in Baghdad, I wonder if that could change the thinking about these people in Nasiriyah. In other words, if they realize, looking at the big picture here, the gig is up, might they might be less likely to engage in anything that would be against the conventions.

SHEPPARD: They would certainly be wise to do that. I don't know. I can't put myself in their heads, Saddam's head or the head of their regime there. The conduct of this regime becomes extremely important to their future. They will be held responsible for those things they've done in the past and those things they do now. It's very clear -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Don Sheppard, Retired General in the Air force, as always. Pleasure to have you with us -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Training is unsettling but I'm sure that it must help somewhat in these situations. And we can only imagine what these solders are going through right now.

Still ahead in this hour, is Saddam Hussein alive, is the question that keeps coming back, and how much does that really matter at this point. We'll look at the Iraqi leader's loosening grip on power.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the war in Iraq. Just within the past few hours another devastating air assault on Baghdad. Huge explosions, at least three, rocked the south eastern portion of the Iraqi capitol. We have some videotape. We'll show you one of those blasts that caused a powerful -- powerful boom heard throughout the city. No word on the exact target. No word on casualties. But that was the most serious -- that was the most thunderous explosion heard in Baghdad over the past several hours.

Clearly, the U.S.-led air strike campaign "Shock and Awe" continuing in the Iraqi capital even as the ground war continues elsewhere in Iraq, in the south, in the west, and in the north. U.S. forces moving from all directions towards Baghdad. Though they are meeting stiff, but the Pentagon calls pockets of resistance in several towns, including Nasiriyah in South Central Baghdad.

The Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said they still have to work under the assumption that the Iraqi leader is alive. But in my interview he insisted again that Saddam's day in power are numbered.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Wolf, the outcome of this is determined, it's certain. This conflict is going to end and the regime of Saddam Hussein will be gone. And it will end sooner if people behave rational any and put down their weapons and stop resisting. I will end longer if they are foolish and get themselves killed because they refuse to surrender and put down their arms.


BLITZER: Secretary Rumsfeld, also stressed to me that U.S.-led forces are not attacking Baghdad as the dramatic pictures of the explosions over the city might lead everyone to believe. He says they're precisely targeting Saddam Hussein's regime -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Wolf, they are, and, you know we keep hearing that this is the sole focus here, the main focus, to disarm Iraq, to overthrow its leader Saddam Hussein. Throughout all of this, some people have said why do you need a full-scale war in order to get rid of one man. Our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider takes a closer look at just what it means to have a regime change.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): During the Cold War the CIA got involved in an effort to assassinate leaders like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in South Vietnam and Cuba's Fidel Castro. The CIA had a plot to poison his cigars. When the news got out, congress investigated and almost passed a law banning political assassinations. President Gerald Ford beat them to it by issuing an executive order in 1976 that said no person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.

The fact that it was an executive order, not an act of congress means that the President controls the policy. And he can change it. In fact, shortly after the September 11 attacks, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the administration was considering resending the executive order. POWELL: It's still on the books and as part of our campaign plan we're examining everything.

SCHNEIDER: But they didn't need to change the law because it allows targeting an enemy combatant if the U.S. is engaged in armed conflict. A terrorist like Osama bin Laden is an enemy combatant because he masterminded an attack on the U.S. So is Saddam Hussein, because he's commander in chief of the Iraqi forces. Targeting an enemy combatant is not an act of assassination, it's an act of war.

(on camera): Some argue it's not a legally declared war, either by Congress or by the United Nations. But International law experts say that doesn't matter. The law of armed conflict permits targeting all enemies combatants.

Bill Schneider, CNN Center, Atlanta.


WOODRUFF: The war in Iraq continues to stir emotions across the world and here in the United States. In Washington today, some U.S. veterans were among those taking to the streets to speak out against the war. The rally was sponsored by a coalition of veteran groups including Veterans For Peace; Vietnam Veterans Against The War and Military Families Speak Out the name of a group. Passions were just as strong at a Washington rally in support of Bush Administration policy and the troops. The demonstration was sponsored by the Washington chapter of free republican.

One day after a massive anti war rally demonstrators got together again today in New York City, but this time in support of the U.S. military, support of American troops.

CNN's Maria Hinojosa is with us now in New York. And Maria as I come to you, I think I should clarify the demonstrators yesterday weren't against U.S. troops, they said they were against U.S. policy.

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Judy the they continue to stress that with posters saying we want our troops home and that's how we support them. But lets talk a little bit about what happened here in Time Square today. I guess you could say this is the silent majority. Seventy percent of Americans say they support the war but only about 1,000 of them came to Time Square to show that on the streets. They were very loud, very determined to get their message out, very angry, even. They say that too much attention is being placed on the anti war protests.

Now, their message is that they want to support the troops. They want to show them -- they say they're concerned about troop moral and they also want to send a message to President Bush saying they support him in this difficult time and they want him to know that. There was a lot of singing of "God Bless America", "The Star Spangled Banner," chants of USA, USA, when fire trucks would drive by. A round of applause would go out.

We want to tell you also about what was happening a few blocks around here at the Intrepid War Navy, boat which is stationed just a few blocks from Times Square. There was a gathering of former war veterans and they said that they were there to pray in support of the troops. But at that same Intrepid, anti war demonstrators then unfurled a banner saying "shame."

So again, Judy, a very high emotional debate going on in the streets of New York City, both pro and against, trying to take to the streets of New York. One of them was the name of a -- a man by the name of James Johnson and we asked him why did he want to come out and what was the message he wanted to send today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That it's not just republicans who support the President, there are Democrats like myself who believe that the President is right, because if he didn't go in, we would have to do it later and there would be a much greater loss of lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our presence today is necessary because there were so many people who are Americans standing up against our country. It may not be unpatriotic to demonstrate. What is unpatriotic is when your country has been attacked, which it was a year and a half ago, and it was done with the help of Saddam Hussein's money if nothing else. When your country is now defending itself against that attack, for you to protest against the defense is unpatriotic.


HINOJOSA: Now, Judy, of course, that was not James Johnson, that was a lot of people sharing their opinions that was a lot of people's voices. I have to tell you Judy I've been covering a lot of these demonstrations against the war and I would be very hard pressed to draw any kind of difference if you just look at the groups, they looked very similar. There were a lot of families there, a lot of women with children, a lot of immigrants. It was just a very different message -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Smaller numbers today but no less deeply felt in there opinions. All right, Maria Hinojosa joining us from New York City for a second day in a row covering these public expressions either in support or opposition to the Bush Administration.

Despite this war, we are told the show will go on in Hollywood tonight with the presentation of the academy awards. However, we are also told that the security at the Kodak Theater will be very tight. Four to 500 Los Angeles police officers will be on duty, along with almost 1,000 private guards. And we are told National Guard troops whose specialize in detecting bio chemical agents will be on hand as well, just in case. CNN's coverage on the war in Iraq continues right after this.



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