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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Strike on Iraq: Royal Air Force Briefing

Aired March 23, 2003 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Leon, we have to take it away from you now and go straight to Kuwait, where the Royal Air Force is briefing reporters. Let's listen.
CAPT. JOHN FYNES, BRITISH AIR FORCE SPOKESMAN: ... but before I start, I thought it was probably correct just to mention this morning's very unfortunate incident. I'm sure most of you are aware that we think it may have happened that a Royal Air Force aircraft returning from operations could have been engaged by Patriot missiles. All I can really say about this is what you probably already know, that the investigations is ongoing.

We are looking for the aircraft and the crew, and that we can't say very much more at this stage because kin forming (ph), informing the families of those involved is not yet complete. But I thought it was worth emphasizing that when something like this happens within a coalition it doesn't actually do anything of harm to the coalition itself. In many ways it brings us closer together. And it's interesting that just before I came in that many of our coalition members particularly asked me to express their sympathy to the crews involved or their families.

So I think the coalition will be strengthened. We'll certainly learn some lessons and we'll carry on with the war. Nothing has changed.

So the Royal Air Force, where have we fitted into the coalition? For those who haven't heard already, we've brought 100 fixed-wing aircraft and 27 helicopters. And we chose those specifically to bring added value to the coalition. We didn't want to bring just extra airplanes that weren't really needed. So we've tried to bring those that provide additional skills or additional numbers in some key areas.

To give you an idea of what we brought, it ranges from the AWACS E3D command and control aircraft that's been particularly busy over the last few days, through the tankers. We've got Nimrods that are providing support for our maritime forces, ensuring that those fast attack speedboats don't get through or that we can find potential mine layers that are around. To fighters that are helping to defend coalition airspace, and where required, escort bombers over Iraq, and of course the bombers themselves. And we brought Tornadoes and Harriers, but I'll talk about those in a little bit more depth in a minute.

I said 100 aircraft. What does it actually mean to a coalition of this size? Well, on average, we're flying about 10 percent of the sorties daily. It's not exactly, it's slightly below, slightly over, depending on which day we're on any given time.

And to give you an idea, from the fixed-wing yesterday we flew slightly more than 100 sorties. You add on what the helicopters have being doing, and they're an extremely valuable and busy asset at the moment, and that brings us well up to the 10 percent figure.

A couple of figures for you as well for the non-combat aircraft within that total. Our tankers, which are the tankers of choice for the United States Navy because their system of refueling is very similar to the Royal Air Force, yesterday, for example, we gave away 70,000 gallons of fuel, which is an awful lot of fuel in anybody's book. What else do we bring? Well, precision, and that's what for us is one of the most importance in this whole campaign.

To put it into perspective, in 1991, about 10 percent of the weapons dropped were precision bombs. This time, we anticipate dropping well over 90 percent will be precision weapons, smart weapons, if you like. And from the Royal Air Force so far in the campaign, with the precision weapons it's 100 percent so far.

What does that mean? It means we can be precise, we can be selective, and we'll only attack those legitimate military targets that we really need to attack precisely or as precisely as we can. Because in war there will always be risks. And what we've done is we've gone through extraordinary lengths to reduce the risk to civilians and to civilian infrastructure.

You'll also notice that some of the operations that are going on in support of the land forces, that we're also going to great lengths to minimize casualties amongst the Iraqi soldiers. We're not here to kill as many people as we can. We want to give them the chance to give up. We want to persuade them that we are going to win this and they ought to give up as soon as possible.

Our latest precision weapon that we have now used -- and it's the first time it's ever been used for real -- is Storm Shadow. And I think I can use that as an example of precision and how you choose the weapon to achieve the effect you want. I mean sometimes that effect will be dropping leaflets on people, telling them to surrender rather than trying to harm them.

Storm Shadow is an extremely accurate weapon, but the results we've had so far or even more accurate than we were expecting. It's designed to go extremely deep into the ground to attack command and control centers. It's got two warheads. The first one clears away the earth and the second one penetrates the bunker.

The reason we've got this weapon in our inventory is to ensure that there are not command and control centers anywhere that we now can't get at. It's proving extremely effective and very, very precise.

Our aircraft, I've talked about the tankers. I've talked about the E3Ds. And it should be brought in mind that what we're doing here is a coalition. We are controlling the Americans. They're controlling us.

We're refueling the United States Navy, as well as our own aircraft. Our fighters escort their bombers and vice versa. We're completely integrated both in the planning and in the control. And at the air operation center, one of the three shifts is actually controlled by a British officer, and then the generals sit up on the bridge and make sure that it's going the way they wish.

Our aircraft, if you like, the offensive aircraft, we've got Tornado and Harrier out here. The Tornado tends to be the longer range aircraft, and that's the one that's been ranging all over Iraq, attacking I'd say primarily command and control, but also some of the vital barracks that we have to go and attack, and airfields to deny Saddam the airspace. And it's interesting that, up until now, we've had no record of him getting airborne. I'm sure some of that is because we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some of his airfields.

The Harrier, which is also capable of attacking those other targets using the same precision weapons, is now more in the close air support role. That's operating with front line troops, both ours and the Americans'. And for those of you who have managed to see it live today on television, some of the ground fighting that was going on, where aircraft were called in, that's a classic example of a coalition at work.

The first aircraft to come in was an F-18 and the second one was a Royal Air Force Harrier. I heard comments earlier on about why did it take so long to get there. Well, actually, in modern warfare, the time it took to get both the aircraft onto the target area was incredibly quickly.

I think it's probably just worth mentioning how close air support works so that you'll understand the system a little bit. We don't wait until something happens before we get an aircraft off the ground. We put some aircraft into a holding position. You can call it a cabrank (ph), if you like.

And when the army needs some help, then those aircraft get tasked. They work out what the target is. And there's quite a lot of planning that can take place in the air. And once they are satisfied they know where the target is, where it is, and where it is in relation to friendly troops, then they can attack. And you saw the effect of that today.

I was hoping to get it in time for this briefing, but unfortunately...

ZAHN: ... Captain John Fynes, because we have breaking news from our own Walt Rodgers. Walt, you had reported earlier today suspicions that Iraqis are using women and children as human shields. What have you learned?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, U.S. Army forward combat observers are now reporting that they have seen Iraqi forces which are ahead of us about a mile and a half herding women and children into the positions directly around the Iraqi military installation. The U.S. Army was trying to call in a combat air support, that is jet planes, with bombs. They had hoped to bomb the fragments of that remaining Iraqi battalion out there until the forward combat observer said that the Iraqis are definitely bringing in human shields, women and children. This from a senior ranking Army source with the 7th U.S. Cavalry.

We have been told that the air strike was canceled. We are also told that some of the Iraqi army units in front of us want to surrender, but there is a Fedayeen attachment, which is an elite Iraqi military attachment that takes its orders directly from Baghdad and Saddam Hussein. They are not letting the army surrender, and this Fedayeen elite Republican Guard unit is using human shields, according to military sources -- Paula.

ZAHN: So Walt Rodgers, what is it the 7th Cav is expected to do?

RODGERS: Well, there is a maneuver, there is a plan of operations. I cannot convey at it this time. We know how the army hopes to get around it, but the easiest road would be to shoot your way through or to bring in close air support, a call for close air support. Bombing from the air of the Iraqi positions had to be canceled because a forward combat observer said they saw the Iraqis using women and children as human shields, moving them into the Iraqi military installation in front of us -- Paula.

ZAHN: Walt Rodgers, we'll leave it there, because we know you're limited about what we can tell you appropriately. So Walt has to be very judicious, because he doesn't want to put out any information that might compromise the safety of allied troops. A very disturbing report that the Iraqis are doing what a lot of people feared: using women and children as human shields as coalition forces advance on Iraqi military installations. We'll try to get back to Walt throughout the morning to update that story.

Now back to that Royal Air Force briefing out of Kuwait.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE).

FYNES: Well, the scud missiles more of the land side. The Iraqis have an air force. It's much reduced from what it was in 1991. But they do have some capable aircraft.

We are assuming that at some stage he'll wish to use those, and we've got plans to ensure that if he tries to use them they're not as effective as he would like. Part of that is closing his airfields so he can't, and then targeting those aircraft on the ground if it's required. If we've closed the airfield, why blow up the buildings on it? So the process goes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FYNES: At the moment, we've had no air combat with the Iraqi Air Force, but we are receiving a significant amount of ground-to-air fire, both missiles and anti-air. QUESTION: Can you tell us, Captain, what the nature of the investigation into the (OFF-MIKE)? What is happening? And any steps that are being taken to make sure that it doesn't happen again?

FYNES: OK. The first and most important step is the process we normally work. This, obviously, today, something -- assuming it was a Patriot, and that hasn't been confirmed yet -- something probably went wrong in some way. But we're in an incredibly buy environment. I mean the number of aircraft flying around -- and the American who was here before me, the general, saying 2,000 sorties in a day. I mean that is really busy with every pilot focused on what they're doing.

The first thing we're going to do is look in to see if there's something obvious that we can fix instantly. Something that went wrong and easily identifiable. If we can't work out immediately, we'll make sure that everybody is fully briefed on the procedures, but an investigation will go on and we'll find out what happened. If we can't fix it today or tomorrow, it will be fixed. In the back?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) I appreciate that you can't go into any detail about this particular incident. Is there any (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that you can provide us with and share somewhat on how this kind of thing can happen? The kind of mistakes (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that would lead to this (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

FYNES: Well, I think it's fair to say that when we've done the planning and we work together, we train together. And what we try to do is actually identify all of those potential problems in advance. Something apparently might have gone wrong.

But I do come back to the environment we're in. You have got to remember that, if it was attacked by a Patriot missile, the country we're in now has been attacked every day since I've been here with missiles inbound. So we're not in a benign environment.

There are missiles coming at this country daily as a threat. So nobody would look around and say, well, there's no threat. Why did something happen? People have to react in a hostile environment. Mistakes can happen. I think that's really all I can say on that.

QUESTION: General Franks said he is using overwhelming force. You're using minimum force.

FYNES: If you get it right, then they're one in the same. You will overwhelm the enemy with a minimum amount of force. The Shock and Awe, which I know you're going to refer to next because we discussed this earlier, the way you should look at Shock and Awe from our point of view is -- well, the coalition point of view -- it isn't the primary aim.

The primary aim is the legitimate primary target. But when you target something that you've got to using minimum force, that will bring on shock and awe. One bomb to someone relatively close will be shock and awed. When you're attacking a lot of military targets, the ones you have to, that is going to introduce a lot of shock and awe, and I think it's worth just bringing that one out. ZAHN: Captain John Fynes of the Royal Air Force taking some very pointed questions about the fate of a Royal Air Force jet that may have been taken down by a U.S. Patriot missile. He said the investigation goes on.

He also provided some statistics I don't think we've heard before about the percentage of precision-guided weapons that are being used in this campaign versus Desert Storm. He said 90 percent this time around, compared to 10 percent in 1991. And he went on to talk about a new type of weapon, a Storm Shadow that is being used. He said it's being used effectively, which he says allows to deeply penetrate the ground and take out command and control centers.

We're going to get back with David Grange in a moment to further reflect on what the captain had to say. Let's get back to Bill, though, who has some breaking news out of Kuwait -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Paula, getting word from Captain Stewart Upton (ph). He works with Central Command, he's a U.S. Marine down in Qatar, putting out just in the past 45 minutes the news that a U.S. soldier has been killed in Southern Iraq. Apparently the result of a vehicle accident. There was no indication, they say, of hostile fire at the time.

So one soldier killed. A second one injured. The injured soldier we're told has been medivacked, taken up by helicopter, now being treated at a U.S. Army hospital here in Kuwait. So, again, a member of the 3rd Infantry Division killed in a vehicle accident at some point earlier today in southern Iraq.

Let's get back to Southern Iraq. One of our embedded journalists back with us, Jason Bellini. At last check, Jason, you were with the Marines, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. I believe you were in and around Umm Qasr. I'm not sure what progress you've made since then. Jason, good afternoon. What's happening?

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Bill. And all that is correct. I am still with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. And as you've been reporting, there's been a lot of fire that they've been taking from the neighboring community of Umm Qasr. The Marines themselves are based at the port itself. That's where they have their headquarters set up, and they were really hoping not to have to go into the town.

Well, because of the problems they've been encountering with the sporadic fire and the incidents that happened earlier today, they are coming into town to actually hit some of these targets. One location where they believe many of these individuals who have been taking the pot shots at them are located. It's the Baath headquarters here in Umm Qasr.

So right now this attack is underway. We've been hearing sporadic gunfire, we've been hearing loud explosions. It's quiet right now for the moment, but they're planning this operation to be going on for the next few hours. It just kicked off a short while ago -- Bill. HEMMER: Jason, when they describe these pockets of resistance, I'm not sure how many you've seen, but it appears to me you've seen an awful lot. At some point, are they all extinguished and accounted for? In other words, are they done with and able to secure that area? And at what point does that happen? Do you know?

All right. Looks like we lost him. Jason, I don't know if you're still on the line or not. Jason Bellini is with the 15th unit in Southeastern Iraq.

I'm going to try again, Jason. I know it's a bit tough at times, but do you have any indication as to when the pockets of resistance will cease?

All right. Jason Bellini is traveling with the 15th unit. Apparently we lost the connection there, but we'll try to reestablish it when we can.

Paula, a quick note. John Fynes, the spokesperson for the RAF, shortly after the time when we left that briefing he started talking about this videotape that we've been watching from Baghdad. He says these are just the games that the Iraqis play, his words. And that the Iraqis are simply shooting at water. Back to you now in New York.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Bill. Back to Art Harris now, who you tried to hook up with the 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines, one of our embeds. Art, what's the latest from there?

ART HARRIS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Paula. Can you hear me?

ZAHN: You're on the air.

HARRIS: I'm on the Euphrates River at a checkpoint (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ZAHN: OK, Art, you're drifting out. We heard you are somewhere along the Euphrates. As you can imagine, a lot of technical challenges making that happen. We're going to take a short break here. We'll be back with the very latest on that report that Bill just illuminated, that now it appears as though the Iraqis sort of did -- well, what's the correct word to use here?

Let me show the picture and this might make better sense to you. At the top of the hour, of our 7:00 hour, you saw Iraqi soldiers shooting into the Tigris River. They said they were shooting at downed coalition pilot. Well, now it turns out there's nothing to substantiate those claims.

A U.S. military official says it has no reports of a plane downed over Baghdad. The British Royal Air Force also said it has no reports of coalition planes down in Baghdad. Both said all planes were accounted for, which leads us to the prospect that one of our experts said could very well have happened this morning. The Iraqis creating or staging this scene to further buttress what we are expected to see. If the Iraqis come through with it, they say they're going to parade some American prisoners on Iraqi television later today. More details on that after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: Earlier today, long before a lot of folks from the U.S. side were up and at it today, we had the experience here in Kuwait of watching a live pool feed, which is essentially a group of reporters with photographers who are going into Iraq right now and feeding the report and their story out in a way that anyone around the world can take it and feed to their own viewers. We here at CNN made the decision to take this, what in essence was a firefight, and at times it was rather fierce between U.S. Marines on one side and Iraqi soldiers on the other. This is a location in Southeastern Iraq outside of Umm Qasr, that town we've talked about for the better part of the past three days.

The reporter at the time was David Bowden. He was hunkered down nearby, and this is part of his report from earlier today on what he saw with this photographer, this firefight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID BOWDEN, POOL REPORTER: We are assessing the situation here. There are people running down (ph) 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.

You can probably hear that those shadowy figures, they've got eyes on them, as they say here now. And, Mike (ph), do you feel you're safe enough there? Mike Donnelly (ph), my cameraman, do you feel you're safe enough where you are?

He says so-so. You probably saw that, Simon (ph). It's a difficult call. We're trying to cover the war here, but at the same time, as I say this, 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. It is a life-threatening situation here, so it is very, very difficult to operate in these conditions, certainly for the soldiers, much less so for us, obviously, because we're just a few yards back from what is (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the front line.

But it's very hot, 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. I guess 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, apparently that wants to keep going.

BOWDEN: Word has just gone down the line here to keep your heads down. Shots are 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. And I suspect they will take it down brick by brick if necessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: That was David Bowden, the reporter on the scene for that firefight that we watched for the better part of two hours. It was nonstop coverage in the middle of the night back in the U.S. And it was really something to see and experience firsthand. Live, the report and the images from Southern Iraq.

Paula, in a moment, Dan Leaf, the major general from the Air Force will join us here live on CNN. We'll talk to him about the very latest throughout the entire region. He will update us in a moment on all of the stories we've been talking about. See you in a couple of minutes -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Bill. Back to Ken Pollack now in Washington, D.C., our expert from the Saban Center of the Brookings Institute. Welcome back, Ken. You probably just heard Walt Rodgers reporting that now there is confirmation that the Iraqis indeed are using women and children as human shields as American troops advance north. How deep of a concern must this be for the -- excuse me -- coalition forces?

KEN POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: Well, I think it's obviously going to be a very serious concern, because, as I was saying before, one of the great ironies of this war is that the coalition forces do care deeply about the safety and security of Iraqi civilians, whereas Saddam's forces absolutely do not. Walt said something interesting there, Paula. He said that they were being -- that the Iraqi army units were being stiffened by elements of what's called of the Saddam Fedayeen.

Saddam Fedayeen are one of Iraq's internal security forces. They are run by Uday Saddam, Saddam's oldest son. The unstable, savage older son of Saddam Hussein.

Uday -- well, let me put it the this way -- in a country where Saddam has taken the dregs of society and used them for his internal security services, Uday really scraped the bottom of the barrel in putting in the Fedayeen Saddam. He went out and found all of the angry, disenfranchised young men he could, gave them weapons, gave them a little bit of training and put them into what is basically a goon squad.

And all they do is they incite fear into people. They keep internal order in the country. And they do some of the worst jobs that Saddam has for any of his internal security services.

And it's pretty fitting that it would be Saddam Fedayeen who would be going out and rounding up women and children and using them as human shields to protect the actual military forces. And this really complicates the mission for the U.S. forces.

ZAHN: Well, let's talk about that for a moment, because Walt couldn't give us any specific information without compromising the safety of coalition forces. But he did say there is a plan to work around it. Now, at the time that this happened, there was a call for a combat air support. In a broad sense, what do you do when you encounter this?

POLLACK: Well, I think what Walt indicated is exactly just that. You don't want to take this force on. What you want to do is you want to isolate it, prevent it from impeding your forward movement. But also put it in position where there is absolutely no military reason, no military necessity to actually assault the force.

And hopefully, if you can isolate the force itself, convince it that it is no longer relevant, it's not going to be able to stop you, you might be able over the course of time to convince the soldiers to lay down their weapons. Because you don't want to start getting into a firefight with a bunch of Iraqi soldiers who are protected by women and children.

ZAHN: Let's come back to what you witnessed along with us at the top of our 7:00 hour, when we saw Iraqi soldiers firing somewhat indiscriminately into the Tigris River, the river that wraps itself through Baghdad. And they claim they have captured two American pilots. Now, I do need to say that the joint chiefs of staff earlier this morning and ABC News denied that there are any missing coalition pilots.

What do you make of what we saw play out here? Some pretty arresting pictures of fishing vessels crisscrossing the river and Iraqi soldiers firing into the river.

POLLACK: Well, assuming that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are right -- and we have no reason to doubt them -- pretty good accounting for their own planes -- it does seem that this is a staged operation by the Iraqis. It looks like the Iraqis are trying to demonstrate that they did shoot down a coalition pilot. And I think they're trying to do that for two reasons.

First, they're trying to buck up their own internal support. They're trying to say to their people, we're fighting back, we're causing casualties to the Americans, all is not lost for Saddam's cause. Because their belief is, as long as they can sustain the image that Saddam's regime isn't over, that they still have a chance out there, they'll be able to keep support for the war going internally.

In addition, they're trying to create the image that the war is costing the United States and Britain casualties in hope of destroying popular support for the war in the United States, in Great Britain and elsewhere around the world. Saddam knows he can't win a military victory against the United States. He's got to win a political victory, and that means convincing the countries that are supporting the war that the war is too costly to continue to support.

ZAHN: Well, let me ask you this. Now that -- and I'll say right now what General Myers on ABC. He said, "We have nothing to substantiate that claim by the Iraqis that any pilot has bailed out of his airplane over Baghdad. All planes are reported safe at this point." Once you hear these details, isn't it quite obvious to you people see right through this?

POLLACK: Well, actually, Paula, this is one of the problems that we've encountered with Iraqi propaganda for decades, which is the Iraqis don't really care. The Iraqi's will pretty much say anything. And part of the problem is that there are simply a lot of people out there who will believe it.

They will hear the U.S. saying one thing and they'll hear the Iraqis saying another. And many of them will believe the Iraqis because that's what they want to believe. In other cases, they'll say, well, the U.S. says one thing, the Iraqis say another. Who are you going to believe?

You know one saying one, one saying the other. Who knows what the right answer is. And this has been the secret to the Iraqis success.

You know, remember, all through the 1990s, the Iraqis were claiming things like a million and a half people had died from the sanctions, despite the fact that all of the statistics, including Iraq's own statistics, suggested that that number was greatly exaggerated and the Iraqis never cared. Their point was, as long as they could keep putting the information out, some people would believe it, and that's all they needed to do.

And this time around they're probably counting on the same thing. That you'll have some people believe the Americans. Others will believe them. And if they can do that, that's a victory for them.

ZAHN: Ken Pollack, thanks so much from the Saban Center at the Brookings Institute. We'll get back to you a little bit later this morning.

Right now, we head to Atlanta, where Leon Harris is standing by at the CNN Center.

(NEWS ALERT)

ZAHN: Good morning. Welcome. I'm Paula Zahn.

Developments are coming to us very quickly on the war with Iraq. One of the most disconcerting developments came to us just a few minutes ago from our embedded reporter Walt Rodgers, who is the 3-7th Cavalry heading into Baghdad. He reports that Iraq is now using human shields to protect Iraqi positions from coalition bombing and coalition attack. Women and children are reported to have been seen being herded around an Iraqi installation.

And we are also learning that another U.S. serviceman has died. Bill Hemmer is standing by in Kuwait City with details on that. Bill, what have you learned? HEMMER: Yes, Paula. Here is what we know. The latest developments throughout the area. Again, we urge our viewers to stick with us here on all this because the movement on these stories comes fast and furious.

In Baghdad, right now, Paula -- I want to get you up there quickly -- Iraqis searching the Tigris River. Media reports on some Arab networks report they are looking for a downed coalition pilot. Iraq claims it's holding U.S. prisoners. The Pentagon says no planes have been shot down and no U.S. prisoners have been taken.

Northern Iraq now, U.S. forces have staged air attacks on the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. U.S. troops have been unable to get into and secure the important oil fields in that area, and certainly that is an effort that is ongoing -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Bill. When we get back to you in a couple of minutes, we'll be looking at the fighting from all corners of Iraq, north and south, and beyond the borders. We have our embedded reporters covering the war from their unique vantage points with U.S. military units.

Walter Rodgers is with the 3-7th Cavalry moving to Baghdad. Kyra Phillips is onboard the USS Lincoln. And Jason Bellini is with Marines in Southern Iraq near Umm Qasr.

Now we call your attention to some video that was just broadcast live by Al-Jazeera television. We are trying to make sense of this. This is after we saw the Iraqis patrolling the Tigris River, shooting into the river, looking for what they said were downed coalition pilots. Now we are told that they have set fields on fire along the riverbank to flush out coalition pilots.

Now it is important to note on an appearance on ABC News the joint chiefs of staff, General Myers had this to say, according to Reuters: "We have nothing to substantiate that claim by the Iraqis that any pilot has bailed out of his plane over Baghdad." He went on to say "All planes are reported safe at this point."

Now, if this ends up being nothing, it would follow and track what some of the experts have told us so far this morning. That it is often a tactic of the Iraqis to create an image to the rest of the world that they are costing American lives.

Let's go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for more on this. Barbara, is the Pentagon confirming anything?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Paula, they're saying the same thing they've been saying for the last couple of hours since these pictures emerged. No information that leads them to believe there is a U.S. or coalition crew down over Iraq. We have spoken to senior Pentagon officials here this morning. We have spoken to senior military officials out in the region.

They all say the same thing. No evidence that any of this is true. ZAHN: Can you give us any update on what is believed to have happened in Baghdad today during the daylight hours? A lot of conflicting reports. Have there been any air strikes to our knowledge?

STARR: Well, there have been -- there are press reports of a large explosion, I believe, in the western edge of the city much earlier today. Air strikes could resume at any point. The U.S. has had some daylight raids over Baghdad. Always a key issue, their assessment of the air defense picture over Baghdad. It's a very heavily defended airspace.

Still, radar, surface-to-air missiles, air defense units, anti- aircraft artillery. Over the last several days the U.S. feels it's taken out a lot of that anti-air system, that air defense system, but it's still a place where U.S. pilots are very cautious. And that's why you've seen a large number of those cruise missiles being used from Navy ships and submarines. That allows the U.S. to attack the target without risking air crews over Baghdad. At this point, though, every reason to believe -- many officials tell us -- that all U.S. and coalition air crews are safe and accounted for.

ZAHN: Barbara, coming back to the air defense system, isn't it true that the Pentagon conceded it would be several days before they really think they have degraded that system?

STARR: Well, they are indeed cautious at all times. One of the key factors in figuring out for them whether -- and them figuring out whether they've sufficiently degraded the air system. It's also the command and control system, the communications that the Iraqis use.

Now the U.S. knows it has successfully struck many communications nodes. It believes that largely now communications have been degraded. They have noted very little radio traffic by the Iraqis, and they believe that is because that this communication system is in disarray.

But officials still are cautious, because much of the Iraqi military communication system runs on an underground fiber optic system. There are fiber optic nodes, and it's very difficult to know whether or not this fiber optic system has been sufficiently damaged. The Iraqis are very capable over the years in terms of redundancy. They've put in a lot of overlaying systems, so if something were to get destroyed they have another route of communications.

A lot of concern about that fiber optic. That may be what they're trying to assess at this point in trying to understand how much communications is still up, and therefore how much air defense is still out there.

ZAHN: Finally, Barbara -- I think we have about 15 seconds left -- what is the latest from the Americans about that downed Royal Air Force plane that the British officials just told us they suspect was shot down by a Patriot missile?

STARR: There is confirmation by all accounts here that it was an accident, shot down by a Patriot missile. No one knows exactly how this happened. The routine method of operating is all aircraft in a region basically send out a signal on an assigned channel or transponder, if you will, saying that they are identifying themselves as a friendly, as opposed to a foe.

That information then is usually registered instantly by any surface-to-air missile capability the U.S. would have on the ground. So no indication yet as to how this accident happened. Recovery missions still underway, we are told, to try and get to the wreckage site and recover the remains of the British crew.

It is said to be in Kuwaiti space. So assets are moving up there to try and get to that site.

ZAHN: Barbara Starr, thanks so much. If you'd please stand by, we'd love for you to give us a better fix on what it is we witnessed in Baghdad as we saw Iraqi soldiers burning some of the brush alongside the river. They claim they've captured two American pilots. As soon as you have more information we'd love to get back to that.

Bill, the other footnote I want to share with our audience now is what the spokesman said from the Royal Air Force. That in spite of this accident, that this will have no effect on the joint operations. He said the British Air Force controls the U.S. Air Force, they control us. He said we are completely integrated, we escort each other, we refuel each other.

HEMMER: Yes. Pretty astounding comment. I mean a strong vote of endorsement toward this campaign right now between U.S. and British forces, Paula. We can talk more about that with Major General Dan Leaf from the U.S. Air Force. He is essentially in charge of the entire air campaign out of Camp Doha here in Kuwait.

He is our guest now as well. Good afternoon to you.

MAJ. GEN. DAN LEAF, U.S. AIR FORCE: Thanks.

HEMMER: First of all, there are a lot of people on the record right now. I want to get you on the record as well. All aircraft, are they accounted for right now?

LEAF: As far as we know, all of our aircraft and air crew are accounted for.

HEMMER: What about pilots? Are they all accounted for as well?

LEAF: Exactly, yes.

HEMMER: What can you say then about this Patriot incident from earlier today, about the rules of engagement, knowing that missiles have come from the north into Kuwait, knowing that there are sometimes hundreds of aircraft in the air at one time? What are the rules of engagement for firing a Patriot missile...

LEAF: Well, I can't comment on the specifics of today's incident. I can say it's a very complex environment, as you just described. Often, it's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) operations going on simultaneously, a very large force on the ground and in the air. We do have specific rules of engagement to present: blue on blue or friendly fire incidents. And they're being constantly reexamined. And if it turns out that that was the problem here, a problem with rules of engagement, they will be modified.

HEMMER: With this -- we'll call an accident -- would this accident cause you pause for any reason?

LEAF: We can't afford to pause. We have to prosecute the campaign to take the Saddam Hussein regime out of power as quickly as possible and being bringing relief to the Iraqi people. And so, no, we won't stop.

We won't stop until we're finished. We will modify on the fly.

HEMMER: I want to move to a different area, then, because I know our time is precious. Walter Rodgers is reporting in central Iraq right now that the Iraqis, based on the Army commanders he's with, are using human shields, women and children, to help protect a certain group of Iraqi fighters. How is it that the Air Force now goes in and engages the Iraqis, the enemy, in this case, from your position, knowing that there are women and children on the other side?

LEAF: Well, first of all it doesn't come as any surprise to the coalition military that Saddam would use tactics like this. We know he's done it in the past. He has absolutely no concern for his own people.

So we have thought through this kind of circumstance. The real key is to have as much information as possible, as much situation awareness about the attacks we are going to be prosecuting, and then to execute them carefully. It will never be perfect. Warfare is a messy, dangerous, horrible circumstance, but we are doing the best we can through information, intelligence, our sensor capability and then the rules of engagement to try to avoid unnecessary losses of life.

HEMMER: I have to think something like this, though, impedes your progress. I mean how could it not?

LEAF: Absolutely. It is an impediment, and that's why Saddam Hussein is using it and his forces. But that won't stop us. It may slow us down slightly, but we'd be slowing down from an incredible pace. I don't think an Army land force has ever advance as rapidly as this force has into Iraq.

HEMMER: It even surprises you, I take it.

LEAF: Yes it does. I'm very impressed.

HEMMER: We were shown a couple of pieces of videotape from Tommy Franks yesterday about building structures on the ground being blown up by coalition aircraft in the air. It has been said for many months now that the Iraqi government may be holding and hiding weapons of mass destruction possibly in these storage areas. How do you know, prior to dropping a bomb on one of these warehouses, that it may not occupy weapons of mass destruction?

LEAF: Well, we have been concerned about that. And again, work to build our knowledge of the enemy. We'll never have a perfect knowledge of the enemy situation. They don't let us come check before a combat.

But our attacks have been designed to limit any potential negative effects of striking a facility that might have weapons of mass destruction. Their are end points carefully hidden (ph), their weapons matched to the end points. Again, I don't want to make war sound surgical. It is not.

It is dirty, ugly, messy business, and there is risk in it. But we've done everything humanly possible to try to limit those types of circumstances or any other unintended consequences from our combat action.

HEMMER: And, once again, knowing that there has been no evidence found just yet. Either the use of weapons of mass destruction or evidence on the ground, what does that indicate to you right now?

LEAF: I think it indicates we still have work to do in terms of discovery. I believe we will discover weapons of mass destruction.

HEMMER: Beyond a reasonable doubt?

LEAF: In my mind, yes. And I also believe that we don't know what Saddam, or whatever the remnants of the regime are, what their next step will be. Clearly, using women and children as human shields is an act of desperation.

Their next act of desperation may very well be weapons of mass destruction. We're doing everything to be ready, to be prepared in a defensive posture against that. But also to maintain our offensive posture and continue prosecuting the attack and bringing on his forces and bring this to an end quickly so that we can begin to assist in the revitalization and rebuilding of Iraq.

HEMMER: Listen, we're out of time here, but I want to get back to my first question to you about these reports about a downed pilot possibly somewhere over Baghdad. What's to explain the images we're seeing in the Tigris River?

LEAF: I would say the confusion of war explains that. They don't know what's going on. As far as the Iraqis could undertake (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and it could just be show, it could be propaganda. We don't know.

HEMMER: Thank you, General Dan Leaf. Thanks for talking with us. Good to see you again.

LEAF: Thank you. Good to see you.

HEMMER: Paula, back to you now in New York. Much more in a moment here in Kuwait. ZAHN: Thanks, bill. We go straight to Baghdad, where we are joined on the telephone now by Roland Huguenin-Benjamin from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Welcome, sir. Delighted to have you with us. Can you describe to us whether you've heard explosions in the last several hours?

ROLAND HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN, INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS: Yes. We have heard the sirens going on today in the daytime for the second day in a row. They were first at around 9:00 in the morning, and then now in the early afternoon there were sirens. And we have heard deep (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of distant explosions a few times, not to be identified really from what direction, from where I'm sitting now.

ZAHN: When you say distance explosions, you think far beyond the Baghdad lines?

HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN: No, no. Within the city, definitely. Baghdad is a very widespread city. But I heard distinctly from where I am now.

ZAHN: And have there been any hospital runs in association with that? Yesterday when the sirens went off, we immediately heard reports of ambulances rolling toward hospitals. Any activity?

HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN: Yes. We regularly visit the hospitals, as far as security permits. Our doctors go around to assess potential needs of (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Certainly not to put (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the number of casualties, but we need to know also the number of people taken in order to be able to provide the sufficient equipment for surgery. And the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that have been made public recently, of course (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to what we have found out when we went to the hospitals.

Today in the morning there were somewhere around 30 people who had been taken in one hospital for care after the air raids of last night. There have been numerous air raids over last night, but much less casualties than the night before.

ZAHN: Are you able to tell us what people are being treated for?

HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN: Yes. People are many times being treated for wound (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And we have seen a few causes where they needed serious surgery. And amongst the people who had been wounded, there have been a few cases of women and children.

ZAHN: And what is the Red Cross's primary responsibility right now in Baghdad?

HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN: Well, we have two main concerns, which are mainly that the hospitals do have the surgical equipment available to perform operations. And the other thing is making sure that water and electricity not disrupted, because it would have dramatic consequences. And we are very concerned right now about Basra, because the city has been deprived of electricity for exactly 48 hours now since the high voltage cables were damaged by the hostilities around (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the city.

And, as a consequence, the water pumping stations have stopped operating, and now the city has been without water for two days. And this is reaching a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of emergency. We need to gain access to the water pumping station in order to be able to operate it with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) until the mains can be repaired.

ZAHN: You mentioned that sirens went off at 9:00 AM Baghdad time as will as 1:00 PM. How much are you concerned about the safety of your colleagues?

HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN: Well, of course we do take care enough to be out in the open when anyone hears the sirens. We have built sand sacks around the ground floor of our premises. And in case there should be very heavy bombing, we go downstairs and sit in the rooms and operate from the rooms on the ground floor.

Most people in Baghdad actually do not have basements. Houses here are not built with basements as a rule. And people just sit on the ground floor.

ZAHN: Roland, we have time for just one more question. As we look at this live picture of Baghdad at getting close to dusk now, we see this large black cloud of smoke hanging over the horizon. And we are just seeing a small sliver of the city. Can you describe to us how many of these black clouds you have seen and whether you believe this is indeed some oil trenches or trenches that have been dug to light pools of oil? Do you have any way of knowing that?

HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN: Yes. Definitely they are not far at all from where we are located now. And some colleagues of mine have seen them as they were arriving (UNINTELLIGIBLE) attend to their jobs. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of oil that have been set on fire and have produced these very high columns of black smoke. And we can smell it very distinctly where I -- at the place where I'm speaking from now.

ZAHN: Can you tell us how many columns you can see or have seen throughout the day?

HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN: Well, I think there have been like -- what I could see from my location between 12 or 15.

ZAHN: And are these some of the same locations you saw yesterday, or do you think these are new ones?

HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN: It seems to me -- well they are on the same side of the city. They are not all around the city. They are on the same side that I can see from the place that I am sitting in now and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ZAHN: And can you tell us what part of the city that is?

HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN: I'm not very good at geography. I'm sorry, I can't give you a simple orientation. Sorry.

ZAHN: And, finally, sir, are you aware any of people being treated for respiratory problems related to this high column of black smoke?

HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN: I haven't yet heard about any case that would have been referred to a hospital. But definitely anybody who would suffer from bronchitis or asthma or any such conditions would have difficulty breathing right now because it is something that you can smell very distinctly.

One other thing that we noticed at the hospitals was that many cases of patients had been actually admitted not for surgery or casualties, for wounds, but because of conditions related to stress caused by the ongoing conflict. People were admitted who needed stress therapy, practically. Or people who had heart conditions or difficulty breathing also suffered because of the anxiety during the current hostilities.

ZAHN: And a final question for you. You say that the people you have seen have not had water for two days. If this goes on, how bad could things get?

HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN: Well, these people are in Basra. They are not in Baghdad. It is the city of Basra. And, in fact, it does need access to water.

Of course, people do keep containers of water for drinking water, but it cannot go one cannot go on for very long. A regular family needs water for everyday life, and it needs to be reestablished.

ZAHN: And then a final question for you. When you talked about military sirens going off at two points today, did you hear explosions preceding that?

HUGUENIN-BENJAMIN: I was not aware of explosions preceding it. I was aware of explosions right after it. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) most of the time was on the floor and I was not really concentrating on what was going on outside. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ZAHN: Well, you've given us a wealth of information. Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, we wish you the best of luck for what you need to deal with in the days to come. Thanks so much for your time today.

Coming up, did a U.S. soldier turn on his own military unit? We're going to talk a closer look. And U.S. Marines face some resistance in the port of Umm Qasr. Plus, getting the oil well fires under control in Southern Iraq. We'll take a closer look.

All that and much more. Stay with us for continuous war coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: We're back here in Kuwait City, live again. It is Sunday afternoon. The reports right now in Northern Iraq of more shelling in and around the Kurdish-controlled area. That is where CNN's Ben Wedeman has been stationed for the better part of two weeks now.

Ben, good afternoon to you. What are you seeing and hearing there?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Bill. We're hearing fairly sporadic but intense gunfire in this area, an area that's been relatively quiet for several weeks now. But what we've seen, for instance, is mortar fire coming into the positions that we were occupying yesterday at the bridge that separates the Kurdish from the Iraqi territory.

We've been watching Iraqi soldiers on the hills behind us digging more trenches, bringing up mortars and heavy machine guns, testing their weapons, testing their range, digging up the road to Mosul, laying mines on that road. At the same time, we've seen an intensification of the U.S. air activity around the city of Mosul, which is about 28 miles to the west of us. For the first time early this morning there were U.S. air bombardments of Iraqi front line positions, indicating that there may be an intensification of the pressure on the Iraqi positions in this area -- Bill.

HEMMER: Keep us boast posted, Ben Wedeman, again, in Northern Iraq -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Bill.

There has been a lot of talk about what the U.S. military will be up against in the days to come. Joining us right now, Colonel Mike Turner from Colorado Springs, Colorado, with a broad view of how this campaign looks at this hour. Welcome back, Colonel Turner.

First off, your reaction to some of Walt Rodgers reporting from earlier this morning, when he said that military sources have told him they now can confirm that women and children are being used as human shields. And they're actually being put in front of Iraqi military installations.

COL. MIKE TURNER: Well, Paula, I think earlier we heard we heard General Leaf say that this really expected. It truly is. I have to believe that U.S. military planners have included this in their planning, and they have contingency plans for this kind of situation.

Certainly, we have to pause, we have to take stock of the situation and respond appropriately in a tactically sound way but in a way that is humane and very careful to not injure civilians, if at all possible not to. And avoid these kinds of confrontations whenever possible.

I suspect somewhere in this mix is an effort to completely isolate this location so that they don't have to engage those kinds of forces. But I really don't think this is a surprise to anyone in the coalition planning staff.

ZAHN: And without giving away any military plans or anything that might possibly help those forces aligned against the United States, what would be a tactically sound way to deal with something like this?

TURNER: Isolate them completely and bypass them, rather than try and confront them. Simply seal them off. Make them militarily irrelevant and tactically irrelevant and move past them. When you are attacking with such an overwhelming force, as we are, I suspect it's simply isolate that situation and move on so that they're not a threat to your rear after you pass that location.

ZAHN: General Tommy Franks yesterday during his news conference warning of tough times ahead, particularly when you have this very coordinated ground campaign going on at the same time as the air campaign. What is your chief concern?

TURNER: Well, it's not a concern. It just becomes a more integrated and more complex operation. What you've seen so far is essentially a detached deep interdiction campaign by coalition air forces.

As friendly forces begin to move into the proximity of Baghdad and begin to compress on to Baghdad, you'll begin to see the air campaign actually attach itself to the ground operations. We actually saw a circumstance with the location where the civilians are involved where we actually devolved air campaign down to a close air support scenario, where the aircraft were actually being called in to try and engage the troops. And the good news is they were called off, as I understand it, by special forces troops.

That's a very good sign. It means there's instantaneous communication between the ground troops that are moving and that are in play and the aircraft overhead. You'll see more of that as they move closer to Baghdad and it becomes more complex, far more integrated. But with the information revolution that we've seen here, I have every confidence that they'll be able to coordinate that very carefully as they get closer.

ZAHN: Colonel Turner, if you wouldn't mind standing by throughout the morning, we'd love to rely on your expertise. Thanks so much to your input.

Back to Leon Harris. He's standing by at CNN Center -- Leon.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Paula. Good morning, folks at home. CNN's coverage of war in Iraq continues in just a moment, but first here's what's happening this hour.

(NEWSBREAK)

ZAHN: And good morning once again. I'm Paula Zahn, joining you from New York City this morning.

As the war get closer to Baghdad, so too do the developments in this rapidly changing and moving story. Our embedded reporter, Walter Rodgers, who is traveling with the Army 3-7th Cavalry brought us a piece of information just about an hour ago.

He says military sources tell him that U.S. coalition soldiers have seen large groups of women and children being marched to Iraqi installations to serve as human shields against U.S. bombing runs. And Bill, another little factoid to report, we just got off the phone with the head of the international committee of the Red Cross. Actually, Bill, we'll quickly go to Walt Rodgers, who I'm told we have up and can add more information to the report.

Walt, good afternoon.

RODGERS: Rodgers to me.

ZAHN: Walt Rodgers, you're on the air. Paula Zahn here.

RODGER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 7th Cavalry south of a city in central Iraq. We're (UNINTELLIGIBLE) artillery. It fell 40 yards -- 50 or 100 yards from where we are, not very far off. You can hear the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) vehicles. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) More than a little accurate. We assume it's Iraqi artillery. The 7th Cavalry units are (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ZAHN: Walter...

RODGERS: They're swinging -- yes, Paula?

ZAHN: Walter, I can tell you're under some kind of stress there. Could you -- If you're comfortable, please start at the top of the report, because you got clipped. Start again, please.

RODGERS: Right. Within the last two minutes, the gathering of the 7th Cavalry where we are, south of the city in central Iraq is taking incoming artillery fire.

Hello? Hello?

ZAHN: Go ahead, Walter. We're just going to leave the line open. We don't want to put either you or your crew in any kind of danger here. But if you're comfortable carrying on.

RODGERS: ... where we are. Can you hear me?

ZAHN: Yes, I can hear you now. Carry on, Walter.

RODGERS: ... dispersing its armored units very, very quickly. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what we believe are Iraqi artillery (UNINTELLIGIBLE) fell on a field less than 100 meters away. It was really big stuff. We've got at least (UNINTELLIGIBLE) meter shells. What I can tell you is I see nothing by way of a disabled tank or artillery vehicles, but the Iraqis do have the range of this unit and they're (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

This has forced all the 7th Cavalry soldiers into their vehicles, because, of course, most of those vehicles have armored protection. Everyone has their helmets on and are taking defensive positions, again dispersing the concentration of armor they had. Again, I see (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was hit, but it was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Paula.

ZAHN: Yes, Walter, we're going to leave the line open. About all we can glean from what you have said, because the line is cutting in and out, you're someplace in central Iraq and you are taking incoming artillery fire.

You said that you've seen some armored units disperse quickly. Have you seen any Iraqi tanks?

RODGERS: Nothing by way of an Iraqi tank. Let me change position. Perhaps we can get a clearer read on the satellite phone. The entire command here has folded very quickly. All of the armored units are being dispersed. We will probably have to move very quickly. Less than three minutes. Began firing (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ZAHN: OK, Walter, I'm going to try to reprise what you're saying and give you a chance to move so maybe we can get a clearer connection here. I think if what I heard is correct that, in spite of the fact that you took some incoming artillery fire, you saw an entire Iraqi command fold.

Let's see if you can pick it up from there. Let's try again, Walter.

RODGERS: What we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the middle of the 7th Cavalry, 75 meters to 100 meters, that's the length of a football field. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ZAHN: All right. We still have to get...

RODGERS: ... substantial gathering of U.S. -- hello?

ZAHN: Go ahead, Walter. Try to move a little bit more. Because it's still cutting in and out.

RODGERS: All right, we're going to have to move now, they're getting us out of here, because as I say, the Iraqi artillery knows where we are. We'll get back to you.

ZAHN: OK. We understand. Go seek safety.

Let me see if I can piece together what I think Walt has just reported. Where he is with the 3-7th Cavalry is in central Iraq, where they experienced some incoming artillery fire. I believe he said, as the line was cutting out, as he was moving, that they saw an entire Iraqi command fold. He said he did not see any Iraqi tanks. That's the point at which we lost the signal.

We also should add to the fact that Walt confirmed for us that he has been told by his military sources that Iraqi women and children are being as -- used as human shields in Iraq, particularly around military installations. Now, this is something that is not unexpected to allied forces or coalition forces. They have some contingency plans. They have tactically, we're told sound ways to get around that.

Colonel Turner of the Air Force just joined us from Colorado Springs and he said often, what you do is isolate those forces, bypass them altogether, and not confront them.

So as Walt moves further into the country, we'll keep you posted. But as you can imagine, some pretty hairy times for Walt Rodgers. As he said, they saw signs of fire coming at them from, at one point, 100 meters away.

Let's quickly go to Barbara Starr, who's standing by at the Pentagon. Barbara, a lot of things to sift through this morning. First of all, Pentagon reaction to this Walt Rodgers reporting, what he has been told by military sources. How big of a problem is this for coalition forces?

STARR: Well, you know, Paula, to put all of this into some sort of perspective, the Pentagon has always believed that as U.S. forces moved deeper and deeper into Iraq, they would indeed, begin to encounter an increasing amount of opposition.

When they first entered southern Iraq, this is the part of Iraq that was the least friendly to the regime of Saddam Hussein, so they did not expect a lot of opposition. Always expected it as they began to move in.

Now, Pentagon officials, U.S. military officials on a command level have been very reluctant to publicly talk about the type and level of opposition that U.S. forces are facing. What they have said is that it is sporadic, that it's intermittent. Nothing that the U.S. military, of course, could not deal with.

They also acknowledge, of course, that when you're on the battlefield taking incoming fire, there's no such thing as sporadic or intermittent. That is ground zero when it's coming at you. So there is acknowledgment of that, but they say that all of this has been very sporadic and intermittent.

Nonetheless, for the ground forces, for the U.S. ground forces, a lot of concern as they begin to get closer to Baghdad. They are now clearly beginning to encounter some military units that are able to at least mount some type of opposition to the U.S. forces.

Now, there are tactics that the U.S. military will, indeed, use to get around this problem. They can see the Iraqis. They know where they are. As the U.S. ground forces advance, as we have said over the last several days, there are air units, there are helicopter scouts out in front looking at the Iraqi forces. They know how they're equipped, they know what's out there before they get there. So the chance of a major force on force surprise, as it were, is pretty unlikely at this point.

In terms of the human shields, the U.S. military plans, of course, to be very cautious about that. Their concern is that they really not get suckered into something that they're not aware of. So a lot of scouting, a lot of reconnaissance is clearly going to be under way as this begins to unfold.

Every indication that there will be more of it as the days go on here, as they get closer to Baghdad, as they begin to approach the better equipped Republican Guard troops in the days ahead -- Paula.

ZAHN: Barbara, let's go back to what we saw two hours ago, and that was pictures of Iraqis basically setting fire to the brush alongside the Tigris River in Baghdad, shooting into the river, the Iraqis claiming that there were downed -- there was a downed or downed pilots in the water.

General Myers and ABC News interview, shooting that down. Can you bring us up to date on that?

STARR: Well, just a little while ago, the command out in the region, in charge of air operations, issued a statement. And it says that, as of earlier this morning, they have no reports of any U.S. or coalition air crews missing. That everyone is accounted for, that everyone has returned from their scheduled mission. At this point, simply no word.

That statement, however, does not address the status of all U.S. and coalition ground troops, of course. But at this time, no indication of a U.S. air crew down over Baghdad.

ZAHN: And finally, this morning, Barbara, we just got off the phone with a member of the international committee of the Red Cross, and there has been some confusion about what has been happening in Baghdad today.

He reported hearing sirens go off at 9 a.m. their local time. Again, 1 p.m. And he said that he heard simultaneous explosions and he said it was his understanding, by looking out, that there -- and this shot doesn't give us a good idea, because this is a small quadrant of Baghdad that we're seeing right now. But he saw 12 to 15 columns of -- huge columns of black smoke.

And he confirmed, and I don't know whether you've got independent confirmation for this, that those are indeed oil trenches that are on fire, that the Iraqis dug these trenches, filled them with oil and set them on fire to try to obscure some of the coalition force's weapons.

STARR: Well, I have to tell you, Paula, no specific confirmation here of what that gentleman was reporting. But people who have looked at the television pictures over the last several days have assessed that those are oil fires.

And that, indeed, is based on the fact that it is very dark, very black smoke and that it's coming up into the sky in a fairly dispersed pattern. If it was an explosion, it would be more of that essential mushroom cloud, a cloud of smoke with a stem, as it were, that we saw when we knew that there were bombing raids over Baghdad.

These are very dispersed, very broad smoke patterns. Every indication, sources tell us, that this type of activity is, indeed, those oil trenches being set on fire.

ZAHN: And is there any kind of confirmation now of any of the casualties suffered in Iraq? This person at the Red Cross saying at one particular hospital, he saw 30 people in care but he had to be careful about adding any more statistics to that.

Do we have any picture of what has happened to Iraqi, either military people or even civilians, for that matter?

STARR: Honestly, nothing that the Pentagon here is willing to talk about. The question of casualties, fatalities on the Iraqi side, you get pretty much the routine answer, which is that they don't track that sort of thing.

The question of Iraqi civilians, to put it all into perspective, is likely to be an increasing issue to be watched in the coming days. As U.S. military forces continue to move deeper into Iraq, they are crossing more civilian territory -- excuse me -- and the question is already being raised as to when U.S. government humanitarian relief will begin flowing into Iraq, flowing into the cities, towns and villages in the south, where the U.S. military has already moved.

What we have been told is this humanitarian relief will begin moving in the days ahead. No specific timetable yet, when the U.S. military feels the environment is safe enough, when they feel they can get into the port of Umm Qasr, when the mines are fully cleared, when they are assured that the port is safe. Then in the days ahead, humanitarian relief will be moving.

At this point, they say if U.S. soldiers come across civilian populations that are in trouble, that don't have food and supplies, the military is carrying some supplies and they will give it to them. But that is going to be a question that is likely to be very closely looked at in the days ahead -- Paula.

ZAHN: Please stand by. Still got a lot of questions to throw your way. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thanks so much.

Bill, as a final note, the most interesting thing, I think, that representatives of the International Red Cross had to say is that not all of the cases at these Iraqi hospitals have anything to do with surgery or casualties. He said they've seen an increasing number of people coming in for conditions related to stress.

And he also wanted to add that people probably could have some respiratory problems as a result of these, as he described, 15 columns of black smoke rising at the horizon of downtown Baghdad.

HEMMER: Yes, Paula, meanwhile, here in Kuwait a tough day for the 101st Airborne Division. Tough is a bit of an understatement. One of its own, in the early morning hours in Camp Pennsylvania in the Kuwaiti Desert opening up small arms fire and lobbing at least two grenades that exploded inside of some operations tents inside Camp Pennsylvania. As a result, one member of the 101st Airborne is dead, ten others wounded, had to be medivacked to a local hospital.

In addition on that, two others were wounded and treated at the scene. But that suspect right now is now being held for questioning as an investigation, no doubt, will have to proceed from here.

That is one of the many developments throughout the area today. Here's some more right now.

Alessio Vinci of CNN, traveling with the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Marines says the unit has run into stiff fighting in Nasiriyah, south part of Iraq. Several thousand Marines from Task Force Tarawa involved in action there.

Although U.S. units have been running into some resistance, they're making progress toward Baghdad, we're told. An armored column from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division has reportedly moved to within about 100 miles south of the capitol.

Also, Iraqis have been searching the Tigris River in Baghdad -- we showed you some of this tape a few hours ago -- supposedly looking for a downed coalition pilot. In recent minutes, again, we're hearing from Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld that there may be some missing Americans.

But as we try to fill in the pieces on this report, it is still elusive right now in terms of finding out the truth on the reports that we've heard for the past several hours.

In the meantime, the coalition aircraft continue their duties. Bob Franken has seen all this up front and close. He's at a base on the Iraqi border in Kuwait. And now, Bob, embedded with the Air Force, joins us now with more from where he is.

Hello again, Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Bill. And all we can say from here is that we're near the Iraq border. It's a major U.S. air base, and the number of sorties to start with that are, in the 24-hour period, with just the last one, had gone up to 296, it up from 250 the day before that and 144 before that. So there's certainly a trend developing which is consistent with what has developed throughout every air base under the control of the United States and its coalition partners.

There's also, of course, the story about the downed Royal Air Force, the commando, the pilot. There's no word that that plane came from here, but there has been no official discussion, at least a discussion that we can report, because of our restrictions, on whether there was a search and rescue mission.

However, at approximately the time that the British plane went down, there was a scramble here of the search and rescue units that occupied here at this base. They were not searching.

We're told by the pilots that after awhile they diverted from that mission to a second mission, which was successful, then to a third one. And we can't really get a clear picture about the outcome of that. Again a lot of this is classified, we're told, so we're not able to report that information.

In any case, we're told by the pilots that during their second mission, whatever it was, they don't refer to it specifically as a search or rescue, they say that during that one, when they were on the ground, they did come under small arms fire, but were able to pull off what it was they were trying to do. So that has been what seems to be the big excitement here. There's a continuing movement of planes constantly coming and going. And it's probably going to continue to be very noisy here tonight, Bill, as it's been for the last several nights -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Bob, thanks. Bob Franken again at a base along the Iraqi/Kuwait border with the U.S. Air Force and certainly more as we get at two critical stories that we're tracking here from the region.

Paula now with more.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Bill.

Coming up, reports of a downed coalition aircraft, the search is on. We'll have the very latest on that.

And the flow of refugees. We're going to find out what's being done to help them out.

Plus, another update on the war from U.S. central command. That is expected at 2 p.m. eastern time. We will, of course, be covering that live.

And more live updates from our embedded reporters all over Iraq and Kuwait. All that and more ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back. Breaking news out of central Iraq now. Walt Rodgers is with the Army's 3rd Squadron 7th Cavalry, which has advanced into central Iraq. The last time he'd joined us, he had just suffered some incoming artillery fire.

Walter, what's going on now?

RODGERS: Hello, Paula. The U.S. Army 7th Cavalry came under very serious artillery fire within the last 15-20 minutes.

They were parked along a road in southern Iraq on the outskirts of a city in south central Iraq. Everyone was more or less standing at ease, waiting for orders to go forward, when suddenly, off to my right, less than the length of a full football field, perhaps 75 yards away, there were three very loud explosions. I looked up quickly, saw the clouds of black smoke. It was clearly incoming Iraqi artillery, directed at -- with considerable accuracy at the U.S. Army's 3rd Squadron 7th Cavalry.

Almost immediately, everyone dashed to their armored vehicles, the Bradleys and the tanks. They got in those tanks and they scrambled, because the units were reasonably close together at that point and so there was an entire disbursement in a matter of less than 30 seconds. Every tank, every Bradley fighting vehicle moved out, created a wider circle, pointed its guns away in a defensive position, but that was the end of the artillery blasts. To the best of my knowledge, there was no evidence of any soldier injured. I can't speak for certain on that. I do know that no vehicle was disabled, because every single one of the vehicles was gone in 30 seconds to 45 seconds, because the Iraqis had found with considerable accuracy the position of the 7th Cavalry -- Paula.

ZAHN: What did the Iraqis do at that point?

RODGERS: Well, they stopped firing. The reason, of course, is that often when they fire like that the U.S. computers and perhaps an AWACs plane above, if there is one above us, can find the location or the origin of those launches that the Iraqis fired and counter fire on them. That's the usual military practice.

I don't know if that was the case this time, whether they were able to get a bead on the Iraqi artillery position, but I can tell you there were a lot of startled people here.

Again, those shells fell extraordinarily close to us. Again, less than the length of a football field -- Paula.

ZAHN: Yes, I couldn't believe you stayed with us as you were just 75 yards away from where that artillery fire was hitting. Did you see any signs of Iraqi tanks?

RODGERS: No, and there's no indication that these were tanks. They could be multiple launch rocket systems, MLRS systems, or they could be artillery shells. My guess is if they were artillery, they were probably no more than 120 and of course, they could have been 120 millimeter mortars.

But this was a very professional pattern of artillery shells that fell very close, almost in the midst of the 7th Cavalry and not very far from the command post.

We were under fire and everyone scrambled quickly and dispersed into a much larger pattern. Some units pulled back, others have taken defensive positions, should they come under attack, because the assumption was if there was artillery, then there might be an infantry attack following as well -- Paula.

ZAHN: I found it pretty amazing that you described them dispersing in about 30 seconds. Is this something that they train to do?

RODGERS: They must have, because it was a very neatly exercised maneuver. Everyone was in those vehicles in 20 to 25 seconds, and then the vehicles were on the move in less than a minute, probably 35, 45 seconds.

And I was trying to talk to you at the time, perhaps I was a little excited. But that artillery fire was firing very, very close.

ZAHN: Final question to you. You said -- I was struck by what you said when you said this artillery fire seemed to be directed with considerable accuracy. How concerning is that? RODGERS: Well, you know, I was thinking about that, Paula. And it's been fascinating. All day long, Iraqi civilians, not in great numbers, have walked up and down this road, often carrying white flags. And they look very quaint. Any one of those Iraqi civilians with a white flag, trying to demonstrate they were not hostile, could well, indeed, have been a forward artillery observer for the artillery the Iraqis have in the rear. And my suspicion is somebody we saw walking up and down the road with a flag today was more than an innocent looking civilian, because the Iraqi artillery was very, very accurate.

Again, I don't know if there were casualties, but I can tell you no soldiers were left on the field. We saw no medics, and the Bradleys and tanks dispersed very, very quickly. Most of them went to the rear. We went forward with the advance units -- Paula.

ZAHN: Well, we're happy you have a clear signal now. We could tell the stress you were under and weren't kind of sure how safe you were. Delighted that you all weathered that successfully.

Thanks so much, Walt Rodgers. We'll be getting back to you. Walt Rodgers reporting from a town in South Central Iraq.

Now we check in now with Peter Bergen. One target of the first U.S. bombing in the war was an area in Northern Iraq thought to be controlled by a terrorist group, Ansar Al-Islam. What is this group and is it linked to al Qaeda?

Peter Bergen is our terrorism analyst. He joins us from Washington this morning.

Thanks so much for being with us, Peter.

PETER BERGEN, CNN ANALYST: Good morning.

ZAHN: I want to get to yesterday's terrorist bombing in a moment. But first, let's talk about a front page story in the "Washington Post" this morning, suggesting that al Qaeda is much closer than previously thought to developing chemical and biological weapons.

What do you think?

BERGEN: Well, Paula, we know that al Qaeda has had a strong interest in weapons of mass destruction as early as '93. They were willing to pay $1.5 million for uranium. They're interested in nuclear materials, branched out into chemical and biological materials and they had a man who, with the pseudonym of Abu Kabaab (ph), who ran the chemical and biological weapons program.

And we saw the CNN videotapes that were recovered in the summer; they were experimenting on dogs with cyanide. They were also very interested in anthrax. We know that from documents recovered in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban.

The "Washington Post" report seems to move that story forward, apparently based on the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the military commander. Materials were found in his house after his arrest, indicating that they were moving quite further down that path. Not indicating, necessarily, that they were in a place where they could manufacture things like anthrax.

But at least meeting with Pakistani scientists who might be able to help them, in the same way that they met with Pakistani nuclear scientists. It appears they were also meeting with Pakistani microbiologists, who might be able to help them with a program of biological weapons research. Quite a disturbing report.

ZAHN: Can you give us a timeline? What are we talking about: weeks, months, years before they have this capability?

BERGEN: The piece in the "Washington Post" actually said that the specific timeline wasn't there.

You know, I think what is clear is that they had an intense interest in these kinds of materials. They were beginning to run the experiments, certainly with chemical weapons. We know that they were using cyanide on dogs.

We know -- I think the most disturbing part of the report is that they may have been a little more advanced with the biological weapons.

But it's one thing to be looking into these kinds of things, it's quite another to manufacture them. And if you remember the anthrax attacks in the United States after 9/11, a case that remains still open, obviously. There have been no suspects that the FBI has actually announced. Manufacturing that kind of anthrax, you have to be a very sophisticated scientist.

But I think the report today does reopen the question of was it possible that the anthrax attacks in the states were, perhaps, to do with al Qaeda? You may remember, one of the hijackers, one of the 9/11 hijackers may have been treated in Florida for subcutaneous infection that might have been an anthrax infection. That is still a possibility.

ZAHN: Peter, we can only give you about 30 seconds to answer this question. But your reflections on yesterday's terrorist bombing that killed an Australian journalist and three Kurdish soldiers. Tell us more this group, Ansar Al-Islam, which is believed to be responsible.

BERGEN: Well, Ansar Al-Islam is, you know, a Kurdish group of several hundred fighters who have imposed a sort of Taliban-style theocracy on a few villages they control in Northern Iraq in the area not controlled by Saddam Hussein. That group does have a number of Arabs who train in Afghanistan, so some links to al Qaeda. Certainly, this attack yesterday that killed the Australian journalist and three other Kurds is the kind of operation that I think we can anticipate from groups that are allied to al Qaeda. It may not kill many people, but these kinds of low-level operations are relatively simple to do, and unfortunately, I don't think this is the last we'll hear from groups that have some affiliation to al Qaeda. ZAHN: We're sorry to hear that. Peter Bergen, our terrorist analyst, joining us from D.C. this morning. Thanks so much.

Back to CNN center now, and Leon.

HARRIS: CNN's coverage of the war in Iraq continues in just a moment. But first, here's what's happening at this hour.

An American soldier suspected in an attack against his own division. One soldier with the 101st Airborne is dead after hand grenades were thrown into three tents at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait. The suspect has reportedly been under observation for some time as a disgruntled soldier. There were ten other soldiers injured, as well.

Two British pilots appear to have been shot down by a US Patriot missile. Their plane was returning from a mission over Iraq and is now missing. Both British and American defense officials suspect that the plane was brought down by friendly fire near the Kuwait border.

Sporadic fire from Iraqi troops against US Marines at Umm Qasr escalated into a full-scale battle overnight. The fight ended with coalition air strikes and the taking of Iraqi prisoners by Marines there.

Now, around the world, anti-war demonstrations are spreading. A march in London drew 200,000 people. And here at home, in Chicago, opponents of war rallied while police separated them from a simultaneous pro-war demonstration there.

The Oscars will go on tonight as scheduled. Because of the war, the 75th annual Academy Awards program will forgo the usual red carpet arrivals and media interviews. However, most of the stars will be turning out for the ceremonies at Hollywood's Kodak Theater.

Stay tuned to CNN, the most trusted name in news. Our coverage in the war in Iraq continues right now.

ZAHN: Good morning, welcome. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us today.

A number of important war developments at this hour. Most disturbing, perhaps, is that report from our own Walter Rodgers, embedded with the army's 3-7th Cavalry unit. Military sources telling him that Iraq's Republican Guard troops are moving women and children to military positions for use as human shields, as US troops advance north toward Baghdad.

We just got off the phone with him, where he also told us about a frightening encounter that he just had with the Iraqis taking some incoming Iraqi artillery fire from about 75 meters away. He was allowed to tell us that he was in south central Iraq, not far from a town. Now, it is his belief that possibly some of the villagers that were walking along the road with white flags that they saw minutes before this artillery fire were, in fact, tipping off the Iraqis about them coming in. To his knowledge, Walt Rodgers does not think anybody was injured. He can't have anybody else confirm that, but he was there and that's what he saw with his own eyes and ears.

Back to Bill Hemmer, now, who joins us from Kuwait City. Bill, I don't know whether you saw his first live shot about 20 minutes ago, but he was reporting at the exact moment that that incoming fire was targeting the these troops. He also said he was struck by how the precision accuracy of the artillery fire.

HEMMER: You know, Paula, that signal was in and out. We ask our viewers to be patient with us. We've never done it like this before, with our embedded reporters literally giving us live pictures in the middle of combat in Iraq. We have never seen it like this in the history of warfare.

As I say that, I also think it has to be rather trying, I think, for the military families back in the US to literally be hanging on the edge of every word of every live picture and every report we give them. This has been a trying time, no doubt, for members the US Military for the past year and a half running. I think it might be an understatement to say that some anxiety comes along with those reports.

Nonetheless, we will endeavor as best we can to get it to you as best we can based upon the technology. First time we've ever, again, done it that way.

In the meantime, Paula, back here in the region, we're getting reports, again, that there are explosions in and around the city of Baghdad. As soon as we get somebody on the phone to get better verification, we'll certainly track that down for you. There are a number of other developments I want to talk about right now.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, appearing on television Sunday, says there may be fewer than ten American soldiers unaccounted for, somewhere in southern Iraq. Iraq's been claiming for several hours today that it will show off American prisoners of war at some point. We haven't seen it just yet. That's the claim from Baghdad.

A British defense source being quoted as saying he expects the ground battle for Baghdad to begin as soon as Tuesday. That's about 36 hours from now. A portion of the US 3rd Infantry, with about 130 armored vehicles, reportedly driven, now, to within 100 miles of Baghdad. We've been saying sometime that they're south of the city. Not more specific than that at this point, though.

Also, Britain says one of its war planes accidentally shot down by a US Patriot missile battery. Recovery efforts still under way right now. Efforts, anyway, to find the two airmen who went down somewhere over the northern skies of Kuwait. Paula?

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Bill. We're going to be looking at the fighting from all corners of Iraq, north and south and beyond the borders. We have our embedded reporters covering the war from their unique vantage points with US Military units. Walt Rodgers is with the 3-7th Cavalry, moving to Baghdad where he just described taking some incoming artillery fire from the Iraqis. He said he's in south central Iraq right now.

Kyra Phillips on board the USS Lincoln, and Jason Bellini is with Marines in southern Iraq, near Umm Qasr.

Now, let's go to Fredricka Whitfield, who joins us from Silopi, Turkey. Turkey says it needs troops in Northern Iraq to keep Kurdish refugees from crossing the border into Turkey. A lot of confusing signals coming from that region. Fredricka joins us now to clear that all up. Fredricka?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Paula. Well, the Turkish military is continuing its buildup on the Iraqi border, but on the Turkish side. And the military officials are maintaining they have not crossed the border, contrary to earlier reports. But the military says it is their goal to have upwards of 5,000 military troops on the Turkish border anticipating what could eventually lead to a Kurdish refugee crisis.

We talked to a UNHCR, the U.N. Humanitarian Aid Group spokesperson earlier, and he said as far as they can see, considering they've been monitoring the situation since Friday, there doesn't appear to be a refugee crisis as of yet. They did, indeed, note that there had been some Kurds in the northern region, had been making their way to the Turkish border. But that now, it appears as though they seem to be heading back to their various villages.

Nevertheless, the UNHCR has delivered some 50,000 blankets and 8,000 mattresses to the border on Turkey's side in anticipation. So that if, indeed, any Kurdish refugees do eventually make their way across the border, they do have a few comforts in some of the temporary refugee camps that have been set up along the border.

Meantime, kind of adding insult to injury to the Turkish-American relations that has resulted from all of this back and forth over the troops, over the air space, et cetera. Now apparently the Turkish government, the military, is saying that it is no longer going to allow any US Military flights out of Incirlik to maintain what it has been doing for 12 years now. That is, surveying the no-fly zone. So some changes there that only seem to make the Turkish-American relations that much more volatile now. Paula?

ZAHN: But the key point, once again, Fredricka, is the Turkish troops remain on the Turkish side. They have not crossed into Iraq.

WHITFIELD: And it depends on who you ask. Of course, the Turkish officials are saying they have not crossed the border. They've always maintained a little bit of presence, just a handful of perhaps troops that have been able to go across the border. They've been monitoring that for the past few years for fear that there may be yet another uprising, very much like the 15-year conflict taking place between the Turks and the Kurds. But in terms of large numbers in response to the war, and what could be a pressing refugee crisis, the Turkish government officials are saying no. However, we all heard from General Tommy Franks yesterday, who said that US Special Forces working in concert with Kurdish forces witnessed themselves that there were some Turkish troops across the border. So, of course, conflicting messages still coming from both sides of the coin. Paula?

ZAHN: Fredricka Whitfield, thanks so much for that live report from Silopi, Turkey.

Now, some breaking news we need to get to, from the Pentagon, by way of Bill Hemmer. Good morning again.

HEMMER: Yes, Paula, hello. We mentioned a short time ago that Richard Myers had comments on a network back in the states earlier today about the possibility of fewer than ten missing Americans. Barbara Starr can put this a bit more in perspective for us. Barbara, what do you have for us?

STARR: Well, Bill, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also speaking on another Sunday talk show said, quoting, "I believe there are American soldiers missing." This news has just come to the Pentagon in the last few minutes that both the secretary and the chairman have made these comments on the Sunday talk shows.

I can tell you that officials here are scrambling to find out exactly what is going on from the field, trying to get some assessment. US forces, of course, today moving very strongly, very rapidly, through Southern and Central Iraq. A lot of action in the field, as previously reported by Walter Rodgers and other CNN correspondents. But now, both Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld and General Myers making public indications that there may be soldiers, US soldiers missing out in the field. No indication yet as to exactly what has happened.

HEMMER: And Barbara, you mentioned soldiers. One assumes that the US Army, can we get more specific than that?

STARR: The phraseology that is being used here and by both of these top officials is "soldiers." That would indicate, possibly, US Army. Often, although it's not technically accurate, sometimes in conversation Marines are referred to as soldiers. So we'll offer a note of caution there.

We will tell you -- we will remind our viewers, a lot of reports floating around earlier in the day about a missing US or coalition plane, a crew possibly lost. Now that report has been absolutely discounted by the US Military, which some time ago put out an official statement saying that all coalition air crews had been accounted for, despite reports that an air crew had been shot down.

We have all seen those dramatic pictures earlier this morning of Iraqis searching along the river in Baghdad. By all accounts, there are official statements from the Bush administration that there are no air crews down. But there are now statements, at least, from the Secretary of Defense and possibly the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs indicating there may be ground forces, a very small number of US soldiers, unaccounted for at this time. Bill?

HEMMER: Barbara, one more thing here. I'm not sure how far you can go with this, but I'll try anyway. Do you know of any search team looking for the American soldiers right now, or is it the possibility that perhaps they have fallen into Iraqi hands already?

STARR: I am going to be extremely honest and tell you, we do not know the answer to either of those questions. I can tell you, procedurally, when soldiers become unaccounted for in the field, there are immediate efforts to try and locate them, conduct reconnaissance, get them back as quickly as possible. When these situations develop, time is of the essence. They want to find people before they are moved too quickly by potential enemy forces and moved out of range. So, procedurally, if this has, indeed happened, there would, I believe be a very significant search effort under way, probably both on the ground and on the air.

HEMMER: OK, Barbara, thanks. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

STARR: Bill, we can...

HEMMER: I'm sorry, go ahead.

STARR: We can now also confirm for you that on another Sunday talk show, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was a bit more specific. He did say that fewer than ten soldiers were unaccounted for in Southern Iraq. So, the chairman went a bit further than Secretary Rumsfeld, putting a number to it or at least, some type of number to it. The secretary saying he believed there were reports. The chairman now saying fewer than ten soldiers unaccounted for in southern Iraq today. Bill?

HEMMER: All right Barbara, thanks. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. I'm certain you'll work with your sources there at the Pentagon. We shall, too, throughout the region here.

One note, here, the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld will be live on CNN a bit later today. Wolf Blitzer will have him on sometime in the noon o'clock eastern standard hour. So we will have more comments then. But again, that's -- what is it, looking at the clock -- two hours, 15 minutes away. Quite likely we'll get more information before then, but nonetheless, Don Rumsfeld here on CNN at that time with Wolf. More now with Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Bill. Coming up, reports of that downed plane, the Pentagon says all coalition aircraft are accounted for. But check this out. This is what the Iraqis were doing. Close to three hours ago, firing shots into the Tigris River, burning brush along the banks of the river. They claim they were searching for downed coalition pilots. Donald Rumsfeld on another one of those Sunday talk shows saying that this could all have been staged. Is it propaganda? We'll have that and much more in the next hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Breaking news out of the Pentagon. Joint Chief of Staff General Myers confirming, "that fewer than 10 American soldiers unaccounted for in southern Iraq."

Let's go to David Grange, our General on duty at CNN center. First of all, your reaction to that, sir?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it could very well be, Paula, some soldiers missing. It may just be a break in formation of vehicles moving into Iraq. You know, we have these long columns of formations, thousands of vehicles. Could be any other thing of teams out front. We don't know.

And so, extraordinary efforts are always taken by US forces, I know that, and, of course, the British that I've worked with, the same thing, to account for people on a constant basis. But it's very difficult at night, in the dust, moving rapidly through enemy territory.

ZAHN: And let's talk to you about the latest report that's been confirmed at the Pentagon, that that British air force jet that went down was, in fact, hit by its Patriot missile. How could that have happened?

GRANGE: Well, I think it's unusual, but it could. Thousands of sorties have been reported going on strikes and returning to air bases or out to carriers. All these airplanes have an identification, friend or foe capability. A Patriot battery or other air defense means is looking on a constant basis to take down aircraft or missiles. There may have been a procedural error. Those units that are air defense or under considerable stress in matters of seconds to deny enemy entry into that air space, and if something happened with the IFF, then this may have happened.

ZAHN: And General Myers, we're going to go back to some videotape, or some stuff that was fed to us at about 7:00 straight up Eastern time. A rather odd scene. Iraqi soldiers firing into the Tigris River. Apparently, we were told the Iraqis said that they were shooting for some pilots that they claimed had been downed. They also set the brush alongside the riverbanks on fire.

Now, Donald Rumsfeld, in another one of those Sunday morning talk shows, said this was staged. Now, that is a tactic the Iraqis have used in the past, right, because they want to create the image that this is causing American casualties.

GRANGE: I believe it is. It's the same as Ken Pollack has said as well. If we can also go to the telestrator just for a moment, you know, on the bombing campaign took place basically in this area in Baghdad. And then, if we zoom in a little bit closer, this just so happens to take place very close to the ministry of information over in this area. And then if we go down to the river area you just showed on the video, where a lot of the shooting is taking place and the yelling and screaming and burning of brush is this area right here.

So basically, I think what we have is, I think, a staged propaganda campaign, because it looks like pieces of tape that's been spliced together to make this extraordinary, sensational video. And so that's what I believe it is, using disinformation to rally their people or to cause dissension here of ours.

ZAHN: I guess we should add to it that the Air Force says all of its planes are accounted for, as does the British air force.

Let's come back to that report of the missing US soldiers. How is that likely to affect the campaign?

GRANGE: The campaign will continue, but extraordinary efforts always put forth by the US and British armed forces to find a fallen comrade, a missing comrade, if that, in fact, is the case. And again, it may just be accountability from confusion on the battlefield. It could be a unit that's isolated temporarily during a fight, and they'll use air and ground force to find those troopers, to account for them.

ZAHN: And I want you to reflect on some of the reporting Walt Rodgers has done this morning. Last time we caught up with him, he was reporting from a town in South Central Iraq, where he was 75 meters away from incoming Iraqi artillery fire. He said he was struck by the precision of their targeting. Any insight into that, and what other US forces might be up against as they move north?

GRANGE: The precision of enemy weapon fire kind of depends on where you are on the receiving end. So if it's close to where you are, you think it's quite precise. So it may have just been where they think units are moving or they have indications from what they call a spotter, someone informing them. I think they'd have difficulty with radio calls, to call that type of fire in. I think it's just a suspected avenues of approach, fire being placed on those coalition forces and it just so happens the report came from an area where it impacted.

ZAHN: It's interesting you raise the issue of spotters, because what Walt Rodgers said, right before this barrage of artillery fire, they encountered local villagers walking towards them on the side of the street waving white flags. And he said it wouldn't have surprised him if one of those folks wasn't so innocent, and it tipped Iraqi forces off.

GRANGE: Exactly.

ZAHN: How do they communicate? Is it just simple radio communication, hand signals?

GRANGE: It could be. I doubt that, because of how far back the artillery would have to be, or mortar fire. They reported artillery fire.

But yes, you can have what's known as sleepers inside of a surrendering force or in a civilian crowd, just like in Vietnam. Same type of thing happened. I think a lot of these people, though, in that regard, are pressured by some of the paramilitary forces pushing the civilians in with some of the other Iraqi army units. And so, it's really hard to tell. I just think it was a key piece of terrain. They knew American forces were in that area and they just fired a barrage to the general area, and it hit in close proximity, probably, to that report.

ZAHN: Final input on this rolling campaign, what might come in the next stage of the Shock and Awe campaign?

GRANGE: I think more resistance, Paula. I think they're going to encounter some tougher units, some of the Republican Guards units, Medina, Hammurabi, some of the other forces that are known to be better trained with better equipment and these may be what's known as a covering force. In other words, the most far-out units of a defender's location to slow down and induce casualties on friendly forces moving north. So I think it will get a little tougher and some of the terrain is a little bit more restricted and more challenging.

David grange, as always, thanks for your perspective. We'll be getting back to you a little bit later on today. Back to Bill, in the meantime. Bill?

HEMMER: Paula, the president left for Camp David on Friday, but he was not too far behind in terms of the events happening on this side of the world. Condoleezza Rice and others went with him to Camp David.

Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, now, has been tracking the movement from Camp David, and now joins us with what the president is expected to do today. Suzanne, good morning.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill. I just talked with the White House spokesperson who says the president is aware of these reports of these missing soldiers, that he continues to monitor the situation, that they will continue to update him throughout the day.

He is there at Camp David. He held a full meeting with his war council yesterday. With him today is National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice as well as his Chief of Staff, Andy Card.

Now, we're told there were two briefings that were held via a secure video link. The first, an intelligence briefing with CIA Director George Tenet. Following that, he had a Pentagon briefing with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. On those video conference calls as well, the vice president, as well as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, as well as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace.

Again, White House officials telling us the president has been made aware of these reports of these missing soldiers and he will be getting updates throughout the day. Bill?

HEMMER: All right, Suzanne Malveaux, again, live from the White House front lawn. Suzanne, thank you.

Back here in the region right now, I want to show you yet again a clip of a battle we all here in Kuwait City watched first hand live on television earlier today. There's a group of pool reporters in the area of Southeastern Iraq, Umm Qasr, outside the town there, where US Marines engaged with Iraqi forces on the other side. The reporter was David Bowden. Part of his report as this ongoing firefight went for a better part of four hours. A slice of the sights and sounds of what we saw here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOWDEN: We're assessing the situation here. There are people running up and down with messages. They've got binoculars on the area. The situation has not come to a halt yet. This is ongoing. It is not yet declared safe.

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 Donnelley, my cameraman, do you feel you're safe enough where you are? He says so- so. You probably saw that, Simon. 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's not easy to operate in these conditions when there is nobody firing at you. It is more difficult, of course, 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, much less so for us, obviously, because we're just a few yards back from what is, de facto, the front lines. But it's very hot, very difficult, very dusty. And the sand, as you know, and dust gets into everything.

I just ask you what's happening.

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

BOWDEN: Word has just gone down the line here to keep your heads down, shots are coming out of the building still. Obviously, the US Marines are not satisfied that that building is safe, so they are still pounding it, and I suspect they will take it down brick by brick if necessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: In total, that firefight lasted about four hours. The Marines did accomplish their objective. Ultimately, they did overtake the Iraqis on the other side. And apparently, did move on as well. Again, the reporter, David Bowden, with the US Marines in Southeastern Iraq.

Paula, I think it's yet another indication about these pockets of resistance that we've talked about all weekend long occurring in different parts of Iraq. In this case, yet again in Umm Qasr, in the southeastern part of the country. ZAHN: All right, Bill, thanks so much. I know you'll be staying with me for the next two hours.

This wraps up this initial block of AMERICAN MORNING this morning. When we come back at the top of the hour, the very latest on the report that has up to ten American soldiers unaccounted for in southern Iraq. We'll have the details at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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