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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War in Iraq: War in Iraq Under Way

Aired March 23, 2003 - 23:00   ET

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

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Heidi, thank you.
We're going to start this hour by touching again on the story of the American POWs.

For those of you who just may be joining us, let's recap what we know.

A group of 12 soldiers from the 507 Maintenance Company were in southern Iraq when they were attacked. We don't precisely know exactly the circumstances of that attack.

At least five members of the group were captured. As many as seven were killed. And, again, we don't precisely know the circumstances of that.

What we do know is that interviews with those who were captured, and apparently were widely shown across first Iraqi state TV, and then both the interviews with the Americans and quite gruesome and most disturbing pictures of the American dead were also broadcast on Al- Jazeera. And in fairness to Al-Jazeera, I suppose, by other broadcasters around the world.

The Secretary of Defense made clear today that he believed that the interviews that were conducted by Iraqi state TV, and the way they were conducted by Iraqi state TV, were in clear violation of the Geneva conventions.

While they have, as we said, been widely shown around the world in their entirety, we at CNN will not air any of those interviews until we are absolutely certain -- absolutely certain -- the captured Americans' families have been notified. And then we're only going to air a very brief clip.

The decision to air the brief clip is to show you who they are, first of all. They are -- they are your countrymen. But also, how they are treated, the condition they are in, is an important part of the coverage of any war.

And we would add to that what one of our military analysts said to us earlier today, which is that showing these young men and one woman, showing the condition they are in helps ensure their safety at the hands of the Iraqi government.

We know that the family of Joe Hudson is now aware of his capture. His mother, Anecita Hudson, learned of it when she saw this long clip of tape on Filipino television broadcast. She has satellite dish in her home in New Mexico, and she has since been formally informed by the Pentagon.

We'll talk to her in a moment. But first, briefly, how he looked and sounded -- very briefly -- as he was interviewed by Iraqi TV.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your name?

JOSEPH HUDSON, U.S. POW, IRAQ: Specialist Joseph Hudson, 585 65 ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Sergeant -- or, Specialist Joseph Hudson and his mother, Anecita Hudson joins us now. She's in New Mexico tonight.

Well, first of all, our heart is with you tonight. You must be beside yourself with worry.

Tell us about your son. Tell us the kind of guy he is.

ANECITA HUDSON, MOTHER OF U.S. POW: Well, he's a really good son and a good husband. And I know he misses us, and we miss him.

BROWN: He has ...

ANECITA HUDSON: And ...

BROWN: ... I'm sorry. He has a young child, does he not?

ANECITA HUDSON: Yes, sir. He got a young child five years old.

BROWN: You have now been contacted formally by the Army. What were they able to tell you?

ANECITA HUDSON: No, sir. I have not been contact from the Army. But my daughter-in-law is. She was in briefing today in Fort Bliss.

BROWN: At Fort Bliss in Texas. And what was then -- what were they able to say?

ANECITA HUDSON: According to her, that they briefed her, that Joe is going to be OK. And they're going to try to get him out of there, where he is right now.

BROWN: When you saw him -- when did you last see or talk to him?

ANECITA HUDSON: When I saw him today in the -- the individual in the Filipino channel. I was so shocked. And I was very confused and I start crying.

BROWN: Mrs. Hudson, before today, when was the last time you saw Joseph?

ANECITA HUDSON: Three weeks ago, before he got deployed.

BROWN: And when you saw him today and heard his voice, did he sound -- he seemed to sound OK, didn't he?

ANECITA HUDSON: He -- he looks OK. But I can see his face, that he is confused and scared. He's very scared.

That's why I start crying, because he looks so scared.

BROWN: Just -- Mrs. Hudson, I -- this is so hard for you, and we so appreciate your willingness to give us a much better window into who your son is.

I know that not only are you dealing with this, but you are, as we talk, waiting and hoping for a kidney donation. There's a lot going on in your life, and it must be a most difficult time.

General Clark, you had to make these calls and deal with this. What would you like to say to Mrs. Hudson?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, FORMER NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: Mrs. Hudson, I hope you'll have courage. And I hope you'll say your prayers.

And we want you to know that I'm sure the United States Army and the United States government are going to do everything they possibly can do to get your son home safe and sound.

He has been trained. He's with his comrades in that unit.

He is alive right now, and the President has said it's the responsibility of the Iraqi government to keep him alive and treat him humanely in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

BROWN: Mrs. Hudson, ...

ANECITA HUDSON: Yes, sir.

BROWN: ... is there anything that -- there must be a million thoughts rolling through your mind, and I suspect a lot of them are just kind of messy.

Is there anything you would like to say to us, to all of the people watching, about your son or anything else?

ANECITA HUDSON: Yes, sir. I just would like to -- the President of the United States of America, that will do something about it, to save my son. And I want him to come home.

BROWN: Mrs. Hudson, you and 250 million of your countrymen and women want your son to come home. And we're all thinking about him. And thank you for your ...

ANECITA HUDSON: Yes, sir.

BROWN: ... thank you. And we'll -- you are in our thoughts tonight. Thank you, ma'am, very much.

Anecita ...

ANECITA HUDSON: Thank you, sir.

BROWN: Thank you. Anecita Hudson. Joe Hudson -- Joseph Hudson is being held by the Iraqis tonight.

Mrs. Hudson said he looked so scared, and she's the mom, and she gets to say that.

I will tell you that when I looked at the tape, I thought he looked strong. And when they asked him his name, he looked straight at the camera and delivered it, like a kid who had plenty of guts.

CLARK: That's what I thought, too, Aaron. I was real proud of him when I saw him there.

BROWN: Yes.

BROWN: The fighting in the area where young Joe Hudson was captured was extraordinarily intense. It involved heavy Marine casualties.

CNN's Alessio Vinci is embedded with the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Marines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hours after the U.S. armored column came under attack in Nasiriyah, the body of one Marine was being wrapped in an American flag and carried to a waiting helicopter, which had just landed nearby.

He was one of many Marines to die in this intense battle to control an important supply route for U.S. forces trying to reach Baghdad to the north.

The charred remains of one of the vehicles smoldering -- a testimony to the ferocity of the fight as Iraqi forces used rocket propelled grenades to destroy the heavily armored personnel carrier, killing everyone on board.

Nearby, a second armored vehicle, heavily damaged -- the burned gear of another Marine lying on the ground.

Earlier in the day, only six miles away, another deadly attack against American forces in the region. A U.S. military supply convoy was ambushed as it lost its way around the unfamiliar territory. Many of those ambushed were killed or taken hostage.

Several hours after the Iraqi forces ambushed a U.S. military supply convoy, Iraqi forces continued to engage the U.S. military, who was responding with heavy machine gun fire and 40 millimeters grenades. Advancing U.S. Marines, many of them as young as 19, and seeing their first combat, called for air support as they attempted to enter the city of Nasiriyah.

U.S. military commanders say helicopters and planes managed to destroy several Iraqi tanks, trucks and anti-aircraft batteries. But somehow, commanders here say, they did not manage to prevent serious losses in the fiercest battle yet of the Iraqi conflict.

Alessio Vinci, CNN, with the U.S. Marines in Nasiriyah, Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Now, we've talked a lot about POWs and our concerns about the treatment of the Americans.

It is ironic, I guess, if you will, that on this day under these circumstances, out in the Kuwait desert in a field hospital, we find Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Dr. Gupta, on the videophone tonight, witnessed a surgery. As I recall it, Sanjay, it was abdominal surgery on an Iraqi POW performed by American doctors -- Sanjay.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Aaron, really. It's sort of a historic moment here for the Devil Docs, as they call themselves -- the Naval docs that supply the Marines with their medical staff.

Here we were sitting in front of FRSS-4. That stands for Forward Resuscitative Surgical Suite 4. That's the tent over here just to my right.

And just as you mentioned, Aaron, abdominal surgery -- it was for a gunshot wound to the belly, coming from the left back to the right front of the belly.

And the patient was brought here and an operation was performed, just like maybe you're seeing some of the images now, just like the operation we performed back home. Obviously, a lot difference in situations here in terms of being in the desert.

I have Dr. John Percibelli, and Dr. Rob Hinks here. They are the docs that actually performed the operation. We just a chance -- they stayed up for us, but they're only in the morning here. They stayed up to talk to us.

First of all, thank you very much.

CAPT. JOHN PERCIBELLI, HEAD SURGEON, FRSS: Thanks.

GUPTA: You know, they're seeing the images of what you guys did just a little bit ago.

Tell us, you know, what are some of the limitations in doing something like this? PERCIBELLI: Well, we're under pretty austere circumstances here. So we have to view each patient, obviously individually. But we also have to keep in mind the resources that we have available.

We're set up here to do 18 major cases, so we have to really pick and choose those critically injured patients that have to be taken care of now. But that's the challenge that we have.

GUPTA: Dr. Hinks, sterility has got to be an issue. How do you ...

DR. ROB HINKS, FRSS: Unfortunately we can't -- but we do keep these as clean as we can, principally from the standpoint -- when we're actually operating, we do achieve some degree of sterility.

GUPTA: You know, one of the things Aaron just -- was talking about, triage with regards to Iraqis versus coalition forces. You're a doctor. You're also wearing the garb of a military person.

How do you make those decisions, coalition forces versus Iraqi, if you had a waiting room full of both?

PERCIBELLI: My decisions are going to made based on medical -- so it would be a medical decision based on the patient's physiology and their wounds. That's how we decide who goes first.

GUPTA: OK. Well, thank you both very much for joining us.

Aaron, medical triage as opposed to political triage -- that's the message we're getting.

But, again, a historic moment here, FRSS-4. This is the first time an operating room set up in the middle of the desert. They can set these up in under an hour. They can tear them down in under an hour.

Why? So they can mobilize and move with the troops, which is exactly what they're doing.

Back to you, Aaron.

BROWN: Sanjay, thank you. Sanjay Gupta who done some terrific reporting for us over the last few days.

Michael Gordon is right about military matters, the chief defense correspondent for the "New York Times." He's been in Iraq. He's back in Kuwait, and he's on the telephone now.

Michael, it was a tough day for the Americans, and the British and the coalition side. What's your take on all this?

MICHAEL GORDON, CHIEF DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think that the Americans and the British, for that matter, too, are now entering the most critical phase of the war.

All along, the land war commanders understood that the first part of the war was the easy part. And, yes, there were lots of reports about regular Army units capitulating and huge distances covered by forces.

But the people who were commanding the war understood that this is really the prelude for the major battle, which is really just beginning -- began last night against the Republican Guard. Last night was the first time that American ground forces began to attack the Republican Guard, specifically the Medina Division outside Baghdad.

So now we're entering a much more difficult phase of the conflict. In fact, the very area around Baghdad is known by the military as the red zone, which gives you a little bit of a feel for what they think of that challenge.

And at the same time, in their rear areas, they're facing attacks on their supply lines and feigned surrenders which became attacks by the Fedayeen, which are a group of loyalists for the regime. Almost technical, the guys who drive around in SUVs with machine guns, sort of the light forces.

So they now have a fight in front of them and a fight behind them.

BROWN: First of all, on this, you mentioned ground forces engaged with the Republican Guard and Medina. We -- just to help our viewers a bit, we talked a little bit ago about an Apache air attack, I believe, on those same Republican Guard positions.

And, again, how close to Baghdad are we talking about? Can you say?

GORDON: I'm not sure precisely, but there's an outer ring there, a defensive ring about 60 miles or so around Baghdad. And they're different brigades.

So there's this -- what they did is they singled out a specific brigade, the Medina, to concentrate on. And what the attack involved was attack by Apache helicopters. And also, they fired, I think, over 30 A-TACM surface-to-surface missiles.

So this is part of a process which they call shaping the battlefield. But basically it means pounding these forces from the air to soften them up. And this was the ground portion of it.

There's an air portion of it, as well, which involves bombing attacks on the command and control, the tanks and particularly the artillery, which could be used to fire chemical shells.

This is a, you know, a combined arms attack on the Republican Guard, beginning for the first time.

BROWN: And just, on one other point that you mentioned, then we'll move a little bit forward, it is always seen that one of the complexities or one of the challenges of the coalition war plan was this long supply line that had to run essentially from Kuwait, 350 miles or so to Baghdad.

And we have seen now some attacks on that supply line. And I gather that is essentially the risk that is inherent in the plan.

GORDON: Well, yes. I mean, I guess the question is whether it was a necessary risk. These are -- there are not a lot of American troops in this fight, as I see it.

I think this force is barely adequate for the task. It's a very capable force, but it's a very big country. And there's a lot of terrain to cover, a lot of supply lines to protect.

And there are areas of Iraq which are a sanctuary. I mean, Iraq is firing surface-to-surface missiles at this very camp where I am.

BROWN: And that's back in Kuwait.

GORDON: From a -- pardon?

BROWN: Back in Kuwait.

GORDON: In Kuwait, ...

BROWN: Yes.

GORDON: ... yes. But they can also fire at American forces in Iraq.

BROWN: Right.

GORDON: They're firing from a portion of the country in eastern Iraq, north of Basra, where there are no allied forces.

And so, there's a -- you know, the force that's at hand is, in the view of the military commanders, is sufficient to defeat the Republican Guard and topple the regime.

But it's hard to do, to do that and guard supply lines and prevent missile launches and, you know, deal with a whole host of challenges that are presented by, you know, this type of a conflict.

BROWN: Have you found in your reporting any frustration among the American or the coalition commanders in Kuwait about the size of the force they have to work with, and the task that that relatively small force has to accomplish?

GORDON: Well, you know, to the contrary, every time I talk to them, they insist they have -- the force is sufficient, and they're -- and I think they're pretty confident they're going to prevail.

There doesn't seem to be much doubt here about what the ultimate outcome will be.

I think yesterday was a very somber mood among the, you know, in the high command, so to speak. And they had, you know, there were -- they had some prisoners taken. They lost -- pretty high casualties for an American war.

At a time when things were going pretty well. And it there was a friendly fire episode, where a Patriot shot down a British Tornado aircraft, which was very unfortunate.

So it was basically a bad day.

But what I don't sense is, at this point, any lack of confidence about the ultimate outcome. And in fact, I think they're pretty much determined just to press ahead.

And I think, part of -- it's almost as if -- I mean, they were going to fight the Republican Guard in any event. But I think there's also a lesson there. They're not going to be deterred from proceeding and pursuing the fight against Republican Guard and going to Baghdad.

But I just think this is going to be a much more complex operation, particularly because they have these Fedayeen kind of militia, you know, spread all over the cities of southern Iraq and operating in their rear areas.

And it's a, you know, a thorn in their side. So think the outcome will be successful. I don't think there's much question ...

BROWN: Yes.

GORDON: ... about that. I think the question will be, at what cost, in terms of American casualties, and in terms of, I guess, damage to the country.

Because, all along, they've been trying to do this with minimal damage.

BROWN: Michael, as always, it's good to talk to you. Thank you.

Michael Gordon who's a wonderful reporter on matters of defense, writing for the "New York Times," and has joined us a couple of nights now.

Over at the maps to give us, I think, a broader view of sort of where we are on this day. Miles O'Brien. General Clark's moved over there, as well -- gentlemen.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Aaron. General Wesley Clark joining us to walk us through the map.

Let's just start right down in the south and walk through an overview of what is not the best day so far for the American military. Go ahead, General Clark.

CLARK: This is just -- this is an average day of fighting. It's tough. You're going to get some things that didn't go as well as you wanted.

But the momentum is still there. We still have the combat power. We still have the initiative here. But the Faw Peninsula here, where the oil platforms were and where the oil storage depot was. Well, we took some of the key facilities. But some of these Fedayeen fighters are still there.

The area hasn't been totally secured or cleared of the enemy yet. And at night, and during the day, even, some of these people are moving around and continuing to open new firefights and engagements.

Basra, a city of 1.2 million people, has not been occupied. It's not secure. There are fighters in there. Some Republican Guards who have been slipped south to stiffen the defense there.

They're in civilian clothes in some cases, and they are resisting, despite the fact that we have the bridges.

The Marines, meanwhile, skirted past this, leaving most of this to the British, as far as we can determine here, and are moving up. The Marines are basically in the center between the Tigris and the Euphrates River.

A part of the Marines went through Nasiriyah. They got in a big firefight there. Another part of the Marines is moving up in the center.

They're also in contact, and having tough going in the center -- tough going in the sense that the fighting consists of making contact between forces, and then backing off, calling for artillery, calling for air and trying to reduce the enemy resistance before moving.

O'BRIEN: And is that part of the strategy?

CLARK: That's the strategy. That's the way we're going to fight. We're not going to use our troops. We're not going to do frontal assaults ...

O'BRIEN: They're probing ...

CLARK: ... and Civil War tactics ...

O'BRIEN: ... trying to fix a target.

CLARK: But it's slow and it's delicate. And then, the 3rd Infantry Division, over in this area, moved part of it through Nasiriyah. One brigade swung wide. It's all the way up here at An Najaf, following the 3-7 Cav. They're maybe 60 miles from Baghdad.

So, we've got the 3rd Infantry Division in good position. They're ready to push forward. The Apaches did a deep attack during the hours of darkness against this brigade of the Medina Division.

Don't know the results of that.

O'BRIEN: Apache versus a T-72 tank? They did well.

CLARK: And I would think that there were probably 150 armored vehicles, including air defense, some artillery -- it was towed artillery -- tanks, VMPs in this area. Not sure how they were arrayed. The Apaches came in with A-TACM support. And with U.S. Air Force support in some areas.

And there was engagement, and that'll be sorted out.

O'BRIEN: Now, somewhere out here is the 101st and -- the 101st Airborne.

What are they up to right now?

CLARK: We're not sure exactly. Of course, that symbol just represents ...

O'BRIEN: Right.

CLARK: ... the fact that they're out in no-man's land with a brigade, establishing a huge force (ph) out here.

And this really sets the ability for the division to maneuver from Kuwait somewhere out into western Iraq, and then perhaps to come in from the west or from the north against Baghdad.

O'BRIEN: All right. We know that the U.S. holds H-3. We don't know what that portends, whether the 101st might be headed there.

We'll just leave that aside, and meanwhile, just briefly tell us -- this is just to symbolize some of the bombing we witnessed over Baghdad today. Didn't seem to be a very intense day of bombing.

CLARK: Well, the problem with precision bombing as we're doing in Baghdad, is you have to have specific targets. And they have to be militarily related targets.

And when you're going after specific targets, there are only so many of them.

And the thing about a 2,000 pound bomb is, it does a very good job on a specific target. And if it's bunker underneath, you use a bunker buster on it.

And so, it's effects are greater than the sound and light show. So we've probably been quite effective against this. The bombing should be working now against the air defense in the outer ring, and should be preparing the way for the Army forces to be able to get good close air support when they close with the Republican Guard.

O'BRIEN: So, a tough day, but you say an OK day, when you ...

CLARK: On balance for the mission, it's OK. You don't like to lose any soldiers. You don't want anything bad to happen to your troops.

But this is -- unfortunately, this is war.

And from the commander's perspective, I think they've got to, you know, as far as we can determine, this is about maneuver of the force. It's about logistics. It's about the overall intelligence that's being generated. And it seems to be on track.

O'BRIEN: General Wes Clark, thank you very much -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, thank you very much. Christiane Amanpour has been moving in and out of Iraq, who was in Umm Qasr the other day. She's back in northern Kuwait today.

And that's where we find her. Christiane, it's nice to see you tonight.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, indeed we've been moving in and out in the areas that the U.S. and the British have been securing. There was Umm Qasr, but also yesterday, we went to the oil field.

We have seen several hundred prisoners of war. And perhaps just to talk about them, since there's been such a focus on them over the last 24 hours.

Several hundred in various different locations are Iraqi prisoners of war who have surrendered to the British and to the American troops.

And we have been under very strict Geneva control of Geneva Convention rules here.

Our military escorts are not allowing us to get too close to these prisoners. We are able to go up and sort of say hello, but we can't put a camera in their face. And we've seen that they've been taken to central collection points. And they're being fed, and they're going to get water and shelter and be processed.

And that basically the plan is to keep all these prisoners of war under British control, somewhere in the south.

Now, in terms of the battlefield, Umm Qasr, as they call it in military terms, is secure but not safe. The Americans and the British there who are conducting a joint operation, say that they have, for the most part, controlled most of that area.

But, there are still pockets of resistance. And as we saw over the last 24 hours, quite heavy U.S. firepower, relatively speaking, was put in to quell some of those pockets.

In terms of what it means, they need that place to bring in humanitarian aid, and they were using Umm Qasr essentially as a litmus test, to see how they would be received and how they would proceed to bigger areas, such as Basra.

The British forces have advanced up there. The British forces are some four kilometers outside the town. There's been a certain amount of resistance. And as we know, the urban areas are not military targets. But that, according to some of our briefers here, is causing potential problems, because some of the so-called surrendering or melting away forces, are simply getting into civilian gear, moving back into the civilian areas. And then, in some cases, potentially coming out and around the rear, and harassing the long supply lines.

And that -- we have had a report of that in the south on the way to Basra.

In terms of the oilfield in the south, that has been taken. It's secured. It was an early target because of the economic and ecological impacts of those oil fields.

And one thing that we found, instead of a scorched earth policy that we had been briefed heavily on by the British and Americans before the war, the Royal Engineers found that there is no evidence yet to suggest the Iraqis were either booby-trapping or considering serious sabotage, at least to those southern oil fields -- Aaron.

BROWN: Christiane, thank you. That's a lot. Christiane Amanpour, who is back in Kuwait and will making her way back and forth as this thing goes along.

That was one of the questions that, you'll recall, in the days -- and I guess the last week or so before the war began -- the administration saying it had some intelligence information that Iraq was laying explosives around the oil fields, perhaps with the intention of blowing them up, creating both an economic and environmental and, to some extent, a military mess.

But at least the reporting now, so far, on the southern oil fields, is that that has not -- well, it certainly has not happened, and that that was not the case.

Heidi Collins, now, with an update on the basic headlines of a very busy Sunday in the war on Iraq.

(NEWSBREAK)

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