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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

United States forces, coalition forces are either on track or ahead of schedule

Aired March 24, 2003 - 16:00   ET

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We're listening to the Pentagon spokeswoman Tori Clarke and to General McChrystal who has been briefing reporters. And bottom line we're hearing is that the U.S. coalition forces continue to make progress.
We heard the general say they are now over 200 miles into Iraqi territory. There were a lot of questions about resistance that the coalition forces have encountered, questions about the chopper that went down with the missing pilots. And you just heard Wolf reporting CNN has learned that Abu Dhabi television, apparently through Iraqi television, is now showing pictures of two U.S. pilots, individuals or soldiers who appear to be pilots who may be from the base where that helicopter was based.

General Don Sheppard is with us now in Atlanta, one of our military analysts. General, time and again, both General McChrystal and Tory Clarke insisted, as we heard from General Tommy Franks earlier today, that progress is being made, that one should not interpret the resistance that the forces are facing as in any way throwing them off schedule.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPARD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Judy, here's what's developing. The words coming out of Central Command and from the briefings that you have just heard are that the United States forces, coalition forces are either on track or ahead of schedule.

And we hear these reports of sweeping movements, 200 miles, attacking things within 60 miles of Baghdad and, yet, we see heavy fighting going on at Nasiriyah in the rear, at Basra in the rear, even Umm Qasr, the report that the port that was supposed to be secure, we hear about de-mining operations. And then we hear a helicopter attack yesterday against some edema (ph) divisions, and a whole bunch of helicopters getting shot out.

So people are saying, what's the consistency here? We're things are going well and we hear all these battles going on in the rear. The point of this is that we are at the early stages of a military operation. And it is too early to declare success or failure. Intentionally, according to the war plan, General Franks is bypassing the large fights and continuing to move forward toward Baghdad with the plans of going in with forces behind and cleaning up cities such as Nasiriyah and Basra. And your flanks are vulnerable, your supply lines are vulnerable until you get that clean up done, but this is what warfare is about, Judy. And it takes quite a while to draw a real assessment of how this whole thing is going because we have not heard of big battles in the west. We haven't heard of a northern front yet. All of that has to develop before you can get a real clear picture. So, we're at the early stages, Judy, with lots of confusion, but not a lot of real organized resistance going on. It's pockets of fierce fighting and things that have been bypassed.

WOODRUFF: General Don Sheppard. And as we talk, we're seeing live pictures of Baghdad, the skies over Baghdad. We are seeing, yes, explosions, an attack of some sort. General Sheppard, do you want to comment as we're looking at this. You can interpret better, obviously, better than I can as to what this may be.

SHEPPARD: What little I can see here from a soda straw (ph) is that the fact the anti-aircraft artillery, the AAA, if you will, the air defense response appears to be much less than in the first few days. Perhaps they're conserving their shells or perhaps things are not going on in the sector that we're looking at. Again, the coalition forces are striking targets, restriking targets that weren't hit the first time. And then they are beginning to attack targets of the deployed Republican Guard forces. As coalition forces move closer towards Baghdad, the Republican Guard forces in that area will have to assemble and move in formations, making them vulnerable targets. All that starting to shape up, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Now, what you're seeing this right now, what are we looking at?

SHEPPARD: We're just looking at one of the cameras that is pointed at part of the sky in Baghdad. And I'm seeing AAA anti- aircraft artillery going off in the sky, 23, 37 millimeters. It looks like low-level stuff. I have not seen any explosions going off. Everything I have seen going off is antiaircraft artillery, a AAA in the sky.

WOODRUFF: All right, we're going to continue to look at these pictures coming in from Baghdad. And as we do, I am talking with General Don Sheppard, our military analyst.

General, I want to ask you about what came up in the Pentagon briefing. And, again, these are live pictures coming in from Baghdad. We heard from the reporters, including CNN reporter, out with some of the helicopter mission, that after the pilots came back, they reported that every one of those helicopters had been hit, some of them 10, 20 bullet holes and others had engine problems. And, yet, we get a very different picture from the Pentagon and from General Franks and other briefers. How do you square that?

SHEPPARD: Yes, here's my assessment of that. The Apache helicopter was bought with the idea of taking helicopter formations out ahead of mechanized infantry and armored forces in a sweep across opened areas, attacking armor and that type of thing. That's what it was bought for. It appears that they tried to employ some of the tactics that the helicopter had been designed for, and they ran into a hornet's nest of very organized anti-aircraft defenses -- a lot of it coming from cities on either side of the directions in which they were attacking. The idea behind the helicopter it hovers. It hovers and then fires at armored targets. And it can outshoot the armored targets.

Now, if it's defended by air defenses in front of those armored targets, which appears they ran into, they're going to have to go back and assess. Now, look, are we going to be able to continue to do this tactic in view of what we just ran into? What were we able to destroy? Is this wise for the future or do we need to soften things up with fix-winged air and then bring in helicopters, or work them both simultaneously. We all have an after action and try to decide how this went. But it appears that a lot of the helicopters got shot up, Judy.

WOODRUFF: General Sheppard, I don't know of any other way to ask this then I have gotten the impression from some of the briefings that I've listened to, the military briefings, that the U.S., the coalition forces have a very good idea of the defenses the Iraqis are going to put up, but at least in this one instance, they did not know what they were facing. So how do you explain that?

SHEPPARD: Yes, that's also apparent to me. I don't know if there was a faulty intelligence, or exactly what went on here. Or perhaps if the forces moved after the intelligence was gathered. Intelligence is gathered in all sorts of ways from on the ground, from satellites. And then it's relayed. And these things are planned well ahead of time.

So, I can't really explain why a bunch of helicopters ran into the fierce fire that they showed. But Tommy Franks has at his disposal the assets to deal with this in the future. And I suspect what you'll see is much more softening up by fixed wing air before you send helicopters forward in the way it was done in this time, Judy.

WOODRUFF: General Don Sheppard talking with us and as we watch these live pictures. It is 12:07 a.m., as you can see there, in Baghdad where we have just seen some lights in the sky. General Sheppard describing some of it as anti-aircraft fire, which means they intercepting, and their radar is picking up the fact that something may be headed in their direction.

SHEPPARD: Yes, not necessarily radar. A lot can come from just hearing, for instance, cruise missiles from timing from launches that people are telephoning to them, as they see launches from the Persian Gulf and Red Sea of Tomahawk missiles. You can't draw any conclusions about them shooting, about what they're using to see this stuff coming. They are shooting into sectors in the sky, trying to spear and down anything that is there.

And I did notice while we were talking a couple of flashes on the far horizon, leading me to believe that we are probably hitting leadership or command and control targets as they develop, as Republican Guard forces start to move and start to assemble to meet anticipated attacks by U.S. forces. I'm only guessing, Judy, but my guess is we're seeing these attacks further out on the edge of the city, rather than in the Republican palace area that we saw in the last couple of days.

WOODRUFF: General Sheppard, in layman's terms, what do you mean by command and control Republican -- be -- don't use the military term, in other words.

SHEPPARD: Right. In other words, what I'm talking about is command posts. The leadership, the commanders of the elements and divisions at a planning central place, like a command post, a bunker, that type of thing, where they gather to form their battle plans, and where they gather to communicate with or radio to their forces what to do. You have to have a communication center around a command post, a command and control leadership target, which is a command post, if you will, normally in a bunker. As we identify those locations from communications intercepts and other types of intelligence, you can expect us to hit them.

WOODRUFF: And it's logical, of course, that the coalition forces would go after that.

We're looking at two different live pictures of Baghdad, just after midnight Baghdad time. I'm in Washington but I'm talking with General Don Sheppard our military analyst. I'm in Washington, but I'm also talking -- I'm talking with General Don Sheppard, our military analyst in Atlanta.

General Sheppard, as we watch these pictures I'm going to bring in our Pentagon correspondent Jamie Mcintyre. Jamie, I don't know how much of this you have been able to hear. I've been talking with General Sheppard about the message coming out of the Pentagon and out of Central Command that despite resistance coalition forces are facing, they continue to move forward. But there is no question about it, they are meeting with fierce resistance.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, they've called it sporadic resistance. And, of course, what they're saying is if you're at the point where you're meeting that resistance, if you're those Apache helicopter pilots who've come back with their helicopter riddled with bullets, it can look like pretty fierce resistance.

But what can appear very intense when you're there in a local situation can be not really all that militarily significant to the big picture. The key here is that the U.S. be able to achieve its objectives. And I think what you are going to be seeing as we continue to see an aerial bombardment around Iraq is a further softening up of those Republican Guard positions that the U.S. may be attacking sometime fairly soon.

You heard General McChrystal who is on the joint staff, he is the deputy director of operations, say that he couldn't characterize the state of those units. And he thought by the time U.S. ground forces actually engaged them, they would be in a significantly different state of readiness than they might be today. That would seem to be a co-word for the fact that you are going to expect to see some aerial bombardment of positions to further soften them up.

The U.S. has a plan for how to go about this. This is not a surprise that they would hide in cities, or use human shields or employ these type of tactics. Obviously, they spent a lot of time thinking about how they are going to go about it. They have a methodical plan, which they are going to carry out.

But the other message they wanted to underscore here today is that no matter how good their plan is, things will go wrong. There will be casualties. There will be deaths. And there will be prisoners of war, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jamie, I know you were listening very closely, what else would you say came out of this briefing to help your understanding of what's going on?

MCINTYRE: Well, I think, generally, as I said this was a briefing to manage the expectations that people think war can be quick and easy. They looked at the beginning, opening days of the campaign when the U.S. was, essentially, in areas that were not very well defended. And they saw how quickly the U.S. forces were able to move through with minimal casualties.

Now we're getting to the tough part. We're really on the eve of what could be a pivotal battle in this war. And that is the first real engagement of one of the best Republican Guard divisions. If the U.S. can deliver a knockout punch here, it would have a tremendous demoralizing effect and start cascading through the Iraqi military. So, it's important they get this battle right. And they're going to be bringing a lot of forces to bear on it.

WOODRUFF: Let me just quickly, you're referring to a battle on the outskirts of Baghdad.

MCINTYRE: That's right, this engagement. Right now, the lead elements of U.S. forces led by the U.S. Army's 5th Corps is about 50 miles south of Baghdad, not far from where that perimeter of defense has been set up by the Medina division of the Republican Guard.

WOODRUFF: All right. Our chief military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre along with General Don Sheppard, retired Air Force. General Sheppard joining us from Atlanta.

So, Wolf, more activity over the skies of Baghdad, but beyond that, we watch and we wait.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Judy, it's been an intense day of bombing in and around Baghdad, every three or four hours now. Not only do air raid sirens go off, but bombs are heard exploding around the city. Our cameras don't always capture those impact. And the cameras don't always hear the impact, but eyewitnesses are suggesting that the U.S. air campaign is continuing. Only within the past few minutes more explosions rocked the city, rocked the Iraqi capital.

Clearly, outside of the city you can hear some of that and might be able to even see some of that. Clearly, the air strikes are continuing -- U.S. warplanes, Tomahawk cruise missiles, presumably, going after selected targets in Baghdad tonight where it is now after midnight. Within the past hour or so, Iraqi television and now Abu Dhabi television have now aired videotape of what they say are those two American Apache helicopter pilots, whose Apache helicopter went down near Karbala just south of Baghdad last night in a firefight. We had seen earlier on Iraqi television, the Apache helicopter itself. It looked to be in reasonably good condition. The Iraqi government saying they would later show us the two pilots.

Now, they say they are showing us the two pilots. Abu Dhabi television picking up that videotape as well. The two pilots were seen wearing their flight suits. They didn't say anything. They seemed to be in relatively good condition. They did not appear to be injured in any way, but the indication is that presumably these are, in fact, those two pilots because of the identification tags that were shown, which did name a specific base where U.S. Apache helicopters are based.

So, the Central Command announcing today those two pilots were missing in action. And now they're being seen, presumably, on Iraqi television being picked up on abu dhabi television as well. We're going to continue to check tha, make sure that these are, in fact, the pilots. And then we'll have more on that, of course, as it becomes available.

In the meantime, Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo are given the Iraqi leader a vote of confidence. The League's Secretary-General Amr Moussa was among those who offered support for Saddam Hussein.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMR MOUSSA, ARAB LEAGUE SECY.-GEN. (through translator): The assembly of the League has huge responsibility, and all in the Arab world even beyond the Arab world is anticipating and waiting for what your deliberation will produce in confronting this aggression. I hope for this League the success -- I hope victory for our brothers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Arab League ministers have called for a United nations Security Council emergency meeting on the war on Iraq. And they're considering a resolution condemning the war.

Medical officials at an air base in Germany say they will treat all of the war wounded who arrived there, including Iraqis. The first injured patients were flown from the Persian Gulf region to the Ramstein Air Base earlier today. The commander of the medical center there tells us who is being treated right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. DAVID RUBENSTEIN, MEDICAL CENTER COMMANDER: Today, 12 patients arrived from Operation Iraqi freedom. Those 12 patients consisted of eight combat injuries and four noncombat injuries. We had six Marines and two soldiers who were counted among the combat- related injuries. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On the battlefield, Iraqi and coalition wounded have been rushed to a makeshift U.S. military hospital in the desert. CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta's there. And he watched a remarkable operation unfold.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We are here just behind the front lines in a FRSS, frontline resuscitative surgical suite. Right behind me, for the first time ever, an operation has been done on the abdomen for a gunshot wound. It's the first time it's ever been done here at this ford (ph) resuscitative surgical suite. Just to give you a sense, we're in the middle of the desert here. We're in a tent. Behind me is an operating room. There's a floor on the tent. There is double layers on the tent to try to keep this clean, try and keep this sterile.

The patient behind it, interestingly, is what is known as an EPW, an enemy prisoner of war. Now, the doctors here have an obligation to operate on enemy prisoners of war just as they do coalition forces, this particular patient an enemy prisoner of war. All the equipment as far as the surgical tools are the same. They're brought over and put here in the desert. They, obviously, don't have some of the things they would like to have, but are able to do an operation that is very sophisticated. Again, a gunshot wound to the abdomen, a very sophisticated operation, doing that very well here in the dessert.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta our medical correspondent. He is embedded with the troops. He's watching what's going on, and he's doing some excellent reporting for all of us. Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Wolf.

Speaking of excellent reporting, we have some new information from our justice correspondent Kelli Arena. She is with me here now in the studio. Kelli, information coming from the al Qaeda senior operative, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He actually is providing, talking a lot earlier than investigators thought he would. And a lot of this is being corroborated and vetted. But, so far, a summary of what he said, he has provided at least, almost a dozen, a little less than a dozen names, in some cases aliases, but names and descriptions of al Qaeda operatives.

Now, some other al Qaeda operatives have provided those names as well. But there were several new names to investigators. And we are told that there are intelligence agencies that are seeking at least two of the people that he spoke about. These are people believed to be plotting attacks against the U.S. or other western interests. That's the first part. The second part is that he's also mentioned some U.S. targets like the White House, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Israeli embassy here in D.C., bridges in New York City. Now, this is not necessarily new intelligence, we heard of this before, but it underscores al Qaeda's commitment to still hitting those targets, those so-called symbolic landmarks.

WOODRUFF: Do you know, Kelly, if they have been able to -- if they had the time or had the ability to follow up on any of this? Have they been able to get to some of these people he's identified?

ARENA: Some of the information they have been able to follow up and say -- they describe it as valuable and useful. The people, though, they have not tracked down yet. We know that there's a hot pursuit for at least two individuals, not here in the United States but overseas.

But, remember, the man we told you about last week, Shukrijumah the alleged al Qaeda operative that the FBI put a be on the lookout for. That is one of the people that we're told, and we reported last week, that investigators went to him with a photo said, who is this? And he was described as one of Mohammed's top deputies. Someone who they likened to Mohammed Atta, who was sort of the field commander on the ground here in the U.S. for the September 11 attacks.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kelli Arena, reporting on information that U.S. authorities have gotten from this top al Qaeda leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Thank you very much, Kelli. We appreciate it.

And we want to bring you up to date on something, and that is a summary of what has happened over the last 24 hours. Yesterday, the U.S. Central Command said that a U.S. Army 6th Vehicle Supply Convoy was ambushed by Iraq forces in southern Iraq near Nasiriyah. And the 12 soldiers could not be accounted for. Now, later in the day, Al- Jazeera, which is the Arab-language satellite network transmitted video shot by state-run Iraqi TV of some gruesome pictures of several dead soldiers and interviews with five captured Americans.

Now, CNN made the decision not to show video of the dead soldiers. And, instead, will air these two images with no identifiable features. In the video transmitted, it was apparent that some soldiers had been shot, some of them in the forehead. CNN decided not to air any video of the captured soldiers until the network was certain of the families, of the POWs that they had been contacted.

Now, the Pentagon asked that those interviews not be shown. But CNN has decided that as we learn families have been notified, we would air brief audio and video of the POWs, because, frankly, coverage of their treatment is an important part of the coverage of the war in Iraq.

The mother of Army specialist Joseph Hudson, her name is Anecita Hudson, she says she saw the video of the interviews with the captured soldiers on a Filipino TV channel that she subscribes to. Mrs. Hudson told CNN on Sunday that she had just found out from her daughter-in- law that her son had been moved out of Kuwait.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANECITA HUDSON: I asked her, I said, is Joe OK, you talked to him? She said, yes, they're OK, but they moved him from Kuwait to somewhere else. They are not saying it on the telephone because it is against the rules. And then now I find out that he was captured in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Today, CNN has learned that two more of the families of those five POWs have now been notified, Private 1st Class Patrick Miller and Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PFC PATRICK MILLER, U.S. ARMY: PFC Miller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: PFC Miller.

MILLER: Private First Class Miller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your name?

PFC SHOSHANA JOHNSON, U.S. ARMY: Shoshana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shoshana?

JOHNSON: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you come from?

JOHNSON: Texas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Miller's family live in Kansas says that they have heard from the military that their son and brother was a POW. His brother and sister say the family is scared, but that they are thinking positively.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS HERSHBERGER, POW'S BROTHER: Even now I try to stay optimistic, instead of being killed he was captured. And with him being captured, he's not on the field to be killed.

KIMBERLY MILLER: My brother is a fighter and always has been. I mean, he'd give up his life for anybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Shoshana Johnson's family told NBC's "Today Show" that she is from Fort Bliss, that she is a single mother with a two-year-old daughter, and the she is a chef in the Army, that she loves to cook.

Reacting to the release of the video by the Iraqis, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "The Iraqis are in violation of the Geneva Conventions." That agreement prohibits nations from humiliating and degrading prisoners of war. Now, later, the Iraqis issued a statement saying that they would honor the Geneva Conventions and that they would treat all POWs humanely, such a difficult story.

Well, Americans seeing reports of killed and captured U.S. soldiers may at some point have second thoughts about the war even if they supported it earlier. At what point might that happen? Let's get some lessons from history and from our senior political analyst Bill Schneider, Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, they say generals are always fighting the last war, well, so is the American public.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Consider U.S. wars over the past century. In World War I, the casualty rate was 1 in 15, that is 1 out of every 15 soldiers assigned to that war was either killed or wounded. World War II, exactly the same. One in 15 who served was killed or wounded. In the Korean War, the casualty rate was 1 in 13 American soldiers. In Vietnam, the figure was back up to 1 in 15. That is a remarkably steady casualty rate for very different wars fought in very different circumstances. The Persian Gulf war broke the pattern. In that war, the casualty rate was 1 in 1,500. Only 760 soldiers were killed or wounded out of more than 1 million who served in the Gulf.

What do Americans expect now in Iraq? Our polling shows they anticipate somewhere between 100 and 300 U.S. troops killed or wounded. That would be the same casualty rate as the Persian Gulf War, about 1 in 1,500. Is that an unreasonable expectation? After all, the U.S. is fighting another war on the same terrain against the same enemy as 12 years ago. An enemy that is weaker after 12 years of sanctions and a U.S. military with even greater technological prowess. But the Iraqi regime is fighting for its survival in the Iraqi homeland over territory much larger than Kuwait. Suppose the war in Iraq turns out to involve the kind of tough protracted ground movement the U.S. faced in two world wars, Korea and Vietnam, with the casualty rate comparable to those wars. How many casualties would be expected? The answer, about 17,000.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Seventeen thousand is a number that almost no American expects. And in our polling, most Americans would not accept -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Very grim to think about, Bill.

We just checked and right now the number of U.S. dead is 22. There are another 17 British soldiers dead, but among U.S., 12 of those 22 killed in action and another 10 accidents. But what you're suggesting is that the American people are prepared for more than that.

SCHNEIDER: They're prepared for more but not as many as might have happened in an earlier war. They are prepared for about as many as they saw in the Persian Gulf War, which would be several hundred. But if this is like any previous war, Korea, Vietnam, that number could climb quickly into the thousands. And I don't think the American people are prepared for that.

WOODRUFF: Well, let's pray that it doesn't happen. All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations is denying claims by the Bush administration that his country is violating the Geneva Conventions in its treatment of soldiers captured in the war. Referring to the story we told you about a minute ago, Mohammed Al Douri made his comments earlier today in an exclusive interview with CNN's U.N. correspondent Richard Roth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MOHAMMED ALDOURI, IRAQI AMB. TO U.N.: We are respecting always our engagements, our obligations within international treaties and, specifically, especially, with the Geneva Convention. There is no question about that. This is a part of our life. This is a part of our religion. This is a part of our principal. So I cannot accept that Iraq is violating Geneva Convention, as has been said before.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: It hasn't been determined yet, it appeared, according to the video, that some have seen that the U.S. soldiers some were shot, perhaps in the forehead right, directly, almost execution style.

ALDOURI: Well, you know, you can accuse, this is a part of the propaganda, American propaganda against my country. I cannot accept this kind of accusations. Those who are invading my country are Americans. Why they are here, what they are doing -- we are a small country, we are looking for peaceful solutions. We did whatever to avoid this war and after that the American are -- is killing now Iraqi people, bombarding cities, attacking residential areas, everywhere in the country killing hundreds and hundreds of people. So this is the violation of humanitarian and international law, and not just a question of prisoners of war or just exposing them to our television.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Again, those comments from an exclusive interview with CNN's Richard Roth.

Well, the five captured American soldiers interviewed on Iraqi television are based at Fort Bliss, Texas. That's near El Paso. CNN's Brian Cabell is at Fort Bliss right now. You see it on the map. Brian, it has got to be torture for these people.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. We haven't seen any of their relatives around here, Judy, but you can imagine. You know, we've been hearing about the five POWs over the last day or so. And we've been hearing about the ordeal that their families are going through. But there are 12 soldiers unaccounted for here. So, there are seven families out there wondering what happened to their loved ones. They simply don't know about their fate at this point.

The families, as we understand it, have gathered here at Fort Bliss. They're getting support from the Red Cross and the chaplain, from a number of counselors. There was supposed to be a press conference today, Judy, indicating perhaps more information about these 12. It was canceled once again today, because they simply don't have that information. It's not been freed up by the Department of Defense yet.

No official word yet on the identifications of the 12 people. But we at CNN feel comfortable in releasing the names of four of them, one of them relatively new: Edgar Hernandez (ph). We do not have his rank, but we do know he is from Mission; Texas; also, specialist Soshanna Johnson (ph), 30 years olds. She's a mother of one child. She was a chef in the Army. She is a five-year veteran of the Army.

PFC Patrick Miller, a 23-year-old father of three. He is a welder, a welder by trade. He joined the Army just last year. And then there is specialist Joseph Hudson (ph), 23 years old, married, a father of one child. His mother saw him on Filipino TV yesterday. And she, of course, is very concerned about his fate.

All 12 of them members of the 507th Maintenance Company here. That is a company that takes care of cars, that takes cares of Humvees, trucks, generators and the sort, about 100 to 150 members of that company. They apparently, were in a six-vehicle convoy yesterday near Nasiriyah. They took a wrong turn, tried to turn around. And they were ambushed by the Iraqis.

Again, we were hoping to get more information on these 12, who remain missing, perhaps wounded, perhaps dead, perhaps captured. We simply don't know. But, again, the officials here at Fort Bliss have simply said, we're not going to have a press conference now until we get more information from the Department of Defense -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Brian Cabell joining us from Fort Bliss, Texas.

And I want to apologize, Brian, because, when I threw to you, I used a term. I said, it must be torture for these families. That is a very poor words. And I apologize to that, understand the circumstances. I was referring, of course, to the emotional state of these families. But I will try to be more careful. My apologies.

Meantime, we understand that those soldiers who were captured and killed yesterday in the area of Nasiriyah, there are still coalition forces active in that area. CNN's Art Harris is a reporter embedded with the 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines.

And, Art, I believe you're on the phone with us now.

ART HARRIS, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Hi there.

Yes, I'm not with the 32, but I'm watching artillery bombardment. You can hear it right now, spectacular (AUDIO GAP) targeting areas in Nasiriyah. (AUDIO GAP) The night sky is lit up like the Fourth of July, as explosions go off overhead. And you can hear them right now. And they're floating down into one area of (AUDIO GAP) see it's on the horizon and putting U.S. troops on the ground.

(AUDIO GAP) aware of very little movement about what's happening, except that U.S. forces in An Nasiriyah, heavily embattled (AUDIO GAP) earlier, the last couple of days, are now receiving artillery support from U.S. batteries. And many troops are on the edge of the city to be called in, should reinforcements be needed -- back to you.

WOODRUFF: Art Harris, just quickly, can you give us any better picture of how stiff the resistance is? We hear the gunfire in the background. But, overall, how stiff has the resistance been?

HARRIS: Well, as you know, an armored personnel carrier of Marines was ambushed, 10 killed. There are numerous missing.

There goes another, Judy, another artillery bombardment overhead. We can hear it now, the retorts from the 150-millimeter Howitzers in the distance. But there has been firefighting, skirmishes. I'm not in a position right now to tell you specifically (AUDIO GAP) all the resistance that is happening on the ground or what the status (AUDIO GAP) in the city.

I've just arrived recently. And I'm watching the artillery (AUDIO GAP) in a specific area. It's not all over, but it seems to have pinpointed into one area of the city that is a glow on the horizon. I don't know if those are fires or if those are lights in the city -- back to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN reporter Art Harris, who had been embedded, was embedded, with the 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines. But you heard him say, probably, as I did, that he's not with them right now. We don't quite know what that means. Perhaps we can clarify that a little later.

He is very close to a firefight. You could hear that in the background. But we just want to point out very quickly that, as the Pentagon keeps reminding us, that these embedded reporters are seeing almost through a soda straw. They are seeing one small piece of the action overall. What we try to do, as best as we can, is put many of these reports together to give you, our viewers, and all of us a better understanding of what is happening over there.

It is just after 30 minutes after the hour here in the East Coast of the United States.

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the war in Iraq. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Kuwait City.

By all accounts, U.S. airstrikes are continuing through major parts of Iraq, including Baghdad. Tonight, many of those planes are coming from one U.S. air base near the Iraqi border here in the Persian Gulf.

That's where we find CNN's Gary Tuchman. He's standing by -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we come to you from an air base near the Iraqi border.

We want to give you a look right now at warplanes that are landing on the runway here at this air base. These are planes that are now just coming back from Iraq, one plane in front of another. They always fly together. They never fly by themselves. There's always at least two, sometimes three, and sometimes four that come in.

As the planes are landing, we see another plane about to take off from this runway. And that gives you an idea of what the scene has been like here since Friday night in the Persian Gulf, since operation Shock and Awe -- actually they're not calling it an operation, the Shock and Awe campaign. We should be very specific with our terminology here. But that all began on Friday night.

You get an idea of what it's like here. The action has never stopped. It is 24/7. They are saying, at this particular base, the location, which we cannot mention, will have a 24-hour period, ending tomorrow, 300 sorties. Over the last three days, we're talking about a total of 850 sorties at this base alone. And this is one of 38 locations, at least 38 locations throughout the world that are being used for this air campaign in this against Iraq.

We want to show you a picture of some takeoffs a short time ago, because it's a very unusual picture. They take off into what looks like to be blaze of light in the background. It is a very surreal look. But the blaze of light in the background is actually an oil facility. And you see the fire there. This is not an oil facility on fire. This is just an oil facility operating like it should be that provides a very unusual background.

Now, we talked about all 38 locations where warplanes have been taking off from. According to Air Force officials, we're being told, that there will be, in this 24-hour period ending tomorrow, a total of 1,500 to 2,000 sorties to Iraq. Of that number, 1,000 of them are sorties who could drop bombs or missiles on Iraq. And we're before told, of that 1,000, that 800 will be concentrated on the Baghdad area against Republican Guard troops. That is the main target of today and tomorrow morning, Republican Guard troops.

There have been, give or take 500, about 7,000 sorties since Shock and Awe began Friday evening, 7,000 planes. And none of them have encountered resistance from Iraqi aircraft -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Gary Tuchman at an air base near the Iraqi border here in the Persian Gulf -- very busy activities. And for those of our viewers who don't know, a sortie is an air mission. Every time a plane takes off and comes back, that is one sortie, one flight by a U.S. warplane.

Polish special forces reportedly have joined coalition operations in Umm Qasr, the southern Iraqi city where Saddam Hussein loyalists are still holding out and giving U.S. forces a real fight.

CNN's Jason Bellini is embedded with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another messy, frustrating combat situation for the Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, this time outside the port city of Umm Qasr, where they have been for the last three days.

They have moved out and are encountering another fight, this time with a similar situation: armed men coming from the town, firing at them, firing at them sporadically, and then running and hiding back in the residential areas, men who are not in Iraqi military uniforms. They tried to draw them out of the urban area using suppression fire. They fired TWO missiles, several artillery rounds, and machine gun fire in the direction from which these men are coming. At one point, the men came out and waved a white flight. But then, shortly thereafter, they took off again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're trying to figure out who's who and make sure that we don't shoot civilians. But those folks that are military, but aren't in uniform, we're going to go ahead and take care of them.

BELLINI: They went back behind the building where they had been firing from, leaving the Marines to try to suss them out some more, leaving them, again, an hour after this all began, in their same position, in their same battle position, at their machine guns hiding behind a berm here in the desert.

The other thing we saw was an ambulance coming up. And it appeared that some individuals were picked up by that ambulance. Again, this adds to the complexity of their situation in that they know they're dealing with civilians in the area from which they're being fired upon, making very difficult calls for the Marines here at the ground level who have to decide how much force to use.

I'm Jason Bellini with the Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit outside the port city of Umm Qasr.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Kuwait City. I'll be back at the top of the hour with a special hour of "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Until then, thanks very much. Back to Judy Woodruff in Washington -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Wolf. And we will see you then.

We know that President Bush did not have to get Congress to approve going to war with Iraq. But he is going to have to get their approval for the cost of the war. And, in fact, at this hour, he is meeting at the White House with congressional leaders to go over some of what those costs will entail.

Our Jonathan Karl, though, is at the Capitol, where he has been talking with a number of key members of Congress, Jon, about just how well-received the president's request is going to be.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Judy.

You can bet it will be received and dealt with very quickly. That is a bipartisan group of congressional leaders at the White House right now. Congressional leaders have already been told that the outline of what this will actually cost for the first phase of the war will be between $70 billion to $75 billion.

A rough breakdown of how that looks includes $62 billion for the military. And that includes not just money for Iraq, but there will be some money in there for the ongoing war on terrorism; also $3.5 billion for homeland security costs; and $5 billion to $10 billion for foreign aid, which would include money for U.S. allies in the Mideast, including Egypt and Israel and also Jordan; and also money for the initial humanitarian effort after the war in Iraq.

Now, what you'll notice is what is not in there. And that is no significant money in there for actually rebuilding Iraq. This is expected to be just the first of possibly several requests from the president to deal with this issue. This will be the first request, but people up here are telling me it will be, by no means, the last request.

Also, this initial request could actually get more expensive. The speaker of the House, for one, Republican Dennis Hastert, is asking there be money put in here to help out the airline industry, which was in trouble even before the Iraq war and now is in even further trouble, as air traffic has fallen off in the United States.

And Democrats are expected to go along with the money for the military. They will not make any objections to that. But they think there should be more money in this budget request for homeland security. Senator Daschle's people have been saying that it should be at least $5 billion. And Nancy Pelosi over in the House of Representatives has suggested -- she is the Democratic leader over there -- suggested it should be about $10 billion.

So this initial request could actually get more expensive. And, of course, Judy, you'll see more of this when it is over. Now, this is all happening while the Congress is moving ahead with the president's budget for next year, including his $700-plus billion tax cut. And on the floor, we heard this morning and this afternoon Senator Ted Kennedy echoing what many Democrats are saying, which is, with this added cost of war with Iraq, it is simply the wrong time to pursue a budget for next year that includes big tax cuts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: But the narrow Republican majorities in the Senate and the House are bent on rushing the budget through Congress quickly, while public attention is preoccupied with the war. If it ever passes, this budget will be a part of the collateral damage caused by the war, haunting us for years to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: As for the actual war cost, Judy, as you can imagine, this will be on a fast track here on Capitol Hill. It's a huge budget request, possibly $70 billion, $75 billion. But it is expected to be gone through in about two weeks up here on Capitol Hill -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jon, how much detail or how much of a breakdown is there that the administration gives the Congress? When they say, OK, we want $62.5 billion to fight this war, how much of that is broken down into generally where the money is going? Or is it at all?

KARL: Well, congressional leaders, especially the appropriators that actually write the checks up here, have been saying that they do want some detail. So far, they have gotten very little in terms of detail of how the costs will be broken down. But that's one thing you can expect they will talking to the president about and talking to his budget people, saying that they want to know not only the total costs, but where the costs are going.

They will be pushing for more detail. The White House, as it usually goes, will be trying to give a little less detail to have maximum flexibility. That will be part of the ongoing debate here over this budget request.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Karl at the Capitol reporting.

Despite all these questions, the president is expected to get the bulk, if not all, of the money that he's asking for Congress to approve.

(FINANCIAL UPDATE)

WOODRUFF: Coming up in our war coverage, question: How did Saddam Hussein get where he is today? A look at his rise to power and the fear factor he created along the way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Protesters blocked intersections and entrances to office buildings. That has been going on, as we said, every day in San Francisco. Well, in making the case for war, the Bush administration has portrayed Saddam Hussein as a ruthless dictator, literally. At times, they have described him as the embodiment of evil. Question: What drove Saddam Hussein to seize power?

For more, CNN's Jonathan Mann.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Saddam Hussein was born on April 28, 1937, in a rural farming village near Tikrit, north of Baghdad.

AMATZIA BARAM, UNIVERSITY OF HAIFA: He was born to a very poor family. In fact, one notch -- only one notch above the very bottom of Iraqi social life -- social economic life.

MANN: Saddam's peasant father either died or left the family around the time Saddam was born.

BARAM: Then his mother remarried. He moved with his mother to a new home in a remote village, name of Uja, little mud hut, mud floor, no land of their own and his stepfather didn't like him at all. His stepfather, in fact, abused him in many ways.

COUGHLIN: Because of the polity of his background, Saddam basically had to fight his way through his childhood and I think this had a very big bearing on the character of Saddam, the adult.

MANN: In his book, "Saddam, King of Terror," Con Coughlin describes how Saddam went to live with a rich uncle at the of 10 and later moved with him to Baghdad. When he just was 17, Saddam got involved in politics.

CON COUGHLIN, AUTHOR, "SADDAM, KING OF TERROR": His uncle, Khayr Allah, then introduced him to the Ba'ath Party, which is a very small party in Iraq. It had about 500 people and there was a great deal of political attestation in Iraq at the time. And they -- and the Ba'ath Party needed somebody who was street-wise and had a violent disposition. And Saddam was their man.

MANN: In October of 1959, an assassination attempt failed.

COUGHLIN: Immediately after the assassination attempt, Saddam fled into exile in Cairo.

MANN: In 1963, the Ba'ath Party executed a successful coup and Saddam returned home. But the Ba'ath Party was quickly overthrown, and Saddam was jailed. After two years behind bars, the young rebel escaped to continue his political plotting.

By the late 1960s, Saddam Hussein was back in Iraq from exile and an active member of Iraq's dissident Ba'ath Party. In 1968, he helped stage a coup against the country's ruling party that installed his mentor, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, as Iraq's leader. As second in command, Saddam began amassing his own support. In 1979, General al-Bakr resigned, citing illness, but there were questions surrounding Saddam's takeover.

COUGHLIN: Bakr was in poor health. The country faced the threat posed by the Iranian revolution. And Saddam decided to overthrow Bakr and step into the breach.

MARK BOWDEN, AUTHOR, "TALES OF THE TYRANT": When Saddam seized power for himself, he essentially betrayed many of those people who had relied on him.

MANN: It was a chilling public spectacle. With cameras rolling, he told a roomful of top officials that he discovered a conspiracy to overthrow the government. One man confessed to being part of the plot. After he was removed, Saddam brandishing a cigar, systemically named other alleged conspirators. Sixty-six were taken away, 22 were executed. Like one of his heroes, Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, Saddam began ruling Iraq with an iron fist.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: A chilling story. Again, CNN's Jonathan Mann.

Well, that wraps up our coverage for this hour. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.

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