CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
U.S. Forces Face Second Day of Sandstorms in Southern Iraq
Aired March 26, 2003 - 04:02 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We want to join Ryan Chilcote now. We haven't heard from him lately. He's with the 101st.
Ryan -- good morning. What's happening with you?
RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.
Well, I am in southern Iraq with the 101st Airborne's 3rd Brigade. And I can tell you, we are now in our second day of an absolutely vicious sandstorm. This is really -- it's difficult to describe in words. You can't see farther than maybe 10-15 feet in front of you.
In fact, just last night a soldier that was going to the latrine that's just, you know, maybe 10-15 feet away from his tent got lost for eight hours. That's the kind of sandstorm we're faced with right now.
And what that means is the 101st Airborne's entire helicopter fleet has been grounded, and they have been grounded since yesterday morning. In fact, not only are those helicopters not flying from the base right now, but a lot of the helicopters over the last two days they were actually already out on missions. They had to set down wherever they were, whether that was in a friendly or not-so-friendly place, and started pulling security around their helicopter.
So a really serious situation, basically the entire offensive power of the 101st Airborne, because it is a division that specializes in air assault, i.e., moving its troops by helicopters, you know, behind Iraqi lines, and also destroying targets, Iraqi targets, using its attack helicopters. Now, its entire offensive capability has been paralyzed by these sandstorms.
CHILCOTE: And quite frankly, I think that -- go ahead.
COSTELLO: Ryan, I was just curious. You said that one of the soldiers went to the latrine and got lost for eight hours because of this sandstorm. That must be a frightening thing, because if you don't know where you are...
COSTELLO: ... you don't know what can happen.
CHILCOTE: Yes, absolutely. And -- absolutely. I'm at a brand new forward operating base. It's really quite a massive base that the 101st Airborne has set up in southern Iraq. I can't tell you anymore specifically than southern Iraq. I can't tell you more specifically where it is than just simply by saying southern Iraq.
But it is a very important strategic location, and it is brand new. It's literally -- I think today is day four of its existence. And it is already being probed by Iraqi militia, and when I say militia, this is I think for all of us a new word. But by small groups of Iraqi soldiers, you know, and by small, I mean 3 to 10 soldiers in each group.
And they are conducting surveillance, trying to get into and monitoring convoys that go by and preparing attacks, according to the commanders here at the 3rd Infantry Regiment that I'm with, with the 101st Airborne.
COSTELLO: Understand. I wanted to ask you, too, Ryan about the grenade attack in Kuwait. A second person has died there. Are people aware of that where you are?
CHILCOATE: Yes, they became aware pretty quickly actually. That was I guess two nights ago, and I was already with the 3rd Infantry Brigade, 101st Airborne's 3rd Infantry Brigade en route into Iraq. And they were notified via radio.
And initially, you know, the reaction was grief, because everyone assumed that it had been an Iraqi attack one of the bases. And all of these guys -- I'm traveling with the headquarters element of the 3rd Infantry Brigade, and if you'll recall, it was the 1st Infantry Brigade's headquarters element that was hit, so mainly officers. And a lot of those guys are friends, and, you know, they were really shook up. But, you know, they put on a brave face and they kept moving.
When the reports came across that it may be the work of another soldier, I mean that really just -- that threw everyone for a loop. And I think the reaction turned from grief to shock. Because the commander of the 3rd Infantry Brigade that I'm traveling with put it, he said, you know, we came here to expect casualties at the hands of the Iraqis...
CHILCOTE: ... not at the hands of one of our own soldiers, so...
COSTELLO: Do you have word about this suspect at all from where you are?
CHILCOTE: Yes. I think what's most interesting is really that the lack of compassion, complete lack of compassion for -- or sympathy for this suspect.
I was talking to a soldier yesterday who said, you know, I bet you -- I think he should get the death penalty, and I bet you he will be the first soldier in a long while to get the death penalty.
I donít know the case of whether he has even been charged. In fact, we don't know...
COSTELLO: He has now.
CHILCOTE: He has been charged. Well, the soldiers here that I'm traveling with, a lot of them say, you know, for him to do that, there's no excuse. Whether it's religious conviction or mental instability, they say to the it doesn't matter, they want to see him get the death penalty, because soldiers, they say, should never be able to take up arms against another soldier.
COSTELLO: Supposedly, he planned this whole thing. You know, his stepfather came out and said it was partly the stress of war. Do they buy that argument at all?
CHILCOTE: No, they don't. Absolutely not. These soldiers are pretty -- they are vetted before they come over here. There are psychologists within the unit. There is a lot of assistance. And, no, they don't buy that for a minute. They, you know, stress, well, everybody faces that, the stress of war.
And the fact of the matter is that that attack took place in Kuwait in the rear far away from any fighting, and there is that and just, you know, in the minds of the soldiers that I'm traveling with, no excuse for killing your fellow soldiers.
COSTELLO: Understand. Ryan Chilcote reporting live with the 101st Airborne Divisions.
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