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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

AP Reports Second Soldier Dead From Tent Attack

Aired March 26, 2003 - 00:30   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan live in Kuwait City, where a dust storm, a sandstorm continues to swirl around us. It is about 8:30 in the morning on Wednesday.
Our coverage of the war in Iraq continues after we recap the hour's latest developments.

The Associated Press reports a second soldier is dead from Tuesday's grenade attack on a command tent at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait. The AP said that Air Force Major Gregory Stone was pronounced at an Army field hospital. Army Sergeant Asan Akbar is being held as a suspect in the attack in a military jail.

Pentagon sources say that they actually tell CNN the Iraqi state television building was the target of a coalition air strike on Wednesday morning. Iraqi TV has been off the air now for hours.

There was an intense and deadly battle Tuesday in the Euphrates Valley east of Najaf. The Pentagon says that the 7th Cavalry fought in a sandstorm with Iraqi foot soldiers. And an estimated 150 to 200 Iraqis were killed. U.S. officials are not sure at this point whether the Iraqis were part of the Republican Guard or Fedayeen, but it was one of the biggest battles in the war.

In Nasaria, U.S. Marines made an ominous discovery after capturing a hospital that Iraqis were using for military operations. The Marines found 3000 chemical suits and numerous cannisters of chemical anecdotes. And the Marines also found a tank and boxes of conventional weapons as they captured 170 Iraqi soldiers.

Iraqi television, before it was knocked off the air, showed pictures of a drone aircraft being paraded down the streets of Basra today. The drone appeared to be a British Phoenix unmanned aerial vehicle. British officials have not commented on the apparent loss of the drone.

The bodies of two Marines killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom have been flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Second Lieutenant Therrel Childers was killed in action in a southern Iraqi oil field. And Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez was killed at a battle near Umm Qasr.

In other news, the Department of Homeland Security is putting more eyes in the skies over New York City. Unarmed Black Hawk helicopters and titation jets will join the fleet currently patrolling New York air space. Senator Trent Lott, meanwhile, is asking whether airline security has gone too far and is costing too much. Lott chairs the aviation subcommittee. He says the air marshal program needs to be examined, saying that with tighter airport security, pilots with guns and stronger cockpit doors, air marshals may not be needed on all flights.

And that is the latest developments this hour. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news. For now, back to Aaron at CNN global headquarters in Atlanta -- Aaron?

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, thank you very much. That's - yes, it's interesting timing on behalf of Senator Lott to be talking about airline safety and homeland security less than a week into the war, but we leave that to others.

This is Baghdad at about 8:30 in the morning Baghdad time. This plume of smoke you see rising on the background. And again, we have these fixed camera locations, but in a general way, it does seem to our eye that the smoke is far closer to the city, the city center, than certainly on the first night of the air attacks. And we'll see if we can find out what was hit and when it was hit. We know already that Iraqi TV, state run Iraqi TV has been taken off the air by coalition forces. That was a both a land and air Tomahawk attack earlier tonight.

Kevin Sites is in northern Iraq and he also has some developing news to report. So Kevin joins us on the videophone now. Kevin, good evening.

KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Aaron. We are in Chamchamal, after 40 kilometers away from Kirkuk. We've been reporting from this position since the war began. And we've been telling you about the Iraqi defenses behind us, just about 1000 meters behind us.

They've remained relatively untouched during this war until this time. We had just finished a live shot with Larry King this morning at about 5:39. And we went back down to our rooms beneath the rooftop where we've been doing our live shots when we heard a thunderous explosion. I mean, this is the loudest explosion that I've heard in the three wars that I've covered. And the whole sky turned completely orange. And the building shook. The car alarms, the cars are parked right outside of our building here, and they all went on.

And it was just a very loud thunderous explosion. It's so overcast here though, we couldn't really see where these bombs hit. There were three concussions that had followed.

Then about 20 minutes later, the same thing happened again. And we had a little warning this time, though, Aaron. We heard the sounds of jets moving over the position. And then again, two very strong concussions, the same type of explosions. In fact, they were so loud during the first explosion, we thought it might have been incoming artillery on our position. It was just - it was so loud and thunderous. Then as day broke, we were able to get up on the rooftop and actually look with binoculars at the position. And we had been watching this command bunker all week, as I said. There had been Iraqi forces up there. And we want to give you a picture of what it looks like now. It was a direct hit on the command bunker. I'm going to ask Bill Skinner, our photographer here, to go ahead and zoom on that position.

Normally, that area is completely green. And there was a bunker up there, command bunker made of stone and earth. And basically, jutted out square from that hilltop position. Now as - what you can see at this point is just scorched earth around it, blackened earth on top of that green hilltop. It is gone. It's been obliterated, a direct hit in very, very overcast weather. We were all a bit surprised that jets were flying on this position at night in this kind of weather, but they seemed to know what they wanted to hit.

And we've also been talking about the possibility of opening up a northern front. And if that happens, this is one of the positions that has to be rolled back, Aaron, rolled back towards Kirkuk if there's going to be a coalition advance here - Aaron?

BROWN: Go ahead and finish that thought. It has to be taken out because?

SITES: It has to be taken out because Kirkuk is a city with oil wells. There's - is a strategically important city here in the north. It would have to be taken before Baghdad is taken. Mosul is also an important target here in northern Iraq. And this is basically the first front line Iraqi defense on the road to Kirkuk from this area.

BROWN: And again, for - I can't imagine at this point anyone that's not aware of this. All of this got more complicated when the Turks didn't allow forces to come in on the ground from the north. There is overflight. And apparently, there is some overflying going on, Kevin. Thank you for your work tonight. Kevin Sites out there in northern Iraq.

We shift gears a little bit here. We were struck today by something we read, apparently a quote from a reporter or a resident of Baghdad speaking to a reporter. "I was not afraid a week ago, now I'd be lying if I told you I am not afraid." Well, if you were living in Baghdad, it's hard to imagine you're not afraid. Look at the scene there right now with the smoke rising.

Ever since Iraq expelled our crew last week, it's been a very difficult to get a first hand sense of how the about million or so people there are getting along as they wait for this - what seems an inevitable march. It is difficult, but it's not impossible. We assigned the task to "NEWSNIGHT'S" Beth Nissen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The stationary rooftop television cameras in Baghdad are set up to see what happens over the city, not in it, in its neighborhoods, its cafes, its family rooms. Descriptions of civilian life come piecemeal in telephone reports from journalists relatives of Iraqi Americans, humanitarian aid workers still in Iraqi. Those reports tell of a city still functioning, people still out in the streets.

NILS KATSBURG, DIRECTOR, UNICEF EMERGENCY OPERATIONS: In the periods when there is no bombing, people try to go out, meet friends. The bakeries have remained open. So they go out and buy up bakeries.

NISSEN: And at street markets, buying from the hodgepodge of goods for sale. According to one report, vendors selling suitcases were doing brisk business.

But few are packing up and leaving. There are some refugee clusters in northern Iraq. But at larger camps set up across the border in Jordan, hundreds of tents stand empty in the freezing cold.

ALEX RENTON, OXFAM INTERNATIONAL: And one of the reasons we can see in Iraq at the moment is blowing past my head, as I'm speaking. The weather conditions are falling. It's 300 miles through the desert from Baghdad to get to the refugee camps.

In Baghdad, as far as we can work out, six million people are staying at home.

NISSEN: There are no reports yet of food shortages among the people of Baghdad, most of whom are dependent on monthly government food rations.

KATSBURG: Most of the population received advance rations. So they are still holding onto that.

NISSEN: Schools are closed. Most families seem to be trying to keep children indoors, where it seems safer. It's easier to breathe. The air in Baghdad is often dense with stinging smoke from the fires set by Iraqi officials to conceal targets.

Nightly bombings bring more smoke, fire, thunderous noise and danger. It is difficult for outsiders to know the impact of the bombings on those who live here. Iraq's information minister has reported a total of 78 civilian deaths, but there is no way to independently verify those numbers.

KATSBURG: We haven't been able to do yet a survey at the level of hospitals.

NISSEN: Information on the wounded s also sketchy.

RENTON: We've been talking to some of the international NGOs who are still in Baghdad. They've been visiting hospitals today. And they're estimating about 250 civilian casualties, disturbing numbers of children.

NISSEN: The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, is deep concerned about serious psychological injuries to Iraqis under the age of 18. That's half the country's population. KATSBURG: Many of them are pretty traumatized by what they are hearing. One of our colleagues was telling us how their eight year child had been screaming for 24 hours after the bombing had started. Clearly, it has an impact on children.

NISSEN: And on adults who live in Baghdad, say those who've spoken to them on the telephone, and have heard a new edge in their voices, an extra prayer mumbled as coalition forces move closer to their city.

Beth Nissen, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Getting humanitarian aid into people across Iraq is to be complicated for a number of reasons. The British press CENTCOM, the press office with the British troops there says it appears that there's an uprising on Basra, though they do not have a clear picture of what's happening there. Basra's that port or that southern city, second largest city. And they believe that the Iraqi - not the Iraqi military per se, but Iraqi irregulars are firing on the residents of Basra.

Once the situation, according to the British, is clear, we'll be able to look to ways to assist and liberate the people of Basra and get humanitarian aid into them, but at least the British believe there is some sort of uprising now in the city of Basra.

The - another aspect to the problem of getting humanitarian aid in is it's not clear that there are not mines still laid in harbor around Umm Qasr.

Richard Blystone reports now on the clearing of the mines there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD BLYSTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The desert, the heat, the dust. This doesn't help either, as the human minesweepers try ready Umm Qasr port for tens of thousands of tons of food aid waiting on ships far out in the Gulf.

Australian frog men are getting wet anyway beneath this fast flowing cocktail of sewage, mud and crude oil, with visibility the length of your arm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All you can see in the distance is a, you know, a dark object. So you have to swim up on it. And then, you actually use your hands to work at what it is.

BLYSTONE: No booby traps so far. But they found four sea mines on a sunken mine laying boat just there.

They say Umm Qasr's now secure, but troops say the sound of gunfire has been spoiling their sleep. British Marines drove journalists into Umm Qasr to show that their campaign's not all bombs and bullets. MAJ. RAY TONNER, BRITISH ROYAL MARINES: There's a huge port. They can take a huge volume of ships. And what we hope to do is to get those ships on an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) order, so that we can get this humanitarian supplies ashore onto trucks, and out to the people who are - so desperately need it.

BLYSTONE: But this is only a snapshot. People have been putting the sea from here for as long as there have been ships. Iraq's other big port, Basra, looks straight across its waterway to its longtime adversary, Iran. In the past, the sea from here runs under the lead of Kuwaiti territory. Result, decades of friction and clashes.

(on camera): This port was wrecked in two wars: the Iran-Iraq War and Desert Storm. But the British say it's still in reasonable shape.

(voice-over): Until the threat of war shut it down, Umm Qasr brought in two-thirds of the food that fed two-thirds of the Iraqis under the U.N. Oil for Food Program. Now one berth is ready, and the Marines won't wait for the rest to be cleared before turning on a promised torrent of supplies.

Richard Blystone, CNN, Umm Qasr, southern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Ultimately, when the aid starts moving into Iraq, it'll move through Kuwait.

Daryn Kagan is joining us again. She's been working on that part of the story - Daryn?

KAGAN: Yes, Aaron, I think Dick Blystone's piece did a nice job at looking at how they want to get in there. I had a chance yesterday to go and look at the huge amounts of supplies that are already stockpiled here in Kuwait, just waiting to get across the border or through that port, and also a chance to talk with some of the folks who are volunteering to make that happen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN (voice-over): The fighting intensifying around Basra. Humanitarian officials worried about a crisis worsening in Iraq's second largest city. 1.7 million people without electricity and clean water. The fighting makes it impossible for aid to get in. And that makes the United Nations Secretary General angry.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: And I think a city that size cannot afford to go without electricity or water for long. Apart from the water aspect, you can imagine what it does to sanitation.

KAGAN: Two hundred and thirty kilometers, or about 140 miles south of Basra, the volunteers of the Kuwait Red Crescent hope the opportunity to move help across the border will come soon. The supplies are all donated, but they won't go anywhere until the U.S. military and the Kuwaiti government determine it's safe to cross into Iraq, a frustration shared by aid organizations across the region.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We also have to go through the security issue, and make sure that even if we have the things on the trucks, ready to go, they will only go when we know that the convoy is safe.

KAGAN: While they wait for that green light, the Kuwait Red Crescent volunteers load not only supplies, but good wishes to the peoples who are supposed to be their enemies to the north.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This sign shows us from Kuwait. We dedicate this food from the Kuwaiti people to our brothers in Iraq. The Iraqi people are suffering. And they are human beings. So it has been our brothers and sisters. Nothing more, nothing less.

KAGAN: Compassion from Kuwaitis to remember what it means to be desperate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: By the way, two types of boxes they're putting together at the Kuwait Red Crescent. One is individual meals that don't require any cooking, things like teas and pita bread, boxed milk and boxed juice, candy for the children. The other is a box that is supposed to be for a family of five to last a week. It contains supplies like rice and lentils and sugar and cooking oils.

And Aaron, I'd just like to say I think the thing I was most struck by were the Kuwaiti people who came out, volunteers. Everyone you saw on that piece were volunteers came out to put together this food to help the people who, as I said, that they're supposed to be their enemies. And yet, they're able to put that aside and help the people they consider their brothers and sisters across the border.

BROWN: Well, I was thinking exactly that when we were there a month ago and spent a lot of time just wandering around talking to people. They all made a very clear distinction between the government and Iraq, and Iraqi people, and were urgently hoping to be able to help the Iraqi people. Kuwaitis, by comparison, are enormously privileged, compared to the Iraqis.

KAGAN: Yes, and keep in mind there's - and I know you know this since you've visited the country, but there are Kuwaitis and there are a number of other nationalities that live here, whether it's Pakistanis or people from Sri Lanka or Indians. And those are people who also have come out to help. And those people are definitely not as privileged as the Kuwaitis who live here, and yet gave of their time to help the Iraqis north of the border.

BROWN: Daryn, thank you very much. Daryn Kagan. And we'll see her again in about 10 minutes when she'll update the day's events. She's in Kuwait where the sandstorm continues to make the background look quite different than it has.

Judith Miller of "The New York Times" joins us on the telephone.

Judith, on - Judy, I'm not sure where you are. I assume you're in...

JUDITH MILLER, "NEW YORK TIMES": At this point, I'm not sure. I'm not sure I'm permitted to say. I'm somewhere in the northern desert.

BROWN: Well, that gives me some clue where you are. And I'll leave it at that. Tell me the goings on where you are?

MILLER: Well, the sandstorm also continues to be a factor here. And operations are very hard to mount, whether they're, you know, site surveys at suspect sites, places where people think that Saddam Hussein may be keeping chemical or biological weapons or just normal air operations.

When you can't see the hand in front of your face, your across, you know, a large tent area, you know that these are not ideal flying (UNINTELLIGIBLE.) Things are somewhat on hold here until the weather clears. I think I've come to appreciate the importance of weather briefings here with the 75th exploitation task force. This is called - always begins with a weather report. And I used to take that for granted. I certainly don't any more.

BROWN: Judy, your expertise, among other things, is in chemical and biological weapons and the like. There have been stories back here in the last three days. There's suspicions of this and suspicions of that. What do you make of all of this. Anything at all at this point? Is there an answer to the question at this point?

MILLER: Not at this point, Aaron. And I think what (UNINTELLIGIBLE) started is one has to be very wary of initial reports. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) years ago (UNINTELLIGIBLE) our here. Two says ago, we had (UNINTELLIGIBLE.) There was a suspicious back pack that was found on somebody's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Republican Guards (UNINTELLIGIBLE) within the local population. And then one of these special teams if you know went to that area where he was being held. And it turned out to be a thing - flower in his backpack. But everyone thought all the way along the line, you know, clearly, the hunt for what the weapons of mass destruction is a very important part of this work. And therefore, winning that war, too, is important.

But I think until the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) team actually are deployed, until we have reason to believe something, you have to exercise enormous caution in initial reports.

BROWN: Judy, I'll be perfectly honest. We're having a tough time hearing you because I think you're losing phone battery. Maybe we can make that better. Maybe we can't. I hope you'll give us a call back as you can, though.

Judith Miller, who also at "The New York Times," and has written extensively on the subject of chemical and biological weapons, among other things, and a very fine reporter she is. We'll take a break. Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: Before we got to Judy Miller, we were talking about the humanitarian issues and the complexity of the problem getting them to the people. There is no question that there is an urgency in terms of water and food and medicine. Today, Pentagon officials and the British Prime Minister put the blame for that solely on Saddam Hussein. I guess pointing fingers aside, the key question is how you get the food and the water and the medicine to the people and when do you get it to them, because Sandra Nelson joins us now. She's from the group Mercy Corps and she is in Kuwait. And she is on television with us at this moment.

Yes, you are. Ms. Nelson, it's good to have you with us. I assume your packed up and ready to go, just waiting for the word that you can get in? Is that right? Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Let's see if we can solve that pretty quickly here. If not, we'll make our way over to the general, which is what we do, I guess sometimes, general - when we get into a little trouble. And we're in trouble now. We'll solve it.

When we were talking to Judy Miller, she mentioned the name of the specific unit. Let's explain what the unit was.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's a unit that it goes out and looks at - it's a military intelligence unit. It's looking at captured documents material and learning about the Iraqis during the course of the war. This is a very important part of military process.

BROWN: Is it at all surprising to you that we haven't found any absolute evidence of chemical weapons to this point?

CLARK: No.

BROWN: Okay.

CLARK: Because he had a choice to make. He could have used them early, when we were in the staging areas. Or he could wait and use them when he really needs them. It's only logical when you think about it, now this is a - the battle plan is not illogical.

BROWN: Right.

CLARK: But he has distributed the protective suits and the masks and the Atropine. Atropine means nerve agent. Nerve agent probably means VX. That's a sticky, persistent nerve agent. It's dangerous stuff.

BROWN: But now out there yet, thankfully.

Bob Franken is on the videophone. Bob, why don't you give a sense of where you are reporting from, and what activity you are reporting on?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well we are back at that base near the Iraqi border. As you can see, there's quite a bit of fog and sand. There is a sandstorm going on here, as it is in various regions. We've just been told by the wind commander here, Colonel Tom Jones, that in fact the sand caused the cancellation of about part of their flights yesterday. They were planning about 300. Only a little under 200 went off.

Meanwhile, we were on the ground trying to make our way to a captured Iraqi air base in southern Iraq. It is an air base where operations are going to be set up, including many of the planes that are flying from here, of course, will be just that much closer to the action out there.

We were part of a group that was going there to set it up. But there was very, very heavy fighting going on in that particular region. And there was intense fire ahead of us. Finally after 27 hours, they decided that we had to turn back until the group could get through, and not be hindered by all the hostilities that were going on. So this war is very much alive here, but the weather, of course, is putting a crimp on things. And it's expected, we're told, for the next couple of days - Aaron?

BROWN: But the problem was not - the problem that your group encountered, the group that you're covering encountered, was not the weather. It was the enemy, correct?

FRANKEN: Well, actually, there's a two part answer to that. The first part of that is there was a ground operation going on. The Air Force was mounting a ground operation. Part of the reason was that flying was very difficult in that area. But the reason that we were ultimately stopped as we headed toward Iraq is that intense fighting in that particular region, where there's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was located, made it prohibitive. It would have been very, very difficult to get through.

BROWN: Bob, thank you. And just to put an exclamation point against - on the weather conditions, it's almost 9:00 in the morning in Kuwait and in Iraq. And it looked like the sun had yet to come up. And that's all the sand in the area.

Cassandra Nelson, again, is with us we hope now. Ms. Nelson, she's with the Mercy Corps, the aid group. And we'll try this again.

Is your group ready to get food, water, medicine in? You're just waiting for the word that you can?

CASSANDRA NELSON, MERCY CORPS: Yes, we're definitely in a holding pattern in that we haven't been allowed access to the country yet and are very concerned about the security situation there, and are watching it very closely. But as soon as the security situation is sufficient for us to go in and get to work, we are ready to go in with teams and to begin to assess the situation and identify exactly what kind of aid needs to be brought in to what areas.

BROWN: And what is it that - how bad a situation do you think - do you expect to find?

NELSON: At this point, we're getting very conflicting reports. And it's one reason why we're eager to get in there and to actually begin to do the assessment and find out exactly what's going on. But I mean, certainly in Basra, you know, we hear and learn that about 50 percent of the population doesn't have access to water. We're very concerned about the health impact that this going to have, particularly on the children and pregnant women there.

We're also concerned that we have heard of pockets, where they don't have adequate food supplies, perhaps just enough for 10 days. But again, these are all unconfirmed reports. And so, we're very anxious to get in and find out exactly what's going on, so we can meet the needs.

BROWN: Well, when you go in, do you go in with doctors, as well as supplies?

NELSON: For our phase 1 in southern Iraq, we are looking at going in primarily with emergency lifesaving supplies. Food, water, shelter supplies, cooking stoves, hygiene kits, those kinds of things that they'll need immediately, as well as medicines.

We're actually running a program actively now in northern Iraq, in the Kurdish area. And there, we are actually distributing medicines and food, as well as working on water and sanitation issues there, distributing hygiene kits and also building latrines for increased number of internally displaced people in the north.

BROWN: Ms. Nelson, thank you for your patience. Thank you for joining us and thank you for your good work. And we hope it'll be safe enough for you to get to it as quickly as possible. Thank you very much. Cassandra Nelson is with the Mercy Corps. We'll take a short break. Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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