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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Two Explosions Heard in Kuwait City

Aired March 27, 2003 - 03:31   ET

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

(NEWS ALERT)
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: You know what, Carol and Anderson, we're just getting another missile siren warning here, so I'm going to jump out of this cut in. I'm going to toss it back to you in Atlanta because we're going to need our stuff and head on down to the basement.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: OK.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, you take cover -- Daryn.

KAGAN: I'll give you a call from down there, OK?

COOPER: All right, Daryn.

COSTELLO: Stay safe.

KAGAN: OK.

COOPER: All right, check in...

KAGAN: There you go. We'll be back. OK.

COOPER: Check in once you get the all clear.

We're going to take a little -- just step back a little bit and try to get sort of a broad overview of what is going on in Iraq as far as we know at this moment. We've got this animated graphic that we often like to show, just sort of giving a general sense without, obviously, giving any positions away. A lot of activity around the Basra region, obviously you see elements there of the 101st, what believed to be the 7th Cavalry moving up or fighting around Najaf, Karbala.

There was this report of Iraqi forces, perhaps Republican Guard, moving down from Baghdad. That's that red line you see. They have really since been discounted by Pentagon officials who said they simply do not see -- they do not have that evidence of that what at one time was described by forces on the ground as a -- as a thousand armored vehicles moving down from Baghdad, perhaps using the cover of a sandstorm. That apparently is simply not the case. Pentagon officials saying it was basically faulty intelligence on the battlefield from ground commanders on the field and one of those things that happens in a war. Often those initial reports, the fog of war people often refer to it as, incomplete information, and that's what you're often dealing with. COSTELLO: Yes, you just don't know.

Want to interrupt you for just a second, because we do have Lisa Rose Weaver on the phone with us right now. She is 100 miles south of Baghdad and she has seen sighting of fighting in Najaf where we saw those incredible pictures that we brought you about 15, 20 minutes ago. We weren't exactly sure what we were seeing, but it looked like coalition forces were, of course, blowing things up on the battlefield.

Lisa Rose Weaver, tell us how things look from your perspective.

LISA ROSE WEAVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I should clarify, Carol, by saying that I passed the city of Najaf several hours ago in a convoy to the location where I am now, about 100 miles south of Baghdad. Najaf, I understand, I didn't pass through it myself. I understand it's a hotbed of a group called the Saddam Fedayeen, very loyal to Saddam Hussein, very fanatical, operating in small groups of men from five to seven people in minivans and SUVs, civilian vehicles, using weapons like AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. And that in the last couple of days, U.S. forces moved into that town to try to suppress it. So that is very likely the pictures that you're seeing.

At the moment, I'm several hours drive north of that in what ends up being the most forward position for air defense Patriot missile batteries. I'm with one of those batteries that is in a very forward position for this war and actually, in Patriot missile history. It's kind of experimental moving these missiles and all their support vehicles as close as possible to the assets and the infantry that they are designed to protect by taking Scud missiles out, hopefully, before they reach those on the ground.

I'm camped out in the desert flatlands. In the last couple of hours, I've been able to see on the far horizon fighting to the east. I -- actually, I can see some helicopters now passing over it. Fighting to the east between U.S. forces and the Iraqi Medina regiment. That's been relatively quiet in the last hour. Also, earlier today, to the north, fighting between U.S. forces and it is not totally clear to me which regiment of the Iraqi military or if it -- even it might be these smaller groups, these smaller militias that I've just -- that I just mentioned -- Carol.

COSTELLO: We're just looking at these incredible pictures from Najaf. And as you speak about being in a different location, just want to make that clear, you're in two different locations, and we're watching coalition forces blow up what we think is a Bradley fighting vehicle.

COOPER: Actually, no, I'm not sure where -- we simply don't know at this point what those are. We saw coalition forces around. They're not sure if those were coalition vehicles that were actually being destroyed.

But, Lisa, I want to ask you that you said, and it was quite interesting, you're actually with a Patriot battery that is in this front line position. We rarely hear about this, as you pointed out. What are the Patriots targeting there? I mean we -- obviously Patriots often are targeting missiles, targeting aircraft, is that what it's for or is it for targeting troops on the ground?

WEAVER: It's for -- no, it's not -- it's for targeting missiles. The Patriot missiles are not allowed by some decree or agreement anymore to take out aircraft, per se, that's what they were originally designed for in the 1970s, but since then they've evolved into intercepts for missiles. And in the Iraqi theater, a particular concern, the Scud missile, but also others like longer range missiles like the Al Samoud or Frog missiles which are shorter range.

The reason that they're pushing the Patriot missile batteries so far forward is, without going into too much operational detail, at a certain point there's going to be a lot of need in this part of the country and a bit further north, actually, for protection for infantry, for other assets, U.S. and coalition forces on the ground. For them to operate, they need air cover.

There is also concern that the batteries themselves could be targeted. But that is not intentionally -- that's not really what they're designed to protect. I mean, obviously they protect themselves, but they are designed to work in tandem with other forces moving on the ground to provide air cover and that's their main function -- Aaron.

COOPER: Lisa, it's Anderson in Atlanta. How difficult is it moving these Patriot batteries? As you said, this is really a very forward position. Given all the problems that there have been with sandstorms just moving through the desert, how mobile truly are they?

WEAVER: It is incredibly different, Anderson. We drove last night for 12 hours. I think we moved about 50 miles, maybe more. The convoys are long. They involve a lot of vehicles. They all have to stay in communication to each other -- with each other. In addition, the launchers themselves, which weigh something like 80,000 pounds apiece, including with the truck which tows them, sink in the softer sand. And on our journey, on this journey alone, there were several breakdowns.

Over the course of the last several days, break downs and delays are just part of it. Add to that windstorms with very low visibility, as well as vulnerability of a unit like this moving through dangerous territory as we did last night. We passed a couple of spots where I could still smell burning cars indicating that there had been a fight there in the last day or so. Very, very hot territory.

We travel in vehicles that, for the most part, are not armored. And when you think about the fact that the largest threat now to the U.S. forces, one of the largest threats to U.S. forces are the smaller roving militia. Put that together and it's a fairly scary scenario. Fortunately, nothing happened and we were able to make the trip and have arrived here where we have a lot of other forces, ground security around us to help protect us -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Lisa Rose Weaver, we're going to have to interrupt here. We're going to leave you there because... COSTELLO: Yes, I have a bit of breaking news. In fact, you might have seen me trying to communicate with a producer on that two shot just a short time ago. We're going to tell you about that in just a second, but first, we want to go back to Kuwait where there are sounds of explosions.

Let's check in with Daryn Kagan.

First of all, Daryn, are you safe?

KAGAN: Yes. Yes, we're fine, Anderson and Carol. That was a little picture, I think, that the folks back in the States got of what life has been here in Kuwait City. You can just be living your life, whether that means as a news anchor you are delivering a News Alert, and the sirens start to blare.

What happened, as I can explain, I was delivering that News Alert. I have kind of become in tune to the sirens. I heard the sirens in the back -- in the background. I paused. We have a secondary system here in the building that we're staying in where we ring the fire alarm just in case you don't hear the sirens, because sometimes different parts you can't. In any case, I paused, I heard the siren, I heard the fire alarm, that's when I knew it was time to toss it back to you and head back down to the basement with all of our gear, which is our routine.

As I did that, as I was grabbing my things and heading out, I heard two large booms, two large explosions. My uneducated guess, I'm just going to base this on what it's been like to be in Kuwait City here the last week and a half, those probably were Patriot missiles intercepting the Iraqi missiles that would be sent across the border. I only say that because over the last week and a half, the Iraqis have launched at least 12 missiles and all of those, most of those, have been intercepted by Patriot missiles either by the Kuwaitis or the Americans. Those that haven't have landed in the sea or have landed in the desert. They have not caused any damage or any injury.

COSTELLO: That's a good thing (ph).

COOPER: So, Daryn, there was no -- that explosion, there was no sense of it necessarily hitting the ground and that is why you say you believe it was the explosion of a Patriot intercepting something as opposed to something making contact with the ground?

KAGAN: Exactly, and I'm just basing that on what it's been like over the last week and a half.

Also, and this is as I was kind of rushing out of the room, it sounded like the explosion was happening in the sky, not on the ground, and of course that's where a Patriot missile would intercept an Iraqi missile.

COOPER: How far -- how far apart were the explosions?

KAGAN: Very quick, probably, I don't know, within seconds of each other, which also would make me think that it's Patriot missiles because what's happened in the past, whether it's the Kuwaitis or the Americans, they send up two or three Patriots to intercept a single missile.

COOPER: All right. Daryn, we're going to come back to you, so you probably want to go out, collect some information. As soon as you got it for us, come back to us, all right?

COSTELLO: Yes, because we want to...

KAGAN: You got it, but really it's just another day in Kuwait City. This is -- probably be doing this many times before this day is over.

COSTELLO: I know, you seem so calm about it right now. I don't know.

KAGAN: Thank you (ph).

COSTELLO: Keep safe, Daryn, many thanks to you.

KAGAN: OK.

COSTELLO: We want to go back to those pictures that we were showing you from Najaf because we believe we know what those pictures are now. Apparently there was a misfire inside a U.S. Army Paladin artillery vehicle during an artillery engagement with Iraqi forces. This just happened north of Najaf. And apparently -- is that what we're seeing right there? It is.

COOPER: Right, this is according to The Associated Press this report coming in. And apparently this area, apparently two soldiers were injured, according to the APTN. One had a second-degree burn on their hand, but a spokesman at the scene said the injuries were not life threatening. But you're seeing, apparently, some sort of a misfire inside a Paladin vehicle.

COSTELLO: Yes, and...

COOPER: And what you're about to see is also secondary explosion in the vehicle. I suppose some of the other munitions that are on board.

COSTELLO: This Paladin vehicle is pretty amazing, too. Let me read you a description of it. It's highly computerized and automated. The Paladin provides unmatched performance on the battlefield. While in motion, the Howitzer can receive target information, compute firing data, select and take up firing positions, automatically unlock and point its gun and then fire all in under a minute. The crew does remain in the vehicle throughout the mission though, and of course that's where the soldiers probably...

COOPER: And just to keep...

COSTELLO: ... incurred their injuries.

COOPER: Just so we -- the viewer knows where this area is in Najaf, this apparently -- this is amongst the 1st Battalion the 41st Field Artillery. They've been engaged, apparently, in some of the heaviest fighting, often described as the bloodiest battle, since the beginning of the war. One Paladin artillery vehicle lost in this engagement due to a misfire. That's what we got right now.

COSTELLO: We want to go to Martin Savidge right now.

COOPER: That's right.

COSTELLO: He's embedded with the Marines and who has seen fighting in Najaf.

Good morning -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Morning to you, Carol. Morning to you, Anderson.

We are in the same place we were -- actually, we pulled into last night just around sunset. In technical jargon it is a, what do they call it, a TAA or in other words, it's a tactical assembly area. In layman's terms it's -- well it's a giant military parking lot right now. U.S. military, in this particularly case, it is the 1st Battalion 7th Marines.

The way these TAAs work is that it offers an area where a fighting force can pull in, pull over, essentially, off the side of a road in a semi-secure environment. They have a perimeter set up. This offers an opportunity for the soldiers to rest, to get some food inside of them, refuel, rearm and also work on the vehicles which are always in constant need of repair and maintenance. So that's what's going on here. It's somewhat of a down day.

The previous 24 was anything but a down day for us, that was when the 1st Battalion 7th Marines tasked with a critical job of making sure that a convoy of fuel made it up a very difficult supply line that rolls up from northern Kuwait.

And you've already heard about the Fedayeen. These are these paramilitary units that have quickly adopted into guerrilla warfare tactics and they have been striking occasionally at that supply line. And so this fuel had to come in, a quarter of a million gallons of diesel necessary in order for the Marines to continue pushing north.

We went with the Marines as part of this security effort to make sure that the route stayed open. They warned us we could come under attack. By golly they were right, we did come under attack. It was gunfire in the middle of the dark (ph). It was pitch dark following that horrendous sandstorm. Night vision goggles of no use to anyone, and the Marine forces were shot at with both small arms weapons and also with RPGs. At times there was some heavy concentrations of fire. A number of the armored personnel carriers were struck a number of times. No personnel were wounded.

But in the fighting that took place in the armored vehicle we were riding in, first of all, we ran into a Humvee in the darkness. That brings you to a very sudden crashing halt. Then a short time later, another armored vehicle backed into us which nearly threw us over sideways. And then as we continued to drive forward, we ran into a house, which gives you an idea of what it is like, sometimes chaotic, out there when you are under fire moving in complete darkness over very difficult terrain, which it is here in this part of southern Iraq, former marshland. When the daylight finally came up, there were a number of AAVs that were upended or on their sides in a number of trenches and ditches and canals that literally make up the terrain here. But again, nobody was injured and the fuel did get through.

Regarding the Fedayeen, how do they deal with it? Well they have two different tactics that the military are using right now. No. 1, overwhelming firepower. The moment they make contact, the Marines open up with just about everything they have. It's a clear message to say hey, you don't want to be doing that again.

And then the other message is much more going after the hearts and minds. They know that the Fedayeen are operating out of nearby towns and villages. They will go into those villages and stress to the people that live there look, these guys are living off of you, they're hiding amongst you and that is making your village and that is making your civilians here very much potentially a military target. Do not offer any harbor or home to them. And it seems that that may have worked somewhat because last night we are told that there were no real major strikes against any of the supply lines in this particular area -- Carol, Anderson.

COSTELLO: But as the mission goes on, those fuel tankers will have to travel farther and farther distances to get to you.

SAVIDGE: That's true, they do. Obviously not just fuel, the bullets, the food, everything that a fighting force needs has to come up from northern Kuwait. And there are only a couple of crossing points, specifically when you get to bridges like those that come over the Euphrates and eventually the Tigris. Those are key concerns. The Iraqis know that. The U.S. military knows that, but they had been beefing up all along now the amount of security that has been on the highways and supply routes.

And they use very highly mobile Humvees. They're armed with TOW missiles and 50 caliber machine guns, so they look somewhat like a rat (ph) patrol. And they can zip up and down the highways and byways that are -- that supply route and respond very quickly if there is any sort of attack. And again, we are told in the last about 24 hours there have been none in this area -- Carol.

COOPER: Martin, it's Anderson. I've just got to ask you, there's a press conference in Baghdad we're going to go to shortly, but I just want to ask you, you said that these forces, that the Marines you're with go into the towns to try explain the situation to the locals not to harbor, not to give aid or comfort to the Fedayeen fighters. That's almost like a Special Forces role. It implies a certain level of intelligence and communication ability with the locals. Are -- with the Marine troops you're -- the Marines you're traveling with, do they speak the local language? I mean are there -- are there intelligence officers with them? Are they using locals as interpreters? How does that work? SAVIDGE: Well they are. Keep in mind the Marines, and the 1st Marine Division is an independent unit. They bring everything to make themselves self-sufficient. They have their own air wing. That means they have their own Air Force, essentially, that can strike from the air. They have their own helicopters. They can transport if they need helicopters. And of course they have their own armor.

Well they also have their own psychological operations. And these would be the people that would go in and make contact with the various villages, the leaders and talk to them and explain to them look, you have a military force here and we're very concerned about interdicting with civilians, especially when you have guerrilla forces that are operating in the same region.

So these are the people that communicate. They also use very loud broadcast speakers mounted on the backs of these jeeps that will say in Arabic stay away, stay in your homes. The U.S. military has come here. You will be safe if you remain away from the military unit. So that's a message that they stress over and over and you will hear being played. All of that is designed to, one, insure the safety of civilians. And then also if there are people that come forward, well they're pretty much going to be looked upon as targets.

COSTELLO: Martin.

SAVIDGE: And there is going to be very little second-guessing now in the nature of the conflict.

Go ahead.

COSTELLO: Martin, we have to interrupt you now.

(INTERRUPTED BY LIVE EVENT)

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