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Coalition Updating Targeting Lists

Aired March 28, 2003 - 02:38   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan, live in Kuwait City. It's just past 10:30 in the morning on Friday. The headlines now.
The coalition brought out some of its big guns as it continues to pound Baghdad. Iraq's international communications center was on fire following massive explosions. Buildings around Iraq's Information Ministry and the As Salam (ph) presidential palace also appeared to be hit.

Our Gary Strieker is aboard the USS Roosevelt. He was told that 10 Tomahawk missiles were fired at targets in and around the city. Also used on Baghdad, two bunker-buster bombs, at least one of them a 4,500-pound GBU-37. Pentagon sources say the bombs were dropped from a B-2 stealth bomber.

Coalition artillery fired overnight at Iraqi forces near Najaf. B-52 bombers also assaulted the Iraqi ranks, dropping numerous bombs on a convoy heading south. The firefight ended three days of intense fighting around the city by the Army's 7th Cavalry.

Coalition forces continued their push against Basra. British troops engaged Iraqi tanks and mortar positions. The British say that 14 of the Iraqi tanks were destroyed.

More than a thousand Iraqis descended on a relief shipment near Basra in southern Iraq. British troops tried to keep order as the shipment of water was handed out, but they were unable to control that crowd. The truck and troops were forced to leave the village when the local militia began to fire on the crowd.

The stepfather of a U.S. soldier accused of attacking other soldiers was arrested in Louisiana. Federal officials say that William Mohammed Bilal, who is a convicted felon, was found to have at least five guns in his home. He faces 10 years in prison for violating his parole. Bilal is the stepfather of Army sergeant Asan Akbar, who is a suspect in the grenade attack that killed two fellow soldiers here in Kuwait.

In other news, federal health authorities believe they are close to identifying the cause of that mystery illness that surfaced in Asia a few weeks ago. Fifty-three people worldwide have died from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, as it's also known. The illness was traced to travel in Asia, has caused many Asian countries to close their schools. Fifty-one cases have been identified in the United States.

That's the news from here. I'll be back in just a moment. But for now, back to Carol Costello at CNN global headquarters in Atlanta.

COSTELLO: All right, thanks a lot. Daryn Kagan reporting live from Kuwait.

We want to talk a little coalition strategy right now, throw it to the Pentagon and our Chris Plante. And when I say coalition strategy, I mean as it applies to the Republican Guard -- Chris.

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Carol. What we're hearing is that now that the weather has cleared around Baghdad and in northern Iraq, the U.S. is busy updating their intelligence, overhead surveillance, a difficult thing to collect during sandstorms. All clear now, and they're updating their targets lists. And I'm told that in the next few days, the Republican Guard surrounding Baghdad, a number of divisions surrounding the city are in for something of a beating from the air.

Once all of the intelligence is there and updated, the Hammurabi Division, the Medina Division, the Al Nida Division, which has moved down toward Kut, south and east of Baghdad, are all at the top of the targeters' lists. We're expecting to see A-10 Thunderbolts, the low- flying Warthog, as they call them somewhat affectionately, coming in to attack the tanks.

Helicopters from the 101st Airborne -- the 101st has been sort of maneuvering and hasn't been in the thick of things, to this point. But I'm told that the 101st, with their Apache attack helicopters, will be in the game very soon and that the Republican Guard targets, while they've been taking bombing from the air with heavy bombers on their fixed positions, we heard in the last couple of days that they were repositioning, to some extent, in a defensive posture around the city. Now that the U.S. has had a chance to get their surveillance aircraft back in the sky, they're going to be targeting the tanks, first their front-line battle tanks, the Russian-made T-72s and the T- 55s, and work their way down from there. But that's...

COSTELLO: Chris...

PLANTE: That's the new plan. Yes, Carol?

COSTELLO: Yes, you were talking about visibility as it pertains to the weather, but we've also heard that there could be oil fires, and the smoke might obscure things for the pilots.

PLANTE: Well, it's true that there are some oil fires that have been lit, pits filled with oil around the city of Baghdad, putting up large plumes of black smoke. I think most people have seen the videotape of that. And it's true that it obscures some small areas of the city, but quite honestly, only small areas. And if the Iraqis are depending on the black smoke from the oil fires to defend their troops from air attack, I'm told that that's simply not going to work.

And since you mentioned oil fires, actually, another bit of news that we just got is that of the nine oil well fires that were started down south, six of those have now been extinguished by coalition forces. These oil wells -- many more had been rigged for demolition by Iraqi troops as they moved out of the area. Nine were, in fact, set on fire, a number of others sabotaged just to gush oil out on the ground. But I'm told that coalition forces have gotten control over six of those and capped those. Three are still burning, but they're working to get those under control.

Also some pipelines, oil pipelines that were vandalized in the south, some with oil just gushing out onto the ground, some were actually set on fire -- there I'm told that the coalition forces are also busy and meeting with some success in cutting off the flow of oil to those troubled areas in the pipelines, making the necessary repairs and getting them back up and running, which the Bush administration has said is a key priority which they want to get Iraq back on its feet economically as soon as possible after the fighting stops -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes. And hopefully, that humanitarian aid will be flowing in later this morning. We'll keep you posted on that, too. Chris Plante, live at the Pentagon.


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