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British Forces Near Basra Giving Out Food Packets

Aired March 28, 2003 - 02:47   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We are trying to cover all the action in all the different parts. We've been focusing a lot in the last half hour or so on northern Iraq. Want to check in now with what is going on in and around Basra. For that we go to Richard Gaisford, a British pool reporter. He is embedded with UK forces in that area.
Richard, what's the latest?

RICHARD GAISFORD, BRITISH POOL REPORTER: Well, militarily, it's been fairly quiet, and I'm just getting reports of Iraqi troops firing mortars on a British position at a bridge at the west of the city. Now, that is also a bridge where people have been queuing over to come and get humanitarian aid, aid like this here. Take a look at this. This is an American daily ration pack specifically designed for the dietary needs of the people of Basra, we're told. And inside there's rice meals. There's snacks, a fruit pastry. There's peanut butter. There's strawberry jelly. There's various other snack foods in there that we're told will give them enough nutrition and enough of the calories and carbohydrates they need for just one day.

But as we're hearing this morning, it is difficult for them to come out of the city. There's mortar fire coming over the bridge, and possibly mostly being aimed at the British troops, but obviously, that's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to people who have to come out and get it.

Something else they're also starting today is distributing little radios like this. It comes with a note in Arabic, describing exactly how to use it. It's a wind-up radio. It's a self-generating radio. It doesn't need a battery. And there's going to be just one radio station broadcasting, we're told, very soon around Basra, and that is going to be from the friendly forces, the coalition forces, describing to people exactly how they can get their humanitarian aid and how they can stay safe and what to do when the British and American forces do decide to come into the city. They're trying to get the message across that they're there for good, that they're going to connect various water supplies, electrical supplies, drainage and the like. And this is one powerful tool, we're told, in getting that message across.

COOPER: Richard, are the radios simply for information about humanitarian relief? Because so much, from our understanding of what coalition forces want to have happen in Basra, is they are very much hoping there will be some sort of civilian uprising against the Ba'ath officials, the Ba'ath militia, those so-called Fedayeen fighters. Will these radios be used to send messages about uprising to the people in Basra? GAISFORD: Well, of course, we're told their uprising has already started two days ago, and it's -- the effect of which we're not sure because there are no independent witnesses actually inside the city at the moment. All we have is the Iraqi state television or Al Jazeera television to broadcast pictures out. So as to what's exactly going on, I don't know. But I think, yes, probably these radios will also be used for propaganda purposes, as well as the humanitarian aid that -- getting people to the right place and also direction into refugee camps if they feel that they're not safe in the city.

COOPER: Richard, about -- I think it was about 48 hours ago or so, when there were these early reports of a possible uprising inside Basra, coalition troops, British troops in the area were firing artillery, I believe maybe mortars, into the city, trying to knock out mortar positions or artillery positions inside the city that it was believed were being used against civilians there. Are there -- do there continue to be artillery firing by British troops, mortar firing by British troops into the city?

GAISFORD: Yes, it's not mortar fire, it's heavy artillery, and it's being fired from the position I'm at now. And since those reports of mortars being fired upon British troops and possibly on people trying to get out of the city to get food parcels, we've heard more heavy artillery going into Basra this morning. It comes courtesy of the British Royal Horse Artillery. They have some extremely heavy guns here that can fire right onto the exact location. They get that location by using a specific radar sensor that can tell them to the exact grid reference where the mortar rounds are being fired from. And they can target that and try immediately to take it out, with a second, within seconds or a minute of the rounds actually being fired.

COOPER: Richard, I'm not sure, from your position, if you -- I know you're embedded, so I'm not sure how -- how free you are to move, how much you've been able to see. We are hearing reports in other parts of the country about the difficulty coalition forces are having in identifying civilians and -- versus possible combatants, whether it's these Fedayeen, these Ba'ath militia. With people coming out of the city to receive these humanitarian aid packages, are soldiers -- are British troops having a difficult time distinguishing -- or how are they trying to deal with figuring out who is a civilian who needs aid and who may be a fighter?

GAISFORD: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they set up a corridor of British troops on the exits to the city that people are using. And what they're doing is vetting people going back into the city to make sure that they're not carrying weapons, that they're not carrying other ammunition, resupplies, that they aren't soldiers. Now, obviously, that's a fairly imprecise way of doing it, but it's the only way they feel they can do it at the moment. And certainly, it does seem to be having some effect. There are large numbers, apparently, of young Iraqi men who have not been allowed back into Basra, we're told. Exactly for what reason, I don't know, but it must be that perhaps it was thought they were of fighting age and appeared to be the sort of men who would go back and join either the Fedayeen or join the army.

Inside the city, intelligence reports tell us that the Fedayeen are putting pressure on people, pressure on conscripts to get out there and fight. But as to exactly what is going on in the city, we are just relying purely on these military intelligence reports. They must have people on the ground for us to get those reports, but as to whom they are and exactly what they're seeing, it's very difficult to get.

COOPER: Richard, can you give us a sense of where you are, not in terms of location, but what is behind you? We see some -- some -- looks like tanks or armored personnel carriers, something -- can you sort of pan around and give us a sense of what's around you?

GAISFORD: Sure. I'll just ask my cameraman to come and give you an idea because I know we don't have the best quality call sign this morning. But right behind me here, you have armored personnel carriers which are used by the medics. They will go in with tanks into Basra, if they go in, and they will be there as a front-line response to any British casualties. Remember, we have the Desert Rats, the 7th Armored Brigade, pretty much circling Basra at the moment, ready to go in.

And then you've got -- behind them, you've got supply trucks. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just into the distance a bit further, you may see some turrets sticking up. I'm not sure if we can see that. We don't want to move the camera too quickly because that's what causes the picture to break up. But they are Scimitar, small Scimitar armored vehicles. They have a 30-millimeter cannon on the front. Their main purpose is reconnaissance. They will go straight into the city. They will be almost the first people in. They will find out what's going on.

They have a certain amount of armor. They're not the strongest armored vehicle, by any means. We leave that to the British Challenger 2 tank, which is pretty much indestructible to most Iraqi munitions. But the tanks -- the small tanks you see there are Scimitar, and they will be used by reconnaissance troops who whiz in as quickly as they can. They have very high-powered Jaguar car engines actually in those. They have almost a sports car performance for an all-track, all-surface vehicle. And they can get in as quickly as possible and also respond with fire if fired upon.

COOPER: All right, Richard, I know you got to go soon. I just want to ask you one more question. I think it was some 24, 48 hours ago or so, British forces there seized what was described as a senior Ba'ath Party official near Basra. Wonder if you know if they're getting any information out of that official and how much of a -- and do British forces tell you that they have a good handle on what is happening inside the city, or is it still very sketchy to the intelligence forces you're with?

GAISFORD: Well, unfortunately, because I'm an embedded journalist, I've almost signed up to the Official Secrets Act, in a way. And certain information that we've been privileged to I can't broadcast. But yes, they do appear to have a good handle on intelligence in the city. They do seem to be getting good news out of the city and finding out what's going on. And they're discussing that at the moment, sitting down, planning what their next move is. And we fully expect -- we fully expect that at some point in the very near future that there will be a move on Basra. It's just how and where and the exact details of what they're going to achieve and what they want to achieve when they go in.

Certainly, in terms of the Ba'ath Party leader, nothing, I'm afraid, has come from that. I don't know quite who's interrogating him, but he's certainly not babbling here at this particular base. And no information's forthcoming. But we do know that there was a very successful destruction of the Ba'ath Party headquarters, and that certainly had a big effect, we're told, on Ba'ath Party operations within the city itself.

COOPER: All right, Richard, I appreciate it. We know there's a lot you cannot say that you know. We appreciate you telling us what you can. Richard Gaisford, a British pool reporter with British forces near Basra. Thanks very much, Richard -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about the drama at the United Nations right now. The Iraqi ambassador to the U.N. went on a tirade against the United States yesterday during a Security Council debate over the war in Iraq. Mohammed Aldouri's comments prompted the U.S. ambassador to get up and walk out.


MOHAMMED ALDOURI, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO U.N. (through translator): The warning I would like to make to the members of the august council, is that the United States and the UK were hoodwinked when they were told that the Iraqi people will receive them with flowers and hugs and ululations, and children and their mothers will come and rejoice at the coming of the U.S. forces. What happened is that the Iraqi army up until now has not confronted the United States forces. The Iraq people, the women, the students, the peasants are now facing the American and UK forces in Iraq today.



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