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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

War on Iraq; Military Officials Report That is no Delay in Push to Baghdad

Aired March 29, 2003 - 08:00   ET

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

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: The casualties were low because the mall was closed at the time. The missile is believed to be a Chinese made model called a Seersucker.
Army Rangers attacked an Iraqi commando headquarters

Overnight. Check these pictures out. Fifty Iraqis were captured during this firefight. It happened in the western desert of Iraq. It was taped through night vision camera equipment, as you can see here. Weapons, ammunition, radios and gas masks also were recovered.

The battle for Basra continues on land and in the air. British forces traded fire with Iraqi troops yesterday as U.S. bombers struck a building where some 200 Iraqi militia were meeting. CENTCOM says the building was destroyed.

Now, we have these stories still ahead for you this morning. A daring raid deep inside Iraq and fresh troops arriving in Kuwait. Will they turn the tide of the war or will the timetable be lengthened because of unexpected resistance? And can the war in Iraq bring peace to the Middle East? Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, coming up.

CNN's coverage of the war in Iraq continues right now with Paula Zahn in New York.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome. Good to have you with us on this Saturday morning.

As Leon said, I'm Paula Zahn in New York.

In the last hour, we've heard the morning CENTCOM briefing from Qatar. Commanders say they are reviewing the circumstances surrounding that suicide car bombing today at a checkpoint near Najaf. Five U.S. soldiers were killed. Calling it the act of a desperate regime, Central Command says the bombing will have no effect on operations. CENTCOM showed pictures of some of those operations. These are said to be attacks carried out by Army Rangers on commandos in the western desert.

General Vernon Brooks says these raids captured 50 Iraqis, weapons, gas masks and other equipment. We've also heard from a colonel in the field that the Marines are now close to controlling the city of al-Nasiriya. Using helicopters, tanks and artillery, Marines this morning launched an attack against some small pockets of resistance. Military officials also tell us that the Army's 82nd Airborne is now operating near Nasiriya, providing a heavily armed force to help fight paramilitary forces.

Time now to check in with my colleague Bill Hemmer, who's standing by in Kuwait City this morning -- good morning, Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, Paula.

Another clear day throughout the region, which means the surveillance over the skies in Iraq will continue. We can confirm that. The military has said for the past two days that that would be a major focus now with these clearing skies.

Meanwhile, though, said to be no pause in the battlefield. U.S. CENTCOM commanders echoing their British counterparts say the push toward Baghdad continues without delay. There had been reports earlier that a four to six day pause was planned so that columns could be resupplied within Iraq.

A U.S. military official said the Medina division of Iraq's Republican Guard has been reduced to about 65 percent of its original capacity. They say that's the result of air strikes south of Baghdad and also U.S. and British troops could be in for another battle with Mother Nature. High winds, more sandstorms now in the forecast in the coming week for southern Iraq and Kuwait, something we went through last week, and I can tell you, Paula, firsthand, it is nasty stuff when it gets blowing and kicking -- back to you now in New York.

ZAHN: Tell me what you heard in the middle of the night. Were you awakened by that missile strike into Kuwait City last night?

HEMMER: Yes, a number of our colleagues did hear it in the hotel. I did not personally. The alarms went off after the fact. But I'll tell you, it's rare when we get through a night, Paula, when we don't hear an alarm. But this time it was for real.

ZAHN: Can you share any of the latest investigation with us right now? I know there was a glancing reference made to it at that Central Command briefing we all just dipped into.

HEMMER: Yes, Paula, here's what we know right now. It's described as a Chinese made Seersucker missile that literally flies above the horizon at fewer than a hundred feet. And that's the reason why, we're told, the radar could not pick it up. And apparently the missile defense system here cannot attack a missile like that either.

The good thing, the fortunate thing, this happened about 1:40 a.m. local time here in Kuwait. It struck the main mall just about a mile and a half down the road here and it was largely unoccupied. Only one injury as a result and that was a mall worker in the time, in the mall at the time. It's been closed down today. Extensive damage to that building. And I know Dr. Sanjay Gupta is out there again today. He was Johnny on the spot last night. He was getting ready for a live shot here in this location. The missile went off behind him and he went off to the scene. And so we'll check in with Sanjay again today to see what's happening there at that local mall.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Bill. We'll also be checking in with some of our embedded reporters who are watching today's war developments. Christiane Amanpour is in southern Iraq. Bob Franken is at an air base in the Persian Gulf and Alessio Vinci is in southern Iraq.

We're going to get started this morning at the Pentagon. That's were we find Barbara Starr -- good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

Some more details on what we were talking about earlier. The 82nd Airborne now at an air base near Nasiriya providing security, extra security for those military supply lines moving up and down the highway from the south all the way to within several miles of Baghdad. Of course, these are the units that have been plagued by sporadic fighting from these irregulars. 82nd Airborne now on the scene providing extra security.

All of this, of course, really getting to the question at that Central Command briefing earlier today about whether or not the U.S. military is taking a pause in the action while it tries to regroup.

Here's what the military briefer had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. VICTOR RENUART, U.S. AIR FORCE: I don't believe there is any intent to pause on the battlefield. We will continue to focus our operations. Sometimes they will be focused in the west, sometimes in the north, sometimes in the south, sometimes all together. And so you have to be careful to characterize movement on any part of the battlefield as a pause, or an acceleration, for that matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: Paula, the general had one other interesting detail we heard about for the first time. Apparently several Tomahawk missiles have mistakenly landed in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are now asking the U.S. to rethink that operation, to see if there is a problem with the Tomahawks and several air routes over Saudi Arabia for those Tomahawks are now being shut down, the U.S. military using other routes to fire its Tomahawk missiles into Iraq -- Paula.

ZAHN: Besides these errant missiles landing in Saudi Arabia, is there any other indication of a problem with the system itself?

STARR: Not at this time. They say that what they're doing is they're just going back, taking a look at how it, whether there is some sort of systematic problem. They have no evidence of that yet. But it was the first time we had heard that some number of missiles had misfired and apparently landed in Saudi Arabia. No indication that they had caused any damage.

But it was enough, apparently, to make the Saudi government uncomfortable and ask the U.S. and the U.S. Navy to take a pause, take a second look and see if there is a problem. So we may be hearing more about that in the days ahead.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Bill.

We'll be getting back to you often throughout the day.

We're going to get a strategic perspective now on the news that has just come out of Central Command.

Joining us from CNN Center, our military analyst Major General Don Shepperd.

Good to see you again, General.

My first question to you has something to do with Barbara just -- what she updated us on. Despite a number of published reports suggesting that coalition forces might be thinking about a four to six day pause in operations, you heard what the general just had to say, there is no intent for any kind of pause on the battlefield.

What is at the root cause of all these reports? Is there a supply problem?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I don't think there's a supply problem, Paula, as such, in other words. But I think it's very logical that the Third Infantry Division is probably taking a pause to replenish, make sure those supply lines are secure, wait for the Marines to move up on their right flank.

At the same time, General Renuart indicated that there were ongoing operations in the west, the special forces operations on several locations over there. And then he talked about 101st Airborne strike at the, on the left side of the map, or the right flank of the Medina division.

So it appears that things are going on all over the battlefield. But as far as a combined movement northward, it appears that there is some type of pause right now.

ZAHN: But there have been a number of reports coming in from these embedded reporters who are traveling along with the Marines that said that some coalition forces are down to one meal a day.

Do you know anything about that?

SHEPPERD: No, that's the first I had heard of that report. On the other hand, it's very possible, also, that you could have a company or a battalion or a platoon out there somewhere on the flank that is short on meals because they've been fighting hard for a couple of days and are just out of the supply line.

But I think, as everything that I've heard is it is, the supplies are flowing, but the security of those supply lines remains a major concern, Paula.

ZAHN: Do you think coalition forces are stretched too thin? SHEPPERD: No, I don't think they're stretched too thin. I think they have the capability to move up and do what they need to do. On the other hand, forces continue to flow into the north and the Fourth Infantry Division is closing in the south. Reportedly two other divisions on the way over. So there will be a continual flow of more soldiers and Marines into the theater.

On the other hand, it's obvious that when you take on the Republican Guard divisions, it's going to be very hard fighting and whoever takes on those divisions, they want to make sure that they are ready and rested when that happens, Paula.

ZAHN: A very interesting story in the "Washington Post" this morning about U.S. covert teams operating in urban areas in Iraq, in and around Baghdad, trying to kill members of Saddam Hussein's leadership.

What can you tell us about what you've learned about that?

SHEPPERD: Well, the government is normally very close-mouthed about that, and those reports by Tom Ricks in the "Washington Post" indicated that these are CIA teams, perhaps members of the Delta Force. It would be very logical that you would be trying to take out key leaders. But beyond that, it's very strange to me that there were not strong denials or no comment by the government. They didn't seem to be taking any effort to dispose the "Washington Post" of printing these. So perhaps it's part of an information warfare campaign, as well.

ZAHN: Yes, we'll see, because according to the "Washington Post," the government didn't ask them to withhold any of this information.

General Shepperd, thanks so much.

We should add that in addition to what we've just said was in that report, there was a note that this team reportedly had killed a handful of Iraqi individuals. We'll get back to that a little bit later on this morning. Back to Bill now in Kuwait City -- Bill.

HEMMER: Paula, we heard from CENTCOM a few moments ago. They say two F-15 strike fighter jets took out a paramilitary headquarters in the town of Basra. They're saying already 200 paramilitaries killed in that attack.

Christiane Amanpour is with the British. She's in southern Iraq and we will check in live with her to get a complete update today when we come back.

Back in a moment live from Kuwait City.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: Just about 4:15 in the afternoon in Baghdad. The reports we're getting in right now indicate more explosions in the Iraqi capital. This would follow the earlier reports at dawn today, also heard reports of explosions there in Baghdad. When we get more we'll pass it along to you. We just want to let you know what we're hearing right now and seeing, anyway, in the Iraqi capital.

Meanwhile in southeastern Iraq, more raids overnight. The U.S. now saying 200 paramilitaries were killed. CENTCOM calls these emerging targets.

For more on that and what's happening inside that city that no one has had much access to so far, here's Christiane Amanpour live in southeastern Iraq -- Christiane, good afternoon.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Bill.

And we are, in fact, on the road to Basra. And the information we've been able to get from there is really from the people, the civilians who are coming out. Certainly from their point of view they're saying that they are seeking shelter. They want to get away from the bombardments and they're trying to get the kind of humanitarian relief that they've heard word of mouth about, that's being brought in from the south.

In addition, as you mentioned, the British continue, along with American air support, to try to take on the political structures. That, we're told now, is the main focus of the British military effort up here in Basra, to try to take out the remnants of the Baath Party, the ruling party structures, as well as take out any kind of command and control or gathering place or operational facility that's used by the Fedayeen or the militias, whichever is the armed resistance inside Basra who are still firing out and engaging British troops outside.

Now, further south we were at the port of Umm Qasr and now the British are basically saying that they have consolidated and secured most of this southeastern area. And in Umm Qasr today, we went with an American civil affairs patrol, U.S. Army specialists in civilian affairs. And as we were out with them, a very interesting development. They stopped their Humvee. Two civilians came up to them and asked to get in. They were surrendering, we are told. We are not allowed to show pictures of them. We couldn't show their faces because of the Geneva Convention, but suffice it to say we talked to the Americans there.

Their story, apparently, is that they were sent by Saddam Hussein's militias to the south from Baghdad. They were told they had to come on pain of execution and they were told their mission, once down here in the south, to strap explosives to them and to act as suicide bombers against American or British forces. These people said that they had taken off their uniforms. They were scared. They had been hiding for about a week and they wanted to surrender because "they did not want to die for Saddam Hussein."

So interesting information, particularly in light of what's happened today further north and the suicide attack, or presumed suicide attack on U.S. soldier positions up there -- Bill.

HEMMER: Christiane, thanks. Christiane Amanpour in southeastern Iraq. That would couple down the reporting we've had for the past several days. The open-ended issue, though, is how many Iraqis have been forced out of Baghdad to other parts of the country and something we cannot get a firm grip on right now.

Christiane, thanks for that.

Alessio Vinci, meanwhile, still embedded with the U.S. Marines. He's around the town of Nasiriya. We're told that the Marines are making quick work right now in trying to secure that town. Not a hundred percent just yet, but they say they are getting close -- Alessio, what do you have today?

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Bill.

First of all, the U.S. Marines here are telling us that their task for now is not to secure the town itself, but the corridor, the supply route that drives near the town and so far as we can tell right now, the U.S. commanders are telling us that that supply route is, indeed, opened and secured. This does not mean that there is no fighting. There are continued, there continue to be a series of challenges, mainly by militiamen or Fedayeen who are trying once in a while to challenge U.S. checkpoints set up throughout the supply route.

But for the last couple of days, for the last day, anyway, the U.S. Marines here have also been extremely busy in recovering some of their fallen comrades that were killed in action last Sunday when the U.S. Marines first arrived here in Nasiriya. And in the last couple of -- in the last day or so, yesterday first on Friday, U.S. Marines recovered the remains of what they believe were six or seven Marines. Five of them were still inside the armored truck that was hit by Iraqi forces. Two of them had been buried by civilians, by Iraqi civilians nearby and as the Marines arrived there, those civilians approached the Marines and showed them where the two Marines had been buried.

Then, again this morning, the same thing. The U.S. Marines taking a very big risk in going to go back into town, although it is secure. But there is still a risk of military confrontation between the U.S. Marines and the Iraqi forces. Went back in there. Went to the same location because they were told there were the bodies of two more Marines. And, indeed, when we arrived earlier, we accompanied the Marines on the scene there. We saw Iraqi civilians pointing towards two graves, shallow graves that were prepared by the Iraq civilians and, indeed, then the U.S. Marines unearthed what they believe are the remains of an additional one, maybe two Marines.

So Marine commanders at this time telling us that they believe that they haven't recovered almost all of the bodies of their fallen comrades that were killed on Sunday here in Nasiriya. And also, just briefly, they also conducted some house to house searches because there were some Marines during that battle that sought -- that were seeking shelter in those buildings and the Marines they went in there to see if they could find anybody there. The only thing they found were some of the personal belongings, some of their fear, some of their mop suits, the gas masks and some ammunition that were left behind there by the Marines -- back to you, Bill.

HEMMER: Still work to do.

Alessio, thanks.

Alessio Vinci, video phone there, with the U.S. Marines near Nasiriya.

For the record, the official numbers we have at this point, anyway, four missing Marines on Friday. Twelve reported missing on Thursday. But the total troop missing number right now is at 26. How this links up now with the reporting Alessio is doing, we'll have to figure it out as we go further along into the day.

In the meantime, Sanjay is standing by. We'll check in with him in a matter of minutes and more fallout, again, from the missile that hit Kuwait City, pretty much a direct strike on this town in the middle of the night.

We'll get the latest from Sanjay when we come back here in Kuwait -- Paula.

ZAHN: And, Bill, if I remember correctly from watching what I watched last night, Sanjay was among some of the first reporters to get to the scene after that strike?

HEMMER: That he was, yes. And as I mentioned before, Paula, very lucky thing. Normally that theater is packed with people during different times of the day. The mall sometimes gets 20,000 visitors per day, each weekend day. But at this point of the night, 1:40 in the morning, only one person injured. That was a mall worker standing by at the mall at the time. But largely empty of people, and that certainly is a good thing.

ZAHN: Very lucky, indeed.

Thanks, Bill.

Coming up, a mother's duty. What it's like to go to war less than two months after giving birth. Just ahead, we'll meet a military mom facing possible deployment to Iraq. Her husband's already there. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: We want to show you once again downtown Baghdad, where we're getting indications from Al Jazeera, their network here in the region, that explosions have been heard in the past several minutes. Where they've been directed and where they've taken place we do not know, but nonetheless we'll keep a very close track of that for you on this Saturday.

In the meantime, I'm going to take you back to the early morning hours here in Kuwait City. Thirteen Iraqi missiles have been fired into Kuwaiti air space since this war began well over a week ago. In the early morning hours for the first time, one of these missiles actually struck a civilian area and it happened right here in Kuwait City.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, one of the very first on the scene last night, joins us today for the fallout -- Sanjay, good afternoon.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Bill.

It's about 14 hours later now and it's a very different scene behind me, much calmer, I will say for sure. We do have some video from last night. It was about two o'clock in the morning, the middle of the night. There wasn't very many people at the mall. But certainly a loud explosion really tore through the city, very loud, a lot of people woke up. Hundreds of onlookers quickly, civilian security coming and trying to figure out exactly what happened. There was a little bit of confusion at first as to whether or not it was an explosion from the ground or from the air.

Quickly, it became apparent that, in fact, it was from the air and it was a missile.

Now, it did look like it hit a bridge, as well. There are some pieces of the missile that we were able to actually collect last night. I think we have some pictures of those. That is what it looked like, these little pieces of missile, including a circuit board that had some Chinese writing on it.

Bill, we tried to hang onto that to, for some, to show everyone. Understandably, the authorities wanted that, a very important piece of information. They're piecing that all together now.

Bill, over my left shoulder, the Souq Sharq Mall that we've been talking so much about. This is a very, very incredible mall way to look at. It has a marina in front of it. It has tons of stores on the inside. You can see now, especially the front of this portico has really been wracked by all sorts of damage. There is damage to the cement structure, those thick concrete pillars. Windows have been blown out throughout the building. And if you can look at the ceiling underneath the portico, you can see that the actual ceiling has been damaged, as well.

Over my right shoulder here, Bill, this walking bridge. People walk out there, walk out into the middle of the bay there. You can see the bridge has been significantly damaged. The structure has been damaged very much so. People have some crews out there trying to figure out how they're going to repair that, as well.

And finally, Bill, let me just point out to you, I'm pointing now in a northeasterly direction. The northeasterly direction is where some speculate the Faw Peninsula, that's, some people that that's, in fact, where this missile may have come.

Hard to say at this point, all speculation. But nevertheless, Bill, a much quieter, calmer scene today, some people getting their first look this afternoon -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Sanjay, very close to home.

We'll check in again with you next hour, Dr. Sanjay Gupta right down the street here in Kuwait City.

Paula, one other note on this. No warning given to any here in Kuwait City with that missile incoming. We were told it was flying, again, at a very low altitude, which may have helped it evade the radar system set up here in Kuwait.

Much more on that in the next hour -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Bill.

As if becoming a mother isn't difficult enough under any circumstances, the war is making it even tougher for some military women who could face deployment less than tomorrow months after giving birth. Private First Class Tiffany Bagley's son Kalil was born on March 19th and she and Kalil join us now from Fort Stewart, Georgia.

What a beautiful son.

Congratulations.

PRIVATE FIRST CLASS TIFFANY BAGLEY: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Tiffany, we understand your husband is on the front lines. Does he have any idea he has a brand new baby boy?

BAGLEY: He knows the due date was the 22nd. So he's pretty sure that the son, our son has been born.

ZAHN: When's the last time you had contact with him?

BAGLEY: On the 15th of March.

ZAHN: That's a long wait when you're waiting for a baby to come. And Kalil's healthy? Everything's fine with him?

BAGLEY: Yes, he is.

ZAHN: So tell us what you're up against in the months to come. Explain to us what the next step is for you in the military. You have 45 days now of maternity leave?

BAGLEY: Yes.

ZAHN: And then what happens?

BAGLEY: I just have to be prepared just in case I am called to duty. I'm just taking care of my finances and taking care of myself and my son and just hoping for the best.

ZAHN: And when is the earliest you could possibly be deployed after that maternity leave lapses?

BAGLEY: After, any time after my maternity leave, whenever the doctor says that I'm ready, I'm healthy and I can go.

ZAHN: And is there any way to get more time from the military?

BAGLEY: Yes, you can. You can request leave and it has to be approved through your chain of command.

ZAHN: Is that something you plan to do?

BAGLEY: Yes.

ZAHN: And is it a specific length of time they'll give you or it depends on a case by case basis?

BAGLEY: It's a specific time if you request certain days, like a week or a couple of weeks, more than likely it'll be approved.

ZAHN: And if it's not approved and you end up being deployed, not knowing how long this war might go, what is it that you're prepared for?

BAGLEY: Hopefully just coming home to see my son and my husband, if he comes back.

ZAHN: And if you have to go, do you have plans in place with family around that would help you out?

BAGLEY: Yes. Family will take care of him.

ZAHN: You're not the only military mom in this situation, are you? Have you had a chance to talk with some other moms, either whoa are at the late stages of pregnancy who face the same kind of burden you do?

BAGLEY: Yes. I have a few friends.

ZAHN: And, finally, you're about half way into a six year contract, right?

BAGLEY: Yes.

ZAHN: And do you have any second thoughts about having made that commitment?

BAGLEY: No, I've always wanted to be in the military and I always wanted to serve my country and just travel and see different places and just experience what it's like to be in the service. I don't have any regrets but since I'm a mother now, my priorities have changed. But still my job has to come first because I have a contract.

ZAHN: Well, you have a very well behaved baby there. He hasn't even moved since we started this interview.

Again, congratulations.

BAGLEY: Thank you.

ZAHN: He is gorgeous and I hope you're able to establish some kind of contact with your husband, the new dad, soon.

Good luck to you.

BAGLEY: OK, thank you.

ZAHN: Thanks for sharing your story with us.

BAGLEY: Thank you.

ZAHN: When we come back, we're going to bring you up to date on the latest out of Baghdad, reports of a series of explosions within the last 15 minutes there. The details when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, folks.

Here's what's happening at this hour.

A suicide bombing has killed five U.S. soldiers in central Iraq. This happened this morning in Najaf. Military officials say that two people drove up to an Army checkpoint and they detonated a car that was filled with explosives. That was the first suicide bombing against coalition forces since the war began.

The Pentagon is confirming that U.S. Marines in al-Nasiriya have found what they believe to be the bodies of four U.S. service members. Four Marines went missing this week during intense fighting in southern Iraq. The remains will be flown to the U.S. They'll be identified here.

A shopping mall in Kuwait City is going to remain open despite some damage from an Iraqi missile yesterday. The missile is believed to be Chinese made and it struck the mall earlier this morning. The mall was closed at the time so the casualty list was very low. Only one person was injured there.

And that was the scene in Baghdad last night. The capital was bombarded by coalition war planes for an eighth straight night. Iraq's ministry of information was among the targets.

More humanitarian aid is moving through Iraq now. Two truckloads of bottled water and food were handed out yesterday to some 500 rather eager Iraqis in the southern town of Safwan. It arrived sparked -- its arrival, rather, sparked a near riot amongst the hungry people there. Quite a picture.

Now, coming up this morning, are coalition forces at risk of more attacks like this morning's suicide bombing? we'll talk with General Don Shepperd about that. And are analysts changing their minds about the length of the war? We'll hear from a defense policy analyst on that. And can the war in Iraq bring peace to the entire Middle East? Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, coming up right here as CNN's coverage of the war in Iraq continues with Paula Zahn.

ZAHN: And good morning. I am Paula Zahn in New York on this Saturday morning.

We really appreciate your joining us.

There has been a lot of back and forth in the last several hours concerning reports that U.S. commanders have ordered a pause in the advance on Baghdad. We've heard from both the U.S. and British commanders this morning. Both deny it. Commanders say, "Just because you see a particular formation pause on the battlefield, it does not mean there is a pause."

Elsewhere in Iraq, Central Command showed video of Army Rangers said to be taking out Iraqi commandos in the western desert. General Vincent Brooks says these raids captured 50 Iraqis, weapons, gas masks and other equipment. And then in Nasiriya, where there has been intense fighting for a week, we are told Marines are close to having the area secured. Using helicopters, tanks and artillery, Marines this morning launched an attack against pockets of resistance. Military officials also tell us that the Army's 82nd Airborne is now operating near Nasiriya, providing a heavily armed force to help fight paramilitary forces.

Time now to check in with my colleague, Bill Hemmer, who's standing by in Kuwait City -- good morning, Bill.

HEMMER: Hello again, Paula.

Welcome to Saturday yet again. Some more developments for our viewers now. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon now telling us that elements of the Army's 82nd Airborne, again, Paula, as you mentioned, operating around the town of Nasiriya, providing cover, though, for troops along what's become known as Ambush Alley.

Iraqi TV says three Iraqis accused of spying for the U.S. -- that's according to the A.P. Iraq claims the three were assigned to inspect areas of Baghdad that had been bombed to determine if they need to be hit again.

Iraq's information minister denying coalition claims that Iraqi soldiers are disguising themselves as civilians. Mohammed Saeed al- Sahhaf also says President Bush should be sued as a war criminal. We will hear from the president about an hour and a half from now in his weekly radio address, about 10:06 a.m. Eastern time, to be precise -- Paula.

ZAHN: You always are precise.

Thanks, Bill.

Well, we're going to be checking in with some of our embedded reporters who are watching today's war developments. Christiane Amanpour is in southern Iraq. Bob Franken is at an air base in the Persian Gulf. Alessio Vinci is in southern Iraq.

Right now we go to Rym Brahimi. She is in Amman, Jordan and she's going to bring us up to date on what we think is happening in Baghdad at this hour and what happened last night during those attacks -- good morning, Rym.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Paula.

Well, the minister of information, indeed, as you heard Bill Hemmer say, he came out and briefed reporters, telling them that, refuting allegations that the Iraqi Army was wearing civilian clothes and therefore engaging in unconventional combat. He also said that a group of lawyers were getting together, a movement had begun to sue President George Bush and take him to a war criminal tribunal. He said as for Prime Minister Blair, that there should be no need because he will probably have fallen by the time they get round to suing him.

But more importantly, the minister of information made several points. First, he gave out a certain number of casualties from the overnight bombings and that includes also the bombing yesterday at 6:00 p.m. of a marketplace in Baghdad. He said 107 wounded and 68 people killed or martyred, is the word he used.

He also blasted the United States administration for attacking the ministry of information. Now, that, as you know, Paula, was bombed at about 1:00 a.m. local time. The ministry of information is, of course, where all the journalists come and attend those briefings.

Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHHAF, IRAQI MINSTER OF INFORMATION: The ministry of information is one of the departments of the Iraqi government and it can work effectively in more than one way and you are the real ministry of information. You are the real information to the world, not only the minister of information. So I think it's very shameful and it's a disgrace on those villains.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRAHIMI: Now, the minister also made a couple of more points, Paula, about the southern city of Najaf. He said a factory that makes clothes had been hit. He also said an ambulance carrying someone who needed an operation to the hospital was hit by a cluster bomb. Both the driver and the person that needed treatment were killed. And, finally, he said that in the southern city of Basra, a warehouse where Iraq keeps supplies of food and other things for the Iraqi population was destroyed. He said in all, 75,000 tons of supplies, including baby milk, tea and detergent were destroyed in that attack -- Paula.

ZAHN: Rym Brahimi, thanks so much.

As you might imagine, a lot of what we hear, Bill, from these Iraqi officials probably will be discounted later today by American officials. And we'll have a number of briefings throughout the day and we'll be covering them live.

HEMMER: Sorry, I didn't mean to jump in there too early, but oftentimes that is the case. You know, Paula, the other thing we're tracking today yet again is the supply line and the security on the ground for the U.S. military, and also in the air, as well. We mentioned this yesterday, too, about low flying helicopters and planes trying to give some sort of air cover to keep these supply lines safe.

Bob Franken knows that all too well. He's embedded with the U.S. Air Force in southern Iraq right now at an air strip that is being used in part to do just that -- Bob, good afternoon.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Bill.

And you mentioned a moment ago Barbara Starr's information that the 82nd Airborne Division is, in fact, patrolling this area. We went through the area yesterday. You bet we know it well. The 82nd has been spotted unloading plane loads of their paratroopers here, just down the base, about probably a mile from us. They've been coming in on C-130s and then been waiting for transportation. They're heading north to enforce exactly what Barbara Starr said, to try and make sure that this area is secure.

This area, of course, is a former Iraqi air base, now a forward U.S. and coalition air base in southeastern Iraq. And it's become a vital part of the operation, according to the wing commander. Vital because of the role of the A-10s, among other things, the A-10s, the now famous anti-tank planes that have been so important to the ground war. We have seen the first ones, just a day after we got here, the first ones arriving and then think off.

This area here is going to be used as a refueling stop at first. It's going to mean that missions can be extended by a half hour or an hour, 150 mile advantage that this base gives. The plane overnight, well it was actually in the late morning here, came into this base for the first time. They came to the refueling trucks that only came up with the convoy that we were accompanying and now they are going to be a regular part of the pattern. It has become public knowledge. No longer do we have to keep the information that's starting now. The A- 10s will be patrolling from here. It was information that we did have to keep for a while because of operational security. But the program has begun. We can now tell you that the A-10s will be operating out of here, in addition to the helicopters in back of us, which are search and rescue helicopters. They call them CSR, Combat Search and Rescue. It is going to give the people here the same 150 mile advantage as they're called, and they frequently are, to go in and rescue U.S. troops who are in trouble or to do other emergency runs. They call themselves the 911 of the Air Force and these are the helicopters. They're modified Black Hawks and I mean modified -- Bill.

HEMMER: Bob Franken embedded with the U.S. Air Force.

Bob, many thanks for that update by way of video phone.

One thing from CENTCOM we learned today, Paula, they're telling us not to over play these attacks on the supply line even though it got a lot of attention last Sunday and into the early parts of the week. They say the progress has not been slowed in terms of their forward movement.

Let's keep it in Iraq embedded with the 101st Airborne Division.

CNN's Ryan Chilcote has just popped up. He's live -- Ryan, what do you have?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, first, a tragic report from the city of al-Najaf that five U.S. servicemen apparently have been killed in a car bombing there. That, now, first of all, the 101st Airborne does not have soldiers in Najaf. That report comes from another unit. That unit sending out a message called a situation awareness report to other commanders to notify them of a risk in that region.

Obviously, it's very preliminary information. It has to be confirmed by Central Command. They obviously have the last say in figures, particularly when it comes to casualties. But that is cause for concern.

Now, back to the 101st Airborne. The 101st Airborne's attack helicopters, completing their first deep attack last night using these Apache attack helicopters you see behind me. They went after Republican Guard units southwest of Baghdad. It was a mission not without mishaps. Two helicopters on that mission completely destroyed, actually, right here on the flight line in crash landings. The helicopters landing in what are called brownout conditions, meaning the dust on the desert floor rises up and engulfs the helicopter. Very difficult for the pilot to see the ground in those conditions, very easy to mess up the landing.

That is what appears to have happened. Both those pilots rolling the, rolling their helicopters, a very dangerous situation. Now, of the four pilots, they're actually copiloted helicopters. Of the four pilots, only one was injured with a broken leg. So really a miraculous outcome to what could have been a very, very unfortunate accident.

Obviously, flying attack helicopters in Iraq a very dangerous business. You know from earlier this week, the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment flew a mission. Two pilots, one in an Apache, shot down on that mission by small arms fire, are now believed to be being held inside Iraq as POWs. Just a little indicator exactly how dangerous this business is.

Today, the 101st pilots resting up after what they call a very successful mission. They destroyed several APCs, several tanks. Several pilots reported that they may have killed some Iraqi soldiers on that mission southwest of Baghdad -- Bill.

HEMMER: Ryan, thanks.

Ryan Chilcote, 101st Airborne Division, Third Brigade. He's been embedded with them for about three and a half weeks right now.

Ryan, thanks for that. But disturbing news yet again, Paula, about this car bomb, unconventional tactics being used yet again on the behalf of the Iraqis. A major source of concern for the U.S. military. As a result today, five U.S. soldiers killed there near the town of Najaf -- Paula.

ZAHN: Sorry to hear that.

Coming up, war games versus war's realities. How different is the course of battle from the optimistic predictions of some planners?

Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back.

Fifteen minutes before the hour now.

We're going to take a look now at how today's suicide attacks in al-Najaf is likely to affect U.S. military strategy. Five U.S. soldiers killed there. How prepared are coalition forces for these types of attacks?

Joining us from the CNN Center, our military analyst along with Renay San Miguel -- good morning, gentlemen.

RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Paula.

You may have noticed, Paula, in the daily Central Command briefings, the word terror in all its variations is starting to crop up much more in terms of the tactics that Central Command says the Iraqi military is using.

Our military analyst, Retired Army General Don Shepperd, joins us now to talk a little bit about this and concerning with the car bombing that happened this morning just north of Najaf.

This happened at a checkpoint, a military checkpoint.

What does this tell you about what changes might need to be made at these checkpoints?

SHEPPERD: Well, soldiers are trained in checkpoint procedures. On the other hand, you learn lessons during war, Renay. And one of the lessons you learn is that you cannot allow a vehicle to roll up to a checkpoint and then stick your head in the window and have a bunch of people around that. You have to have the people get out of the car, open up the rear and open up the doors. But it's dangerous no matter how you do it.

SAN MIGUEL: Something like this might bring back for our viewers tragic memories of what happened in Beirut, October 1983, 242 Americans killed while sleeping in the Marine barracks there, the danger that if enough of these occur, it could force a lot of changes in the operation and the perception on the part of Americans? SHEPPERD: Well, indeed. I mean any of these things that happen, they're terrorist acts. We see them every day around the world. We've seen them in the United States. You had the American embassy bombing, then the Beirut barracks bombing. We had the Khobar Towers in '96. We had the Cole in 2000, and then, of course, we had 9/11. All of these things are just part of a new world out there and we have to guard against terrorism everywhere, even during a war.

SAN MIGUEL: And we have heard since 9/11 the term asymmetrical warfare used a lot.

SHEPPERD: Right.

SAN MIGUEL: And also, as we showed some of the video of the Army Rangers that was shown at the Central Command briefing this morning, a notion that the gloves may be already off when dealing with this enemy, realizing the tactics that it might use. The "Washington Post" reporting this morning, special ops and CIA paramilitary already engaging in covert activities, including killing Baath Party leaders and Republican Guard commanders.

Your thoughts about this development.

SHEPPERD: Yes, that's very logical to me. Leadership targets during the time of war are vital targets. This is not assassinations and stuff, itís military operations, even though it's carried out with CIA and perhaps Delta team members. That's what these people do and it appears as though they've been unleashed to go after key military commanders and Baath Party officials. It's very logical to me, Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: All right, General Shepperd, thanks.

We'll be talking to you more this morning -- Bill, back to you in Kuwait.

HEMMER: All right, Renay, thank you.

Before this war got under way, there were many predictions of a quick U.S. victory.

Ambassador Kenneth Adelman of the Defense Policy Board once predicted a cake walk in Iraq.

The ambassador is with us live in Washington today.

Good to have you with us and thanks for your time.

AMB. KENNETH ADELMAN, DEFENSE POLICY BOARD: Thank you.

HEMMER: I want to take you back February 13th I think that statement came out, about a month and a half ago. Let's show our viewers here. "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cake walk. Let me give simple reasonable reasons. One, it was a cake walk last time. Two, they've become much weaker. Three, we've become much stronger. And, four, now we're playing for keeps." A month and a half later, are you going to take that back at this point?

ADELMAN: First of all, it wasn't a month and a half, it was a year ago and a month and a half. Secondly, I wrote that, as you see in the article, in direct response to another article that said there were going to be thousands of American deaths. At the time I wrote that, people were saying SCUD missiles would wipe out Israel and American troops in the region. People were talking about a wave of terrorism across America. People were talking about flooding of the central plains right there. And shortly after I wrote that, NSC adviser, a former NTSC adviser, Brent Scowcroft, was talking about a nuclear explosion in the Middle East engulfing the Middle East in an Armageddon, is the way he put it.

So what I was saying was certainly war is not casual. And, in fact, I put in that article 14 months ago that we have to take it very seriously and it is very serious.

My point was very simple, that on a cost-benefit analysis -- I recognized that there was costs -- on a cost-benefit analysis, given Saddam Hussein's record, that the benefits far outweigh any costs. And I believe that with all my heart and soul.

HEMMER: Knowing in 1991 there was a 41 day bombing campaign before the ground invasion got under way here in Kuwait, how much did you consider that in the conclusions you drew in this report?

ADELMAN: I considered, as I said in there, that that would have some kind of standard of what I was talking about. The first Gulf War was, I believe, six weeks long. American casualties, as tragic as they were, were under 200, were 170 or something like that. And the fact is that when you look at what progress the U.S. military has made in not six weeks time, but in, what are we talking about, eight days, nine days time, and you look at -- no matter how tragic each one of them is -- the relatively low number of casualties, both on the American soldiers' side and on the civilian side, I -- and the tremendous progress that the American military has made in this conflict, I just think that it is well worth the cost to do this.

I think it is very important for the war on terrorism.

HEMMER: One of your colleagues, Richard Perle, was quoted -- I want to put up his quote -- recently about what he felt in terms of the conflict here. He said, "Well, a very few weeks at the outside, and possibly sooner than that. There are very few Iraqis who are prepared to fight for Saddam Hussein."

Therein lies the questions, are the Iraqis right now fighting on behalf of their leader, Saddam Hussein, or are they fighting for their country? And if it's, fighting for their country, this thing could be much longer and much bloodier and much worse than anyone had predicted.

ADELMAN: I think that's a very good point. I think that what you have to look at is that a lot of the conflict that is going on now is not organized army conflict. What is going on is a terrorist leader of a terrorist state using terrorism in war, forcing a lot of people to go after civilians and after American military.

I think that there will be a tipping point that comes along when it is clear that we are going to win, when it is clear that we are not going to do what happened 12 years ago and encourage any kind of rebellions and then not be around when the rebellions come or even allow the Iraqis to use helicopters to mow down the resistance in the north and south, which happened in 1991 and 1990, 1991.

And once that tipping point comes, I think you're going to find that, A, the military advances very, very quick. Number two, we're going to find weapons of mass destruction and great quantities of weapons of mass destruction. And number three, a lot of Iraqis appreciating that they are liberated, because they will then be liberated.

But until that tipping point comes, everybody is aware that Saddam Hussein can come back. They fear that. They've seen it before. They thought the snake was dead a few times and then the snake comes back and bites them. And the fact is that we have to show that we're going to win this and win it big.

HEMMER: All right, time will tell on all of that. And we'd certainly like to have you come back, maybe in a week's time. You mentioned it's day eight, possibly day 15 or 16 we can talk again.

Ambassador Kenneth Adelman, my regrets. I got the date wrong before. I apologize about that. Nonetheless, thanks for your time today on this Saturday.

Once again to New York, here's Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Bill.

There's been so much discussion about the impact the weather has had on client activity, coming up next, the battlefield forecast.

We'll be back in one minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The Kuwait City mall that was hit by an Iraqi missile will stay open for business. The missile struck at about 1:40 a.m. local time in Kuwait. Fortunately, not too many people there at that hour of the morning. One person was injured. A movie theater was damaged. It is the first of 13 Iraqi missiles aimed at Kuwait to do any harm. The Kuwaitis believe it was a Chinese made missile that can fly just 20 yards above the ground.

Coming up at the top of the hour, we will catch up with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who was among the first reporters on the scene shortly after that missile struck.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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