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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired March 29, 2003 - 13:00   ET

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

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Leon Harris of the CNN Newsroom. At this hour a top Iraqi official warns that a deadly suicide car bomb attack is just the beginning. Central Command says the blast at a checkpoint near Najaf killed four American soldiers from the Army's 3rd Infantry.
Addressing reporters in Baghdad, Iraqi's Vice President - the Pentagon briefing is now underway. Let us now go back to the Pentagon.

VICTORIA CLARKE, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Saddam Hussein.

Second, capture or drive out terrorists sheltered in Iraq.

Third, collect intelligence on terrorist networks.

Fourth, collect intelligence on Iraq's illicit weapons of mass destruction activity.

Five, destroy the weapons of mass destruction, the systems and the facilities.

Six, secure Iraq's oil fields and natural resources for the Iraqi people.

Seventh, end the sanctions and immediately deliver humanitarian relief.

And the final objective, to help the Iraqi people transition to a non-threatening representative form of self-government that preserves the territorial integrity of Iraq.

Our courageous men and women in uniform are moving forward with these goals. Each day we significantly reduce the ability of the enemy to command and control his forces. Within just a few short days, coalition troops have move more than 200 miles through Iraq and are now close to Baghdad. Coalition forces in the region are growing more dominant on ground and in the air. And as part of the previously planed force flow, more coalition personnel move in every day.

The 173rd has secured an Iraqi airfield in Kurdish territory that will be used additionally for drops of troops and equipment. Coalition forces have also secured Iraq's southern oil fields, saving them for the benefit of the Iraqi people. More than 600 oil wells now fall under coalition control.

The Basra oil refinery, as General Brooks talked about this morning, one of the three refineries in the country, has also been secured by the coalition.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi regime, what's left of it, resorts to horrifying atrocities and violations of the laws of war. The flagrant cruelty will not make our forces give up and go home. They are quite wrong about that. As President Bush said yesterday, every Iraqi atrocity has confirmed the justice and urgency of our cause.

The enemy posses as civilians to deceive coalition forces and ambush them. They fake surrenders to ambush them. They continue to place military assets in and around civilians. They use human shields, deliberately destroy or attempt to destroy the oil fields, and they use civilian vehicles, including ambulances, to transport their military.

While the enemy increases its inhumanity, we increase our humanitarian aid. The enemy mines ports and blocks the flow of aid. We remove the mines and let the aid flow.

With the opening of the port of Umm Qasr, relief is now coming to thousands of impoverished families of southern Iraq. The British ship, Sir Galahad, has unloaded 200-plus tons of humanitarian aid, and in addition, two humanitarian convoys moved over land into the areas of Safwan and Umm Qasr yesterday.

As the military successes grow, so does the membership of the global coalition. Forty-nine nations now publicly support Operation Iraqi Freedom, and nearly a dozen offer support and resources privately.

We want our friends and allies around the world to know that we greatly appreciate their valuable assistance.

As President Bush said at the White House yesterday, the fierce fighting currently under way will require further courage and further sacrifice, yet we know the outcome of this battle: The Iraqi regime will be removed from power. The Iraqi people will be free.

And finally, before I turn things over to General McChrystal, there's been some talk lately and some observations in the early days. People seem to have been surprised at the brutality, at what the Iraqi regime is doing to some of their people.

And on the one hand, it is hard to -- it's hard to understand that. It has been so well-documented, it has been so well-reported for years what the regime has done to its own people.

And we're going to show you a couple clips here. The first one is an Iraqi woman whose name is Zannev Al-Suwaj (ph) whose teenage cousin was tortured by the regime. And following that is a small clip from a BBC program about the chemical weapon attack on the town of Halabja.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZANNEV AL-SUWAJ (ph): I have 16-year-old cousin. She was in high school. And one day she wrote in her notes that -- something against the government, that I don't like Saddam. So the teacher saw what she wrote, and so the police came and they took her to prison with her mother, father, uncles, sisters, and brother, cousin, and her aunt.

This is a letter I received from her after she's been released, and she was telling me about the day that started the series of my torture.

"It was not enough for them to hit me by their hands and by the sticks, but until my skin start breaks. And they also start using electrical shock on my fingertips and my lips and my nipples. Also they used to hang me from my feet, and they used to make me walk on broken glass. One day they took all of my clothes off and they threatened my parents that they are going to rape me.

"This torture lasted for 11 months. And after that, they sentenced me to be in jail for three years. And my -- was not only me, but because of me, my aunt and her daughter they sentenced to nine months in jail. My brothers they sentenced to six months. My uncles from my mother's side, they were seven months. And my uncles from my father's side, they've been killed. For my father, he was sentenced for 15 years."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NARRATOR: Halabja was bombed with a cocktail of mustard gas and the nerve agents tabin (ph) and sarin. On that date, up to 5,000 people was gassed, and this was not a one-off (ph). Forty other villages across northern Iraq were poisoned.

Cancer and birth defects have shot up since the war crimes, and every home contains its own horror story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: So what happened to this poor lady?

(UNKNOWN) (through translator): She was hit by the chemicals, and her face went red. It was itching so badly that she started scratching it and scratching it, which led to this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CLARKE: So it is hard to imagine that people don't know, as I said, about the brutality of this regime. It has been going on for decades. It has been well-documented and well-reported.

What I can't imagine is what it must be like to be the Iraqi people now and living in that kind of environment and living under that kind of fear and torture and knowing that if you, for instance, so much as wave at coalition forces when they go by, you will be hung. So I think it is perfectly understandable why so many of these people are afraid to rise up against the regime at this time. When they are certain -- when they are as certain as we are about the end of this regime, I am confident they will do so.

General?

MAJ. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, VICE DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, JOINT CHIEFS: Thank you, Ms. Clarke.

I'd like to add my condolences for those four soldiers killed in the car bomb explosion near An Najaf today.

Also, two U.S. soldiers were killed and one was wounded in a firefight in Afghanistan earlier today when they engaged enemy forces west of Kandahar.

Our thoughts and prayers are with their families.

Operation Iraqi Freedom continues. More than 290,000 coalition forces are deployed in support of combat operations, more than a third of those inside Iraq.

Our ground operations are progressing well. There continues to be sporadic resistance in the south. However, our supply lines are working well, and we continue to resupply our frontline forces.

The air campaign continues as well. We flew more than 1,000 sorties over Iraq yesterday, mostly against Iraqi regime and leadership targets, command and control, and Republican Guard divisions. Our forces have fired more than 675 Tomahawks and dropped more than 6,000 precision-guided munitions since operations began.

We're continuing to degrade the Iraqi forces, particularly the Republican Guard Medina division.

I have three videos for you today. The first two are of FNA-18s dropping precision-guided munitions on the Al Tukarem (ph) airfield, damaging the runways and taxiways. While there's not been any Iraqi aircraft activity, this will help ensure we retain air supremacy.

(VIDEOTAPE)

MCCHRYSTAL: The last video is of an F-15 dropping precision- guided munitions on a leadership compound in Baghdad.

(VIDEOTAPE)

MCCHRYSTAL: And with that, we'll take your questions.

CLARKE: Bob?

QUESTION: Torie, you mentioned that the flow of forces continues into Iraq. Do you have anything or does the general have anything on elements of the 2nd Armored Calvary Regiment going ahead of schedule? Or anything on additional forces going into the north? CLARKE: I'll make one comment, then the general can follow up.

The secretary hasn't signed a deployment order for Iraq in probably close to two weeks, if not really two weeks. The forces are flowing exactly as they have been planned to flow for quite come time. The only significant difference at all being the 4th ID.

MCCHRYSTAL: The 2nd Light Armored Calvary Regiment at Fort Polk, in fact, has been on orders. It's a Humvee-mounted calvary element with aviation as well.

There are discussions under way about potentially moving up part of its force to an earlier deployment. I'm not aware of the specific time line at this point.

QUESTION: A portion, half of it or most of it or...

MCCHRYSTAL: I'm not sure exactly what the final decision will be, but it would be a portion of it.

QUESTION: How about the north? Have you got anything on northern Iraq?

CLARKE: A general comment about the plan. Obviously, it's up to General Franks to decide who moves where and at what pace. But the plan has always been built in such a way that it's scalable. It probably isn't a real word, but it reflects the truth, which is a plan that is flexible and it can adjust up and down as needed. And that's what General Franks works with.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: How concerned are you about the potential continued use of suicide bombing or car bombings against U.S. forces in Iraq? And specifically, what can you do to guard against this tactic?

MCCHRYSTAL: We're very concerned about it. It looks and feels like terrorism. And what it requires is units to conduct force- protection activities, which they're prepared and do all of the time. But clearly when you see a tactic like this, it requires strict adherence or adjustments to your tactics, techniques and procedures to ensure that places like checkpoints are not vulnerable.

So it won't change our overall rules of engagement. It doesn't affect the operation at large. But to protect our soldiers, it clearly requires great care.

QUESTION: Torie, it's been said several times from the podium that the only major change in the war plan was the lack of the 4th ID from the very beginning. Why, when that change...

CLARKE: Not the lack of. From where and at what time.

QUESTION: Right. But the sense seem to have been that they were to have been in Turkey when the balloon went up and were ready to go over. Instead, they were coming around and coming up through Kuwait. Was there any thought given to delaying the start of the war until the 4th ID was in Kuwait? Did anyone raise that as an issue?

CLARKE: Not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Do you have anything new on the first marketplace bombing?

MCCHRYSTAL: We are continuing to investigate that bombing. As we said the other day, we thought there was a possibility either it could be a mistake or a mechanical error by one of our munitions or any other reason, but we don't have a hard conclusion yet.

QUESTION: Is it correct that some new data has come in that's causing you to relook at that whole situation, just to double-check and make sure?

MCCHRYSTAL: Ma'am, they are continuing to collect data, that is correct. And so, we are withholding a conclusion until we've got it all.

QUESTION: General, yesterday General Myers said that the coalition is in -- essentially has 95-percent air supremacy, but Baghdad and a little north is still open. That F-15 strike was in Baghdad. Is there more of a sense that the air defenses are a little degraded?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, that's a great question. In fact, they are degraded. We have -- we claim air supremacy for most of the country except for a small part around Baghdad, but we fly effectively in Baghdad every day and night. The reason we don't claim air supremacy there is because they haven't been using all their early-warning and fire-control radars. They've been keeping them off to avoid them getting destroyed.

So until we actually destroy them, which is hard when they don't use them and keep moving them, we respect that capability that they retain and we don't claim air supremacy. But in fact, we've been able to operate effectively.

QUESTION: And if I could follow up, what about -- how much of an effect is Saudi Arabia and Turkey now saying that cruise missiles cannot fly over their countries having on operations, or will it at all?

MCCHRYSTAL: It won't have a big effect. In fact, one of the great things about where we're postured is the ability to target from a number of locations, to include the Tomahawk land-attack missiles. So it really won't have a big effect.

QUESTION: That cruise missile strike last night against a mall in Kuwait, are you doing anything to try to mitigate those anymore?

Increasing naval patrols? There was one report that said that it may have come from a boat off-shore or something. MCCHRYSTAL: We are investigating where it came from and exactly what munition it was. We have suspicion of what it was: an Iraqi capability that we were aware that they have. And we're working both in defensive and offensive ways to prevent that.

QUESTION: There was -- in the CENTCOM briefing today, they showed some video of ranger assault on a commando base in the west. Could you explain what that was all about? And also, how you're using the west to bring pressure on Baghdad? Are you using any of those airfields in the west for either assaults or air strikes?

MCCHYRSTAL: Sir, I won't get into great detail, obviously.

First, about the ranger assault, that was a command and control headquarters of an Iraqi element that was essentially trying to retain control in the west. It was commando headquarters. And as you saw, the rangers hit it on a completely blacked out assault, very effective, got a lot of prisoners.

What we're doing in the west could be called a lot of ways -- or called a lot of things. It might be area denial. In a sense, we have taken away from the Saddam Hussein regime the ability to call the west their own. We're doing it with a very small number of troops leveraged with air power and intelligence, and we're denying him the ability to use traditional Scud baskets. We're denying him the ability to maneuver them, to collect intelligence there, and doing it very economically.

CLARKE: And I'd just remind you of the maps that General Myers showed yesterday that showed increasing amounts of Iraq which Saddam Hussein has lost control. Doesn't mean there won't be pockets, it doesn't mean that there won't be individual problems in some of those areas. But every day, he is losing more control over the country.

QUESTION: Are you using the airfields there in the west, the ones that you've captured?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I couldn't discuss actually what we're using. Clearly, we are denying the regime their use.

QUESTION: Where was that, by the way, except west?

CLARKE: West.

QUESTION: Can you be any more specific?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, the rangers are operating out there in small groups, and it would be unfair to them to give specific location.

QUESTION: Can you update us on the situation with Tomahawk firings from the Red Sea and the Eastern Med? General Renuart suggested that there were some avenues in Saudi.

QUESTION: I wasn't clear whether we were still shooting through particular avenues in Saudi or if those firings have stopped all together. And do we know what the problem is with these missiles? CLARKE: I'd go back to what's a pretty sound policy on part, which is letting other countries describe what goes on. But we have such good support from so many different countries that we have a lot of tools at our disposal.

QUESTION: Torie, I have a couple of questions, but one follow-on on the Tomahawk. The tenor of the briefing this morning on Tomahawks indicated that the problem with Saudi in the path (ph) that some of them were malfunctioning and possibly putting the Saudis at threat.

Are they malfunctioning? How many have you lost? And do you have any idea what the malfunction is?

I have another question after that, please.

MCCHRYSTAL: Yes, sir, I'll give you what I know, and I think it's pretty accurate.

I believe we've had a total of about seven Tomahawks not make it to their target, i.e. some sort of mechanical malfunction. We have actually had less than a 1-percent failure rate, the number of Tomahawks that we've launched not make it to their target. So it's been very, very high in terms of success.

One of the things that I'd stress, like many other of our precision munitions, when a Tomahawk is launched, the warhead itself is not active until close to the target. So when these missiles ground themselves, essentially they bury themselves in the ground or break up. They don't explode. The warhead doesn't explode.

QUESTION: And in the case of these that you lost, none of them exploded?

MCCHRYSTAL: To my knowledge, none of them exploded.

QUESTION: The other question, I had one more, the Brits found some artillery shells that were unmarked near Basra. They said they could possibly be chemical. Have you had any feedback in the analysis no this? Have you yet found anything -- weapons of mass destruction?

CLARKE: I don't have anything on that, but I use the question as an opportunity to again manage expectations. We are fighting a war and we're ending the regime, which is one of our primary objectives, and obviously finding and destroying the WMD is an important objective as well.

But it will take time. This regime has been the best at hiding things and dispersing it in small amounts to many, many different places. So just try to manage expectations on that front.

QUESTION: General, there was a strike or some kind of explosion in a market yesterday Baghdad. We haven't heard anything from the Pentagon yet about that. Do you have any idea of what that was, and are you investigating?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I do not. I heard about that just before this. I'd like to get more information and then come back.

QUESTION: To follow on specifically from that, those were very powerful video clips that you showed at the beginning of the briefing.

In any sense, were they used to counteract the images that are being seen of civilian deaths and casualties, which, despite what you're saying, everyone in the Arab world and many beyond will assume were caused by coalition forces?

CLARKE: A couple of things. We go to -- as you know, we go to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties. The overarching strategy, if you will, of the entire plan is to do it as quickly as possible but balance that against our strong desire to have as few casualties as possible.

That was my decision to use those clips. I have met some of these people, and I've heard their stories. And I was just struck in the last couple of days hearing some people say, "Well, aren't you surprised by the brutality of the Iraqi regime? You know, this is some thing you didn't expect?" How could anyone be surprised?

There is report after report, news story after news story, documentation by the human rights organizations for years about the atrocities of this regime. And it's not ad-hoc stuff. It's policy, it's bureaucracy, using rape as an instrument of your policy on a regular basis.

So just what I try to do sometimes is when there are things like that kicking around, people seem to have a hard time understanding them, I try to make it clear.

QUESTION: We have some reports from our GIs in the field that they are down to one MRE a day and very little water. They're concerned about that, and they want to know how long the situation is going to go on.

MCCHRYSTAL: Yes, ma'am. And that's into the wider "are we having a resupply problem" is really the issue. And I know that if it's Private McChrystal out there and he doesn't get all of the MREs he wants, then there's a resupply problem for one person at least.

CLARKE: When he wants it.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCHRYSTAL: Yes, exactly.

The big answer is, no, there's not a resupply problem. The lines of communication, I've checked this, are flowing. And the what we call class I, III and V, or water, food and munitions, are getting forward in the quantities they need.

The thing to remember is, logistics on the battle field is like circulation in your body. And it starts from the heart, and it goes out through big arteries, and it finally has to go down essentially to every cell. And if the analogy is the Marine or the soldier in a fox hole is the cell, getting all of that to work perfectly every time when in fact you're moving your logistics, you're moving your units forward, you're doing all of the things on the battlefield, is always a challenge.

MCCHRYSTAL: Now, we work through that. You know, our troops are trained. And I think you'll find that those young people are moving on, and it'll catch up with them very quickly if, in fact, that's at all widespread. So in the macro sense, I think it's working very well.

CLARKE: And I'd say two things. There is no indication that that is widespread at all. I was talking to a couple of people this morning about this. There are many advantages to the embedding program; there are also some challenges. One reporter may have heard one person say, "I haven't gotten my second or third MRE of the day yet," and that gets back and it gets back very quickly.

And that's on a not-so-serious issue, but on small and large issues, because of volume and velocity of the reporting coming directly from the field, we all have to take a breath sometimes and say, "OK, is this representative of a broader picture, or is this an individual incident?"

QUESTION: Can you answer that, Torie? Is this representative -- is it...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... or don't you know?

CLARKE: I don't know if it's one guy...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... one meal a day in the field, General McChrystal?

CLARKE: I have seen one report of a soldier who said he had an MRE. I have seen one report. There is no indication of any widespread problems whatsoever.

And again, if you do step back and take a look at the bigger picture, if you will, the forces continue to make extraordinary progress. I heard somebody talking about this morning, saying, you know, "If I were Saddam Hussein and I was waking up today" -- if he's waking up today -- "and the world's most awesome military was 50 miles from my doorstep, I think those people have made some pretty significant progress." And you don't do that without having all of the adequate logistics working the way they ought to work.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about the Marines who were classified as Dust One (ph) the other day? What were the conditions of that? And was it fierce fighting? How did they go missing?

CLARKE: I'm not sure which incident you're talking about.

QUESTION: It was the Marines near An Nasiriyah, I believe seven or eight of them, the Marines out of North Carolina, they were classified as Dust One (ph).

CLARKE: I know we have some numbers that are classified as Dust One (ph). I'm not familiar with the particular incident you're talking about.

QUESTION: Also at An Nasiriyah, General Renaurt apparently confirmed reports of troops buried in shallow graves there and that forensic investigators were going there. Can you give us any more information about that?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, I can give you what we know. In fact, the Marines advancing did find a shallow grave with some remains in them. We're not sure who it is at this point. We've got a Mortuary Affairs element that's gone up with a forensic element. They'll be able to identify. Until we do identify, obviously we'll take great care in not notifying erroneously.

CLARKE: Let's go back here.

QUESTION: General, can you talk about the -- yesterday, General Myers mentioned that Republican Guard divisions south of Baghdad have been moving. You can talk a little bit about any movement among the Hamurabi (ph) or the Medina divisions?

MCCHRYSTAL: I can't talk about exactly where they are. What we see is what we call survivability moves, not major repositioning of a strategy on the battle field. At least that's what it looks like. And survivability is to avoid the air power that we've been bringing against them, which has been taking them apart sort of piece by piece.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask a question about this troops strength, but you just said something about the bodies in the shallow graves. I wondered if you could elaborate, not revealing who or what service they might be with -- is there any indication they might have been executed or any indication of any war crime that might have been imposed on these bodies, just from looking at the bodies?

And then I do have a question about troop strength.

MCCHRYSTAL: Ma'am, I have not seen the report yet, so I just don't know.

QUESTION: OK. And on troop strength -- and, Torie, you were saying that Secretary Rumsfeld hadn't signed any deployment order in the last two weeks. Is he...

CLARKE: On Iraq.

QUESTION: On Iraq, right. Is he about to sign one on Iraq? And what about the -- any more on Reserves or Guard that should be bracing for any more call-ups?

MCCHRYSTAL: Right. On the first one, which I'd like to address, the reason that's important is because I've been working on this plan for months now. In fact, the force flow was determined months ago to include the order of forces, moving in, when they would go, and deployment orders were assigned before we were sure that we would have to have a hostilities hostilities.

So all of those were identified in the pipeline. So if anybody takes an inference that this is reinforcements based upon what's happened in the first week of the war, that would be incorrect.

QUESTION: But, see, the reason I ask that is of course that Torie had said that the plan is, of course, a flexible one and scalable. And now I wondered if the scale is such that you think that you need to request more forces?

MCCHRYSTAL: No. Exactly what we did is we set into place a plan that had a flow of forces that came along that could be turned off. Because to get a unit ready and to work all their transportation, what you do is you get them ready to move, and then if in fact the situation doesn't require them, you turn that unit off, you stop their deployment. So that's the way this deployment's built.

QUESTION: Any turning on coming up?

(LAUGHTER)

MCCHRYSTAL: They're all turned on until they're turned off.

QUESTION: Two questions, first on this Apache operation, the 101st that sent several dozen Apaches, do we have any results? What was the objective there, and what was the result of that mission?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sir, that was 40-plus Apaches in what we call a deep-attack operation. And they are designed to work with other arms, primarily fixed-wing and artillery, to help disrupt and destroy a unit before we close with close combat with them.

In fact, that was the mission last night. They were going after the Medina division. They did get some battle damage assessment. I don't have the exact numbers. And that is just another phase in us taking the Medina division down in strength.

QUESTION: Any approximate numbers?

MCCHRYSTAL: Not that I'd want to put out here, sir.

QUESTION: And the second question, we've heard so much about the great achievement of these forces rushing 200 miles up to stand off against the Republican Guards. But what was the purpose to rush so quickly northward to outrace supply lines, and then sit in place for four or five days? What was the strategic or tactical value of doing that, when in fact they haven't been pressing the battle?

CLARKE: I'll push back on your characterization, because it sounded like you were saying that's how we've described it. That's not how we've described it.

QUESTION: Well, that's certainly how it appears.

CLARKE: What we've said all along is that we want to end this regime as quickly as possible with the fewest number of casualities. What we've also said is the truth, which is these ground forces have made extraordinary progress in a very short period of time. We have -- as I said before, Saddam Hussein has lost an awful lot of control over his county. You look at what goes on in the air, you look at what's going on in the seas that have mined. We're making remarkable progress, and that's a good thing. Not to underestimate the challenges that lie ahead. It could get very, very tough lying ahead.

But I just push back on your use of words because I don't think they're accurate and I don't think that's how we've described it.

QUESTION: Was there a psychological aspect to having these troops move up so quickly with apparently no intent to press the battle immediately against the Republican Guards?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, the intent was always to press the fight against each element, the Republican Guards being one, when the conditions have been met. So we intend to fight each element of the Republican Guards when in fact they are at the strength we want to conduct ground combat with them.

CLARKE: And -- but I'll just say one more thing, and then we're done. As I said before, if I were Saddam Hussein, if -- we don't know, if he alive or dead -- but if I were Saddam Hussein or whatever is left of that leadership, and in one week you had the world's most awesome military and coalition forces as far away from Baghdad as Middleburg is from here, then I'd be pretty nervous.

Thank you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Victoria Clarke, the Pentagon spokesman and General Stanley McChrystal, the briefer from the Joint Chiefs of Staff insisting the war is going as U.S. planned.

Now, some 290,000 coalition forces in the greater Persian Gulf theater, about one-third of them, nearly 100,000 already somewhere inside of Iraq. As far as the suicide bombing incident, General McChrystal expressing concern, very concerned about it. It looks and feels like terrorism, he says, but it will not affect the overall operation. We're going to continue to monitor of course what's going to. Let's briefly check in with CNN's Leon Harris in Atlanta in the CNN news room for these latest developments -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, Wolf, here at the CNN Center in the news room here, the latest development we have for you is actually some pictures that have been developed, if you will. We want show to show you right now pictures that we've gotten in from LBC, whose coverage we've been using in our coverage of the war in Iraq. These are the latest shots according to LBC. These are shots of Saddam Hussein. He was in a meeting today. Not clear whether or not these pictures were taken that the particular meeting today. CNN of course has not been able to as yet confirm whether or not these pictures are actually even from today. But LBC is saying that Saddam Hussein was at a meeting and then they showed these pictures, so we're trying to chase some more information on that and let you folks know once we know more about this.

Now, Iraq's vice president vows more suicide attacks are coming. Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan says today's deadly attack near Najaf was only the beginning. He says thousands of air volunteers have been pouring into Iraq to fight the coalition.

Ramadan's comments came after a suicide bomber hit the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry division near Najaf. The attacker pulled up near a U.S. checkpoint in a taxi, which blew up as American troops approached it. Central Command says four U.S. soldiers died in that attack.

Two coalition helicopters made a hard landing while carrying troops into Iraqi territory last night. One pilot suffered a broken leg. The convoy of coalition helicopters took soldiers from the 101st Airborne born deep behind Iraqi lines.

Western journalists are getting their first close-up look at a captured Iraqi town. Coalition troops are now in control of the port city of Umm Qasr and they've brought in humanitarian supplies for Iraqi civilians. British Royal Marines are patrolling the town right now.

And the FBI tries to get some answers about the U.S. soldier accused of attacking his fellow soldiers in Kuwait. Two soldiers died and 14 others were hurt after Asan Akbar allegedly launched grenades at their tents. This week, FBI agents executed a search warrant and combed through Akbar's storage unit near Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

And in New York, Columbia University is distancing itself from a professor's controversial comments. During an anti-war event this week, Professor Nicholas De Genova says he wished more U.S. troops would die the same way they did in Somalia. De Genova says that the American flag stands for imperialism and it's impossible to be patriotic without being imperialist.

Now, here is what we're working on for the next hour, eliminating Saddam Hussein's inner circle. We'll tell you about reports of a covert U.S. operation aim at weeding out Saddam's intelligence from the inside. Also ahead, deadly searches in Umm Qasr. Go with the coalition forces as they seek out the last pockets of Iraqi hard-line paramilitaries groups. Things aren't always what they seem out there. And a little later on, you ever try refueling your car while you're still driving it? Well, try filling up a cargo plane thousands of feet above the earth and to take matters even worse than that, do it over Iraq without getting shot down.

Well, our Gary Tuchman's going to introduce you to the men and women who do that every day. Those stories and much more coming up as our coverage of the war in Iraq continues with Judy Woodruff in Washington -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Leon. We just heard a briefing from the Pentagon where they described the progress that coalition forces are making across a broad front in the Iraq theater. What we want to tell you now is that the Warthogs, as they're called, in a new coalition air base in southern Iraq. The A-10 tank killers are said to be some of Air Force's most effective attack planes and they are now based much closer to the front lines. CNN's Bob Franken is with that -- with the Air Force at that base.

Bob, hello again.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Judy. And behind me you will see a little campfire, that is a fire that is being built by some of the people who are involved in the A-10s and the search and rescue units, that type of thing, sort of an illustration of just how primitive things are. It's an air base that hasn't been used for 10 years and there are just about none of the modern conveniences except that some of most modern aircraft in history. The A-10, of course, Warthog is the famous tank killer. It's a very, very important part of the efforts to support the ground troops.

And we were on the air live earlier today when the first ones arrived here. We had specific permission to report the planes' landing as it was landing. Of course, we had been under restriction not report, the fact that it was going to come until it actually arrived. And now, of course, we can report that the A-10s are a part of this new air base, which is 150 miles inside Iraq, 150 miles closer to the action. We are also allowed to say that and can only also describe it as a base in southeastern Iraq. We, of course, have to always tip toe around the various restrictions, but all of this is information that is approved.

Now, these A-10s will be flying missions that put them much closer to the combat as I said. And according to one of the leading commanders here, he said that means that it has 25 or 30 more minutes in the air, 35, 25 or 30 more minutes in the air. At which point, it can pick targets because so many times they ad lib. The plans actually go to -- off to the side because somebody will say there's a certain condition on the ground. We need an A-10. The A-10 will be out there with more time to respond. It could be significant.

As a matter of fact, a short while ago, a very camera shy, General Michael Mosley (ph), who is CENTCOM's main man for the Air Force, was here. He didn't want to do a television interview, but he did say that this airfield is -- quote -- "A big deal," and a big deal is what everybody is treating it as is. It was just a couple of days ago that there was nothing here really. The U.S. had taken it over -- excuse me -- and coalition forces have taken it over. There was nothing here until a convoy arrived. We were with that convoy. That convoy had on it the supply of jet fuel, which made everything else possible.

Things are really humming here now. The A-10s are moving quite well along. There's also a search-and-rescue operation. That's where we are. They are also, as close as the A-10s are now, much closer to the action, much closer to anybody who might need help.

This is also a transit point. Members of the 82nd Airborne Division are landing here and then hoping onto trucks and going up to do their stuff on the ground to miles north of here and also prisoners of war can be transferred through here. They have been. We've seen some of them. They're being taken to points unknown. They expect more traffic in the POWs. This is going to be a very busy airport.

As I said, the general, Judy, said, it's a big deal.

WOODRUFF: Bob, for those of us who don't know in what is creating an airfield out of nothing, give us some details. How is that done?

FRANKEN: Well, first of all, it wasn't from nothing. As I said, this airport had been an airstrip. It had been in existence until Gulf I, the first Gulf War, then it wasn't used anymore. But there was a smaller Iraqi contingent here and they kept it in pretty good shape. What is one of the remarkable things is that the runway is in very good shape and a very long runway. It's going to be able to accommodate just about anything they want to put in here.

There is a control tower. All of that is being refurbished. There are none of the -- such things as electricity, running water, that type of thing. It doesn't exist here. Of course, they're going to come in with all of the portable materials that they have. AND in just -- probably just a matter of days, this is going to be a fully functioning airfield, which is going to be quite busy, not as busy as the one that is its home base, sort of speak, but awfully darn busy and much closer to the action.

WOODRUFF: Bob Franken reporting from southeastern Iraq, where as he described, a coalition forces are making real progress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Judy. The U.S. Air Force also has been flying nightly missions over Iraq, including tonight. And they include air strikes as well as refueling missions. Our Gary Tuchman is embedded in an air base in the Persian Gulf. He's joining us live now via videophone -- Gary.

TUCHMAN: Well, Wolf, behind me, more A-10s. This base we're standing at right now near the border of Iraq has the largest number of A-10 Warthogs and some of these A-10s are going to the base where Bob Franken is right now in southeastern Iraq. But right now, we are seeing them going out in large numbers.

As a matter of fact, this is the 11th night of the air war and we've been here each and every night and this is the largest numbers of planes that we've seen go out between sunset and now, sunset 6:15 local time here. Right now, it's about 9:40. So for the last three hours and 25 minutes, we've seen more planes than we have in any three hour and 25 minute period after sunset since we've been here.

And we're being told by Air Force officials that they're expecting another 1,500 sorties in a 24-hour period ending tomorrow. Five hundred of those sorties strike sorties, bombs and missiles, the other 1,000 support sorties. Now, for the first time since the Vietnam War, the Air Force is allowing us to fly with them on sorties. And we did go with them late last night.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN (voice-over): As they get ready to head over hostile territory, 10 men aboard this Air Force HC-130 search rescue and refueling plane, start to feel their adrenaline rushing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just make sure we're flying over spots that we're supposed to go to.

TUCHMAN: The crew looks out for the unlikely prospect of Iraqi aircraft and the more likely prospect of Iraqi missiles or artillery.

(on camera): Does your mindset change across the border into Iraq?

MAJ. "TOOK", HC-130 CO-PILOT: No, since I am in an area, which I don't know where the enemy could be. From the time I get to the airplane until I get out of the airplane, I'm thinking the same way.

TUCHMAN: Which is?

"TOOK": The hair on the back of my neck, if it starts standing up, then something's going wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Target's over the sand and I don't know what it is. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) across 3:00, six miles.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): As a precaution, the crew starts turning the huge plane in circles to see what the targets do. Ultimately, it's discovered the targets are U.S. combat helicopters. Minutes later, the search and rescue helicopter arrives for its refueling. Watch the flash from our night vision camera as the planes fuel line connects with the chopper. Both aircraft fly at 125 miles per hour, gingerly over enemy land. At times they're only 50 feet apart, but the chopper's rotor blades even closer. Looking with the naked eye out of the plane, the helicopter is impossible to see. The pitch- black maneuver ends after 10 minutes.

(on camera): What stops though -- we know the Iraqis have fired sand missiles and fired AAA aircraft all throughout this war. They haven't hit anybody. But isn't it risky flying so low knowing they have that ammunition to fire at you?

MAJ. "POWDER", HC-130 FLIGHT COMMANDER: Again, we know where we're going. We know where they're at, so we simply avoid them. And if for some reason they do get off a lucky shot or they do see us, we have defense systems on board the airplane to defeat their ammunition.

TUCHMAN: We all fly with bulletproof vests in case the plane goes down. We also fly with parachutes in case we need to get out before the plane goes down.

(voice-over): But three airmen aboard this plane have parachutes for a different reason. They are the pararescue jumpers or PJs who jump off the plane for rescue missions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean it's probably the most -- the best feeling in the world knowing that your purpose is really defined at that moment.

TUCHMAN: No rescues were necessary on this sortie and the plane arrived back to base safely.

(on camera): Do you have any fear?

"POWDER": Everybody has a little bit of fear, but I think it's a good thing in this circumstance.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): This crew could be back on another mission in as few as 24 hours.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN: The men board this plane are friendly, laid-back guys. But once it takes off and particularly after it goes across the border into Iraq, they have a laser-like intensity. They're not nervous, but they're very cautious. And when they land, once again, they're friendly-laid back guys. Back to you, Judy. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Gary. Before I let you go, I understand there's understandable fear of the Iraqis, the anti- aircraft fire, the Iraqi capabilities, but are you getting a sense that there's also a certain amount of fear from these American pilots of the friendly fire possibility, of being in danger given the number of friendly -- so-called friendly fire incidents that have occurred so far in this war?

TUCHMAN: Wolf, that's an excellent question. And during the intelligence briefing they received before they fly, a lot of the information we can't divulge. The one thing we can divulge is they are told exactly where to stay away from because we have seen over the past five or six days that the coalition has now put Patriot missile launchers into southern Iraq. So these pilots are told these are the areas you must avoid -- to stay away from the Patriot missile launchers because, as we know tragically, one of those Patriot missile launchers, a few days ago, accidentally shut down a British Tornado. So you're right, that is a fear that they must stay away from. And as we speak, notice the planes taking off. You can see how busy it is here. We go back to you now Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Gary Tuchman, he's at a base here in the Persian Gulf. Gary, thanks very much.

Judy, I can tell you, just hearing a little bit -- some of these U.S. troops now serving in Iraq and there are almost 100,000, according to the Pentagon, now in Iraq. They're pretty scared, not necessarily so much of the Iraqis but some of them, at least, are getting nervous about these so-called friendly fire incidents given the quantity -- the quality of the U.S. weaponry in the region. There's a potential, obviously, for disasters. And as Gary said, there was that sad incident, that British Tornado jet returning to its base shot down by a jittery Patriot air defense system. So this is a serious problem that I'm sure the military's going to be focusing on quite a bit in the coming days and weeks.

WOODRUFF: And I'm sure, Wolf, especially now that they are adding the presence of these Patriot missile batteries in southern Iraq. The pilots, as Gary said, are just going to have to be all the more careful.

Gunfire and heavy explosions today from Chamchamal (ph) in the north to Basra in the south. That coming on the same day that Central Command was denying reports of any sort of pause in the coalition's push toward Baghdad. Our Miles O'Brien is with us now. He has, at his side, our military analyst, retired General Don Shepperd.

Hello there, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Judy and hello, Don Shepperd, retired major general of the U.S. Air Force. Good to have you with us.

Let's talk about this concept of a pause. Is there a pause or is there not a pause?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes and no. It makes sense when you have fought for several days to stop, replenish, secure your supply lines behind you, make sure those supply are flowing and secure the country behind you. But it doesn't mean that you've stopped fighting across the country. The 101st Airborne reportedly hit the right flank of the Medina Division out here to -- in the vicinity of Najaf. And there's other special operations going on and Ranger operations in the western part. The Marines are moving up on the right flank of the movement here. So I don't call this a pause, but it does make sense for the 3rd Infantry not run headlong into Baghdad without people on their flanks and without getting their supply lines through.

O'BRIEN: All right. I've just drawn an arrow though that extends well beyond 200 miles. That's a long supply line not to have it completely secured. This was a bit of a gamble, moving in quickly without securing the rear echelon. And what we've seen is -- we've seen people who are driving trucks who have been taken prisoner of war and killed, and now, we've got these problems with the checkpoint and the suicide bombers. Is there enough security along the supply line?

SHEPPERD: Again, you're going to have to secure behind you all of the way. But you establish checkpoints. You do this carefully. If did not do that and if you stopped at every little hamlet along the way, you would never get to Baghdad. It made sense very much to do what they're doing and secure behind them.

But this distance from where the lead elements of the 3rd Infantry division are in the vicinity of Najaf, back to the port, is the distance between Washington, D.C. and New York. That's a long way.

O'BRIEN: I see. And that's a lot of security that's built into all of that when you're in a situation where there is a terrorist threat, which is something that perhaps the military did not consider as much.

SHEPPERD: Yes. You always worry about terrorism. You normally see it on TV in other countries. But terrorism behind the lines is going to be a factor here. We've seen one bombing today in the vicinity in Najaf. Four American military personnel killed in that. You're going to have to be very careful around any civilian and any vehicle for as long as we're in Iraq.

O'BRIEN: All right. We just had a Pentagon briefing a little while ago. They released some additional gun site video. This showing a bombing we think -- you think probably would be B-1, B-2, maybe B-52. Take a look at this up here. If you could kind of walk us through. When you looked at it, you said, "This is textbook." Why?

SHEPPERD: Yes. Well, first of all, this is an airport. It's very difficult to close an airport. We used to have to go in with iron bombs. It would take several attacks. We would lose several airports. What you see is precision bombing at the intersections of taxiways and runways so that there is no segment left long enough to let an aircraft take off. And this is all done by one airplane not several airplanes and several strikes.

O'BRIEN: All right. We counted eight. Real quickly, we're hitting those intersections. The idea is to make it unusable and yet preserve the runway so that for future use perhaps...

SHEPPERD: That and it's easy to repair.

O'BRIEN: You bet. All right. Any other impressions from that briefing that come to mind.

SHEPPERD: Well, again, Tori Clark bristled at the idea of a pause and I accept the fact that it is not a pause. You're keeping pressure on everywhere, but it makes sense to consolidate, gets your forces all lined up, get rearmed, resupplied and fresh troops up there and then press on into the Republican Guard divisions, which I predict you'll see next, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Don Shepperd, thanks very much -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Miles, a quick question for the general. Why do you think Tori Clark bristled at the question?

SHEPPERD: Well, I think nobody wants to give the impression that they're not moving on with their plan. And they don't want to give the impression to the Republican Guard divisions and the folks in Iraq that they are pausing and they have a chance to rest. So they want to give the impression this is ongoing, according to plan and the pressure is kept on all the way to Baghdad, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. General Shepperd, Miles, thank you both.

So, what do some Iraqis hope for in a post-Saddam Iraq when it happens? We will talk with an exiled Iraqi about his dream for his homeland.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And after a week or more of wartime stress, for the families of 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, a day of springtime relief. I'll have a live report for you. I'm David Mattingly at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Fewer watch the war in Iraq with more interest than Iraqi ex-Patriots. One such exile leads the Iraqi opposition party from London. His name, Sharif Ali Bin Hussein. He joins us now live with his perspective on the war.

Are you surprised, Sharif Ali, that the Shia population in the south has not risen up more aggressively against the Iraqi regime because, apparently, they have not yet?

SHARIF ALI BIN HUSSEIN, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS: No, I'm not really surprised at all given the conditions, given the conditions that the command and control of the regime is still fairly intact, that the security operators is still spread everywhere throughout the country, so that the population, the opposition, not just the Shia inside Iraq is still finding difficult to take on the better armed, better organized elements of Saddam's security operators.

When we were talking with the United States, the United States said that they would not attack U.S. -- the Iraqi military, the infrastructure, or the people. But we'd hope that they would be able to undermine Saddam's security operators. That is ongoing, but it hasn't been completed yet.

BLITZER: The initial expectation, the hope at the Pentagon, the Bush administration, was that the precision-guided bombs, the so- called Shock and Awe Campaign, the decapitation of the Iraqi leadership, would effectively get the job done relatively quickly. That, too, doesn't seem to have occurred, at least not yet.

HUSSEIN: Well, I think that's really the basis of where we are now. We also, as an opposition particularly inside, were hoping that Shock and Awe would, as the Pentagon said, cripple the regime. And that would have given us the opportunity to take over cities and liberate huge areas of Iraq. Clearly, Shock and Awe didn't fully achieve its mission yet and we're having to wait for the security operators, the oppressive machinery of the regime to erode before we can expect the Iraqi people to fully engage with the remaining retreating elements of the regime.

BLITZER: Is it your intelligence, your information, that Saddam Hussein is not only alive still, but is effectively still in control of his military and his regime?

HUSSEIN: There is no evidence that he's been harmed. There is every evidence that according to their plan of evolving a raid power and giving a great deal of independence to different sections of the country that he is relatively in control. But I think the U.S. campaign is beginning to undermine the regime. From our reports, most recently in the last few days, they are becoming worried again. The relentless bombing campaign, the wiping out bit-by-bit of the regimes' oppressive apparatus is beginning to pay dividends. The regime is crippled. They don't see any light at the end of tunnel. The only success they've had so far is in the propaganda war.

BLITZER: Sharif Ali Bin Hussein of the Iraqi National Congress joining us from London. Thanks very much for your insight.

Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: Wolf, back to the theater around Iraq. The 101st Airborne Division had carried out its first major attack of the war, a helicopter assault on Republican Guard units south of Baghdad. Meanwhile, it is Family Day back home at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and that's why we find's CNN's David Mattingly.

Hello again, David.

MATTINGLY: Hi, Judy. The families of the 101st have bad need of R&R and they're getting it today with this springtime fair set up for the kids. It's all set to boost morale and people who say they -- that have organized this are saying they haven't seen this many smiling faces since the war began. It was a great excuse for all of the mothers and all of the fathers and the children to get away from that TV set. And we have some parents here to talk to you now.

What has been the biggest source of stress for you this last week?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think hearing that there are so many more casualties, and you always wonder and worry if it's your loved one and you feel for the loved ones that are the ones that received the bad news.

MATTINGLY: When you have children, how do you help them deal with it when they're watching it on TV as you are?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I try not to watch TV too much. We try to keep busy. They ask a lot of questions, but we just deal with it, you know, as it comes.

MATTINGLY: And what has been the most difficult thing for you in -- with your children at home and your husband away, seeing reports of the war. What is -- how hard has it been for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trying to explain to them what's really going on, but not being like too graphic about it because they're little and they really don't understand. So I mean it's kind of hard to explain to them and help them learn, you know, what he's doing over there and why he's over there.

MATTINGLY: And now that the 101st has entered the fight -- last night you saw the news reports. How does that change it for you as opposed to just waiting as you were a week ago?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, goodness. It changes it a lot of emotionally and the stress level is much higher. You just -- sometimes you just go numb. You really don't know how you feel.

MATTINGLY: Well, no numbness today. It looks like everybody is out here feeling at least a little bit of relief, getting out and enjoying the sunshine.

Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: David Mattingly, these -- for these families, it looks like a much needed break. And I bet the stress level is extraordinarily high. We thank you very much. David Mattingly at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Thanks very much.

We're working on a number of things in the next hour of our live coverage. Eliminating Saddam Hussein's inner circle, we are going to tell you about reports of a covert U.S. operation aimed at weeding out Saddam's intelligence from the inside.

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