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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Is the War on Schedule?

Aired March 30, 2003 - 01:30   ET

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

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, not quite so fast. Why don't we stay there for a bit because you've been out. You don't just sit there and do the news headlines on the half hour. You've been out doing some reporting on some of the troops that are coming in and getting prepared to go to the front.
I'm curious what you find. These are troops that actually know something about, now know something about what faces them as opposed to the ones who went in first.

KAGAN: Yes. I think what's interesting, especially that we're hearing, Aaron, that President Bush has ordered 130,000 more troops to come to this region. You think about the big goodbyes that these troops, the sailors, the soldiers get back home in the U.S.

What I didn't realize, and I think a lot of people back home don't realize, many of these sailors and Marines they have been out there for months. We found one unit, one Marine expeditionary unit within days of getting orders to go back home when they got the order to come here. Here's their story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN (voice-over): When you're a Marine serving all around the world, you grab a few winks anywhere, any way, any time you can, even if your mattress is a pile of gravel.

CPL. ANTHONY CAPPUCCIO, U.S. MARINE CORPS: That's kind of the norm for us, gravel, sand, swamp, mud. It doesn't matter. You sleep when you can sleep.

KAGAN: They're Marines from the 24th Expeditionary Unit. You might say they've seen it all. The deployed from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina last August. They went to Kosovo as part of the peace support mission. They also did exercises in Kenya, (unintelligible), somewhere in the Gulf region, and most recently the Horn of Africa but they haven't seen war.

These Marines were close to the end of their deployment, possibly days away from going home when orders came to head to Kuwait. They arrived early Saturday morning, clearly exhausted, yet ready to serve.

CPL. SIBLEY MATCHETT, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We know we've been on a long deployment but not stop us to serve our country.

KAGAN: The Marines we spoke with don't know exactly what they'll be doing or where they're going. Chances are they'll soon be in Iraq guarding the supply columns bringing food, fuel, and ammunition to troops on the southern approach to Baghdad. That has been especially dangerous duty for coalition personnel. These Marines believe their long tour has led to this assignment.

CAPT. W.A. HERON, JR., U.S. MARINE CORPS: We've been very fortunate and very blessed to have participated in a number of real world operations, not just training exercises but real world operations and as long as you're working and a Marine knows he's contributing, his morale is high.

KAGAN: The Gulf War could be the last real world operation for these Marines before they head home for a much needed rest in their own beds.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: The Marines you see in that piece, there were about 200 Marines that were just in that group, but this is part of a huge readiness group, Aaron. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is part of a group that includes three shifts, 2,000 Marines, and 2,300 sailors.

BROWN: And you were mentioning the 130,000 troops that the president ordered deployed the other day. There had always been a plan to deploy those troops. This is not based on how the war has gone but that they would be part of the reconstruction and the policing and the occupation of Iraq when the war was over. Though, as Fred Caplan (ph) was just saying, that doesn't mean that's the only thing they could be used for.

KAGAN: Yes. I think much like the Marines that you saw in the piece, they're here to do whatever job they're asked for and they are trained in a number of different tasks and even when they arrive here they don't even completely know exactly what they'll be doing.

BROWN: Daryn, thank you. Have a good Sunday. Your day is just beginning as ours is coming to a close.

We were talking about these forces that are coming into the region and whether they'll be there for a post war Iraq or whether they will be there to continue the war. This question of whether the war is on schedule or not seems to be dominating the news cycle these days. Is it on schedule? Are wars ever on schedule?

Not actually, but it doesn't necessarily mean reporters shouldn't even ask these questions but it's clear that there is some testiness now in the relationship between those who are asking the questions and those who are trying to answer them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Just a little more than a week into the war, impatience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It did nothing to lower what we were hearing from the Pentagon and from other outside pundants about how well, how quickly this war would go. BROWN: And frustration at the White House that the president was being blamed.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: I could not dispute that more strongly and let me cite it for you. If you take a look at what the president said on October 7th in Cincinnati in a major speech to the country, the president said, "Military conflict could be difficult. An Iraqi regime faced with its own demise may attempt cruel and desperate measures. There is no easy or risk free course of action."

BROWN: In public, the president has always been confident.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will plan carefully. We will act with the full power of the United States military. We will act with allies at our side and we will prevail.

BROWN: Again and again...

BUSH: America will act decisively and America will prevail because we've got the finest military in the world.

BROWN: While never saying directly how long the war would last or how much the war will cost. His vice president, however, has not always been as careful.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm confident that our troops will be successful and I think it will go relatively quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weeks, months.

CHENEY: But we can't count on that -- weeks rather than months.

BROWN: This conflict is in some ways as old as both war and modern media combined. Keeping expectations in check...

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must be realistic. There will be losses.

BROWN: While remaining confident as to the outcome.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: And war is never cheap or easy and I say this only because I am somewhat concerned about the initial euphoria in some of the reports and reactions to the first day's developments.

BROWN: The hard sell of the policy before.

CHENEY: I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.

BROWN: Staying consistently confident throughout.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone. It's over. It will not be there in a relatively, reasonably predictable period of time.

BROWN: And blaming any setback not on the failure of American war planners but on the brutality of the Iraqis.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don't think we anticipated so many people who would pretend to surrender and then shoot. I don't think we anticipated such a level of execution squads inside Basra. But I would not exaggerate the degree of difficulty that this presents.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: We're joined now in Amman, Jordan, by "NEWSWEEK" reporter Chris Dickey, the bureau chief in the Middle East. He's been writing among other things about those wide open arms U.S. troops were supposed to be greeted with. Chris, it's nice to see you.

We just heard, I'm not sure if you could hear it, but a piece from "Meet the Press" where the vice president said I believe that U.S. troops will be greeted as liberators. Do you believe that U.S. troops will ever be seen as liberators in Iraq?

CHRIS DICKEY, "NEWSWEEK": I think the chances of that happening diminish every day, every hour, every minute that this war goes on the way it's going on. Saddam has had great success so far doing what his idol Joseph Stalin did.

He's turning this into a great patriotic war in Iraq and, in fact, in the eyes of most Arabs and Muslims in the world and that is extremely damaging over the short, medium, and long term to American interests and to the future of this war as far as the political enterprise is concerned.

BROWN: We're a week and a half into it, Chris. Does it feel early in the game to be making broad pronouncements that way?

DICKEY: No. No, because this fits into a long history. The war may only have gone on for ten days so far but what we've seen is that the Iraqi people in places where all of us thought there would be uprisings, there would be measures taken against the Ba'ath Party irregulars, if they are irregulars how are they still able to terrorize the people so much?

Well, that's a difficult question to answer. There is a pervasive sense of fear that's sort of programmed into the Iraqis but there's also just a lot of Iraqis, a lot of Arabs who are saying this is a colonial enterprise. This is not about liberation. This is about oil. This is about Israel. This is about a lot of things but it's not about liberating the Iraqi people.

Nobody, nobody in this part of the world believes that it is and part of the failure of American policy is to perceive this whole enterprise in the context of a long history of colonialism and the hatred of colonialism that exists in this part of the world.

BROWN: Chris, then is there anything, assuming that the administration was determined to fight this fight and believed it needed to fight this fight for its own national security reasons, assuming that is there anything it could have done to have changed the field of play in Arab communities and how they would be seen?

DICKEY: Yes. One thing it could have done would have been to continue to work through the United Nations. One of the disasters that has developed here is that the U.S. is going into this basically alone, dragging the British behind it and virtually no one else.

So, we've got this situation where you've got the United States seen now as an imperialist power backed by Britain the former colonialist power in Iraq, supported by right wing governments in Italy and Spain and virtually nobody else that counts in the world.

If it had continued with the United Nations, it might have been able to create a political situation where there would have been a genuinely broad and substantial coalition supporting action to eliminate Saddam Hussein, but nothing like that took shape over the last two or three months, so the Bush administration decided to go ahead and do what it's doing now.

BROWN: And do you think that they understood the implications of that?

DICKEY: No. I think they were deeply deluded, especially the civilians in the Pentagon. Look, people like Kunan McKea (ph) who writes for the "National Review" or Ahmed Chelabi (ph) who's wanted as a swindler here in Amman, have been talking to the administration for years and years and saying the Iraqi people hate Saddam Hussein. Therefore, they will love the Americans who come to liberate them.

Well, that's wrong. The Iraqi people do hate Saddam Hussein but they do not love the Americans and they do not love a foreign power that comes into their country and tells them how to live and what to do, and they are not going to love the United States.

This is going to be a hostile occupation no matter how we try to put a good face on it and while some people will cooperate with us, many will not, and we are going to alienate and are alienating the entire Muslim and Arab world in the process.

BROWN: Can you feel...

DICKEY: That's not a happy picture, Aaron.

BROWN: No.

DICKEY: I mean I wish I could be a little more optimistic.

BROWN: I think we all do but I'd rather you be honest. Is it - it's one of the things that's different around here to be honest.

Is it palpably different in the last ten days the feeling in Amman and these other capitals?

DICKEY: Yes. The difference is that before the war began there was some sense of anger but a deep and pervasive sense of resignation. OK, the Americans are going to do this. Probably Saddam will crumble. Hey maybe at least at the end of the day we'll be rid of Saddam.

Now there's just mounting anger. What people in the United States maybe don't appreciate, although everyone has written stories about it and American television has talked about it, is the incredible divergence that exists now between what the rest of the world sees on its television screens and what the American audience is seeing, not so much CNN, but there are other American networks that make this sound like it's a football game and make it look like it's a video game.

What the rest of the world is seeing is dead children, dead soldiers, dead bodies, ravaged cities, and it's only going to get worse. You know. You live in the United States. You can already hear Americans say our problem is we're fighting with one hand tied behind our back.

BROWN: Yes. Yes.

DICKEY: We're trying to save too many civilians. So what's the idea? We're going to go in and liberate Iraq by killing more civilians, by leveling apartment blocks?

Because that's what it will come down to unless we get very lucky in Baghdad that's what's going to happen and the analogy is not going to be Paris in 1945. The analogy is going to be Grozny and Chechnya and that kind of war and that is the last thing the American people want and I think it will be very difficult for the administration to sustain.

BROWN: Thirty, 40 seconds. Are you writing a piece for the magazine? Have you put a piece in the magazine this week? Is this the tone of the piece in the magazine this week?

DICKEY: That's not the tone of the piece that I was writing this week in the magazine. I was working on a piece about the underground bunkers that are all through Iraq and especially in Baghdad.

Basically, this war is going to be - one of the reasons things will be very tough is there is a whole subterranean life. But I did write a piece on the web a couple of days ago that did touch exactly on these subjects.

BROWN: Chris, it's very nice to talk to you, really interesting conversation. Chris Dickey is the Middle East bureau chief for "NEWSWEEK Magazine" and I hope you'll join us again. Thank you.

DICKEY: Thank you very much, Aaron.

BROWN: Thank you, sir, very much.

Charles Sennott is a reporter correspondent with "The Boston Globe" and he joins us on the telephone and I'm not precisely sure where you are and what you're going to be able to tell us but why don't you start and we'll go from there? CHARLES SENNOTT, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Okay. Just got back from this very mountainous village of Biara (ph) which is up along the Iranian border and this is where the war on terror is taking place within the wider campaign against Iraq.

This is a pocket of conflict that's using U.S. Special Forces and Kurdish military to carry out a coordinated offensive on the group Ansar al-Islam and just to remind everyone, Ansar al-Islam was the group that Colin Powell spent a great deal of time talking about when he was making his case for this war to the world at the United Nations. Remember he talked about they had a chemical weapons lab and they were directly linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group and to the Iraqi regime.

So, this is a very interesting pocket of this conflict and we spent the day up into the newly conquered villages that Ansar al-Islam has ruled over almost in a Taliban-like way for the last two years.

BROWN: And so you have these Special Ops trying to take them out?

SENNOTT: Yes. Well, yes, I'm not embedded. I'm a unilateral in northern Iraq.

BROWN: I know.

SENNOTT: But, yes, there are Special Forces who are, you know, coordinating air strikes and actually fighting on the ground, very intense fighting against this group Ansar al-Islam, and these are, you know, real holy warriors, theological holy warriors who fight a little bit differently than the Iraqi Army and maybe more similarly to the incident we had yesterday with the suicide bombing.

These are people who do suicide bombings, who do assassinations, who fight a guerilla war, and one of the big questions in the Ansar al-Islam is do they indeed have a connection to the regime? That's a question we don't yet but we did spend a lot of time in their offices and finding all of the paperwork and documents about this group, Ansar al-Islam, and some of it was very interesting.

BROWN: And on our screen viewers are seeing that you saw terrorism notes and you saw bomb belts and obviously the question is who are they prepared to use them on? Is that answerable at this point?

SENNOTT: Well, we know for sure they'll use them against the very secular Kurdish government that tried to carve out a democracy here since 1991. They've had many of their leaders assassinated and suicide bombings directed at their checkpoints.

We also know they'll use it against journalists. Western journalists are considered to be a prime target of Ansar al-Islam and we lost one of our colleagues, an Australian correspondent for ABC.

And, we also know that they certainly would also want to target the United States Special Forces who are here. So, Ansar al-Islam started as a very myopic terrorist group and its vision has broadened now and it really, it's an interesting example of how there is almost a self fulfilling prophecy to this notion of the clash of civilizations.

If you take on directly a small guerilla insurgency with Islamic roots and a western power comes in and does that like America, suddenly their vision of their jihad grows, and we've kind of seen that with Ansar. We saw documents that indicate they have a very similar theology to al Qaeda. We're trying to translate some of these things now and the Kurdish security forces are sifting through them.

We also found bomb belts that they had prepared and had to leave behind, which when they fled from the fighting. I think the most interesting thing I found, though, was a note from a suicide bomber. It was his will and testament to his father describing why he wanted to become a martyr.

BROWN: Yes.

SENNOTT: How he hoped his father would accept his new beliefs in this jihad, and it was just a very interesting window into that. One of the more frightening things we saw was a crude lab where they were experimenting with chemicals and poisons and there is even an instruction booklet handwritten on how to put together some very, very low level, as I say, crude chemical weapons. But I don't want to exaggerate this. This is not a chemical weapons lab.

BROWN: I got it.

SENNOTT: It's a closet with little chemicals in it.

BROWN: Charles, terrific job. Thank you. Charles Sennott who's with "The Boston Globe" and it's one more dimension to this, one more force in place if you will that will ultimately make this incredibly complicated.

We take a break. Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: It was, I believe, a week ago that we first met David Bowden. He was a British pool reporter who narrated that extraordinary live fight that we all watched for several hours. David is a British pool reporter. He's now with the Royal Marines outside Basra and he joins us, David, good to have you.

Have the Marines had much success taking the city?

DAVID BOWDEN, BRITISH CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you right now, Aaron that we are in the middle of Operation James, so called because of James Bond. All the targets have Bond names, Connery, Pussy Galore, Blofeld, et cetera.

The Royal Marines moved in just before first light this morning to take a southeastern suburb of Basra. They had with them Challenger tanks and artillery support. They found to the rear in reserve some 21 Iraqi T-55 tanks. They were targeted by the heavy artillery and taken out of action.

And now, I'm told that we do have Marines on the ground moving into that area and securing it. So, we have an ongoing operation as we speak, Operation James, just down the road here in southeastern Basra.

BROWN: When you - David, thank you very much, David Bowden with a quick update on the situation near Basra.

Christiane Amanpour joins us now. Christiane, I'm not sure where you are either, so why don't you locate yourself and we'll go from there.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, we are here with the divisional HQ and we're getting the big picture as well as being able to fan out around places up to Basra and down to Umm Qasr.

I just wanted to amplify on what David has been reporting that indeed that is now officially an ongoing operation by the Marines, commandos of the Royal Marines. They have discovered a rather substantial, we are told, pocket of Iraqi military resistance in that little village southeast of Basra.

This is somewhat new but follows on to the sort of snatches of information we've had over the last couple of days. You remember we reported that the Iraqis had burst out of Basra with a tank column and then it was three tanks and then it was several tanks that were destroyed.

In any event, what seems to be shaping up as a picture is that the Iraqis have moved out of Basra a certain element of the Iraqi Army with significant numbers of troops and tanks to form "a defensive position" around there.

The British now have taken them on. It's an ongoing operation we're told but they apparently have captured five of the senior Iraqi leadership there, senior officers, and they've apparently killed, according to the British command over here, one of the Iraqi Republican Guard colonels.

Now, this again is part of the British ongoing operation to try to decimate the Iraqi military and irregular and political Ba'ath Party leadership in Basra - Aaron.

BROWN: Christiane, thank you for that terrific update. Those two dovetailed perfectly. Thank you.

We take a break and our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: One more newspaper headline to wrap up the hour. This comes from the "Sunday Mail" in Adelaide, Australia. It's just terribly sad but important picture. "Home to his Family," it's a story of a young Australian who died in the fighting and his body was brought back.

Anderson and Daryn Kagan will take you through the morning and I'm going to take the night off tomorrow. We'll see you again soon, however. We leave you with another day of image we expect will keep with you for some time.

Have a wonderful Sunday and a wonderful weekend. Goodnight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPT. JOE FOSSEY, OPS. OFC. ROYAL ENGINEERS: To ensure that there is no further danger to the civilians in this area, these company positions of Iraqi armor and infantry fighting vehicles are being essentially dismantled and rendered inoperable such that there's no further danger to the local populous.

So, our lads come in and cleared the vehicles, removed the munitions, and actually rendered these vehicles inoperable so by destroying the optics and the barrels of the guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We sent in one of our companies of about 100 men in here this morning and we took about 12 or 13 prisoners. Three or four enemy were injured and they've now been flown out and we're treating them and the enemy now have either fled or they've been captured.

LARRY FLAK, COOTS & BOOTS, INTL. WELL CTRL.: It's a little bit strange for us because we're not used to the military guarding us. There hasn't been any live fire. No one is shooting around this area. There's no mines. There's no unexploded ordinance in this immediate area so it's a safe environment to work in. We don't feel any risk. We feel like we're being well protected here or we wouldn't be here. The work is dangerous enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: I'm Daryn Kagan live in Kuwait City. Let's take a look at the headlines at this hour.

Four U.S. soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing when a man in a taxi motioned the soldiers over to his car.




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