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War in Iraq: Marine Huey Helicopter Crashes

Aired March 30, 2003 - 15:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We've been reporting for the last few minutes a crash of a U.S. Marine UH-1 Huey helicopter. The Central Command, which is operating this war here in the Persian Gulf, is now confirming three people aboard that helicopter are dead, one injured in the crash which appears to have been an accident in southern Iraq. We're getting more details as they become available.
But once again, the Central Command now confirming three people aboard that Marine helicopter dead. One person injured. We don't know who they are. We don't know if they were Marines. But we're getting more information, and we'll have it for you as it becomes available.

The flexibility often cited as a critical part of the U.S. war plan can be seen in the adjustments being made in the field by U.S. Marines. CNN's Jason Bellini is embedded with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in southern Iraq.


JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Marines we're with are hearing about the difficulty that their brethren, the fellow Marines around this country are running into, especially in the cities. They're hearing about places like Basra and An Nasiriyah and Marines being taken prisoner. Their fellow Marines being killed. It's of great concern here.

I had a chance to speak with Colonel Walthauser (ph), he's the commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He told me now they're going to have to react to what the enemy is doing, meaning they're going to have to go on the offensive, they're going to have to change their original game plan, the original game planning being securing the route to Baghdad, making way for coalition forces to head towards Baghdad, making that the primary objective.

Now they're going to have to concentrate on spots along the way. That's now in the cards for them.

Earlier, Captain Dunn (ph), he's the commander of the platoon of the company that we're with, the Gulf Company, he spoke to his Marines, gave them a bit of the big picture about what they're facing now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The plan going into this thing was to try to isolate these urban areas, move up, and get outside of Baghdad, because we didn't want to get bogged down. We didn't want to slow things down, allow our forces to get north. We're up there where we want to be, but we had some problems we need to deal with. And what it comes down to, in my mind, at least, is we're through goofing around.

BELLINI: What that's going to mean for Marines at the very ground level, people in the infantry, they're going to have to make very snap judgments, very quick decisions as they go door to door, having to discern between civilian and foe, very difficult thing to do. They're telling us that they have the training to do it, that that's what they've been preparing themselves for, even though they were hoping that it wouldn't come to this.

I'm Jason Bellini with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Southern Iraq.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: When we return, 11 days after the start of the war in Iraq, the anti-war protests and troop support rallies are still drawing crowds. We'll check out some of those gatherings around the world.


CROWLEY: Flag waving Americans are on the march this weekend in a bid to boost the morale of U.S. troops. In Florida, there's a strong show of support for the troops. A thousand marched in Miami's Little Havana and across the state yesterday. Among those marching were Cuban exiles, Venezuelans, Dominicans and other Latin Americans.

From the birthplace of America's freedom, protesters are on the march against the war. Dozens of activist groups are sponsoring today's rally in Philadelphia, and CNN's Maria Hinojosa is there -- Maria.

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Candy. Well, as you can see behind me, the protest rally has moved now, and that's because they held a rally for just about an hour, and then they started marching down to the federal building. I would say anywhere from a couple of thousand or so who came out and braved really horrible elements. Again, they say that even though this war has started, that they will continue to take to the streets.

This was sponsored by the Philadelphia Regional Anti-War Network, which is made up by several different groups, including religious organizations, the Quakers, and other long time activist groups in the Philadelphia area.

Now, one of them who's joining me is one of the organizers, is Travis Parchman. And Travis, you work in a software company. But other than that, you spend your time doing activist work like this. I'm just wondering. I asked this to one of the organizers before. We know that some of the troops are actually watching this coverage, and many of them have said that they really feel extraordinarily demoralized by this, even though they understand that it's your right to do this. So what would you say to the troops who may be watching you now and feeling demoralized?

TRAVIS PARCHMAN, ANTI-WAR ACTIVIST: We have absolutely no problem with the troops who have been sent out there on this insane policy by the Bush administration, in our opinion. Our beef is not with them. We oppose this policy, and we think the best thing for them is to bring them home right now and stop this war.

HINOJOSA: Yes, but they say that watching you do this or watching the hundreds and thousands of people do this makes their job of protecting the United States really difficult, and it's hard for them. So, I mean, as a young man speaking to another young man or woman, you say?

PARCHMAN: I would argue that what they've been sent there to do -- they weren't involved in the planning, it has nothing to do with protecting the United States. And they shouldn't feel we're trying to stop them from doing that in any way. Because that's not what they're doing there. They need to come back here if they want to do that.

HINOJOSA: Tell me about Philadelphia. It's a pretty horrible day, and yet you did get a couple of thousand people out here. Has the anti-war movement here in Philadelphia been strong, been active, or are you seeing it decline?

PARCHMAN: We still see many, many people out. We knew the weather was going to be bad today, that it was going to keep some people at home. But there were many thousands of people out here to show that just because the war started, doesn't make it any more just than before the bombs started falling.

HINOJOSA: OK, thanks a lot, Travis. I appreciate that. Travis is going to run off because they're actually marching down to the federal building. So they're going to move this rally. Just a lot of coordination for what some might consider a small rally of just a couple of thousand. They are moving on to the Federal Plaza.

A lot of demonstrations both for the troops, for President Bush. Many of them against them, Candy, all across the country. Another weekend, another round of protests that doesn't seem to be letting up at all, even with the inclement weather -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks very much. CNN's Maria Hinojosa. We'll let you go so you can follow them to the next stop. Thanks.

Anti-war protesters are also on the march around the world. Reports say up to 50,000 demonstrators attended this protest today in Bangladesh. Opponents of the war also on the march in South Korea's capital. Thousands of workers turned out in Seoul to protest the U.S.-led attacks. And the Korean government's planned to send 600 military engineers and doctors to support the coalition.

While millions of people around the world are keeping track of the war by watching CNN and other Western networks, viewers in the Arab world also have a number of 24-hour news networks to turn to. CNN's Octavia Nasr gives us a closer look at the four major networks in the Arab world in today's "Arab Voices." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Start with the oldest. Al Jazeera. Still only about six years old and likely the only name you knew before the war. Known mostly for broadcasting al Qaeda statements. Al Jazeera offers the highest production values and the most dramatic, some would say disturbing, pictures. An American journalist might call it tabloid.

U.S. officials accuse Al Jazeera of a sort of passive propaganda, because it gains that access to Baghdad by agreeing to Iraqi restrictions.

The one you're hearing the most from in the war's early days is Abu Dhabi TV. Staking out the more reserved end of the spectrum, Abu Dhabi doesn't go for the sensational pictures but does retain access to Baghdad, getting its street-level pictures of damage there.

But Abu Dhabi's eagerness to tell the U.S. or in some cases the Israeli side of the story has some in the region accusing it of anti- Arab bias.

Al Arabiya, newest to the field, is based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and is less than a month old, barely older than the war. Not as tabloid as Al Jazeera, but not as reserved as Abu Dhabi TV, Al Arabiya is trying to find a niche in the market.

The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation is mainly an entertainment network trying to catch up to the other 24-hour news networks. Also more sober than Al Jazeera, it is the only station not based in the Gulf, and has merged its newsroom with the well-respected Al Hayyat newspaper, which gives it more reach and depth and gives Al Hayyat a place to break news on television.

For "Arab Voices," I'm Octavia Nasr.


CROWLEY: As with any U.S.-led fight, American Marines are in the thick of it. They're not known as the few and the proud for nothing. But courage and gallantry on the battlefield can make for tense moments back home. When we return, we'll see how the families are coping.


BLITZER: Just want to update our viewers on a crash of a Huey U.S. Marine Helicopter in southern Iraq. The U.S. military's Central Command now confirming three U.S. troops killed aboard that helicopter. One injured. We don't know the extent of the injuries. The helicopter apparently went down in southern Iraq. It appears to have been an accident.

We're getting some more information, and we'll update our viewers as we get it. Once again, a Huey UH-1 Marine helicopter crashes in southern Iraq, on some sort of support mission, we're told, and we'll also get some more information, get some details as we get them, we'll bring them to you. Of course, in the meantime, back to Candy Crowley in Washington -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks very much, Wolf. It is, of course, that kind of news that can stop the hearts back here at home as they watch.

As you know, U.S. Marines by the thousands are conducting seek and destroy missions in an area of Iraq known as Ambush Alley. Such terms have to have their loved ones back home worried, underscoring the danger the Marines are facing as they push north. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is at Camp Pendleton in California, home to many U.S. Marine families -- Thelma.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Candy, those numbers are not numbers that people out here want to hear. I can tell you this base is home to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. During peacetime, about 40,000 people live here. We are told that some 90 percent have been deployed.

Now, I want you to take a look right beside me, the wives here have organized this impromptu rally, to keep the spirits high and to show their husbands and loved ones that they've not been forgotten. As cars enter the base, they honk in support.

As the casualty count rises, however, nerves here are frayed. Camp Pendleton, at last count we were told, lost eight Marines. We talked to several wives who told us that the most difficult thing of all is trying to be strong for the kids and have to do it all alone.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just watching her grow up, and he's not here. She walks around the house and points out all his pictures, and she wonders where he is. We drive by his work, and she just points out the window to him.


GUTIERREZ: Now, amid the chants of support and all the honking cars, there are lots of tears here as well during this rally that we have seen, as reality sets in about this war.

Now, children have held pictures of their fathers. Several have told us that they hope that somehow, some way, that their fathers who are fighting this war might perhaps see them. Amanda Baeza is 9 years old. She joins us now live. Amanda, what do you miss most about your father?

AMANDA BAEZA, MARINE DAUGHTER: When my daddy used to wrestle with me and also when he used to call me bear.

GUTIERREZ: Can't wait for him to come home. You said you wanted to wrestle with him and to do homework with him and play with him?

A. BAEZA: Yes. And I miss him so much that I just want him to come home nice and safe. GUTIERREZ: Thank you so much, Amanda. And Maria Baeza, you are her mother.


GUTIERREZ: Talk to me about why you organized this rally. I know this has been incredibly difficult for your kids.

M. BAEZA: The reason why we went ahead and did this is so that all of our Marines, sailors, Army, we can show them our support, that we are here and we care for them, and that we are behind them 100 percent. And they are true American heroes.

GUTIERREZ: You said one of the toughest things about all of this has to be strong for your children. And it must be very hard to see your daughter having such a difficult time.

M. BAEZA: Yes, pretty much, her first three days, when this war broke out, it was her hardest. After that, she's been doing really, really good, and she's been really strong. She keeps herself very, very busy.

GUTIERREZ: Tiffany, what's the most difficult thing for you, as a mother, who has to hold down the fort by yourself?

TIFFANY MORATH, MARINE WIFE: Having two children, I have a 4- year-old, he understands what's going in his own way. And having a 9 month old that needs a lot of attention too. I just try to spread myself thinly and do the best that I can.

GUTIERREZ: Tiffany Morath and Maria Baeza, thank you very much.

Candy, now, the families are planning to also hold some prayer vigils in the weeks to come. Back to you.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much. Thelma Gutierrez at Camp Pendleton. Just mention the words homeland defense, and you have a rallying cry for many Americans. But on the other side of the world, the phrase "protecting the homeland" can evoke strong emotions too. And those emotions could cause problems for coalition forces in Iraq. Details in less than two minutes.


BLITZER: U.S. commanders say the war in Iraq is about freeing the Iraqi people from an oppressive dictatorship. But many Arabs have a very different take on the war. They see the coalition as just the latest invader in a country that has already seen too many. CNN's Sheila MacVicar says that's why many Iraqis are returning home to protect their homeland.


SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): At the bus station on the outskirts of Amman, Zu Harad (ph) and his friends are getting ready to head to Baghdad. Eight dollars buys a bus ride to the border back to the country they left years ago. They are going, they say, to fight.

"The war started, and we have no choice," says Zu Harad (ph), "no one is forcing us, but we have to go."

Every day since the war began, hundreds of mostly young Iraqi men have shown up here, ready to brave that perilous drive. Nearly 6,000 have crossed so far.

It is a question, they say, of their homeland. Down at the Iraqi embassy, the staffs are busy issuing thousands of new identity documents to Iraqis who thought they would not return again during the time of Saddam Hussein.

Embassy staff handed out posters. But many of those who came here say they're returning to fight for Iraq, not Saddam Hussein.

"It is my home," he says. "I'm going home to defend my country."

The U.S. calls this Operation Iraqi Freedom, a war of liberation, they say, to make Iraq's people free. Commanders acknowledge the resistance has been unexpectedly fierce.

One reason, perhaps, is history. A history not of liberation, but occupation. The Turks and their Ottoman Empire, the British, who believed they were bringing order and law and who paid a terrible price in Iraq when the people rose up. And there are these images, daily reminders of the ongoing occupation by Israel of Palestinian territories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No country, no people in this world like to see military occupation on their land.

MACVICAR: Basdam Undela (ph) is a Jordanian minister, trying to explain were why the Arab view, the Iraqi view doesn't necessarily see liberation but something else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The war has been shifted in a way that it is no longer a war being fought against the Iraqi regime. It is a war that is being fought against the Iraqi homeland.

MACVICAR: And they are fighting, they say, to defend their homes. It is not just Iraq's regime at war, but Iraq's people.

Hales (ph), an Iraqi physiotherapist, is making plans to leave his family in Amman and return to Baghdad.

"America," he says, "does not have right on its side. America does not have the right to occupy my country." And if America stays, says Hales (ph) and many others, no matter how little the time, what they are thinking about is occupation and resistance.

Sheila MacVicar, CNN, Amman.


CROWLEY: Up next, the latest headlines in the war in Iraq. Plus, it's been years since they were in battle, but memories linger. Next hour here on CNN, those who served in the front lines and now serve in Washington. Remember, we're back in 90 seconds.


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