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Will British Experience in Basra Help in Battle for Baghdad?

Aired April 6, 2003 - 00:09   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go to General Wesley Clark, as we keep up this picture from the USS Constellation. We're joined now by retired General Wesley Clark. General Clark, it seems to me that the sign of the smart military is one who learns from one engagement to the next. I imagine there has been something of a learning curve in the last 18 days or so. What has the U.S. military learned from the British experience in Basra over the last two weeks or so that they can use in the battle for Baghdad?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, you know, the British have worked very carefully on the outskirts of Baghdad. They have probed on the inside, but they have not gone in to seize large parts. They've used air power with precision. They took out Baath Party headquarters, and took out a couple of hundred party members, the report said. And they are busy recruiting followers and friends inside Basra.

So I think that some of these techniques will prove to be very useful if they are applied by the Americans. On the other hand, we've got a different technology. We've got a lot more armor with us and we've got lots more capability to go in and do the job. We've also got a different objective, because one of the things as you look at Basra was, you knew that you could destroy that city, you could hurt a lot of people in there, but it wasn't the primary objective. Baghdad is the primary objective, and there is some reason to believe that Baghdad falls, that Basra is going to fall of its own accord, without having to do that much to it. So in some ways, the British tactics were more or less an economy of force measure. They kept the Iraqis bottled up in there. They kept them from doing anymore harm to the logistics, but we handled them without hurting a lot of people and doing a lot of destruction down there. Baghdad may be different.

COOPER: We just heard in the last hour from Walter Rodgers, embedded with the 7th Cavalry. He was reporting that according to what he was learning that we are going to be seeing more reconnaissance missions today into probing, if you will, into Baghdad, just as yesterday we saw one by the 3rd Infantry. So in that sense, I guess, that is already different than Basra. The British, as you said, stayed on the outskirts and really, though it may be changing now, really did not conduct this sort of probes to test their capabilities inside the city.

CLARK: I think that's right. As I recall from what we heard publicly from Christiane Amanpour and others about the British mission down there, they went inside at least once. They knocked over a couple of statues and they may have had some resistance, but this is an entirely different operation that the Americans are running up here. We don't know where it's going to lead. There is a high degree of ambiguity about it right now. It could be that we're going in there, we're locating centers of resistance, we're taking them out, we're establishing a pattern of our being able to move at will through the city. We're undermining the morale of the Iraqi forces. We are encouraging the population to take matters into their own hands. And then, we've got Special Forces working. This is an entirely different operation. And then it could transition to a phase in which we actually occupy key parts of the city.

COOPER: You mentioned the Special Force. I remember one of the operations that did go on in -- well, not actually in Basra; I believe it was in Az Zubayr, British forces, what they described as a lightning quick raid. Went in, basically captured a high person they described as a high level Baath Party officials. I believe 20 Iraqi Fedayeen fighters were killed in the operation. And they extracted that official. Do you think we're going to be seeing targets of opportunity like that seized in Baghdad?

CLARK: I'm sure that we will, depending on the necessity of the battle. It will depend on how hard the Iraqis fight, and what the value is of going after particular individuals like that to extract them and bring them out. But the longer the battle goes on, obviously the more value going after that leadership takes. We don't know right now how long that battle is going to go on, because we're not quite sure whether the Iraqi military is going to be able to hang together and keep its defense intact.

COOPER: General Clark, I'm told we have Art Harris on the phone with a Marine unit. Art, are you there, and what can you tell us about your -- about what is going on around you?

ART HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I'm with the 2nd Marines light armored reconnaissance unit. That is about 50 miles south of Baghdad. And they are going across the highways and byways assessing the threat, kind of size up the population in a place that has a vacuum of power, governed by village chiefs and others. And yesterday was interesting, because the captain of this unit, Greg Rumwald (ph), went into the home of a very wealthy land owner who offered his unit, ice (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the first ice cubes they've had in weeks, and was very hospitable, but guardedly so. Did not want the armored vehicles to stay on the land because they might frighten his farmers, and also if the U.S. did not stay the course, concern about some kind of retribution from the Baath Party.

So the Baath Party, they are, of course, they are fleeing, in areas, still concerned about the ambiguity of any outcome in the countryside. Anderson, this is an area that has not seen U.S. troops until now, and the light armored reconnaissance unit is probing. The land owner also told him that he was upset because two of his prize cows have been killed in the bombing, and he wanted permission to take them to market to have them butchered before they went bad. Back to you, Anderson.

COOPER: Art, I'm also joined by retired General Wesley Clark, who may be asking you a question, but I just want to ask you, you are with the unit that was battling in Nasiriya. I saw some intensive fighting. What did they learn in Nasiriya that they are now using in the place they are in now? What lessons did they learn and have taken away with them?

HARRIS: Well, in Nasiriya, they were very effective on the banks of the Euphrates. They took a lot of RPG fire, sniper fire, and they have high powered 25 mm cannon on these small armored vehicles, they have mortars on them, and they can call in -- missiles as well -- and they brought in air power to back them up. Here is the countryside, and it's a little -- it's very different, Anderson. There, they were under intense fire and they destroyed several buildings and Baath Party headquarters and killed a lot of Iraqis who were firing at them and on other coalition forces. So they were tested severely by fire, and came up without any casualties.

Here, they are in more of a blocking/screening role, and maneuvering up and down highway, one, and in the country side. They are having to assess the threat, and to interview possible EPWs. They are finding some weapons, they are finding former paramilitary by looking for tattoos. The tell-tell tattoos of the heart with the wings coming out and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that says "Fedayeen." So they are having to cut through the stories of some of these people, and also keep the friends that they want to make. They are going out of their way, which they did not have a chance to do in Nasiriya, because that was down and dirty fighting, but going out of their way to try to tell these people, we are just looking for people who are trying to harm the Marines and you, and we want to give the country back to you. It's your country. We have no intention of occupying it, and funneling that message across to people who have been inundated with propaganda and with one message for years, Anderson.

COOPER: Just a note to the viewers -- we were just looking at pictures which were taken at Nasiriya, which is the scene of some of this intense fighting that the Marines were engaged with that Art Harris has been reporting on for the last week or so.

General Clark, I know you have a question for Art. Go ahead.

CLARK: Art, how is the sustainment of the force? How are they doing in terms of rest and resupply? And people have been saying, you know, this is the deepest penetration Marine forces have ever made in the history of the Marine Corps, from the beaches and so forth, and how is that logistics line holding up?

HARRIS: It's been quite extraordinarily successful. And yesterday, I mean, we ran out of water for about an hour, but they took the logistics tie-in down, only about 15 miles, General Clark, and filled up the water bowl, resupply with food, and they did not miss a beat. So surprisingly, the logistics train is moving well. As you know, the Marines tend to carry what they need very closely, and eat less generally than the Army does, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) mechanized force.

One thing they're doing, the unit I'm with, is also keeping the roads open so that the logistics train that is required to keep the forces in Baghdad supplied stays open and stays safe, and away from any of these guys who might want to ambush them on the highways. Reports yesterday of an RPG fired at a Cobra. We took some -- one shot of a sniper, it missed, in the field. So these are the kinds of things they are trying to keep clear so the logistics train can keep moving.

CLARK: Art, that's really good to hear, that the logistics is keeping up. That's a great achievement.

COOPER: It's remarkable when you consider that, from what I've been reading, that the supply line is now -- to Baghdad -- is now some 350 miles all the way to Kuwait, which I think roughly the distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and something like 2,500 vehicles are on the supply line at any one time each day, so it's a massive undertaking.

HARRIS: You know, Anderson, you watch it, you see the lights at night sometimes, just stretching into the horizon, and it just does not stop. And that is -- that is what so many units, like mine, right now are, you know, being called to do, to protect that train, which is so important to the troops all up and down the fighting line. Back to you.

COOPER: All right, Art Harris, appreciate you joining us. We'll check in with you shortly. And General Clark, as always, good to talk to you. Thanks.



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