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U.S. Troops Flexing More Muscle in Heart of Baghdad

Aired April 6, 2003 - 01:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN NEWSROOM: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in the CNN newsroom. Here's what's happening at this hour. U.S. troops are flexing more muscle in the heart of Baghdad. Army reconnaissance missions have resumed in the capital city. And forces will begin carving it up into security zones. But it's not a cakewalk. U.S. troops remain under hostile fire from pockets of resistance. Earlier, they took on the Republican Guard troops outside a barracks in southwest Baghdad.
Under the cover of darkness, British Royal Marines in Basra are trying to flush out members of Saddam's Fedayeen forces and crush pockets of resistance there. A number of suspects were captured in house-to-house raids.

British troops find hundreds of human remains in an abandoned military base in southern Iraq. While most of the victims died of gunshot wounds, the British say conditions of the body suggest some were mutilated. It is not clear how long the bodies may have been at that warehouse, but it's not believed the victims were killed in the current war.

In other new, a "Washington Post" report is revealing new insight into D.C. sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo. The "Post" story says Malvo bragged about his shooting availability and taunted investigators saying he shot some victims in the head for horrific effect. The "Post" story was based on partial transcripts of Malvo's taped remarks to investigators.

A 60-mile stretch of the Pennsylvania turnpike was shut down tonight after a number of fog-related accidents. Four people were killed and more than a dozen injured, three critically.

Those are the headlines at this hour, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER: Fredricka, thanks very much.

You are looking at a live picture - we don't have the live picture up yet. We'll get back to you shortly.

Coalition aircraft with the help of U.S. special forces have been pounding Iraqi military positions in northern Iraq. Our Brent Sadler is in northern Iraq and filed this report. Brent, what is the latest where you are?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks Anderson, you joined me here just a couple of hours after dawn. It is quiet in this southeastern sector of the northern front. But I can tell you, I was out exclusively with a special forces unit of forward aircraft controllers who have been working out ways to try and push back Iraqi troops from bridge lines leading from a northeastern corridor towards Baghdad. And we're about 100 miles away here, a long way I know. But, still, there is a lot of concentration, a lot of focus. But, more importantly, a tremendous amount of air power coming down in this area.


SADLER (voice-over): The beginning of a mission to locate and destroy Saddam Hussein's forces in northern Iraq. Likely armed, but confident Iraqi Kurds combine their raw battlefield skills with high- tech American air power, power that will soon be used by these U.S. special forces, preparing the ground for a carefully calculated kill.

The Kurds and their American allies are gunning for the Iraqi regime in any way they can. Baghdad is 100 miles south of here. This route locked by Iraqi-armed soldiers, manning this bridge line. The Iraqi Kurds have been abiding their time here, awaiting the U.S. military's next move.



SADLER: Now, helping them figure out the lay of the land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is soldier Saddam Hussein.

SADLER (on camera): This Kurdish fighter says he knows the terrain like the back of his hand, and maps out positions for his American allies with a small mosaic of stones. The sun is setting. There are reports of Iraqi tank movements. And U.S. strike aircraft will be operating in this vicinity shortly. If special forces can locate targets and coordinate the close air support there will be bombing runs.

(voice-over): These forward air controllers bristle with antennas, they call in America's birds of prey with calm and precision. And the unmistakable trail of a B-52 bomber armed and ready to strike, circling warplanes hunting their quarry. But ground and air find it difficult to get a fix on camouflage-covered targets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is just so hazy right now, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll tell you what, that one right there that I am looking at looks like that's a net over top of that damn thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Patience is a virtue sometimes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Tom has problems with the birds, just have him do a flyover and see what they think.

SADLER: The first birds draw a bland, but others are on the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, about 15 minutes. And if that one don't come another one is coming and B-52s on top.

SADLER: And this time, their targets are confirmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're clear hot, standby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Impact 25 seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ross, take the right one, right there.

SADLER: An F-15 releases a 500-pound bomb on demand. It's close to the target, but not close enough. It is the end of they day, but the attacks have just begun. The Iraqi lines appear to fire back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, we saw flashes behind the mountain, you might want to get down.

SADLER: Orders are obeyed by one and all until more bombs fall. That flash is the detonation of seven, 500-pound bombs dropped from a high attitude B-52 bomber. That is what they sound like.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That looks good. That looks like it took out three and four ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, shift it down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: East, four, five degrees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I shifted down. Right down that line. So this is our next target and that target.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is target one at?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh yeah, that looks good on one.

SADLER: And another Iraqi military target goes up in flames.


SADLER: Anderson, a unique look inside the workings of one of those forward air control units there. That's not the only one, of course, There are many groups of U.S. special forces working in very remote conditions, difficult positions, trying to pinpoint and smash Iraq's northern army, because let's not forget even though we've seen the battlefield successes amazing pictures to the very center of Baghdad there is still a wide swathe of territory here in the north which is still holding. Some of the Peshmerga Iraqi-Kurdish ground forces have moved forward along parts of the northern front. This area here leading into a northeastern corridor towards Baghdad, a lot of concentration, a lot of effort being put into this zone. And you can count on those units being back in action later on today. Back to you Anderson.

COOPER: Brent, just a remarkable piece there and a remarkable experience I'm sure it was, just looking at that, if you didn't know what was happening on the other side where there is explosions occurring it is almost like a family watching a fourth of July fireworks. There were oohs and aahs at the explosions. My question is, is this what the northern front is now is that it is basically these units of special - soldiers working with the Peshmerga, is that all it is going to be?

SADLER: It's difficult to say at this stage, Anderson. But let's look at what's actually on the ground. Coalition. U.S. forces do have a brigade, the 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Italy on the ground, at least 2,000 men. But not the kind of armored firepower, not the punch to be able to thrust toward Baghdad in the way we've seen those advances in the south of the country. The Iraqi Kurds are on the ground here. There's about 60, 70,000 of them. And they want to move southwards under the umbrella of the Iraqi opposition.

That's a number of groups of which the Kurds are the largest armed element, but, this is important, under the command and control of U.S. Central Command. So you would have Iraqis liberating Iraqi soil. It's important as far as the psychological impact of the coalition efforts to liberate that Iraq would have. So that's the kind of thing that's going on the ground. And the Iraqi Kurds would very much like that to happen. Iraqi opposition would like that to happen. But whether it does, whether they get the green light, that's anybody's guess at this stage -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Brent SADLER, remarkable story, thanks very much.

Moving onto another story we have been covering a lot in the last couple of hours, Jessica Lynch. Doctors in Germany say that she is showing rapid improvement, but the former PoW remains in intensive care for close monitoring. Our Mathew Chance is in Germany for the very latest on her story, Mathew.

MATHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Anderson. And the focus of this story is very much here, to Germany, to Landstuhl, very close to the Landstuhl U.S. Military Medical facility here in this part of Germany, ,where Jessica Lynch, the teenaged prisoner of war rescued so dramatically by U.S. special forces is still recovering from her numerous injuries and awaiting the arrival of her parents from West Virginia. There were very emotional scenes in Charleston, West Virginia as her parents set out on their journey to Germany to finally be reunited with their daughter after this ordeal that she has been going through.

What we're waiting for, although it is not clear we are going to get it at this stage is some kind of access, not just to the parents when they meet their daughter, that will be a very private moment according to U.S. military officials we have been speaking to here, but word from Private Lynch herself. She is just 19 years old remember. And the exact details and the circumstances of how she was captured and how she was treated at the hands of Iraqi forces are still not clear. What we do know, of course, is that other members of her 507th ordinance maintenance company were either killed in the ambush of the convoy or captured and forced to appear and to answer questions on Iraqi television. The injuries sustained by Private Lynch, obviously, very serious. But we're told here in Landstuhl by the medical officials that have examined her thoroughly that she has a number of broken bones, including an arm, two broken legs and a broken ankle, injuries to her face and injuries to her back, which have been operated on by orthopedic surgeons. Well, what they are also saying, though, here is that there were no gunshot injuries or stabling wounds that were initially reported.

Now, details of this, though, are still unclear because we are getting out of U.S. officials, military officials at CENTCOM in Doha, Qatar that there were, in fact, gunshot injuries. So, it's not entirely clear exactly what the nature of those injuries are. But what we do know are those injuries that I have listed for you. So, obviously, hope to have more details for you as the hospital begins to open up and Jessica makes a more full recovery -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yeah, Mathew, the report we had been seeing a family spokesman recently saying that it was discovered she had small- caliber, low-velocity entry and exit wounds. Again, just a story we will be following. Again, do we know when her parents are expected to arrive in Germany?

SADLER: It's not clear. You know, the public relations offices at the U.S. military are being very tight lipped about the exact travel plans. We do know that Jessica's parents are expected to arrive within the next few hours at the Ramstein U.S. Air Force Base, short distance from here. From there, they'll be taken either by road or by helicopter to the Landstuhl Medical facility, which is just a few miles away from Ramstein. Whether it will be that first reunion Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Mathew, obviously, CNN will bring as much of this to you live as possible.

Right now, we are going to join our Rym Brahimi in Amman, Jordan with the latest details on the situation, as far as we can tell, in Baghdad. Rym, good morning.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Anderson. We've just heard that Iraqi TV is announcing that Baghdad will be closed between 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the morning. I'm not sure what exactly the circumstances are, whether this is going to be something that will be done every single day, but it's just be announced just a few moments ago, literally, Anderson. Now, residents of the Iraqi capital will be waking up after another very intensive night of bombing. A lot of heavy explosions in the center of the capital, including near the Palestine Hotel, which is where the journalists stay. And there were also explosions towards the northern suburb of Baghdad, a little bit far our north even, not far from a military compound, and a military industrialization compound in that area. Now, the United states understands, the Pentagon is saying that it is launching a new strategy, air raids all the time, over flights of its U.S. planes to protect the U.S. troops that have posted now at the airport and that conduct probes like they did yesterday into the Iraqi capital. That said, I spoke to some people in Baghdad and sources there tell us nobody so far has seen U.S. troops inside the Iraqi capital. What they did see was a few battles on the highway leading to the airport. But that's about it.

Of course, people are very confused. A lot of people are trying to leave the Iraqi capital, Anderson. And there's also so many conflicting reports between what the Iraqi media are telling them and what the government is telling them, that the airport is still in the hands of he Iraqis, and that they slaughtered a lot of U.S. troops. Whereas they are also hearing reports on the international radio stations to the contrary. So a lot of people are very worried about this street to street fighting, about the house-to-house battles that they think may come along as a result of the U.S. entering Baghdad -- Anderson.

COOPER: Rym, it's interesting this word that Iraqi TV is saying that authorities in Iraq and Baghdad plan to close the entries to the city from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. I know the information is just coming in, and you probably don't have much more on it other than that, do you get the sense, though, that is to keep people from trying to leave, or simply to try to limit people ...

BRAHIMI: I'm sorry I've lost IFB (ph) Anderson. The sense I get just, generally, from that decision is that, well, it looks like some sort of curfew really. And everybody has been wondering for awhile now, when and if the Iraqi authorities were going to close the Iraqi capital at one point. People may have expected that to happen earlier. And there were always rumors and reports of Iraqi authorities not allowing Iraqis to leave Baghdad, or not allowing people to come in from the outside. Well, I think now was maybe the moment when they estimated that it was maybe the right time for them to actually take those dispositions. Of course, the main question here is how are they going to be able to control all the entry points to Baghdad if one of them, for instance, just that highway between the airports and the Iraq capital is not totally secured by anybody. It's just fighting there. There is a northern entrance to Baghdad that I understand has been blocked by the Iraqi authorities and that seems to have been opened as well. A lot of questions there, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Rym Brahami, live in Amman, Jordan. Thanks very much.

We are going to check in right now with Kathleen Koch who is at the Pentagon for an update on the battle for Baghdad, as well as this new information that has just come in. Kathleen, what do you know?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, at this point, we haven't yet been able to check this out with our Pentagon sources. But, clearly, at this point the only foray on the ground that the U.S. has made into the Iraqi capital was during daylight hours. So, this sort of curfew from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. would clearly not affect their operations in downtown Baghdad. Now, obviously, one would wonder how will they enforce it, as Rym was pointing out. Clearly, if U.S. tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles want to go through an intersection and there is a Republican Guard sitting there in some sort of vehicle, he is not going to be able to stop them. So, I think that the Pentagon, when we run this by them is clearly going to say that this is not going to impact what they're calling pinpoint operations. But they plan to continue into the heart of the city. This not only, obviously, to scope out Iraqi forces and any potential armaments that they might have hidden in various sections of the city but also stems from the psychological message. And a very important one, they believe, to the Iraqi regime that the U.S. can operate with impunity anywhere in the capital. Anderson, also, another thing that will be continuing here, very important in the battle for Baghdad is aerial bombardment.

There were more strikes early Sunday morning in the central part of Baghdad in the Iraqi capital. And the U.S. military is going to be trying a new tactic, and that is keeping U.S. warplanes in the air, at least two of them 24-7 in the skies over the Baghdad. Those aircraft are going to be providing close ground support - close air support for U.S. troops on the ground, have the ability to call in, if need be, at least six others of A-10s, F-16s to support those forces on the ground. Now, CENTCOM has been hearing these predictions from U.S. commanders on the ground, that they believe this could be wrapped in the next few days, but they are downplaying that.


MAJ. GEN. VICTOR RENUART, JR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Victory will come, of that there is no doubt, but this fight is far from over. As we have said, we have been able to move into the area of Baghdad city. As you look at the map of Iraq, you will note there are many parts of the country where we have not yet taken control of any forces in that region. So the fight will continue. The fight is far from finished in Baghdad.


KOCH: The general in charge of the coalition's air force in Iraq is reporting that now U.S. forces from the air are no longer spotting any large divisions of the Iraqi Republican Guard, only very small scattered groups. Another question that was put to Lieutenant General Michael Mosley was why has the U.S. had so little success in knocking Iraqi television off of the air, he said, well, we would rather avoid civilian casualties and just put up with it intermittently popping back up -- Anderson.

COOPER:; All right, Kathleen Koch live at the Pentagon. Thanks very much.

Coming up, when it comes to the status of the war, Iraq says one thing, the coalition says another, who do you believe? When we come back, the different messages you get depending on where you sit, stay with us.


COOPER: Well, when it comes to official war news it is not the win they way but the spin, according to some. Here is how a single event can be interpreted in different ways. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Depending on where you sit, what you watch and whom you listen to it seems two very different wars are going on.

MAJ. GEN VICTOR RENUART JR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Forces move to the west, initially creating a force to attack and then secure the Baghdad International Airport. Those forces have completed that operation and now hold the airport secure.

MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHAF, Iraqi INFORMATION MINISTER: We kick them out, we pulverize them, defeated them in the - outside of the airport to the more up area in abo grayer (ph) and we surrounded them in abo grayer (ph).

COOPER: Clearly, someone is lying. And it happens every day. This morning, again, CENTCOM announced coalition forces moved into Baghdad.

RENUART: It was I think a clear statement of the ability of the coalition forces to move into Baghdad at times and places of their choosing, and to establish their presence really wherever they need to in the city.

COOPER: The operation was documented by a western independent news agency. These are the pictures. It might seem hard to deny, but not for the Iraqi information minister.

AL-SAHAF: These pictures are not the outskirts - I repeat, these pictures have nothing to do with the city of Baghdad. These are far from Baghdad, at least 30, 40 kilometers away from Baghdad.

COOPER: Of course, the propaganda battle is nothing new, as old as war itself, as modern as the media. There are accusations.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are war criminals and they will be treated like war criminals.

SADDAM HUSSEIN, Iraqi PRESIDENT (through translator): God is great. God is great. And let the criminals lose.

COOPER: Vilification.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We know that there probably isn't a more vicious regime on the face of the earth today.

NAJI SABRI, Iraqi FOREIGN MINISTER: These savages who are coming out from the caves such as Bush and his Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, it is he savages who are threatening humanity and freedom.

COOPER: Each side claims successes.

RENUART: I think the progress could be characterized as nothing short of superb.

HUSSEIN (through translator): Today, the tide has turned and we are destroying them.

COOPER: Each side exhibits its trophies -- one blown up building here, one charred tank there. And in this 24-hour news world each side holds press conference after press conference to inform, say some, to spin, say others. It's a war of words that in the end may matter little. What happens on the battlefield may soon be clear enough for everyone to see.


COOPER: Well, joining us now to talk about the Arab coverage of the war is Jasim Al-Azzawi, anchor and executive producer for Abu Dhabi TV. Thank you very much for being with us. Before we talk about sort of the media coverage, we've just received this word, I'm sure you've heard about Baghdad - it was announced on Iraqi TV that Baghdad is going to close entries to the city from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It's a little hard to get a sense what, if anything, that really means. Do you have any thoughts on that?

JASIM AL-AZZAWI, ABU DHABI TV: Not really, no. This is the first time I hear about it right now. I'm sorry but I just came from home.

COOPER: Fair enough, I appreciate it. But really we just heard about it a minute or so ago. So I just wanted to throw that out. Let's talk a little bit about the coverage from your perspective. First of all, when Americans see the Iraqi information minister making some of the pronouncements, some people that I've talked to describe them almost as laughable. They don't believe this man has much legitimacy and is not very credible. Do you think your viewers see him in that same way or not?

AL-AZZAWI: In the beginning of the war, when there were some successes on the Iraqi part, people were giving him the benefit of the doubt. When the military pushed northward, stalled a little bit, and there was a stop for a day or two, a lot of people they gave him the benefit of the doubt, they gave the Iraqi regime and the Iraqi army the benefit of the doubt, now with the tide turning tremendously against the Iraqis whether the Republican Guard or the regulars many of the Iraqi cities are encircled. There was a big foray into Baghdad, the Iraqi Saddam International Airport is in allied forces. I think that they are beginning to see that the majority of the statements coming out of Baghdad needs to be carefully examined, and the bravado or the bluster on the Sahaf side is going to be taken with a pinch of salt.

COOPER: OK, a pinch of salt. A lot of people probably on this continent would use a barrel of salt, but a pinch, I guess, will do for some. You know, there is so much obsession it seems almost in the United States every time these videos come out on Iraqi TV of Saddam Hussein. This debate, is it him? Is it not? Is he alive? Is he dead? Is it live? Is it taped? Is there that similar kind of intense examination of the videos on Abu Dhabi TV?

AL-AZZAWI: Not really. The majority of the people whether on the official level or in the media or ordinary people, they have become familiar with the images of Saddam, his face. They have watched him for over 30 years. They are quite certain. I, on a personal level, I am quite certain it is the man we saw on the Hyer (ph) Monsor (ph) greeting people, even giving some high fives to people. It is him. It is just that in the west there is this tremendous tendency to examine every little detail and go over it thoroughly. Practice, a notion that is here absent. And that is the reason. There is a dichotomy in the assessment of the images.

COOPER: I'm interested to know, I don't know how much of American coverage or western coverage you see of this war, but of what you've seen verses your own coverage, what differences do you notice?

AL-AZZAWI: Well, people are here, needless to say, glued to CNN. They are glued to the BBC and Sky and FOX even, sometimes we get it here. So, there is no lack of information and images and streaming videos. And people are glued to Walter Rodgers radiophone reporting from the ground. As far as the differences, on has to also be faithful and clear and say, there is a measure. There is perhaps even a tremendous measure of sympathy with the Iraqis, with the Iraqi army. And that has a spillover effect to the stations. For instance, our rival, our sister company, so to speak, Al-Jazeera, they use the words invaders when they describe allied forces. We, here, call them as they are. American forces, British forces and so on. And aside from the terminology, there is emphasis on the humanitarian aspect. To the degree possible successes on the ground are given its due importance.

But somehow, one way or another, Arab TVs and Arab media, they focus on the humanitarian catastrophe that is befalling Iraq.

COOPER: Jasim Al-Azzawi, I appreciate you joining us. I wish I had a satellite TV and I was able to see your broadcast, because it would be very interesting. I appreciate you talking with us. Thanks very much.


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