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Martin Savidge Reports with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines

Aired April 6, 2003 - 00:49   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our continuing coverage. We're gong to check in with Martin Savidge who is with the 1st Battalion 7th Marines, somewhere? Well, somewhere near Baghdad, I suppose.
Martin, what can you tell us? What's your situation?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Southeastern suburbs of Baghdad, Anderson, is where we're slowly pushing into. We're with a column of U.S. Marines part of the 1st Battalion 7th Marines. We're basically trying to link up with the fighting force that has been engaging opposition here for about the past 36 hours. And it is a built up area that we are in, a little hard to show it all to you. There is also an industrialized area right off to our -- well, my right, here.

And this is one of the difficult aspects here. Anytime that you have a military force moving into a civilian built up area, especially under war conditions, is the fact that you never really know what you can run up against in these circumstances. There are a lot of civilians going around. A lot of civilian young men.

You can read into that whatever you want, other than that these are men would probably be of an age that they could be in the military and military service in this country is pretty much mandatory. They're not in uniforms, obviously. And they're not carrying any weaponry so there has been some speculation that what you are looking at is the former fighting force of either the Iraqi army or the Republican Guard that have been in this area that have decided to the better part of valor is to not fight, and may be in the process of going home, or at least try to melt away into the civilian population.

In the background, occasionally, now and then we hear the sounds of explosions, could be aircraft coming in, hitting opposition targets. Last night heavy barrages of Marine artillery fire going out in support of Marine operations that were taking place over night. And that is not that uncommon now, they bring the big guns very far forward that way there is never any Marine unit, no matter where they are operating in the battlefield, or where they're operating in the vicinity, that they can't call in either air cover or artillery.

And it could be very effective in both cases. It lasted for maybe an hour or two hours last.

As we travel up this road, again, we move slowly and cautiously, we did pass interesting scenes. Something we had not seen before, if I can move the camera out of the way of the vehicle. It was an M1A1 Abrams tank, that is a piece of U.S. military hardware, probably the biggest piece of military hardware they've got. It was destroyed and sitting in the middle of the road. Now, what were the circumstances that got it to where it was, we're not quite clear. We understand that the 5th Marines, that have been through this same area about 48 hours ago did run into opposition. Did have a number of their tanks, about three of them that were damaged. And they also took some casualties. That is one of the reasons whey the 7th Marines have been focusing on this area, to put down any opposition that may remain, pocket-wise. It has been described not as heavy fighting, but skirmishing.

Anyway, how did that tank get destroyed? Well, possible that it was hit by an RPG, an RPG would not normally destroy a tank but that it caught fire and as a result of that burned and was abandoned. Or the other prospect is that it was damaged in such a way that it could not move forward and thereby the Marines did not want to leave it behind, so that it could be used by someone else. So, they used their own incendiary grenades and set it afire and destroyed it that way.

So, it is just the first time that we have seen such a tank from the U.S. hardware that had been destroyed. And again, we're still trying to ascertain if there were casualties involved in that.

So, the progress is slow, but it is determined. And it is still heading from the southeast toward Baghdad with no designs to stop and hold for any reason other than trying to make sure that it is safe before moving forward.


COOPER: Well, Martin, that actually brings me to my next question, which is looking from the picture, looking from the road behind you, the road seems relatively open. I notice the sort of slow, methodical move. It seems you go and then you stop. Why do you stop? You know, it's not like there is a traffic jam from just what I'm seeing of the road behind you. Do you have a sense of why things start and stop? And how it works?

SAVIDGE: No, often. I do not have that sense. It is not always clear. Obviously, there is a big picture that is being focused upon. So elements are pushed forward because their needs or whatever they have, whether it be firepower, supply, war capability, we step to the side of the road to let them pass. Other times it can be logistics issues. Maybe the 1st Battalion 7th Marines, the fighting force up forward is engaged in something. And that it is not quite safe, not quite possible for us to move forward and link up with them.

Oftentimes when you pull to the side of the road it is a mystery as to why, as to how long, and when you are going to be moving again. You simply sort of go with the flow. But these are tense times when you do stop, because clearly there are plenty of places if somebody wanted to ambush you, they could. Which is why they push out security here, which is why things tend to be -- on the surface looking calm, but behind the scenes tense.


COOPER: The group you are with, the 1st Battalion 7th Marines, just give me a sense, both for you personally, and the Marines you are with, how much sleep have you all been getting, the food supply, water, stuff like that? How has sort the quality of life, if you will?

SAVIDGE: Well, the most meager thing you will find is probably sleep. Marines capture sleep whenever they can, if it is during the daytime, during the long pause, they will take catnaps then. Obviously, you still have the main body of the security force that is out and they take it in shifts.

And then at night, we got a couple of hours last night. It was disturbed by heavy artillery that was going out directly behind us. So, there is no way to sort of blank that out of your mind. It was very, very loud, shook the ground.

As far as supplies, no problem there. Plenty of food, plenty of water. Usually the convoys you see coming by are supplied on their own right. And we are part of the supply convoy. So there has been no shortage, no indication that there has been any interruption from the flow of material coming up from northern Kuwait.

There are helicopter bases that are established all along the route. So, there are aviation assets that bring in supplies if need be. But there is has been no disruption that we have witnessed. Never been without water, never been without plenty of food, ammunition, never been without the essentials to keep driving forward.

So, the fact that the Marines have pulled it off and never before have they operated so far from shore, is quite a significant tribute, not to the fighting force, but to that other very important force, logistics.

COOPER: Yes, I was just reading some figures, before we talked, Martin, the supply line now stretches some 350 miles from Kuwait to Baghdad. A space the distance, roughly, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Some 2,500 vehicles, supply related vehicles on the road at any one time.

Just a remarkable supply story and as you said, not as glamorous perhaps, but as necessary as anything else out there.

Martin Savidge, going to let you go, with the 1st Battalion 7th Marines. We'll try to check in with you a little bit later on.


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