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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interview With Geoffrey Hoon

Aired April 7, 2003 - 21:00   ET

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

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, could it be a smoking gun, suspicious chemicals buried in a bunker 60 miles south of Baghdad? While in Basra British troops say they found the body of the Iraqi general known as "Chemical Ali." And in Baghdad, U.S. troops take over Saddam Hussein's main presidential palace.
Tonight, we'll hear from Britain's secretary of defence, Geoffrey Hoon, from two Special Ops heroes including a founder of the Delta Force Commandos. And as always, from reporters at the front lines.

And we start off with the ever present Nic Robertson, he's on the border of -- between Jordan and Iraq. Nic, what do you make of this chemical find, maybe?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well it is a maybe at the moment, Larry. It is going to need more testing. It's certainly aroused a lot of suspicions. We've seen this -- weapons inspectors have had this problem when they've been in Iraq. They've had their suspicions aroused at sites where they've discovered literature talking about mosquito killers and this type of thing. More agricultural use for these chemical agents.

But whether or not further testing proves these discoveries to have a more sinister use than in crop-dusting or something like that. I think that's going to take a few more days to find out -- Larry.

KING: And how goes the battle, as you see it, in Baghdad?

ROBERTSON: It's been a surprise for the residents of the city today. They were really surprised to see the coalition forces get so easily into that presidential palace in the center of the town.

What we are hearing is the residents are saying, where was the Republican Guard? They've been talked up so much that had we expected them to defend us, we expected them to keep the coalition out of the city. Where were they? What were they doing?

Indeed some witnesses in the city were able to see the Republican Guard run out of the presidential palace, drop their weapons and try and swim across the Tigris River to get away. Now that doesn't mean the streets are deserted. There are some fighters on the streets there.

Another interesting tidbit from Baghdad today from one of the Minister of Information's press conferences where he again denied that coalition forces were making games. He said this wasn't true, it was a temporary advance, they've been defeated and killed.

I understand from people who were present that the press conference that even the people working for him, even the people working for the Minister of Information at the press center no longer believed their boss. And that I am told is the view of the people in the city of Baghdad, they just don't believe their government at this time -- Larry.

KING: And, Nic, do you see -- is the light at the end of the tunnel on yet?

ROBERTSON: It's coming on, Larry. If these indications are correct, that members of the civil servants are beginning to doubt their ministers, that means the support and credibility for the leadership is eroding. If the people of the city doubt their leaders, that means support from the popular support is being eroded.

These are exactly the developments the coalition force would like to see because that means the potential for not having to go in full strength, full arm strength and take on the diehard fighters. So at this time, it is slowly moving in the right direction -- Larry.

KING: Thank you, Nic Robertson, our senior international correspondent based in Ruwaished, that's at the Jordanian-Iraqi border.

Joining us now embedded with the U.S. Air Force at an air base near the Iraqi border is Gary Tuchman. What's the latest on the air campaign, Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, the coalition air force is giving absolutely no mercy to Iraq. Every day between 1,500 and 2,000 sorties, today it will be 1,700 sorties. So that hasn't changed.

What has changed is this philosophy: over the last three days, the coalition air force is saying there will be 24-hour a day air coverage over Iraq. There will always be multiple fighter planes over Baghdad, specifically, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There will be absolutely no time over Iraq's capital city where there won't be fighter planes.

And the way it works, is like this, Larry, there will always be at least two planes over the city. They will be dispatchers of sorts, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) like police cars, whenever help is needed, they will literally radio at least six other fighter craft orbiting Baghdad, and they can go to any part of Baghdad at any time to help the ground troops -- Larry.

KING: And, Gary, from that vantage point, is there a light lit yet at the end of the tunnel?

TUCHMAN: Many of the pilots here we're talking to are very optimistic. The last few days have coincided with the rapid increase in temperature, it's reaching about 100 degrees Fahrenheit here during the day. So people are getting a little moodier because of the temperature, but they're in a lot better mood because of the way the war is going right now.

KING: Thank you, Gary Tuchman, as always. Our correspondents all over the world and in the region doing amazing work here during these hectic times.

Earlier this afternoon I had the opportunity to interview Geoffrey Hoon. Mr. Hoon is the equivalent of the United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld. He's the secretary for Defence for the British kingdom. And I started by expressing condolences for the 31 British soldiers lost.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEOFFREY HOON, BRITISH DEFENCE SECRETARY: I'm grateful for the condolences you express, and in return I have expressed mine to Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of the British government.

KING: How goes the battle? Your overview after these many days?

HOON: Things have gone extraordinarily well, arguably much better than we could ever have expected.

I pointed out to the House of Commons that we still must remain cautious about the situation in Iraq, although there has been remarkable successes, not least most recently in Basra, but also in the remarkable advance of American forces right across Iraq to Baghdad. There are still significant pockets of resistance that we must overcome, and we must, obviously, remove this regime finally from Iraq to achieve real success.

KING: What would you say, Mr. Secretary, at this point is your biggest concern?

HOON: I think the biggest concern remains, as it has been for some time, the ruthless fanaticism of the regime of Saddam Hussein, who are prepared to commit unspeakable atrocities against the Iraqi people in order to achieve their end.

We must keep after them. We must make sure that they're removed from Iraq and removed as a threat to the Iraqi people.

KING: Were you surprised at that resistance?

HOON: I don't think we were surprised. I think we were shocked at the extent and the appalling methods that the regime were prepared to use -- killing, intimidating, torturing their own people -- in order to preserve their rule over Iraq.

KING: Is it necessary, Mr. Secretary, for the coalition to find weapons of mass destruction?

HOON: That, obviously, is our ultimate aim, it's our ultimate military objective, and I remain absolutely confident that those weapons of mass destruction will be discovered.

We were well aware before the conflict began of the determined efforts made by the regime to dismantle the weapons, to hide them. Iraq is a huge country. And it will take some time for us to track down those weapons. But I'm confident that once military action is over we will have the time, we will also have the information, I'm sure, from helpful Iraqis as to where they are located.

KING: Mr. Secretary, do your generals call the shots in Basra? Is Basra your show, and is Baghdad the American side?

HOON: On the contrary, we work very closely together. The level of cooperation that exists, both between our military and, indeed, between the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defence in the United Kingdom, is absolutely tremendous.

We are able to work together. We're supporting American forces as they crossed Iraq to Baghdad. Equally, we are dependent on the Americans for the way in which we are able to conduct operations in and around Basra.

This is truly an effective coalition.

KING: The Pentagon is now saying it believes the notorious general, Ali Hassan al-Majeed, was killed in the air strike. He's been nicknamed "Chemical Ali." Your comments.

HOON: We have some indications that that is the case. I can't finally confirm that, unfortunately.

He was the man responsible for the chemical attacks in Halabjah, and a man who has ruthlessly intimidated the Iraqi people on behalf of his cousin, Saddam Hussein. So if ever a man deserved his fate he's certainly one of them. And I shall be quietly pleased when we are able to confirm that he has been taken out of this situation.

KING: Is the capturing or killing of Saddam and his sons imperative?

HOON: It's certainly part of what we need to do in order to finally remove this regime from Iraq. After all, this is a regime that's existed for decades, intimidating, threatening, terrorizing people in Iraq, and they will only be finally confident that that regime has been removed when they see Saddam Hussein either removed permanently from the scene or certainly standing trial for the appalling crimes that he's committed against the Iraqi people.

KING: Do you and Secretary Rumsfeld talk a lot?

HOON: Yes, we do. And it's been my great privilege to speak to him, to see him, to exchange views and ideas since he became U.S. defense secretary. He's conscientious, straightforward and very capable man. And I think he's done a great job on behalf of the American people.

KING: What -- Mr. Secretary, what is the end game? How does this conflict end? Do they come out with white flags? Where does that stand? HOON: Well, the ultimate end game is obviously restoring Iraq to its people, establishing a representative government and allowing Iraq to take its rightful place in the community of nations.

Between now and then, as I explained to the House of Commons, we still have a good deal of difficult, potentially dangerous, work to do. We still have to deal with those remnants of the regime. We still have to take more territory and ensure that the rest of Iraq as well is safe and secure for its people.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Do they surrender, do they come out, the generals come out? Who's supposed to end it?

HOON: My impression is that it will be a mixture of things. Those that resist will certainly suffer in the way that we've seen thousands of Iraqis suffer at the hands of coalition forces when they have stood and fought.

Equally many of them I suspect, as we are increasingly seeing now, will simply go home. They will simply abandon their positions and try and blend into the community.

Some of them may continue their resistance, but my sense is that as more and more of their leaders are taken out of the situation, that many of the regime's supporters are now recognizing that time is at an end and they're simply abandoning the conflict; certainly something that we would advise them to do.

KING: Couple of other things. What will the role of the Ministry of Defence and your role be post-war?

HOON: Well, in the very short term, as soon as the conflict is at an end, our forces will be engaged, along with other coalition forces, in providing immediate security.

To some extent, we're seeing this already in the southern part of Iraq where very recently the United Nations declared the port of Umm Qasr as a permissive environment. And what they meant by that, essentially, is that it's now sufficiently safe and secure to allow nongovernmental organizations to provide humanitarian relief. We want to build on that and develop the area of southern Iraq, where it is possible, for more of these humanitarian efforts to be made.

At the same time, we have to have an eye out to those continuing threats to our armed forces, and indeed to the people of Iraq.

So it will be a gradual process of establishing security.

But I want to emphasize that as soon as it is safe to do so, we want to see our forces out of there. There's no reason why our forces should remain in Iraq a day longer than necessary. What we want to see is Iraq restored to the Iraqi people and they take responsibility for their own decisions.

KING: Thank you, as always, Mr. Secretary. Good seeing you.

HOON: Thank you very much indeed.

KING: Mr. Secretary himself, British Secretary of State for Defence Geoffrey Hoon.

We'll be back with more of LARRY KING LIVE right after this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Our panel now assembles. They are Martha Brant, "Newsweek" correspondent. She is in Doha, Qatar. Next to her is Omar al Issawi. He is correspondent for Al-Jazeera and actually also in Qatar.

In London is Jon Snow. John is the main presenter for Channel 4 news, produced by ITN. He was in Iraq in late February, covered the '91 Gulf war.

In Washington, one of the better journalists, Robin Wright, the chief diplomatic for "The Los Angeles Times," author of "Secret" -- of "Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant lam." She was in Iraq in November, has been reporting on the regime of Saddam Hussein for over 20 years.

And in Berlin is Bettina Luescher, the freelance journalist and commentator. She once worked for CNN International.

First, though, by phone, Lisa Rose Weaver is somewhere right near the Baghdad national airport. We're getting reports of some bombing occurring in Baghdad. Can you hear it? You know anything about it, Lisa?

LISA ROSE WEAVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Larry, I can hear it extremely clearly. In the last couple of hours, very heavy bombing, a combination of artillery, attack helicopters flying overhead from where I am located, just outside the Baghdad International Airport, toward the city. And before I started talking to you, Larry, incredibly loud explosions about, I would say, less than 10 kilometers away, as close as three or four. I'm not sure what particular armament is being used there.

Now, 12 hours ago, we were hearing intermittent artillery, mostly from the U.S. side, at some distance. Now we're hearing much more -- a much higher frequency of artillery and other armaments, and it appears or it seems to be closer now, Larry.

KING: Thank you very much, Lisa Rose Weaver, on the scene, right near the Baghdad International Airport.

Martha Brant, first let's start with you. What do you make of the Bush-Blair meetings in Ireland?

MARTHA BRANT, "NEWSWEEK": Well, obviously, a lot of important stuff going on there, Larry. But I've been focused on General Franks's big secret trip into Iraq today. We just found out about it really only a few hours ago. They kept it, as they say here, very close-held because they didn't want a lot of people to know. And I think if it had been up to him, no reporter would have gone. But they ended up bringing a pool reporter, John Broder (ph) from "The New York Times," to report back to us.

Very symbolically important trip, obviously. To see the top commander in southern Iraq sends a message that we're almost -- almost in control of this area. And he was getting not only moral support from the troops but giving it to them and learning a lot of interesting things along the way, Larry, including the 101st Airborne reported that they had captured a one-star general who had 21 binders of enemy information. And you can bet that they're culling that right now for all sorts of things, including the names of potential suicide bombers, Larry.

KING: Was he, Martha, in harm's way?

BRANT: Was he in harm's way? No. He had a Kevlar-protected helicopter. Obviously, they picked the time to go now, partly based on security and also because the weather was good. He's been wanting to go for at least a week. That's kind of his MO, is go see the troops. And while he doesn't like to call attention to himself, and the only -- I think the reason he agreed to bring a reporter was because he thought it would focus in on the forces in the field.

But clearly, he emerged from this as what he is, a real soldier's soldier. He really speaks the lingo. This is not a guy who got into the Army by being some general's son or some West Point grad. He's really up from the bootstraps. And remember, he started at 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam. And you really see him in his element out there in the field.

KING: Omar al Issawi, does this tell you that the end is within sight?

OMAR AL ISSAWI, AL-JAZEERA CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You can't see it any other way. The events of the past 36 hours have been a turning point -- the British taking Basra, most of Basra, exerting their control there, the first foray of the U.S. forces around Baghdad. I was told by an officer here at CENTCOM that the Americans have been stunned at the lack of organization. The Iraqis weren't able to put together one cohesive military move. They weren't even able to block the highway when they saw us coming, he said. And then, you know, with the troops being positioned in then the presidential palace, taking the presidential palace, moving through the parade grounds, I think it would be safe to say that the end is near.

KING: Irony is what you're listening to. You're hearing the call to prayers, the morning call to prayers and gunshots at the same time.

Jon snow of Channel 4 News, based in London, does it look you to, with the Franks visit, with what's happening in Baghdad, that we are closing in on the end of this? JON SNOW, CHANNEL 4 NEWS PRESENTER: Larry, I don't think any of us who've been to Iraq at all recently expected anything other than that the regime would crumble in rather the sort of form it has crumbled. It was Ken Adelman, your former U.N. ambassador, who said it would be a cakewalk. And to some extent, I think probably history will say it was, although a very brutal one. We have absolutely no idea how many people have died. And what we do know, of course, is from that huge weight of bombs that your reporter was describing being dropped earlier in the transmission, the damage on the ground is clearly very considerable, particularly in Baghdad.

Whether we're right at the end -- well, I think we're at the end of the beginning. But it was, in fact, Tommy Franks who told Donald Rumsfeld he would need 100,000 troops over a period of 10 years to really get Iraq into shape. And one wonders whether the American commitment extends to that.

KING: Robin Wright, is that going to be the big story, the after-war?

ROBIN WRIGHT, "L.A. TIMES" CHIEF DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. This has all come rather quickly, and the Bush-Blair meeting in Northern Ireland really has a lot of very important decisions to make right now, both about the role of the United Nations and what form the aftermath takes, and the sequence of events that will lead through the transition, an interim transition authority by the Iraqis and then to the eventual independence of a new government in Iraq.

KING: And Robin, is there disagreement on the two fronts there?

WRIGHT: There's a lot of disagreement. In fact, it may well be that the post-war process is much messier than the war itself. There is disagreement between the United States and the United Nations on who will be the overseer of the political transformation. There is disagreement within the United States, between the State Department and the CIA on one side and the Pentagon on the other, about how the process plays out and who are the key Iraqi players in all of this.

The State Department and the United Nations had seen a kind of orderly process that began with, you know, either international or U.S. administration, and then the gradual transformation, as an interim authority that brings together both Iraqis from inside and outside Iraq is culled together, kind of like the loya jirga we saw in Afghanistan that led to a transition government there. And then, finally, the handover.

And this is all happening so quickly now that we may actually see General Garner, who is the civilian administrator to take over in Iraq soon, go into Iraq within the next week and begin the transition and actually bring some Iraqis into the process way ahead of schedule, as of next week.

KING: Bettina Luescher, what are they saying in Berlin about all this? BETTINA LUESCHER, JOURNALIST, COMMENTATOR: Well, certainly, there's a certain amount of relief that the feared bloody street battles in Baghdad are not happening. Of course, the Berliners, many of the old Berliners, remember from the last days of World War II how the street battles can go. Here in Berlin, you still see bullet holes in many of the houses.

But they also are quite concerned at how the aftermath, if this war now comes to an end, will look like. The German politicians through all political specters think that the U.N. should be the organization who should lead Iraq into a new democracy. And they know that it's very difficult to set up something like that, to make it a democracy function, and to run this country. People often compare it to World War II, after World War II Germany, but I think that there are many differences there. So people are here hoping that the U.N. will step in, and that's what they're demanding.

KING: Martha, there was no doubt about the outcome of this, was there? It was just when.

BRANT: I'm sorry, Larry. I couldn't hear you.

KING: I said there was no doubt about the outcome of all this, just when.

BRANT: Right. And top officials here, though, when you ask, When is it going to be over, they still say, Well, we don't exactly know. Because how do you determine over? They've basically described it in a series of levels. Level one is definitely over. All the major military confrontation with Iraq is long gone. And largely -- we sometimes forget about the air war, Larry, because there are no reporters in Saudi Arabia or here, nearby at al Udeid here in Qatar, to cover the air war. But clearly, they did a tremendous job in getting rid of the Republican Guard.

Level one may be over, but level two, three, four five are still going on. And how long does it take to actually root out terrorism? And that is a very perplexing question. When do you actually declare the thing done? And will Saddam Hussein become almost like Elvis, keep popping up here and there? And at what point do you have to say, you know, We're not going get this guy, he becomes another bin Laden?

KING: Omar, you agree?

AL ISSAWI: I think Saddam Hussein's days are numbered. This is what we see. I mean, I don't think that I've even seen him. I'm not convinced I've seen him lately, not in that street walkabout. I doubt that that's the Iraqi president. And not even in the cabinet meetings that we keep on seeing on TV every now and then, for various reasons, as I look at those pictures.

The regime is crumbling, and I think the most important issue right now is what happens after this campaign is over. That's going to be the most difficult issue to resolve, what sort of arrangements are going to be made, and to avoid pitfalls from the past when the U.S. intervened in the Middle East. KING: Jon Snow, why is the Iraqi information minister still lying?

SNOW: Well, I think that you've got to sort of understand the structure. You know, the information minister is a sort of hack, really, a low-order hack but a prominent one. And he's just doing what he's been employed to do, and he'll go on doing it until there's absolutely nothing left. And of course, he's almost past that point now.

I agree with Omar, incidentally. I don't believe that that was Saddam Hussein on the street. We've seen several lookalikes (UNINTELLIGIBLE) And I agree, too, with Robin. Robin has it absolutely on the nail. There is some serious mess coming 'round the corner after this war. There's already disagreement, you know, involving our country and yours. In that meeting in Belfast, Blair and Bush have to thrash out some very immediate problems. One is for the British belief that a lot of your president's cronies are much too close to some of the contracts that are coming in here, that far too many are being awarded immediately to American companies. There are plenty of competent British and other European and other companies that believe they have a right to be considered for some of this work. There's some serious falling out.

KING: Yes.

SNOW: They may look as if they're united on the battlefield, but there's some bad stuff around the back.

KING: We're going to spend a few more minutes with our journalists and then meet Command Sergeant Major Eric Haney, Andy McNab, Brigadier General David Grange and Colonel David Hackworth, all outstanding military men, outstanding patriots who have served the United States well. And they're going to -- we're going to get their analysis, as well.

We'll go to break with Fredricka Whitfield having the news headlines for us. And then a message or two, and we'll come right around the corner with more time with the journalists and then the military. Don't go away.

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A few more moments with our journalists. Robin Wright, do you think Jon and Omar were right, that that wasn't Saddam Hussein in the village square?

WRIGHT: I haven't the foggiest idea. I'm along way away.

KING: What did you think, Bettina?

LUESCHER: I'm even further away. But some people have pointed out, for example, that he gave high-fives to people, and people who have studied Saddam Hussein closer than I have have pointed out that he was never somebody who allowed himself to be touched, that people usually have to wash themselves and use special soaps and everything before you can even tough his hand. So some of these things seem to be rather unlikely, but I leave it up to the experts to find out who the real Saddam Hussein is.

KING: Robin, do you see some parallels with Lebanon?

WRIGHT: Oh, I do. It's spooky. I lived in Lebanon during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and I remember how they came in and took the Lebanese airport and then tried to set up, you know, little government circles in the area they occupied that were supportive of the -- or at least weren't about to attack the -- attack Israel. And I think the thing that the -- I remember the Marines were in Beirut, too, and coming under attack eventually because they went in as peacekeepers, and they ended up being drawn into the rivalry between the various militias. And I think there are some real parallels there.

I think the administration needs to be very careful that in the aftermath of the war, that it's not seen as taking sides with any of the different groups that are likely to emerge and likely to try to rule Iraq afterwards. That's a real vulnerability for the United States.

KING: Martha, you agree?

BRANT: Well, what's interesting on Robin's note is, here we have Chalabi in the south being brought in, a lot of people suggesting that he's going to be put in place by the U.S. government. Again, we heard Donald Rumsfeld saying saying, No such thing, we're not installing anybody. But Chalabi's a -- some people say nefarious character, certainly a controversial character. So it does seem what we're hearing here is that the post-war Iraq has not been figured out. It is not clear. It is a mess, as Robin says, and they really need to get that organized quickly.

One person here at CENTCOM we can expect to be involved in that is General John Abizaid. He hasn't been in the news very much, Larry, but he's the No. 2 here, Lebanese-American, al though his family came over in the 1870s. He learned Arabic later in life. He spent a lot of time in Jordan. And I think he will be actively involved in the military capacity for a while in Iraq.

KING: Thank you, all. We'll be calling on you all again. Martha Brant, Omar al Issawi, Jon Snow, Robin Wright and Bettina Luescher.

As we go to break, before we meet our former military men, a tribute to fallen United States soldiers as we go to break. We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I can do something that makes a family sleep easier at night without fear, then I have done my purpose because I know now that's what my calling is in life. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brandon will never experience the life experiences that we've had. He'll never get married. He'll never have children. He'll never do some of the things that we know and take for granted every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My son, Diego, was a very brave man, and we are very proud of him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now a distinguished panel. Here in Los Angeles, Command Sergeant Major Eric Haney, U.S. Army, retired, founding member of U.S. Army's Delta Force, author of "Inside Delta Force: The Story of America's Elite Counterterrorist Unit." In London -- and in shadows -- is Andy McNab. Former member of Britain's elate SAS -- that's the Special Air Service -- he was captured and tortured by the Iraqis during the '91 Gulf war. He's a best-selling author and still believes his life is in danger. In Oak Brook, Illinois, Brigadier General David Grange, U.S. Army, retired, former commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division, known as "The Big Red One," former Army Ranger special forces officer and CNN military analyst. And in New York, our man, Colonel David Hackworth, U.S. Army, retired, the highly decorated veteran, syndicated columnist. His latest book is "Steal My Soldiers' Hearts."

How goes the campaign, Sergeant Major Haney?

CMD. SGT. MAJ. ERIC HANEY (RET.), FOUNDING MEMBER, DELTA FORCE: Well, as we said last week, Larry, it's obvious. It's been brilliant. This plan has unfolded I think just according to the way that General Franks suspected it would, with a couple of minor variations, and those were probably that we were hopeful that, at first, we could induce the Iraqi generals to either surrender or revolt. That didn't come about. But we had the option that was ready, which was to continue with the use of force, and it played out.

KING: And that was just hopeful, rather than expected.

HANEY: Oh, exactly that. You hope for the best, but you plan for the worst. And that's what we did.

KING: Andy McNab, has General Franks proved himself?

ANDY MCNAB, FORMER SPECIAL FORCES AIR SERV. MEMBER: Well, it's -- whether the plan was the right plan or the wrong plan, basically, that's all academic. I think that it's -- you know, the power and speed of the coalition advance has been fantastic. And it's basically a tribute to, you know, not only the ground commanders there but the high standard of the troops. It's -- what was planned and what went wrong, it doesn't really matter. What matters is the success at the moment.

KING: Has the lack of expertise of the Iraqi army surprised you, General Grange?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), FMR. SPECIAL FORCES OFFICER: Not at all. The enemy, in this case, is incompetent. In most cases, there's some tough elements in that force, but overall, they're not trained very well. They have lousy leadership. They don't have an NCO corps. There's really no sergeants at all in the organizations. They're either an officer or a private, very much like the Soviet model. And of course, that's where the coalition forces, the British and Americans, have quite an advantage. Even with all the hype on the high technology, what really matters in a fight is the leadership, especially junior leaders, whether it be general -- you know, from the corporal all the way up to General Franks, and of course, first-class training, which both of these armies have embedded in their system.

KING: Colonel Hackworth, you had your -- you were very up at the beginning, then had a period there where you had doubts. Are you -- would you now say all that's cleared away?

COL. DAVID HACKWORTH, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, I think when you measure the success the operation and where we are now and, say, let's compare it with Ike in 1944 -- 20 days into the war, he had gained a mile a day. He was 20 miles inland. Today, Tommy Franks's soldiers are taking showers in the dictator's shower. That says it all. So it's a smashing success. And it's attributable, as Andy says, to the grunts on the ground who took a plan and made it work, and to some brilliant generalship. And Tommy Franks is leading the parade.

KING: Sergeant Major Haney, why are there always friendly-fire deaths?

HANEY: It's just part of the fog of war, is, you know, the big term that we hear.

KING: Not preventable?

HANEY: No. No, they're just not. You know, in the heat of combat, there are so many things -- you see the world as though you're looking down a little, narrow pipe. Troops are maneuvering, and we fight a war of maneuver -- fire and maneuver down at the squad and fire-team level, maneuver at the larger level. It happens. We get troops out of place a little bit, a little forward of their other ones, Air Force -- a pilot may mistake a set of coordinates. It happens. And we're using big lethal things -- bullets, big bombs, artillery. It just happens, as bad as it is. And it will always happen.

KING: Andy, do you ever get the urge to want to go back in?

MCNAB: It's sometimes frustrating. You look at all these -- these news pictures coming in and -- you know, it's these guys' time now. You know, my time is done, and someone else has taken that place. But it doesn't take away the -- if you like, the frustration of, you know, sitting in a chair and looking at it, where, you know, I'm sure that everybody is on the panel tonight would be -- it would be good to be there.

KING: General Grange, do they have to find weapons of mass destruction? GRANGE: I think the international community is looking for that. I don't believe it would be necessary, but I think political -- geo- politically, they have to find some type of weapons of mass destruction. They will find weapons of mass destruction. It was proven that he had them before the fight started by other than the United States of America and Great Britain. So the stuff is out there. And I'm sure a full-court press is going on to find the items that were reported that Saddam had before the war started. So they'll find it.

KING: And how about finding him dead or alive, David Hackworth?

HACKWORTH: Well, we'd like to find him, I'm sure. That remains to be seen. He's a slippery character. One thing I said at the end on your show, at the end of Desert Storm, from out of the desert, is Saddam Hussein is the master of miscalculation. And I'll say here that he's probably the worst general in the history of war. He has really blown this thing.

KING: Would you agree?

HANEY: Oh, yes. Well, you know, I remember hearing Schwarzkopf speak about that. He jumped a reporter on the brilliance of Saddam Hussein. He said, you know, He's neither a general, he's not a field marshal, he understands nothing of the operational parts. You know, other than that, he's a great general.

KING: Does he have to be caught dead or alive? I mean, is he part of this end picture?

HANEY: Well, that's going to be part of it, obviously. He's either dead now or he's incapacitated. And in effect, he's irrelevant, at this point.

KING: Irrelevant.

HANEY: Certainly, irrelevant as far as the operations are going. But there will be some sort of residue left over, and it will be, Whatever happened to Saddam Hussein?

KING: In that regard, let's go to the Pentagon and our man on the scene, Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, what have you got?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry it's beginning to look like the United States may have made another attempt to knock out Saddam Hussein and other senior leaders, including possibly his son.

According to sources -- U.S. officials -- the -- apparently the United States had some intelligence that some senior Iraqi leaders were at a building in a residential neighborhood of Baghdad. Based on this intelligence, air strikes were called in to take out that building and I'm told -- quote -- "a large amount of ordnance was dropped on the building, " pretty much destroying it.

At this point U.S. officials say they don't know exactly who they might have killed, whether or not they may have hit Saddam Hussein and his son, but they believe the intelligence was very good. In fact, it was based at least in part on human intelligence.

All a senior defense official would tell me is they had some -- quote -- "time sensitive targets involving leadership in Baghdad." And they took advantage of that apparently with some -- an air strike earlier today.

Now, one other thing to note: earlier today the U.S. Central Command said that it was investigating allegations about rockets hitting an area called the al Monsour (ph) section of Baghdad, a residential area. We don't know if this strike was in that same area -- Larry.

KING: Jamie, how will they know it was successful and if they got Saddam or his sons or some other high Iraqi officials? They won't know until they get there on the scene?

MCINTYRE: Well, they may not -- they may not know immediately.

As we saw last time, when they tried to hit him in a location where they thought he was, it wasn't clear for some time, and, of course, Iraq was in more control of its apparatus at that point and it was very difficult to tell whether or not his appearance or nonappearance meant anything.

But the U.S. is much closer in Baghdad now. I don't know if they'll try to go to the scene, but with the Baghdad government in more disarray, it may be easier to tell if there are signs that he or his sons are gone.

But at this point...

KING: Jamie McIntyre on the...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Thank you. Jamie McIntyre on the scene at the Pentagon. He'll be there around the clock, of course.

Before we get our response from the military men, let's check back with two of our journalists.

Martha Brandt in Qatar, what do you make of this -- the possibility they may have hit him head on?

WRIGHT: It's -- it's quite fascinating. We'll have to see in the next couple of days. Obviously, it took a couple of days for them to confirm the death of Chemical Ali, Larry, so I think it may take a while. But remember that Special Operations have been in and around Baghdad for a long time. So, in fact, they may be able to verify that a lot more quickly. And it will be interesting to see what is on Iraqi state TV. It seems that every time they need to put him out there, they put out, you know, maybe he's a double, as Omar is suggesting. But it should be interesting to watch how they respond. Usually whatever they're putting out you can kind of pretty much believe the opposite. So maybe that will be a way to read the tea leaves in the next couple of days.

KING: Omar, what do you make of this report?

AL ISSAWI: Well, if it's true, it will be a boost for the morale of the campaign. However, I don't think it will make a big difference either way because I think that the military strategists, the generals here have been acting on the assumption that it's the regime as a whole that has to collapse, whether the head of the regime is there or not.

They're still going to have to deal with the guys on the ground, with the militiamen, with the Ba'athists, with the military intelligence, the Iraqi military intelligence. These guys are still going to have to be dealt with. However, like I said right at the beginning of my answer, it will be a boost to the campaign in general and I think it might quicken things just a little bit more.

KING: Thank you, Omar. Andy Mcnab, would this -- is this intelligence on the ground, -- would you gather this may have been men that went in early?

MCNAB: Yes, absolutely. And the fact -- you know, I'm hoping that he is dead.

I think that -- you know, agree with Omar. It won't actually affect the tactical situation. But the Iraqi people need to know the regime is dead and ultimately, that means that, you know, Saddam needs to be dead. Because he's like a cancer growth, you know? And it needs to be cut away. If he is captured and ends up in a war crimes trial, he's still got a voice, which we don't want to happen. So let's hope he is dead.

KING: General Grange, Sergeant Major Haney says that he's irrelevant at this point. Do you agree?

GRANGE: Well, I think it's important what Andy said that the -- have a body. I think -- not for the tactical situation but to get the swell of the Iraqi people in Baghdad to go ahead and be part of the overthrow of this regime, because you really need to get the people involved. It's not just the military operation.

So to be able to show, for instance, on television or get the word out, through radio and papers and just word of mouth that Saddam is dead, his two sons are dead, and some of the other cronies that run the regime are dead, just like Chemical Ali down in Basra -- that has a tremendous effect on the population. And I think for that psychological impact, it really would be beneficial to have some bodies.

KING: Colonel Hackworth, what's your response to what the general had to say? HACKWORTH: Well, look at it this way: for 30 years, the folks in Iraq have lived under this tyrant. So they're superparanoid. If they think he's alive, he could be coming out of the shadows and getting them -- the Bogeyman. Better he end up like Benito Mussolini, hanging from a square.

KING: General Haney, is he...

HANEY: Sergeant Major Haney.

KING: Sergeant Major -- I'm promoting everybody. Is it less -- is he less irrelevant now if we have a story that it was him?

HANEY: Well, it's very, very helpful. But, you know, for the confidence of the people living in the city of Baghdad and Basra and these other places, the big threat to them are the equivalent of the ward bosses and their neighborhoods and the districts they live in who enforce the Ba'ath Party regime and the brutalities.

It's not the Saddam Hussein that comes and drags their sons and husbands out of the house. It's that local henchman that's doing that. And as soon as they no longer fear those people, you'll see a blossoming.

KING: Help me with this, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Is Delta Force there now in.

HANEY: Well, sure. They've been in the region and they've been doing their jobs.

KING: Doing what?

HANEY: They've been doing what they're supposed to do.

KING: Which is?

HANEY: Very acute and very difficult missions.

KING: You won't go further than that?

HANEY: No, sir. No.

KING: They're always in harm's way?

HANEY: Yes, they are. That's their business.

KING: What's the special air service doing there now, Andy?

MCNAB: It's exactly the same as what Eric was saying. They will be in and around the area. They've been in and around the area, even before the campaign started. And basically being the eyes and ears before the campaign for the military planners, and now reacting to information that they get.

KING: General Grange, what is the end game? How does this end? GRANGE: It is going to end when there is some kind of proof to the people that Saddam's regime is no longer in power. All the way up from Saddam and the sons all the way down to what Eric was saying about the local Ba'ath party death squad leader, enforcer of the community. That has to be proven to the people somehow.

I think the other is that there is some kind of evidence of weapons of mass destruction, even though I think the world believes that Saddam has that stuff, it is hidden in places, and just has to be discovered and proved just to close the loop, the loop on that end.

Then the other is that there is some kind of reliable security force in place in Iraq that provides a base of rule of law where the Democratic governance and free market economy and those things can be -- start to be developed so the country is left better than it was when the bomb started to drop.

KING: Colonel Hackworth, what is the end game as you see it?

HACKWORTH: The seizure of Baghdad, same with Tikrit, which will be kind of a Siegfried line to bust through, cleaning up the north, then breaking the back of the guerrilla movement. One thing that is really important that we have to understand and that's the weapons of mass destruction which is a little bit off from what we're talking about. But it is important to understand that the minute the cat is out of the bag, and we have proven he has weapons of mass destruction, our troops are extremely vulnerable, because he's got nothing to lose and he will use them. What I worry about now is I look at pictures of our soldiers deployed around Baghdad, some sunbathing in shorts. Hey, not a day at the beach. It is now the time to be actually totally suited up for that dangerous contingency.

KING: Sergeant major, do you fear that, all is lost, I'm going let it all hang out?

HANEY: I would have a week ago. Right now, I don't think so. Saddam Hussein, if he were to be alive, gives orders to use these things. He gives orders to general to deploy and maneuver forces. He gives orders on how a defense takes place. But he's not a man with his finger on the trigger. He doesn't fire artillery shell with chemicals.

He releases no of this material, if they even have an intention to use it. And now with our troops in Baghdad, how do you use that material? If you use it, you use it on your own people? Now, granted, that's been done before but, still, he does not do it himself. It takes a general, a colonel, a lieutenant or a captain to do those things.

KING: General Grange, if he is dead, wouldn't you think they would give up?

GRANGE: No, I think that one of the sons would have some kind of authority. I think maybe the secretary of Saddam. There is a little bit of leadership in there that still has some authority to, whether it be chemical weapon or to start some type of human catastrophe in Baghdad that could actually do that. But I think a good part of these leaders -- this poor leadership, even though they are poor they are the leaders are wounded or dead and they have a hard problem with decentralization of the command, because it is so centralized. And so they have a difficulty, I think, getting some orders out that have some kind of cohesive fight against the Coalition force.

KING: So, Hack, how will we know it is over?

Will someone come out in high command and surrender?

How? What happens?

HACKWORTH: I think it will be the seizure of those objectives that's outlined before, Baghdad, Tikrit, the northern area, and then breaking the back of the guerrillas. And then there will be no resistance and that's when it is over.

KING: What happened to the air campaign now, Sergeant Major Haney?

HANEY: It continues on has. It is flying the cover.

KING: And that's the fear of the friendly fire too, then right?

HANEY: Well, you put up with that. I mean, it is not a great fear. You just don't...

KING: Don't think about it?

HANEY: No, troops on the ground don't. They're focused on...

KING: There moving ahead and they've got bombers coming in bombing in front them, they're not afraid a bomb might...

HANEY: You think about it, but it is not overwhelming to you. You know it could happen. But a building could fall on you or your own track can run off the bridge. So, it is part of life.

KING: General is this still going to be bloody in the streets?

GRANGE: I think there will somebody small tough fights in different areas within Baghdad. At Tikrit, there will somebody fights. You know, they still have Mosul and Kirkuk -- they have to deal with. There is guerrilla bands here and there. I shouldn't guerrilla bands, I should say paramilitary outfits that are still resistant. They'll wrap it up but, I think there will be blood, absolutely.

KING: Are they protected, Hack, against chemical elements?

HACKWORTH: Well, they have the equipment. The new MOP suit, the new mask, but, again, I think they need to get their gear back on because they're a little bit too relaxed. What I've noticed of our soldiers in my lifetime is, you know, they can be the most careless guys in the world, especially the closer they are when they think they're old veterans and have it all under control, that is when you let your guard down and that's when you can take some dangers. I think that the army Chief of Staff and every senior guy out there better get these guys suited up, and get them suited up fast.

KING: Sergeant major, the casualties about as expected in the number?

HANEY: I have no idea. I have no idea.

KING: But the number of casualties on the other side?

HANEY: Who knows, you know...

KING: Thousands they're saying.

HANEY: Tens of thousands, I'm sure.

KING: Tens of thousands?

HANEY: I would expect so. We tried to do it again, the first method was give them an opportunity to surrender to just fade away, just to let the units collapse and go home. That didn't work and at that time, air power was unleashed on them, and then it was like the hand of god coming through.

KING: Are the casualties about as expected, general?

GRANGE: For the enemy side, I suspect that thousands would probably be accurate because there is no way for the Republican Guard Units to surrender if they had the opportunity, and didn't do it. So then once the bombing starts, how do they do it? Some flee. Those in tanks, those in infantry fighting vehicles, those by artillery pieces and air defense artillery, they're going die in place.

And that's what is happening. The casualties on the Coalition side, I don't think you ever know. There is a lot of friendly fire casualties, casualties from accidents. But, you just think about it. Each division has like 8,000 vehicles traveling at night in dust storms, under fire. It is to be expected that people are going to get hurt. So actually they're quite low considering what has been going on.

KING: Hack if that direct hit Saddam Hussein and his sons, does that make the end nearer?

HACKWORTH: Well, it certainly decapitate -- decapitates the leadership, but I think that they're broken down to lower leaders and that was the game plan from the beginning. So, I suspect that they'll go on fighting in individual small groups.

KING: Sergeant major, as Yogi Berra said, it ain't over until it is over. And it ain't over until it is over. Thank you so much.

Sergeant major -- Command Sergeant Major Eric Haney, Andy McNab, our satellite ran out, that's why I didn't get a chance that to say good night to Andy. Brigadier General David Grange and Colonel David Hackworth, our journalists earlier as well. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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