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Inside the War Room

Aired June 1, 2003 - 20:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: Our cameras take you where you've never been before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In about 10 minutes, they're going to begin an attack to seize the airport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't give up ground once you get it.

ANNOUNCER: Inside the war room during the fall of Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, we're getting a report that just came in from CIA. Once we clear all of zone one ...

ANNOUNCER: A high tech, real-time war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They see it, we're going to whack (ph) them.

ANNOUNCER: Seen from the inside out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven't got a report yet over who's been right.

ANNOUNCER: And the untold story of the missile attack that almost wiped it all out.





AARON BROWN, HOST: Some of the most vivid and poignant and important moments in the war in Iraq were reported to us by the embedded the journalists -- the "embeds."

Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown.

We all watched together as the tanks and the armor raced across the desert, as the troops stormed into Baghdad -- all scenes that have come to represent the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. But in this program, for the first time, a look at the time of another embedded CNN team, reports who got the rare opportunity to witness the events taking place behind the scenes, at ground forces headquarters with the generals planning and running the war.

The access was unprecedented. And because of that, some of the video you are about to see was reviewed by military officials for secret or classified material.

And one other warning here before we begin. These are men and women in the middle of a war. Some of their language is graphic.

And so with that, we go INSIDE THE WAR ROOM, reported by CNN's Mike Boettcher.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. I'm wired for sound, buddy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, Fuzzy, we're going to give you three or four things for targets.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division gains a foothold in Baghdad, hundreds of miles away at ground forces headquarters, the head of military intelligence, General Jim Marks, and Deputy Commanding General William "Fuzzy" Webster, are puzzling over an Iraqi intercept that could spell serious trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does Ray think he knows what the ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, he thinks it's a nuke. In Ray's view of this, everybody left town because they're going to drop a nuke.

How do they deliver it? I mean, there's no evidence that they have that capability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Air raids go up here.

BOETTCHER: This is the war room, where more than 200,000 troops fighting against Iraq get their orders, where the generals plan and direct the fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We give them that in that priority -- one of two and 38.

BOETTCHER: It's the nerve center for CFLCC. In a military that loves acronyms, CFLCC is an important one -- coalition forces land component command.


SCOTT WALLACE: Yes, what's up?

BOETTCHER: This is headquarters for the ground war, led by Lieutenant General David McKiernan and a hand-picked staff.

LT. GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN: I imagine you're going to run into some mines up there, too, around that airfield.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger. Are you up with timber (ph), over?

BOETTCHER: His war room overlooks a high-tech operations center.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we continue operations. We're having continuing success.

BOETTCHER: This is what military planners call "information dominance." Through a network of satellites, computers and operatives on the ground, these commanders have an unprecedented ability to see and shape the battle as it unfolds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zipper nipper is restored at adder.

BOETTCHER: All this technology lets them know where every plane in the sky is, where most of their own soldiers are on the ground -- even through spy planes where the enemy might be.

It's all on a series of screens that can be called up on any computer in the room.

MCKIERNAN: We looked around one day at each other and we said, we have information superiority. In fact, we have so much information, we'll choke on it sometimes.

The secret is to take all that information that comes in and make sure that you have decision superiority.

BOETTCHER: Our team inside CFLCC headquarters could not report in real time -- not with all this classified hardware, and not when operations being planned hadn't happened yet. We agreed to hold this report until the war was over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, now. You're not going to be reporting anything I've said, or we'll have a serious actual (ph) report, OK? That's just the way it is.

BOETTCHER: CNN national security analyst Ken Robinson was part of our team embedded in CFLCC headquarters.

KEN ROBINSON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Joe (ph) McKiernan's view was the operational and strategic level of war. So he's looking 72 to 96 hours out. And so, any operational release of information too early could compromise an entire battle plan.

BOETTCHER: On the eve of the war, in an atmosphere one general in the war room compares to the minutes before kickoff, the generals come up with what they hope is a trick play. While the first bombs rained down on Baghdad, McKiernan and his field commanders argued to central command and General Tommy Franks, they can fool the Iraqi high command by making an early strike at the Rumaila oil field in southern Iraq -- before the completion of the so- called "shock and awe" air campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were told to secure the southern Rumaila oil fields up to the canal, because that was where the dams ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Serious (ph) destruction (ph) ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's where the infrastructure ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was where the key infrastructure was.

BOETTCHER: CENTCOM approves the change in plan, and the attack on the oil fields is moved up by two days.

ROBINSON: I think we achieved a certain degree of tactical and operational surprise by going early to secure the southern part of the Rumaila oil fields.

I do think that he was probably surprised that it happened that quickly, and that a large ground attack preceded the large air attack.

BOETTCHER: It is part of McKiernan's two corps attack plan. The Army's 5th Corps races towards Baghdad in the west. The Marines grab the oil fields and then head towards Baghdad from the east, while the British take the southern cities of Umm Qasr and Basra.

It's a military maxim that no plan survives the first hours of war. But this plan is designed to be changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, these 400 wells, as we were just talking, ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are in our control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, sir. But half of them are.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're telling you is, 212 belong to us (ph) time (ph) ...

MAJ. GEN. JAMES MARKS: When we stuck G-day before A-day, I thought that -- I think that was stroke of genius, got the enemy off (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He was out of his stride automatically, and we were driving in the direction of Baghdad, and we secured the oil fields within no time.

BOETTCHER: Now, all is going ahead of schedule -- or so it seems -- for the first several days of the campaign.

The few oil fires that are burning begin to come under control.

And after just a few days, the 3rd Cavalry is nearing Baghdad.

But the enemy and the elements will soon threaten to blow away the plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in day five of a war -- of a war.

BOETTCHER: Coming up -- the Iraqis fight back.


BOETTCHER: And the generals do indeed find themselves in a war.


BOETTCHER: In the CFLCC operation center there's a hot lead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All we know right now is that there could possibly be over 200 vehicles.

BOETTCHER: A special surveillance aircraft, JSTARS, also known as Joint STARS, has spotted MTIs -- moving target indicators -- lots of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only thing we know is that the Joint STARS has identified this. Fifteen minutes ago there was nothing on the indicators that showed that these MTIs were coming down this road.

BOETTCHER: Colonel Bob Boutiar (ph) and Lieutenant Colonel George Fields suspect it might be a convoy of Iraqi paramilitaries moving south from Baghdad joining the attack against American troops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, and there's still upwards of 200 ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say they can't even count their (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...

BOETTCHER: Boutiar (ph) and Fields run the intelligence desk in the operations center. And it's their job to get that information confirmed, and confirmed fast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what they call real-time intelligence.

BOETTCHER: They also know JSTARS can sometimes give out what are known as false positives -- misleading information.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have B10s?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Close air support now is coming in on station. They see it. They're going to whack (ph) them.

BOETTCHER: The stakes are high. It's now one week into the ground campaign. And just a few hours ago, the word has come down from General McKiernan. The headlong rush to Baghdad is coming to a halt until they can reduce the attacks now coming at them along their supply lines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to reduce this variant (ph) threat so we can get on to the business of taking down Baghdad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's what I'm saying.

ROBINSON: All the intelligence on the battlefield is being tightly focused now, not on the targets which they want to have for mission accomplishment, but are now on the threats that they are now perceiving to their lines of communication -- those roads leading from the south all the way up toward Baghdad.

BOETTCHER: They're also fighting through bad weather. A sandstorm has blinded most of their eyes in the sky, including the unmanned Predator. It's one of the U.S. military's high-tech advantages when the skies are clear, not today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fred's trying to see it right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The former (ph) Predator is the one that -- it's going to -- is on the screen. But it's not going to probably see anything, because of the glass (ph).

BOETTCHER: In the field and back in the operations center, there's too little hard information and too much speculation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could be a deception.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doesn't make any sense. There's no way they're going to counterattack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because the best defense is a good offense.

BOETTCHER: It even makes CNN.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A major column of Iraqi elite troops are moving south. There are said to be 1,000 vehicles in that convoy.

BOETTCHER: All the speculation coming at Internet speed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They've got me hooked (ph) on MERK (ph). And I like it better than MS chat.

BOETTCHER: The younger intelligence officers in the operations center are using chat rooms to communicate with each other, comparing notes about the convoy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a British unit source, says that there's 70 vehicles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's another 60 vehicles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All they have right now is 10 probable vehicles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Scratch that last one. Here's the new one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're looking at about 15 or 16 chat rooms at one time and gleaning little nuggets.

What we have to do, though, is we have to piece it up and make sure they're not taking rumor or hearsay and changing it into actionable intelligence.

BOETTCHER: Tonight, there is no actionable intelligence. Nothing to whack (ph).

When they can finally get planes to fly low enough to see the convoy, nothing is there.

This Republican Guard column that was supposedly spotted earlier today heading to the south, after hours of looking for it, Pentagon officials are beginning to suggest to us that maybe it doesn't exist. Maybe it was a false report.

The convoy has disappeared into what they call the fog of war.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES D. THURMAN: I hadn't got a report yet over here that's been right. And that's a fact. It's just a fog war, and waiting for stuff happens.

We have a huge appetite to get the information right now, and so we can get the facts.

BOETTCHER: One fact is becoming clear. There hasn't been the popular uprising against Saddam Hussein the generals hoped for when the war began.

Instead, the Iraqis are fighting back.

ROBINSON: The level and the ferocity of the resistance, all along the lines of communication, threw them off their stride completely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Emergency situation. Make those changes (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for (ph) me (ph), please.

BOETTCHER: And by using paramilitaries, attacking in the rear instead of on the frontlines, they forced General McKiernan to temporarily change tactics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't fight the plan. Fight the enemy.

MCKIERNAN: You have to be careful about not falling in love with your plan. What an army should always do, what a ground formation should always do, is focus on the enemy. So if the enemy's not here, but he's over here, don't continue to execute a plan over here. Focus on the enemy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Scott. Were you trying to get hold of me?

BOETTCHER: One of General McKiernan's field commanders, General Scott Wallace, is quoted saying, "The enemy we're fighting is a bit different than the one we war gamed against."

It becomes a controversy in Washington, but not here in the war room.

MCKIERNAN: What Scott Wallace was saying was that we didn't necessarily think that the enemy was going to put up that sort of fight in these urban areas in the south.

We did plan for that contingency, if we had to fight in towns. But that wasn't our most probably course of action that we thought we would fight.

BOETTCHER: Over the next few days, there are fierce clashes in southern Iraq, as the Army and Marines successfully move in against the Republican Guard, paramilitaries and the Baath Party loyalists.

MCKIERNAN: OK, we continue the attack. We get at these irregular assholes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General, watch their Predator result.



BOETTCHER: As the weather clears, the operations center now points its eyes in the sky towards Baghdad and the battle to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the military you need to be proactive. You need to be able to take the initiative and take the fight to the enemy. That's what's going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we would go to this effort to secure one of our own. The commodity that the enemy that we're fighting with never even think about.

BOETTCHER: Coming up -- finding Private Lynch.


MCKIERNAN: We've got a determined foe out there, you know.

BOETTCHER: While the war is changing from a quick sprint to a more measured pace, General Marks still spends most nights sleeping on a cot in his office.

The generals are the first to point out they have it far easier than the men and women in the field.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We conducted 20 counter battery -- had a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with the night ...

BOETTCHER: But even at headquarters, everyone is getting a little tired, sometimes nodding off at meetings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I only slept through part of an AT (ph) downstairs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, does that happen to you, too?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By the time that thing starts, I've been at work for like ...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... 38 hours ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) enduring for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, sir, it isn't.

BOETTCHER: In the war room, another moment of quiet camaraderie as General McKiernan writes a memo about the battle for Baghdad.



MCKIERNAN: Iraqi Freedom. Well, that's a good (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...


MCKIERNAN: We just wanted to see if you'd catch that. We were going to fix it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're so photogenic, you know.


BOETTCHER: The generals here call themselves a tribe. They've been handpicked by McKiernan to help fight this war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See if you can call Gene or Jay -- we could call Gene.

MCKIERNAN: You see Fuzzy Webster and I, who -- we've known each other for 30 years. I mean, we're buddies.

J.D. Thurman and I are like brothers. We have served together. We're the same age. We've been in the same formations. Our wives are friends.

THURMAN: What do you think?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no reason to smile. I'm just trying to keep your morale up.

ROBINSON: One of the things McKiernan did was, he turned to the United States Marine Corps and said, give me the best Marine general you have to be my chief-of-staff. And poof -- General Blackman appeared.

General McKiernan also did a lot of teambuilding exercises that were accomplished prior to the war.

MARKS: I've looked at the old man on a couple of occasions, you know, and given him the stone (ph) mullet (ph).

BOETTCHER: The old man is General McKiernan. He's the boss, the commanding general, the CG. And the war room is his sanctum.

THURMAN: I would tell you that we try to keep it a small group. CG likes a small group. He don't like large.

MCKIERNAN: The war room is a place where you're a little bit physically separated from all that commotion down on the operations center. In my case, I'm trying to stay at the operational and strategic level, not down in the tactical level.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Commanding General ...

BOETTCHER: Outside the window, in the operations center, McKiernan holds a daily update.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct D (ph) level (ph) is one 14, 14 is turned off. And that one's building ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next 96 hours, sir, the ...

BOETTCHER: Where the flood of details involved in running a war can be overwhelming.

MCKIERNAN: ... Marty, I can read the slide. Tell me what you want to tell me.

BOETTCHER: The war room is the place to shut out the commotion and information overload, to think and to command.

MCKIERNAN: Does a commander have a lot of responsibility? Absolutely.

If a commander doesn't savor that, doesn't want it to be that way, then they're probably in the wrong line of business. MARKS: The burdens of command are his and his alone to bear. It's pretty tough. I mean, it's more than pretty tough. I minimize it. I understate it by stating that. It's exceptionally hard.

We've had soldiers killed in combat. We've had prisoners executed viciously, brutally.

Those are things that you cannot forget, ever.

BOETTCHER: General McKiernan has made it his duty to talk to the families of soldiers killed in combat, offer them solace and a reason for the death of a loved one.

MCKIERNAN: I think this campaign has been about ridding this region and the world of a very, very evil regime, and one that possesses weapons that affect my family the same as the families of those service members who are not going to come home.

And when I engage in conversation with families that have lost loved ones, that that's what it's been about. It's been about the security of our families.

BOETTCHER: When the members of the 507th Maintenance Company are taken prisoner, their recovery becomes a top priority for McKiernan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a single source report. And so, ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I'll tell you when, when it talks about POWs, I'd say we ought to check it out.

BOETTCHER: A mission is launched on a hospital in Nasiriya by special operations forces.

They go in full force, expecting resistance. The troops are equipped with tracking devices, making it possible to watch the battle unfold on a computer screen.

ROBINSON: So, digitally, you can see helicopters flowing into Nasiriya. And then you see soldiers flowing off those helicopters, moving to the hospital, going in to secure the prisoners of war.

BOETTCHER: Private 1st Class Jessica Lynch is rescued. Several bodies are recovered.

MCKIERNAN: There was an operation conducted last night ...

BOETTCHER: A few hours later, General McKiernan makes the announcement, and tells the troops that the battle for Baghdad will be launched tomorrow.

MCKIERNAN: ... because it's going down, and it's going down fast. And it's going down final.

And PFC Lynch might be watching that on the television. But all that's good about our military is reflected in the fact that PFC Lynch is going to watch it on television.

BOETTCHER: Coming up on CNN PRESENTS -- before the battle of Baghdad, the Iraqis launch a counterattack against the war room.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, have a seat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just received a report that they are shooting civilians trying to flee on the job.

BOETTCHER: A report from the front lines during the morning bua (ph). The battlefield update assessment.


BOETTCHER: Suddenly the headquarters in the rear is on the front lines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Missile launch from Iraq. Area has missed (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Lightning, lightning, lightning.


BOETTCHER: In a war that began with a strike aimed at killing Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi high command. The Iraqis are launching a counter attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, look out.

ROBINSON: It was Saddam's decapitation attempt.


BOETTCHER: Inside the operation center, General McKiernan and his crew keep going with their update. Gas masks and all. The patriots on their way to intercept the Iraqi missile. A dull roar overhead.

MCKIERNAN: The idea is just to first of all try to maintain a little calmness and continue on. And by God that Patriot knocked the missile down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes we had to actually fall on this building. It was awesome.

BOETTCHER: At the air missile defense command, in the building next to the operation center, they plot the trajectory of the Iraqi missile. And realize it came within seconds of wiping out the war room. MAJOR GEN WILLIAM WEBSTER: This right here is the building you're standing in, where the arrow is. That was chief head quarters.

BOETTCHER: General Webster believes the Iraqis have chosen their target and time carefully, and had very good intelligence.

WEBSTER: We've been operating out of these two buildings for ten years. And so there's been a long time for that information to get back from agents, to Saddam, and for him to lay that grid into his weapon systems, and prepare to shoot it.

ROBINSON: Had anyone reported this, had we reported it, or had it been gotten out, it would have enabled them to know that they had the exact grid coordinate they needed, and they needed to put another missile there the next day, and another the next day.


BOETTCHER: Now, it's the coalition's turn to hunt for the Iraqi missile crew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They know the unit designation. And the only thing we don't know is the guy's name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Called five o'clock Charlie. That's his nickname.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He would shoot, stoop, hide, and wait. The he'd shoot, and we'd go looking for him. And sometimes it takes a few times to find him. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we found him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a few minutes after launch that we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) today.

BOETTCHER: Five o'clock Charlie has given away his location.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the gun camera tape.

BOETTCHER: Almost instantly, two A-10s have his missile launcher in their sights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They find it, and destroy it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said, tens of thousands of people (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just spared.

BOETTCHER: Captain Craig Schlusman (ph) finds out the next morning, his patriot missile battery is the one that's taken out the Iraqi missile.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here is your first missile flying out, the first (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Target's right there. So you got your two missiles flying in ten (ph) and going up to it. Here's the target coming in, first intercept. ROBINSON: And it would have been devastating had it not been intercepted. There's a huge improvement in the patriot missile.

BOETTCHER: Unlike the last gulf war, when few of the patriots hit their targets, this time, the redesigned missiles are doing the job.

ROBINSON: The original patriot would go up, and it would hone in on the largest object it could find, which normally was the fuel component of the missile. It would destroy the fuel, and the warhead would actually continue on down and explode.

And in this war, clearly the engineering process of going after the warhead itself enabled them to have a pretty high success rate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five o'clock Charlie, yes we've heard about five o'clock Charlie.

BOETTCHER: The patriot battery is based just across the street from Camp Doha, put there to protect CFLCC headquarters. The crew even has a nickname for two prominent landmarks right outside the base.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those two smokestacks, we've been calling those the scud goal posts. We've been expecting missile launch on Camp Doha, because it's such an important asset for the Americans for a long time.

BOETTCHER: And this time they say the Iraqis were trying to put a missile right between them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you see it on screen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... For them...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... when you see the scud on screen and then you know it's coming at you. That's when, that's when the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) starts coming. OK, this isn't a drill anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's sort of like someone stuck a needle in your ass. I mean, it's like you better get moving.

BOETTCHER: The patriot's systems spotted the missile, and quickly fired all automatically.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First time it shot out of the canister, took a sharp left turn, and the other one went straight out, took another sharp left, and then intercepted this missile -- We heard the explosions three seconds, four seconds after it left the can (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All clear. All clear. BOETTCHER: For CFLCC seconds away from being on the wrong end of a two thousand pound high explosive, a new appreciation of the patriots. And life on the front lines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Real close to home isn't it? Real close to home.


BOETTCHER: Coming up, the battle for Baghdad.


MCKIERNAN: Where we are now is -- we're just about tow kilometers outside of the Baghdad International Airport.

BOETTCHER: The first objective in the battle for Baghdad is in sight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're moving.

MCKIERNAN: In about 10 minutes they're going to begin an attack to seize the airport.


MCKIERNAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they will either have it in about three hours, or they will find enough obstacles that they will continue the attack tonight, or wait until first light.

BOETTCHER: In the war room, General William Fuzzy Webster, and Air force General Dan Leaf are trying to plan the next moves in the battle.

WEBSTER: This is not going to be a big urban fight...


WEBSTER: With the Republican Guards.

LEAF: I think that's correct.


LEAF: Maybe thousands of them, but yes.

BOETTCHER: By the next morning, the army's fifth core controls the airport.

MAJOR GEN JAMES MARKS: We were up there in very short order, and we owned it. And we are now in the process of eliminating those little pockets of resistance around (ph) the airport.

BOETTCHER: To get this far, the military had to first cross an imaginary line, further outside Baghdad. It took them into what General McKiernan, using a football term, calls "the red zone". MCKIERNAN: I came up with the term "the red zone" kind of based on that analogy. That you know, you get inside the 20 yard line and maybe it gets a little to move the ball, and you got to pound it out a little bit then.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Baghdad division is going to get isolated. It's going to get destroyed.

BOETTCHER: The general's fear. Crossing into the red zone, the area from Karbala to Ali Diwaniah (ph), to Al Kut, will trigger a chemical attack from the Iraqis. But it never happens. Instead, there is little Iraqi resistance.

THURMAN: I'll tell you the other thing that I'm surprised of. That we have not had chemicals put on us. And I think the command of control broke down. I know there's chemicals out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right look, we're at the decisive point of this ground campaign here.

BOETTCHER: Now, with control of the airport, General McKiernan is ready to take the attack downtown.

MCKIERNAN: I feel strongly about once you have seized the initiative, don't let go of it. So if you've got your hands around his neck, don't let go. Just squeeze harder.

BOETTCHER: Before they can squeeze harder, they have to deal with a problem. What they see is unreliable humint, human intelligence from CIA sources inside Baghdad.

On April 3, General McKiernan decides to change the marine's approach into Baghdad. Because of intelligence that warns him away from Saddam City, a Shiite stronghold.

MCKIERNAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Brown, this is general McKiernan, we have some pretty good intel that the urban defense of Baghdad -- there's been a lot of effort weighted in Saddam City which is across from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Texans (ph). So I want him to secure objective Ravin's (ph) and to start to work as he sees fit into the southeastern part of Baghdad.

BOETTCHER: But it turns out, the intelligence wasn't solid. Not enough sources on the ground.

ROBINSON: When it came time for central intelligence -- the operatives, to provide that tactical intelligence on the ground, they weren't able to do it. And so the generals had a large meeting. They had the CIA come in that night, to try to explain what realities really were on the ground.

BOETTCHER: Days later, another CIA tip. One of many about Saddam Hussein's Family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, in a report that just came in from the CIA, there's also a report that UDA (ph) and potentially his family can be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) district.


BOETTCHER: This lead didn't pan out either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Intel's been slow to come. The only way you get good intelligence is you got to get people in on the ground in this case. The enemy's not going to produce that.

BOETTCHER: Unsure what they're going to face, fifth core begins probing attacks on the airport, and to the center of Baghdad.


BOETTCHER: The marines move in from the other side of the city. Within days, after a few tough fights, the Iraqi resistance almost disappears.

ROBINSON: General Wallace and his fifth core moved in and did a reconnaissance of force (ph) operation. They met little resistance. They sent word back to the higher headquarters that said hey, we're here. And we think we can stay here. And oh, by the way, we think we can achieve further objectives if you give them to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The situation is this. Fifth Corps has made greater success in there than what they thought. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) What do you plan to do next? OK? And the discussion we had was we need to prioritize the zones and the GI (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) take a look at.

You ask me, what is the intelligence in here? I am not getting (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as far as intelligence. So we need to start exploiting and start moving inside and out. Like if he could go up to the information minister, which is a great target.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes sir, that's a great one. And then there's many targets hidden between those two. The palace where he's at now, the information minister. We can give him (ph). We can lay that out for him pretty well. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the way back, we can just clean house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once we clear all of zone one...

BOETTCHER: General McKiernan believes the tactic called gaining and maintaining contact has paid off.

MCKIERNAN: The Baghdad site, we immediately penetrated and isolated Baghdad, but then we found we could exploit success. He had not had the time to prepare his urban defense in Baghdad to the extent that he had planned to do. I am convinced of that.

BOETTCHER: But Baghdad is not completely under control. There is a firefight at a mosque. And a suicide bomber attacks a checkpoint, wounding five Marines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had another suicide bomber. So we just had a suicide bomber?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In one (UNINTELLIGIBLE), in zone 21. And that's -- we don't know the details or...



BOETTCHER: The battle for Baghdad is now all but over. The regime all but gone. The worst-case scenario: Weapons of mass destruction, hasn't happened. But the threat from unconventional attacks like suicide bombers, that the military calls A-symmetrical warfare remains.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has been a tough one. I mean the way these son-of-a-bitches fought, I mean it's an A-symmetrical threat, and it's still going on. I never seen the like of all the suicide bombers and -- I mean the acts of inhumanity. It's just unreal, Joe, I've never seen nothing like it.

BOETTCHER: Coming up on CNN PRESENTS, victory an disorder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw those people yesterday on TV stealing tires and rims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well we're not going to shoot anybody trying to steal something.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the time now. Hey Chris, do we got tanks? Do we got tanks in the middle of town? Cool. Fifth Corps armor. Tanks in Kirkuk.

BOETTCHER: Kirkuk is falling fast, along with the reset of northern Iraq. And in the war room, the generals are trying to stay ahead of the information curve.

MARKS: This is when you say we have a great situation of awareness, but we don't have much situation of awareness.


MARKS: We know where everybody is, but our sense of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the dynamics on the ground are pretty uncertain right now.

THURMAN: And so the situation is changing.

BOETTCHER: General Thurman finds out a future operation is becoming today's mission: To secure the Kirkuk oil fields.

THURMAN: The thing about this war is, I mean we're getting things live right off our own TV, that forces us to take a serious look at what's going on. That drives future operations quite frankly, the operation I'm looking at right now, to get forces up there, that's the northern oil fields that we got to go take a look at. And secure those to make sure that their not damaged.

BOETTCHER: In the battle plan, the war has always been known as phase three.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in the blurred (ph) transition.

BOETTCHER: For weeks, General McKiernan has been telling the troops that declaring victory and moving to phase four...


BOETTCHER: Iraq after the hostility may not be such a clear-cut process.

MCKIERNAN: We thought that this might be a victory, or a transition between hostilities and post hostilities. It almost went without any singular event that signaled that there might not be anybody that says we quit.

BOETTCHER: The day he sits down with us, he's still not ready to declare victory.

MCKIERNAN: It's D (ph) plus 21 and we're closing the noose around this regime.

BOETTCHER: But with Baghdad already under control, and resistance in the north-crumbling, phase four is arriving fast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are we doing?

BOETTCHER: The man General Webster jokingly calls the mayor of Baghdad; retired General Jay Garner visits CFLCC headquarters the same day Kirkuk falls. It is supposed to be Garner's job as head of ORHA, the Office of Reconstruction, and Humanitarian Assistance, to oversee a new government in Iraq.

But it will be General McKiernan's job to keep the peace. For the men in the war room, there is a new problem. Looting. Even as coalition troops are still carrying out combat missions.

ROBINSON: This was the greatest challenge to the plan. They simply didn't have enough forces to apply enough combat power fast enough into the entire city to be able to react to the fast degree of looting that occurred.

BOETTCHER: The Senior British officer at CFLCC, Major General Albert Whitley (ph) offers a solution not likely to please headquarters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There isn't anybody to (UNINTELLIGIBLE). So what could happen now if we, within our own capability within reason, maintain law and order? If we've got money in our pockets which is (UNINTELLIGIBLE), we could (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I like you six (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here's a (UNINTELLIGIBLE), here's a dollar a day each, I want you to guard the ministry of health, and if you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) up, you don't get paid. (LAUGHTER)

WHITLEY: And I'll hire another six (ph). You've got to start with (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But you know it's probably not going to be acceptable.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But there's an answer (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You know I could go up there and put a big old star on my shirt and say Sheriff.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what did you come up with?

BOETTCHER: The staff judge advocate, CFLCC's top lawyer, reviews the Pentagon's guidance with General Thurman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because the fact of the matter is there's no police in there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be like we did in Kosovo.

THURMAN: Which is what -- this is what we put right there. This is what the commander's authorized, he's not obligated, but he's authorized to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that's the key thing there. Like if somebody shoots somebody stealing a vase, like all those big vases coming out of there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, they shouldn't.

THURMAN: They shouldn't. It's like in Somalia, I mean Haiti, we still had guys (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tried to stop them, but we're not going to shoot anybody trying to steal something. Unless it was something of ours or something...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... I saw those people yesterday on TV stealing tires a rims.

THURMAN: It's like L.A. Remember the L.A. riots and remember Miami?

ROBINSON: You're trying to ask a killer to transition himself into being a civilian police officer. So one block they love you, the next block you have civilian arrests and they're throwing rocks at you. The next block, someone's shooting RPGs and driving roadblocks with suicide bombers. And your reality, it's like quantum leap. One -- from one block to the next. As to who you are, and what your rules of engagement are. It's tough.

BOETTCHER: The war room is now becoming more like a situation room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't give up ground once you get it. Stay with it, things are moving fast.

BOETTCHER: The operation center is still in business. Keeping track of 200,000+ troops in and around Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is by no means over.

BOETTCHER: For General McKiernan, it's time to move to Baghdad, where the job ahead, maintaining order may be tougher, and in it's way more dangerous than the war his troops have just fought.

THURMAN: The only other thing is we got (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

BOETTCHER: ... And just as he's not ready to declare victory, McKiernan's not ready to claim personal success either.

MCKIERNAN: There's no credit on me for the outcome. The credit is on those who executed. I've always been a believer in that phrase "Only soldiers in small units win battles".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Commanding general.

MCKIERNAN: Generals don't win battles. Generals will approve a plan that might work.



BROWN: For General McKiernan, who now faces the daunting task of keeping order in Iraq, there was a symbolic chance to declare victory in the war even before President Bush made that speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

It came on April 17 in Baghdad when the general met with his boss General Tommy Franks, and the commanders of the air and naval and special forces. They gathered in one of Saddam Hussein's Palaces and capped off the event by having a video conference call with the Commander in Chief, the President.

For now, General McKiernan and his staff remain in Iraq trying to establish order. General Franks, the head of the US Central Command has announced plans to retire this summer. And General McKiernan reportedly is on the short list of possible replacements.

And as for former General Jay Garner, he's already been replaced in his job as the top civilian administrator in Iraq. That's it for this addition of CNN PRESENTS, I'm Aaron Brown. Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next week.


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