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AMERICAN MORNING

Long Haul Peacekeeping Effort in Iraq

Aired September 15, 2003 - 07:37   ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Now back to Iraq and the whole issue of comparing that long haul peacekeeping effort of today to that coalition march to Baghdad earlier this year. It was quick and it was sweeping, 21 days in total.
Our next two guests had unprecedented access to the troops at the front lines as they moved through southern Iraq. They've written a firsthand account of their experience, and they do have experience. "The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the 1st Marine Division," is the story of the 1st Marines push into the Iraqi capital.

Bing West served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan years and retired Major General Ray Smith, one of the most decorated Marines since the Second World War, are our guests now from Washington.

Gentlemen, good morning to both of you.

BING WEST, FORMER ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: Good morning.

HEMMER: I want you both to chime in on this first question.

Secretary West, you can start.

At any point during this three week period or even after that, did you take note of any Fedayeen members, any members of the Iraqi military or Baath Party loyalties withdrawing in order to take up a new and different strategy to fight the American forces the way they are today?

WEST: No. The entire march up, those who chose to fight stayed and fought. Most of them ran away. But there was no evidence that they were going to try some sort of guerrilla war.

HEMMER: General, do you agree with that?

MAJ. GEN. RAY SMITH, RET., AUTHOR, "THE MARCH UP": I do agree with that. We saw no evidence of that.

HEMMER: But did you ever stop, General, and say where's the enemy? Where have they gone?

SMITH: Well, we mostly knew where they were. The regular forces, we saw them in civilian clothes marching down the road, heading the other direction most of the time. There was never any great loss for finding enemy. HEMMER: So then knowing what we know today and watching the stories and hearing about the reports -- another dead soldier today in Baghdad -- when you hear of this news, what does it tell you about the Iraqi strategy?

SMITH: Well, I don't believe that we're looking at a strategy on the part of the Iraqis. We're looking at some dead enders who are playing it out because they have no more power base.

HEMMER: We're looking at some videotape here, gentlemen, of...

SMITH: Right. That was the videotape we shot. We had a captured SUV and we were moving with the front line troops and when they were in the firefights, occasionally we'd try to get some coverage of what they were doing. You also have coverage of this same shot because Martin Savidge from CNN was right there with us in this particular fight.

HEMMER: Yes, that he was. And we remember that all too well.

Secretary West, tell us about -- part of the reason why you went on this trip and part of the reason why you wanted this experience is you wanted to compare how the military has changed going back 30 plus years to Vietnam.

What did you take note of during this battle?

WEST: Oh, the great difference is the equipment, roughly, for the infantryman, hasn't changed that much and he's as tough and as good a shot as we were. But he's much smarter. We used to go head to head with the enemy. In my battalion in Vietnam, we lost more in the battalion than we lost in the entire division in this particular fight against the Iraqis. They're much smarter about how they fight today.

HEMMER: That's really interesting, that response.

Major Smith, General Smith, I don't know if you agree with that or not, but if you do, tell us why you believe they are smarter.

SMITH: Oh, I -- yes, I certainly agree with that. The approach to how to fight has changed within the Marine Corps, at least, and within the U.S. military. And the concept is to avoid the enemy's strength and attack his weakness, where in my youth we generally attacked his strength as a matter of course.

HEMMER: Secretary West, I know you went back recently and there have been conflicting accounts as to whether or not Iraq is generally a peaceful place or whether or not the headlines out of that country emphasize the loss of another U.S. soldier. That gives one the impression that there is still a substantial amount of chaos in Iraq.

What was your observation upon your last trip?

WEST: Well, my observation was that it's a kaleidoscope. It's both. There are certain areas where it's very peaceful. For instance, the Marines did not lose one person in combat after the war. And yet in other areas there's heavy -- not heavy combat, but sustained casualties. It's about equivalent to saying how's the crime situation in the United States? Some areas they may have a lot of crime, in other areas they may not have much at all.

HEMMER: Listen, thank you for sharing your story with us today.

WEST: Our pleasure.

SMITH: Thank you.

HEMMER: There are countless questions about what's happening there, but very insightful. And the videotape is dramatic, as we can see yet again.

Bing West, Major General Ray Smith, with us today in Washington.

Thank you to both.

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