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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.S. Targeting Area Believed to be Used by Opposition

Aired November 12, 2003 - 14:01   ET

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

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The new offensive comes close as the Bush administration reflects, and regroups and vows not to retreat. The U.S. civil administrator wrapped up emergency meetings at the White House earlier this morning. He's on his way back to Baghdad as we speak.
CNN's John King tells us all about that -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, adjustments in the military strategy you're seeing and discussing with Ben Wedeman, adjustments as well in the political strategy for post- war Iraq. You mentioned the president's civilian administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer was back here at the White House. The White House being very careful to say little about what was decided in those urgent consultations.

But in reporting here at the White House, and my colleague Dana Bash deserves a major assist on this one, CNN is learning this afternoon that the president has authorized a fundamental shift in how the U.S. views the post-war political transition in Iraq. The president has been on the record as saying that you can only have a new Iraqi government after a constitution is written and after there are free and fair elections. We are now told that among the options Paul Bremer is going back to Iraq with to present to the new Iraqi Government Council is the possibility of having an interim constitution, and having an interim leadership, something perhaps modeled loosely on the model used in Afghanistan after the Taliban fell. That would be a fundamental shift for this bush administration.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan refusing to get into the details of discussions today, but saying yes, the president understands he has to be flexible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: Just like you have to adapt and adjust on the security front to meet the enemy, you need to be willing to adjust and adapt to circumstances on the ground in terms of reconstruction and in terms of the political front.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, administration officials say they are being very sensitive in what they discuss here at the White House, because they do not want to be viewed as imposing these changes on the Iraqi Governing Council. The president believes for this new government to be viewed as legitimate, the decisions must involve and in fact would have to be led by the Iraqis themselves. But as Ambassador Bremer returns to Baghdad with these new options, as the White House is calling them, we are also being told by senior administration officials he will make clear that the president is very impatient, and he expects the Iraqi Governing Council to get much more quickly about the business of a political transition.

O'BRIEN: John, the administration makes the analogy to Afghanistan. Do people inside the White House see what is tantamount to an Hamid Karzai in Iraq?

KING: Well, they don't like to make the direct analogy, because Iraq is so different. You have a bigger country, you have a wealthy country, in terms of natural resources, you have more ethnic, and political and religious rivalries. And as yet, on this day, some six months plus since the president said major combat operations is over, nobody could name who that individual would be. Hamid Karzai emerged quite quickly from the discussions in post-war Afghanistan. Hard to say who that would be in Iraq right now. That is one of the big, major challenges.

O'BRIEN: But, again, The administration, we are told, the president today directly embraced the option of an interim leadership, an interim constitution. That, Miles, would be a significant shift.

Thirty years of tyranny makes it very difficult to put the pieces together, doesn't it, John?

KING: Sure does, Miles.

With us on the line right now is retired Brigadier General David Grange. He's been helping us guide us through what we've been hearing, putting his expert ear to those explosions.

General Grange, the U.S. military says that this facility that was targeted was a meeting, planning and storage facility south of Baghdad. Do you think they have pretty good, solid intelligence on that kind of thing at this juncture?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, you know, I think that the reason it's being hit right now is not just because of the new surge in offensive operations, but they had actionable intelligence in order to do that. It sounds like some of that firing could be surgical strikes maybe from an AC-130. It is hard to say what's delivering the munitions, you know, listening to it on the audio.

But these sites are obviously within range of green line facilities, or they found out that they're planning and storage sites. So that's why they're going in to eliminate them.

O'BRIEN: Now we're told by the Pentagon, the 1st Armored Division is a part of all this. What would its role be on the ground?

GRANGE: Well, they're in charge of that piece of turf. In other words, that area of operation, anything that's tied in on the ground comes under that commander's control, as well as in the airspace above it, would probably come under that commander's control. So you have unity of effort on whatever attack they're conducting on that particular objective.

O'BRIEN: And is it highly likely, General Grange, that this would have been sort of a joint forces attack involving Air Force and perhaps even Navy equipment?

GRANGE: Oh, yes. Jointness is the name of the game today. And if one service has the resource that fits the requirement better than another, that's what they'll use, but it will still come under one commander.

O'BRIEN: Do you expect that we are likely to see more of this style of attack, as we've been pointing out, an escalation in the level of reprisal, as time goes on here?

GRANGE: Yes, you know, reprisal is only part of it. You know, it's really maybe a change in tactics. When you are talking to John King a moment ago, he talked about you got to have the flexibility to change the plan. The administration's looking at that. There's an old special forces tenet, and you're quite fond of how special forces think, I know that, and it is that if the ground varies from the map, you've got to go with the ground. So it's applicable that if the ground is not the same as what you planned for, what you find is not what you planned for, then you have to have the flexibility to adopt with the situation and come up with a new plan, and I think that's what you're seeing.

O'BRIEN: Well, I guess the inverse of your statement would be that up to this point, perhaps the U.S. military hasn't been elastic enough.

GRANGE: I think you're right. I think from the transition from the major maneuver operations to civilian support operations, there was a bit of a loss in momentum, and I think what you're seeing now is better adaptability. I think it's been adaptable at the small unit level actions here and there all over the country. But I think now you've seen a major shift in that adaptability.

O'BRIEN: What's your take on the prospects for success at this juncture? It raises the stakes in many ways, doesn't it?

GRANGE: It does, but there's no choice. You see, there's some people that are adversaries of the coalition force that can be deterred. Those are Iraqi citizens that are on the fence. They think that the coalition will fail. They want to go the other way, because they are concerned about reprisals, or not supporting whoever will take over. Or they may go and support the coalition side. There's been reports of both. Those people can be deterred.

But terrorists, some of the extremists cannot be deterred. They either have to be killed or captured. So just with that group alone, it forces to you be very aggressive going after these people.

O'BRIEN: So no choice to do anything else? GRANGE: I don't think so. Again, you still have to have the compassion on the one hand to continue to improve the standard of living in Iraq, so the Iraqi people think it's worth buying in.

O'BRIEN: All right, sounds like a high wire act to me, General David Grange, and thank you once again for your insights. Appreciate it.

Let's check in at the Pentagon now with CNN's Kathleen Koch, who as the first to give us the specifics of the strike. Are they providing any additional information about the target, Kathleen?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, no, they really aren't, and we have a lot of calls in right now to the 1st Armored Division to try to find out the specifics of the target. All we were told initially, and all we know at this point is that it is a single building that apparently was being used by these forces, that the Pentagon, the coalition described as these belligerent elements that are conducting attacks on coalition forces and infrastructure. They wouldn't tell us when they first announced these attacks whether or not there was anyone inside the structure, how big the structure was, wouldn't tell us whether there were any armaments in the structure.

And again, Miles, this is very much in keeping with these attacks that we saw Friday, Saturday and then again Monday. Now, those were all aerial attacks, where F-16s swooped in the Tikrit area, dropping 500-pound bombs on buildings, specific targets, then south of Baghdad, and west of Baghdad on Monday, dropping two 2,000-pound bombs on the targets. But in every case, the buildings were empty. The U.S. forces even went in in the case of the bombs dropped on Monday, and cleared local residents out so they would be out of harm's way. But it was just yesterday that the top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez said that the U.S. military would be stepping up its response to these roadside ambushes, these attacks on U.S. helicopters, taking the fight right to the enemy. And the way he described it, he said -- quote -- "We're taking the fight into the safe havens of the enemy into the heartland of the country. So This is one example of that.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

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