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CNN BREAKING NEWS

The Battle For Falluja, Dubbed Operation Phantom Fury, Begins In Iraq

Aired November 8, 2004 - 11:22   ET

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


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to "CNN LIVE TODAY."
We can now confirm for you what our own correspondent there on ground had told us, oh, about five or seven minutes ago, and that is that the offensive in Falluja has indeed begun.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan along with Rick Sanchez. I want to welcome our viewers that are joining us from around the world on CNN International. And go back to Iraq and just outside Falluja, our Jane Arraf is embedded with the U.S. Army there.

Jane, the latest you can tell us about the offensive, please?

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, we're on the northeastern outskirts of the city. And according to the Army here, Army officials that we are with, the major battle has started. Their forces have crossed the line of departure.

And in fact, we have just seen huge explosions as they've been doing line charges to clear an entire city block suspected to have been lined with home-made bombs. Now, part of the city has been burning from the artillery that they're firing into it. And they are now doing -- they're into the main part of the battle where they are clearing the way for other troops to go forward.

Again, this is one sector of the city, and this is the Army sector of the city, but the battle has certainly started here -- Daryn?

KAGAN: And when you -- Jane, when you say the line of departure, is this actually a physical line, something in Falluja that marks the line of departure? What represents that line?

ARRAF: It's something that has been decided in the military planning for this offensive, and it essentially means that it triggers other actions in place.

What we're seeing now is other operations clearing parts of the city by fire, by -- there is heavy armor involved here, but they're using various means to go into the city and clear the way forward for other troops, to clear the way for the Marines on other sides of the city.

What we're looking at now, Daryn, is a completely dark city. They have cut the lights, and that was going to be one of the signs that, indeed, the battle was about to start. It's dark, except for smoke rising from flares that they've been firing, smoke bombs to obscure vision for the insurgents, and fires that have been set by artillery.

This wasn't the sector that was believed to have a lot of civilians in it. They had believed because there were so many insurgents and so many roadside bombs here. Civilians had been prevented from entering, because essentially they believe that large parts of the city are booby-trapped, and this was one of them -- Daryn?

SANCHEZ: Jane, would you explain to us the significance of going in at night?

ARRAF: Sorry, Rick, can you repeat that?

SANCHEZ: Sure, I'd be happy to. Could you explain to us the significance for U.S. Marines of going in at night, now that it's gotten darker there in Falluja?

ARRAF: Well, certainly what we're talking about are -- the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division calls the most concentrated firepower on earth right now. And what that means is a high-tech Marine force, as well as Army, heavily armored Army, with the ability to fight at night, basically, which the insurgents do not have.

It's a definite advantage to them that they're fighting at night. There aren't a lot of insurgents out there believed to have night vision goggles, for instance, that allow them to see in the dark, as many of these troops have. Certainly, they are definitely outpowered. This is not a balanced fight here, but what it is expected to be is a very dirty fight.

We are talking about huge numbers of soldiers, huge numbers of Marines, and a substantial number of Iraqi forces, as well, against a relatively small number of insurgents. But these are insurgents that U.S. Officials believe are the heart of the insurgency. And if they can combat that, if they can end that, they can end much of the violence in Iraq.

KAGAN: Jane, you mentioned the civilian population. How large is it in Falluja? What percentage is it believed has actually moved out? And where have those people gone?

ARRAF: Falluja normally has about 300,000 people. It's a very conservative city, and it's in the Sunni heartland. So, it's not just one of the main cities -- it's quite close to Baghdad -- but it's also a symbol, particularly for Sunnis. And it is where the insurgents, it's believed, will feel that they're making their last stand, that if they want to battle Americans, this is the place to do it.

Now, that perception has led a lot of people to flee, but a lot of them are still there. They're up to 100,000 civilians still believed to be there. It must be absolutely terrifying for them.

One thing you find in Iraq, when these battles start, these people have been through so much war, so many battles, and they are so devout that there is a certain sense, particularly in Falluja, that whatever happens will be God's will. And I imagine that will be the case with many people who are huddling at home in the dark listening to these explosions and just praying that they will pull through.

SANCHEZ: I'm curious as I hear you answer Daryn's question about the folks who live there, just the regular residents may have fled. What's to guarantee that many of the insurgents may not have left, as well? It's one thing to try and engage the enemy, but does not the enemy need to engage back?

ARRAF: Absolutely. And that's what they've been trying to do for the past several hours, trying to draw fire from the insurgents. One of the things that they used, one of the techniques is called reconnaissance by fire, in which they fire into areas they believe there are insurgents to draw fire back.

Clearly some of them would have left. A lot of the -- they say a lot of the safe houses connected with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have been destroyed. A lot of his top people in Falluja have been killed. But clearly there are a lot of them left.

And one of the very interesting things is rather than fleeing the city, what some military officials say is that insurgents have actually been coming into the city, because they see this as the best battleground in the world right now against American forces. They see this as a way to seize an opportunity, to fight Americans in a very high-profile and public manner.

KAGAN: And let's talk about perhaps one of the advantages could be the architecture of Falluja, the general buildup of the city and also the incredible number of mosques that are there, Jane.

ARRAF: Falluja itself, anyone who has come to Iraq in the old days, would have passed it on the highway. And from the highway, you can't really see very much, usually twinkling lights in the distance. But when you get inside, a traditional Iraqi city, there are more mosques than unusual.

It does have quite a conservative, tribal and devout population. They've always been fiercely independent. Even under the iron rule of Saddam Hussein, he had a hard time keeping them in line. And they have been that way ever since.

When I would go to Falluja, when it was safe to go to Falluja, just last year, they would tell me, "We didn't like Saddam Hussein. We don't like the Americans. We don't like the Iraqi government. We don't like anyone. Just leave us alone." And it is part of the mentality.

As for the geography, it's surrounded by absolutely stunningly beautiful farmland, parts of it -- palm groves, rural area. Again, people here quite rural, quite conservative, quite tribal. And it is, for Sunnis, a symbol, as much as anything else, of their struggle to, perhaps, have a place in the new Iraq for many of them to fight against what they still believe is occupation. SANCHEZ: And you were talking just moments ago about the people living there and some of the insurgents themselves. Why would many of these insurgents from other Arab countries, Syria and Jordan, mentioned by the prime minister today, choose Falluja in particular? We can certainly understand why the Iraqis could choose it, but why would the insurgents choose to do battle there?

ARRAF: Part of it is it has been relatively receptive territory for the insurgents. And we have to remember that, in a country -- this is a huge country. And Iraqis, like other Arabs, have a tradition where if a foreigner comes in, if an Arab comes in, they will be hospitable, they will allow them to settle in their neighborhood for a earn amount of time. And that's what we've seen.

The other part of it is that there is, what many officials feel, a direct line of insurgents coming through from Iran to here. But it is a place where the culture of insurgency, call it what you will, there are foreign fighters here. There are people that no one would dispute are terrorists.

There are people who consider themselves nationalists, but they have, for a variety of reasons, been allowed to operate here. They have formed cells. They have become more sophisticated. They are believed to have exported bomb-making technology to other parts of Iraq. And they have been relatively unchallenged since U.S. forces pulled up the last time and allowed Iraqi forces to try to keep the peace, which they could not. That was thought to be a failure.

And now, what's led up to this massive assault is the feeling that the only thing that will end it is U.S. forces going in in great numbers until the insurgents are pretty well all dead.

KAGAN: And I want to pick up on something you just mentioned a few minutes ago about other insurgents coming in, perhaps from Syria, from Iran, from other countries. Ayad Allawi talking earlier today, talking about how he's sealing off those borders -- trying to seal off those borders as part of the state of emergency in this country.

Jane, as well as you know Iraq, how practical is that? Can you really seal those borders?

ARRAF: Almost impossible. Saddam Hussein, with all of his power, we have to remember, someone who could with -- just snap his fingers and command tens of thousands of troops to do anything he wanted, couldn't really seal those borders. He was -- Iraq was continuously prone to attacks from Iranian opposition.

Now, you have to remember that after the end of the war, essentially all of those thousands of border police -- tens of thousands, perhaps -- melted away. They were disbanded. And what they've had to do is come up with an entirely new border force. And what that means, really, is that they have some legal border crossings. They are making an attempt to monitor other parts of the border, but it's extremely porous.

This isn't part of the world where a lot of the tribes along the borders don't recognize those frontiers. They have been trading -- we call it smuggling, they say trading. They've been trading across those borders for centuries. And there's virtually nothing to stop them. It's very, very, very hard to seal those borders off, particularly the Iranian and Syrian borders.

While closing the Iraqi side of the border won't perhaps be a start, but the legal border crossings are not where these people are coming from.

SANCHEZ: We're talking to Jane Arraf. She's joining us now by phone where the offensive has just begun in Falluja. Jane bringing us this information about 20 minutes ago when she first reported that, in fact, the U.S. Marines had crossed that line of departure and begun the offensive.

There's still somewhat curiosity as to what happens to the people who just happened to live in that town? There was an official at the hospital earlier today, quoted as saying that 30 percent of the people of Falluja are still there. If you figure 300,000 people lived in Falluja -- possibly more -- and 30 percent of them are still there, that's some 90,000 people.

Do we know where they are, what they're doing, where they might be, and how U.S. officials may try and safeguard them while they go into this city?

ARRAF: Rick, they are certainly off the streets. They've been warned for days now in the forms of leaflets and, expected later, in the forms of announcements, that they need to stay off the streets or they will be killed. And we've seen this in other battles in other cities.

When the fighting starts, people go home and they huddle at home. They've had a lot of warning now. So, a lot of people will have stocked up barrels of water, food as best they can, kerosene, perhaps, and they are home. Iraqis here in Falluja, as they are in every battle in every city when this take place, are in a terrible position.

Some of them can't leave. They either can't afford to leave, they have sick people, they don't want to leave them. There are a variety of reasons why there would be that many people still there.

As for what the U.S. is doing, it's very, very sensitive to the perception that there will be a lot of civilian casualties, because that is one thing that could really turn Iraqi sentiment and Arab sentiment against this operation. What they're trying to do is make clear where best they can. They are taking journalists in with them into the city, into the fighting. They want to show them when mosques are being fired on, for instance, these are mosques where firing was coming from. That will have a certain effect.

But as for safeguarding the civilian population, very, very difficult, because everyone here -- the Army, the Marines -- have made clear that they believe this is the last chance to rid Iraq of this insurgency. They are willing to accept civilian casualties. The Iraqi government, for the most part, is willing to accept the consequences. They believe this is something that they have to do for elections to take place here in January, no matter what the consequences are for these tens of thousands of people in Falluja, in the dark, terrified at home listening to these explosions.

KAGAN: Jane Arraf, who is embedded with the U.S. Army just outside Falluja, thank you for that excellent reporting from there.

Want to get a look now on what the U.S. Military and the Iraqi military is facing in this offensive that, as we have been reporting, is underway. And for that, we want to bring in Retired U.S. Air Force General George Harrison. General, good to have you here with us.

GEN. GEORGE HARRISON, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Good to be here.

SANCHEZ: Probably should start talking about that which you know the most about, and that is some of the Air Force maneuvers that have been taking place -- softening up the targets is what they're calling them.

What have we actually been doing, and what effect will that have on the Marines as they move in now?

HARRISON: Well, what really has been happening is that the intelligence folks have been developing targets, finding out where they think concentrations might be, looking for places where firing has been observed. And then, they'll plot those coordinates very precisely and use the smallest possible bomb or piece of ordnance very precisely.

Now, when we say precisely, that conveys an image of surgical strikes. The fact is you're dropping, at minimum, a 250-pound stack of explosives. And it's going to destroy a house.

SANCHEZ: Let me just follow up on that, because you know, there will probably be headlines all over the world saying, oh, my goodness, look at what the Americans are doing in this situation. And one of the questions they will ask is how do you do that in a pinpoint precision manner without possibly killing innocent civilians?

HARRISON: Well, the fact that the bomb hits within four or five feet of where you want it to go doesn't mean that there's not going to be damage for another 100 feet around it, because this is a huge pile of explosives.

Now, part of the planning process is to use a modeling and simulation tool in the Air Operations Center to figure out the probable collateral damage. Now, I know collateral damage sounds like kind of a benign term, but it really means the damage, the destruction that's going to go on.

KAGAN: General, let's get an idea of the scale and scope of this operation. Looking over the last 19 months, looking at the war, just how big is this?

HARRISON: This sounds like it's pretty big. Ten thousand Marines in one operation in one organization, along with the Iraqi forces that are coming in, we have got Marines it looks like on the southwest, the Army on the northeast. I'm not sure exactly where the Iraqis are placed. And then facing a population of, as you mentioned, about 100,000 civilians that have to be sorted out of as many as 10,000 insurgents.

So, essentially every person in every house and every room is going to have to be gone through. This is an Infantryman's worst nightmare. City fighting is tough, and it's hard.

KAGAN: Which brings up this whole idea of urban warfare. And this -- going back now two years, looking at the lead up into the Iraq war, this was the very thing that the U.S. Military -- not -- I don't want to say was afraid of, but was considered a huge challenge...

HARRISON: That's right.

KAGAN: ... going door to door in an urban environment.

HARRISON: That's right. As we were looking at the movement into Baghdad a little over a year-and-a-half ago, everybody was talking about the disaster that awaited us as we had to go picking out Iraqi soldiers one by one by one through the city of Baghdad.

This is not as bad as that, simply because Falluja is smaller. But it's still going to be bad. And to an individual Infantryman and to a civilian in Falluja, who is trying to live his or her life, it's equally bad. And the difficulty is visibility, it's knowledge of what's around the corner, it's knowledge of what's in the building -- a room that you didn't find, that you didn't clear, that you didn't make sense out of -- and the real danger of killing an innocent civilian.

SANCHEZ: We have an overview. I think we can put that up. If we could possibly get a shot up of the area of Falluja, because to so many of us as we hear of this area, we really don't know the geography.

There it is. That's the Euphrates River right there, that blue line. And there you have those two bridges that cross the Euphrates River. This morning, the first thing we heard is the Marines have taken control of those two bridges. Why and how significant is that, General?

HARRISON: Well, that is significant. The Euphrates gives you a natural barrier to the south -- or to the west of the area, which means that the insurgents can't as easily melt away. There's no point in running the insurgents out of Falluja and having them go someplace else, rearm and rework.

So, we have major arteries, communications arteries on the east, the terrain to the north and south looks a little bit more difficult to secure, but I'm sure that that's been considered. This thing has been in the planning, obviously, since last April when we started and stopped -- we, the coalition, started and stopped.

So, the barriers are significant. They're important in terms of figuring out what you're going to do with the people as you flush them out of there. I presume that the innocents, the civilians, are going to stay where they are and the insurgents are going to either stay and fight or flee.

KAGAN: Well, and actually, that kind of brings up something I haven't thought about. What do you do with them when you get them? Is the aim to kill every insurgent you can, or are you trying to arrest them? And then, where do you put them or what do you do with them?

HARRISON: Well, not arrest, but capture them as POWs, disarm them, work them for intelligence value, figure out where their associates are, figure out where they came from, figure out where they're being resupplied.

SANCHEZ: I asked that question of Jane Arraf. You were here; I saw you nodding your head when I asked her. What do you do when the enemy doesn't engage? Is there a possibility that as we move in there, they're going to try and hide among those 90,000 people as Iraqis and it may be more difficult?

HARRISON: I'm sure that they will. That means that unfortunately every innocent Iraqi is going to be detained and searched. That's just the way you have to do this. And it's a very difficult kind of a thing. Imagine in the city of Atlanta trying to find every drug dealer and ensuring that no innocent civilian driving up and down 85 has drugs.

SANCHEZ: Boy, that really makes us understand just how...

HARRISON: How do you do that?

SANCHEZ: Right.

KAGAN: All right. General, you stand by. You stay with us here. We also have our Barbara Starr, who's at the Pentagon, who is bringing us the latest. Barbara, why don't you tell us what you have from there.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, they are now calling this "Operation Phantom Fury." By all accounts, the battle for Falluja now well underway in its initial stages, as U.S. troops and Iraqi troops are now moving into key areas of the city.

One of the interesting things to note, perhaps, is how the U.S. and Iraqi forces have essentially prepped the battlefield, if you will. We have heard so much about the insurgents being well dug in, booby-trapping the city, suicide car bombs, improvised explosives ready to go. One might think, perhaps, that it will be an almost impossible task.

But as we now look back over the last several weeks, we can begin to discern a much clearer picture of how U.S. troops have prepped the battlefield. There have been literally weeks and weeks of air strikes to begin with, going after targets that U.S. intelligence believes are suspected safe houses, weapons storage areas, other areas used by insurgents. This -- these targets being developed through the use of intelligence, of course.

And then, over the last many days as U.S. ground forces have assembled around Falluja, we have seen those probing attacks, moving forward, seeing if they can engage the insurgents, using ground fire, artilleries, mortars, seeing if they can begin to locate insurgent positions.

This, however, is going to be even tougher and tougher as these U.S. ground forces move from these areas just outside the city and move further and further in where they do believe the insurgents are dug in. Over the last 24 hours, we have seen, just to set the big picture, a couple of key targets being taken.

First, the hospital, of course, taken by Iraqi commandos so that that medical facility will be available to Iraqi civilians who may be hurt in the fighting, and it can no longer be used as the propaganda tool that the U.S. and the coalition believes it has been used as, where Iraqi insurgents have been saying civilians are being taken after being targeted by U.S. air strikes.

The other key target taken in the last several hours, those bridges over the Euphrates River. All of that, part of the effort to control movement. That is what U.S. forces want to achieve very rapidly. They want to know that insurgents are not moving out of the city. They want to know that they're not moving around. They take the bridges -- we have reported this in detail already -- they control the roads in and out of the city. All part of an effort to put everyone in place and let the coalition forces, numbering now in the thousands, come through and deal with the insurgency as they find it.

But it won't be easy going, of course. The insurgents have now had some seven months since April, since U.S. forces last left Falluja to dig in, use their positions, and try and melt into the civilian population. So, Operation Phantom Fury underway. And it remains to be seen, of course, how it unfolds over the next many hours -- Daryn?

KAGAN: And Barbara, what was the biggest lesson learned from April when it didn't go well and the U.S. Military and Iraqi forces had to pull out?

STARR: Well, most people might say that the lesson learned is the insurgency is not going away. You know, there's one of two things that appear to happen in many of these places where the U.S. deals with the insurgency. Either they melt away, they get out before the fighting starts, and then regroup in another area or they melt in with the civilian population.

There's no indication, senior officials tell us at this point, that the insurgency across Iraq has reached that essential tipping point. They call it the tipping point, that means the point at which the insurgents believe they have no hope of winning and that they will essentially give up. No indication that that is about to happen.

In Falluja, especially, what they are struggling with is: What is the form of the insurgency in Falluja? Is it really the foreign fighters, the followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who may no longer even be there? Or is it, in addition, the Sunnis, the Baathists, who still may be struggling to try and regain power? And if they believe there is any chance for them to come to power, the feeling by senior military officials is they won't give up.

So, there's a political element here at work. But the reason that the prime minister, Ayad Allawi, wants this situation dealt with is not just the security, of course, of Iraq, which is paramount, but also with the upcoming elections. They want the Sunni population to participate in these national elections in January. The feeling is only if there is Sunni participation -- and it is the Sunnis that live in the Falluja area -- only if there is Sunni participation will the elections be seen as legitimate, if you will, across the country.

So, a lot of things in play here on the big stage in Iraq, Daryn.

KAGAN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you for the latest on that. Also thank you to General Harrison.

SANCHEZ: Well, hold on. We're being told now that we have Karl Penhaul. He's standing by, as well, on the phone and is now ready to join us with the very latest information that he can bring us. Karl, how are you?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Rick.

The ground assaults on Falluja has started. About 20 minutes ago, the attack got underway. Marines mounted on armored attack vehicles drove through the desert, the last two kilometers, out towards Falluja. That was preceded by a heavy barrage of artillery and mortar fire to try and suppress any insurgent fire coming out.

We haven't been able to bring you live pictures. We believe that the communication signals are either completely congested by military traffic or are being jammed. But we have managed to use a local cell phone to get the signal out.

We've seen tracer fire light the sky up as the Marines move in. Tanks have been blasting away inside the city, and shells filled with phosphorous -- shells to hide the movement of the Marines inside the city have been exploding overhead. At the same time, we have heard insurgents respond with gunfire from inside the city. We have also heard, even from our distance about two kilometers away, chants of "Allah Akbar" going up from the insurgents, the chants of "God is great" going up from the insurgents.

There's a rattle of gunfire across the city. Flashes going off every few seconds. And the sky is filled with tracer fire, Rick. Certainly the ground assault is underway, and by now we would guess that the Marines have crossed what they call the breach and are possibly even on the very edge or in the first blocks of the city.

SANCHEZ: First to share a word with us, Karl, that indeed there has been a response from some of the insurgents. Share with us, if you would once again, what that was. You said you heard firing coming from the area where the insurgents were? PENHAUL: Indeed. We -- first of all, before the ground assault began, there was a heavy barrage of artillery fire fired by the U.S. Marines and U.S. Army to clear the way for Marine Infantrymen to go in. But then, we did hear response from the insurgents in the form of gunfire.

But then, during a lull in the gunfire, we heard chants going up of "Allah Akbar," "God is great" -- the Muslim chanting of "God is great" going up. And that was audible even from our position, two kilometers back. Those weren't chants given over the loudspeakers of the mosque. They were chants being shouted.

As we're looking now at heavy trading of gunfire, tracer fire, flashing ordnance in the northeastern edge of Falluja, explosion after explosion going in there. Some coming from Marine positions, others crisscrossing tracer fire. That would indicate that the Marines and the insurgents are in heavy firefights there. This tracer fire isn't all going in the same direction. They are explosions every few seconds now.

And it seems in one of the northeastern sections of Falluja City, there's a fire now. There's yellow smoke burning up there and pluming into the sky as we speak. More explosions, more heavy thuds. Unclear what the causes of those are. Those don't seem to be any longer explosions caused by Marine artillery, but unclear whether those explosions are being caused by U.S. tanks as they move into the city ahead of Infantrymen -- Rick?

KAGAN: And we should point out to our viewers that are joining us -- not just here in the U.S., but all around the world on CNN International -- we're showing you a combination of pictures and graphics. Those pictures taken earlier today -- obviously it is now nighttime in Iraq -- and part of the battle plan in this Operation Phantom Fury.

Karl, if you can give us a little bit more details, when we talk about insurgents, we just use that -- we use that as a tag line, as a label. But do we have any idea what kind of numbers the military is facing and who is making up this group?

PENHAUL: Prior to this assault, U.S. Military intelligence had spoken in figures ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 insurgents. The latest figure they gave was approximately 3,000 insurgents. As you say, it is a disparate group, although they do seem to have come together under some kind of unified command structure over the last couple of weeks, according to sources inside the city of Falluja.

But the group is broadly composed of Saddam Hussein loyalists on the one hand. Falluja was, after all, a recruiting ground for Saddam Hussein's army. Also, there are Islamic fundamentalists in Falluja forming part of the insurgent force. Those are the ones who want to wage jihad or holy war against coalition forces.

And the third group are the so-called foreign fighters, possibly al Qaeda-linked foreign fighters who have come from neighboring countries such as Syria and Jordan. At one point, U.S. forces were saying that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian affiliate of al Qaeda, was holed up in Falluja. Over the last few days, though, U.S. Military intelligence has been backing away from those claims and suggesting that Zarqawi may have left the city.

What we do know, though, is that one of the insurgent leaders inside the city, one of the principal insurgent leaders, is known by the name of Omar Hadid. And he's said to be Zarqawi's right-hand man inside of Falluja. In fact, the area where the Marines are pushing in at this point in northeast Falluja, that is supposedly the sector controlled by Omar Hadid.

Certain, though, at this stage, tracer fire continuing to light up the skies. We've heard more explosions in the last few minutes, the rattle of machine gun fire. But obviously, from this vantage point, impossible to tell what is actually happening out there in terms of are there casualties, are the Marines able to advance, or exactly what position they are. But I can tell you, from what we can see from our vantage point, a golden glow now lighting up part of northeast Falluja, indicating a major fire is underway there. More tracer fire going off.

Unclear, though, how many blocks into the city the Marines may have progressed so far.

KAGAN: All right. Karl Penhaul in Falluja. We'll be back with you just in a moment.

SANCHEZ: And as we bring you this live coverage of this assault on Falluja, we have not one, but two correspondents there on the ground. The other, as you may have heard earlier, is Jane Arraf. She's able to join us once again with new information, we're being told.

Jane, what do you have?

ARRAF: Rick, the Army says that it has accomplished a major task that in intended in this early stage of the battle, which is to breach the city's defenses in the northern part of the city. And that (INAUDIBLE) those lights, the fire that is burning in the northern part that Karl also appears to be seeing is essentially what they had been the most worried about, perhaps.

This is an industrial part of the city, very few civilians. But in the north, they have set off a line charge, a line charge that has detonated home-made bombs that have been laid in a pattern there. It has set off a huge fire. Now, that part of it, they say, was residential. But they say that civilians had been prevented from entering that sector of the city for some time, that it had been taking over by insurgents who had been laying these improvised explosive devices and keeping civilians out.

So, they now say that they have accomplished their main goal in this early stage, which is breaching that defense, clearing a path for the Marines and clearing a path for other forces -- Rick?

SANCHEZ: So, what we hear you saying is then that they've been able to get through what appeared to be one of the, as we've heard it termed in the past today, some of the main booby-traps that have been set up by some of the insurgents, that it's been a success for U.S. forces, correct?

ARRAF: In their terms. And this is Task Force 22 of the 1st Infantry Division, which is supporting that Marine effort. It was a success. And they were extremely worried that these defenses, essentially made up of a string of home-made bombs -- something that could have exploded entire city blocks they had said at one point -- has been diffused.

And they defused that essentially by setting off a line charge that has exploded, these improvised explosive devices. We're seeing that burning. And what that does is clear a path forward for the tanks to go through -- tanks are believed to have gone through -- and for the other forces to enter further into the city.

SANCHEZ: Of course, there could be others, though, right? There could be other areas where the insurgents have done the very same thing?

ARRAF: Absolutely. There could be other areas all over the city. But they have been relying on numerous kinds of intelligence: human intelligence, in the form of Iraqi informants; signal intelligence; wiretaps; information that they have picked up; and other ways to find out where there are known locations of improvised explosive devices and where there are known locations of insurgent strongholds and other targets.

They have now breached one of the main parts of the city and diffused one of the main threats, they believe.

SANCHEZ: We were hearing earlier today, both from Karl and yourself, Jane, that the troops were amassing and getting ready -- that is the Marines, of course, when I use that term. We haven't talked at all about their mood, what they were thinking, what they were saying.

Did you get a chance at all to engage any of the U.S. Marines prior to this assault to get a sense of what was going on in their heads?

ARRAF: We did. We talked to both Marines and to soldiers. We are with an Army unit, and certainly soldiers would feel the same way the Marines have. And we've spoken to some Marine commanders who have been -- who sent their men into battle, essentially telling them that this is a fight that they have to fight for the Marines and soldiers who have been killed in battle, for the country itself.

In fact, one of the Marine commanders billed this as a battle -- class battle between good and evil. The Army commander here has said that Falluja is the route home for U.S. soldiers, that unless this is suppressed, unless this insurgency has ended -- and this is seen as the key part of it, the command and control center, nobody gets to go home, and this country will be restored back in Iraqi hands. So, as in any battle, these soldiers, these Marines have been extremely hyped. This is what they do. This is, in a sense, what they love to do. This is what they believe they are here for. And they've taken this very personally. They feel that this is the way they are finally going to make a difference here and perhaps change things for the good.

SANCHEZ: Jane Arraf...

ARRAF: Not the view of all Iraqis, certainly, but that is their view.

SANCHEZ: We thank Jane Arraf and Karl Penhaul for bringing us those reports, live, once again, here on CNN from what has become now the battlefield of Falluja.

KAGAN: And you'll get a lot more information in a couple hours. 2:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. time, expect a briefing from the Pentagon, 11:00 a.m. Pacific. Of course, you'll see that live, not just on here, on CNN domestic, but on CNN International. We want to thank our viewers from around the world for joining us for a big part of today.

I'm Daryn Kagan along with Rick Sanchez. That does it for us today. Wolf Blitzer takes over at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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