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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Special Forces Search for Saddam

Aired June 20, 2003 - 19:02   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: First, there is still no proof, one way or the other, but U.S. officials are moving closer to the opinion that Saddam Hussein is still alive and still inside Iraq.
Officials from two U.S. intelligence agencies say that assessment is based on communications, interviews and plausible accounts of sightings.

Ben Wedeman joins us from Baghdad with the latest on the search for the former Iraqi president -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson. Well, officials here do believe that the capture earlier this week of Abid Hamid Mahmud al Tikriti, the personal secretary of Saddam Hussein, has moved the search for Saddam several steps forward.

And we know, for instance, that nightly, there are American raids in and around the town of Tikrit -- that is Saddam's hometown -- in search of the Iraqi leader.

Interestingly, the long-accepted popular wisdom in Iraq is that, of course, Saddam Hussein is still alive. In fact, this newspaper from today says that Saddam Hussein is driving a taxi around Baghdad, that he's grown a beard. He's wearing sunglasses. He's wearing an Arab headdress. He's out there. He's basically conducting an informal poll to find out whether the waters are right to come back into power.

Now I spent about three weeks traveling around central Iraq and areas where many people are still fiercely loyal to the Iraqi president, the former Iraqi president and it is a given that, of course, that he is alive. Many people will tell you that he is moving from one sympathetic household to another along the Arab-Sunni areas of the Tigris River.

And in fact, we must say that many people in Iraq are looking at Saddam as something like an Elvis-like figure out there with a new identity. And who knows, they say, maybe he will some day come back -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ben, the lack of information about his whereabouts, his status, alive or dead. Is it causing U.S. officials on the growth fund in Baghdad a lot of concerns? Does it make their job all the harder?

WEDEMAN: Well, it certainly does, because many officials here believe that it is Saddam Hussein, ultimately, who is behind what appears to be an increasing number of deadly attacks on U.S. officials.

On the other hand, we have to realize that the disappearance in some way or other, the death or the capture of Saddam Hussein is not going to be like "The Wizard of Oz," when the Wicked Witch of the West disappears and everything gets better.

There are many problems here that have nothing to do with whether Saddam Hussein is out there and alive and operating. You have many problems, for instance, among the Shiites to the south of Baghdad or in Baghdad itself, who are increasingly unhappy with the U.S. presence, with the U.S. administration of this country.

They are never, never were loyal and certainly are not loyal now to Saddam Hussein. They have their own grievances completely independent of that and if the Americans aren't quicker in responding to those grievances, it might be a whole other problem that has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ben Wedeman in Baghdad. Thanks very much.

Assuming Saddam Hussein is alive and is in Iraq, the Question is how do you find him? How is the U.S. trying to do that?

For some insight, retired General David Grange joins us. He's a CNN military analyst. He joins us now from Chicago.

General, thanks for being with us.

We're hearing a lot about the group called Task Force 20 and that they are this top secret group basically on the hunt for Saddam Hussein. I know a lot of it is classified. What can you tell us about them?

GEN. DAVID GRANGE, ARMY (RET.): Well, you know, open source material tells us that it's a mix of special operating units, intelligence gathering units with quite heavy resourcing, air and ground and other technologies, as well as human intelligence, human connections, for instance, street information and police type information, in order to gather what they need to run down Saddam Hussein and some of his other leadership that is suspected to still be in the area.

COOPER: We're some seeing images in which we see some soldiers and we just want to out for clarification this these are not members of Task Force 20. These are other U.S. troops in other operations. I want to make sure the viewers are aware of that.

But this Task Force 20, I mean, this apparently was the unit involved also in the raid to capture Private First Class Jessica Lynch. And it's made up of various units. This is what you read in public source documents.

Why would there need to be a unit made up of various special forces units from the Rangers, from the Delta Force and the like? GRANGE: Well, the reason, Anderson, that that's done that way is because the different type of service units bring different capabilities to the operation.

Some of them are more expert in water operations, for instance, along the Tigris or Euphrates River. Some are more proficient in air operations, some on ground, mobility, either by foot or by vehicle.

And so what the Department of Defense will do is they'll put together a task force that gives you the optimum mix of forces to handle that particular mission and that environment and any environment changes. It's called, you know, the current operational environment. It changes maybe daily, weekly.

And so you want to be able to have a mix of forces that give you a lot of capabilities where you can lose someone very quickly and react to what's known as fleeting intelligence. You only have a small window of opportunity in many cases. So you want a breadth of capability in the force make-up.

COOPER: And it's got to be, obviously, an extraordinarily difficult search. You know, you just think about the search for Osama bin Laden, which has been going to for a great deal of time now.

How do they try to go about, obviously they use intercepts, they monitor communication, but I guess there's also a fear that -- the Iraqis and U.S. officials have been saying this -- that perhaps the Iraqis, knowing that we're monitoring communications, try to use that against U.S. forces.

GRANGE: Absolutely. There's a lot of disinformation going on. There's deception, denial. Very -- they're experts at this. So we know that from before this war started.

And so I just equate it to try and define a criminal in Chicago. The police work in Chicago to run down some people. It's hard to do in a metropolitan area, it's not just a desert. It's a metropolitan area of five million people. A lot of places to hide out. The coalition forces cannot cover it all. There are still loyal elements to Saddam or people that are so fearful, still, of Saddam that they're not going to give information.

So it's a tall order. And what happens is as they connect the dots in the different information that's available, all of a sudden you get a quick window, like an area of opportunity and you go for it and it may be a deception. It may be a dry hole, but you've got to keep the pressure on. You've got to keep going after it because the psychological impact of Saddam, the word that he is still alive and has influence is not good for the coalition effort and stability operations during this transition phase.

COOPER: Right. It certainly emboldens anyone who wants to oppose U.S. and British forces.

General Grange, appreciate you joining us. Thanks for the insight. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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