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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

More U.S. Soldiers Killed in Iraq; Preventing More Terror Attacks

Aired July 10, 2003 - 20:01   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The war is not over. That is the word from the top military commander in Iraq, following the ambush deaths of two more American soldiers; 32 U.S. troops have now died from hostile fire in Iraq since President Bush declared an end to major fighting on May 1.
Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson now joins us from Baghdad.

Nic, describe to us where the latest attacks happened.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, we've heard a lot about the Sunni triangle, where there's the most resistance to U.S. troops. That's in the center of Iraq. And that's where the attacks have been this day.

To the north, Tikrit, right on the top edge of that Sunni triangle, one soldier killed there in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on his convoy. And to the south of that triangle, just south of Baghdad, a choke point on the major highway to the south of Baghdad, al-Muqtadir (ph), a soldier there shot and killed in an ambush on his convoy. Also, to the west of that triangle, mortar attacks on a U.S. base at Ramadi, mortar attacks at another base inside that triangle, Balad.

The commander of ground forces here, General Sanchez, describes the attackers as professional assassins and says the numbers of attacks recently have been increasing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GEN. RICHARD SANCHEZ, U.S. COMMANDER OF COALITION FORCES: We have been receiving mortar attacks in the past. They have in fact stepped up mortar attacks in the course of last week. We have had a series of those attacks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: General Tommy Franks said that there are between 10 and 25 attacks every day. And what we've been seeing here is that we'll turn up at a base, they'll tell us that, the day before, it was mortared or there was a rocket attack at it. None of these statistics are being made public here. It's clear that there's a lot of attacks going on. It seems to be becoming routine. And if there are no casualties, Paula, they're just not getting reported. ZAHN: Nic Robertson, sorry about the delay there. I hope you can still hear me. Again, tonight, just help us better understand the sense of vulnerability American soldiers must feel when they see these statistics climbing.

ROBERTSON: Well, I've talked to a lot of them specifically about this recently, about the increase in number of attacks, how they feel, what they do.

They say that this is what they came here to do, that they're soldiers. They revert to their training. When they go out, they watch the backs of their colleagues and they do what they call 360 degree check-in. They look all around them to see where the potential points of attack are. I've been out on raids, on day patrols with troops, and that's exactly how they operate. But they do say they are concerned.

One soldier I talked to last night said that he lost a colleague just over the weekend. Lured into ambush, a gunfight broke out. And there was pretty much nothing they could do once they were put in that situation. So it is a concern and they fall back on their training, Paula.

ZAHN: Nic Robertson, thanks so much for the update.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the so-called coalition of the willing is slowly becoming unwilling. Some U.S. allies are now balking at the idea of sending their own troops to Iraq to replace American troops. And that is putting a strain on the Bush administration both financially and politically.

I am joined now by Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York. I'm also joined by Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.

Welcome to you both. Appreciate both of you dropping by tonight.

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, I want to start with you tonight.

What kind of job do you think the Bush administration is doing in postwar Iraq?

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think that all of these media reports certainly are disturbing. Our sympathies are with the loved ones of the fallen soldiers.

But, as your correspondent pointed out, this is what our fighting men and women have been trained to do. War is not pretty. And, certainly, it seems like peace is hell as well. We've got an important mission ahead of us. I think the Bush administration has been straightforward to the American people, letting them know the cost of this operation, the human toll, as well as how long we're going to be there.

So the Bush administration has a responsibility to keep the American public apprised of what is going on. And I think that they've had many consultations with Congress. And so, in that respect, we're quite satisfied. But, certainly, the loss of life is disturbing. And we hope that, once those Saddam loyalists are finally taken care of, that we can restore tranquility to these people, who have suffered so long under this terrible despotic regime.

ZAHN: Congressman Meeks, you've just heard what your colleague had to say. She believes the Bush administration has been straightforward with the public in helping them understand the costs. Were you aware of the fact that it would cost $3.9 billion a month to keep American troops in Iraq?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: Not at all. In fact, that was a question that was asked often prior to going into Iraq that never really got a clear answer.

I believe that there never was really a plan, as far as, it never was clearly explained as to an exit plan. I don't think there was ever an exit plan right now. And when we look at what's going on, we were supposed to have been there first because of imminent danger and weapons of mass destruction. And that changed to regime change. And then it changed to -- for freedom of the Iraqi people. So it seems to me that the plan has not been clear.

And now it's costing American lives daily. We don't have any allies. In fact, the allies we had initially was the allies of the billing, as opposed to the willing, in my estimation. And now we're looking at other traditional allies. And the U.N., which we called irrelevant at the time, they're not there to help us. And so it's costing the American people close to $4 billion a month. And we still to this day, we have no idea how long we're going to continue to be paying that $4 billion a month.

And it does not seem to be any democracy taking place there. I know recently in "The Washington Post," it was talked about how the military stopped in some local provincial municipalities any elections from taking place there. And some of the middle class are getting upset there. And so I don't see where the plan is. And I think that there has not been a plan as a result. And so we're just basically floating there in Never Neverland at this stage of the game.

ZAHN: And, of course, the other thing that is being widely debated is the accuracy of some of the information the administration used, at least in trying to sell the public on the job of going into Iraq.

Congresswoman, let me ask you this. Do you believe the Bush administration distorted evidence to prop up its policy?

(CROSSTALK)

ROS-LEHTINEN: No.

And I think -- first of all, I think that President Bush has been forthright in saying that that statement made in his State of the Union speech shouldn't have been there. They've been very open about it. But let us make no mistake. The question that we should be asking is, are we better off now knowing what we know about Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime, uncovering mass graves, what he has done to political prisoners, how he tortured individuals?

Is this the kind of regime that we should have said, stay in power,, keep being a menace to world peace and stability of the region? Aren't we better off now understanding the dangers and trying to get rid of that regime at all costs? We understand from the reports that, already, in the most-wanted list, we've captured over 30 of those individuals. We need to keep pursuing that goal until we capture them all.

Perhaps we can capture Saddam Hussein. But, certainly, for the peace and tranquility of the nation, and for our own national security, we are better off today than we were from the 20 years of that terrible despotic regime. There is no doubt about that.

ZAHN: Congressman Meeks, I am going to give you the last word. And I can only give you about 10 seconds to address the question of whether you think that American forces are stretched too thin now.

MEEKS: Quickly, are Americans safer? No. Saddam Hussein is still on the loose. There's no -- weapons of mass destruction have not been found. We've not gotten Osama bin Laden, who's really public enemy No. 1. We still don't have the Afghanistan issue straight. Taliban is still there. There's still terrorist threats. Al Qaeda is still around. Is America safer as a result of us going into Iraq? The answer is, absolutely not. We're not safer.

ROS-LEHTINEN: But now is not the time to walk away.

MEEKS: And so now what we're talking about is, we don't see the imminent threat. No one is talking about that, because, apparently, six months in, we have not found any weapons of mass destruction.

And that was the imminent threat and the real reason why we went in initially. I know it has changed two or three times subsequent to that. So let's look at our intelligence.

ZAHN: All right.

MEEKS: Has the intelligence -- Colin Powell talked about at the U.N. that we knew where these weapons were. So you have to question our intelligence. We have to question the information that the president talked about in the State of the Union.

And so I don't know where we are right now. And I think that we need -- as members of Congress, we need to have a strong investigation as to what's taken place, because the state of our nation is at stake.

ZAHN: We are going to have to leave it there this evening.

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen and Congressman Meeks, thank you very much for your time tonight.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you, Paula. ZAHN: And in testimony to Congress today, General Tommy Franks said 3,500 Iraqis have now been detained in connection with the ongoing attacks on U.S. forces. One recent arrest involves a man who may also be connected with the September 11 hijackers.

Joining me now is a guest who has met Osama bin Laden and has some unique insight into al Qaeda and homeland security. John Miller is in charge of the Los Angeles Police Department's counterterrorism efforts.

Good to see you in your city for a change.

JOHN MILLER, LOS ANGELES POLICE ADMINISTRATOR: Good to have you here.

ZAHN: Thank you.

First off, what is the significance of this latest arrest of this Iraqi intelligence officer? Are we going to learn anything new from this guy?

MILLER: Well, I hope we do. And I hope that information trickles down to local law enforcement.

I'm not too comfortable talking about it, because it's another agency's case. But I feel very comfortable saying, there has been a long nexus between the core group of al Qaeda and Iraq. If you go back to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the mastermind was Ramzi Yousef. He working for his uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was ultimately the quarter back of al Qaeda.

He was traveling on an Iraqi passport. Members of that plot fled the United States to the waiting arms of Iraq. So it is not a new phenomenon. Hopefully, this arrest will open that book a little more and shine a little more light on the relationship.

ZAHN: Well, let me ask you this, John. When you pick up your hometown newspaper, the "L.A. Times," or "The New York Times," and you read that a government insider today said on the record that he never believed that the United States was in any way threatened by Iraq, do you completely discount that?

MILLER: I never saw in my studies over the years any nexus between Iraq launching a terrorist attack in the United States where there was a clear line. However, many times, you saw Iraq offering logistical support to terrorist groups, particularly al Qaeda, particularly Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. And I think what you see there, at the very least, is, my enemy's enemy is my friend.

ZAHN: Sure.

Let's talk about Osama bin Laden for a moment. Do you believe he's alive?

MILLER: I am fairly certain he's alive. He spoke as recently as February 11. His group has acted out in recent terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, by proxy in Morocco, before that in Mombasa, before that in Bali.

Al Qaeda is perhaps down, but only on one knee, certainly not out. And bin Laden has been, it appears, still calling the shots. After what was a fairly dramatic interruption in command-and-control, it seems that things are running again.

ZAHN: Do you have any confidence, given the renewed support the Pakistanis say they will give to this process of finding Osama bin Laden, that he'll ever be nabbed?

MILLER: I think the Pakistanis have been trying very hard to help us locate al Qaeda people. If you look at the history, Abu Zubaydah, al Qaeda's recruiter and travel agent, captured in Pakistan with the aid of the Pakistanis, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, al Qaeda's quarterback, captured in Pakistan with the help of the Pakistanis, Ramzi Binalshibh, a deputy manager of the September 11 plot, raptured in Pakistan with the help of Pakistanis.

I think they've served us very well in this regard. And I think, if they had an opportunity to capture Osama bin Laden and assist the U.S. and the CIA, they would be right there.

ZAHN: How prepared is Los Angeles for the prospect of a terrorist attack?

MILLER: I would say, next to New York City, which has the advantage of having over 36,000 police officers, where they've devoted 1,000 cops to the efforts of counterterrorism, next to New York City, Los Angeles has the most ambitious counterterrorism program of any city in the country, with a very ambitious anti-terrorist division, a very ambitious planning and training unit involved in prevention and forecasting, good intelligence, excellent relationship with the FBI.

I would say we're as prepared, operationally, as we can. We still need the resources.

ZAHN: Sure.

MILLER: We still need more police officers. We still need the homeland security money that they're trying very hard to get to us, to actually get to us. And we're trying to help them with that.

ZAHN: Well, thank you for dropping by. I know you're a man that's not getting much sleep. He has a newborn at home. And this is probably the time of the day when you're needed at home to go help out.

MILLER: I wasn't sleeping before.

ZAHN: John Miller, great to see you.

MILLER: Good to see you, Paula. Thanks.

ZAHN: And thanks for the nice welcome to your city.

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