TERENCE SMITH: In southern Iraq today, fighting persisted, as Iraqi militias and paramilitaries remained active behind U.S. and British lines. To the North, elements of the U.S. Army moved within 50 miles of the Iraqi capital. And allied planes attacked Republican Guard divisions just outside Baghdad. This is the U.S. Army unit often called the "tip of the spear," the third infantry division, sprinting toward Baghdad.
Now at Karbala on the Euphrates River, the third division is one prong of what is expected to become a three-prong assault on the Iraqi capital. Today the armored column was slowed by Mother Nature: A powerful sandstorm reduced visibility. At the Pentagon, Major General Stanley McChrystal warned that allied troops might soon face some of Saddam's toughest military forces.
MAJ. GEN. STANLEY McCHRYSTAL: I do know that it is one of the best of the Republican Guard divisions, one of the most powerful of the republican guard divisions. I am sure that it has been degraded significantly in the last 48 hours or so.
TERENCE SMITH: Also in Karbala, Iraqis danced in celebration, next to a downed U.S. Apache helicopter. The apache is equipped with armor-penetrating hellfire missiles and the latest technology, but the Iraqis claim it was brought down by local citizens.
SPOKESMAN: A few farmers, a few peasants, brave peasants, have shot down two Apache helicopters.
TERENCE SMITH: U.S. commanders acknowledge that one Apache, not two, is missing, along with its two-man crew. Later, U.S. forces fired this missile in an attempt to destroy the downed helicopter and its high-tech equipment. Downstream from Karbala is the Shiite Muslim city of Najaf. That's where U.S. troops captured what they suspected was a chemical weapons factory.
SOLDIER: Any site that might store weapons, while we're attacking through, we're going to check it out. But this was known to be a suspected weapons of mass destruction site.
TERENCE SMITH: As it turned out, no chemical weapons were found. Farther south is Nasiriyah, a key river crossing that has been the scene of the toughest fighting of the war. Today U.S. and British forces rounded up prisoners as a precaution against the kind of sneak attack by Iraqi Fedayeen that yesterday killed at least six Americans and left others missing. In a separate incident, these soldiers and at least two others were captured after a U.S. Army maintenance unit lost its way and was attacked by Iraqi militia. Today at central command headquarters in Qatar, Gen. Tommy Franks described the battlefield setbacks to coalition forces as "sporadic."
GEN. TOMMY FRANKS: Our forces have been moving rapidly. We have intentionally bypassed enemy formations to include paramilitary and the Fedayeen, and so you can expect that our cleanup operations are going to be ongoing for -- across the days in the future.
TERENCE SMITH: A second prong of attack is attempting to move up the Tigris River from the city of Basra. To the south, at the port city of Umm Qasr, U.S. and British forces say they have taken control after three days of fighting.
BRIGADIER JIM DUTTON: I don't think we're quite at the stage where we can say that there's absolutely nobody left in this area who is hostile, but it's certainly mission accomplished.
TERENCE SMITH: North of Baghdad, a third prong of attack has targeted key cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, mostly by air. Just outside Kirkuk, in Chamchamal, allied planes today hit Iraqi barracks. The area is controlled by Iraq's Kurdish minority.
KURDISH MILITIAN FIGHTER: We saw the Iraqi military bases that were hit, and we saw Iraqi soldiers were killed, because from here we saw other soldiers moving the dead bodies to a car.
TERENCE SMITH: On the ground in northern Iraq, U.S. commanders say American, British, and Australian special forces are carrying out unspecified missions. In the northern town of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's birthplace, Iraqi TV showed pieces of what it described as an unmanned U.S. spy plane, apparently shot down by Iraqi fire. In Baghdad itself, U.S. bombing continued today. Iraqi officials said the strikes damaged this university, as well as residential neighborhoods.
MAN (Translated): This is clearly a residential area, and that's been known for 50 years. What does Mr. Bush need from us? Clearly there are no military targets here. Maybe it is his dream that we will welcome his troops, but on the contrary, they will get a hard time from us.
TERENCE SMITH: Also today, Saddam Hussein reappeared on Iraqi Television.
PRES. SADDAM HUSSEIN (Translated): You Iraqis are in line with what god has ordered to you do, so go for the jugular, and good news will definitely come to you who are patient.
TERENCE SMITH: The Iraqi president mentioned recent battles in Umm Qasr, but White House officials express skepticism as to when these tapes were made. Late today, Iraqi TV showed two Americans and said they were captured from the downed apache helicopter in northern Iraq. In all, U.S. forces have lost at least 12 troops killed in action and at least three in noncombat accidents. At least a dozen are missing. British forces have reported eleven killed in action, and two missing -- seventeen have been killed in accidents. The U.S. Military also confirmed today that one of its bombs mistakenly hit a passenger bus in western Iraq, about 100 mimes from the Syrian border. The Syrian News Agency said five Syrian civilians were killed and ten wounded. Jim?
JIM LEHRER: Thanks, Terry. Now we hear once again from John Burns of the New York Times in Baghdad, Ray Suarez talked with him a short while ago.
JOHN BURNS: We've had a resumption of extremely heavy bombing, heavy in the sense that the bombs themselves-- nothing like as many sorties or as many missiles as we saw on Friday night through Saturday when there was a real holocaust of fire and destruction across the river in central Baghdad from where I'm now speaking, nothing like that-- but bombs which appear to be very, very large bombs. They seem to be being dropped some way away to the southwest of the city. Inside the city, not I think far enough out yet to be aimed at Iraqi defensive positions now facing the third infantry division as it comes up from Karbala, because that's, as you know, 60 miles outside the city.
There is some target, I would imagine a military target, that they're going after. It sounds to me like heavy bombing, perhaps B-52s. The ground shakes, and they've taken now in the darkness to firing up their loudspeakers, and across the city you hear the cry... (speaking Arabic )... "God is great." This is Saddam Hussein, who is now back in business, visibly back in business on Iraqi television, once again taking the mantle of Islam to rally the Iraqi people with him, if he can. There's a stillness in the night right now, but you can be sure that if you are working at any military-related facility, and especially any facility that is facing those American troops that are heading up from the southwest tonight, you would want to be in your bunker.
RAY SUAREZ: Are there alternative sources of information, though? If you watch Iraqi television or listen to the radio, you're bound to just hear hour after hour of praise for the leader. But would the population have any sense of what is bearing down on them along the road leading from the South?
JOHN BURNS: Oh, absolutely. Of course, the state that has been, every effort has been made to completely control the media, just as in the Soviet Union, any Russian wanted to know what was going on in the world would have to find out from the Voice of America or the BBC, so Iraqis do. They are very well aware of what the situation is, and by the way, I have to say the Iraqi leadership as of today on their own media have been quite candid. They are telling the people that the third infantry division of the United States army is only 60 miles, or tonight possibly less than that, from the capital of Iraq. So they're not trying to hide the situation, but they've got another story to tell tonight, and that is of what they regard as a heroic resistance. They think they've given the United States armed forces a pretty severe punch on the nose. They are confident, so they say, that they will be able to do even better when the fighting moves inside the city of Baghdad.
We saw a very spirited, I want to say cocky performance tonight by Tariq Aziz, the English speaking face of this government, to the world who resurfaced. We think he was probably in that bunker or villa that was attacked by the United States in the predawn darkness of last Thursday morning, with the air strike which could have finished this war in a single stroke, aimed as we now know at Saddam Hussein and his fellow leaders. Well, Saddam has now turned up on television. Tariq Aziz turned up today, the foreign minister who had been missing has turned up. It looks as though the leadership is intact, and what are we hearing from them? They are crowing. What do we hear from Tariq Aziz tonight? He says, "they thought they could decapitate us like so many chickens." Well, he said, "we are not chickens, and we have not been decapitated."
And they are promising a fight from Baghdad of the kind that United States forces have already encountered on their way north from Basra to Nasiriyah, on to Najaf, and now the north -- a fight, it seems that will rely heavily on the regular forces, but dedicated to regular forces, forces of the ruling Ba'ath Party, most frightening personally to me because I've seen them, the martyrs of god, Saddam's martyrs of god. This is a group of mostly young men who wear black face masks. They ride around in pickup trucks with machine guns, led by Saddam's older son, Uday. You put together these people in irregular pockets of resistance, and I think it could be quite difficult.
RAY SUAREZ: John Burns joins us tonight from Baghdad. Thanks a lot, John.
JOHN BURNS: Not at all, it's my pleasure.