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Encore Presentation: Iraq: A Week at War

Aired June 18, 2006 - 13:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm John Roberts. This is "Iraq, A Week at War." We'll have all the major developments, analysis and perspective from our team of correspondents in Iraq here in Washington and around the world. Here's the headlines.

Monday, websites identify this man as successor to terrorist leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi killed in a U.S. air strike last week. Tuesday, President Bush surprises the nation again with a stealth visit to Baghdad meeting the Iraqi government and U.S. troops. Wednesday, tens of thousands of Iraqi police and soldiers launch together forward, a new offensive against deadly attacks in Baghdad. Thursday, the Pentagon announced a grim milestone, 2,500 U.S. military deaths in the Iraqi conflict. And both Thursday and Friday, a war of words on Capitol Hill as the House of Representatives debated the next step in the war in Iraq.

Plus, we'll look at Afghanistan and we examine the war on terror from Somalia to Guantanamo Bay. This is "Iraq, A Week at War." Joining me now in Baghdad, senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. Here in Washington, chief national correspondent John King. In Atlanta, international correspondent Arwa Damon will soon be returning to Iraq and also here with me in the studio, Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army retired and a CNN military analyst.

Tuesday, a secret and a surprise. President Bush snuck away from his retreat at Camp David in the Maryland mountains. Destination, Baghdad.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've come to not only look you in the eye, I've also come to tell you that when America gives its word, it will keep its word.


ROBERTS: The only television correspondent on board Air Force one going to Baghdad in Baghdad with the president and on the way back was our own John King. John, what was the president trying to do with this trip?

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was trying to, as he said, look the new Iraqi prime minister in the eye and get a sense that I trust this man as I make decisions about how many U.S. troops, how many more billions of dollars will the United States spend on reconstruction? And also, he was trying to convince the American people here at home, three years and three months after this war began, this president is still trying to sell it politically to the people of the United States. It underscores his political dilemma back here. I was struck, it is remarkable, his fate is now in the hands of this man he just met for the first time, the new Iraqi prime minister.

ROBERTS: Nic Robertson in Baghdad, we know what was going on inside the heavily fortified green zone while the president was there. What was going on outside of those confines among Iraqi rank and file?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president arrived just a day before a big security crackdown in Baghdad. That crackdown had already begun, but when the president came in, the airport was closed, the roads linking the airport to the heavily fortified green zone where the president had his meetings were closed down. The roads around the green zone closed down. But away from that, Iraqis were going about their daily business pretty much as usual, so very close to where the president was very little activity, but away from that, people getting on with their lives, not really knowing about it, of course. There was no advanced warning. This was a super secret visit. They didn't really know about it until much later in the day John.

ROBERTS: On Wednesday, a show of force by the Iraqis, army and police. They had two goals, hoping to choke off the deadly violence and demonstrate what they could do. John Vause reports on that.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The gunmen called this "operation forward together." Hundreds of checkpoints were manned on roads into the capital. Vehicles were searched. Police say they found (INAUDIBLE) rockets and defused roadside bombs.


ROBERTS: Arwa Damon is in Atlanta now and Arwa, what are Iraqis looking for from this government when it comes to security?

ARWA DAMON, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're looking for exactly just that. Now, if we remember, when Prime Minister al Malaki (ph) took office and named his cabinet, he made a huge promise to the Iraqi people. He promised them security and stability. What they're going to be looking for and what they are initially getting as a first step is the prime minister and the government showing, look, we're going to do all that we can to fulfill this promise at least in Baghdad. We're going to put 70,000 troops in and we're going to try to bring things under control. What they're going to be looking for right now is how far that's going to go. How long are they going to be able to sustain 70,000 troops and how that's going to decrease or not the violence.

ROBERTS: Spider Marks, can it be said that the Iraqis indeed are getting better and are they on their way to being able to provide security throughout Iraq? BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I would say the answer is yes. When you go back and you look at what was laid out in victory in Iraq, the milestones for how we're going to progress through this war that we're prosecuting, it mentions that as political process improves, isolation of the insurgents and the terrorists will increase and better intelligence will be derived and that's exactly what happened with the strike against and the death of AMZ, Abu Musab al Zarqawi. So on the heels of that, the president to arrive in Baghdad and then to have an opportunity to look soldiers and Marines and all service members in the eye, it really is a great step forward to demonstrate that there is progress that's being made on the ground with the Iraqi forces.

ROBERTS: John King, you said that the president's fortunes ride on how well al Malaki can do in Iraq. How much of his fortunes also ride on the ability to be able to withdraw U.S. troops at sometime in the not-too-distant future which hinges on the ability of Iraqis to provide security.

KING: The president was fascinating with us on the flight home on Air Force one and he was very reflective and he's very optimistic, yet at the same time and you know this well, he has had three years of this. He thinks he's moving forward only to have more setbacks and more frustration. Of course the president would like to bring home tens of thousands of U.S. troops this year. He'd like to do that as the commander in chief, to bring it home safely. He'd also like to do that as the head of the Republican Party in a year in which his party is in deep trouble because of the unpopularity of the war in Iraq. The president wouldn't commit to it. He simply said, the Iraqis want to do it. I need to know first whether I can trust this man, because if the president pulls out troops at the Iraqis request and then things go south politically, sectarian violence, he will be putting the fewer number of troops on the ground at higher risk and the president knows that. He says he won't be pressured. He's sounds like he means it. He's in an enormously delicate position but this is his legacy and he knows it. So he says he's going to keep his eyes on the long-term history and not get caught up in this year's political pressures. But he came right back and started fighting with the Democrats. He's doing a little bit of both.

ROBERTS: Well, it is an election year, after all.

Tuesday the toll of a week at war hit home in New Hampshire. The family and the girlfriend of 23-year old Army Sergeant Russell Durgin learned that he had been killed in Afghanistan where he was serving with the 10th mountain division. Listen to how Paige Kornblugh (ph) of CNN affiliate WMUR TV told the story.


PAIGE KORNBLUGH, WMUR: In his six years in the army, he served in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. He's the fifth Granite State soldier to die overseas in the last six weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For our New Hampshire military community, it's been an awful stretch and there's no rhyme or reason to it. KORNBLUGH: Family expected Durgin home in December. Michelle was expecting a ring for Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My whole future was him and I just -- I don't know where to go from here on now.


ROBERTS: General Marks, we're always going to have these tough questions, aren't we, these tough issues to deal with.

MARKS: Every one of these is a hole that can't be filled on a personal level. The families that suffer through this, I mean, it's amazingly personal. They in many cases, have great tragedies as they move forward from this and so, the focus at this moment in the military community is on that family that left behind. Certainly, honor the soldier in this case that was lost. But to wrap your arms around that family so they can move forward.

ROBERTS: Let's go back to Nic Robertson quickly. Nic, you just arrived back in Baghdad. What's the scene like there compared to how you left it a few weeks ago?

ROBERTSON: You can see the security tightening. You can see the razor wire being put up along the road from the airport to the city. This is one of the most dangerous roads in the country. The government here is trying to make it more secure, more troops, Iraqi troops out and more armored vehicles and more uniforms. But at the same time, an attack in a mosque in Baghdad, a suicide bomber gets right inside a mosque on a day when the city is locked down, on a day when traffic is banned from driving along the roads. This is the competing influences. Prime Minister Maliki knows that if his government is in for four years now is to have any chance of being re- elected, they have to win on the security issue. They've got to stop the deterioration of security in Baghdad, the center of Iraq, the cockpit of the insurgent, they're going to stop it and roll it back. That's what is targeted. And you can see him beginning to make that effort. The insurgents too are able to take that fight right into the midst of a mosque noontime prayers. John.

ROBERTS: Nic, you're about to go out on an imbed, be safe and thanks for joining us as well. General Marks, thanks for being with us, always good to see you. Arwa, we'll see you on later on this hour. John King is going to stay with us because coming up next, we're going to get a firsthand look at President Bush's overnight flight back to Baghdad, his whirlwind visit there and what it could mean for U.S. troops serving in Iraq.

Let's take a look at the weekly progress report in Iraq.

On Monday, construction of nine new wells in Iraq's Ninewa province was completed. According to the U.S. Army's Gulf region division of the project and contracting office, more than 23,000 area residents will benefit from safe access to drinking water. A recent report by the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction found that 40 percent of water and sanitation projects remain unfinished. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Hi, I (INAUDIBLE) Iraq. I want to send a shout out to my father (INAUDIBLE) in Salinas, California. Love you and I'll see you soon.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Hi. I'm Corey (INAUDIBLE) Iraq. I want to wish my father (INAUDIBLE) and my father-in-law (INAUDIBLE) from (INAUDIBLE) Virginia. Happy Father's Day and I'll be home soon.


ROBERTS: On this Father's Day weekend, some special greetings from U.S. troops serving in Iraq. I'm John Roberts in Washington and this is "Iraq, A Week at War." Tuesday, President Bush stole away from Camp David bound for Baghdad. The surprise visit lent prestige to the new Iraqi government and allowed Mr. Bush to repeat his pledge to stick with his Iraq policy. Joining me now is CNN chief national correspondent John King who is the pool correspondent and was the only television reporter to accompany President Bush aboard Air Force one. He did this back in November of 2003 and one of the things that's most fascinating about all this is the intrigue in how you go on a secret trip to Iraq. How did it come down for you?

KING: A Sunday afternoon in Washington, got an e-mail and then a phone call from Dan Bartlett, counsel to the president, said you need to meet with me which tipped me off that something was up, to be calling on a Sunday afternoon say, hey let's get together. And then he met with me and he said, look, the president's going to Baghdad. We need to keep it a secret. We need a television pool correspondent to go. We want it to be you. Can you deal with that internally? Can you get a crew and can you minimize the number of people you tell about this and can you pull it off? So, that's what we did. The heads up Sunday afternoon. We left Monday night.

ROBERTS: So it was as early as Sunday afternoon?

KING: It was. We knew 4:15 on Sunday afternoon he e-mailed me. Then we met at 5:00.

ROBERTS: What was the trip like going in there? We've both been into these places and typically you're aboard a military aircraft that does these spirals coming down into the hot zone. What was it like being aboard, but for all intent and purposes still a commercial aircraft.

KING: It's a 747. It's specially equipped. It has some extra tricks if you will to avoid certain dicey situations but the president insists on taking the 747, Air Force One, because to him, that's part of the symbolism of this, the power of America. And we didn't do a corkscrew. We did a few weird banks and then a very quick. When you got low altitude over Baghdad international airport, we could see cars on the highway going by. We were all joking on the plane, if this is a big secret, not so much anymore. Anybody looks up it's got a flag on the back. It says United States of America. It's a pretty recognizable plane. But they say that it was kept a secret until we were on the ground and Iraqi state TV was the first to put out that the president was in Baghdad.

ROBERTS: I remember I woke up Tuesday morning and thought, he did it again. He managed to do it. They're pretty adept at being able to do this.

KING: They can pull it off as long as everybody keeps quiet about it and a very small group within the administration knew about it. The big joke among the senior staff was that it was Vice President Cheney's up at Camp David. It was his job to keep the secret. Half of the cabinet up there, a number of staffers in the government because the president was having this planning session and they say only the vice president, Secretary Rice and Secretary Rumsfeld knew. So at breakfast Tuesday morning, everyone shows up, where's the president, where's the chief of staff, where's the national security adviser Steve Hadley and it was Dick Cheney's job to say, they're at a meeting, just calm down. The president then pops up on the other end of the phone call they planned in Baghdad.

ROBERTS: Very good. They kept it a secret all the way until the end. What was your sense of it? Was this an elaborate photo op or did something substantive actually happen here?

KING: Something very important substantively happened and an effort by the president to show progress, that this is a new Iraqi government. He believes and he was quite emphatic about this in talking to us on Air Force One, that this finally is an Iraqi government that should have legitimacy with its people. You heard Arwa Damon talking in the last segment about the prime minister said he will improve security, will improve basic services like electricity. So in that sense, the president, it's a chance for the president to have that handshake, to have a face-to-face, eyeball-to- eyeball meeting. But as much as it is a sign of the progress, it is also a sign of the problem. We're three years and three months into this war and you have to sneak the president into Baghdad. If you go back to the beginning when U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators, when Iraqi oil would be up and running quickly to pay for all of this, so as much as this is an important symbolic trip for the president and a sign he hopes of finally progress and optimism, you have to come away with it as well with an idea that this is not the war they sold, that you still have to sneak the president of the United States into Baghdad.

ROBERTS: When you it comes to progress, saying it doesn't necessarily make it true. You've got to follow through. John, it was a fascinating trip. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

Straight ahead from the war in Iraq to the war on terror, we'll examine the threat of a new al Qaeda, a homegrown terror. An army specialist with the 54th military police company was arrested for refusing a second tour of duty in Iraq. On Tuesday, Suzanne Swift was sent back to the Ft. Lewis army base in Washington. Swift says she was coerced into a sexual relationship with her immediate supervisor. The army is investigating. Swift's mother supports her daughter's decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH RICH, MOTHER OF AWOL SOLDIER: She went to Iraq once and she was my hero. She decided not to go back and she is even more my hero now.




STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The significance is not just for progress in Iraq. The significance is for progress in the war on terror as a whole, because we've knocked out one of their premiere, if not the premiere operative. That's a very important thing.


ROBERTS: That's national security adviser Stephen Hadley Thursday on what was gained by taking out Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. I'm John Roberts in Washington. From the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism, like the new generation of computer software, al Qaeda has evolved to a new version. You might call it al Qaeda 2.0. Al Qaeda 2.0 is decentralized, self-trained and, in some cases, home grown. Joining me for more insight on what this might mean for the war on terror, CNN's national security correspondent David Ensor who is here in the studio with me, Barbara Starr, who is over at the Pentagon and CNN national security adviser John McLaughlin, former deputy director of the CIA. Good day to you all. David Ensor, first of all, let's go to the new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. Abu Ayub al Masri (ph). He goes by another name as well. What do we know about him? What kind of a danger to U.S. troops and to the overall war in Iraq might he be?

DAVID ENSOR, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The individual you just named is an expert in bomb making. He was an Egyptian Islamic jihad under Aymin al Zawahiri. I should just tell you though, there is disagreement within the government over whether he is definitely the man. There was a statement put out under this (INAUDIBLE) name. Some people in the government think that there is a struggle for power going on within al Qaeda Iraq. This man is the front-runner perhaps. There may be other rivals. Also there even are some who speculate that there really isn't a leader yet.

ROBERTS: John McLaughlin, we have heard from the Iraqi government that they have captured documents, documents which we haven't been able to verify yet, that suggest that al Qaeda in Iraq is on the ropes. Is that the case?

JOHN McLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, it certainly, as a result of this kill, will be in some turmoil. There will be a debate within al Qaeda in Iraq about future strategy. Zarqawi's strategy of attacking Shiites was not particularly shared by everyone in the movement, certainly not by Zawahiri and bin Laden.

ROBERTS: This fellow al Masri apparently saying, yes, we're going to continue with that program. The beheadings will continue, the killings will continue.

McLAUGHLIN: I think we're going to see a lot of debate within the movement. We're also going to see the fact that people will be now looking over their shoulder to see who are the traitors in this movement because someone apparently turned on Zarqawi. There also will be as a result of these captures, we can't authenticate this document, but it's impossible to exaggerate the importance of things like memory sticks, computer hard drives which have been scooped up here. You get a ton of information out of that stuff. So I wouldn't say they're on the ropes, but they're going to be hurt a bit here. Important to remember that there are many other Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq. Some count as many as 60. And at least three of them are big important groups manned by Iraqis, not foreign fighters.

ROBERTS: According to some people's count, al Qaeda in Iraq only responsible for about 10 percent of the number of attacks, though they typically are big attacks.

Turning to Africa, on Thursday, U.S. and European officials met in New York to develop a new strategy on Somalia. CNN's Barbara Starr reported on the dangers there.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. has long called it a failed state, worried it has become a notorious east Africa haven for al Qaeda. But now, after weeks of fighting, militia groups called the Islamic courts, claim to control the capital and much of the country. It is widely believed the U.S. was supporting the warlords as a hedge against al Qaeda.


ROBERTS: Barbara Starr's at the Pentagon. As we said, Barbara, is there a danger that Somalia could become the next Afghanistan

STARR: Well, I think most people in the U.S. military John and in the intelligence community are deeply worried that it's already there. This is the al Qaeda east Africa haven. There's no question in the minds of most officials that Somalia is harboring al Qaeda terrorists and with this now shift in power to the Islamic militias, away from the warlords who had controlled so much of Somalia for so long, nobody can really war game what's going on there. The militias say they won't be a haven for al Qaeda. But look, Somalia has been a failed state for years. There's simply no government there, no real control and there is a good deal of worry at this point about who may be hiding out there.

ROBERTS: You got to wonder what the reaction is going to be though Barbara, when we back the warlords on this one, apparently.

On Wednesday, President Bush responded to the criticism of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, criticism that was sparked by the suicides of three inmates last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STAES: I'd like to close Guantanamo. But I also recognize that we're holding some people that are darned dangerous and that we better have a plan to deal with them in our courts and the best way to handle, in my judgment, handle these types of people is through our military courts.


ROBERTS: So David Ensor, how does this all tie together? What's happening in Iraq, what's happening in Somalia, al Qaeda in a broader term in the world over, Guantanamo Bay?

ENSOR: Well, Somalia is a failed state and there are, I'm told, by counterterrorism officials, there are definitely some people who are wanted in connection with the east Africa bombings who are hidden in that country. The question is, do these Islamic court militias know that? Are they actually harboring these al Qaeda people or not? It's obviously a subject of great concern in the intelligence community where John used to work. Big picture, Guantanamo's terrible for American public relations. It's been a bit of a public relations disaster. But what do you do with these guys? Does Germany want them? Nobody wants these people. Many of them are suspected of wanting to kill as many westerners as they can. So it's a major dilemma, something that they've really grot to tackle.

ROBERTS: John, real quick answer, should Guantanamo be closed?

McLAUGHLIN: I think it's a lot easier to deal with Guantanamo in slogans than in policy. Everyone would like to close it but the question arises, where do you put these people? This is the first war we've had where prisoners, these are admittedly enemy combatants, not POWs, but the first war we've had where it's uncertain when the war is going to end and what you do with prisoners at the end of it.

ROBERTS: John McLaughlin, David Ensor, Barbara Starr, thanks, from the war on terror to the front lines in Iraq --


UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Hey, dad, it's Chris. Hey, I got some good news and I got some bad news.


ROBERTS: This is "Iraq, A Week at War." We'll be right back.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Macedonia, Mexico.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Wednesday, Flag Day celebrated in Norfolk, Virginia aboard the USS George Washington with the swearing in of 146 new Americans from 45 countries. All of them, by the way, serving in the U.S. military.

Thirty-one-year-old Vasil Mencev shares his happiness with Maximus, his 2-1/2-year-old son. Mencev came from Macedonia and joined the Army in 2001. He has already served a year in Iraq, riding a bomb in Baghdad, as he says, his term for guarding vital gasoline convoys.

I'm John Roberts in Washington and this is IRAQ: A WEEK AT WAR.

Joining me now, former NATO Supreme Commander and retired U.S. Army General George Joulwan.

In Atlanta, CNN's international correspondent Arwa Damon, preparing to return to Baghdad.

And here in Washington, senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

On Wednesday, President Bush dismissed calls from the Democratic Party to set a timetable for troop withdrawal in Iraq.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's an interesting debate in the Democratic Party about how quick to pull out of Iraq. Pulling out of Iraq before we accomplish the mission will make the world a more dangerous place. It's bad policy.


ROBERTS: On Friday, CNN released the results of a new poll on a timetable for the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Fifty-three percent felt there should be a timetable of some sort. Forty-one percent felt there should be no withdrawal timetable at all -- Jamie McIntyre, should there be a timetable? Should there not be a timetable, politically and militarily?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Pentagon keeps harping on that idea -- conditions on the ground. We did see this week a reduction of troops just because one unit rotated out and they weren't immediately replaced. And if they do reduce troops over the next course of the year, they'll do it that way, by simply not replacing people.

But at the moment, they've still got troops coming in behind them.

ROBERTS: General Joulwan, the president has said time and time again that it would be a disaster to remove troops from Iraq too early.

Do you agree? Disagree? GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN, FORMER NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: Well, in reality think what there should be is a five or 10 year plan. I won't call it a withdrawal plan. And what you need to do is put conditions on that so that the Iraqis understand that they have to really develop their political, military, economic -- and that should be over a 10 year period.

We should make no illusions here that this is going to be a short issue. It should be a long one, in 10 years, and that should include military, diplomatic, political, economic, etc.

That's how we should be addressing this problem.

ROBERTS: Arwa Damon, you know the territory in Iraq exquisitely. You've spent so much time there.

Is it your sense, as President Bush says, that if there were to be a timetable set that the insurgents would just wait out that timetable?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's actually very possible. And like the military says so many times, the insurgents have a vote. And so if they -- and they're very patient. They're very willing to wait and to ride things out, to wait and to ride operations out. And all of the times when the military or the government has tried to predict what the insurgents are going to do, oftentimes those predictions have not come true. The insurgents have a vote. They have a choice in all of this.

And, also, when you speak to military commanders who are on the ground there, they're also very wary of this entire conversation of a timetable, of withdrawal, of drawing down the numbers, because they say that if this happens prematurely, if the Iraqi security forces aren't fully ready, the results are going to be devastating.

ROBERTS: Another big part of this story that we're following is Haditha. On Thursday, Jamie McIntyre traveled to New Hampshire to talk to an attorney. He's representing one of the Marines involved in allegations that U.S. forces killed Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November. He insisted that none of the Marines did anything wrong.


GARY MYERS, HADITHA ATTORNEY: It was not. It is not a massacre. What we had was an IED that did expected, where a Marine was killed. There is a response to that circumstance that falls within the rules of engagement and they responded within the rules of engagement.


ROBERTS: Jamie, it looks like people are starting to harden their positions on both sides of this.

Where do you think it's going?

MCINTYRE: Well, it's interesting, this guy, this attorney also defended somebody at My Lai. And he makes a big difference between what happened there and what happened here.

He believes, from -- that they have a good defense of either justifiable homicide or self-defense. And he sees no evidence of a cover-up. And what we're beginning to see is these defense attorneys are getting together and putting together the other side of the story. And it looks like the prosecution may have a tougher time proving what they think happened.

ROBERTS: General, give us a personal assessment here. What kind of effect is the Haditha investigation, the Ishaqi investigation, the other investigations, all of this, having on troops over there?

JOULWAN: It has an effect on the troops. We come from a culture that this -- we don't permit this. It doesn't go on. But it does reflect on the leadership, on the discipline of that particular unit. I would not tar every unit in Iraq with this brush, but it is something that I think you need to watch out for, particularly as you're sending troops back for a second and third or even, in many cases, fourth time. And these troops involve -- have been back there three times in two-and-a-half years.


Arwa Damon, you were in Haditha. People have said fog of war. Other people have said crime.

Do you have a sense of where this is going?

DAMON: It's really hard to tell, John. I mean whichever way it is, though, it's an incredibly awful, difficult situation from so many angles. But it's really hard to tell exactly what happened at this stage and that's why they are investigating it. And it could be any number of things. It's such an intense place to be in Haditha especially, that any number of things could have happened or could have gone wrong.

ROBERTS: Arwa, be safe when you go back to Iraq.

DAMON: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, thanks.

General, hang around. We want to talk with you a little bit more.

In Iraq, wounded troops are taken first to a CSH -- a combat support hospital. Like its predecessor, the MASH unit, it's a place where black humor and tough banter counter the daily reality of pain and loss.

Our Baghdad camera team was there when one serviceman arrived for the second time.


SGT. CHRISTOPHER FLORES, U.S. ARMY: Dad. Hey, dad, it's Chris. Hey, I've got some good news and I've got some bad news. Well, the good news is I'm probably going to go home pretty soon. The bad news is that I got hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: just the tip off the big toe and maybe the second toe in. Just the tip.


FLORES: will I still be able to walk?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: hell, yes. Of course.



FLORES: My name is Sergeant Flores, Christopher R. Bravo Company, 2nd of the 502nd, 101st Infantry Division (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, lungs are clear. Belly looks good, too.

FLORES: This is my second time in this -- at this CSH.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to stop visiting us. But we appreciate you taking one for the team, OK?

FLORES: Yes. I hate you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know. I'm sorry.

LT. NATALIE SKATES, NURSE: Oh, but we love you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we love you, too.

FLORES: You know, you don't forget how those people -- they take care of you, you know? They look after u. They try to do their best. They -- it doesn't matter how long it'll take them, but they'll do their best to patch you up, to get you back out in the game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that's new. I think that may be old.

SKATES: This gentleman, he was in here a few months ago, actually. I had him as a patient I think in March. He said so. But he's back again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry about that news, but your son is a trooper, man. He's joking and giving us a hard time.

SKATES: And a lot of them come in just with major injuries and they're joking around, just trying to pull through. They just roll with the punches.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, he's a trooper, you know? That guy's a hero, so.

FLORES: All right?

I love you, dad. All right.

SKATE: All right.

FLORES: I'm glad I joined. I don't regret it one minute. I don't regret that my face is like this. I don't regret that my toes are almost gone. As a matter of fact, I embrace the fact that this happened to me and I'm just proud to be in the infantry. And that's it.


ROBERTS: One soldier's story. And you keep your head in the game any way you can.

When we come back, Afghanistan and that country's week at war.

And a CNN reporter, Brent Sadler, in the sights of a Predator drone.




Fighting not just in Iraq. Hot combat, as well, in Afghanistan.

CNN senior international correspondent Brent Sadler joins us now via broadband from southern Afghanistan.

And just back from Afghanistan, former NATO Supreme Commander, General George Joulwan, retired, U.S. Army.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced new fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan, as NATO gets ready to take over command from the U.S.-led coalition in the next few months.

As CNN's Brent Sadler reported, it is a major campaign.


BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Operation Mountain Thrust has been hitting the Taliban hard from the air and on the ground. It is a multinational effort. These Canadian troops have been out here for the past few days, sweeping this area of Taliban insurgents.

(voice-over): The offensive is now shifting into high gear, calling on some 11,000 American, Canadian, British and Afghan forces.


ROBERTS: Brent Sadler now from southern Afghanistan -- Brent, just how big a problem is the Taliban now, some four years after the war in Afghanistan? We're not hearing that much about this anymore. SADLER: That's right, John. It was the forgotten war for quite some time. But what's happened this year is that the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan has become more porous. There's been a bumper crop of opium poppies that's helping financially to refuel the insurgencies. There's a cocktail of Taliban, warlords and criminals really forming a coalition of anti-government forces. Certainly an al Qaeda influence in that, and that's come together to challenge the central government authority here in the lawless south.

And that's why we're now seeing such a tremendous effort, through Operation Mountain Thrust, to really hit the Taliban hard and prepare the way for central government forces in Kabul to develop and expand security here. This will take time, though.

ROBERTS: General George Joulwan, you just got back from four weeks in Afghanistan.

What's the situation on the ground like, in your opinion? Is it somewhat like it was during the Soviet occupation?

JOULWAN: No. I think one of the other things that needs to be added Brent has said is that it's also a shifting time for NATO. NATO is coming in. It's taking over operations in the south, where much of this action is going on. And I just visited an outpost, what we call a provisional reconstruction team in Zabul Province, where this fighting is going on.

But I think NATO was going to be tested here. They just took over Kandahar, a Canadian. And so NATO is coming in and I think the Taliban realizes that.

ROBERTS: On Monday, Brent Sadler reported on a new version of death from above. Newly equipped Predator drones, which are making once impossible missions extremely effective.


SADLER (voice-over): Osama bin Laden believed captured on tape by a CIA Predator spy plane some six years ago. Predator could hunt, but not kill back then. But today's version, still searching for bin Laden over Afghanistan, carries powerful Hellfire missiles. Its deadly firepower was recently triggered over the Afghan battlefield from these controls in Kandahar.


ROBERTS: Brent Sadler, just an amazing piece of technology.

How much are U.S. forces relying on Predators to do the hunting in those high mountains? And how might that change when NATO forces take over?

SADLER: Oh, Predator is certainly a very important tool in this. I'm now talking to you from the Predator squadron. You can see the aircraft behind me there. They are up in the skies day and night, John. I just saw one go up a short time ago, before coming on the air.

They are an essential tool for various wings of the military. They will be staying here under NATO command and they are very, very operational in terms of their importance in the mountainous areas. They had an eye, for example, on the Zarqawi killing in Iraq and you can bet they're also very much involved in looking for Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants, as well.

ROBERTS: And I know, Brent, when you did that piece with the Predator, they actually had you in their gun-sights. Glad they didn't pull the trigger.

Brent Sadler in southern Afghanistan.

General George Joulwan, thanks very much.

War affects us all as a nation. But it hits home hardest for family and friends of the fallen.

Here's one look back.


YOLANDA CUMING: Kevin had a beautiful smile. He was a wonderful son, a great brother to Christina and a great friend. He was proud of what he was doing. I was worried, very, always. I always say I'm always worried about you, Kevin. I worry about u. I pray for you all the time. And then I think that maybe I didn't pray hard enough.

He died doing his duties, driving the lieutenant. They were ambushed and his vehicle was hit. And although he was wearing a bullet-proof vest, the way their rocket-propelled grenade came into the vehicle hit him and he was killed.

I missed everything about Kevin, everything -- his conversations, his smile. I want to hug him and I want to kiss him. He would say I'm all right, don't be sad. Don't worry about me, he would say. Be happy. I think that's what he'd say, be happy.



ROBERTS: Take a look online to see how one Iraqi woman using the pseudonym neurotic Iraqi wife reacted to President Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad. On Thursday, she writes on her blog: "At least Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki should have been told the day beforehand. I think that the unannounced visit gave a really bad signal to the Iraqi population. I mean, OK, for security reasons, granted. But at least give some respect to this supposedly sovereign country."


The military stories grab the headlines in Iraq and they can often overshadow the reconstruction successes, from roads to wells, as we mentioned at the top of the show, to schools.

Joining us from Baghdad is Ambassador Dan Speckhard.

He's director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office.

Ambassador Speckhard, tell us what progress was made in Iraq this week, in specifics.


Well, just this week, I opened a new fire station in Baghdad. This is part of a broader program to train and equip over 200 fire stations. And what's kind of interesting about this is we've reduced the reaction time to emergencies in Baghdad from about 15 to 20 minutes, to about five to six minutes, which has really had an impact on saving lives in Baghdad.

And I can tell you the enthusiasm of those courageous firemen is enough to really inspire anyone.

ROBERTS: Tell us a little bit about the importance of a fire station in Baghdad. You know, we see the violence there, we see the car bombings. We're not sure that Baghdad authorities like the fire department would have any -- any role in responding to that.

Do they?

SPECKHARD: Absolutely. The firefighters -- their fire and rescue, they're at the front lines of that. So when there is a bomb or an IED or an explosion, they're there to both address human life and try to save human lives, as well as to put out the fire and to respond to the crisis and to save and get people out. And we watched -- we watched that happen in terms of the training that they were doing for that just this week.

ROBERTS: So, Ambassador Speckhard, what other good news was there from Iraq this week?

SPECKHARD: Well, this week we also opened two primary health clinics that -- in Baghdad, that serve 70,000 people. And that's part of a broader program to equip and train health -- physicians and clinicians and to provide supplies to these health clinics. Health is an important aspect, particularly for the new government to show that it's meeting the needs of its population.

So this is something that communities really rely on and something that we can show that we're supporting them in a very direct way from the American people to the Iraqi people.

ROBERTS: There's also a new Iraqi Coast Guard headquarters at Um Kasr and a new power plant in south Baghdad?

SPECKHARD: Absolutely. The prime minister and the ambassador just recently visited this power plant in south Baghdad that serves about 190,000 people. As you know, electricity is very important over here, particularly in these hot summer months, and this is a big boost to the Iraqis at this particular point in time, again, showing the new government's effort to try to address their needs.

The Um Kasr Port is kind of interesting because that really is the economic lifeline to the international community and is going to be the engine for economic growth. And the projects down there have included restoring their ability to offload ships and improve the port, but also this Coast Guard project, where I was just down there a few weeks ago and you see the modern Coast Guard facilities, as well as the equipment we've given them in the way of boats to monitor the traffic there. Very important to protect that trade route, to protect against terrorism and trafficking in arms, and very important and significant in the terms that the Iraqis now are taking responsibility for some of their own security and protection.

ROBERTS: All right.

SPECKHARD: It was inspiring, as well.

ROBERTS: Ambassador Dan Speckhard, thanks for the update.

We'll keep checking back with you for the good news in Iraq.

Just ahead, a war of words. Are lawmakers making a difference or simply playing politics? We'll get details on this week's debate on Capitol Hill, next.



REP. TERRY EVERETT (R), ALABAMA: If some people continue to preach cut and run-from this war, then they will continue to kill Americans, kill Americans and kill Americans.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: We are talking about -- you're not talking about Iraq. The gentleman who was up there is talking about the war no terrorism. I'm talking about Iraq. That's what I'm talking about.


ROBERTS: On Capitol Hill this week, angry debate over Iraq and the war on terror.

I'm John Roberts.


Lots going on here -- debate about the progress of the war in Iraq, also jockeying for political advantage with congressional elections just five months away.

Congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel joins us from Capitol Hill -- Andrea, we've spent this past hour talking about the realities of war, the spread of al Qaeda, the deadly U.S. attacks that U.S. troops face on the ground, the staggering cost of rebuilding Iraq, even some of the good news.

Is any of this making its way into the debate?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, it is. I think they have been some heartfelt expressions of concern by some congressmen who talk about visiting troops in the hospital, meeting with their families, hearing their expressions of the emotional toll, the financial toll, the psychological toll it's taken on the families.

But the fact is, John, Democrats have questioned the timing of this House resolution. They say they've been pushing for it for years. Republicans resisted. Why now? Tight races. We're five months out from mid-term elections. Republicans hope to use this resolution, the debate over it, as an opportunity to give more justification for staying in Iraq, linking it to the war on terror.

The concern that Democrats had is that if they, and when they voted against it, as 42 Democrats did, they could be portrayed as being soft on terror and not supporting American troops -- John.

ROBERTS: And it would seem as though what we heard this week is just the beginning of the debate.

Andrea Koppel on Capitol Hill.


Looking ahead to next week, on Monday, the prosecution presents closing arguments in the Saddam Hussein trial. The defense is expected to present their final arguments in July.

On Wednesday, President Bush attends the annual U.S.-E.U. summit in Vienna, Austria. Topics on the agenda include Iraq's reconstruction and combating terrorist funding.

And on Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee holds a closed briefing.

I'm John Roberts.

Thanks very much for joining us.

Straight ahead, a check on what's making news right now.

Then stay tuned for "CNN PRESENTS."


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