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NATO Demands Russian Pullout from Georgia; Concern Over U.S. Weapons in Iraq; Fay Gains Speed Over Land

Aired August 19, 2008 - 17:00   ET


BLITZER: All right, Jack.
Thank you.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Russian troops on the move again. Some may be preparing to leave Georgia, but others are moving back into one city and taking more prisoners.

Iraq uses its oil billions to buy U.S. weapons. The shopping list ranges from machine guns to tanks and attack helicopters.

But could some weapons wind up in the hands of insurgents?

And a new push to lower the drinking age -- it comes from college campuses, but you'll never guess whose behind it.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


It may be the first sign of a Russian pullback in Georgia -- several armored vehicles spotted leaving the city of Gori. The Pentagon says there's still no significant withdrawal. But the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, says Russian troops will leave most of Georgia by Friday. That's what he said. Despite a prisoner exchange in one part of the country, Russian forces moved back into the port see of Poti. Russian officials say they seized and carted off 21 Georgian military police officers. The Russians also reportedly took with them four U.S. Humvees that were awaiting shipment home after a training exercise.

Meantime, tough talk from the secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, at an emergency NATO meeting in Brussels.

Our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, is there.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At NATO, demands for Russia to keep its word and pull out of Georgia.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We're very disappointed because despite the pledges that have been made, there has been no withdrawal at all. VERJEE: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Russia's invasion of Georgia must not be allowed to spread throughout Europe and spark a new cold war.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: This alliance, NATO, having come so far after the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union in achieving a Europe that is whole, free and at peace, is not going to permit a new line to be drawn in Europe.

VERJEE: NATO says its regular meetings with Russia are on hold until Moscow pulls its troops out of Georgia.

SCHEFFER: There can be no business as usual in our relations to and with the Russian Federation.

VERJEE: Secretary Rice pushed to suspend all cooperation with Russia at NATO and the European Union. But Europe is divided. Some former Soviet republics, including Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic nations, side with the U.S. on a deep freeze of the Kremlin. Other countries, like France and Germany, are holding back -- fearful isolating Moscow would risk their strong commercial and energy ties with Moscow.

The NATO ministers are on the same page in supporting Georgia, sending a team to start help rebuilding. But they have ruled out fast tracking Georgia's bid for NATO membership, instead appointing a new NATO commission to oversee Georgia's NATO aspirations.

Created in 1949 to defend against Soviet aggression, the NATO alliance is at a crossroads. There was little it could do to stop Russia's advance into Georgia. And with the militaries of its members stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, NATO may not have the power or the stomach to defend any of its members if a real showdown with Russia emerges.

NATO's secretary-general was defensive when asked, what is NATO membership worth?

SCHEFFER: It is worth what it has been worth since 1949.


VERJEE: From here, Secretary Rice goes on to Warsaw in Poland to sign an agreement on missile defense. That's triggered threats by Russia against Poland -- a NATO ally. And that could force the alliance's hand -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain.

Zain is at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Georgia isn't the only place where Russia is flexing its military muscles right now. Last year, Russia resumed periodic strategic bomber flights off Alaska's coast. Condoleezza Rice calls that at very dangerous game, saying nobody needs Russian strategic aviation along America's coast. A direct quote from her. Originating in Siberia, those flights trace the Alaskan coast and international airspace, lasting up to 20 hours. They use these giant bombers, the TU-95 Bears, as they're called. When they get close, they're shadowed by U.S. fighters like this one until they leave.

Here's a picture taken when one bomber flew low over the carrier Nimitz in February. During the cold war, both sides did this all the time. In 1992, the Kremlin stopped the practice. But there have been 17 flights since Russia resumed them last summer -- echoes of the cold war.

The Iraqi military has been paying a lot of money to buy some very deadly U.S. weapons and it can't wait to get its hands on more of them.

But will those weapons be safe in Iraq?

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's working this story for us.

I know there's concern about what's going on -- Brian, what is going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Big concern, Wolf. The concern is that they're going to be falling into the hands of America's enemies there. It's already been a big problem. And it looks like now there are going to be more and more U.S.-made weapons in many sizes streaming into Iraq.


TODD (voice-over): A battle tested bruiser -- the M1A1 Abrams tank with night vision technology and a proven track record. Soon, Iraqi soldiers may be driving these same tanks that defeated them in the Gulf War and again in the 2003 invasion.

There's a deal pending for the United States to sell Iraq 140 Abrams tanks for more than $2 billion. According to Pentagon records, the Iraqis have already spent more than $3 billion on U.S.-made weapons since early last year and just in the past few months have been trying to push through sales totaling more than $10 billion. This is money from Iraq's oil sales now being used to buy tanks, attack helicopters, grenade launchers, machine guns.

A nonproliferation group that's been critical of the Iraq War says the purchases themselves aren't the problem.

TRAVIS SHARP, ARMS CONTROL & NON-PROLIFERATION CENTER: Iraq has a very bad track record for keeping its weapons that come into the country from getting into the hands of insurgents.

TODD: Insurgents who might then turn around and fire on Americans with U.S.-made weapons. U.S. military officials tell CNN losing control of the weapons has been a problem. But they say they've recently placed teams of Americans with Iraqi forces, training them how to track those weapons. The weapons are tracked linking their serial numbers to soldiers' digital photos, fingerprints and iris scans.

One outside expert agrees the tracking has improved recently and he says the sales of weapons to Iraq should continue.

DAN GOURE, LEXINGTON INSTITUTE: This is a reflection of the fact that the Iraqi Army is being stood up and that we actually have a lot of units in combat doing their job. And as they go out in the field, particularly leading those counter-insurgency operations, they need more equipment -- equipment that otherwise we would have to provide.


TODD: And Dan Goure hits on a point that's been made for generations -- if the Iraqis don't buy the weapons from the U.S., they'll certainly buy them from other countries -- other countries which are not as concerned about tracking where those weapons go once they sell them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because right now, they have tens of billions of surplus cash that they're getting for their oil exports.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: A lot of that money just sitting in banks right now. So I want to just be precise, Brian. The money they're using to buy all these U.S. weapons is from these surplus billions that they have. It's not U.S. military grants going to Iraq and then the U.S. money actually buying more U.S. weapons.

TODD: That's correct. That's what we're told. The U.S. military has set up a special trust to help them manage the accounts. They advise them on how to spend the money. But U.S. military officials told us today this is the Iraqis' own money that they're placing into those trusts. They are spending their own money for these weapons.

BLITZER: All right, Brian.

Thank you very much for that clarification.

Let's go back to Jack.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: With high gasoline prices have come a chorus of election year ideas about what to do. And when those voices start singing, don't you know, the oil company lobbyists spring into action.

See, a lot of the Americans blame the big oil companies for our energy problems.

The oil industry is fighting back. They're spending tens of millions of dollars on lobbyists to keep Congress from doing anything that would punish them. The big oil companies are on track to surpass last year's record spending for lobbyists of $83 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And it seems to be working. See, suddenly the oil industry is the subject of a bunch of proposed legislation in Congress -- none of which is good for the oil companies. Democrats and environmentalists generally favor higher taxes on the oil companies and more funding for renewable energy. Republicans want to drill more wells.

When it comes to lobbying the presidential candidates, big oil spending there, too -- $11 million so far. Republican candidate John McCain has benefited the most. He's received $1.4 million in cash contributions from oil company employees. That's the most of any candidate -- three times as much money as Barack Obama has received.

Remember I said it's working?

So far, no legislation has cleared Congress on any of this. Gas prices have come down a little bit on their own. Congress is on vacation.

A financial analyst would suggest the tens of millions spent on lobbying by the oil companies is money well spent.

Here's the question -- can your voice be heard when the oil industry will spend more than $80 million lobbying Congress this year?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

An ambush and one of the worst attacks on American troops in Afghanistan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I looked at him and I called him about four or five times. I was like, "Phillips, Phillips, are you all right, Phillips?," and he never moved.


BLITZER: And now, in an exclusive interview, a young soldier explains exactly what happened in those remote mountains last month.

Barbara Starr working the story.

And Fay is getting stronger right now and its winds made for a dangerous ride. The inevitable -- unbelievable video, I should say. That's coming up.

And you've seen it in the movies, now it may be possible in real life. Scientists say they've discovered a way to make an invisibility cloak -- an invisibility cloak. You're going to find out how it works.

That's coming up.


BLITZER: All right. We're getting the latest on Tropical Storm Fay. It's defying the norms as it's passing over Florida. There's new information coming in right now from the National Hurricane Center.

Let's get the latest from our severe weather expert, Chad Myers.

What are we learning -- Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: As it came onshore today, Wolf, near Cape Romano, right down in Southwest Florida, it rolled over the Everglades. Well, the Everglades really don't count as land, so this thing didn't die off, like it would be if it was dying over a tropical area or a desert area, like West Texas. Remember how Dolly and Edouard, they both died very quickly.

This did not die. In fact, this is now 65 miles per hour. It got five miles per hour faster as it hit those warm waters of the Everglades. Yes, there's some land in there, but it's just an awful lot of hot water.

There is the eye of the storm right now -- not that far north -- about five miles north of Lake Okeechobee proper.

The biggest threat today is flooding. Another threat -- tornadoes. Barefoot Bay got hit by a tornado today. That's the same area that Anderson Cooper and I were there for two storm. We were there for Jeanne and also for Francis. That little retirement community near Palm Bay right there got hit and it got hit again today. Thirty homes really hit very hard. Nine are uninhabitable and more storms are coming onshore today.

So what did the 5:00 advisory tell us now that's different than was at 1:00 or 2:00 or 3:00?

It's going to be a hurricane again and it's going to turn left and it's going to hit Florida again.

Tonight, it will roll offshore and it's going to be in the warm Gulf Stream waters here. Kind of the water that came out of the Gulf of Mexico. It's called the Gulf stream -- very warm water here. It's going to spend 36 hours in those hot waters. And when it does that, it's going to turn into a hurricane again, hit Jacksonville, right through Tallahassee, and then back out toward there.

Now, look at the cone. It could go all the way to Atlanta. It could go all the way to Pensacola. We'll have to watch it. But this is a brand new development, now going to be a hurricane for the very first time in a long, long time. This thing has been around, Wolf, for six days -- now finally getting its chance to be a hurricane.

BLITZER: So it's basically Central and Northern Florida, maybe Georgia, that's bracing for the worst.

South Florida is out of it, I take it?

MYERS: That is absolutely correct. We'll have to -- I mean it can go left or right. But right now, that's correct.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Chad.

We'll check back with you shortly.

Senator Barack Obama said today war and terrorism are posing great challenges for the United States. Speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Orlando, the Democratic presidential candidate also fended off challenges by his Republican rival.

Listen to this.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE: I stand before you today at a defining moment in our history. We are in the midst of two wars. The terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 are still at large. Russia has invaded the sovereign nation of Georgia. Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. The next commander-in-chief is going to have to exercise the best possible judgment in getting us through these difficult times.

Now yesterday, Senator McCain came before you. He is a man who has served this nation honorably. And he correctly stated that one of the chief criteria for the American people in this election is going to be who can exercise the best judgment as commander-in-chief.

Unfortunately, instead of just offering policy answers, he turned to a typical laundry list of political attacks. He said that I've changed my position on Iraq when I have not. He said that I'm for a path of retreat and failure. And he declared that behind all of these claims and positions by Senator Obama lies the ambition to be president, suggesting, as he has many times before, that I put personal ambition before my country.

Now that is John McCain's prerogative. He can run that kind of campaign and, frankly, that's how political campaigns have been run in recent years.

But I believe the American people are better than that. I believe that this defining moment demands something more of us. If we think that we can secure our country by just talking tough without acting tough and smart, then we will misunderstand this moment and miss its opportunities. If we think that we can use the same partisan politics, where we just challenge our opponent's patriotism to win an election, then the American people will lose.

The times too serious for this kind of politics. The calamity left behind by the last eight years is too great.


BLITZER: And coming up, by the way, we will be hearing what Republican Senator John McCain is saying out on the campaign trail today at length, as well. Twenty-one is the legal age to drink, but most teenagers don't want to wait. And now there's a push to lower the drinking age and the presidents of 100 major universities across the United States are actually behind it, including some pretty big names.

And later, a grisly scene at a mosque in Iraq. Our CNN cameras go inside rooms once used as torture chambers. You're going to find out what happened.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Let's go back to Carol.

She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what's going on?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, a deadly scene in Algeria, where a suicide bomber targeted police recruits as they lined up for classes. At least 43 people were killed when the car rigged with explosives rammed into the academy. It happened about 35 miles east of the capital of Algiers. No groups claiming responsibility -- at least not yet.

Firefighters in Egypt are battling a massive blaze in the palace that houses the upper chamber of parliament. Helicopters dumped water from the Nile River onto the flames. A fire official said 16 workers and firefighters were hospitalized for smoke inhalation. The evacuated employees say they were told terrorism has been ruled out and that an electrical short circuit is probably to blame.

And, Wolf, take a look at this. In Florida, an astounding illustration of the dangers of powerful storms like Fay.

Our affiliate, WFOR, captured it all on videotape. A man out kite boarding in Fort Lauderdale is blown into the air by a gust of wind. He slams into the beach. There he goes. And he's hurled across a busy highway. This is unbelievable. And then he smashes into the building. The 26-year-old man is now listed in critical condition. Please don't do this. The weather really is dangerous out there. We're not kidding -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I mean I'm still -- I'm speechless.

COSTELLO: That's unbelievable.

BLITZER: It is. It's obviously not smart at all. Wow! What pictures.

All right. Thanks, Carol, for that.


BLITZER: John McCain's new push for energy independence took him to an oil rig off the Louisiana coast today. He had to compete with a nearby helicopter. But here's what he had to say, raw and unfiltered.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE: Americans across our country are hurting, as we all know, because of the cost of energy. Gas prices are through the roof. Energy costs have seeped into our grocery bills, making it more expensive to feed our families. And now, as people prepare for the winter, it's time for us to be more serious about our home heating oil needs and other issues that face America as far as energy is concerned.

And that means we need to start drilling offshore at advanced oil rigs like this one. This rig survived a hurricane. They have been here for nine years and they have not produced a whole lot of oil and natural gas. As we speak, they're producing 10,000 barrels of oil a day and 15 million cubic feet of natural gas.

Senator Obama opposes new drilling. He said it won't solve our problem and that it's "not real."

He's wrong and the American people know it. And I hope he'll seize the opportunity to come out and pay a visit like this one. I think it would probably change his mind.

We all want to conserve. But we all know that conservation will not put us -- will not be sufficient to put us on the road to energy independence.


BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama is keeping everyone guessing about his vice presidential pick. An announcement could come literally at any time. We're on the case of the running mate mystery. John King is standing by.

Also, a move to lower the drinking age. The push is coming from college campuses. But it's getting surprising support from high up in the ivory tower.

And Harry Potter has a cloak that makes him invisible.

If a young scientist at Berkeley keeps making progress, you might get one some day, as well.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, talk of vice presidential running mates reaching a fevered intensity. Barack Obama is expected to announce his choice this week.

We're going to examine who is in the running. Stand by.

A house of worship turned into a gruesome scene of torture -- an inside look at the evidence of a militia atrocity in Iraq.

And preying upon the most vulnerable -- an update on the search for a man who has been attacking New York's elderly. We have shocking video.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Barack Obama is expected to announce his running mate literally any day this week. Political observers are looking for clues in where he campaigns. And he's making stops in the home states of several top contenders, but there's also no concrete answers right now.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is working this story for us. Over the years, John, you've broken a lot of these stories with (INAUDIBLE). I know you're working very hard, as a lot of other reporters here in Washington are working.

First of all, what are you hearing about?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm an old man, Wolf. I'm going to leave that to the kids nowadays.

BLITZER: We don't want you to do that.

KING: OK. If the Obama...

BLITZER: We want you to break the story.

KING: The Obama campaign says they're going to text it out, so I brought this just in case it happens while we're standing here. Timing -- most of the people inside the Obama campaign that I've talked to -- I know Candy Crowley has talked to those -- most are indicating that while it could come any time, they think the most likely scenario is late in the week, perhaps even Saturday morning. He does have a big rally planned at the statehouse -- the old state capital in Springfield, Illinois, where he announced his candidacy, then to move on to some other places. Most people are saying look for that.

But they do say that this is Obama's decision and they could go anytime now.

BLITZER: Is the Olympics -- what's going on with the Olympics?

Is that a factor in all of this for them?

KING: That's some of it. Both campaigns have had to adjust to all of the attention the Olympics are getting. But, look, Denver is next week. Obama knows this is his moment. He knows you announce your V.P. you're going to get plenty of attention.

Are you going to get as much time on the networks -- or a certain network that's showing all the games right now?

No, but you'll get plenty of attention. BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about some of the frontrunners, at least according to the buzz.

Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He's getting a lot of interest.

KING: He's getting a lot of interest. And, actually, if you talk inside the Obama campaign high up and inside Democratic Party circles, he seems to be the -- if you're reading the tea leaves, he's getting the most signals of I think it's Biden right now. That's them. It's not Senator Obama.

People close to him say a strong case.


National security experience, born in Pennsylvania, a very energetic, enthusiastic guy. Obama likes him. They think he can go into small town rural America and campaign with some heart.

There is the risk -- we talked -- you talked about it in the Strategy Session. But Obama likes him, and he brings the foreign policy, national security credentials.

BLITZER: And he did well in those Democratic debates, some of which I moderated. He did pretty well in all those debates.

KING: Did extremely well. His history is a guy who won't stop talking. In all of those debates, he was pretty tight, pretty concise, and many people thought he won some of those debates. He just couldn't get past Obama and Clinton.

BLITZER: Couldn't actually get the votes.

Senator Bayh of Indiana?

KING: A safe choice. And if you're a Democrat looking at the map, saying what can we take away from the Republican electoral map? That's what makes Evan Bayh so attractive. Again, he can go into small town, rural America, blue-collar, white voters, where Obama had a problem in the primary. But he's from red state Indiana. If you can take Indiana out of the Republican map, it complicates things. So that's one of the reasons Bayh is attractive in this campaign, as he has been in the past.

BLITZER: And since there's a Republican governor of Indiana, should they care that presumably if he were to become vice president, there would be a new Republican senator from Indiana?

KING: Barack Obama would say that's Harry Reid's worry, not his worry. Of course you think about things like that, but you're looking to try to win the presidency. That is first and foremost in his mind.

BLITZER: Tim Kaine of Virginia, the young governor.

KING: Would reinforce Obama's message of new, different, change. If you want to do a reinforcing pick, Tim Kaine. Obama likes him. A Catholic. He's from Missouri and went to school in Minnesota. I may have that backwards -- may have been from Minnesota, went to school in Missouri -- but so he's from Virginia, another red state you'd like to pull over, one that is changing Democratic. Plus he has got some Midwestern appeal and roots as well.

He does not have the national security, foreign policy experience. Barack Obama loves his resume, his missionary work before he got into politics. They are a good match. Most think if Obama were a second-term senator, that would be his pick. They are a little nervous about Tim Kaine because of that lack of Washington foreign policy experience.

BLITZER: How surprised would we all be if he picks Hillary Clinton?

KING: That would surprise everyone, although there are a lot of Democrats who say, look at the tightening polls, look at your problems in blue-collar, white, working class America and among white suburban women, two areas where Hillary Clinton did very, very well. A bunch of Democrats are looking at those polls and saying you can make a better case for Hillary Clinton now than you could at the end of the primary season.

Another wild card you hear from time to time is Jack Reed, a liberal Democratic senator from Rhode Island, former West Pointer. Wore the uniform of the 82nd Airborne Division. Obama likes him a lot.

BLITZER: And we just got our new poll of polls only within the past few minutes. The average of the major national polls is now tightening down to 3 points, which is not as good for Barack Obama as it was when it was 6 points.

KING: It is not. Most people say the fundamentals are still overwhelmingly for Obama. I had a long, great conversation with Peter Hart, the veteran Democratic pollster this week, who says Obama has to answer two questions, essentially. One is, is he ready? And you do that more in the debates than you do at the convention.

And the other question is, are we ready, the question Peter Hart poses to the country. Are the people of America ready for an African- American president? He views this like 1980. There's a change dynamic, but like Ronald Reagan had to do in 1980, Barack Obama has to convince the country he's safe.

BLITZER: John, thanks very much. Stand by.

This important programming note for our viewers as well, tomorrow night you can tune in to two special documentaries here on CNN. John King's documentary, on Senator John McCain. That airs at 8:00 p.m. eastern, followed by Suzanne Malveaux's 90-minute documentary on senator Obama at 9:30 p.m.," Revealed." All of that coming up tomorrow night right here on CNN.

As violence drops in Iraq, refugees are beginning to return home. Several hundred of them came back to Baghdad from Egypt this week traveling free of charge on the Iraqi prime minister's plane. But even as the bloodshed declines, the scope of Iraq's horrors is still being uncovered.

CNN's Arwa Damon visits a mosque that was used as a torture chamber. And we must caution you, her report contains disturbing images.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is what we're told the Shia militia known as the Mehdi army, left behind in one Baghdad mosque. Here, chunks of a woman's hair dug up from a grave, bloodstains on the walls. A makeshift noose hangs from the ceiling.

The new man in charge here shows us where corpses were buried in the mosque's garden. They were tortured, he says, some shot in the head.

People we met who lived near this mosque say they were able to hear the screams of the victims inside. This is the room where innocent people were tortured, then killed, he says. We covered the blood with dirt.

It's been three months since the Mehdi army abandoned this mosque which it seems to have used as a prison and torture chamber. Spray painted on the walls, a chilling warning. Spies, you will dig your own graves. Long live, the Mehdi army.

Now, another local armed group, the sons of Iraq, backed by the U.S. military and working with the Iraqi police are in charge here. Showing us what they say their predecessors did.

This chain was found tied around the hands and legs of one of the bodies they pulled from the grave outside. It was the body of an old man. And it's really only now that people are beginning to understand the true magnitude of the atrocities committed by the Shia militia and the brutal laws that they were forcing upon the people.

They say at least 27 bodies were buried here. Both Sunni and Shia victims. Abu Salam's son was abducted by the militia. His son was found in that grave right there. They said he was an agent for the Americans, Abu Salam says. This graphic video was delivered to their home. Clenching her son's photo, his mother sobbed. He was just a college student. The body they recovered was almost unrecognizable. His corpse was rotting, Abu Salam shudders. His hands and legs were amputated and he was decapitated. He was just 25 years old.

Many families fled during the Mehdi army's reign. The roads are largely deserted. Homes shuttered, buildings shot up. We met some residents lingering at the mosques clutching photos of abducted loved ones, hoping for clues. "They took away my son, my cousin and my nephew," he tells us. His wife holding a photo of her young son breaks down. "They said we just want to talk to him for a few minutes." The family never saw him again. They still threaten us now, another woman says. "Yesterday they chased me. They wanted to abduct me," she adds. A year and a half later although less visible and out of this mosque, the Mehdi militia is still around and the people here know it.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.


BLITZER: A young soldier with an incredible story to tell. He survived an ambush in Afghanistan that killed nine of his friends. We have the CNN exclusive. Barbara Starr working the story.

And ever wonder what the candidates read online? Coming up, the new way to find out.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Rather large scale attacks at different parts of Afghanistan. First ten French soldiers were killed, 21 were wounded when their parole was ambushed near Kabul, the capital. U.S. forces were targeted when suicide bombers struck a base near the Pakistani border. U.S. troops weren't fortunate in an ambush attack by the Taliban last month. Nine American troops were killed.

Our CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has an exclusive interview with a survivor.

Barbara, tell us about this story. It's a pretty desperate battle.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It was indeed, Wolf. You know, back in July when this happened last month, this was the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in three years. Now, a firsthand account.


STARR: July 13th. The mountains of Afghanistan. Army Specialist Tyler Stafford and the men of the 503rd infantry regiment knew they were likely to be attacked.

SPEC. TYLER STAFFORD, U.S. ARMY: When I heard the first volley come in, I grabbed my machine gun.

STARR: By the time it was over, nine paratroopers were dead. More than a dozen wounded, in an assault by 200 Taliban that left them outgunned, outmanned Americans fighting to save each other. Now recovering from his wounds, Stafford draws a map of the battle. Americans surrounded on three sides. Calling out to his friend, Corporal Matthew Phillips.

STAFFORD: I yelled to him, I was like, Phillips, I need help. I'm hit. I looked at him, and I called him about four or five times. It was like, Phillip, Phillip, you all right? Phillips? He never moved. It's the first one of my buddies I've ever seen die.

STARR: A short distance away Corporal Jonathan Ayres.

STAFFORD: He never stopped shooting. I thought that was completely amazing. He finally was killed by RPGs and fire, gunfire. But he never once stopped shooting back at them.

STARR: Running low on ammunition, some of the men so badly injured they were unable to move. Help would not come for an hour.

STAFFORD: I can hear everything exploding. A lot of gunfire, the 50-caliber machine guns are firing, the Mark 14 millimeter grenade launchers are firing. They had 200-plus guys all shooting at us. I mean, pure chaos. You can hear guys screaming.

STARR: Lieutenant Jonathan Brustrum and Corporal Vader tried to bring in more ammunition. Running through gunfire, they died trying.

STAFFORD: I knew our guys are in trouble. When the airborne is in trouble, you don't leave them to die. You go help them. They brought what they could.

STARR: As Stafford was helicoptered to safety, a last look back at the death below.

STAFFORD: It's like one of those movies out of like Vietnam that you see with all the special effects and everything's on fire. Smoke in the air and you see the tracer rounds going back and forth, just -- you can't explain it. The amount of RPGs they had, it was an insane rate of RPG fire, boom, boom, boom!

STARR: All the men who died were remembered for their valor in a war in a war where there are not enough men.

STAFFORD: They serve for each other. You are fighting for the guy on your back. The guy in the foxhole next to you when that kind of stuff happens. And we all loved each other very much.


STARR: Tyler Stafford told us he was speaking on behalf of all of the men who fought and those who died on that day. And tonight, Wolf, commanders in Afghanistan are still waiting for the pentagon to send them the additional troops, they insist and say they really do need.


BLITZER: They certainly do. Thanks for bringing us that story, Barbara. Appreciate it very much.

New York police are asking for help in finding a criminal who is targeting elderly people in Brooklyn. The latest attack was captured on surveillance video.

Let's get the latest from Deb Feyerick in New York. What do we know?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The attacker is preying on elderly women and the NYPD is on alert. Take a look at the surveillance video. 85-year-old Brooklyn grandmother Lillian Fran is in the elevator and she rides it to the fifth floor and the man on her right just as she's about to exit, gets behind her and grabs her around the neck, lifts her off the ground and chokes her until police say she passes out. He then steals her bag and cane and races down the stairs escaping out of the building. You can see it there again. He's behind her. He knew exactly when he was going to attack her. Police say that he may be responsible for as many as 12 attacks. 11 of them against elderly women in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights neighborhood.

COMM. RAY KELLY, NEW YORK POLICE: In some of the instances, he just simply takes the bag, but in 45 of those incidents, he's choked the victims to the point where the victim has passed out.

FEYERICK: Now, in the latest attacks, the mugger made out with $900 the woman had taken out of the bank. He's stolen credit cards and even a bible. The person apparently has no boundaries.


BLITZER: They got to find the guy and I'm sure they will rather soon. Let's hope. Thanks very much Deb for that.

College presidents across the United States, they say they want to lower -- yes, lower -- the drinking age. Why they believe it will keep kids safer. That's coming up.

And Jack's question this hour, can your voice be heard when the oil industry will spend more than $80 million lobbying congress this year? Your e-mail and the Cafferty file, all that coming up.


BLITZER: College presidents across the country are stirring the debate over the legal drinking age with a move toward lowering it. We promised our viewers we'd look into this story yesterday. Carol Costello has been doing that today.

And you're getting some good information.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very good information. Look, you can get a hunting license when you're 12, a driver's license at 16. And you can become a soldier at 18, but no beer until you're 21. There's been a quiet push online to change that. Now, there's a louder one.


COSTELLO: The quiet move to lower the drinking age just got a lot louder. More than 100 university presidents, including those at Duke, Johns Hopkins and Ohio State, have signed the amethyst initiative, urging 21 is not working, because it fosters a culture of dangerous, clandestine binge drinking conducted off-campus.

DENNIS O'SHEA, JOHNS HOPKINS: The conclusion of these presidents is that it's important to find a way to take the underground drinking that is forced by the 21-year-old drinking age, find a way to bring that back above ground, to confront it and to talk our students about drinking responsibly.

COSTELLO: Johns Hopkins says it's difficult to do when you're acting as the enforcer, something that Hopkins hasn't shied away. 350 of its 4,000 students faced disciplinary charges last year for underage drinking. But Mothers Against Drunk Driving says the amethyst initiative is irresponsible, one-third of accidents involving teenagers are alcohol related. M.A.D.D. adds these college presidents are looking for an easy way out of an inconvenient problem.

LAURA DEAN-MOONEY, MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING: As the mother of a high school senior, it alarms me personally as well, because I would not want my daughter to even contemplate going to a college where a university president has signed on to this initiative.

COSTELLO: The university presidents say they are not look for an easy way out, but taking on a difficult fight against a culture that celebrates secretive, underage a difficult culture that celebrates underaged drinking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This in insane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, man, this is college.

COSTELLO: "College" a new movie out next week features high school students delighting in the anticipated debauchery of their prospective college. Pictures of underaged drunken students party agent way from the prying ice eyes of adults. It begs the question, what he better? Drinking legally on campus at 18 or off campus illegally?

ERIN WAGNER, 19-YEAR-OLD COLLEGE STUDENT: I think it would be a good idea. I think it's better if young people are allowed to drink in an open area, a bar, they will be more controlled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a lot of students won't drink as much if the drinking age was lower.

COSTELLO: Others don't agree and that's fine with those who've signed the amethyst initiative. If you have a better idea, they say, they would like to hear it.


COSTELLO: And just so you know, 34% of colleges ban alcohol on campus for any student, 43% of all schools prohibited alcohol in resident halls. Those colleges are trying to do something, but Wolf, the problem persists.

BLITZER: It's a real problem and this very to figure out a solution. I'm glad they are discussing it. COSTELLO: They welcome the output and M.A.D.D. says that it is willing to debate the university presidents as well.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks for doing the story.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack. He's got the Cafferty File.


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question is can your voice be heard when the oil industry spends more than $80 million this year lobbying congress?

Michelle writes, "Are you kidding? There's no way over the jingle, jingle of big oil's pockets in Congress. Sadly, there aren't enough self-respecting representatives left to refuse their money and silence them."

David in Ohio weighs in with this, "The Obama campaign is establishing hundreds of local community groups just so the voice of the common person is heard louder than the special interests. Necessary communities groups will remain in place after the election to continue to give you and I and people like us a voice."

Ray in Nashville, Tennessee, says, "Money talks. The oil companies, with their record profits can talk loud enough to drown out all of us little guys."

Chad writes, "If the idiots in Congress had any understanding of economies whatsoever, no company or industry would have to spend $80 million in lobbying. But we continue to elect slick talking socialists repeatedly at Congress, none of whom have ever run a business, balanced a budget, delivered a product, introduced a new project, invested in R & D or anything remotely related to running a business. This is what we get. Never ending needless government intrusion and anemic under-performing markets. Businesses and consumers bite products they want. Businesses and consumers are the markets. Let the market sort out its own problems."

Carol writes from Durham, Maine, "The only way to speak my power is to vote. The only way to speak the power is to vote. My voice is small compared to that of a lobbyist or an oil man with millions. But I do have hope. If T. Boone Pickens has begun to promote alternative energy, then with luck, a new president being firm in a new direction, maybe the rest of us will follow."

If you didn't see your email here, go to by blog at File, look for yours there among hundreds of others.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. Ever wish you could just disappear. A new invention that could turn into had a real life visibility club. That's next right here on THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As many of you know, Harry Potter could become invisible and given the extraordinary work ever a young scientists, you children or their children may be able to pull off that trick as well.

CNN's Dan Simon has the story.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are on the campus of UC Berkeley, home to some of the best and brightest minds in the country. A couple of young engineers have had a significant can't scientific break through, so significant that what you see in the movies could one day be a reality.


SIMON: Hollywood is good all the making stuff disappear. From Harry Potter to James Bond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We call it the vanish.

SIMON: The effects keep getting more advanced.

JASON VALENTINE, GRADUATE RESEARCHER: You should think anything is possible. I mean.

SIMON: But Jason Valentine isn't talking about the movies. He's a 26-year-old scientist at Berkeley, working to make invisibility cloaks possible.

VALENTINE: It's cool. Makes it fun to come to work.

SIMON: He and his colleagues have engineered a microscopic material that can bend light. It is no bigger than a speck of dust. This is what it looks like magnified about 50,000 times.

VALENTINE: So if you cloak something, you have to bend light around it. It's like a stone sitting in a stream of water. So to bend light around the object, you have to make it bend in way that it doesn't exist in normal materials.

SIMON: The materials would have to be a lot bigger and configured in a way where it could be a cloaking device, say a blanket like in Harry Potter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some kind of cloak.

VALENTINE: See this stuff in the movies and a lot of it you think well, that's never really possible.

SIMON: If you are not an engineer, what they say probably will make very little sense, but their break through has this the scientific community very excited. Part of their funding comes from the U.S. military. Making people or things disappear could be useful in combat. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. You're not going to find invisibility cloaks at your local mall any time soon.

VALENTINE: We won't see anything certainly within 10 years. However maybe in our lifetime, something will be made that resembles maybe something in science fiction movies.

SIMON: If you are a nonbeliever, consider this, 50 years ago did anyone conceive of things like iPhones or robots on Mars? Harry Potter special effects? Maybe one day they won't be so special.


SIMON: Those developing the technology here at Berkeley are hopeful it could have a more immediate impact perhaps in the field of medicine. This meta material, as they call it, could be used in high detail imagery perhaps where you could see living cells in their natural environment. That could offer a huge medical break through and they are hopeful that technology is only just a few years eye way.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Dan Simon, thank you.

In the past 20 years, though congress has passed fewer public laws than this one. And you know Lou is keeping an eye on what is going on.

Are you surprised, Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: You know, actually I am surprised. Back in the mid-term elections in November of 2006 when these people were brought to office, you remember the excitement. I mean, that was a do nothing congress. The republicans were abject fools. They were ingrates. They were scorned by anyone concerned about public policy. Well off they go. In come the Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to lead the Senate and the House and guess what? They are worse than the people they replaced and would you have dreamed anything to be possible, Wolf?

BLITZER: You know I'm no longer surprised by what goes on here in Washington. Lou, I know you're going to have a lot more on this story coming up in one hour on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." Thanks very much.