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War With Iran?; Olympic Athlete Killed

Aired February 12, 2010 - 18:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: You are in THE SITUATION ROOM, and happening now, there is breaking news. A major offensive against the Taliban is set to be under way in Afghanistan. It is the largest mission of its kind since the start of the war. Can U.S. and British and Afghan forces drive the militants out of a last critical stronghold?

Also, a possible war with Iran, experts are looking at how it could play out. One says that the implications for the U.S. are disastrous.

And new video of a horrifying accident that killed an Olympic athlete just hours before tonight's opening ceremony.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, this mission is a historic mission. We are really at a point, a tipping point in the future of the campaign.


MALVEAUX: Not since the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan in October of 2001 has there been a mission on the scale of this anti-Taliban offensive that had just begun.

We are following the breaking news this hour, the massive effort to drive the militants out of their last major stronghold in the strategic Helmand Province. That is where U.S., British troops, they're leading these fledgling Afghan forces in the biggest test to date.

I want to go and bring in our own Fred Pleitgen. He has the latest from Kabul, Afghanistan.

What are we watching? What are we seeing? What is taking place on the ground there?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what is going to be happening on the ground right now, Suzanne, is that you are going to see the Marines, the British forces and of course the Afghan forces advance from several different places.

On the one hand, you're going to be seeing aerial assaults into that area. And what we have to keep in mind is that it is the middle of the night here in Afghanistan right now. It is 3:00 in the morning, 3:30 here right now in Afghanistan, so they are under the cover of night. They are going to be using what they have in gear against the Taliban now.

They are going to be moving in from the air with helicopters, also on the ground moving into the strategically important town of Marjah, as you said, the last Taliban stronghold in the Helmand province, and also -- and this is also very important -- a major poppy-growing area. And poppy of course is where the Taliban gets their major source of revenue from, which they then use to buy weapons to kill American and other NATO soldiers.

So certainly, this offensive is very, very important in the greater scheme of things also because for the first time on a large scale, what you are seeing is that Afghan forces are a part of the mix, are bearing a large brunt of this offensive, are taking on lot of responsibility.

And that is certainly something that's going to be very important going forward. It is going to be very important to see how these Afghan forces are going to perform in this offensive.

And certainly in the next couple of hours, we are looking to learn more of how things are going there on the ground in Marjah. Certainly what we have been hearing from the Marines prior to this offensive is that they believe this is going to be a very tough battle.

This town of Marjah has about 80,000 people living in it. It has been under Taliban control for a long time. And one of the things that we have been talking about, Suzanne, is that the U.S. has advertised this offensive. They have told the Taliban and the civilians in that place that they are coming in, so the Taliban have had time to prepare for this, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Fred, tell us why. Explain to our viewers why that is possible, because wouldn't the Taliban just simply set up the bombs secretly, plant them knowing that you have these forces coming in? Couldn't this undermine the whole operation by advertising this?

PLEITGEN: Well, it is certainly the first time that this has ever been done, certainly the first time that this has ever been done here in Afghanistan and many people have been asking why the U.S. and its allies chose to do this.

They are saying that what they wanted to do is they wanted to give the civilians in that area a chance to prepare for this. They wanted to give those civilians who might have wanted to leave the area the chance to get out of there, but also, those who wanted to stay, they wanted them to have them prepare for this, to be able to stay indoors for several days, to be able to have enough supplies to stay indoors for several days.

And the downside, of course, of all of this, as you said, this has also tipped off the Taliban. They know that this was going to happen. They have had time to prepare. And, certainly, what we have been hearing from refugees who have been leaving that area is that the Taliban on a very large scale, and for quite some time, have been rigging large parts of that area with improvised explosive device, and it is a very difficult area to fight in, in the first place -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK, Fred, thank you so much. Please be safe.

I want to bring in our CNN's Tom Foreman and our own Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. They are at the magic wall with details of the offensive.

Can you guys explain, what do we know? How is this working?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can talk about the battlefield for starters. This is the general area, Afghanistan, Kabul up here, Helmand province down here, and this is what we know about where U.S. troops have tended to be arrayed in this country.

You can see that it is up along the Pakistan border here, down in southern region here. Why in those areas? Well, it's pretty easy. Look at this. This is where the Taliban has been the strongest.

But as we move in here to look at this town, if we can, tell us, Barbara, what it is that is going to happen here. What is actually going on in this area?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tom, this is Marjah as we look at it, and this basically is the opium capital of Afghanistan and supplies a significant amount of the world's opium crop.

The Taliban has intimidated farmers here. They are paying them, taxing them to grow this opium crop, and then the Taliban using the money to fuel their own insurgent operation. So, let's stop and take a look. When the U.S. troops move in by helicopter with the Afghan forces, with British force, this is going to be actually very tough going.

They can't bring armored vehicles in. They will start here, crossing these irrigation canals, very small bridges, as you see. They will be on foot after getting off their helicopters, going through these mud walls that surround the fields. Many of these are mud walls, irrigation canals.

FOREMAN: So, these are actually walls around here?

STARR: And then like look at this compound here, for example, mud wall surrounding the compound. How do they know who is in there? How? They have to be careful about civilian casualties. They can't just start shelling these places.

FOREMAN: Talk to me a little bit about that. The notion is that airpower, which has been so effective in many places, can't be used that strongly here.

STARR: I don't think you're going to see a single bomb dropped here. This is going to be foot patrols, slogging through these fields, villages, towns and these compounds, figuring out who is there. And that is when you run into the problem.

They will come across IEDs, snipers, ambushes. And they will not be in armored vehicles, because this is too dense of an area for that type of activity.

FOREMAN: There are about 125,000 people who live in this area. Many of the civilians who have fled have gone up this way into Lashkar Gah, about 20 miles away.

Here's another question, Barbara. What is to keep the Taliban from simply fleeing this area and then sniping from the outside for years to come?

STARR: Good question. We have seen the U.S. military, especially the Marines, try and maneuver through this Helmand province region since the spring. They have been doing it for months.

What is different this time in the strategy? General McChrystal's hope is that the Afghan forces and the Afghan government will move in, provide security, economic assistance, rebuilding and some type of living for these farmers, other than the opium, and that will provide a security blanket, leaving the Taliban nowhere to come back to.

We will see if it works.

FOREMAN: And I know you have got some pictures that you will be showing us later on hopefully of some of the actual action on the ground there.

STARR: Well, let's go over here for a minute, Tom, because I want to start by showing people -- this was the actual NATO in Afghanistan Web site earlier today, and this is where strategy meets battlefield tactics.

Even before the operation began, we saw that they were advertising it on their Web site. They want the Afghan people to know, they want the Taliban to know, they want Americans to know as well as the British forces that this operation was unfolding.

And even in these early hours, we have some initial pictures. These are some Marines that several hours ago were at a roadside intersection engaging in a firefight as they tried to take some initial key areas in the Marjah region.

You can see the intensity, of course, of what is going on here. And I want to show everyone two more pictures here. We will get that to come up in a minute. These are the beginning of the pictures that we are seeing of -- and we have another one to show you -- Afghan forces in the field.

It is these Afghan forces, Tom, that everyone tells us will be so crucial to this operation. This will be the difference. Will they fight? And will the Afghan government really move in here, help the people, and stay? FOREMAN: Which, as we know, Suzanne, has been the question all along.

MALVEAUX: All right, Tom, Barbara, thank you so much. Kind of extraordinary when you think about it in real time seeing some of those pictures being released by NATO, itself, of an ongoing operation inside of Afghanistan. How things have changed.

Well, war with Iran, how would it infold? And what is at risk for the U.S., Israel, as well as others? Experts are looking at some disturbing scenarios.

Also, details of the luge accident that killed an Olympic athlete just hours before the opening ceremony.

And severe winter weather now hammering the Deep South. We will show you where the snow is and where it is headed next.


MALVEAUX: More than 200,000 dead, 300,000 injured, and one million homeless, that is the grim reality in Haiti today, one month since the devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake. And those statistics really make today's observance in Port-au-Prince all the more remarkable.

Now, of course, there are tears, there are prayers, but there's also some singing and some dancing.

Our CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he is in the Haitian capital.

Sanjay, tell us, what is it like to be there to mark this one-year -- rather, one-month anniversary?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it is interesting. It is called the day of mourning, really a weekend of mourning, from what I have been hearing. I was walking around the plaza behind me.

I don't know, U.S. , if you can even hear the loudspeaker still. Really, throughout the day today, there were a lot of different sorts of services. There were prayer services that spontaneously broke out into song and dance, some of which I think you saw the video of.

It was interesting in some ways. You have obviously people who are still dealing with a lot of loss. They have no homes. You have hundreds of thousands of people who are displaced, yet, I think maybe at the one-month anniversary, maybe because of the one-month anniversary, there is a sense of renewal as well, this idea that at least the people who are out here want to start rebuilding again.

Now, I want to be fair. I think there's a lot of people who simply did not show up to a lot of the services today. They are still either too desperate about what has happened, they simply can't get around, they have no money, so there is a lot of people still suffering at the one-month mark, but there was some of the sentiment that was shown in that video that you just saw, Suzanne. MALVEAUX: And, Sanjay, what do you suppose it is that is giving people that sense of hope? We are seeing people who seem to be very emotional and very -- and optimistic in some ways.

GUPTA: Well, you know, it is interesting. After natural disasters, often, there is a period of time, and people talk about this, sort of called the heroic period, where people really come together. They see the international aid groups here, people sort of trying to help neighbors out, and it is a really important period, and they can help lift spirits because of all the support they receive not only within country, but from around the world.

The challenge, Suzanne, though, is two months from now, three months from now, that heroic period ends -- it always does -- and that people can have a real sort of downward spiral, because they suddenly think, well, what happened to all that support that we had, even the media attention that -- they come by the cameras. They see that media attention. They feel good about it, but, as we all know, Suzanne, over time, it moves into another phase.

MALVEAUX: And, Sanjay, I know that former President Bill Clinton, he was in Haiti very recently. You had a chance to talk with him. Obviously, he wants to call attention to the ongoing situation there. Yesterday he had that procedure to unblock an artery.

We have some new pictures and some sound from the president. I want you to take a listen to what he said outside his home earlier.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really didn't notice it until about four days ago.

And then I felt just a little bit of tingling, not pain, no grabbing in my chest. And I thought I ought to check it out. And it is a fairly typical thing. As you know, Larry King had the same thing done a month ago and didn't even say anything to anybody. It is miraculous what they do with the stents. You just go in go out. And I didn't take any sedatives or anything. So, I was alert. I wanted to watch it. I got to watch it all on the monitor.

QUESTION: Did they go through your groin?


QUESTION: And having been through what you went through with the surgery, the quadruple bypass surgery, was it a little scary when it was going on, when you were feeling the discomfort?

CLINTON: No, because they know what they are doing. And I felt that it was just kind of a repair job.

And I knew when I did it that when you, transplant the veins, that sometimes they don't hold up very long. And the best news about it was that because of the medicine and the other things I have done in the last five years, the diet and the exercise, the rest of my heart was exactly as it was five years ago, all my -- the arteries and everything were just as clear.

So I actually am doing very well. I feel very blessed. I was fortunate that I kind of had a feeling about it.


MALVEAUX: Sanjay, what do you make of the president's comments? He seems to be doing rather well today.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, no question, he sounds like he is in pretty good spirits there.

A couple of things sort of jumped out at me. One is that he made a distinction that he had some tingling in his chest, not pain in his chest.

And, Suzanne, you may remember that Dr. Schwartz, his cardiologist, during the press conference yesterday really made that -- tried to hammer that point home as well.

I think what they are trying to confirm is that he did not have a heart attack, this was a tingling, this was evidence that he was not getting enough no blood flow to his heart, but he did not have a heart attack. He described the procedure. He said he was awake for it completely, which is interesting, no sedatives even. And that's pretty standard.

His sort of recovery period is sort of exactly as he was describing. He's not going to be able to do any heavy lifting. He's not going to be able to do any jogging for a period of time, but it sounded pretty good. He is going to need to be monitored, though, Suzanne, for some time. He's going to need to make sure those stents don't move and that nothing else is going on that causes problems for him.

MALVEAUX: OK. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Good seeing you again.

Well, the upcoming national intelligence assessment is expected to conclude that Iran has resumed work on a nuclear weapon. Now, that is according to a U.S. official who is familiar with this report.

And Iran's nuclear quest is a key factor in a hypothetical war that experts are exploring in a series of war games.

Our CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has those details.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Three recent war games analyzed all kinds of scenarios just to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. None of them worked.

(on camera): You participated in one of these war games. How did it play out?

KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT: In our scenario, Israel struck Iran without U.S. permission. So, the U.S. was caught off guard.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Karim Sadjadpour is an Iran expert who has lived in Tehran. In a war game, experts like him take sides and play out a potential conflict. The institution war game what would happen if Israel took out Iran's nuclear sites. This is one of the Iranian leaders.

SADJADPOUR: When Israel bombed Iran, what we immediately did was put the leaders of Iran's opposition on state television and pledged solidarity with the government. We put images of mangled Iranian men, women and children who were killed as a result of the military strike on television to appeal to people's national pride.

LAWRENCE: In this war game, Iran's opposition movement rallies behind a regime they hate. Far-fetched? Remember nine years ago when a disputed election divided another nation.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I feel like I was at the Alamo.

LAWRENCE: Angry protesters took sides until an attack by foreigners unified the nation and sparked the wave of patriotism.


LAWRENCE: With internal oppositions squashed in the simulation, Sadjadpour says Iran retaliates against Israel and strikes the Saudi oil fields.

(on camera): Although, this was a simulated Israeli strike, what were the implications for the United States?

SADJADPOUR: The implications for the United States were disastrous. The price of oil skyrocketed. Iran and Afghanistan. Domestic fallout in Iran was huge. The opposition movement basically died.

(on camera): The result of this war game was that if, if military action was going to be taken against Iran, it was better conducted by the United States, rather than Israel. But there is not much support for that here in the U.S.

Now, U.S. General David Petraeus has said that a military strike could spark nationalism within Iran. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said it would only buy time and push Iran's program deeper underground.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, Washington.


MALVEAUX: A high-speed accident kills an Olympic athlete just as the Games are about to begin. We are just getting in new video. We have a live update from Vancouver.

Also, thousands of people are falling ill in a mysterious outbreak of the mumps in the New York City area. And most of the victims have one thing in common. Plus, rumors are swirling about the Supreme Court and possible changes ahead.



MALVEAUX: Well, tragedy before tonight's Olympic opening ceremony. A luge athlete has a deadly accident during practice. What went wrong? We will have a live report from Vancouver.

And a day of mourning in Haiti, as the country marks one month since the quake. Anderson Cooper tells us what aid workers are focusing on now and what people need.

And White House concern as a health insurer makes a quarterly profit in the billions, then hikes premiums more than 30 percent. Why? Our Mary Snow investigates.


MALVEAUX: Tragedy at the Winter Olympics just hours before the opening ceremony. Olympic organizers are saying that they are in deep mourning after a luge athlete was killed during a practice run.

Our CNN's Mark McKay, he is in Vancouver. He is joining us live.

Mark, tell us what happened here.

MARK MCKAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a tragic accident, Suzanne. On the final training run of 21-year-old luge competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili of the Republic of Georgia, on his final training run at the Whistler Sliding Centre, the 21-year-old lost control of his sled. He literally flew off the sled, hit a pole, an unpadded steel pole, CPR immediately administered.

He was taken to a local hospital, where he subsequently died of his injuries. A short while ago, at the main press center here in Vancouver, an emotional IOC president Jacques Rogge spoke to reporters.


JACQUES ROGGE, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: Sorry. It's a bit difficult to -- to remain composed. This is a very sad day. The IOC is in deep mourning. Here, you have a young athlete who lost his life in pursuing his passion. He had a dream to participate in the Olympic Games. He trained hard. And he had this fatal accident. I have no words to say what we feel.

We have been phoning and contacting the National Olympic Committee of Georgia. We have had contact with the family. I just had a phone call with the president of the republic, who is also attending the Games here in Vancouver. And we are taking all actions to be able to show sympathy to the athletes.


MCKAY: The Republic of Georgia is considering whether to keep its Olympic delegation here in Vancouver.

An investigation is under way at the venue, at Whistler, which is about two hours north of downtown Vancouver. Suzanne, the men's Olympic luge competition is set to begin Saturday.

MALVEAUX: And, Mark, do we know if they are going to use this track for the luge events, or is this considered just too dangerous?

MCKAY: Well, it has been considered on some, on the part of some athletes quite dangerous. Some have called it the fastest track in the world that they have competed on.

The luge competition, at least the training, has resulted in a number of mishaps, including the gold medal favorite from Italy earlier today crashing out, not suffering serious injuries and then of course the tragedy involved in the 21-year-old luge competitor from the Republic of Georgia. Officials have not said whether they will go forward or not, but the investigation does continue here in Vancouver, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, ANCHOR: Mark, and just one last question, do we know how or why this happened? Was it just going too fast? Do we think that there was something faulty with the track or do they know at this point how this happened?

MCKAY: They don't know at this point. The investigation does continue. He was traveling some say up to 88, maybe 90 miles an hour. This sport is innately dangerous, and they are coming down the tracks which basically, Suzanne, are made up of concrete and ice. If something goes wrong, it can turn into the tragedy that we saw today, just hours before the start of the opening ceremonies here in Vancouver, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Mark, thank you so much for the report. Obviously, condolences to that athlete and his family. David Epstein of "Sports Illustrated." He is joining us now from Vancouver.

David, many people are saying that this particular track, it was more dangerous than others. Athletes are complaining or were complaining about it. Do we know if this is true?

David Epstein, can you hear me? Well, we're going to try to get David Epstein back. He is with "Sports Illustrated." He is a writer and he's in Vancouver covering this. So we're going to try to get him back on the phone.

In the meantime, a massive hike in health insurance premiums. The Obama administration is demanding answers from one insurance company, but will others follow suit with their own rate hikes? We will explore that.

And a deep snow in the deep south. Dixie is getting blanketed right now if you can believe that. So, where is all of the snow going next? We will have the severe weather forecast up ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

David Epstein of "Sports Illustrated" is joining us now from Vancouver to talk about that terrible tragedy, the accident with the Olympic athlete who has been killed, that luge athlete.

David, many are saying that the particular track he was on is more dangerous than others. Athletes have been complaining about this particular track. What do you know?

DAVID EPSTEIN, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": Well, some athletes had been complaining, and we know it's by far the fastest. Some luge athletes said this is maybe the first time we will see a luge athlete go 100 miles an hour, and that is 15 or 20 miles an hour faster than the course in rest of the world.

There is one curve that's been dubbed the 50-50 curve by the bob sliders, because you have a 50-50 chance of getting through basically. But that was not the curve that this Georgian athlete crashed on so this is a little more unusual. But the speed makes it dangerous, and it is really, really fast with people hitting 97 miles an hour, and it is nowhere, it is the fastest and not by a little.

MALVEAUX: Do we understand or do we know how fast he was going?

EPSTEIN: It looked like he was going about 88 which is not the top speed on this course, but it is still pretty much faster than any other course in the world.

MALVEAUX: And David, I want to point out to the viewers here, this is what one Olympic luge athlete from Australia said about this particular track. I think that they are pushing it a little bit too much. To what extent are they lemmings that they throw down the track and we are crash test dummies. This is our lives. This sounds very, very serious. Were there athletes who just didn't feel safe using this track?

EPSTEIN: Well, it is -- it depends. Though, usually the athletes are more worried about the technical nature of the track other than the speed. Other than one curve, they have not been worried about the technical nature, so you get the mixed reactions of the athletes.

I just talked to an Austrian, a member of the Austrian luge federation who was here during that crash, and his feeling was kind of like luge is a great sport, and great at 80 miles an hour, and no need to go faster. So with the thrill of the speed, there is a pervasive sentiment here that this is faster than anybody wants to go.

MALVEAUX: And when you say the technical aspect of the track, are you talking about? Are you talking about the way it is curved or what it is made of?

EPSTEIN: Exactly, the way it is curved and the hairpin turns, and multiple turns back-to-back, and this particular course when you hit curve 11 and this accident happened on curve 16 which is the very end. Once you hit 11, a lot of the courses flatten out basically, this course just keeps on dropping through 11, 12, 13, so there is really kind of no break from gathering speed towards the end.

MALVEAUX: Were there other accidents during practice?

EPSTEIN: There was a Romanian athlete, I think it was yesterday, bounced off of the walls, and was looked like knocked unconscious, but not seriously hurt. But there have been other crashes, but not -- the training has just gotten under way here this time around.

MALVEAUX: CNN has obtained video of the tragic luge accident, and I want to warn you that the video maybe disturbing to some viewers. It shows the crash that resulted in the death of a victim today of the Georgian Olympian. Again, this may be disturbing to some viewers.

David, obviously, that is a difficult video to watch, to see something like that happen to someone. How dangerous of a sport is this?

EPSTEIN: Normally, it is not that dangerous. There are crashes happen, but people usually walk right away from them. The last time there was a death was 1964 in training before the Olympics, so deaths are quite rare, although there are sometimes serious injuries and concussions. And people hit their heads and things like that, but it is rare to have something happen like this, and these courses, you can see the place where this athlete went over the course, and they built them up to prevent people from going over the course like this, and it does not happen almost ever.

MALVEAUX: Does it have any padding at all when something like this happens? To help protect the athletes if they are managing to lose control, lose control of the luge?

EPSTEIN: No, if they lose control, you know, the luge athlete tries to keep the sled in front of you so it won't come down to hit you in the head, be you are at the mercy of the ice and the speed and in this case the pole that the athlete struck was clearly unpadded.

MALVEAUX: OK, well, thank you so much, David Epstein, for putting this into context, and again, condolences to that athlete's family. It is very tragic.

Now, an outbreak of mumps has now spread to almost 2,000 people in New York and New Jersey even some of those who have been vaccinated against the virus, they're getting sick too. Let's go to our CNN's Allan Chernoff. He is in New York. Allan, tell us how serious this is.

ALLAN CHERNOFF: Well, Suzanne, health officials are saying this is the worst outbreak since 2006 and it's focused on communities of orthodox Jews.


ALLAN CHERNOFF (voice-over): The mumps outbreak is spreading through the orthodox Jewish communities of Brooklyn and suburbs north and west of New York affecting school-aged boys. The vast majority of the victims officials say had been vaccinated. DR. JANE ZUCKER, ASST. COMMISSIONER, NYC HEALTH DEPT: The mumps vaccine is not as good as other vaccines, and it is not 100% effective, but on the order of 80% or 90% effective, so that means for every 100 people we vaccinate, 20 or 10 may not be fully protected.

CHERNOFF (on camera): Mumps can spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs through droplets of saliva or mucus, and the disease has been spreading at some of Brooklyn's religious schools known as (inaudible). Now why is that?

Well, in (inaudible) students often sit at a table across from each other, questioning, challenging and explaining to each other and also sometimes sneezing or coughing in close proximity.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Along the avenues of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, many residents like Joseph Rubinstein have a friend or even relative who has been touched.

JOSEPH RUBINSTEIN: My grandchild had it, but they are OK. They had it, and it is over. That is it. Thank God for it.

CHERNOFF: The Centers for Disease Control says that the outbreak began in June with an 11-year-old boy who caught the mumps in the United Kingdom. He then went to summer camp in Sullivan County, New York, where 11 days later he began to suffer symptoms.

And at that point, he had already passed it to other children who had in turn spread it once they returned home. No one has died and only a few of the 2,000 victims have had serious complications beyond the typical swollen salivary glands and flu-type symptoms, but in occasional cases mumps can lead to deafness or sterility, so the Williamsburgh community is taking the danger seriously.

RABBI DAVID NEIDERMAN, UNITED JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS OF WILLIAMSBURG: The children is first. Before the parents, the health of the children is very important. So therefore, we are concerned, and we work very closely with the Department of Health.


CHERNOFF: Now New York City officials are focusing on vaccinating adults who are not quite sure they ever received the shot that covers mumps, measles and rubella. The city is offering free vaccinations next week -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK, Allan Chernoff. Thank you so much. Well, sky rocketing rates. Why is one health insurer hiking rates even as it rakes in big profits? Well, we are investigating. You are in "The Situation Room."


This is CNN Breaking News.

MALVEAUX: We want to get an update on the breaking news. We are following a deadly shooting on the campus of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Kim Essex of WAFF is on the scene, and Kim, what can you tell us?

KIM ESSEX: What I can tell you is that we have confirmed that three people have been killed, three people injured, all faculty members here at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The shooting happened shortly after 4:00 this afternoon on the campus of UAH in the Shelby Center which is a science and technology building.

We are told that one faculty member has been taken into custody, a female. We understand that the female had just been informed that she would not receive tenure and pulled out a gun and began shooting.

Again, three people killed and three people confirmed injured. Immediately after the shooting, the Shelby building and a nearby building were placed only lockdown as authorities tried to figure determine if there were other shooter or shooters involved. From what we are told that is still the same situation here.

Now, Huntsville police and Madison SWAT, Huntsville SWAT, the sheriff's department, state troopers, all responded to the scene here as well as campus police. About 7500 students attend college here at the University Huntsville campus. With is being 4:00 on a Friday afternoon, there were some students still here, but probably not as many students as normally would be here.

We are expecting to get a police briefing at the top of the hour. Hopefully, at that time, we'll receive more information.

For now, that's all I can report for you.

Live at the UAH campus, in Huntsville, Kim Essex. Now back to you.

MALVEAUX: OK, thank you very much, Kim.

Clearly, that is coming from our affiliate WFF. CNN is working to confirm many of those details.

15,000 U.S., British and Afghan troops are trying to drive militants out after key stronghold. We have the latest on the biggest anti- Taliban offensive since the start of the Afghan war.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This mission is a historic mission.



MALVEAUX: Jessica Yellin is monitoring the other stories coming into "The Situation Room" right now.

Jessica, what do you have?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Suzanne. Blast after blast after blast, a string of bombs ripped through a crowd of Shiite pilgrims in Iraq today killing at least four people and injuring 35. A female suicide bomber was reportedly responsible for one of the three explosions. U.S. and or Iraqi officials say that these type of attacks are intended to shake the people's confidence in the government ahead of the upcoming March 7th elections.

The Transportation Security Administration is letting 10,000 staffers in on big secrets all in the name of keeping our airport safe. The agency is upgrading the security clearances of all supervisors over the next two years. that would give them access to classified information. They say that the goal is to help them all better detect threats and stop terrorists.

So listen closely to this one, Suzanne. Yes, airlines may be charging you more for checked bags and blankets, but at least they're doing a better job of getting you to your destination on time. That's according to the Department of Transportation. Nearly 80, yes, 80 percent of flights from the nation's largest airlines landed on time last year. The Department of Transportation did that study. They say that's airlines' best performance since 2003.

So, Suzanne, do you think you and I are just always on the 20 percent of flights that are never on time?

(LAUGHTER)MALVEAUX: Yes, what is it about our flights? I can't manage to get anyplace on time. I'm not paying for a blanket. I'm just letting you know.

YELLIN: I'm with you on that one too. I'm with you.


MALVEAUX: I fundamentally disagree with that one.

YELLIN: That's not right.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jessica.

Well, there are concerns that not enough students are pursuing math and science and engineering careers. So educators say one way to reverse the trend is to make the subject, cool, fun. That's why one U.S. corporation is offering zero-gravity flights to teachers. Very cool.

Our Brian Todd, he went along for the ride.


BRIAN TODD, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Teachers, political leaders and people who run major corporations all say the United States has a crisis right now. Not enough students studying math, engineering and science, losing a competitive edge to students from elsewhere around the world.

Well, this is one place where they're trying to get some of that edge back.

(voice-over): A bunch of teachers and a reporter in jumpsuits lying on the floor of a 747. It might seem an unlikely setting, but one corporate giant sees this as the front line in its fight to keep America competitive in business.

This is the visual they want kids to see, their teachers floating out of control. It's a program called Weightless Flights of Discovery, run by the Northrop Grumman Foundation, a division of that major defense firm. The company grabs science and math teachers from across the U.S. to get on these flights, videotape themselves having a blast at zero gravity, and show it to their students. Experiments are mixed in and are purposely part of the fun.

HENRY WHITNEY-JOHNSON, 6TH GRADE MATH, SCIENCE TEACHER: We get the teachers to see if body weight had any effect on their travel time.

TODD (on camera): So you actually tossed a teacher?

WHITNEY-JOHNSON: We tossed a teacher.

TODD: That's cool.

(voice-over): How does it work? We're seated when the plane first starts to climb. Then, after we level off, we all have to lie on the floor of this padded cabin. We're taken on a series of so-called parabolas. It takes a series of climbs and then dives for about 30 seconds.

(on camera): We are about to be the first parabola (ph), called a Martian parabola (ph). We're going to be at about one-third of our weight. (INAUDIBLE).

(voice-over): When the plane dives, we're at zero gravity. Some of us adjust better than others. This is my pathetic attempt at a back flip. Later, I crash into our photojournalist, Bill Littleton. I'm no match for this guy, or this teacher, practically crawling across the ceiling. Some have strong enough bearing to conduct real experiments while the rest of us are floating uncontrollably.

(on camera): (INAUDIBLE)

(voice-over): After 30 seconds of weightlessness, you've got to hit the floor. We do a dozen parabolas (ph). The goal? Make science more attractive to kids.

Northrop Grumman officials say they came up with this because of what they call a crisis in American industry.

(on camera): Is there an overall concern that American students are falling behind, students in Asia and other places in science and math? Is that what's behind this?

CHERYL HORN, PROGRAM MANAGER, WEIGHTLESS FLIGHT OF DISCOVERY: Yes, that's the basis behind the program. We want to ensure there is a continuous pipeline of engineers and scientists at Northrop Grumman and places like Northrop Grumman.

TODD: The company needs that pipeline because many of its division require strict security clearances and are, therefore, open only to U.S. citizens.

Part of this collaboration with teachers is to wipe away the stigma of science.

ANNA SWENTY, HIGH SCHOOL SCIENCE TEACHER, NARROWS, VIRGINIA: I always tell them, they're the ones that are going to be making money down the road.

TODD: Northrop Grumman does this several times a year in different regions, has taken thousands of teachers on weightless flights. But whether it makes America more competitive may not be known for a generation.

(on camera): We spoke with one science teacher on the flight who says that she has a core group of students in her class that would be interested in science no matter what, a very small group. She has a much larger group that could be drawn to science but could also easily be drawn to other fields. That's the group she says she's trying to target to bring into the field of science. And she's hoping experiments like this flight, when she goes home and shows the video of that to her students, will draw more and more students into the fields of science and math.


MALVEAUX: A very cool experiment, indeed.

Well, we are also following a massive offensive happening now in Afghanistan. It is the largest operation of its kind since the start of the war. We are live in Kabul at the top of the hour.

And up next, the dog who got mugged for his coat. Our CNN Jeanne Moos is on the case. You're in "The Situation Room."


MALVEAUX: Well, it is a crime that has shocked the canine world. Our Jeanne Moos finds this New York City mugging most unusual.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It's the sort of dastardly crime that makes a Dachshund in a down jacket nervously look over his shoulder, news that leaves a Westie and Shirling shaking. A pair decked out in baby blue and pick, sniffing with trepidation.

DONNA MCPHERSON, MUGGED DOG'S OWNER: Who would take a coat off a dog? I mean, it's ludicrous.

MOOS: Investment banker, Donna McPherson, momentarily left her dog, Lexie, outside this Brooklyn supermarket while she went inside to buy milk. Left him in his green wool coat. When she came out --

MCPHERSON: I looked at Lexis and said, where is your coat, as if he was going to tell me. He was like, well, I just got mugged while you were buying milk. MOOS: The good news is they only got Lexie's cheap $25 coat and not his pricier Berber. And the really good news is --

MCPHERSON: I'm just thankful that they didn't take my dog. I'll never leave him again, ever.

MOOS: Anyway, Lexie still seems to have a better coat on than his owner.

One animal loses an accessory, another animal gains one. Check out the Houston cow with a tire necklace. That's SPCA investigator, Trisha Price, trying to help her out of her jam.

(on camera): Do we know how she actually got the tire on her?

TRISHA PRICE, SPCA INVESTIGATOR: It's a busy street. Probably somebody threw out a tire, it landed in there. It was something growing in the center in it. She reached her head in there.

MOOS (voice-over): They managed to herd the year-old cow into a corral. She wasn't helping them help her. They finally got her into a squeeze chute. Changing this tire was a two-person operation.

The animal rescue folks are always trying to get critters out of self- imposed fixes, from the squirrel with a cup on its head to the dear decked out with Christmas lights on its antlers to the skunk stuck in a jar of peanut butter. This is one snack he probably wished he'd skip. Oh, what a relief.


Jeanne Moos, CNN --

MCPHERSON: If I could find a husband like my dog, I'd be a happy woman.


MOOS: -- New York.


MALVEAUX: Happening now, a massive assault on the Taliban is under way, unlike anything we've seen in Afghanistan in years. We'll have a live report from the war zone.

Plus, Haitians who lost so much find reasons to celebrate exactly one month after the devastating earthquake.