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THE SITUATION ROOM
Gadhafi Remains Defiant; Unrest in Egypt
Aired March 22, 2011 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: A U.S. air crew is rescued after an F-15 fighter jet crashes in Libya. We will take a closer look at how the dramatic event played out from the time the jet went down until the two Americans made it to safety.
And Moammar Gadhafi still defiant, showing no signs of being shaken by the four days of airstrikes. Can he outlast the allied air campaign? Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that this complicated, risky mission was put together in his words on the fly. That's a direct quote, on the fly. Is he voicing doubts about the Libya campaign?
Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
There were heart-stopping moments for the American military today when a U.S. 15 Strike Eagle went down over Libya. The pilot and the weapons officer bailed out, were rescued and are now safely out of Libya. The military says the jet crashed because of mechanical problems.
Meantime, a U.S. commander says Moammar Gadhafi's troops are keeping up their assault on civilians. And allied air forces have continued to hammer Libyan targets. That includes an apparent strike on a port area in Tripoli that destroyed a rocket launcher and damaged several buildings.
BLITZER: And joining us once again, Nic Robertson in Tripoli.
Any indications, Nic, based on what you can personally see, that Gadhafi has at all been shaken up by these airstrikes?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't get that impression here, Wolf.
We continue to be shown -- on state TV, they continue to run these pictures of his loyalists coming into his main palace compound, dancing in support and praise of him, waving green flags. But I guess perhaps one of the ways to read the situation here is what we saw today when we drove down to the harbor facility to see this area that had been targeted by missiles overnight, mobile rocket launcher systems that had been targeted. Along the seafront, quite a lot of people were gathered to sort of look at the harbor area, just coming casually to see what had happened there.
And very, very few of these people were carrying or waving green flags or holding pictures of Moammar Gadhafi, as seems to happen wherever the government takes us. So I think that gives you an idea that when people come out on the streets here, they don't all walk around carrying green flags supporting Gadhafi.
But in terms of the leadership, no signs of a crack there and certainly good indications for us that his sons are still in communication with the outside world, certainly messages from them reaching to us, Wolf.
BLITZER: And so I take it given the fear in Tripoli right now, there's no signs of any significant civil unrest, protesters marching on the street against Gadhafi, as we have seen in other countries in North Africa and the Middle East?
ROBERTSON: Wolf, if they were to do that now -- and we talked to some of them a week or so ago -- they would be in incredible danger. The regime here is on a war footing right now. They wouldn't tolerate it. And the regime loyalists here are all very heavily armed. And this is what opposition people were telling us here a couple of weeks ago.
Every time there's a demonstration here and Gadhafi's loyalists come out with their guns and shoot them in the air, this is a message. It is a visual, psychological message for opposition supporters here that the regime is ready to put you down. The opposition know that they're not armed in this city and know that they have no physical way to stand up against the government right now, Wolf.
So it would be unlikely I think that we will see them trying anything like street protests at the moment.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Tripoli for us.
Forces loyal to Gadhafi have taken a heavy pounding from cruise missiles and airstrikes. But so far there's no sign the Libyan leader is weakening.
BLITZER: And joining us now, CNN's John King.
John, Operation Odyssey Dawn, it has been in business now what for four days. Gadhafi remains in power. What is going on here?
JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": Punishing strikes, Wolf, over those four days, but you make the key point. Gadhafi remains in power, which poses this question for the coalition. Do you keep hitting and do you keep hitting hard?
Let's play it out over time. The attacks started on Saturday, some cruise missiles and some airstrikes. You have seen them along the key cities of the northern coast, more pounding on Sunday, including the first targeting of Gadhafi ground forces over here near Benghazi. You see the stars. Those are airstrikes coming in.
Into Monday, more cruise missiles, more targeting of ground forces, this time a little to the east and some around Misurata. And here's what we know so far today on Tuesday, again more airstrikes, some more cruise missiles and more targeting of the ground forces here.
So four days in, Wolf, four days of punishing attacks, and yet the coalition says Gadhafi is still violating the terms of the U.N. resolution. He's still on the attack. And they say that as of now he shows no signs of backing down.
The one side of progress they do say is the are the anti-aircraft and surface-to-air missile sites. Secretary Gates saying today the United States has done what he believes to be a fantastic job wiping out especially the longer-range, 150-mile-range and the longer surface-to-air missiles, Secretary Gates believing this capability has been significantly degraded.
And another thing that we know is being targeted, Wolf, are Libyan air bases, especially these ones in the northern part of the country. It is this base over here near Tripoli that was used most often in attacking the opposition. We do know Gadhafi is still in power, Gadhafi is still fighting on the ground in places like Misurata. He is not -- no Libyan air force plane has taken off since this operation began.
BLITZER: The fixed surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile batteries basically have been destroyed. But they have mobile surface-to-air batteries. They also have those shoulder-fired Stinger.
So U.S. fighter jets, French, British planes flying over Libya, they're not necessarily out of the woods.
KING: They are not necessarily out of the woods, which is why, number one, those remain the big targets.
But I want to close this map down and show you a little sense of what is being used here. This is one of the things that's -- these planes are the planes in the air that could be at risk. Now, some of them are fighter jets. Some of them are attack fighter jets. But you see the range of aircraft from France, from Spain, from the United States, from Great Britain. They are all at risk as long as he has any surface-to-air capabilities.
Even the crude -- you can lucky from time to time.
KING: A shoulder launch can get lucky from time to time.
That's why they are relying a lot on these cruise missiles in the early days to try to take out as many as they can. More than 160 fired already, that's a million dollars plus a piece for those. They have to be replaced. But the scope of this, Wolf, is interesting. You mentioned the risks are still there.
Look at all the different air bases that have been used so far by the coalition partners, the U.K., Denmark, the United States, France, and Canada. This path here is the path that F-15 that crashed after having a mechanical failure. It took off at Aviano in the NATO air base. But they're using an array of facilities here.
The action continues here. But you make a key point. Gadhafi is still in the fight. He still has some anti-aircraft weapons. He continues to attack on the ground. So the coalition faces a tough choice. Do you keep it going? And you know, politically that's controversial within the coalition to try to decide to keep all this punishment going. If the goal was to stop attacks on civilians, how long do you go on?
BLITZER: And I'm told that one of the objectives in this pounding that is going on is to demoralize Gadhafi's military and to convince them, guys, it's over. Lay down your arms, because pretty soon you're either going to be killed or you're going to be arrested.
KING: Without a doubt. They hope to mobilize the opposition, to convince them that they can start to march west again. They hope to demoralize Gadhafi's forces.
And they're also hoping, hoping that folks over here -- we know the Gadhafi opponents have come out into the streets in the eastern part of the country. Here, where Gadhafi has a tighter fist, you have not seen the demonstrations, the indigenous political uprising, like we saw in Tunisia and in Egypt and elsewhere. They also hoping that people over here become more emboldened if they think the regime is in trouble. But again four days in, there's no sign of that.
BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much.
BLITZER: And Just a while ago, during his visit to El Salvador, President Obama spoke about the allied mission and America's role in it. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With respect to our national interests, the American people and the United States have an interest, first of all, in making sure that where a brutal dictator is threatening his people and saying he will show no mercy and go door-to-door hunting people down, and we have the capacity under international sanction to do something about that, I think it's in America's international -- in America's national interest to do something about it.
That doesn't mean that we can solve every problem in the world. It does mean that when you have not only the United Nations but also the Arab League and also other countries in the Gulf who are saying, we need to intercede to make sure that a disaster doesn't happen on our watch as has happened in the past when the international community stood idly by.
It is in America's national interest to participate in that because nobody has a bigger stake in making sure that there are basic rules of the road that are observed, that there is some semblance of order and justice -- particularly in a volatile region that's going through great changes like the Middle East -- than does the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's talk about this a little bit. After four days of this air campaign, is there any kind of end in sight? What's going on?
Let's bring in retired U.S. Army Major General James "Spider" Marks.
General, thanks very much for coming in.
BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Sure.
BLITZER: What's wrong with the U.S. simply staying in charge of this operation and not handing over leadership, if you will, command and control, to some European within a matter of days? Why couldn't -- why shouldn't the U.S. completely be in charge?
MARKS: Well, I'm not sure that the U.S. is really going to step away from a leadership role in this Operation Odyssey Dawn.
BALDWIN: Well, the president, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, they say within days, undefined how many, within days, the U.S. will transfer leadership to someone else.
MARKS: When the U.S. applies military force, it does not subordinate itself to another nation's command-and-control structure.
Now, the U.S. can retain a subordinate or a secondary role. But they will be very much be a part of kind of the mosaic or how this thing comes together, whether there's a Brit or there's a French commander who is actually executing the no-fly zone. We will forever have collection assets. We will probably logistics assets. We will have ships over the horizon that are available at a moment's notice.
We do combat search and rescue better than anybody else. We demonstrated that today. The U.S. will have a very prominent role.
BLITZER: So basically even if they give some French admiral or some British general the technical title of the leader of this campaign, what you're saying is, for all practical purposes, the U.S. will remain in charge?
MARKS: It will be part of a NATO structure, absolutely.
BLITZER: You're sure it's going to be a NATO structure? Because some NATO members are not enthusiastic about this, Turkey, for example, not very happy about this.
MARKS: Germany not very happy about it, absolutely.
BLITZER: Doesn't there have to be unanimity and consensus among NATO to do something like this?
MARKS: You're exactly correct. So there will be a hybrid of how this is put together. It will be a cutout coalition of those that participate. That's exactly correct.
BLITZER: Because it sounds like they will try to divide some of the U.S. military responsibilities let's say to NATO and some of the political responsibilities to some other European, some E.U. format. It sounds basically like it potentially could be a mess.
MARKS: Well, even if it's a cat's breakfast as they in terms of a hodgepodge of command-and-control type of apparatus that will be in place, there will be unity of command for U.S. forces. So, from our perspective, our young men and women that are applying force in this case will know for whom they work.
BLITZER: How much of this operation is designed to convince Gadhafi's military, his officers, it's over, give up before you die, or you're arrested? In other words, the psychological warfare part of this. We're already hearing from Secretary of State Clinton that she thinks some senior elements in the Libyan military are beginning to seek -- quote -- "options elsewhere."
MARKS: I can't speak to what is a classified piece of information about what some of those senior guys are trying to do. But what you have right now is you have senior guys that have already departed Gadhafi's regime and are working for the opposition right now.
They have raised their hand and said, we want to be a part of the future. The challenge remains, Gadhafi's army might die as a result of the no-fly zone, Odyssey Dawn. But the opposition knows most certainly that they cannot reintegrate if Gadhafi still remains. And again nobody is answering the question, is Gadhafi going to walk away? And you can't bet on his easy departure.
BLITZER: So, but the bottom line is, the U.S., from Obama's standpoint, is not going to settle for anything less than Gadhafi gone?
MARKS: That's correct. BLITZER: And the U.S. military will make sure he's gone?
MARKS: The U.S. military when given the directives will make sure and can make sure he's gone.
BLITZER: Because right now the military is saying that's not their objective.
MARKS: Well, it's not been given to them. They have got the U.N. sanction. They know exactly what they need to do.
BLITZER: But I don't understand . How can the president of the United States say our policy, U.S. policy is to make sure there's no Gadhafi leading Libya, but you're saying that the military hasn't been told that?
MARKS: If you take the words from the president, I must disagree. It doesn't square. The policy doesn't square with what's happening on the ground and in the air right now. You could very easily end up with a divided Libya with Gadhafi still in charge.
BLITZER: But that would be a setback for the president of the United States.
MARKS: Totally unacceptable. But that's not the objective right now as established by the U.N. and by what the military is doing.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.
BLITZER: There's also covert operations, which are not necessarily what the U.S. military is authorized to do, but others in the U.S. government are authorized to do.
MARKS: You have to assume that that is in the kit bag.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, General.
We have a lot more to discuss on this, the crash of that U.S. fighter jet in Libya. We will hear from a rebel who helped get one of the crew members to safety.
Also, fresh unrest across the region, including in Egypt right now, where a symbol of the old regime went up in flames today.
And a critical step forward in Japan's nuclear crisis. We will go live to Tokyo for the latest.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: All right, just a heads-up, Wolf.
In a few seconds, those of you watching at home, we're going to show you some very shocking and disturbing photographs.
The armed forces of the United States is arguably the greatest fighting force ever assembled. More importantly, it traditionally has been used to only in the noblest of causes. The most recent example is Libya. President Obama ordered our military to assist in protecting innocent civilians from being slaughtered by the ruthless dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
But as with any organization, sometimes it only takes the actions of a few to call the reputation of the whole into question. Here's the part I warned you about. Over the weekend, the German newspaper "Der Spiegel" published photographs of what appear to be two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan standing over the bodies of dead Afghan civilians in what has been described as trophy-like poses. Just disgusting.
One of those soldiers, Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, is being court-martialed for the murder of three Afghan civilians. And he will plead guilty tomorrow, in hopes of getting a lighter sentence. He also has agreed to testify against others. In all, 12 soldiers have been charged for offenses related to the murder of Afghan civilians last year.
The Army released a statement yesterday apologizing for the pictures and for the actions of those 12 soldiers, saying -- quote -- "The photos appear in stark contrast to the discipline, professionalism and respect that have characterized our soldiers' performance during nearly 10 years of sustained operations" -- unquote.
The incident is reminiscent of Abu Ghraib during the war in Iraq, where U.S. soldiers took pictures of each other torturing Iraqi pictures. Whether the lengths and the numbers of deployments in combat theaters of our military, which has been stretched to the breaking point, ultimately contribute to these kinds of things, that's a debate for another day.
Here's the question. Does the latest Army photo scandal change your view of the U.S. military? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: It certainly is an embarrassment, Jack. All right, thanks very, very much, Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."
Let's take a closer look at those very anxious hours for the U.S. military after an American F-15 Strike Eagle went down in Libya. The pilot and the weapons officers both bailed out. They were rescued. They're now safely out of Pentagon.
Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has been putting together a timeline for these heart-stopping events. How did it work out, Chris?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the Libyan state TV says the plane was shot down. The military says that is just not true, that it was a malfunction.
But in either case it shows that no fly definitely does not mean no risk.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): Two U.S. fighter jets take off from Italy on a strike run to destroy Moammar Gadhafi's air defense. But as they fly over Eastern Libya, one of the F-15s malfunctions.
CAPT. CRAIG WILLIAMS, RETIRED NAVY PILOT: And once you can no longer fly the jet and you have made every effort and tried every procedure in your book, then it's time to jump out.
LAWRENCE: The two-man Air Force crew ejects and the plane crashes. Their parachutes open, but they land in different areas.
WILLIAMS: And once you hit the ground, your procedures are, first of all, make sure that you're OK if you're in a two-seat cockpit look for your crew member.
LAWRENCE: Out in the Mediterranean Sea, the 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit mobilizes on board the USS Kearsarge. And thousands of miles away, Admiral Mike Mullen calls the national security adviser and the president in Chile gets word of the crash.
WILLIAMS: Part of your survival gear on board includes a radio. So you have the communications available to talk to folks and hopefully conduct a rescue.
LAWRENCE: The Marines have scrambled Harrier jets and an Osprey. The down pilot sees local villagers advancing, doesn't know if they're friend or foe and radios for help.
The Harrier drop two bombs in the space between the villagers and the pilot, a nonlethal way to warn them off. And the pilot is able to get on board the Osprey. Meantime, that second crew member who fell in a different area is recovered by rebels who oppose Gadhafi. They take him to a local official, the one man they know who speaks English.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was afraid. But I am talking with him. And I am -- kiss him. And I tell him, you are coming for us. You are our brothers. So don't be afraid. You will be safe. We will carry you for any place you will be (INAUDIBLE)
LAWRENCE: The weapons officer was safely taken out of Libya to Europe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was treated with dignity and respect, now in the care of the United States. (END VIDEOTAPE)
LAWRENCE: Now, just for a second, let's go back to that pilot. Remember, he has these villagers advancing on him, doesn't know if they're friend or foe, and so the military then drops those bombs in that area. We're told whatever their intent was, the shrapnel spraying from them did manage to injure some of those local villagers. Several of them had to be take on the hospital -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chris Lawrence with the latest on that. Chris, thanks very much, those two pilots out of Libya right now.
Gadhafi has been virtually invisible since the heavy bombing started four days ago, but no longer. Just a little while ago, he spoke out. He was seen on Libyan television. He's not backing down. He says he will win.
And new developments in the race to prevent a nuclear meltdown in Japan. Power is restored to the control room for one crippled reactor.
BLITZER: Despite four days of allied airstrikes, the Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, has shown up on state television, showed up just a little while ago, voicing defiance. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER (through translator): We will be victorious in this fight. We will not give up.
They will not terrorize us. We are making some of their rockets. The Libyans are lobbing at these rockets.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
GADHAFI (through translator): We will defeat them in any way, by any method. In the short term, we will defeat them, or in the long term, we will defeat them. We are prepared to fight, if it's long, short or long.
And I tell you, I do not care. Nothing -- nothing scares me. No (INAUDIBLE) can scare me. I don't get scared by the (INAUDIBLE). What -- not -- not even -- not even by the president sending rockets. I am here resilient. I have the right. I am here. I am here. I am here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Gadhafi speaking just moments ago.
The president of the United States just spoke moments ago as well. When we come back, you will hear from President Obama.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: President Obama has just spoken out specifically about what's going on in the war in Libya. Only moments ago he spoke to reporters in El Salvador. Here's what he had to say.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The military action that we moved forward on, in conjunction with our national partners, was defined by the U.N. Security Council resolution that said we have a humanitarian threat, and we need to deal with that humanitarian threat quickly: in part through a no-fly zone; in part by ensuring that humanitarian assistance can get into the places that need it. And what we've done is to create space for that to happen.
I think fairly shortly, we are going to be able to say that we've achieved the objective of a no-fly zone. We will also be able to say that we have averted immediate tragedy.
Now you are absolutely right that, as long as Gadhafi remains in power, unless he changes his approach and provides the Libyan people an opportunity to express themselves freely and there are significant reforms in the Libyan government, unless he is willing to step down, that there are still going to be potential threats towards the Libyan people. And we will continue to support the efforts to protect the Libyan people.
But we will not be in the lead. That's what the transition that I discussed has always been designed to do. We have unique capabilities. We came in up front fairly heavily, fairly substantially, and at considerable risk to our military personnel. And when this transition takes place, it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone. It is not going to be our ships that are necessarily involved in enforcing the arms embargo. That's precisely what the other coalition partners are going to do.
And that's why building this international coalition has been so important. Because it means that the United States is not bearing all the cost. It means that we have confidence that we are not going in alone, and it is our military that is being volunteered by others to carry out missions that are important not only to us, but are important internationally. And we will accomplish that in a relatively short period of time.
BLITZER: Let's talk about what we just heard from the president of the United States. Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, is here.
You wrote a piece on CNN.com, Gloria, and you suggest there's something unsettling about this military operation in Libya. What's unsettling?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think first of all, war is obviously unsettling, Wolf. But even people who believe, as I did, that the president did the right thing in forming a coalition, what's clear now is that we have to live with an awful lot of ambiguity here. When you're part of an international coalition, it's a little bit messy.
And in order for the president to get this coalition, he had to agree to kind of a humanitarian project, if you will, in Libya whereas the United States' own stated goals are to get rid of Gadhafi. And, you know, people in Congress, they want to know what's your goal? What's your end game? What's the timetable?
And when you're part of this group, whether it's with the Arab League or the U.N. Security Council, you very often don't answer those questions. So I think we're kind of in a whole new world here that's unsettling for lots of us who have lived through history in which, you know, America takes the lead, sets the timetable and says, "This is how we're going to behave." It just doesn't work that way.
COOPER: David Gergen is joining us, as well.
David, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, he spoke out about the mission today. He said something that struck a nerve, at least with me. I'm going to play it. Then we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: This is a complicated -- this command and control business is complicated. And we haven't done something like this kind of on the fly before. And so it's not surprising to me that it would take a few days to get it all sorted out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He says this was done on the fly. The Pentagon normally has contingency plans for every contingency there. When you heard that, what went through your mind?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought he spoke a truth in public that was inconvenient but helpful to hear. And that it -- I think it's been so clear, Wolf, this is very improvisational. It's accounted for the -- I think sometimes tortured way we've arrived at these policies, the kind of rifts we've seen among other nations we're trying to hand this thing off to.
And by the way, there does seem to be evidence now that those rifts may be healing. But it also points to the fact that the president, I think, tried to do the right thing; tried to make the right decisions.
But I think Gloria's right: there's so much ambiguity that it's -- that it's imperative when he returns from Latin America, he sit down with all his advisers and figure out what the whole chess board looks like in the Middle East, where he's trying to go, sits down with Congress, and then talks to the country.
BLITZER: Yes. I think he's got to address the nation from the Oval Office, Gloria. GERGEN: Yes.
BLITZER: Don't you think?
BORGER: He does.
BLITZER: He's got to look into that camera and explain why he's decided to put young men and women into battle, into harm's way right now. And explain the difference between the limited U.N. objectives and the much broader U.S. objective, which is regime change, getting rid of Gadhafi.
BORGER: Right. And, you know, the question, Wolf, is how to achieve one without the other, right? I mean, if Gadhafi is the one who is murdering his own people, how can you declare humanitarian mission a success if Gadhafi still remains?
I think this that is kind of a two-pronged theme. The first stage is the U.N., is the humanitarian position. And then the second stage is what the president -- president's advisers have called the tightening the noose stage, where you hope that you so isolate Gadhafi that people defect, and that eventually the rebels can win or knock them off one way or another.
GERGEN: And Wolf, there's an in between here, too, as we all understand. And that is, as the -- as the no-fly zone is erected and the rebels now start to go on the offensive, are we going to help them or not?
GERGEN: When does -- when do we step in? When do we not? That's all very murky. General Ham has said one thing: "No, we're not going to help them." Hillary Clinton said a couple of days ago, "Well, of course we should help them." We don't even know what the U.S. Navy is going to do. Is the Navy going to stay in place, is the Air Force going to stay in place once we hand this over? We don't know a lot of the answers to those questions.
BORGER: And by the way, who are the rebels? I mean, which rebels will we help?
BORGER: Which rebels will we not help? You know, there may be good rebels and bad rebels. Right? Rebels...
GERGEN: They're all rebels right now, Gloria.
BORGER: That's right. But you know, affiliations with al Qaeda, et cetera. So we have to kind of figure out if we're going to arm rebels or we're going to give rebels money or we're going to give rebels intelligence. I mean, who are we -- who are we dealing with here?
BLITZER: Whoever the rebels -- whoever the rebels are, the U.S. will help them one way or another. I suspect a lot of covert operations will be helping those rebels, because the ultimate U.S. objective right now, and the president has repeated it once again. Today we just heard him: Gadhafi must go. That's the U.S. objective. And I suspect the president of the United States will accept nothing short of that.
Gloria, David, guys, thank you.
A significant new development at that stricken nuclear power plant in Japan today. We're going live to Tokyo for the latest.
And the mission in Libya is under fire over its own name. Jeanne Moos has that part of the story. That's coming up later.
BLITZER: In Japan, a critical step forward in efforts to avoid a meltdown at that stricken nuclear power plant. Power has been restored to the control room on one of the reactors. CNN's Gary Tuchman is from Tokyo. He's joining us now from Tokyo, live.
What's the latest, Gary? I understand there have been also some aftershocks you just felt?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm sorry, Wolf. Yes, three aftershocks in the last 20 minutes, including two in the last five minutes. The latest one was 5.8, so that's certainly disconcerting for the people here in Japan who have suffered so much.
You talk about the nuclear plant now, you know, the battle to contain the damage has really become, like, a real-life scary soap opera. The theme over the last couple of days seems to be one step back and two steps forward. One of the steps forward, yes, power has been restored to the No. 3 reactor. There are six reactors, and that's key, because you want to get the air conditioning back on, you need the power first. Once you get the air conditioning back on, you get workers back to the plant. So that is very important.
Also, yesterday at this time, there was plumes of white smoke coming up from the reactors. There is far less white smoke today. It's not clear why the white smoke was there to begin with, but the fact that there's less is, indeed, very good.
But the negative news is that officials with the power company here are saying the damage to reactors No. 1 and No. 2 is more severe than originally thought. And there is radioactivity in the atmosphere, including radioactivity in the Pacific Ocean.
Now we should tell you here in Japan there is no mandatory evacuation order in effect for members of the U.S. military or their families. But there is a voluntary evacuation allowed for military members' families, and just today alone, more than 1,800 family members of U.S. military members got on seven airplanes to leave the nation of Japan -- Wolf. BLITZER: Which raises the question, what about you, Gary? How do you feel about that evacuation? You've been there almost this entire time. You were one of the first reporters to get there.
TUCHMAN: Right, right. We got here the day after, like 24 hours after. And today is my first day in Tokyo, Wolf. The last nine or 10 days, you know, I've been in the hardest hit towns. And to give you some perspective, being here. You know, we're glad we're here covering it. I mean, there are tens of millions of Japanese people who can't go anywhere. And we want to be there with them, documenting their stories.
But it really is very sad. And one thing I need to point out. You're talking now about 22,000 dead and missing, 9,000 confirmed dead. More than 13,000 missing. The fact is, of that 13,000, missing pretty much is a euphemism for dead. Some of them may be ultimately found in shelters or there may be mistakes, but most of them will perish. And that's what's so sad.
BLITZER: All right. Be careful over there, Gary. You're doing a brilliant job for us. We really appreciate your hard work. Thanks. Gary Tuchman in Tokyo.
The interior ministry in Cairo went up in flames today as police officers protested on the streets below. Our own Ivan Watson sent in a report from the scene. Stand by.
And the military calls this air mission Operation Odyssey Dawn. Jeanne Moos is wondering why. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Clouds of smoke rose over Cairo today as a symbol of Egypt's old regime went up in flames. It happened after an angry but peaceful protest by police officers.
CNN's Ivan Watson takes us to the scene.
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the interior ministry, what has long been the headquarters of the police state that has helped keep Egypt under control until revolution transformed everything in this country.
Moments ago, this building was in flames, a pillar of smoke that rose over downtown Cairo and collapsed parts of the building. In the last few minutes, we've seen military police on the ground, arresting some people. Also rushing away one man in an ambulance.
This fire erupted within hours of a large, peaceful protest in front of these very same walls where thousands of police officers, some of them in civilian clothes, many of them in uniforms, were demonstrating peacefully, demanding higher wages. Some of them saying they get paid the equivalent of about $80 a month doing this job.
The police were a symbol of hatred during the revolution because they were often used to break up peaceful protests.
(on camera) This is not the first time we've seen a disturbance like this here at the interior ministry. On February 23, after another demonstration by interior ministry workers, parts of the building were set on fire and put out. We do not know what the cause of this blaze was.
Ivan Watson, CNN, Cairo.
BLITZER: Yemen's embattled leader, now clinging to power after three decades in office, has offered to step down but only next year. The opposition rejects the bid, demanding that Ali Adullah Saleh resign immediately.
Saleh is warning of a civil war after a number of top generals and government officials declared support for the opposition. Protesters remain out in force on the streets of the capital following last week's crackdown that left dozens of people dead.
"The Cafferty File" is coming up next.
Then, critics are panning the name of the military operation in Libya. Jeanne Moos will show us why they're making fun of Odyssey Dawn.
BLITZER: Right back to Jack. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: "Does the latest Army photo scandal change your view of the U.S. military?"
Brianna says, "Absolutely not. The U.S. military took these photos very seriously and is court martialing the soldiers involved in the scandal. If there was nothing done about this, then that would be a different story."
Fred in Los Angeles writes, "Not one bit. But then again, the Iraqi prison photos didn't bother me either. War is hell, Jack."
Mike in Tampa, Florida: "This and Abu Ghraib are only the tip of the iceberg. The U.S. does evil things in the countries it invades. The Obama administration has attempted to cover up the atrocities through the solitary confinement of Bradley Manning and attempts to imprison WikiLeaks personnel."
Teresa writes, "No, because not every member of our armed forces is as tasteless and evil as these individuals. I am the wife of an Air Force veteran, and we're both embarrassed and disgusted by this display of moronic activity and disrespect of human life."
Peg in New York writes, "What shameful photos. No excuse can forgive this mess." Gordon in New Jersey: "As a veteran, it disturbs me that the training of these troops can be so poor that any GI might think this kind of behavior is acceptable. That said, the stress of multiple combat tours is taking a terrible toll on the small number of soldiers who keep getting sent back into combat again and again and again. We need a fair draft, and we need it now or our proud Army will be destroyed from within."
And Paulina writes from Chicago, "Our troops are our troops. As Americans, we need to support them for fighting for our freedom and for the freedom of others. There are millions of soldiers in our military. One can't expect them all to be perfect. Unfortunately, more focus is placed on the negative than on the positive aspects of their actions. I stand behind our troops, and if you don't, feel free to stand in front of them."
You want to read more on the subject, go to my blog: CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You'll be happy to know, Jack, a lot of my Twitter followers loved my idea of using the frozen Libyan assets, $30 billion, to help pay for the U.S. -- the coalition operation to free Libya. They like that idea.
CAFFERTY: Well, the point you made earlier, if the Libyans want to be free, then Libyan tax money ought to be used to buy the freedom. I think it's a terrific idea. But you and I aren't going to -- you should -- you should promote it on up the line someplace where maybe there's a chance of having somebody who matters listen to it. I don't count.
BLITZER: We just said it on the air, so they're watching. They're watching us all the time, Jack.
BLITZER: OK, thanks.
All the latest on the Libyan crisis coming up right at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA." Stand by for that.
And why are so many people making fun of Operation Odyssey Dawn? Jeanne Moos coming up next to explain.
BLITZER: Enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya certainly no laughing matter, but many people seem to think the name of the operation is. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It dawned on the military to name it...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Operation Odyssey Dawn. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Operation Odyssey Dawn's mission...
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, ABC NEWS: What's being called Operation Odyssey Dawn.
MOOS: And thus began an odyssey of insults.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE COLBERT REPORT": Odyssey Dawn? That's not a military operation. That's a Carnival Cruise ship.
MOOS: Well, a cruise ship isn't so bad.
JON STEWART, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE DAILY SHOW": Odyssey Dawn? You really name a combat operation after a Yes album?
MOOS: No, there's not a Yes album called "Odyssey Dawn." It's a joke.
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Odyssey Dawn. I believe it's the first military operation named for a stripper.
MOOS: Now you've probably never met a stripper named Desert Storm. Humanitarian missions tend to have inspiring names like Operation Restore Hope or Provide Comfort. So what's with Odyssey Dawn?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was absolutely random.
MOOS: U.S. Africa Command says they were given three sets of words beginning with certain letters to choose from.
(on camera) Odyssey Dawn does not mean anything, really?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, not at all. You know, there was maybe about 50 words that they looked over. And so they chose just at random the word "odyssey." And then someone threw out the idea of, you know, maybe "dawn" being the second word.
MOOS: Some humorists can't stop at just one Odyssey Dawn joke.
(voice-over) Andy Borowitz put out tweet after tweet. For instance, "Pentagon says they went with Operation Odyssey Dawn because their first choice, Spider-man, Turn Off the Dark, was taken."
And he even started taking nominations for better names. Folks suggested titles like Operation Enduring Instability.
(on camera) But our favorite suggested from Andy, Operation Liquid Dawn.
You know, Winston Churchill once objected to the word "Soap Suds" for an American bombing raid. He thought it was inappropriate for an operation in which men might lose their lives. The name was changed to "Tidal Wave." (voice-over) As for those in the media asking viewers for titles better than Odyssey Dawn...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. How hard can it be?
MOOS: ... Andy Borowitz is suggesting Operation Dawn Go Away I'm No Good for You.
(MUSIC: FRANKIE VALLI AND THE FOUR SEASONS, "DAWN (GO AWAY)")
MOOS: Though the Four Seasons might be over Moammar Gadhafi's head.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jeanne, for that.
That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"JOHN KIND USA" starts right now.