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Battle for Control of Libya; Countdown to Shutdown

Aired April 5, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Some important breaking news just in from Japan, the company that owns that crippled nuclear power plant just announced as of 5:38 a.m. Local Time -- that's 4:38 p.m. Eastern Time -- they have stopped the leak they say of highly radioactive water from one of the six reactors at that complex -- again stopped the leak of highly radioactive water from one of the six reactors. We're getting more details on this breaking news story and we'll have them for you just ahead.

Here in Washington today the threat of a government slow-down looms for just this Friday and as negotiators meet in private the battle for political positioning and potential blame plays out in a very public fashion.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we can't be doing is using last year's budget process to have arguments about abortion, to have arguments about the Environmental Protection Agency, to try to use this budget negotiation as a vehicle for every ideological or political difference between the two parties.


KING: If that's point from the president, well here's the counter point from the speaker.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: We've made clear that we're fighting for the largest spending cuts possible. We're talking about real spending cuts here. No smoke and mirrors.


KING: Tough rhetoric aside, most sources play down the risk of a shut-down. But if it does happen, will troops get paid? Will Social Security checks get issued? We'll separate the fact from political posturing just ahead, but first testing time tonight in Libya. A new diplomatic initiative by one of Moammar Gadhafi's sons falls flat rejected out of hand by the opposition.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We will not accept Gadhafi or any of his sons or aides ruling us ever again for even one hour.


KING: On the battlefield more signs of retreat and opposition among -- and confusion among the opposition forces. Let's take a look and let's remind you this was just last week the opposition had moved all the way over to Bin Jawad here, making their way heading west hoping to get to Tripoli. That's last week.

Look at the state of play now, the regime moving this way under attack. Al Brega fell to the Gadhafi regime today and now the troops are back -- the troops have moved back toward Ajdabiya. You want to see a picture of retreat? Look at this on the road. These are the opposition forces fleding out -- fleeing right out there trying to get from Brega heading back to their safe point. Listen to this from the front lines and Ben Wedeman.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The fighters like (INAUDIBLE) have developed a grudging respect for their foes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The troops, the training, have good training, you know? And our guys, our youth doesn't have heavy weapons and doesn't have a game, doesn't have leadership.


KING: With those setbacks and that frustration you can hear right there comes raw anger at the NATO-led military coalition. Let's check in with Ben, who has been tracking the fighting right here in the east.

Ben, it's clear that what you're hearing when you're out there on the front line with the opposition is that they have lost faith in this military coalition that they think should be helping them.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's certainly the case. I mean for instance, we heard from NATO officials that they say they have destroyed 30 percent of Gadhafi's military capabilities. But I can tell you, that other 70 percent is lethal.

We saw this sort of mad retreat today as the Gadhafi forces which yesterday everybody was saying they're running out of ammunition. They're really being worn down. Well we saw the exact opposite. They seemed well supplied.

They had good directing as far as their fire was going. And we hear this continued frustration from the rebel fighters with the lack of NATO air cover. We do hear the airplanes flying overhead. We heard them this evening for quite some time. But they just don't seem to be striking. In fact, one of the fighters I talked to was referring back to the days when they were making impressive advances before there was any air cover. They said we -- before that we put our faith in God and we were winning. Now we've put our faith in NATO and we are losing. And that really sums up the feeling on the front line.

KING: In the wake of these setbacks, Ben, we know there is a U.S. diplomat in Benghazi tonight to meet with the opposition. I'm going to bet he's getting an earful.

WEDEMAN: He is getting an earful. In fact (INAUDIBLE), the head of sort of the military forces of the opposition gave a very angry press conference in Benghazi tonight saying that NATO has disappointed them that they basically have done nothing that they are giving them intelligence, targeting information to NATO on a daily, on an almost hourly basis. But NATO simply is not acting upon it.

So definitely the American envoy is getting an earful from apparently the street as well when many people have come out and demonstrated for NATO to take a more active role in this current situation which is becoming quite tenuous. I can tell that you here in Ajdabiya, most of the residents have fled out of fear that Gadhafi's forces will come here yet again and reoccupy this city. After Ajdabiya, what is there, nothing but Benghazi -- John.

KING: A very sober assessment from the opposition front lines. Ben Wedeman -- Ben thanks.

And let's put an exclamation point on Ben's point. The regime forces took al Brega. They're moving toward Ajdabiya. Ben is here on the front lines, Benghazi, the opposition stronghold. Very critical to watch the fighting over the next 24 to 48 hours as the regime tries to push east to the headquarters of the opposition.

It took less than 24 hours for a diplomatic initiative from one of colonel Gadhafi's sons to fall flat rejected by the opposition and by the international community because it did not remove Colonel Gadhafi immediately and because it would leave Saif Gadhafi in charge. So in place of diplomacy the regime today delivered a message of tightening control.

A few weeks back there was strong opposition fighting over here in Zawiya, the mosque of the center of town was a key organizing point. Check out this satellite image. We want to bring this up to show you right here. Here is the mosque in the center of town, the Marta Square Mosque (ph), so you can see it very clearly here in this satellite imagery.

Look very closely. That's before. That's February. Here's after right here in March. You come down in here, it's gone. You don't see the walls. You don't see anything. Everything here has just been pulverized in the square, destroyed by regime forces. This was an organizing point here. Nic Robertson was there when the fighting was at its height.

He was back in the town today and he was looking around. One of the places he had visited before was an opposition hospital, a place where they were treating the wounded there. Nic went back today. He found it sealed up, said the doors were bolted shut. He couldn't even get inside.

No signs of the opposition. From his visit there to get a sense of the then and now, Nic is back in Tripoli. I spoke to him a short time ago about the big changes.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a town we're about 40 minutes ride (ph) to the west of Tripoli here, the capital that the government -- that President Obama and European leaders say that the Libyan government must get its military forces out of, like Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Misrata. This is a line in the sand for the international community. But what we're seeing on the ground is anything but Gadhafi's forces pulling out.

They've essentially, as you've reported before, completely flattened the mosque at the center of the city there. This was the mosque that the rebels were using as a medical clinic. And we saw it today. You can't even tell where the walls were on the ground. And it is not only that. The government is not just eradicating any traits of the rebels being there. It is stifling the very freedoms of speech that the rebels were fighting for.

KING: And it sounds like the government is not only in control. But they have sent a clear message. In the past you have set around the fringed, you might find some people who will whisper some criticism. They've snuffed that out too, haven't they?

ROBERTSON: When we were talking to the store -- the store keepers there they were actually pro government. There were three or four people who came up the street. Government officials making sure that nobody spoke out of turn. It is so hard there. I saw people, journalists just saying hello to families at the side of the road and the government minders, you could see them in the background waving at the families, shut up, don't say anything, stay back. It is a very, very oppressive feeling there -- John.

KING: Very, very oppressive feeling -- this time last night we were talking about this new attempt at diplomacy from the Gadhafi family. Essentially the colonel would step down. In time Saif Gadhafi would take over. It appears to have gone over like a thud, Nic, not only with the opposition but in the international community as well, right?

ROBERTSON: And I guess no surprise. I mean this is the Gadhafi family wanting to stay in power, trying to dictate the terms. That is you know don't suggest up front that this is regime change. Leave that to labor and the negotiations, tough talk from the Gadhafi family. But look at the battlefield. Misrata, the government forces, they're still shelling the rebels there, government forces making games further east in the country. So in the mindset of the leadership here, they still feel that they can dictate their sort of diplomatic terms because they're making gains on the battlefield.

KING: Nic Robertson tonight in Tripoli -- Nic, thank you. Let's get some perspective now from Meghan O'Sullivan. She's a former deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush, now professor at the Kennedy School at Harvard University. Meghan, I want to start with the point, the opposition is making over and over and over again. They say they're out there. They're undermanned. They're outgunned and they say they're looking up and they're not getting help from the coalition. Is that a legitimate complaint or a misunderstanding of the rules of engagement?

MEGHAN O'SULLIVAN, FORMER DEP. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Sure. Well there are two things that could be happening. The first is definitely happening and that is the transition from a much more focused leadership under the United States to a NATO coalition leadership. Obviously it is going to be a little bit slower.

The second thing which could be happening is that the rebels have become used to the coalition, to the United States and its allies functioning not as a shield for keeping off a humanitarian disaster but as close air support. And we know that there is disagreement within NATO just how much NATO should be involved in a mission which is really quite distinct from preventing a humanitarian disaster.

KING: And so you hear those complaints. And if you look at the map, it is stunning how the regime has moved east in recent days, now threatening Ajdabiya not just moving through Ras Lanuf, moving through Brega but moving straight toward Ajdabiya and potentially, Benghazi, the opposition headquarters.

And then you hear from Nic Robertson taking up by the government today to the other cities where the opposition had some gains. It seems like gloating. The regime just seems to be gloating saying look at us. You have this coalition line against us and we are taking back control.

O'SULLIVAN: Well, I think there is always a tendency when you have 24 hours that are very dramatic as these have been to declare that the sands have shifted definitively. We've talked today about the collapse of the diplomatic effort. And I would say one day of failure is too early to call diplomacy dead.

I think it was George Mitchell who said 100 days of failure in Northern Ireland and all he needed was one day of success. Obviously we're in a different situation but my guess is that diplomacy is not dead. Perhaps that proposal is dead but that doesn't mean that there won't be continued efforts. Of course they'll be related to the battlefield.

KING: And help me draw your lines where you put it. Would any diplomatic initiative that leaves a Gadhafi in control of Libya be a serious diplomatic initiative?

O'SULLIVAN: I think it depends on whose perspective you're looking at this problem from. If you're looking at it from the U.S. perspective, we all need to step back and say what are U.S. interests here? What are the goals that the United States holds? Now we need to then align those goals with our rhetoric.

President Obama is not the first president of the United States to say that he is interested in regime change in one country but not willing to exert all power to try to effect that change. But it is extremely confusing and it tends to lead to action that we later will look book on and say, you know were we really -- was regime change really the best solution to this problem?

I think that what people talk about is stalemate. And of course that language suggests no one is going to vote for a stalemate. But we need to look at what a situation would look like where you might have a divided Libya for some period of time. It may not be the worst-case scenario if it is an interim arrangement.

KING: And if you look at this stalemate, it's an excellent term to use at the moment, although I would say the Gadhafi forces are -- the stalemate is bending their way in the past 72 to 100 and maybe a little more than that hours. But one of the big debates and another confusing signal has been what to do to help the opposition.

The United States has said we're not ready to arm the opposition because we see some flickers from al Qaeda or Hezbollah. We're not quite sure we can trust all of these guys. Other people have decided they would take that risk. Listen here. This is Abdul Hafiz Ghoga. He's the deputy chairman of the Transitional National Council meaning the opposition, talking about getting some weapons from others.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Which country is providing you with weapons and training right now?

ABDUL HAFIZ GHOGA, LIBYAN OPPOSITION SPOKESMAN (through translator): We are in communication with our brothers in Qatar and also with our brothers in the Egyptian Republic and with our friends in Italy and France.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you saying the weapons have arrived or are they on their way?

GHOGA (through translator): We can say that God willing, the weapons are on their way.


KING: What's the best bet if the ultimate goal is regime change? Is it to arm the opposition and take the risk that some of them might not like the United States or might not like the west in the end, or just to rely on sanctions and hope you can get Gadhafi out over time or is it a combination of the two?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, again, I would really step back and say, are we just going to work from that assumption, that the goal here is regime change? I think many people --

KING: Can the president of the United States --


KING: Can the president of the United States who has said Gadhafi must go, can he back away from that now?

O'SULLIVAN: Well, you actually as I mentioned, you have a history of U.S. presidents calling for regime change and then not actually using all elements of U.S. power to affect it. One example would be President Clinton under Saddam Hussein in Iraq. That regime change was officially U.S. policy for most of the '90s.

The point about arming the rebels, many people are making the case this would be the quickest way to get Gadhafi out. And I would just like to point out that we should be clear that getting Gadhafi out is not the same thing as ending American or coalition involvement. If we learned anything from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is that the complicated phase of an operation is actually in the post military phase and that once you're involved to the extent that we already are, you do bear some responsibility for what comes next. And that's where it tends to get complicated and costly.

KING: An excellent point at the end, complicated and costly, two things we need to keep an eye on. Meghan O'Sullivan, appreciate your help tonight. Take care.

O'SULLIVAN: Thank you.

KING: Still ahead here, do the rebels have a legitimate complaint about a lack of coalition airstrikes? We'll ask the history making U.S. general who set up that no-fly zone.

And a government shut-down looms and well the blame game kicks in. We'll separate facts from fear mongering next.


KING: This is a big, a huge week when it comes to setting priorities for your government and deciding how to spend your tax dollars. Sadly this might be too much to ask.


OBAMA: I think what they're looking for me is the same thing that they're looking from Speaker Boehner and Harry Reid and everybody else. And that is, is that we act like grown-ups.


KING: The most pressing issue is the threat of a Friday government shutdown because negotiations on a plan to fund the government through September, well they're dragging. House Republicans offered another one-week temporary extension with this twist. They say the Pentagon would get six months of money to remove the military from the budget brinkmanship.

For now though the president says no deal. He wants to settle the next six months in one deal and he wants to do hit this week. Then comes the bigger issue -- House Republicans today unveiled their next spending plan for the next fiscal year. I know it's confusing. That begins in October. And there are $6 trillion, $6 trillion of proposed cuts guarantee the current short-term budget fight will soon look like a game of tidily winks (ph). How many of you remember what tidily winks (ph) are? Let's sort the real policy questions from the political posturing with the former New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger and our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Senator, you were a key player in the budget battles when you were here. When you watch all this play out, my term, but it appears at times even though there are some hugely consequential issues on the table both in the short-term debate and the long-term debate that it's like watching kids in a daycare center.

JUDD GREGG (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well unfortunately, the system is built in a way that it makes it very hard to move this ball forward constructively, because as we all know, there isn't going to be a budget. And thus when a budget is put forward, and I really congratulate Paul Ryan for his proposal. It's a really aggressive proposal.

It's outside the box. It lays out a game plan for getting to some sort of fiscal solvency in this country which is what we need. But as a very practical matter it's not going to pass the Senate and so it is really just a statement of purpose. You know, the opportunity here was missed, I think about two months ago when the Simpson-Bowles Commission made their report.

I mean this was a bipartisan report. It took $4 trillion out of the deficit over 10 years, did major reform in the area of Social Security, tax reform and discretionary spending, didn't do as much in health care as it should have. But it was a major step forward and it was supported by five of the six presidential appointees. Three of the most conservative senators in the Senate voted for it.

Mike Crapo, Tom Coburn and myself and then you had Dick Durbin and Kent Conrad representing the progressive side of the ledger in the Senate Democratic Caucus. So there was a memo basically delivered that said this is the way we can do it and unfortunately the president walked away from the memo. So I believe genuinely something has to be done and it has to be done soon. But the process right now is not leading to a conclusion that is going to accomplish anything --

KING: OK, I want to come back to some of those points. But let me focus in the short term on this week first. If you're sitting at home saying, really they're going to shut the government down? What happens then and a lot of people are asking questions.

If you look at the blogs of the military families, people are saying well are the troops going to get paid? There's combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Are we going to get paid here at home? People are saying are my Social Security checks going to come in the mail? Here's Geoff Morrell. He's the Pentagon press secretary. He's asked today will the troops get paid if the government shuts down on Friday. He's not sure.


GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We have not been able yet to arrive a conclusive determination about how everyone's pay would be impacted by this. We're still working through that.


KING: Now he's right but we do have a guide in history, the last government shutdown. When the government shuts down it doesn't mean everybody goes home. It doesn't mean the government completely shuts down. Essential workers are kept and the goal is to keep essential things in operation. Let's go back in time and just look at this.

So 1995, we had a shut-down, did people get their Social Security checks? Yes, they did. Did the military get their paychecks? Yes, they did. Some veterans' payments, however, were delayed because not everybody is at work. And the president mentioned this today.

If you're out there maybe you're running a Dunkin Donuts in New Hampshire, Senator Gregg, and you have a small business loan you're waiting to come to you. You get banged. You might get delay there. So Dana, this is your beat. They have the broad outlines of an agreement. They're arguing -- they have a number of cuts. They're arguing over the specifics. Will they get this done by Friday or are we really going to have to worry about this?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Boy, if I could answer that question, I -- maybe I'm in the wrong job. Look, they're working on it, but I got to tell you, for -- I've been really digging in on these talks when they were really behind the scenes and no one was really paying attention. And they were going pretty well.

You know that they was -- there was respect for one another in the room. And that were really you know going OK. And over the past few days, it has really dissolved and devolved. Now the speaker -- House speaker and the Senate majority leader, they did get back to the table this afternoon after this White House meeting which didn't get very far. But this is really -- before in private people would say don't worry. It's never going to happen. They're not saying that now.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This is about politics right now because when they're in that room behind closed doors, we know they're all professionals. And they think they can get something done. The president came out today -- it was very clear to me that the White House believes it's going to have the edge to make sure if there is a shut-down, to make sure they have the edge. They put the president out there to look like the grown-up. OK and if you guys don't get a deal today, you're going to come back into my room tomorrow --

KING: But the president -- the president tried to stir the politics -- so he tried to stir the politics.

BORGER: Yes. KING: His point essentially was to John Boehner, cut a deal or I'll tell him come out here every day and say this is about abortion. This is about environmental rights --


KING: And you're going to have to go the meetings with --


KING: -- their deals.


KING: Of course both sides are playing --


KING: Yes.

BASH: But he also tried to stir the politics I think because in terms of the political game, the Republicans have been doing pretty well. Because the House speaker was out there every day saying I'm not going to -- but look, the thing that we need to remember here and this is not going to make people at home happy is that Democrats are not compromising because of pressures from their rank and file. Republicans are not compromising because of pressures from their rank and file and that's exactly what people out there did not want to happen --

KING: And so Senator Gregg, if this is what's playing out in the short term, let's take a look at the longer term. You mentioned Congressman Ryan, Chairman Ryan's proposal. He has a 10-year plan and some people will like it. Some people will hate it. At least you can say this tonight. He should be congratulated for putting a substantive proposal --


KING: -- substantive proposal on the table that deals with big issues like Medicare, like Medicaid, like restructuring and consolidating programs. And it at least is a basis now, if you don't like it, you're going to have debate it on the substance. But here's one thing.

He says that his plan -- well if you let the Democrats keep spending, it will end up way up here. He calls his a path of prosperity. This is a bit of smoke and mirrors in a Republican plan that's pretty substantive because nobody really knows what happens after this. We get about that far out.

But what do you see is the defining test now? You mentioned the president's commission and the president, he would disagree with your language, but the president did not incorporate any of those major proposals in his budget. Will we have this conversation about the bigger things now that the Ryan plan is on the table? GREGG: Well we have to because as a very practical matter, the markets are going to force us into this situation. At some point, the world and a lot of Americans are going to lose confidence in our currency, which means that our ability to sell debt will be greatly, come under great pressure. And as a result, basically we will face a fiscal crisis.

You cannot run these types of debt levels indefinitely. In fact you can't even run them for the next four or five years. And so we know we've got a problem. We know it is coming at us. The question is are we going to approach it in an orderly way or are we going to approach it in a period of chaos? And we really do need presidential leadership to accomplish this to get something done.

And so far, you know, not to be too partisan here, but I think it is an accurate statement to say the president has not been at the table on the issue of leadership on limiting the rate of growth of spending and approaching in a global result, a global compromise as to how to get the debt down. I mean his own commission made a proposal and he walks away from it.

Now you've got Ryan, Paul Ryan coming forward with a very aggressive and creative proposal in many areas, especially in the Medicare area, and I suspect it's going to be attacked in a very partisan way, which isn't going to be constructive either. I think the light, if there is light in the tunnel, is this group in the Senate, the "gang of six" which is actually a functioning group of about 30 to 40 members of the Senate which is totally bipartisan, which has said in a letter to the president, we want specific action to be taken on the proposals that the commission put forward, the Bowles-Simpson Commission.

And if that center in the Senate can put forward a proposal here, either in the debt ceiling fight or in the continuing resolution fight which gets to the forefront, an actual vote on something substantive, which is a long-term reduction in deficit and debt, then that could be the positive event. And I'm hopeful that that will happen. But for that to really work you've got to have the president say, OK, you guys have done good work and I want to be with you and right now he is basically waiting for them to do the work and basically not at the table.

KING: If you're wondering at home how does the president's plan match up with Ryan's plan, let me give you a quick comparison here and we'll watch how this one plays out in the months ahead. The House budget proposal would bring in about $35 trillion in revenue. You see the president's plan has more revenue. That's because the Republican plan cuts taxes.

That's part of the debate. Outlays, $40 trillion it would spend. The president wants to spend more -- about $6 trillion more. Don't think the Republican plan balances the budget. It does not. It still would add $5.1 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years, but that's more than $4 trillion less than the president's plan, $9 trillion. A lot to talk about -- we will in the weeks and months ahead. We'll continue our conversation. Senator Gregg, thank you. Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, thanks as well.

Coming up here, more on the breaking news out of Japan -- the company that owns that damaged nuclear plant says it has stopped tonight a highly radioactive leak from one of its reactors. We'll find out what this means and what challenges still lie ahead.

When the no-fly zone was launched over Libya, the commanding officer was a woman, Major General Maggie Woodward addresses making history and Libyan opposition complaints about a lack of airstrikes next.


KING: NATO is facing sharp criticism from opposition leaders in Libya who say they're not getting enough help against Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's forces. This comes as the United States gives up its lead role in flying the missions over Libya.

Joining me now from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany is Major General Margaret Woodward. She's the commander of the no-fly zone when it was implemented. She's also the first woman in that role to command a U.S. combat air campaign.

General, thanks for joining us.

I want to get to the history in a minute. I want to start with the here and now, the operations on the ground. You hear them every day. I'm sure you're following this, complaints from the opposition that they're not getting enough help, that they see the planes flying overhead, but that the coalition planes are not striking as often as the opposition would like against Gadhafi's forces.

Are those legitimate complaints?

MAJ. GEN. MARGARET WOODWARD, FORMER CMDR., U.S.-LIBYA NO-FLY ZONE: John, obviously, I don't think so. I think we've done a good job of trying to make sure that we're carefully targeting the -- our strikes to protect the citizen population. So, obviously, that takes a lot of care in targeting. And that is not necessarily a simple thing to do. But they're working very hard to target the right targets. I think their results speak for themselves.

KING: I think part of the confusion might be a dispute or a debate or misunderstanding about the rules of engagement. So, help us out. If you have opposition forces and Gadhafi forces, let's say on the road outside of Brega, where they've been in recent days, and they're engaged in a battle against each other. Is it the coalition's job then to target Gadhafi's forces? Or is it the coalition's job to leave the civil war and let it play out as long as civilian populations are not at risk in that battle?

WOODWARD: Yes. I think, John, if you go back to the U.N. Security Council resolution, and the objectives that it gave us, both when I was doing Operation Odyssey Dawn and NATO's now, are both following the same objective, which is to prevent Gadhafi's forces from harming innocent civilians. So, that's their focus and that's what they're working hard to do.

KING: And so, am I right in saying -- forgive me. So, if they're on the outskirts of town and the civilian populations are not at risk, the coalition's job is to stay out of it and let the civil war play out?

WOODWARD: We're targeting Gadhafi's forces that are targeting the civilian populations. So, we will try and take, and work towards taking out his forces that are doing that damage to their civilian population.

KING: The regular participation by the United States has now been dialed back which takes the A-10, the AC-130, out of the theater, at least for now. What suffers as a result? Those are two aircraft that can fly in low. They are known as very punishing if they pick out a target and go on the attack.

Do other coalition partners have anything comparable?

WOODWARD: No, John. But I think if you look at the results, all of our different fighters, both U.S. and coalition assets have had, I think that you'll find that across the board, they've all been very effective at taking out the assets and hitting the deliberate and dynamic targets that we've given them. So, I think the focus on a couple of specific fighter platforms, honestly in my opinion, is off base. I think you have the assets you need to do the job.

KING: Take me to the first day of this operation. You are given the command to implement this no-fly zone. You're the first woman to command a U.S. combat flight mission.

How much does that factor into your mind? When I'm sure you're most concerned about, do I have what I need, am I implementing it the way I need to do it? But how much did the history kick into your day?

WOODWARD: I can pretty much guarantee you, John, it didn't -- it didn't even cross any of our minds. All of us were working as hard as we could. As you know, it came down pretty quickly and we were -- we were scrambling pretty hard to make sure that we had everything in line so that we would execute this as well as we possibly could.

And we really weren't thinking about anything else except to make sure we got our strategy right and that we had our execution well in line.

KING: How about now that we've moved into the next phase and you have a little time to reflect? And I ask in the context of -- you know it better than I do. When you first came into the Air Force, you were not allowed to do certain things. You were allowed to trainer planes, but -- you're allowed to train pilots, but you couldn't fly in combat.

You said, 2005, to "The Tampa Tribune," "I was still smarting under the fact that I couldn't go fly a fighter, and women couldn't fly in combat."

How significant is what has happened to you in recent days, do you think, to the evolution of the role of women in the military?

WOODWARD: Well, I'm glad you put it as evolution because, John, if it's you think about it, it has been an evolution. And I remember in my early days, thanking the women who came before me, the women who flew in World War II and made it possible and made it clear that women could fly. And I'd like to think that the things that we did in the early days in my generation made it possible for the women who are flying fighters today.

And I can honestly tell that you there has been no gender separation that I have felt throughout my career. We, in the U.S. military, are very gender-neutral, if you want to put it that way. And I feel like I haven't lost any opportunities because I'm a woman. And I honestly think when I operate, there's nobody that looks at me and says, that's a female leader. I think everybody says, "That's a leader," and everybody that I work with -- you know, we feel the same way about each other.

KING: And yet you say that within the Air Force, and within the military. As you know, when stories about your role started to be published, and some of them online, there were some -- I'll use the term "snarky things," less than polite things said about having a woman in command of this.

What do you have to say to people out there who even now -- even now -- would question whether a woman could fulfill the role you fulfill?

WOODWARD: Well, John, I don't know -- I don't know what leg they have to stand on to question that. I think our results, and I really want to emphasize this is a team effort. It is not about one person and it never can be.

We had a magnificent team of the most professional airmen across the United States and our coalition that put this together. And I think that we did everything that was asked of us. And I'm absolutely proud of that. And I'm absolutely certain that Americans can be proud of their Air Force and how flexible and adaptable it has been in performing this mission.

KING: A good general and it turns out a good diplomat as well -- General Woodward, thanks for your time.

WOODWARD: Thanks, John.

KING: Ahead, a highly radioactive leak from one of the crippled Japanese nuclear reactors has been plugged, according to Japanese officials. We'll talk to a nuclear safety expert about the impact of this late-breaking development.

Plus, what authorities are now saying caused the hole in that Southwest Airlines Boeing 737. Just how many planes might be affected? That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know right now:

The violence and political tug-of-war in the Ivory Coast appears to be over. Forces loyal to self-declared President Laurent Gbagbo have been routed. He said now to be negotiating the terms of his surrender. Alassane Ouattara won last year's presidential election.

Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is being tapped tonight as the chair of the Democratic National Committee. She would succeed Tim Kaine who's now running for Senate in Virginia.

Beware of emails sent from retailers who shop with. A hacker broken into the computer system of the email marketing company Epsilon, stealing thousands of e-mail addresses. The big fear is the thief will send lookalike e-mails, pretending to be legitimate retailers asking you for personal information.

And about face for executives of Transocean. That company owned the rig that exploded off the Gulf of Mexico last spring, killing 11 workers, setting off the big BP oil spill. It was revealed recently the top executives with Transocean received giant bonuses for 2010 because of -- get this -- Transocean's overall safety record.

Well, today, the company said those bonuses will be donated to a fund for victims' families.

And late today, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered wear and tear inspections on dozens of older Boeing 737s. Last Friday, the skin ripped open on a Southwest jet, forcing an emergency landing. It's believed metal fatigue is the culprit. Southwest said it discovered cracks in five more of its jets.

Up next: thousands of tons of radioactive water released into the Pacific Ocean. Is this a threat to your seafood?


KING: Breaking news tonight concerning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Tokyo Electric Power told CNN that about three hours ago, workers succeeded in the plugging the leak in reactor number two, which was releasing highly radioactive water directly into the Pacific Ocean.

But in other parts of the plant, for the second day in the row, the company intentionally pumped tons of lower radioactive water out of the facility, again, into the ocean.

Here to help us better understand the situation is Arne Gundersen, a nuclear safety advocate who consults with Vermont state government about the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

Mr. Gundersen, let's start with Tokyo Electric Power saying it has plugged the big leak in reactor number two by using 1,500 liters apparently of water glass or sodium silicate. Help us understand the significance.

ARNIE GUNDERSEN, CHIEF NUCLEAR ENGINEER, FAIREWINDS ASSOCIATION: Well, there are trenches outside the building. And one of those trenches had an eight-inch hole in it. And that led directly into the ocean. So, they plugged that leak. And that's good news for the ocean.

The trench, however, is still getting radioactive liquid from the unit to containment building itself because there is -- the containment has been damaged. So, radioactive water is leaking out into the trench now. But now, the trench is not leaking out into the ocean.

KING: Well, I've come over here to the wall to pull out the photos here. I want to strip this down just a little bit. What makes this interesting to the naked eye, anyway, if you look at from the out, it's four heavily damaged, three, destroyed, two seems from the outside to be the most intact of the buildings. You see the steam coming out here. I assume that's from the water they're pouring to cool it.

But explain to the layman why the building being in pretty good shape does not tell you anything about the severity of the problem inside.

GUNDERSEN: Yes, the building, that box is called a reactor building. And inside that is the containment. And as pressure started to build up in unit one and unit three, they vented the hydrogen gases into the reactor building. That's what blew up. And the dramatic pictures of the explosion were of the reactor building.

Underneath that rubble is the containment. But in the building underneath that's intact, they didn't vent it time. And they had a hydrogen detonation inside the containment. And that's kind of like sneezing with your mouth closed and your nose pinched. It's going to pop your eardrums.

Well, what happened in unit two is that, as a result of the explosion, the containment itself broke. And so, now, radioactive liquids are leaking out of the containment into that trench.

KING: I'm going to shrink this down for a second. I'm going to come back to the pictures in a minute. But, for now, I just want to talk about how much water -- because the company says 11,500 tons of radioactive water. We're not minimizing this at all going into the Pacific Ocean. That's enough water to fill five large swimming pools.

The Pacific Ocean, as you can see -- this is -- in term of the volume of the Pacific Ocean, Mr. Gundersen, this is literally a drop in the bucket. However, you think the company is understating the concern here about the radioactivity?

GUNDERSEN: Well, they pumped -- they needed to empty tanks onsite because the tanks had concentrations of liquid that were 500 times what was permissible. But the stuff they needed to put in them was much more radioactive than that. So, the 11,000 tons that they pumped overboard today was to clear tanks so that more radioactive liquid could come behind it.

The leak that they just fixed, though, for the last couple of weeks has been leaking something on the order of seven tons a day, not of the 500-time concentration but of the much more concentrated radioactivity into the ocean. So, there's a lot of radiation in the ocean.

KING: A lot of radiation in the ocean. And you don't think this is a one-time affair. I want you to explain why as I pull out another one of these satellite images. We've talked about this a bit in the past. You're seeing it now from another angle. I'd switch it around -- it's four, three, two, one here.

But as you see these blue pumps here, these are backup pumps, right? Safety pumps along here. And you can see if you come in close -- and I'll bring it up a little bit -- they have been severely damaged if not debilitated. Help us understand the significance.

GUNDERSEN: Yes. No one ever thought that you'd be pumping water into a nuclear reactor and letting it run out of the bottom called "feed and bleed." That was not the plan in the case of an accident. The plan was you'd circulate water inside the reactor and there would be a heat exchanger and you'd circulate ocean water through the other side of the reactor.

And those pumps that are destroyed are called service order pumps, and we talked about them about two weeks ago. They were to cool that heat exchanger so that you didn't have to feed and bleed the reactor. So, until the service water system gets re-established, they're going to be feed and bleeding, which is still going to create more waste.

KING: And so, help us understand. I want to ask you a seafood safety question in a minute. But looking at another one of these images and the level of destruction, if one was where we started on the earthquake and tsunami day, and 10 is relative containment to the point where everybody can take a breath and go from the emergency containment challenge to the long-term challenge -- where are we?

GUNDERSEN: I guess we're -- one was bad, 10 was good?

KING: Yes. Ten would be where you could probably deal with the long term challenge and not a day of emergency.

GUNDERSEN: Yes. I'd say we're between a three and a four. The worst is behind us because the reactor cores are down now to where they're generating only about 1 percent of the heat that they did when they ran. So, there's less of this decay heat to deal with. And then, still the best news of all is that the wind has been blowing out to sea.

KING: The wind keeps blowing out, and we're thankful for that.

I want to bring up one more thing here and take a look. We'll call this the life cycle here, with the photos out of the way. You're having radioactivity get into the water. This is oversimplified but it will help people understand.

So, radioactivity gets into the coral, gets down to any grass and sea life there, obviously eaten by little fish which become food for larger fish which often end up on your table.

And again, we're not trying to alarm people, Mr. Gundersen, but in the sense of how long -- how long, once this gets in there, you're talking about cesium and you're talking about other radioactive material as well, once it's in there, how long is it there?

GUNDERSEN: Well, I think -- there's two isotopes, there's iodine, and iodine goes away in about 90 days. That's going to be in seaweed and the Japanese use seaweed a lot for cooking. So, I wouldn't use seaweed within 100 miles of the plant for 90 days.

But the nasty isotope is cesium 137, and that hangs around for 300 years. So, I'm not suggesting it's a 300-year problem, but t will dilute over time and it will reduce.

But, you know, in Germany, they are still experiencing cesium 137 in the wild boars that ate mushrooms from Chernobyl, and that was 25 years ago.

So, it's -- I think, within 100 miles from the plant, you're going to be watching the fish a good 25 years.

KING: You say within 100 miles of the plant -- again, I want to close this down and bring this up. You say within 100 miles of the plant, because most of the discussion from the Japanese government has been 12 and the United States government has said maybe a 50-mile radius. You think it goes well beyond this.

GUNDERSEN: Out in the ocean, I think it will. You know, the fish move, the currents move, and it will push that cesium out into the deep ocean -- and also, more importantly, laterally along the coast.

KING: Arnie Gundersen -- as always, appreciate your insights. We'll keep in touch. We hope -- we hope this announcement tonight they believe they've stopped the more dramatic of the leaks from reactor two is good news. We'll keep on top of that to make sure, sometimes we get word from TEPCO, it turns the next day, we step back. We'll stay on top of that one.

Mr. Gundersen, thanks again.

When we come back, we'll update you on latest on the battlefield in Libya and a loud -- loud, loud complaints from the opposition that they're not getting help from their friends above.


KING: Another dramatic day in the Middle East and across North Africa, the White House issuing a strongly worded statement criticizing the government of Yemen for again today using force against its own people in several Yemeni cities. The White House saying the use of force against political demonstrators is unacceptable, criticizing the government of Yemen.

And in Libya today, if you want to see the picture of retreat, number one. Here's the map last week -- the opposition making gains. Here's the map today -- the regime making change, including retaking Brega.

Look at this -- look at this picture here. Opposition forces literally fleeing from Brega on the way back to Ajdabiya. The deputy leader of the transitional council, the opposition, complaining to CNN's Reza Sayah that the NATO coalition is not giving them enough help with airstrikes and he singles out one member.


REZA SAYAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So you are blaming Turkey for the decrease in airstrikes. Is that correct?

ABDUL HAFIZ GHOGA, DEPUTY CHAIRMAN, TRANSITIONAL NATIONAL COUNCIL (through translator): Yes, we do blame Turkey and we condemn their position, because their reluctance in these cases is a very dangerous matter. What does Turkey really want? Do they want to leave this tyrant killing the Libyan people in every city? The whole world is a witness.


KING: Remember, we talked to the U.S. general who started the no-fly zone tonight and she told us she thinks these complaints are off base.

But this is why the opposition is upset. Again, you see a full- scale retreat here. That is on the road just outside Brega -- Brega here -- heading back towards Ajdabiya. Ajdabiya now the front line in this fight, and the regime says it's holding on. The opposition is worried right here.

Important to keep our eyes on the battlefield in the days ahead. That's all for us and I will see you right back here tomorrow.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.