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33,000 Troops Home by Next Summer; Two Jets Almost Collide at JFK

Aired June 22, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jack Cafferty, thanks very, very much.

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

Happening now a critical speech in the turning point in the Afghan war. We're counting down to President Obama's address to the nation tonight and we're learning right important details about how many U.S. troops will be coming home and when.

Also what could have been one of the deadliest airline disasters in history averted with just seconds to spare at New York's Kennedy Airport. We have the details.

And South African singing the praises of the First Lady Michelle Obama at times emotional as she encourages and challenges Africa's young people.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines and Jeannie Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're learning critical new details of President Obama's speech to the nation tonight about his plan to draw down U.S. forces in Afghanistan. A senior administration official tells CNN that the president will announce he is ordering the withdrawal of all 33,000 surge forces in Afghanistan by the end of the next summer, 2012.

That's sooner than a lot of people initially believed.

Let's go straight to our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, I know you and other reporters at the White House have been getting briefings in all of this. What do you hear?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, from that senior administration official, here's the breakdown on pulling out all 33,000 of the surge troops by the end of the year of summer 2012. Ten thousand out by the end of 2011, this official says, and then the remaining 23,000 surge troops would be out no later than September 2012.

Keeping in mind that still leaves a significant number of U.S. troops, about 70,000, in Afghanistan until 2014, but this is more -- this is quicker than initial reports that we were hearing and you should expect tonight when the president addresses the nation that he will be justifying these drawdown numbers by touting successes in Afghanistan, successes that White House officials have already been framing like this, that they've made significant strides in diminishing al Qaeda specifically through killing Osama bin Laden.

That they've been able to push back the Taliban from population centers and that they have been able to make Afghan security forces more ready to take over. Keeping in mind, as well, though, Wolf, there are still major challenges here. Amongst them, the Taliban still a major issue even though some successes have been made and the relationship with Pakistan, very tenuous right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's been the reaction so far from Capitol Hill, Brianna?

KEILAR: Wolf, as our Dana Bash has reported, there is a growing number of members of Congress and we're talking Democrats and Republicans who have been saying you know what? It is time to bring troops home from Afghanistan and they're really pointing to a number of factors. There's the general war weariness, there's the cost, there's Republicans and Democrats saying that we've gotten in the business of nation building and we shouldn't.

Dana also reported, Wolf, this isn't a majority yet, but certainly where the shift is going. There however some members of Congress, among them Speaker John Boehner, and I know that we have a picture of him that his office released as he got the news today on these numbers from President Obama.

And he warned today that a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops could really hurt those successes. Other senior Republicans like Senator John McCain feel the same way. I think the president will get criticism on both sides of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brianna Keilar, for that.

One of the biggest fears certainly is that U.S. and NATO forces leave Afghanistan the Taliban could fill the void. In fact it's already happening to a certain degree.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is joining us now from Bagram Air Base. He has an exclusive report.

All right, Nick. A lot of U.S. troops and NATO forces, what are you seeing on the ground right now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We have some of these news and pictures from me from the Afghan-Pakistani border. An enclave in Nuristan known as (INAUDIBLE) NATO pulled out, posting that area back a couple of years ago, leaving Afghan security forces to handle security. But since March, we're told, and these pictures seem to verify, the Taliban as being in control.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WALSH (voice-over): In this quiet mountainous village near the Pakistani border, one of NATO's worst fears is realized. This is the local government building of a district in Wago (ph) mostly deserted. But above it flies a new flag. The white banner of the Taliban.

There is no guard, but Allah and Mohammed, as this messenger reads, but its real message is simple. We, the Taliban, are back in power here. And to the men who call themselves the new administration, they showed a local cameraman CNN commissioned the vision of Afghanistan back in the Taliban's hands.

Now they are the local counsel, the local law. It's like NATO was never even here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): The Hamdullah, the Mujahideen are in charged of this area. And the people's problems are solved under Sharia law. The tribe has welcomed us, bring us their problems, and we deal with them. They understand implementing Sharia is one of their duties.

WALSH: They say they captured the area in late March. A local official now in Kabul confirmed to CNN this is a government building and the area is still held by the insurgency.

This hilly stretch along the border is under increasing Taliban influence since NATO withdrew from its isolated outposts here. These valleys are becoming a safe haven for militants and their hard line law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): Smoking is forbidden here and our religious department will punish those who shave and who intoxicate themselves. Schools and hospitals are open under Sharia law.

WALSH: They're also eager to display a softer almost enlightened side saying they're letting this bridge be rebuilt. They came to show themselves mingling among welcoming locals.

"We don't have any security problems here in the (INAUDIBLE)," says one trader, "And we don't fear thieves like we did before."

Another says, "Business now is not as good as we have before. But we're fine with the Taliban."

It's not clear how genuine these smiles are, but the small Taliban system has opened up while NATO surge is at full strength. Leaving many wondering what they'll do as NATO starts to leave.


WALSH: We should point out here that NATO contests the idea the Taliban being in control of this area. They say they are not near the numbers they suggest. Their presence is fleeting and they are far from an alternative government.

Although we are hearing local Afghan officials saying yes, that areas are still in Taliban control. But NATO cleared images you're just seeing are some sort of Taliban propaganda in their mind -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff.

Nick, you're there where the action is. What's the immediate reaction you're getting from U.S. troops on the ground to what the president is now planning to announce?

WALSH: But as you know, Wolf, troops on the ground aren't going to preempt their commander in chief, but privately some are saying -- I think you really must notice first up that it's not the fervor (ph) I've seen previously from U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan earlier in this campaign.

There is a fatigue here. Some say look, we've got bin Laden, the job is done. Some say let's not leave in hurry in case the Taliban come back. One said hey, can I go home tomorrow?

So there's a variety of different feelings I think amongst troops here, but a (INAUDIBLE) sentiment that maybe the cards have been played here. Maybe there's not much more the U.S. can do other than perhaps the Afghans begin to find that accommodations amongst themselves as to how the country goes forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh is on the scene at Bagram Air Base with U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Nick, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on tonight's drawdown announcement. Joining us our chief political analyst Gloria Borger and our senior political analyst David Gergen.

Gloria, are we going to hear a variation of the president of the United States suggesting today in Afghanistan mission accomplished?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, as you know, they are certainly not going to say mission accomplished, but they are going to claim a certain amount of success. And when you talk to senior administration officials, they point back to the important speech that President Obama gave at West Point in December 2009. And he set out some goals in that speech. And take a listen to what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.


BORGER: And senior administration officials say that all of those things have been done. And they also say that in that speech, as you know, Wolf, you and I were talking about rereading it today, that the president promised that after 18 months the surge troops would begin to come home. And that is exactly what they're doing.

BLITZER: In some sort of perspective, David, and you're really good on this as well. Remember that when President Obama took office, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He effectively doubled down on the Bush strategy and increased that number to 100,000. Now he's going to go back down at the end of next year to, what, 70,000. So he's still very hawkish on this issue, isn't he?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm not sure I totally agree with that, Wolf. I do think that he was hawkish when he gave that West Point speech that Gloria referenced. And he did put the surge in. He has taken up 100,000. And he can legitimately claim that we have reversed the momentum of the Taliban. We've made great progress in the southern provinces.

But even so, his military commander General Petraeus as well as Secretary Gates, as well as Secretary Clinton, did want a more robust response tonight. They'll support him loyally. I think in public. But we are hearing widespread tales that they're disappointed in private.

BLITZER: They didn't want, as many troops believe --

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- this year and next year as the president will announce. That's what you're saying, right, David?

GERGEN: They wanted a smaller number to come out now and they wanted to have fighting troops there through not only this season -- fighting season but through the end of next fighting season. And they're going to be gone before the end of --

BLITZER: And it's clear, Gloria, he's siding with the vice president Joe Biden --

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

BLITZER: -- who is very articulate, very aggressive on this front. But let's be honest. Money has a lot to do with what's going on as far as troop withdrawals from Afghanistan are concerned.

BORGER: Well, you know, money and politics. When you look at the president's support for Afghanistan, it's not only withering in his own party, but it's withering in the Republican Party. And so when you talk to senior White House advisers they're kind of scratching their heads saying it does look like President Obama, the sort of one-time community organizer, is now the national security hawk, if you will, compared to these people.

And they're going to try to portray him as a steady hand who is doing what he promised as opposed to the Republicans who seem to be all over the lot on the policy in Afghanistan because they don't want to spend the money because the public is overwhelmingly opposed to this war.

GERGEN: That's the way they're going to portray it, Wolf.


GERGEN: But I'm not sure that's the way it's going to play.

BLITZER: Well, you know, the fact of the matter is -- and I think Joe Manchin, the senator for West Virginia, he told me earlier today the numbers that he's been told based on what the president has in mind will still cost U.S. taxpayers between now and the end of 2014 $485 billion, David.

Now given the budget deficits, the distress in the economic situation here, is that money well spent for U.S. taxpayers?

GERGEN: I think there is a very legitimate argument that that money could be better spent at home, but the question becomes, once you've made a commitment and once you've heard -- you know, you've committed yourself as a country, as a great nation, to certain goals, and that is -- this was about securing the stability of Afghanistan and working out something with Pakistan.

And right now we are at a terrible quarrel with Karzai and Afghanistan. Our relationship with Pakistan is sour. It's not at all clear that this -- you know, if you drawdown faster whether that sends a signal to the Taliban, hey, you don't have to negotiate. Just wait it out.

BORGER: And Wolf, we really don't know. I mean we know that the 70,000 remaining troops will be drawn down by 2014. But we don't really have a plan. We don't know the plan to draw them down. And I don't think we're going to hear that tonight.

GERGEN: Right.

BORGER: So that's a -- you know that's still a very large question out there. And the other question out there is Pakistan. What's the president going to say about the difficult relationship?

BLITZER: I'm sure he'll get into that tonight. I assume he will.

The "Wall Street Journal," by the way, reported today that even after 2014 and 2015 that U.S. military officials want at least 25,000 U.S. troops to remain on the ground in Afghanistan as well. We'll see if the president gets into that in his discussion with all of us tonight.

Guys, thanks very much. I know both of you, you're sticking around for extensive coverage throughout the evening.

Even after the drawdown, why is the U.S. still keeping so many forces in Afghanistan to fight a relatively small number of al Qaeda and Taliban militants? I'll ask the former NATO Supreme Allied commander General Wesley Clark. He's standing by live.

And two jumbo passenger jets come within seconds of colliding on the ground at New York's Kennedy Airport. We're going to show you how it happened.

And the former vice president Al Gore, he's blasting President Obama as a failure in one area. Stand by.


BLITZER: Just getting word of an earthquake off the coast of Japan, a magnitude 6.7. That's preliminary. The number often changes. There has been a tsunami advisory that's been issued. We're told that the earthquake 12 miles deep about 67 miles off the coast of Japan. About 108 kilometers or so.

So we're watching this closely. Twenty kilometers deep, that's 12 miles and about 108 miles off the coast, 67 miles -- 6.7 magnitude. Tsunami advisory. We're getting more information. We'll let you know. Hopefully it's not serious. But we'll watch it and we'll update you as we get more information.

In the meantime, let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Just what those folks needed, huh?


CAFFERTY: A lot of people didn't think that President Obama could ever win the White House back in 2008 because he's black. Well, he did. In 1960 a lot of people didn't think Jack Kennedy could be elected president because he's a Roman Catholic. But he was.

According to the Pew Research Center, voters' attitudes towards candidates who are black, female, Catholic, or Jewish have changed. Americans have warmed up to the idea, voting for someone who might be different from previous presidents or, god forbid, even different from themselves.

But that doesn't necessarily hold true for all minority groups. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the current Republican frontrunner, and the new entrant to the race, Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor and ambassador to China, are both Mormons. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

It's a church many Christians, particularly Evangelicals, are skeptical of. Most people don't know a whole lot about the Mormon Church beyond its former ties with polygamy. But whatever people know or don't know about Mormons, they aren't necessarily trustful of them.

According to a Gallup poll, 22 percent of Americans say they would not vote for a Mormon for president even, even if the candidate was a member of the voters' own party. Huntsman is reportedly the less religious of the two men, he told "Fortune" magazine last year, quote, "I can't say I'm overly religious. I get satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies."

Huntsman and his wife have seven children. One daughter was married in an Episcopal church and they're raising another daughter adopted from India in her native Hindu faith.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is more active in his church. He was once the lay bishop of the Massachusetts' Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He spoke openly -- you'll probably recall this -- during the 2008 campaign, he gave a detailed speech about being a Mormon.

It didn't work. A lot of critics feel that that speech may have ultimately killed his chances.

So here's the question. Can a Mormon be elected president of the United States? Go to and post a comment on that blog there.

You remember that speech, Wolf. He was -- he was kind of cruising along and decided he was going to be out in the open about his religion, gave that speech, and a lot of people say it didn't work for him.

BLITZER: Yes. It was controversial at the time, didn't exactly work out the way he had hoped. We'll see how it goes this time.

Jack, good question. Thanks very much.

We're just a little bit more than 90 minutes away from the president's speech to the nation tonight announcing his plan to bring home 33,000 U.S. troops, the so-called surge forces in Afghanistan, by the end of next summer, 2012.

Let's talk a little bit more about this with CNN contributor General Wesley Clark. He's the former NATO Supreme Allied commander.

General Clark, thanks as usual for coming in. Yes, can you hear me OK?


BLITZER: OK. Good. Let's talk a little bit about what I see as something that's a little strange. And maybe you could explain this to me. I tweeted about this earlier in the day. Right now there are 100,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan. There are 40,000 additional NATO forces on the ground in Afghanistan.

They're backed up by 300,000 Afghan military and police forces. That's nearly a half million so-called good guys. They're fighting probably 100 or so if that al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan and maybe at the most 25,000 Taliban fighters.

What's wrong with this picture? A half million troops versus maybe 25,000 Taliban and al Qaeda? Explain why the U.S. and the NATO allies need that many forces on the ground.

CLARK: Well, in a counterinsurgency strategy, you have to have overwhelming military superiority on the ground. You have to protect the population so you have to be everywhere even if the insurgents aren't there. And they're constantly moving around and seeking weaknesses in wherever you are. They're liable to strike and because you're trying to establish the fact that you have legitimacy, you can protect people so they'll provide you information, any weakness that you have then backfires against your strategy.

BLITZER: But do you think this strategy that the president will unveil, and we basically know what it's going to be later tonight, make sense?

CLARK: Well, I think it does in a larger -- in the large sense, Wolf. In this sense, we went there because of al Qaeda. We've done a pretty darn good job against al Qaeda. We got Osama bin Laden. We've taken out almost all the top leadership except al-Zawahiri. He's now the target. We probably have information we captured that will make it even more difficult for him to operate in the future.

There have been no large scale terrorist attacks in some time. So -- and we always ask this question, how do we know we've won the war on terror? And the answer was, well, there's not going to be a surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri. And so it's basically going to fade away.

It hasn't faded away, but the threat has been controlled and we've certainly brought justice to the people who struck the United States. And so --

BLITZER: Because you know -- you know, General, there are a lot more al Qaeda terrorists roaming around Yemen right now than in all of Afghanistan.

CLARK: Right.

BLITZER: The U.S. doesn't have 100,000 troops on the ground in Yemen.

CLARK: Exactly. And so I think strategically it makes a lot of sense to try to redeploy out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. But you have to make your own exit strategy and how to do that is you've got to find a way to bridge the gap between Hamid Karzai and the Taliban.

That it'd be some kind of negotiations that lead to some stability. You don't want a complete slaughter when you leave. We've always said we were leaving so the idea that they're going to wait us our, sure. They've always been able to wait us out. We never expected to be there forever.

And they know that. But they're going to want something out of this, too. So we have to be smart in the negotiations. We have to build up some Afghan capabilities to take care of itself. And we've got to use our leverage on the ground to work Pakistan and India to do the best we can. But ultimately we're going to be out of there.


BLITZER: And so what I hear you're saying, General -- CLARK: No al Qaeda.

BLITZER: What I hear you're saying is you don't have confidence that those 300,000 Afghan military and police forces who have largely been trained by the U.S. and the NATO allies, even 10 years into this operation, they don't have the wherewithal to deal with 25,000 Taliban and maybe 100 al Qaeda.

CLARK: Well, first of all, we don't know the full extent of the Taliban force. So you say 25,000?

BLITZER: That was the intelligence. Maybe 25 --

CLARK: Sure.


BLITZER: Some say it's 5,000.

CLARK: Sure. But maybe there are another 10,000, 20,000 supporters out there who aren't exactly Taliban. But they're friendly families they stay with and provide them logistics support. A lot of our troops are logistics troops over there. You have to remember that.

Secondly, these Afghan troops, 300,000, they weren't all trained in 2001. Some of these are new people on the battle field and to build a force, especially a force under stress in combat when you're taking the losses, is a really tough thing to do.

So no, I don't have confidence on those forces right now, but I do have confidence in our training methodologies. And I do believe that we can create stronger forces. Ultimately it depends on their confidence in Hamid Karzai and his government. And that's got to be built.

BLITZER: General Clark, as usual, thank you very much.

CLARK: Thank you.

BLITZER: The president, as we've been reporting, is expected to announce the drawdown of 33,000 troops. What the president probably won't talk about much today is the remaining 70,000 troops who will stay in Afghanistan in 2013, 2014, and how much those forces will cost U.S. taxpayers.

Military budget experts have told me will cost roughly at least $400 billion to fund the mission in Afghanistan through 2014. Some experts say it will cost close to $500 billion.

A major contributor, by the way, the cost is maintaining the thousands, tens of thousands of U.S. contractors and the diplomats who will stay in Afghanistan even as U.S. troops start leaving.

Of course we'll be bringing you live coverage of the president's address to the nation. You can see it right here on CNN online and You can also use your CNN mobile apps tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific. About an hour and a half from now.

A close call over at JFK. Two jets almost collide. You're going to hear the frantic calls from the air traffic controller who saved the day. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: Details are emerging right now about a rather frightening incident at New York's Kennedy Airport. A near collision between two jumbo jets. And you're about to hear the dramatic communications from the control tower that narrowly averted a disaster.

Let's go to New York.

CNN's Mary Snow has been reporting on the story.

Mary, you're getting new information. What happened here?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this was a close call that happened two days ago here in New York with the pilots having only seconds to act. Lufthansa Flight 411 had to abort takeoff and the incident is now being investigated by the FAA.


SNOW (voice-over): Just moments after being cleared for takeoff at New York's JFK Airport Monday night, a Lufthansa Jet carrying 286 passengers speeding down the runway was forced to come to an abrupt halt to avoid colliding with another plane approaching the runway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cancel takeoff -- cancel takeoff plans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lufthansa 411 heavy is rejecting takeoff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All traffic is stopped right now.

SNOW: The Lufthansa flight, by some estimates, would have been going about 140 miles per hour when the pilot had to slam on the brakes. Egypt Air Flight 986 was taxiing, and FAA says the Egypt Air plane failed to turn as instructed. Instead of turning onto another taxiway, it went straight. But the FAA says it didn't enter runway 22R. At one point, the Lufthansa pilot even mentions the heat the brakes generated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those two were coming together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Advise if you need any assistance, Lufthansa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe, we have hot brakes now so maybe we take a minute. We can tell you in five minutes.

SNOW: And from a pilot who witnessed it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that was quite a show. Thought it was going to be a short career.

SNOW: Dangerously close, yes, says Barrett Burns, a former air- traffic controller at JFK, but he's seen closer.

BARRETT BYRNES, FORMER AIR-TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: Definitely seen closer calls. Any time we have these situations, it's a bad situation.

SNOW: In this situation, the Egypt Air plane was said to have crossed what's known as the hold short line.

BYRNES: It's marked with paint and also has lights, and they blink. They indicate that the runway is in use, but it doesn't tell a pilot if something else is going down the runway

SNOW: And among pilots who roll down runways at JFK is Mark Weiss, a former pilot.

MARK WEISS, FORMER PILOT: The amount of force on your body when you step on the brakes at maximum braking, when you hit your full reverse and when the speed brakes come up on the top of the wing to kill the lift over the wing, I mean, you are sitting there like this and really feeling that deceleration force.


SNOW: Wolf, the FAA says it's still trying to determine just how close those two planes came. Both planes on Monday night eventually took off from JFK.

Now, a spokesman for Egypt Air says the plane didn't move until the tower issued clearance and that it couldn't release details unless -- until the investigation is complete -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Scary moments. All right, thanks very much. Fortunately, everything worked out OK. Mary Snow reporting.

Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring some of the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, there's a report of a major al Qaeda prison breakout. What do we know?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, a senior security official in Yemen says dozens of suspected al Qaeda militants have escaped from jail in the southern city of Mukalla. Witnesses say the militants fired on guard with heavy artillery and fled.

Yemen state TV reports two have been caught so far and three others, Wolf, a Yemeni soldier and a prisoner were reportedly killed in the jail break.

And Al Gore is blasting President Obama's strategy on global warming, calling it a failed approach. The former vice president, who was initially supportive of Obama's actions on the issue, now says the president has dropped the ball by not making the case for bold action on climate change.

The White House responded, saying the president has taken aggressive steps to combat the problem, including setting new standards for fuel emissions and investing in clean energy.

And a 21-year-old Amish man in Indiana was changed with sending sexually explicit cell phone messages to a 12-year-old girl. Police say William Yoder was arrested after he rode up in a horse-drawn buggy to the rendezvous with an undercover agent (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he thought was s girl. Now, police say he has confessed to sending naked photos of himself and lewd text messages.

Now, while the Amish typically shun technology, Yoder's community allows cell phones for business use. That is quite a bizarre story.

BLITZER: It's not business use.

SYLVESTER: Clearly not business.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.

A wealthy foreign government on a buying spree here in the United States is snatching up hot properties around the world, including here in the Washington, D.C., area. We'll tell you what's going on.

And the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama's, emotional message to a continent's young people. We have new details of her trip to South Africa.


BLITZER: Foreign governments are on a buying spree here in the United States, and some of them are attracting lots of attention with their high-profile purchases. Lisa's back. She's working the story for us.

All right, Lisa. What's going on here?

SYLVESTER: Wolf, we all know that there are some real-estate bargains out there, but among those picking up U.S. properties at a deep discount are foreign governments through their investment funds.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Real-estate attorney Edward Mermelstein says Manhattan and Washington, D.C., have been a hotbed of activity. And among those buying: foreign governments through their sovereign wealth investment funds, government money used to invest globally.

EDWARD MERMELSTEIN, NEW YORK REAL ESTATE ATTORNEY: Primarily, I would say Class A office properties. There is definitely a lot of activity also in the multifamily sector. There is some interest coming around now in the hospitality sector, but I would say first and foremost, it's definitely the Class A office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Introducing City Center D.C., the dynamic heart of the United States' capital city.

SYLVESTER: The government of Qatar's investment unit now owns 10 acres of the new City Center D.C. Construction on the property began in April.

(on camera) It's here, just blocks from the White House and the Capitol, the $700 million investment will include retail space, a 350- to 400-room hotel, and more than 600 residential units.

(voice-over) In New York, the Kuwaitis have purchased this 34- story office building on 7th Avenue for more than $400 million. Low real-estate prices and a weak dollar make it a prime buying opportunity. But not everyone is happy about it.

Think back to the '80s when the iconic Rockefeller Center was sold to a Japanese real-estate company. These new real-estate purchases are not the same kind of national landmark, but it still is ruffling feathers. One reason is the lack of transparency. Sovereign wealth funds have historically been reluctant to disclose information on the policy and portfolio, and critics say it's hard to determine if their investments are for political gain, not strictly financial.

PETER MORICI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: The sovereign money -- often it's government funds; sometimes it's rich princes in places like Saudi Arabia -- it comes into the country in ways that it's difficult to trace at times. But over time we're becoming beholden to foreign governments, which means we 're losing our sovereignty

SYLVESTER: But others, including Edwin Truman, who has written extensively on sovereign wealth funds, sees it as a good thing, a critical boost to an ailing real estate market.

Truman says there no national security concerns like those raised when Dubai Ports World, owned by the United Arab Emirates wanted to buy a port management company overseeing six U.S. seaports.

EDWIN TRUMAN, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: It's an arm's-length transaction, I have no basis of saying that it isn't. It's -- why not? The more money that comes into U.S. real estate, it bids up prices; it adds to the -- adds to the tax revenue of Washington, D.C.


SYLVESTER: And there is a lot at stake in this debate. Sovereign wealth funds are becoming huge players. The International Monetary Fund estimated back in 2007 that these government funds controlled about $3 trillion. By 2012, that number is expected to jump up to $12 trillion, Wolf.

BLITZER: The U.S. wants them to come in and buy up property and create jobs, create economic opportunities, especially during economic trying times here in the United States.

SYLVESTER: Yes. I mean, there is no doubt that D.C. project is going to employ a lot of people. I mean, you're talking 300... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And they've raised values all around that area, as well. So there are positive benefits to Americans in letting these subsidies, these big companies come in to buy these areas. Thanks very much.

The first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, on a rather emotional journal to South Africa, delivering a message of hope to the country's young people.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: And if any one of you ever doubts that you can build that future, if anyone tells you that you shouldn't or you can't, then I want you to say with one voice, the voice of a generation, you tell them, "Yes, we can."



BLITZER: The first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, is delivering a message of hope and change in Soweto, South Africa. Today she called on the post-Apartheid generation to tackle problems that have plagued the nation for decades.

CNN's Nkepile Mabuse reports.


NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): South Africa is literally singing her praises.

GRACA MACHEL, NELSON MANDELA'S WIFE: We welcome you as a daughter of African heritage, and we can call you the queen of our world.

MABUSE: Even a frail 92-year-old Nelson Mandela, who these days rarely entertains outside visitors, spent some time with the first lady of the United States.

Mrs. Obama delivered her key note address at the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto, a political haven during Apartheid. She inspired, encouraged and challenged Africa's youth.

M. OBAMA: You can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS in our time. The generation that fights not just the disease, but the stigma of the disease. The generation that teaches the world that HIV is fully preventable and treatable and should never be a source of shame.

MABUSE: On occasion, she was emotional as she recounted the events that led to South Africa's democracy. And then, she reiterated Mr. Obama's Africa policy

M. OBAMA: The world is looking to Africa as a vital partner. That is why my husband's administration is not simply focused on extending a helping hand to Africa but focusing on partnering with Africans, who will shape their future by combating corruption and building strong democratic institutions.

MABUSE: She was applauded, praised and embraced by youth yearning for change.

(on camera) Mrs. Obama's speech comes at a crucial time on the continent when more and more Africans hunger to be the masters of their own destinies. The 2,000 young people that were gathered in that church don't want to be another aid-dependent generation.

Nkepile Mabuse, CNN, Johannesburg, South Africa.


BLITZER: An assuming (ph) viral video has prompted an apology from Delta Airlines. We're going to tell you why. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester's back. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including more on the powerful earthquake we reported on just a little while ago in Japan.

SYLVESTER: That's right, Wolf.

You know, so far, no signs of a tsunami from a magnitude 6.7 earthquake that struck off the Pacific coast of northern Japan less than an hour ago. There are also no immediate reports of damage or injuries, but given how close this is to the scene of the tsunami disaster earlier this year, people are understandably very nervous.

A Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer is going public with a secret that has tormented him for years. Jose Antonio Vargas reveals in "The New York Times" magazine he is an illegal immigrant. Vargas says he arrived from the Philippines when he was 12 and avoided detection by using false documents and Social Security numbers. But he says he is ready to tell the truth and face the possible consequences, even deportation.

Real stunning story, Wolf.

BLITZER: And amazing story. I was reading that earlier. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

Let's get back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is: "Can a Mormon be elected president of the United States?" There are two running on the Republican side of the ledger.

Steve writes, "Jack, without any second thought it can be the deciding factor in any presidential election. You cannot be elected president of this country without pandering to the majority. That's Christians, plain and simple. People here don't believe someone who's not a Christian could possibly make any moral decisions, at least before they find out what kind of lecherous behavior you've been participating in. I'm looking at you, Newty."

Carol in Massachusetts: "Not this year with two Mormons running against each other. Huntsman will neutralize Romney. But Huntsman is possible in 2016 if he catches some charisma."

Kathleen writes, "I'm old enough to remember a similar question being asked once before: can a Catholic be elected president of the United States? Last time I checked, the Constitution of the U.S. doesn't list specific religious affiliation as any sort of criteria. This whole discussion is disgusting."

Ray in Tennessee: "It's possible, Jack. If one can win the GOP nomination, then he would stand a chance because the right is so anxious to defeat President Obama they would sell their souls to do so."

Fran writes, "I think the only ones who will have an issue with it are the conservative right winger who think their religion is the 'right' religion for the 'right' politician for whatever the 'right' reasons are. You know what I mean, Jack."

Sam in Connecticut says, "Mormon, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, whatever. I'll vote for somebody who can create some jobs."

John in Indiana, "Absolutely. A lot of people in the United States are ignorant of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Don't think that they're all polygamists. It's simply not true, and I hope those people educate themselves on the religion and don't let that get in the way when they cast their vote for president."

And Paul in Iowa writes, "Jack, check your spelling on that. 'Moron elected president,' it's happened before."

If you want to read more on this, you go to my blog:

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack. See you tomorrow.

By the way, later tonight, the president will address the nation on the Afghanistan situation, his plan to withdraw at least some U.S. troops, about 33,000 between this year and next year. About an hour from now that speech will begin. Our special coverage here for our North American viewers will begin at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA."

And one airline passenger gets his lost luggage back but is shocked by what he found inside. That story here in THE SITUATION ROOM when we come back.


BLITZER: Law enforcement sources telling CNN, just coming in CNN right now, that the FBI has uncovered some evidence linking a U.S. military reservist, Yonathan Melaku, 22 years old, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ethiopia, with those shootings that occurred around the Pentagon area earlier in the fall. He was picked up the other day, apparently at Arlington -- near Arlington National Cemetery. We're getting more information on this story. We'll update you as we get more.

Meanwhile, other news. There are a lot of nightmare travel stories we're following out there, but this next one truly beats them all. Let's go to CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You may wish the airlines were a whiz with luggage, but at least you've never had someone allegedly take a whiz inside your luggage.

SY HAZE, BRITISH TRAVELER: The overwhelming stench of urine.

MOOS: That's what this British traveler Simon Haze says greeted him when he opened a bag that Delta Airlines had lost four days earlier as he traveled from London to Minneapolis.

HAZE: It's just absolutely disgusting.

MOOS: Haze was so angry he did a show and smell on his hotel bed and posted it on YouTube, displaying everything from his damp shorts...

HAZE: My pajamas.

MOOS: ... to his stained work trousers.

HAZE: The smell coming off these is like either somebody with a serious renal issue has peed.

MOOS (on camera): How are you certain that that's actually urine?

HAZE (via phone): From smell alone.

MOOS: Hayes, an avid fisherman, says he even got a second opinion to confirm the smell.

HAZE: Got the people on the front desk to give it the nose test.

MOOS: His YouTube video resulted in sympathy and disgust. "Ew, you're touching it." The blogs wondered if a Delta employee did the deed. Others suggested perhaps a bomb dog lifted his leg into the upright position.

HAZE: Whether it's a dog that peed on it or whether it's a human that peed on it, it's kind of immaterial a little bit, I think.

MOOS: Yes, still gross.

HAZE: Yes. MOOS (voice-over): When Delta saw the "Thanks Delta for using my luggage as a toilet" video going viral and the Twitter hash tag...

HAZE: #DeltaPeeBags.

MOOS: ... they contacted Haze, who had had no luck trying to reach them.

HAZE: Obviously, they were appalled. And they've apologized profusely.

MOOS: Delta told CNN if anything happened "it is unacceptable and will be closely reviewed." He will be reimbursed about $250 and bumped up to the front of the cabin for his return trip to London.

Hayes also found his toothpaste squirted around his shaving kit, and his fragrance was missing, Dolce and Gabbana's The One, not to be confused with doing No. 1.

(on camera) So the next time you check your luggage, you might want to check afterwards to see if it passes the sniff test.

(voice-over) Even his waterproof rain coat got sprinkled.

HAZE: That spent some time in the shower yesterday getting a good washing off.

MOOS: New regulation: no urinating on the luggage. With a bag this smelly, you could use an oxygen mask.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

HAZE: It's like a toilet.

MOOS: ... New York.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much or watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is next. In North America, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.