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Killing Spree in Afghanistan; "Doonesbury" Abortion Series; Karzai On Killings: "Unforgivable"; Syrian Activists: 45 Women, Children Killed

Aired March 12, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from A to Z.

It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. So, let's get started with your top stories.

Afghanistan calls to get out of after a U.S. soldier goes on a deadly door-to-door shooting spree, killing 16 Afghan civilians. What we know about the suspect and mission moving forward, live from Kabul.

Forty-five women and children slaughtered in a terrifying massacre in Syria. Rebel groups say government forces stormed the city of Homs, going house to house, stabbing women and children, and then burning their bodies. Syria's government is blaming the killings on armed terrorist groups. Rebel groups are claiming over 100 people were killed Sunday in government crackdowns.

BANFIELD: Controversy in the papers. "The Doonesbury" comic strip has been pulled from several U.S. newspapers this morning, outrage after a popular comic strip tackled Texas' new law requiring ultrasounds before women can seek an abortion.

Also, let's do it (ph), folks. The NCAA tournament is set. Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina and Michigan State earning the top seeds in their regions. Kentucky's the favorite to go all the way. But the madness will get under way on Thursday morning.

And Mississippi and Alabama holding primaries tomorrow. Mitt Romney's getting a little help from a Southern comic who just might be a red neck. And that Rick Santorum is counting on some conservatives to provide him with a little bit of Southern comfort as well.

BANFIELD: Up first here, the killing spree that could threaten the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. An American soldier going on a house-to-house shooting massacre in two southern Afghanistan villages early Sunday. Sixteen civilians were killed, five others were wounded. Afghan President Hamid Karzai says this was an intentional act. He calls it unforgivable.

A Pentagon spokesman says the U.S. is certain that the gunman acted alone.


CAPT. JOHN KIRBY, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT. SPOKESMAN: It was noticed when the individual left the outpost and was reported up the chain of command. They did exactly what they should do -- which is try to take a proper accounting at everybody at the outpost. And then doing that accounting, were able to identify that there was in fact one person missing and they knew who it was.


SAMBOLIN: Sara Sidner is live in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Sara, if we can begin with the fact that it was one soldier. There were some reports online suggesting that perhaps it was several soldiers. What can you tell us about that?

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the U.S. and International Security Assistance Force officials are sticking with the one soldier story that just one Army staff sergeant left the base, went on a shooting rampage and then return and turn himself in. They are still saying that this morning, that this was the work of one person, that there was no mission going on at the time in the area, that person obviously has been detain and an investigation, a full investigation, is under way.

But I want to tell you a little bit about some really gruesome images that I've just looked at coming from one of the locals in the area who took a lot of photos and video of the villagers. The scene is gruesome. There are pictures of perhaps the worst pictures are burned bodies, including a toddler who has what appears to be a bullet hole in the toddler's head. There are images inside of one of these small homes of blood covered floors and blood splattered on the walls.

And we're also talking about shell casings that are on the ground that are being picked up, obviously from investigators who have come in the next day. This apparently happened somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning on Sunday morning. Since then, the villagers have been accusing the U.S. government of not telling the truth, saying there were more U.S. soldiers on the ground when this happened.

But we did hear from a couple of people saying that all they know is that at least one of them did open fire. That person as I said has been detained.

But gruesome images coming out of Panjwai district. This is an area known to have a strong Taliban presence, an area, though, where villagers say, look, we were told by the U.S. to come back to this area and look what has happened to us -- a lot of sorrow, a lost people crying and trying to explain what happened through tears there in Panjwai, which is in the western part of Kandahar -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And are we worried now about reprisals, perhaps?

SIDNER: Yes, the Taliban has already this morning said that there will be reprisals, perhaps violent ones. We also know that members of parliament have decided to close down the parliament here in protest of the killings. So here in Kabul, parliament will be closed.

There is a lot of anger brewing. We know that there have been the villagers that have gathered outside of the base, they gathered both yesterday and they are gathering today. Of course, the funerals will happen today as well. So we'll be getting more and more information from that area.

But the anger is growing and there's a lot of speculation that this really plays right into the hands of the Taliban who is trying to sort of divide people and trying to say, look, you can't really trust these coalition forces who claim to be here to help you.

The U.S. government, NATO, and Afghan officials are looking into this but there are a lot of people asking for swift justice and wanting the person who perpetrated this crime to be tried right here in Afghanistan. We don't know if that's likely to happen or not, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And have you heard anything about how this affects the strategy moving forward in Afghanistan?

SIDNER: Yes, right now, everyone is just expressing their anger or sorrow or both over what happened. This is certainly going to strain ties again between the Afghan government and the U.S. The president as you mentioned has said, you know, he is deeply saddened by what happened. This is a deplorable and regrettable incident.

But Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said this is unforgivable and an act of terror in his words. And he, in a statement yesterday, made it seemed like he believed that there was actually some sort of a mission that went wrong. We're still trying to clarify exactly what he meant by his words. But certainly, there is anger now and there's going to be a lot to get worked through because of this incident, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Sara Sidner, live in Afghanistan, great to have you this morning.

BANFIELD: And in another hot zone, while Israel engages in a new round of cross border fighting with militants in Gaza, the former head of Israel's intelligence agency is warning against a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Meir Dagan spoke with CBS's "60 Minutes," and rather surprisingly said that attacking Iran could set off a regional war and said there are still more time for diplomacy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have said publicly that bombing Iran now is the stupidest idea you've ever heard. That's a direct quote.

MEIR DAGAN, FMR. CHIEF OF ISRAEL'S MOSSAD: An attack on Iran before you are exploring all other approaches is not the right way how to do it.


BANFIELD: And on subject of diplomacy, our president urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just last week to be patient when it comes to Iran. Meir Dagan said a nuclear armed Iran is not an Israeli problem, it is an international problem.

SAMBOLIN: Seven minutes past the hour. Time now for EARLY START news that you will be talking about tonight.

War reporter Marie Colvin will be laid to rest tonight on Long Island. "The Sunday Times" journalist was killed last month during the shelling of the Syrian city of Homs. Many Syrian-Americans attended her wake, although they did not know her personally, to thank her for giving a voice to people struggling for freedom.

BANFIELD: A key ruling is expected in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case. The judge is expected to decided how much discover, that information that prosecutors have to share with Sandusky's lawyer that they'll actually have to forked over, including exact times and dates and days of the week when the alleged abuses took place.

SAMBOLIN: Invisible Children, the group behind the viral "Kony 2012" video, which has exploded on the web with close of 73 millions views is expected to release another video today. This one to answer critics who question the group's management and motives.

The creators joined CNN's Don Lemon just last night.


BEN KEESEY, CEO, INVISIBLE CHILDREN: We're just going to release a 10-minute video that clicks through some of the questions where we say here's all the answers, here's all the figures. You know, there's nothing to hide. Invisible Children has been transparent since 2004 when we started. That's our intention. And we want to show that this campaign is part of a strategy and model that's comprehensive and that we stand by it.


SAMBOLIN: The video was posted to bring attention to the atrocities committed by Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony.

Minding your business now. The Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 all making gains for the week last week. And U.S. markets closing higher on Friday after that stronger than expected jobs report.

BANFIELD: Let's bring in Christine Romans.

Tell us about a new survey about student loans threatening the U.S. economy?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: See, this is a bankruptcy attorney group that is warning that they think the next debt bomb is student loans. Of course, they would like their clients to be able to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy.

Did you know that if you file for bankruptcy, your student loans stay with you on the other side of bankruptcy? In bankruptcy in general, your alimony, child support, court fines and restitution and student loans cannot be wiped away in almost all cases. There are very, very rare -- you know, very rare exceptions. So, the bankruptcy, this bankruptcy group is saying, look, we are seeing among our clients the same kinds of signs we saw early on in the mortgage crisis of people who are just drowning under these student loan debts.

It's interesting. It's not just students. It's their parents, their baby boomer parents, and in some cases, their grandparents who are taking on the student debt.

The average student graduates with about 25 grand in student debt. This is as of 2010. This study finds little chance of loan relief. And that's really surprising to a lot of people. You know, tuition keeps going up and up and up, even as the class of 2010, 2011 and hopefully not the class of 2012 are having a really hard time finding jobs, you guys.

So, this is something that's important to watch here. Now, I want to say something. What we know from all the data is that we're not doing a very good job in this country of managing our student debt. Parents in too many cases are taking on student loans and shouldn't be. I mean, they just don't have enough working time to be able to pay them off.

BANFIELD: They're also paying off their mortgages, too, at the same time.

ROMANS: Right. And their income is down, there might be under water on their loan. And also, look, the Bureau of Labor statistic data is clear, Pew last year -- Pew Research found last year, if you have a B.A., a bachelor of arts degree of bachelor of science degree, on average you'll make $650,000 more over the course of your working life than if you don't -- $650,000. It should seem, you know, you should be able to pay that $25,000 if it's the student who's taking the loan, managing them properly and getting the right kind of degree.

So, we need to be a little worried about the fact that we're taking on all this debt and we're having difficulty paying it back.

SAMBOLIN: But what we should most be worried about is the fact that the parents are taking on the debt amount, yes.

ROMANS: I'm very concerned about the parents. And there are a lot of personal finance experts who will tell you, you need to think of it in -- one third, one third, one third. The kids got to save a third of the money for college, borrow a third of the money for college and parents can kick in a third for college. The parents need to be saving it, too.

BANFIELD: So, why is this a national problem? Like what's the percentage of students out there with under water -- I'm not going to say under water student loans, but maybe we're getting there. I don't know.

ROMANS: These survey say that kids who recently graduated, by the next year, up to a quarter of them are already late on their student loans or in default on their student loans. You know, so, it's a lot -- it's a big number. It's a big number.

There are even new rules, believe it or not, in health care reform to help keep your student loan bill every month to a certain part of your income. I think the big problem for kids right now is there's no income, you know? They've graduated in late 2000s, 2010, 2008, 2009 and they're still having trouble getting in the work force. And that's the real problem here, getting a job.

BANFIELD: Or they're getting that job that just pays crap because that's all they could get.

ROMANS: Right. Absolutely.

BANFIELD: Christine, thank you for that.

ROMANS: But if you -- oh, my gosh, don't take loans on behalf of your kids if you're to close to retirement and you think you haven't saved enough for retirement. Your kid has their whole life to pay back loans. You don't.

BANFIELD: Yes, all right. Good advice. Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Good point. Thank you.

BANFIELD: Hard but good advice.

SAMBOLIN: Twelve minutes past the hour.

New this morning: severe storms moving through the south again overnight with a potential of more tornadoes.

CNN's Alexandra Steele is in for Rob Marciano.

Oh, no.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh, no -- really not a huge tornado threat today. So, we did have tornado warnings last night. That is not the case though. Maybe a few storms, maybe some rumbles of thunder in the South, but isolated tornadoes, certainly the exception, not the rule by any means.

Big picture radar -- in the South, may be waking up in New Orleans, I-10 is going to see some wet weather today. In the Upper Midwest, Minneapolis, Chicago, also Indianapolis, that's where we will see later in the day some showers and thunderstorms. An isolated severe storm, again, not the rule, though.

Pacific Northwest, maybe you're waking up super early this morning. We will see some rain Portland, maybe could have troubles there and snow in the highest elevations.

Here's the big picture. There's the rain in the Northwest. Again, here's the potential for some severe storms, isolated probably at best. Showers in the South.

But you know what will have everyone talking today? The heat. Today, 20 to 35 degrees above average even with the rain and storms in Chicago, 67 agrees; 67 in Boston, you should be in the 40s this time of year; New York, Washington at 70. And these temperatures are only warming further as we head toward the next couple of days.

So, travel troubles, big American hub, Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, Atlanta because of some showers and also Portland with the rain and the wind. We'll have the full forecast coming up in just a bit. Back to you guys.

SAMBOLIN: Love the heat wave. Thank you.

BANFIELD: I don't know. I don't know if I love it in march. I've got to be honest. While it's nice, I still freak out.

Does that mean 110 this summer?


BANFIELD: Oh, no, no, no.

SAMBOLIN: I like the heat waves. I like them. Thank you, Alexandra.


BANFIELD: All right. Fourteen minutes now past 5:00 in the East Coast.

And we got this just in for you. Are you ready for it?

Gas prices up again. And if you weren't paying attention over the weekend, it's the third straight day they're up. The new national average for a gallon of gas now stands at $3.80. That's according to AAA. And that is a rise of nine-tenths of a cent.

The experts say the high gas prices are here to stay, at least through the summer. How often have you heard that before? And if you haven't already, we might be hearing about $4 gas by May. Sorry to be the bearer of the bad news.

SAMBOLIN: Still ahead, a comic controversy. Some papers are yanking a "Doonesbury" strip about a controversy abortion law.

BANFIELD: And also, did you hear about Tiger Woods being carried off the golf course? Take a look at that. Rolling, not walking off the course. This just weeks before the masters. What do you make of that?

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: I want to heigh ho to you. Eighteen minutes now past 5:00 a.m.

Christine Romans has been busy collecting news stories all throughout the night. She's joining us with a look at all the top stories.

ROMANS: Good morning, ladies.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning.

ROMANS: And, of course, the top stories south of Kandahar early this morning. U.S. military officials say they're certain Sunday's killing spree in southern Afghanistan was the work of a lone American soldier. Sixteen Afghan civilians were killed in the house-to-house shooting rampage, including nine children. Afghan President Karzai calls this slaughter unforgivable.

Officials in Yemen say U.S. drone strikes killed at least 64 suspected al Qaeda militants in separate attacks over three days. Those strikes targeted insurgent hideouts and arms supplies. The Yemeni government says it received no advance warning from the U.S.

Answering their critics -- the men behind the "Kony 2012" documentary that's exploding online, they plan to release a new video today in response to many critics, including a victim of the abandoned warlord who says the viral video has done nothing but make him a celebrity.

And a setback for Tiger Woods. He was forced to withdraw after 11 holes at the WGC Cadillac Championship in Miami yesterday, forced to withdraw with an injury to his Achilles. Tiger was even carted off the course. Later, he released a statement saying he felt tightness in the tendon when he was warming up.

And demand for apple's iPad, it's off the charts. Preorders of the new iPad are already sold out. Apple's Web site showing March 19 is the earliest possible ship date for online orders. If you want one on the March 16th launch date, you're going to have to actually visit an Apple retail store, ladies.

BANFIELD: Or you have to camp. You got to camp outside that store.

SAMBOLIN: Have you gotten a chance to take a peek at it or --

ROMANS: I haven't taken a look at it. I'm still on Apple iPad I. I just want a camera. That's all I want.

BANFIELD: The girlfriend, get with the program. They haven't released any of these new iPads to the press, have they?

ROMANS: No. I haven't seen one.

BANFIELD: There's a big hullabaloo about it. But they wouldn't give any out for testing.

ROMANS: You know what's so interesting too is that the companies that make the cases, they have to wait until the very last minute because they keep all of this under wraps. The case companies are going bananas trying to make sure they have the cases just right and they have production ramp up for that. Isn't that interesting?

SAMBOLIN: I like to try it out before I purchase.

ROMANS: Maybe we'll try to get one.

BANFIELD: That would be lovely.

ROMANS: Or we'll just wait in line like everybody else.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, I believe that's probably what's going to happen. Thank you, Christine.

BANFIELD: I'm thinking any minute now, free samples on us. But they're never going to do free samples, no way, not Apple.

It is now 20 minutes past 5:00 a.m. in the East Coast. We're getting an early read on stories making national headlines this morning.

A couple stories for you from around the horn, "The Atlantic," "New York Times," and also "The Washington Post."

Let's start with Max Fisher in "The Atlantic" this morning, talking about what Christine was just reporting on, the horrible massacre in Afghanistan by what's thought to be a lone U.S. soldier. Fisher really lists off all of the different pressures that American soldiers are facing on that tour of duty. "This is a world where a young man or woman might be actually up on the fifth tour."

Think about it. Five tours of duties over two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only listening to bombs, roadside bombs, fearing roadside bombs, knowing your friends have been hit by roadside bombs

In Iraq, specifically Baghdad or at Basra, they join at 18 or 19 and for want of a job. So, they end up spending a fifth or quarter of their adult lives far from home, in alien and hostile places surrounded by violence. It is hard not to think of the Eric Harrises and the Dylan Klebolds, the exhausted, confused, afraid and angry.

That's pretty harsh language if you think about it.

Max Fisher also pointing out that Afghans also have it bad. Think about them. They've had a decade of war within their country following a massive civil war, their homeland is a mess, their government's a mess, they're corrupt like crazy, and some of them are acting out in similar fashion as well, through terrorism, et cetera.

So, it's important to talk about all of these different sides that are basically a powder keg. And, of course, what's our role in all of this? I think that's going to be the big conversation going forward.

SAMBOLIN: That's a huge math.

And "The New York Times" blog is pondering what will happen next in the case against a U.S. soldier that is accused of the killings. It asks whether he should be tried in Afghanistan, which is what they would like, rather than court-martialed in the United States. But it also says, "It is a trial in situ really so crazy, as a kind of soft power diplomacy as a kind of calming outreach to countries where the United States has a substantial military presence? Why not a joint military tribunal or a combined court-martial by U.S. forces and the Afghan national army?"

Well, the U.S. joined the International Criminal Court and forces countries to sign agreements that protect American soldiers from prosecution abroad. Many Afghan voices suggesting that trying the soldier under Afghan law is the only way to actually calm all the nerves there, to satisfy the people that live there.

BANFIELD: A lot of people will wake up to Gary Trudeau, absolutely love the comic. But "The Washington Post" is actually speaking to the creator of the "Doonesbury" strip about the new controversy surrounding his latest venture. May be funny to some but not to others.

Several papers have decided to pull Gary Trudeau's "Doonesbury" in response to a story art that slams Texas legislators and the new law there that requires women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion. In the strip, a woman visits an abortion clinic and she's placed in something called a, there it is, shaming room. A male legislator goes on to call her -- are you ready for this word? Slut.

Trudeau talks about why he's tackling the abortion issue, saying Roe versus Wade was decided while I was still in school. Planned Parenthood was embraced by both parties. Contraception was on its way to being used by 99 percent of American women.

"I thought reproductive rights was a settled issue. Who knew we had turned into a nation of sluts?" These are Gary Trudeau's words, again, "Doonesbury" creator.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. You know? Tough commentary there, huh? All right.

BANFIELD: Even a satirist can't get away with it anymore. We know we're in a big problem with that word and those issues.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-four minutes past the hour here. Still ahead, Whitney Houston's daughter speaks to Oprah Winfrey. What she had to say about how she is dealing with her mother's death.

BANFIELD: And also jagged rocks, high wind, pouring rain -- the Italian coast guard choppers are battling the elements to save a ship wrecked crew. Look at the pictures. You'll get an update on that in just a moment. Look at the waters.


SAMBOLIN: Women and children killed in their homes as they slept. A U.S. soldier turning himself in after a cold-blooded shooting spree.

BANFIELD: And truly, this could not have happened at a more sensitive time after Koran burnings in Afghanistan. Where are we going in this country and are we going to get out?

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. It's 28 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

It's time to check your top stories for the morning.

And new this morning: The Taliban is vowing revenge after a lone U.S. soldier it's believed has killed at least 16 Afghan civilians in a house-to-house execution-style shooting spree. President Obama is calling this incident, quote, "tragic and shocking". Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, says this was an unforgivable crime.

Invisible Children, the group that's kind of viral "Kony 2012" video is planning a follow-up to answer critics who have questioned the group's management and the group's motives. The video about a wanted Ugandan warlord is closing on 73 million views online.

SAMBOLIN: And a dramatic rescue off the coast of Italy. Take a look at this, after a cargo ship ran aground. Two Coast Guard helicopters battled really heavy rain and high winds to rescue 19 crew members on board that vessel which had started to take on water. We are happy to report that the crew is safe.

The Deep South will host two big GOP primaries tomorrow, Mississippi and Alabama. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy is planning to campaign with Mitt Romney in both states to date. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are in a head-to-head for conservative, evangelical voters.

And it is time to fill out your brackets. Have you started? The selections have been made. The NCAA tournament is set. Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, and Michigan State earning the top seeds in their regions. Kentucky is the favorite to go all the way. The madness will begin on Thursday morning. The final four in New Orleans this year.


BANFIELD: It is 30 minutes past the hour now, and it is somewhat unclear this morning about a shocking door-to-door killing spree by a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan as to the who, what, why, and where, and also, whether this is going to threaten the United States' mission in that very volatile country.

The anti-American sentiment already on the rise because of Koran burnings may explode. Don't forget, there were many people killed after the holy book was burned just several weeks ago. Now, execution-style killings among villagers. Afghanistan's president is saying the shootings were, quote, "unforgivable." Sixteen, at least at this count, civilians killed. Nine of those 16 were kids.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon this morning. Barbara, I don't even know where to begin with you on this one. I have so many questions. I'm not sure what's worse, because culture is very different there. The Koran burnings which spurred at least 30 revenge killings or this massacre, but I'm wondering what the Pentagon is thinking about this at this point.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Ashleigh. Let's circle back in a minute. On the Koran burnings by all accounts and even the Afghan government understand this, this was an accidental, inadvertent incident. That is it was. There was no intention on the part of U.S. troops that anyone is aware of at this point, that they intended to burn the Koran.

That was a different situation, inadvertent that they burned religious materials. That's under investigation. That said, it certainly adds to the rising tensions in the country there. And this latest incident for which no one can figure out a motivation why a U.S. soldier would do this is going to ad to that by all accounts. People are really trying to make the effort to sort of keep a lid on it, if you will.

But there's -- make no mistake. Every U.S. military official I spoke to about this incident in the last 24 hours is both angry, furious, that this could have happened at the hands of U.S. military personnel and absolutely heart sick about it. It's a real punch to the gut for the U.S. effort in that country.

BANFIELD: Now, Barbara, the strange part of Afghans is that they are a people who know war more than just about anybody I know. For the better part of four decades, they've been in civil war, so they get that people die in war and that they also get that there are unexpected casualties, too.

At this point, though, do we expect that the backlash will be worse than the Koran burnings? Are we concerned at this point about the U.S. citizens who are in place there, the embassy staff, et cetera?

STARR: Well, what officials are telling us is that they, you know, are taking precautions. They're warning people who are American citizens, mainly, obviously, working for the government, also working there privately for private organizations to be cautious, to be careful. They are not telling us what extra measures they may be taking to protect U.S. troops there.

The promise that the U.S. is making that they're going to investigate it, get to the bottom of it very quickly, and hold the person, the suspect accountable, for his actions. But, you know, Afghans are going to want to see some justice done here.

BANFIELD: All right. Barbara Starr, live with us from the Pentagon this morning. Thanks for that.

Also, a reminder at 6:30 eastern, we're going to get some perspective on the tragedy in Afghanistan when we're joined by Thomas Cotton who served as a U.S. army captain in Afghanistan and Iraq and currently is running for Congress in Arkansas.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-three minutes past the hour. Ahead on EARLY START, the GOP road show heads to the Deep South. Alabama and Mississippi are up for grabs tomorrow. Can the king of red neck jokes deliver votes for Mitt Romney?

And Peyton Manning on a road show all of his own. Where he's been, where he might be heading? You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Good morning, Washington, D.C. That is one of my favorite shots around the country. The Capitol all lit up in the night sky. Well, we'll call it the morning sky. It just kind of looks like night.


BANFIELD: But if you're awake with us, it's your morning. Forty-five degrees in the nation's capital, and are you ready for this? Little later on, it is going to be 70. Lovely day.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, a little heat wave there.

All right. The republican race shifts to the Deep South this week with primaries scheduled tomorrow in two ultraconservative states, Mississippi and Alabama. Hawaii and American Somol (ph) will also be holding caucuses.

BANFIELD: I vote for that assignment.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Wouldn't that be lovely? Talking about a heat wave. Romney's got an interesting ally today. Comedian, Jeff Foxworthy is campaigning with him in Alabama and Mississippi. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich both want to get rid of the other to become Romney's challenger. Santorum winning Kansas, the caucus Saturday, and sending a gentle message to Gingrich.


RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The speaker can say as long as he wants, but I think the better opportunity to make sure that we nominate a conservative is to give us an opportunity to go head to head with Governor Romney at some point, and hopefully, that will occur sooner rather than later, but we'll wait and see what the speaker decides.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: Let's talk about the south. From Chicago, conservative columnist, Lenny McAllister, from Washington, "Roll Call" political reporter, David Drucker, and here in New York City, Democratic strategist John Hlinko. Thank you so much for being with us.

All right. David, I'm going to start with you. Romney has got Jeff Foxworthy in his corner better than one of his latest appeals in the south that we're going to listen to and then talk about it.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I', learning to say y'all and I like grits and the things are strange, things are happening to me.


SAMBOLIN: A little awkward there, right, but we know that he's awkward. Everybody's talking about that, but none of the candidates are appealing to the southerners. What can they do in order to appeal -- David.

DAVID DRUCKER, POLITICAL REPORTER, ROLL CALL: Well, I think that southerners are not as unsophisticated as some people think. They're going to respond to appeals for jobs, lower gas prices, foreign policy, just like voters anywhere else. Clearly, they're more conservative than some voters and other parts of the country, but they're concerned about the same things.

And so, I think that's why you see a really tight race in Alabama and Mississippi. Surprisingly tight given that the expectations for Mitt Romney are not good. We figure this should either be Santorum or Gingrich territory. But there's a good chance there could be a surprise this week. This has been a volatile race overall.

And we might be surprised on Tuesday yet again with Romney finishing surprisingly strong, even if he doesn't win, if he can walk away with delegates, he continues his sort of path here that's slow but steady. And, it doesn't really even change things. And I think for Gingrich and Santorum, it's important for them to do well, given that they've said that this is where they will do well.

And so, for the first time in a while, the expectations are reversed with Romney not necessarily needing to do well and the others having to show some -- having to have something to show for Tuesday night.

SAMBOLIN: All right. John, all of this talk have appealing to southerners actually might not matter, right? Senator Lindsey Graham asked if Santorum and Gingrich should drop out said this. We're going to put it up for everybody. "Mathematically, this thing is about over -- oh, let's listen to it. I actually have her saying it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Mathematically, this thing is about over, but emotionally, it's not. I think everybody believes if I could just get a one on with Romney, I could win this thing. But if Romney does well, wins either Mississippi or Alabama and wins Illinois, then I think it's virtually impossible for this thing to continue much beyond early May.


SAMBOLIN: Excuse me. I should have said him saying it. So, mathematically, is it over?

JOHN HLINKO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, you know, he's got a very different math for me. I mean, from my perspective, this could go on for a while. Now, the reality is, Romney is in a commanding position. And he's, you know, building up delegates delegate by delegate. And he is pretty far ahead. But the others are far from mathematically eliminated.

If Gingrich were to drop out, and I think that is more likely, unless, he can win both Alabama and Mississippi, and if Santorum can take on Romney head to head, the math is a long shot, but he's certainly not eliminated at this point.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Lenny, I want you to weigh in on that. Do you think mathematically it's over?

LENNY MCALLISTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: No, it's not mathematically over. We heard the same thing after Florida. Once Romney rolled through Florida and got Nevada, this was all but over, but the screaming and the shouting, and then, all of a sudden, Rick Santorum took three states in one night. This is something that's going to go on for a little while as long as Mitt Romney can't be comfortable in his skin, can't talk to conservatives and can't make a 50-state strategy.

He has a 50-state structure, but he doesn't have a 50-state strategy. Going into the south and saying y'all for someone who was the governor of Massachusetts that grew up in Detroit is not a good thing to do. And if he --

SAMBOLIN: You don't think that was endearing, Lenny? You don't think that was endearing?


MCALLISTER: As somebody that lived in North Carolina for ten years, no. It was bad, was horrible, was fake. And that's -- what's been the criticism of Mitt Romney, that he's fake, that he can't connect to people, so what does he do? He does something that comes across as fake that's not really connecting with folks.

He has to change that, and until that changes, it's still anybody's game, especially if you see a surprise on Tuesday or you see a surprise towards at the end of the month here in Illinois or in April with some of the bog contest including Pennsylvania. SAMBOLIN: You know what, guys, I want you to all weigh in on this final answer, and I'm not going to give you just one or another choice. The final question is, that there are rumors this morning that Gingrich asked Perry to be his vice president. I want you each to weigh in on whether this is a good move, bad move, too late or who cares? John.

HLINKO: I think -- the thing that I'm looking out for, the really crazy move, what if Gingrich decides to run as an independent? That could be -- that could be wild. And I think it could happen.


DRUCKER: Who cares?


MCALLISTER: Good move. If he wins both southern states and gets back into the mix, that will be a difference maker.

SAMBOLIN: You think that makes a good ticket there?

MCALLISTER: Well, it will invigorate the conservative base and the establishment that doesn't like Gingrich but was in love with Perry before Perry had his gaffes in the fall.

SAMBOLIN: All right. David, John, Lenny, thank you for joining us this morning. We're going to see you again in the next hour, actually.

MCALLISTER: Thank you, ma'am.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, ma'am. Keep it on CNN now through November for the best political coverage on television. Our special coverage of the Alabama and Mississippi primaries begins tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. eastern with Erin Burnett. That is followed immediately by live coverage of the results.

BANFIELD: And it is 44 minutes now past five o'clock on the east coast. Still ahead, this is a good one. A small plane coming down in someone's backyard.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness.

NAPOLITANO: And if you can believe it, it was just feet from a home that was filled with kids. We're going to get you the scoop on that one.

Also, big interview, Whitney Houston's daughter talking to Oprah. What are her plans about showbiz? Will she follow in her mother's footsteps or is this just too early to be asking these questions? You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Standing tall. SAMBOLIN: There she is. Welcome back. Forty-seven minutes past the hour. Christine Romans is here with a check of the stories making news. Good morning.


BANFIELD: You never sleep.

ROMANS: Oh, sleep.


ROMANS: Let's take a look at the top stories -- I know. It's a very busy Monday morning, so let's get you caught up to speed, right?


ROMANS (voice-over): Government officials say a U.S./Afghan strategic partnership deal could be delayed after a lone American soldier went on a house-to-house shooting spree in two southern Afghanistan villages. Sixteen civilians were killed, including 9 children. Afghan President Karzai calling this incident unforgivable.

Opposition activists in Syria say at least 45 women and children were rounded up and executed in the city of Homs. They say this happened just hours after Kofi Annan, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, met with Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

Three men survived the small plane crash in California over the weekend. Officials say both engines failed, and the pilot was forced to land in a backyard in the town of Rio Linda, clipping a telephone pole on the way down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think if it hadn't hit the telephone pole, it would have hit right into our house, and we have a full house people here. We got like ten kids here. So, pretty scary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, I heard a pop, and the pop caught my attention. I looked over to the east, and I saw a light and I heard wind, and all of a sudden, I heard a thud.


ROMANS: Incredibly, the three men on board were able to walk away from the crash with just minor injuries.

The second stop on the Peyton Manning free agency tour, Arizona. The coveted quarterback spent more than six hours at the Cardinals Headquarters and Training Facility yesterday. Manning visited with the Denver Broncos on Friday.

Incredible video of a shark feeding frenzy. Wow. That will get your attention on a Monday morning. Beaches on Perth, Australia were closed a chopper spotted dozens of sharks circling just a few hundred yards, just a few hundred yards from shore. Some brave birds trying to get in on the action there as well.

BANFIELD (voice-over): Oh, my good -- where was that?

ROMANS: In Perth, Australia

BANFIELD: Yes. Off the coast of Perth. Wow.

SAMBOLIN: That's awesome.

BANFIELD: Makes for great video.

ROMANS: It sure does.

BANFIELD: You like being a (INAUDIBLE).

ROMANS: That's one go to the movies.

BANFIELD: Whenever we hear those crazy shark attacks, there was on the other coast, on the gold coast, on the other side of Australia, not Perth and the west coast.

ROMANS: Perth, Australia.

BANFIELD: That is awesome.


SAMBOLIN: Thanks, Christine.

BANFIELD (on-camera): Thank you for that.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Still ahead, Bobbi Kristina speaks out, telling Oprah she can still hear her mother's voice.

And Rush Limbaugh, you know, that Sandra Fluke's controversy, it's now costing shows like his money. Several right-wing shows literally black listed by advertisers. We're going to tell you all about that. You are watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Welcome back. It is now seven minutes to the top of the hour. Whitney Houston's only daughter has given her first interview since her mom died.

SAMBOLIN: Bobbi Kristina is telling Oprah she can still hear her mother's voice and feel her spirit urging her to carry on.


BOBBI KRISTINA, DAUGHTER OF WHITNEY HOUSTON: I can savor music but to hear it right now, I can't. You know, I can hear her voice, you know, in spirit talking to me and telling me, keep moving, baby, you know? You know, I'm right here. I got you. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Carlos Diaz joins us with more now. Carlos, I put this out on Facebook that you were joining us, and a lot of people said, gosh, it's just too soon for her to talk.

CARLOS DIAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, you know, the funny thing is, people say it's too soon for her to talk. Those same people, like, it's too soon for her to talk but what's she going to say? You know what I mean? So, that's the thing. I mean, everyone wanted to hear from Bobbi Kristina. And the unique thing about this, you have to wonder, was it planned?

Because Oprah was talking to Patricia Houston, which is Whitney's sister-in-law and manager, and all of a sudden, she asked, is Bobbi Kristina in the house? And Patricia said, yes, and all of a sudden, Bobbi Kristina just walked in and boom, we're doing an interview. You know, I mean, it was like Whitney talking to Bobbi Kristina, the daughter, the 19-year-old daughter of Whitney Houston.

And as you just heard, Bobbi Kristina said that she can't listen to Whitney's music just now, but she truly believes that the ghost of Whitney Houston is alive and well inside the house. Listen.


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: Have you had the visitation? I know some people might think we're crazy, but a lot of people --


WINFREY: Get where they actually come to you in your dreams.


WINFREY: You've had that?


WINFREY: Really?

BOBBI KRISTINA: Oh, yes. Yes. And specially throughout the house, throughout the house, you know, the lights, you know, turned on and off. I'm like, mom, what are you doing?

WINFREY: Really?

BOBBI KRISTINA: Yes. We still like -- I sit there and I can still laugh with her. I can still sit there and I can still talk to her.


DIAZ: Now, Zoraida, I got to tell you, you know, when you listen to that interview and you hear that part, you say to yourself, she's still coping with the loss. It's only been one month and one day since she lost her mom. It reminds me of when Michael Jackson's kids spoke for the first time.

And after that interview, you said wow, those kids are so well adjusted. They seem to be coping with their father's death so well. And, it seems that Bobbi Kristina, it's still raw. She's still dealing with it.

SAMBOLIN: Well, she looked good. I mean, that was my impression when I saw her, that I thought she looked good. Did they talk at all about her drug problem?

DIAZ: That's a thing. You know, you can tell that Oprah, and I'm not going to ever critique Oprah's, you know, interviewing style. She's the best. But Oprah didn't want to, you know, go hard at Bobbi Kristina talking about her mom's alleged drug use and the things that, you know, had come up in the past.

In fact, you know, Bobbi, wanted to more talk about the legacy that she wanted to move forward and Bobbi Kristina's plans moving forward.

SAMBOLIN: So, even Bobbi Kristina's own drug -- or alleged drug use, she didn't discuss that at all either?

DIAZ: No, no. And, you know, she said that, you know, the first night that Bobbi Kristina -- the first night after the death, Bobbi Kristina couldn't stay at home. And she said, when I woke up that next morning, she didn't say what she woke up after doing, but she said, I heard my mom's voice saying let's move forward and let's get back home, you know?

So, she's really talking a lot about how she's hearing Whitney Houston's voice and that's helping her.

SAMBOLIN: Well, maybe that's the way she copes. Carlos Diaz, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

DIAZ: Thank you.

BANFIELD: It is four minutes now before 6:00 a.m. on the east coast.

And still ahead, a cold-blooded execution-style killing spree in Afghanistan, all at the hands of a U.S. soldier. What will that do to our mission in that country? How is the Pentagon going to handle this one, and will there be revenge attacks against our guys? You're watching EARLY START.