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THIS WEEK AT WAR

Encore Presentation: Week's War News Recounted

Aired October 15, 2006 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(NEWS BREAK)
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: The chief of the British army echoes Congressman John Murtha saying foreign troops in Iraq are making things worse there. And is the White House about to change direction in Iraq?

The North Korean nuclear test, a failure of U.S. policy and who is to blame? The Bush administration or was it President Clintons fault?

And the costs of war. High enough for current military operations, but what about the long-term costs of caring for the thousands of U.S. troops left disabled by insurgent bombs and bullets?

I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR. Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day. Monday, President Bush condemns the North Korean nuclear test and promises a response. Tuesday, Iraqis report that over a single day, 60 bodies were found in Baghdad, gunshot victims, some had been tortured. Wednesday, a new study claims 650,000 Iraqis have died since the war began. President Bush says he doesn't consider the report, quote, credible. Thursday, the chief of the British army calls for his troops to get out of Iraq quote, sometime soon, and rips into planning for the war and says, staying in Iraq makes Britain less secure. Friday, in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber attacks a NATO convoy in Kandahar. At least eight civilians and a NATO soldier die.

Among our elite THIS WEEK AT WAR troops, Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks on North Korea's military strength, Suzanne Malveaux on the war off words in Washington and Aneesh Raman in Tokyo on how Japan is reacting to its nuclear neighbor. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

The violence in Baghdad, at its worst levels ever, despite an infusion of U.S. troops in the capital. Is the U.S. losing the battle for Baghdad and is a major change in direction in the wind?

And are foreign troops the answer to securing Iraq or are they part of the problem? Joining me now from Baghdad, Cal Perry. Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon and here with me in the studio, CNN military analyst Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army retired.

New criticism of the Iraq war this week and this time from the strongest ally the U.S. has, Great Britain. The chief of the British army, General Richard Dannatt told a London newspaper in a Thursday article his country should, quote, get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems. Whatever consent we may have had in the first place has largely turned to intolerance.

Spider Marks, the same thing that Congressman John Murtha has been saying. Dannatt wafted back a little bit, saying well, I believe in a phased withdrawal, not an immediate withdrawal, but it certainly brings into question the whole relevance of keeping U.S. forces in Iraq.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, US ARMY (RET): Well, first off all, this is a Brit general, so he doesn't speak for U.S. policy nor does he have a similar experience in Iraq as the U.S. presence has. He's in a different part of the country. He's down in Basra primarily with his forces and the size of the Brit presence is around 8,000 troops, a little less than that. So the experience is a bit different, a bit different. However, the thing to consider is that the Brits really do have a long history of counterinsurgency operations so he speaks from experience and he speaks through that optic of how soldiers do well and how the local population may or may not respond.

ROBERTS: They are also in a part of the country that is always taken to be much calmer than where U.S. forces are operating in and you have to wonder if the Brits think that their presence in an area that's fairly calm is exacerbating the situation, what's going on in a real hot house?

MARKS: You really can't juxtapose the situations on the ground that precisely. Absolutely. He's got a different problem set. He does have a problem set than the U.S. forces primarily in al Anbar and in the vicinity of Baghdad and north, so to do the direct correlation between those two may lead you in a different direction. However, we as well need to step back and consider what is he saying? What is he absorbing that we might want to take on. However, our policy has been stated and we're marching along that course.

ROBERTS: Cal Perry, what's the view from Baghdad? Are foreign forces in Iraq making things worse? Certainly it doesn't seem to be getting better with what General Casey said about the level of violence going on. Are we losing the battle for Baghdad there?

CAL PERRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm not sure if the U.S. is losing the battle for Baghdad, but by their own admission I'm not sure they would say they are winning. We heard from Major General Caldwell. He is the U.S. spokesman here. He said he has seen a major uptake in violence. He was very honest about this and the numbers certainly prove that, the U.S. is going through a very bloody period right now. So far in the month of October, we've seen 40 Americans killed. That could put it on pace to be one of the bloodiest month in two years. John.

ROBERTS: And are foreign forces making things worse there, Cal?

PERRY: It's unclear. And certainly most Iraqis think so. We saw a major shift in Iraqi policy amongst people that live here. Seventy one percent now say they want U.S. troops out by the end of the year. That was a major shift. Polls previous to that had shown that most people wanted U.S. troops to say here until things were calm.

ROBERTS: So speaking of major shift, is there a major shift in the wind here on the U.S. side of things? Here's what Jamie McIntyre reported on that front on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The top general at the Pentagon tells CNN the overall strategy is under review, including the linchpin of the U.S. exit strategy relying on Iraqi forces to take up the fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, Jamie McIntyre, a little more on this. What's going on? Is there suddenly going to be a big change here in U.S. policy? When you say things are under review, does that mean the whole program or are they just doing a little tinkering around the edges?

McINTYRE: Let me translate for you what General Peter Pace said. He basically said in not so many words, it ain't working. We know it, but we're not just sitting around. We've got some of the best minds in the Pentagon working on it and it's no coincidence by the way that right after the top U.S. commander, General George Casey met with President Bush, President Bush publicly said if the strategy isn't working, he'll change it.

ROBERTS: Yeah, that seemed, Jamie, almost to be a signal to say, there's something coming up in the next couple or three weeks here, possibly before the election to say we're going to make a change in direction, which a lot of people wouldn't think would be particularly brilliant politics.

McINTYRE: Well, here's the problem. They've got 300,000 Iraqi troops now in uniform. Supposedly that should allow the U.S. to withdraw some of its troops, but the Pentagon this week confirmed again that it has plans to maintain the current force in Iraq through 2010, if necessary. That's not the way they thought it was going to go.

ROBERTS: So Cal Perry, what does it say about the whole program to stand up and train these Iraqi forces? Is it a failed policy? What's the alternative?

PERRY: I think there is some disappointment here on the ground about how Iraqi security forces have progressed. If you take a look at "operation together forward" this was the big plan to secure the capital, and when you look at the manpower of that operation, it's a majority Iraqi force, Iraqi army and Iraqi police. The sectarian death squads have continued their work. Sectarian killings remain at an all-time high, 1,500 bodies found last month in the capital alone, so far this month around 500. A possible out, the Iraqi government this week, giving the provinces in 18 months, the ability to perhaps go on their own, form autonomous regions. For the parliament at least, I think it's a stunning admission that there is real security problem here on the ground.

ROBERTS: Spider Marks, a review of the strategy in Iraq, is it a little too late? I recall you were one of the people who was begging for 40,000 more troops and that was back in the fall of 2003.

MARKS: Well, it was, as we were getting ready to go to combat in advance of crossing the line of departure in the spring of '03, John, but the real issue now is, if you look at counterinsurgency doctrine and you look at what the history tells you, you need to have a ratio of about one soldier on the ground, one Marine on the ground for a population of about 50. We've got 300 Iraqis. We've got a round figure about 150 U.S. and coalition.

ROBERTS: 300,000?

MARKS: 300,000 and 150,000 U.S. Combine those two, you still have a way to go in order to reach that ability where you think you sustain it and then it has to be sustained over time. We're not close.

ROBERTS: But is it reviewed too late?

MARKS: No, the review is not too late, John. If you're going to review it, you're going to try to make some adjustments. A review would say cut and run. A review could say let's continue to try to train. Let's simultaneously up gun our ability to get our political structure in place for the Iraqis. Let's help them work some diplomatic efforts. Let's open some Iraqi embassies throughout the region. Let's work some economic (INAUDIBLE) in other words, there has to have the security environment for all elements of power to work. That secure environment is not there. If you want to have it, you've got to keep working at trying to raise the Iraqi forces but you've got to maintain some other presence until you have that approximate number in the aggregate.

ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, who is driving this? Is this being driven by the White House, by the administration or is this the generals the people on the front line there at the Pentagon saying you've got to give us the latitude to make some changes here because as you said earlier, it ain't working?

McINTYRE: Well, it's a general recognition that things are not going the way they should. Nobody here is under any illusions and you know, that British general was not far off the thinking of most people at the Pentagon. There's a recognition that U.S. and foreign forces in Iraq are in some ways counterproductive in -- and the new doctrine on counterinsurgency stresses the fact that sometimes you need to reduce the forces in order to have more protection. So I think they are really giving this a scrub. They are really giving this a little whack in the side of the head, saying are we really approaching this right? Do we need to make an adjustment? What do we need to do? But there's a real idea here that they've got to be committed to leave Iraq in a way that is not going to make it worse than when the U.S. was there.

ROBERTS: It's going to be interesting to see just what kind of change in direction may be ahead and particularly the timing. Cal Perry in Baghdad, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. Spider Marks, stick around because we want to cut you in a little bit later on. Thanks very much.

A determined Marine pays the ultimate sacrifice. Corporal Benjamin Rosales was killed on Wednesday by a roadside bomb in Iraq's al Anbar province. Rosales was part off the second light armored reconnaissance battalion based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. That was the unit that I was embedded with during the initial invasion of Iraq. The son of immigrants, Rosales had dreams of eventually becoming a plastic surgeon, but his family said he insisted on joining the military because he wanted to serve his country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAHAM DAHER, CPL. BENJAMIN ROSALES BROTHER: (INAUDIBLE) He was --

ROBERTS: Rosales married his longtime sweetheart just weeks before leaving for Iraq. He was just 20 years old.

Up next, the North Korean nuclear test. We'll get reaction straight from its neighbor, Japan and examine the United States response to the threat, coming up on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Two U.S. officials tell CNN the United States now has in hand preliminary evidence of radioactivity from a North Korean test site, supporting the U.S. belief that North Korea did, in fact, test a nuclear device last Monday, Korea time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are sending a strong and clear message to North Korea and other would-be proliferators that there will be serious repercussions in continuing to pursue weapons of mass destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Having failed to stop North Korean so far, what options remain as that rogue nation moves further down the road to nuclear weapons? Joining me now to explore the story from military, diplomatic and regional perspectives, senior United Nations correspondent Richard Roth at his usual post. Correspondent Aneesh Raman joins us from Tokyo and Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. President Bush started the week by saying on Monday, North Korea, even by claiming a nuclear test, was a threat to world peace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States condemns this provocative act. Once again, North Korea has defied the will of the international community and the international community will respond.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: President Bush Monday at the White House, certainly there has been a response coming at the United Nations Security Council, Richard Roth, earlier this week, China was really talking tough about sanctions but by the end of the week, had forced other members of the permanent five to water down a resolution. Why does China want to back off on putting the squeeze on North Korea?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a familiar refrain in diplomatic discussions here at the Security Council, John, as we talked about on the show, China, though it wants swift diplomatic protest about the nuclear action by North Korean, still is concerned primarily that there will be millions of refugees coming from North Korea. There will be too much of a squeeze economically and it always worries that the U.S. is using resolutions as a back door way to eventually use military force, which Washington denies.

ROBERTS: So what about China and its level of concern, Richard with North Korea? Is it really upset this time or is it just saying it is?

ROTH: In the end, as always, China eventually goes along, but after it gets severe concessions, significant watering down in resolutions and maybe the U.S. knows this and throws the kitchen sink in early on and then comes the typical haggling. I mean you always ask for more at the start they say.

ROBERTS: Exactly, although some people ask for more as they go along. Aneesh Raman, North Korea seems to be obsessed with one-on-one talks with the United States. It says that's why it exploded this weapon because the U.S. would not engage in bilateral talks. Is it really the U.S. that North Korea's concerned about or is it more concerned about China and the U.S. just gives North Korea more status with China?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think in terms of Kim Jong-Il, it is the U.S. at the moment. North Korea is seen sort of shifting policy from the Clinton era to now the Bush administration where it is feeling increasing isolation and it feels increasing pressure on the ground from countries like Japan that has now gone ahead and imposed its own sanctions. North Korea is a buffer if you will with China. It really is the country that prevents the strong sanctions from coming into play. It's countries that border North Korea, China and South Korea and Russia to a certain extent are worried about crippling that regime to the point of forcing, as Richard mentioned, a humanitarian crisis, but you get the sense from the North Koreans that this is about direct talks. They've wanted it all along, bilateral talks with the U.S. They think that that is the solution to all of this, but the Bush administration has really seen no reason to think that that would solve anything.

ROBERTS: But Aneesh, why would they think that that was a solution? They had direct talks in 1994. They came to an agreement. They cheated on that agreement and that's why everything is where it is today. RAMAN: Well for the North Koreans this is explicitly, it seems, about survival. You'll recall President Bush put them as part of the axis of evil back in 2002. Shortly thereafter, another member, Iraq's Saddam Hussein was deposed and analysts say both North Korea and Iran felt that they might be next, so this is part of the Kim Jong-Il regime strategy, it would seem, to stay relevant in that country to stay in power. Part of this problem as well has been the inconsistency of U.S. policy. Do we engage or does the U.S. try and isolate North Korea? Japan is a country, as well as other regional neighbors, that want to see some consistency. And so at this moment they are hoping to find a unified voice with the U.S., but also with China and South Korea to stand firm against North Korea.

ROBERTS: As the United Nations Security Council spent the week discussing sanctions, the North Koreans rang on it as well. Here's how Richard Roth reported that side of the story on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: North Korean diplomats don't say much, but ask about sanctions, and their diplomats can be blunt.

PAK GIL YUN, NORTH KOREAN AMB. TO UN: Sanctions will not solve the problems at all.

ROTH: But the UN Security Council is banking on sanctions to pressure North Korea to change its behavior. Sanctions remain a popular option in the diplomatic tool kit, but do they work?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, Richard Roth, do sanctions really work? And if the United States could not get the really tough sanctions that it wanted, what levers does it have left to bring Kim Jong-Il to heel?

ROTH: One noted sanctions expert says sanctions have never brought about regime change in any country or led to a nonproliferation disclosure. Sanctions eventually have led to changes in Libya and South Africa, not necessarily regime change. North Korea has given no indication it will accept this. The leverage would be more bilateral sanctions, countries individually imposing their own decisions on goods and technology, going into North Korea.

ROBERTS: And what about the reaction from the region? Could this possibly i ignite an arms race? Here's how Aneesh Raman reported that on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAMAN: A nuclear North Korea raises fears Asia could be on the brink of an arms race, with South Korea and Japan forced to keep up. For now, Japan says it has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons, but the prospect is being discussed.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: So, Aneesh, Japan is holding off for now, but how long might that last, and what about South Korea? It's got to be pretty upset about what's going on north of the border.

RAMAN: Japan is in a very difficult position right now. It has a pacifist constitution that was essentially imposed on the country post World War II. It can only defend any attack on Japanese soil. Going nuclear would require it to change that constitution, would require a huge amount of debate that has yet to even begin here. For the moment the prime minister says that is not an option. What they are looking at is beefing up their missile defense system, something that the prime minister says they can do in congruence with that constitution. But South Korea also contemplating this and in the broader sense, we have seen the nuclear club almost double in membership since the nuclear nonproliferation treaty in 1968. And each time a country gets a nuclear weapon like North Korea if this is true, it forces these debates in other non-nuclear neighbors as to how they can then defend themselves and the ripple effect gets felt throughout the world. These are critical times for our entire world at the moment to see how this spreads, how far it goes and whether or not we're able to rein in this nonproliferation and bring it about.

ROBERTS: With the exception of Libya which gave up its nuclear program voluntary, every time somebody joins the nuclear club, they seem to get away with it.

Barbara Starr, the president keeps saying diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy is the way to solve this, but diplomacy doesn't seem to be doing much when it comes to North Korea. Are there any plans for any kind of military option here, even if it's just a blockade of North Korean imports and exports to prevent proliferation?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, when people look at the notion of a naval blockade, for example, off North Korea, very tough business. It requires a lot of ships, a lot of resources. Would the Chinese help with a blockade over land on their border with North Korea? Perhaps doubtful. As for any other type of military action, as one senior commander said, what are you going to hit? The U.S. is not certain where North Korea has all its weapons sites in its nuclear program. It knows some of them, not all of them. And the North Koreans are expert at digging. Most of those sites are deep underground. And it's questionable whether U.S. bombs could really take them out.

ROBERTS: Not a lot of good options on any aspect of this story. So we go through yet another weekend unsure where this is all heading. Barbara Starr, Aneesh Raman, Richard Roth at the United Nations. Thanks very much.

Straight ahead, how uncertainty in North Korea and the war in Iraq played out this week at the arena of U.S. politics. Our war on words is coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Three weeks from Election Day and everything is viewed through a partisan prism. Another deadly week in Baghdad, talk about a change in direction for Iraq, new concern about North Korea. Helping us sort this all out in our war of words segment, "New York Times" White House correspondent David Sanger is with us in the studio and CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. And we heard a new blame game this week. Who lost North Korea? Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, past and maybe future presidential candidate took aim at Bill Clinton on Tuesday and the Clintons fired back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R) ARIZONA: Prior to the agreement, every single time the Clinton administration warned the Koreans not to do something, not to kick out the IAE inspectors, not to remove the fuel rods from their reactor, they did it. And they were rewarded every single time by the Clinton administration with further talks.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D) NEW YORK: Some of the reason we are facing this danger is because of the failed policies of the Bush administration. And I regret deeply their failure to deal with the threat posed by North Korea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: David Sanger, you got the Democrats blaming the Bush administration. You got the Republicans blaming the Clinton administration. Where does the truth lie?

DAVID SANGER, NEW YORK TIMES: You know, John, it's everybody's fault. The North Koreans been building these facilities since the early 1980s, back in Ronald Reagan's day. They probably built their first two bombs during the first President Bush's administration. The Clinton administration managed to freeze the production of new plutonium, but they left the plutonium in the country. Under inspection by the IAEA, it remained there until 2003, when the North Koreans threw out the inspectors and moved it. You could argue that President Clinton should have gotten it out in 1994. You could argue that President Bush should have set a red line in 2003 and said, if you move those rods off and try to make weapons out of them, we're coming after you. Neither had them.

ROBERTS: And it in terms of red lines as well, Suzanne Malveaux, the president was asked specifically about that at his press conference this week and he ducked the question.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's understandable why he ducked the question, because really the Bush administration is in a pickle here. You talk to nuclear analysts who say that the U.S. really doesn't have very much credibility with North Korea when it comes to this red line issue. It was three years ago you remember, President Bush said we're not going to tolerate a nuclear North Korea. It was last July when they launched the missiles and then, of course, you have this nuclear test that happened. So the thinking at the White House here is don't get caught up in that language by defining a red line. They need some wiggle room here, some space and they need time, time to get those allies on board, Russia and China, in fact to say, yes, we do have some teeth here. We're going to go ahead and move very aggressively.

ROBERTS: And, of course, as we heard earlier in the program, China really kind of balking on those really tough sanctions that it might take to get North Korea to give up its nuclear program. David, how is this going to play in the midterm elections? I can see that there's a chance for President Bush to play the leader here with a get-tough policy on North Korea, but at the same time, potentially leave himself up open to criticism, to say, you've had six years. Where's the result?

SANGER: The president's problem is that after a first term that was built all around unilateral action, he has now committed himself to operating with all of his allies, which means that we only can move as fast on North Korea right now as the Chinese move. And it's unclear whether or not the Chinese are willing to participate in real sanctions. Then the president would have to decide before the elections, does he want to go the risky path of trying to intercept shipping, do other sanctions that might really hurt the North Koreans but could also cause ...

ROBERTS: In the war of words this week, also President Bush at that press conference on Wednesday took aim at the Democrats. He was asked if it was fair to call them the party of cut and run. Here's what the president had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: When you pull out before the job is done, that's cut and run as far as I'm concerned. And that's cut and run as far as most Americans are concerned. And so, yeah, I will continue reminding them of their words and their votes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So the president making no apologies for being very harsh on the democrats, but he's got to be a little bit frustrated that the Foley scandal has undone some of the work that he was doing earlier in September to try to keep the focus on terror. Is that part of what this whole press conference was about, was to kind of reset the debate?

MALVEAUX: Well, John, you are absolutely right. That is the reason for the press conference is really to get back on the offense and back on message here. President Bush really emphasized two things in his press conference. He talked about North Korean and Iraq, but he tried to get the subject, the focus, on the economy as well as national security. These are two areas Republicans believe they will perform quite strongly in the midterm elections, so that is what they are trying to do.

It was quite odd, John, there was even a point in the press conference where the president started asking himself his own questions and answering them, saying, well, you probably want to know, why did we invade Iraq and we are not going to go ahead and invade North Korean so it was kind of a very strange way of doing it but the message was very clear here, is that we want to change the subject completely.

ROBERTS: Yeah. That was pretty remarkable when he was asking himself questions.

Looking at the poll numbers, the Democrats in our latest CNN poll, from Opinion Research Corporation had the Democrats five points out in front on the issue of terrorism and a 51/34 advantage on a better job in Iraq.

And at the same time that President Bush was trying to refocus everything on terrorism, he said, David, he's open to a change in direction in Iraq, if his commanders on the ground want it. It doesn't seem to be smart politics to three weeks before the elections say, in effect, well, we're thinking about changing the whole strategy in Iraq. Maybe the opposition's right.

DAVID SANGER, "NEW YORK TIMES": It could be smart politics, John, if he is afraid that what's sticking with voters is that stay the course isn't working. And to indicate some level of flexibility. But Suzanne and I were both at that news conference, and he seemed on the one hand to be opening himself up to new approaches, and on the other hand, he was saying, I'm not leaving until the job's done. Well, what defines the job being done? Is it the democratization of the Mid East or even Iraq or is it simply reaching stability? And that the question that of course won't be resolved until long after the election.

ROBERTS: And as you know, when I was at the White House, as well, we kept asking the question of the press secretary, what is the goal, how do you define victory in Iraq?

David Sanger, Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much, as always.

From the war of words to what the dangerous choices would be in a war against North Korea. Our military intelligence expert Spider Marks is back with his maps, right after this.

But first, for one group of army families worrying and waiting has given way to gratitude. More than 200 members of the 21st Cargo Transfer Company at Ft. Lewis, Washington, returned home on Sunday after a year in Iraq. Sergeant Christopher Mathis was reunited with his wife and young daughter who was just eight months old when he left for the war zone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. CHRISTOPER MATHIS, U.S. ARMY: Hopefully I can spend time with her. Hopefully I won't have to go back to Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: The 21st Company drove trucks and moved cargo in Iraq, despite the daily dangers, none of the unit's soldiers were killed or injured.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (NEWS BREAK)

ROBERTS: Message from North Korea to the United States, and the rest of the world -- diplomacy has failed. Keep an eye on your seismographs. So what is the North Korean nuclear threat? For what matter, what is the entire military threat for North Korean and what, if any, are the U.S. military options to contain it? Joining me now is CNN analyst Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army (Ret).

Welcome back.

BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Thank you, John.

ROBERTS: What are we looking at as far as the North Korea threat goes?

MARKS: Size matters. It's a very large military, John.

Let's get down into North Korean. There are about - there are over 1 million men that on the ground. They have a brown water or coastal navy to affect operations along the coast. Very aggressive fighter and bomber fleet, to include a lot of special operating aircraft as well. Special operations forces as well.

ROBERTS: So large and dangerous basically is what we're talking about.

MARKS: It is and they train pretty aggressively. A lot of stuff is antiquated but it's a very good military. Let's look at the primary thing however, that can affect operations on the peninsulas and that's their missile forces and then I'll talk about their rocket and artillery a little bit.

This is the range of what's called the Scud B missile and it can get out to about 300 -- about 180 miles. This is the Scud C, that gets out to a little over 380, and now you're into the Nodong range and in the Taepodong 1, which was fired in '98 and this is where it landed. The Taepodong II which was the failed attempt just last month could reach the United States if it was successful.

ROBERTS: So that could be well off the screen if they get that one developed.

MARKS: Absolutely. Now let's walk it down a little more closely and look at their artillery and rocket capability. If I was in a U.S. aircraft or a South Korean aircraft, this would be my attack angle as I go after this artillery location.

ROBERTS: This the border here and the DMZ.

MARKS: This is the demilitarized zone separating South from North. So in flying into this, I have to go North and attack into the South, because this is in a buried location right here.

ROBERTS: Behind the mountain.

MARKS: Behind the mountain and very deeply buried, so I have to get through the mountain and I have to go after the artillery piece, and when they employ it comes out on rails or it just is simply pulled out and it fires and it gets right back in.

ROBERTS: So these are all buried in the mountains and very well concealed.

MARKS: Absolutely right. Very well concealed. Very highly protected. Deeply buried, hardened sites.

Let's also look, John, at their special operations forces which can really affect operations on the peninsula. As I said, they have a coastal navy which can affect operations. This how they would drop, in small boats and they would drop the special operations forces off and they would also insert in An-2 Colt aircraft by wing, which is soft skin, so it's very difficult to pick up on radar. Over 100,000 special operations forces to link up with sleeper agents that are already in the South.

ROBERTS: Sleeper agents already there, who have been there for years.

MARKS: Have to assume that, absolutely in large numbers.

ROBERTS: And we should point out, too, when talking about the artillery, look at the proximity of Seoul, the capital city which is homes to millions and millions of people to the border there and to the artillery pieces.

MARKS: It's what you live with every night. The forces on the Korean peninsula, the combined forces command have an expression, fight tonight, not tomorrow, you fight tonight, because of that proximity.

ROBERTS: And if they were to engage in military operations, what would the casualty count be on the South Korea side?

MARKS: I can't estimate, but it is well into the thousands. Well into the thousands. And there is a very large, as you can imagine, U.S. presence and international presence. This is a very large, international, vibrant city.

ROBERTS: So basically, again, very few good military options to attack the North with?

MARKS: Very tough. Very tough. The training's in place, but the North koreans have trained as well. This would be a very nasty fight.

ROBERTS: Spider Marks, thanks very much.

MARKS: Thank you, John.

ROBERTS: Not very comforting thoughts, though. A report out this week says one-third of the 600,000 recent war veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are looking to the V.A. for healthcare. Are we prepared to take care of those that served? That's next.

But, first, a look at those who fell in THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: America's newest veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are putting heavy demands on the V.A. system with the army chief prepared to keep troops in Iraq through 2010, is the United States prepared to meet their needs and are taxpayers willing to foot the bill for what experts say could be hundreds of thousands of disability claims?

Joining us to help eliminate the problem is Paul Sullivan, he's the director of programs with Veterans for America. On Thursday, CNN's Gupta looked at the rising cost of meeting veterans' needs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Statistics from the Veterans' Administration show one of every three military personnel returning from Afghanistan and Iraq is injured. Maybe it's a shot in the head. Maybe it's a recurring nightmare, but each one needs care.

And care is expensive. Of the nearly 600,000 war vets recently discharged from the service, about a third of them have sought care from a Veterans' Administration healthcare system. In addition to their healthcare costs about 100,000 of those servicemen and women are also receiving disability compensation for their injuries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Paul Sullivan, there's a report that suggests that one in five veterans who are coming back from either Iraq or Afghanistan are in some way disabled and that over the course of the war and who knows how long that is going to last, those numbers, according to projections are going to skyrocket. How big could they get?

PAUL SULLIVAN, VETERANS FOR AMERICA: The numbers could get very large. The Department of Veterans' Affairs is facing a crisis. Right now if the trend continues it's ominous, and about 400,000 Iraq and Afghanistan, more veterans could end up filing disability claims.

ROBERTS: What kind of strain is that going to put on the V.A. system and on taxpayers?

SULLIVAN: Well, right now V.A., as I said, is in a crisis, they have Vietnam veterans coming in still filing claims from the Vietnam War, Gulf War veterans still coming in and filing claims for the Gulf War and now we have returning Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans piling in to the tune of hundreds of thousands and this could mean potentially anywhere from between 400,000 disability claims and maybe up to 700,000 Iraq and Afghan War veterans seeking healthcare.

ROBERTS: Is there any kind of way to project the long term costs?

SULLIVAN: Well, there have been some studies that have come out on the cost but right now it would be fair to say it would be billions of dollars per year for 30 or 40 years for the whole life of the veteran when he gets back.

ROBERTS: And you mentioned Vietnam. Using Vietnam as a model, a lot of the people who came back, a lot of the soldiers and marines who came back from Vietnam did not claim disability immediately, but over the course of years as problems developed, they started adding themselves to the rolls. Do we expect to see that in Iraq and Afghanistan?

SULLIVAN: Yes, we can. And that is going to further compound the problem. We're are going to have long-term medical issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, it doesn't develop in a few days, it develops over a number of years.

And then we might have toxic exposures such as depleted uranium and Lariam pills that made lead to long-term health problems.

But here's what all this means. Right now V.A. has a window of opportunity. They have no plan to address this huge tidal wave of veterans coming back and Congress and the Department of Veterans affairs need to act now. Develop a plan, collect some data. Find out how much this is going to cost the taxpayers, but more importantly, what can be done now to help the veterans with care now, so it's not a more expensive later.

ROBERTS: You mentioned Lariam, which we should point out is a drug to prevent mosquito-born diseases particularly malaria, I remember I took it once and the effects can sometimes be unpleasant. We reached out to the Veterans' Affairs Department to get a statement from all of them and here's what their response was.

They said, "The data in this study includes service members who filed for disability compensation based upon medical problems that arose before they went to Iraq or Afghanistan, it also includes veterans that filed after service in Iraq or Afghanistan for injuries or illnesses that were unrelated to their service there."

It still doesn't change the overall numbers, but as a political statement you can say don't blame Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is not going to change the expense, is it?

SULLIVAN: The bottom line is Iraq and Afghanistan are going to be very expensive for the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and billions of dollars a year in taxpayer money spent for healthcare and disability checks.

What's needed is a plan to find out how much money is going to be needed for V.A. Last year, V.A. was short $3 billion. Because of poor accounting methods and here we have the Department of Veterans' Affairs trying to give a weak statement. Where's the plan?

ROBERTS: Right.

SULLIVAN: The veterans want to know when they come home, John, if they walk into a V.A. hospital, can I see a doctor right away? When I need disability benefits, because I can't find a job and I'm disabled, will I get that check?

And right now, the Department of Veterans' Affairs has no plan to beef up the number of doctors, no plan to beef up the numbers of claims processors to make sure that those veterans get the benefits that need and they earned from fighting on the front lines.

ROBERTS: Obviously a story that is going to go on and one that we'll continue watching. Paul Sullivan, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Next up, we're going to have our THIS WEEK AT WAR bulletin and a report that a federal agency is behind the curve on the skills necessary for fighting terrorism. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Now to some stories that we're following in our THIS WEEK AT WAR bulletin. On Wednesday an American al Qaeda supporter was indicted in California on charges of treason and material support for terrorism.

Twenty-eight-year-old Adam Gadahn appeared in several al Qaeda videos once referring to the 9/11 attacks as quote, "blessed raids."

He is the first person to be charged with treason since World War II, however, the authorities have no idea where to find him.

On Thursday, it was revealed that 14 suspected al Qaeda operatives being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were visited this week by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The detainees, which include one of the alleged masterminds of the 9/11 attacks had previously been held in secret CIA prisons. The Red Cross says it will use information from the visit to evaluate conditions at Gitmo.

Also on Thursday, new FBI figures show that five years after the 9/11 attacks, FBI agents are still woefully lacking in Arabic language skills. The bureau says only 33 of its 12,600 agents have even a limited proficiency in Arabic and none of them work in areas that coordinate investigations of international terrorism.

And on Tuesday, some good news from the United States Army, after dismal recruiting numbers last year, the army joined the military's other branches in meeting its 2006 recruiting goals. As of September 30th, there were 80,635 active-duty recruits, exceeding the army's goal of 80,000.

A member of Missouri's state legislature is recovering from wounds that he received in Iraq. In addition to being a state representative, Jason Brown is staff sergeant in the Army Reserves. Brown returned home this week after being wounded in the lung by small arms fire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASON BROWN, MISSOURI STATE HOUSE: My lung did not collapse when I was shot which s extremely odd and I'm extremely lucky, so right now there isn't a plan to extract the bullet. It's still in me. It's still in my left lung.

RACHELLE BROWN, WIFE OF JASON BROWN: I'm overcome with emotions, I can't even explain it. It's just the best feeling and I'm so glad to have him home and back here and safe and sound.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Brown, who is a Republican, is seeking re-election. His Democratic opponent, by the way, Jared Welch, serves in the Missouri Air National Guard.

And ahead, how a vote at the United Nations may give a new microphone to President Bush's sharpest critic. Coming up on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Any hope of American troops coming home in large numbers soon appeared to evaporate this week. But army chief of staff General Peter Schoomaker said he's planning to keep the current troop levels in Iraq through the year 2010.

While that may be more prudent planning than an actual prediction of how things will go it would appear the optimistic pronouncements about troop withdrawals earlier this year were just that. And this week President Bush said he would be open to a change in directions if his commanders asked for it.

Such acknowledgements this close to an election would not normally be an example of brilliant politics, but things are anything but normal when it comes to Iraq. And how to deal with the problems there.

It is clear that an increasing number of Americans, including Republican lawmakers, are growing more and more concerned about the direction that Iraq is heading in. And change may be just what they're looking for. A look ahead now to what we'll be covering in the next WEEK AT WAR.

Monday at the United Nations what's being billed as the hottest race for the Security Council in 30 years, whether U.S. critic Venezuela will beat out U.S. ally Guatemala. Tuesday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaves for Asia with stops in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing to discuss ways to rein in North Korea's nuclear program.

Also on Tuesday, Sudan hosts a meeting of several African leaders to talk about the crisis in Darfur and Sudan's refusal to admit UN peacekeepers.

Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm John Roberts. Straight ahead, a check of the headlines, and then CNN PRESENTS, "Where Have All the Parents Gone?"

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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