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THIS WEEK AT WAR

Week's War Activities Recounted

Aired January 6, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really a lot to talk about regarding some of the changes that might be taking place in fact this week in Iraq, but there's also a lot to talk about in Colorado. I'm Rick Sanchez. These are the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. This is the CNN newsroom and we want to bring you up to date now on this avalanche situation that's been developing over the course of the last couple of hours in a place called Berthoud Pass. It's about 60 miles west of Denver where there has been a massive avalanche, that's affected a lot of people who were actually trapped in it. Let's do this now. Eli Stokols from affiliate KWGF is joining us. He's actually there. In fact, let me tell you this, Ellie. You're the first report that we've talked to from the actual site. So bring us up to date on what you've seen and what's been go on there.
ELI STOKOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rick, where we are, just about two miles down from where this happened down highway 40, what you see right behind us here, the wind still very windy, it's been windy all day. It's died done a little bit. I don't know if you can tell how windy it is, but the wind this morning gusting at about 40 miles an hour. That's what brought all this snow roaring down the mountain.

Of course right now there are crews working to clear that road which has been shut down since this happened right around 10:30. That, just after the Saturday morning rush of skiers lured by all that fresh powder over Berthoud Pass on highway 40 towards the winter park ski resort. In all, the avalanche came down three different slides right on to the highway. We're told it left a sea of snow about 15 feet high and 100 feet or so wide on the road, burying cars, even knocking a couple of cars down the mountain, about 300 feet. They were actually tumbled into the trees. Eight people from those cars had to be rescued. They were taken to a Denver hospital amazingly enough with only minor injuries.

SANCHEZ: Eli, let me interrupt you. Eli, let me interrupt you for just a minute, because I want to see what's going behind you there. All day long, we've been slowing viewers a picture of this I-40 with 15 feet of snow piled on top of it. Are you telling me that's what it looks like now behind you?

STOKOLS: No, no, no. As I mentioned this is -- we're about two miles from where this happened.

SANCHEZ: OK.

STOKOLS: What you see happened up the road a little bit. The avalanche came down those three slides and absolutely buried the traffic this morning that was heading to the ski resorts. You may have seen some video of the people, the front end loaders working right now, the people with the snow melters trying to clear that road. But that's just this afternoon several hours after the fact. At the time as you mentioned, several cars were buried, a couple knocked off the road and down the mountain, a crazy scene. There were actually members of the Alpine ski rescue team on the mountain that came down to dig the cars out.

SANCHEZ: In fact we understand, yeah, that there were some people in traffic who decided that they wanted to help them out. Eli Stokols from KWGF, thanks so much for joining us, hope to be able to talk to you again as the story continues to develop.

Of course, the other big story is what's going to happen this week with the decision being made by the president of the United States regarding Iraq, how many, when, troops? Fewer or more? Here's John Roberts following that.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: This week it may have been a new year, but there were few new answers, not to the military's solution in Iraq where 3,000 U.S. troops have now been killed, nor the political stalemate inside the Iraqi government. And now, there may be a new terror threat on the horn of Africa. I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR. Let take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day this week. Monday, uproar over a cell phone video revealing the last moments of Saddam Hussein were filled with religious taunts.

Tuesday, "The New York Times" reported that members of the Bush administration admitted their Iraq strategy had crumbled in 2006, a victim of the country's increasing chaos.

Wednesday, the Somali government called for militias to turn in their weapons after radical Islamist fighters were chased out of Somalia's major cities.

Thursday, the Democrats took control of Congress. In her opening speech, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi declared America had rejected a war without end in Iraq.

Friday, President Bush keeps shuffling his defense, national security and diplomatic team, preparing to unveil his new Iraq plan in coming days. Among our elite THIS WEEK AT WAR troops, Arwa Damon in Baghdad, Ed Henry and General James "Spider" Marks in Washington. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

Will President Bush's new war plan for Iraq have any affect on the violence there? And has the chaos around Saddam Hussein's execution made the task that much more difficult? Joining me now from Baghdad, Arwa Damon in New York, Nir Rosen. He's the fellow at the New American Foundation and the author of "In the Belly of the Green Bird, The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq" and with me here in Washington, CNN military analyst, Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, US Army retired.

On Friday, President Bush announced the first part of a major shakeup in the administration. Director of national intelligence John Negroponte moving to the number two position at the State Department, retired Admiral Mike McConnell taking over as DNI.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Each of them will do good work in their new positions and it is vital they take up their new responsibilities promptly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: And "Spider" Marks, more changes coming as well, centcom commander John Abizaid going to be replaced by Admiral William Fallon of the Pacific fleet and General George Casey, the top man on the ground in Iraq being replaced by General David Petraeus, a return engagement for him. Pluses, minuses?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS, US ARMY (RET): It's a new set of eyes, John. What you have with Admiral Fallon is a guy who's coming from the Pacific command. He's going to bring a new perspective. He's done a lot of engagement in the Pacific, specifically with China. I'm sure the hope is, let's get a broader perspective and a little more engagement in theater. However, there are two ground wars that are ongoing and you've got a Navy guy who is running that. That's not a problem, frankly. There's great jointness that exists in all of the services. With Dave Petraeus coming back into Iraq, I mean, he's been there before with the 101st and then certainly as the chief trainer. So I think what you have as a normal course of events, you're going to have this change that will occur periodically. This is a good one.

ROBERTS: Yeah, but certainly, President Bush wanting to indicate to the American people that he's going to change things from the top down.

MARKS: A new look.

ROBERTS: Arwa Damon, the president's coming out with his plan this coming week. One of the things he's going to be talking about in addition to the military component, is some sort of an economic stimulus, a job creation program so that when U.S. troops go in and clear a neighborhood, they can hire local people to clean up that neighborhood, put some dollars in some pockets. Also a micro-loan program to help get businesses started. Is that something that can work there to keep people out of these militias, to give them an alternative?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I mean, for that to work, we need to look at what the key motivator is for Iraqis to be joining these militias. And according to a recent survey, the key motivator is in fact the very reality that they don't trust the Iraqi security forces or the American forces to provide them with security. Hence, they join the militias trying to protect their own neighborhoods, trying to protect their own. Of course the hope is that by providing jobs, perhaps some people will not be motivated to join the militias. But again, this is an issue that needs to be addressed alongside security for it to actually work.

ROBERTS: I think that the belief of the Bush administration is it can't be done just militarily. It's got to be political and economic as well. Of course, in the middle of all of this was the weekend hanging of Saddam Hussein and the fallout from that because of that cell phone video that made its way around the world in a flash of an eye. Here's how Arwa Damon reported on the fallout from that on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAMON (voice-over): This cell phone video appeared on the Internet, uncensored images fully portraying the chilling scene at the gallows, showing Saddam being taunted in his final moments by cries of Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Muqtada of course for Muqtada al Sadr, the Shiite cleric who is the head of the Mahdi militia and probably one of the most politically forceful people in Iraq right now. Nir Rosen, what do you think the ultimate fallout of this video is going to be? Is it going to be a minor bump in the road here or could this just further divisions between Sunnis and Shiites that will go all the way to the core of both sides.

NIR ROSEN, NEW AMERICAN FOUNDATION: Things can't get much worse. I mean you could have pardoned Saddam. You could have executed him 50 times. The civil war, the sectarian cleansing would have continued unabated. Of course, this was a huge offense to Sunnis, Sunni Arabs. But I think more interesting is the effect it's having in the region. Sunni Arabs in the region are incensed and you hear a very racist discourse targeting Shias in general. But really I think things are so bad in Iraq and only getting worse that this doesn't really matter too much.

ROBERTS: Here what President Bush had to say about the Saddam Hussein hanging and the way that it played out on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I wish obviously that the proceedings had been gone in a more dignified way. But nevertheless, he was given justice. The thousands of people he killed were not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Has the U.S. found itself now, General Marks, in the middle of another PR nightmare?

MARKS: I don't think so. Certainly there's a bad aspect to all of this. But what occurred in terms of - it really paid -- you really need to pay attention to what type of government do we have in place in Iraq and is it mature enough to execute a known criminal, a tyrant, somebody who needed to die years ago?

ROBERTS: What does that mean for the future of Iraq, then? If you can't execute somebody in a democratic fashion without it becoming this sectarian type of back and forth? MARKS: You've got absolutely -- the challenge is, how do you move forward? How much more time is it going to take? And frankly, it's going to take time. Unfortunately, this was not done well. But I would caution, not to make too much of this. Frankly, this guy did deserve the sentence that he received and he deserves to be where he is today. And I don't think we need to paint it exclusively as sectarian in nature.

ROBERTS: Right. We passed another tragic milestone in Iraq this past weekend when the 3000th American troop was killed. Arwa Damon, you do a lot of embeds with American forces. You even knew a soldier quite well who was killed. What kind of affect do these casualty numbers have on American forces over there?

DAMON: John, death here has a profound effect and you know, for the soldiers, the Marines that are out there, day in, day out it's really not a number of 3,000 or over 3,000, each death to them, really the military's like a large family, so each death to them is like the loss of a family member. It's the loss of one of their buddies. And the more what we're seeing more now amongst the troops that are here and these are soldiers and Marines that are back, sometimes for the second, third if not fourth rotation and they're seeing the situation really not getting any better. They're seeing this increased death toll. And so they're questioning more and more whether or not it's worth them being here and whether or not it's the right thing. But again, regardless of all of that, they still continue to go out every day. That is their mission. Even if the sole purpose of them being motivated to go outside the wire is just to make sure that their fellow soldier or Marine standing next to them comes back alive.

ROBERTS: And as we saw in that recent poll by the independent "Military Times," fewer and fewer soldiers think that being in Iraq is a good idea. Nir Rosen, 2007, is it going to be a make or break year for Iraq? Is this a last chance to try to get it right?

ROSEN: 2003 was the break year for Iraq. What you're going to see in 2007 is the further breakup of Iraq, the perhaps the genocide of Sunnis in Baghdad. They'll be pushed into the Anbar province. You'll see destabilization in the region with more and more refugees pouring into Syria, Jordan. You'll see increased support from Saudi Arabia and Jordan of the Sunni countries, for Sunni militias. You'll see perhaps a consolidation of the Shia south, further independence of Kurdistan, Iraq is slowly ceasing to exist.

ROBERTS: Wow, not a very good prognosis for the year ahead. Arwa Damon in Baghdad, Nir Rosen in New York and General Marks, stay with us. Here in Washington, the countdown and political rumblings over President Bush's expected policy change in Iraq. We're back with our war of words segment right after this. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This New Year brings new opportunities for progress and I'm looking forward to working with the new Congress. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: President Bush at least talking about a good start with the new Democratic majority. But what's the reality behind the rhetoric when Democrats flex their new legislative muscle against Mr. Bush's Iraq policy? Joining me now in our war of words segment, congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's up on Capitol Hill and White House correspondent Ed Henry with me here in the studio. So Ed Henry, the president is very soon coming out with his new plan for Iraq. The question is what and when?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, officials say, basically the expectation now is, next Wednesday or Thursday in prime time the president will give a speech to the nation. He'll lay it out and what he's leaning towards right now is a surge of U.S. troops into Iraq. We've heard about this for weeks, but basically on the lower end of what we've been hearing, somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 U.S. troops, not necessarily the 30 or 40,000 we've been hearing and that sets up some problems. The Democrats are pretty much against any kind of a surge. And there are Republicans like John McCain saying 20,000 is not enough.

ROBERTS: McCain wanted tens and tens of thousands. In terms of the Democratic response, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came out pretty strongly in a letter to President Bush saying, surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed. Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake. Dana Bash what can Democrats really do about it? Do they really have the muscle to be able to try to change the direction the president's going in?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they have - now they have much more of a megaphone certainly that they've taken control of Congress and people are paying some more attention to them frankly in terms of what they're saying. But the bottom line is, they still have their hands tied in terms of what they can really do to change the policy because as we have talked about before, their main trump card if you will, the real thing that they can do, is take money way. The Congress has the power of the purse. Still, most, if not all Democrats, are saying that that's just not going to happen. But we did have some interesting illustration of just how hard it's go to be, John, for Democrats who are now in the majority.

We saw Cindy Sheehan here on Capitol Hill this week. You know we're used to seeing her protest against the president. She was saying, to the Democrats, you've got to be more tough on the White House. They are going to have a lot of pressure on them, as they now have to put their money where their mouth is so to speak when it comes to Iraq to really, really, do what they said they were go doing during the campaign which is put pressure on the White House and that's why you saw that kind of rebuttal from the new speaker, from the new majority leader in the Senate saying that they think that their policy that they've talked about for several months now, pulling troops out of Iraq is the right thing to do, not sending more in. ROBERTS: So Ed Henry, you spend a lot of time up on Capitol Hill. If Democrats are very reluctant to control purse strings of this war, what else can they do? Carl Levin has suggested, incoming chairman of the House Armed - the Senate Armed Services Committee, has suggested he's going to hold hearings, call people up there to find out if the military really does think that the president's plan is a good one.

HENRY: I think one of the best levers Democrats potentially could have is these hearings you're talking about, not just Carl Levin but Joe Biden, the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and what they're saying is they hope to not just put Democratic pressure but Republican pressure on the White House. You have Republicans like Chuck Hagel on Biden's Foreign Relations Committee who have been saying that a surge is a fallacy, that it's just not going to work. And the bottom line there is if you can get more Republicans on the Hill, not Democrats but Republicans in the president's own party saying look, this is not working. You need a dramatic change in course. Ultimately, that's what's going to force the president to change course, not necessarily Democratic voices.

ROBERTS: The day before the 110th Congress came in, you had President Bush appealing for bipartisanship. In an op-ed in the "Wall Street Journal" he said, we can help provide the necessary breathing space for this young Iraqi government to meet its responsibilities. We now have the opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war. Take a listen to what incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had to say on that same topic the day that Congress opened on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: Nowhere were the American people more clear about the need for a new direction than in the war in Iraq. The American people rejected an open-ended obligation to a war without end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: And as you can see, she got a standing ovation for those comments. Dana Bash, what does that say about bipartisanship and comity when it comes to the issue of Iraq?

BASH: Well, you're not going to have it. But you know, as Ed was just pointing out, that is really going to be the interesting thing to look at, not necessarily what Democrats are going to do, but Republicans. Because Republicans up here, they will tell you publicly, they'll tell you privately they got the message, loud and clear, on a whole bunch of issues when it came to the election and Iraq certainly was the big issue.

You know, for example, Susan Collins, she's a Republican, a moderate from Maine. She was on a trip just a few weeks ago with Senator John McCain to Iraq. She came back saying, you know, I don't think it's a good idea to send more troops to Iraq. I think that's a bad idea. She's important for a lot of reasons but the main reason is also that she's up for reelection in 2008. So it's actually not too early to start thinking about the fact that many of these Republicans are going to be positioning themselves because of their reelection, looking ahead. So that is going to really determine a lot of the dynamic here on Capitol Hill, not just with Democrats, but even more importantly with Republicans.

ROBERTS: "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman (ph) really put the idea of a surge in troops in an interesting way. He said it's like a couple that doesn't have much of a relationship who says let's have a baby. That will bring us closer together but the foundation of the relationship wasn't there so the baby's not going to work. So Ed Henry, as Dana said, as you said earlier, that there's this resistance to the idea of a surge from Republicans. Why is President Bush pushing this?

HENRY: The sense you get from Democrats and Republicans is there are no other real options on the table and even though the joint chiefs and commanders have said, that they are leery of a surge as well. The president really doesn't have any other clear-cut ways to try to turn this around, try to stem the violence. And I think that top White House aides have finally concluded that this is their last, best hope of winning in Iraq. And if this doesn't work, if the president goes ahead with the surge and this doesn't work, they're really almost out of options.

ROBERTS: Dana Bash, the Democrats, they've got this 100- legislative hours to get things done but nowhere in any of that legislation is anything on Iraq. Do they have a plan yet?

BASH: No, not really, I mean certainly not when it comes to the floor. They are not even talking about bringing the issue, the debate about Iraq, back to the floor of the House or the Senate. They are sticking strictly to domestic issues and even more than that, sticking to domestic issues that they pretty much know that they can get passed. But as Ed was talking about before, they are going to be very aggressive, expected to be very aggressive, when it comes to the power of the gavel that they have not just in terms of the speakership, but in terms of every single committee, on the Senate side and the House side.

And for example, Neil Abercrombie, he's a congressman, a liberal Democrat who never had any real power, he now chairs a very important subcommittee of the Armed Services committee in the House. He just put out a press release at the end of the week making clear that he is very, very much opposed to sending any more troops in Iraq - to Iraq and he's go doing what he can to fight it. He now has more power in terms of really calling the administration to task than Democrats had before. So that's the kind of thing that we're going to see them do when it comes to Iraq.

ROBERTS: Well, Dana, it's going to make your job very interesting in the coming weeks. Dana Bash on Capitol Hill, Ed Henry, thanks very much.

Debate isn't only about Iraq. Somalia in the horn of Africa was back on the radar this week, coming up on THIS WEEK AT WAR. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: A nation struggling to survive factional upheaval, resentment over outside intervention and questions about U.S. intentions. Sounded like Iraq, but also Somalia. Ethiopian forces crossed into Somalia and drove the Islamic militia from power. Can Somalia chart a new course? Was it an al Qaeda refuge and what is the role for the United States? Helping us to sort through all of this, Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, who's traveling in the region and joining us via broadband from Nairobi, Kenya, Nir Rosen, a fellow with the New American Foundation rejoins us from New York. And with me here into Washington, Davidson College professor of political science, Ken Menkhaus. He consults the U.S. government and the United Nations on Somali politics. Barbara Starr reported on the conflict in Somalia on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Because of recent unrest between Somalia and Ethiopia, the U.S. has stepped up efforts in recent months to monitor terrorist activity and assist Ethiopia in fighting the Islamic militia across the border in Somalia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr, what's the situation on the ground there now?

STARR: John, here in east Africa, the fighting does go on. There are still remnants of that Islamic militia. They have been firing at both Ethiopian forces and at Kenyan force according to our reports and that is sparking a new security crisis here in east Africa. U.S. State Department officials, U.S. military officials for the last several days have been traveling throughout the region meeting with members of the African Union and top ministers from other African countries here. What they're trying to do is get an African peacekeeping force together to go into Somalia, so that Ethiopians will leave and try and make this new interim government in Somalia weak and fragile as it is, make it a functioning government. John.

ROBERTS: And since the Islamist militants were chased out, the U.S. State Department has been involved in discussions as to what it might do to try to bring some peace and stability to the region. Here's what Jendayi Fraser, who is the assistant secretary of state for African affairs had to say about that on Thursday.

JENDAYI FRASER, ASST. SECY OF STATE FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS: You have to go beyond just the humanitarian to also support assistance to the transitional Federal government, capacity building so that the transitional Federal government can provide services to the Somalia people.

ROBERTS: Ken Menkhaus, you were at one of those State Department meetings on Friday but you can just hear people across the United States saying, oh my God. Are we going get involved in Somalia again? Everybody saw the movie. We didn't like it. We don't want to see the sequel to "Blackhawk Down."

KEN MENKHAUS, PROFESSOR, DAVIDSON COLLEGE: We will not have boots the ground. That much is certain. What the U.S. government is trying to do is to marshal support both for a peacekeeping force, protection force for the transitional government and also more vigorous support for state building and political dialogue in Somalia.

ROBERTS: But if you can't get the African Union peacekeeping force together, somebody needs to go in because the Ethiopians aren't going to stay there. Is there a potential that the U.S. could say, say we've got to put some boots on the ground?

MENKHAUS: No. I think that would be very, very unlikely. I think more likely is that the African Union troops won't be mobilized in time. Ethiopia will opt to pull out to avoid a quagmire and Somalia will fall back into a situation of de facto state collapse such as what we had in 2005.

ROBERTS: Nir Rosen, what about that? I mean Somalia is the poster child for the words "failed state." Is there any way it's ever going to be stable?

ROSEN: It was getting stable. The Islamic courts were not radical. It actually succeeded in doing something amazing for Somalis, bringing peace to Mogadishu, getting rid of the warlords, letting people be able to walk in the streets at night without getting robbed or killed and they brought stability not only to Mogadishu, but it was spreading throughout much of the country. What we have done by focusing solely on this terrorism or radical Islam aspect for our foreign policy for an entire country is actually to destabilize the country, introduce foreign troops who invaded the country who are extremely unpopular. I think this is actually a horrible situation. The Islamic courts were the answer for Somalia. They managed to unite many different clans. They managed to provide stability. They had the backing of Somalis very important business community. They had the backing of many of the original powers and we've actually destabilized Somalia by allowing the Ethiopians to do this.

ROBERTS: So you think it was better off, before the Ethiopians backing up the warlords went back in there.

ROSEN: Well I was in Mogadishu when the Islamic courts took over and there were massive celebrations throughout the entire city, because neighborhoods had been closed off. Suddenly you can go throughout the entire city. Somalis were very, very happy. There were parades. There were festivals. Businessmen who had been exiled for many years came back. There was really a sense of optimism. The one fear people had is that the Ethiopians are going to come in with backing from America and ruin all of this and bring the warlords back and bring a government in name only. It's not really government, back into Somalia and this is indeed what happens happened. Now Somalia's destabilized where there was a little bit of hope a few months ago.

ROBERTS: As you were mentioning, the United States has really been focusing on this in term of terrorism and there are several people inside that Islamic court movement who the U.S. is interested in. Here's how Frederick Pleitgen reported on that on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FREDRICK PLEIKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Ethiopian foreign minister tells CNN he believes several internationally wanted terrorists are with the Islamists including three individuals responsible for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr, is the U.S. doing anything to hunt down the terrorists or is it relying on Kenya and Ethiopia?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, right now what U.S. intelligence is doing is really fairly unprecedented cooperation with some government officials inside Somalia as well as here in Kenya and in Ethiopia, sharing intelligence where five particular al Qaedas terrorists might be. These men are said to be on the run.

So what has happened here, in the last couple of days, Kenya has shut down its northern boarder with Somalia. In consultation with United States so they cannot come south. And the U.S. Navy has put two warships off the coast of Somalia, they are now boarding small ships, fishing boats coming out of Somalia, looking to try to see if any of the people are trying to use the sea as a route of escape.

So there is a big effort to shut off the escape routes. But the real question for the United States remains do they want any involvement, as you say, with a country where American memories of Black Hawk down in October 1993 are still so strong.

ROBERTS: Ken Menkhaus, U.S. officials believe there is a narrow, narrow window of opportunity to establish a viable government in Mogadishu. But do they really think they can do it?

KEN MENKHAUS, PROFESSOR, DAVIDSON COLLEGE: I think they have to try. There is an opportunity to promote dialogue between the transitional federal government and Mogadishu constituencies that are currently very unhappy, very worried about the situation and which pose a potential for an insurgency against Ethiopia and the TFG. It has to be done quickly and the discussion about peacekeepers has to be done in tandem with that political process or else it will fail.

ROBERTS: Do you think it can work?

MENKHAUS: I think people are skeptical but it's better than the alternative which is doing nothing and watching the ship go down.

ROBERTS: We can only hope. This idea of getting involved in Somalia again I'm sure just has a lot of people on edge. Barbara Starr in Nairobi, Nir Rosen (ph) in New York, Ken Menkhaus in Washington. Thanks very much.

From Somalia back to Iraq. Coming up how military discards became Iraq's most lethal weapons. But first, some of the fallen THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: The United States started the new year by reaching a sobering milestone, 3000 killed since the beginning of the war in Iraq. Army Sergeant John Michael Sullivan of Hickston, Tennessee is one who fell while serving his country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBBIE SULLIVAN, MOTHER: He thought it was a good thing, what they were doing over and he just wanted to be with his friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Sullivan's wife Michelle gave birth to their first son, John Michael Jr. just hours before her husband's death. He was scheduled to come home next week. Sullivan was a member of the 2nd Battalion 2nd Infantry Division out of Ft. Carson, Colorado. His Humvee was struck by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. He was just 22 years old.

Deaths from those roadside bombs, IEDs, are blamed for almost half of all combat deaths of U.S. military in Iraq. We're introducing a new THIS WEEK AT WAR department called "Weapons of War" and back now with us CNN military analyst Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. military retired. Spider, these IEDs are described as pure evil by the U.S. forces who encounter them every day and they come in different forms.

MARKS: They sure do, John. By definition, first of all what this is is an IED is a booby trap. It's a weapon of choice. It's not an alternative.

ROBERTS: A lot of it is made out of military discards, old armaments from the Saddam Hussein years?

MARKS: Sure is. Here is a graphic that will portray that. Anti-tank weapon wouldn't be detonated by pressure, it would be command detonated. You have got an artillery shell wrapped in concrete, so you can hide it on the side of the road, looks like a cinder block or a 500-pound bomb we've got here that's buried.

Again, all of those could be detonated in another of different ways, either hard wired or use of a cell phone or a garage door opener.

ROBERTS: The troops that I was riding with were worried about these bombs but the ones they really fear is called EFP, explosive form projectiles or penetrators, shaped chargers is what they call it. What are those all about?

MARKS: Those are directional, they are shaped. Let me, very briefly on this graphic, this is where the projectile would occur. It's an explosive. It has a conical shaped thing around it. It's metal. When the explosive goes off, it collapses, and you now have formed, in essence a bullet and it's going to move in the direction that you -- the way you shape it and aim that thing as you can see in these graphics right here.

ROBERTS: And that's designed as an armor penetrator?

MARKS: It is. For example if a soft skinned vehicle, a Humvee went by, not up armored, this projectile would fly right through the thing. It were to hit an a tank or an up armored Humvee you would have incredible damage because resists penetration.

ROBERTS: Its the force from that bullet hitting the metal.

MARKS: It is. Yes.

ROBERTS: I've read that they can go through six inches of armor, three feet of concrete.

MARKS: Absolutely. These are a horrible weapon system. And as I said, it's the weapon of choice.

ROBERTS: So how are they employed?

MARKS: Let me show you very quickly. A company key things but primarily they can be used alone. Of course. The U.S. and other forces set a pattern. You go after that pattern or they could be used in groups, the daisy chaining effect an incredible level of sophistication that the enemy can use.

ROBERTS: Four or five artillery shells all bundled together?

MARKS: Yes. Absolutely. And let me show you one more piece of information that might be helpful.

As I said command detonated. You could use a garage door opener to get that thing but really the main thing is not only can they be emplaced and left but they can be carried in the back of somebody's rucksack and somebody part of the network that employs those can take advantage of an opportunity and employ it on the spot.

ROBERTS: So the question is, how do you defend against it?

MARKS: John, what you need to do is establish great intelligence, you have got to have outside intelligence, you have got to be able to get into the network. And then the last line of defense is armor. How do you prevent the penetration.

ROBERTS: What about countermeasures against the triggers.

MARKS: There are some that can be used, obviously. If somebody is going to detonate it by the use of a cell phone there are ways to grab the signal, get rid of the signal.

ROBERTS: Jam the cell phone, basically.

MARKS: Absolutely. Jam it and render it useless and harmless. ROBERTS: And there are some other countermeasures that the military doesn't like us to talk about them.

MARKS: Nor should we.

ROBERTS: So we'll leave those for another day. Spider Marks, as always, thanks very much.

MARKS: Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: Up next, a Middle East summit tries to broker a peace deal. The death in the Palestinian Territories threatens to derail efforts before they even begin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: There were fresh attempts this week to breathe new life into long stalled Middle East peace talks but violence in the region has threatened to overshadow the summit between Egyptian and Israeli leaders. Will this renewed diplomatic effort broker a peace deal or just deepen the rifts between foes.

Joining me now from Jerusalem is CNN's Atika Shubert and with me here in Washington, Robert Mali. He is director of the International Crisis Groups Middle East program. Atika, followed the Israeli Egyptian peace summit in Sharm al-Sheikh this week. But as so often happens in that part of the world, talk of peace was drowned by violence this time in the Palestinian Territories. Here's Atika's report from Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Four Palestinians were killed, at least 20 wounded in a gun battle that lasted two hours in the middle of Ramallah. Israeli officials say four were arrested but the intended target escaped arrest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Atika, this seems to be a pattern often repeated with the Israelis and the Palestinians, that every time they try to take a step forward toward peace they take two steps back.

SHUBERT: Well, it certainly did undermine Prime Minister Olmert. It made the meeting between him and President Mubarak very tense and ha was clear from the press conference. President Mubarak actually opened beforehand saying that he was very disappointed. He actually reprimanded the prime minister for the action that happened in Ramallah and immediately put the prime minister on the defensive.

ROBERTS: Not exactly the sort of thing that you want to have when trying to talk peace with leader such as Hosni Mubarak.

Robert Mali, not only is there continuing violence between Israel and the Palestinians but also intra-Palestinian violence flared again after a week-long lull. Hamas militants went after a major leader of Fatah, they assassinated him. How can we ever expect there's going to be peace between the Palestinians and Israel if there can't be peace between the Palestinians.

ROBERT MALLEY, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: Well, there can't and I think that's why step number one now has to be to find some way to bring two groups, Fatah and Hamas together form some kind of a national unity government to make sure that they are at least stabilizing the territories because action we saw, you can't have a peace process if you don't have a foundation.

ROBERTS: This is very much on President Bush's mind. He was meeting with the chancellor of Germany, Merkel on Thursday, it was a topic of discussion between the two of them. Merkel said that she had an idea to bring together the quartet a group involving the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

Here's what President Bush had to say about that in a joint press conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I think the quartet ought to meet at the appropriate time. Condoleezza Rice will be going to the Middle East here shortly.

ROBERTS: Atika Shubert, Condoleezza Rice, as President Bush said, is going to go over there shortly. But with the situation the way it is, can she hope to make any kind of difference?

SHUBERT: Well, that's a good question. Both sides are in a particularly weak position now. The Palestinians are divided, Hamas and Fatah seem to be fighting each other on the streets and even from the Israeli side also seems to be very weak. Prime Minister Olmert is facing a number of corruption scandals. His defense ministry is being very harshly criticized and now his efforts at peace have been undermined by what happened in Ramallah. So it's not looking optimistic at all at this point.

ROBERTS: And Robert Malley, the Iraq Study Group headed up by James Baker said involving the Israeli Palestinian issue is critical to solving Iraq and broader problems in the Middle East. With Israeli Palestinian situation, in the state that it is, what does that bode for the overall situation, the broader region, particularly Iraq?

MALLEY: Well, it obviously doesn't bode well. I think the connection that the Iraq Study Group made is not that by resolving the Palestinian issue is you're going to resolve Iraq, but if you want to get countries in the region to play the role they need to play in Iraq they need to see that some things is happening on the Arab Israeli front. It is not happening yet. I think the administration has ambitions but it needs to get two things right, a cease-fire between the Israelis and Palestinians and some, some kind of concord, some kind of harmony within the Palestinian Territories.

ROBERTS: Every time they make a step forward it seems to get snatched away. Robert Malley, Atika Shubert, thanks very much.

Coming up THIS WEEK AT WAR looks at one group that also serves. Military children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONNA MUSIL, WRITER DIRECTOR, "BRATS, OUR JOURNEY HOME": A lot of brats really do feel like they're this strange mixture of an American and all of the other places that they've lived.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: On Tuesday the men and women of the Desert Hawks, the First Battalion of the 285th Aviation Regiment, Arizona National Guard took their leave bound for a year flying Apache helicopters in Afghanistan. It was a day for final hugs and kisses, tears and a day for creating memories that will have to last until day or mom comes home.

Sergeant Michael Semeja will be keeping those Apaches fueled up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. MICHAEL SEMEJA, APACHE HELICOPTER REFUELER: For me, I think it will be a quick year we're going to be busy. But for my family, I don't know, I just -- it's hard. I've never left them this long before.

ROBERTS: Hard for the families in war and peace at home and abroad. A new documentary looks at the burden on one particular group, children of the U.S. military. Military brats. CNN's Brooke Anderson reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As long as there have been soldiers, there have been families awaiting their homecoming. The experiences of the children, of the military brats, are explored in a new documentary "Brats, Our Journey Home."

MUSIL: The reason I made this film was back about 10 years I got together with my friends I had gone to school with in Taegon (ph) for the first time in 30 years and really for the first time in my life I felt like I belonged somewhere and I realized I wasn't alone.

ANDERSON: Writer, director and army brat Donna Musil says one of the reasons she made the film was to help today's military children.

MUSIL: It's even worse for the children today because both the mother and the father could be gone whereas in my generation it was usually the father that was gone. This is one of the things that concerns me is that, as a Vietnam era brat that a lot of the Iraq era brats are grow going through the same thing. There's really not anyone for them to talk to that understands what they're going through. That's what this film has been about, to help brats understand they're not alone. ANDERSON: Obviously, having loved ones in harm's way is tough, but even in times of peace, a life of constant movement in the armed forces takes a psychological toll on spouses and children who have to continually adjust to new schools and say good-bye to close friends. Military brat Dan Rockholt is glad his kids won't have to experience that.

DAN ROCKHOLT, MILITARY BRAT: When ever someone asks me, what your hometown? I don't have an answer. It would nice to be able say I grew up here or I grew up there. My children, I'm glad they'll probably have the same group of friends for their entire life. I wouldn't want them to have to deal with that aspect of growing up military.

ANDERSON: Despite the challenges some brats say they wouldn't have it any other way. The travel, exposure to different countries and cultures made it all worthwhile.

BRIGETTE PARHAM, MILITAYR BRAT: The experience is incredible. My mom and dad tell me, they're so glad that I was raised overseas that I had -- was educated overseas. Because the education is quite different. The education is a little bit more global. Definitely I would not change it for the world. I would not change it for the world.

ANDERSON: Others welcome the film because it shines a light on a neglected group.

ROCKHOLT: The one thing that I would like people to take away from the documentary is the fact that the military brats and the spouses serve just as much as the military members themselves. They give so much of their lives and in silence. I really do think they are the unsung heroes of the military.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: CNN entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson for THIS WEEK AT WAR. Look for the film on a national tour of free screenings or online at bratsourjourneyhome.com.

Coming up, looking behind that grim number of 3,000 U.S. dead in Iraq. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: We left one year and greeted a new one trying to absorb the grim number that 3,000 members of the U.S. military lost their lives in Iraq. Who were the 3,000?

The U.S. army has been hit the hardest in Iraq, accounting for most of the war dead. Marines suffered the second highest of the number of casualties followed by the navy and air force.

Almost 2,400 of the fallen were active duty, the National Guard took almost 400 casualties while the reserves lost 255 troops. Seventy-four percent were white, 11 percent Hispanic, 10 percent black.

Look how young they were. Almost 80 percent under 30 years old. Most were men, though 65 women also made the ultimate sacrifice.

Next week, President Bush is expected to unveil his long anticipated new plan for Iraq. He has already made one provocative move picking a navy man for the job traditionally held by a ground commander. When it's truly a demonstration of thinking out of the box or picking someone the president knows will faithfully carry out his plan is yet to be seen.

One area where there appears to no question is that time is running out to change thing on the ground in Iraq. Many experts believe this may be President Bush's last chance before the U.S. has to cut its losses and pull out.

And another certainty, the Iraq War will be scrutinized like never before. Democrats now have the power to haul the president's top commanders up to Capitol Hill whenever they like and they are wasting no time, planning the first hearings to peel back the layers of the president's new plan right after he lays it out.

Here's a look at what we'll be keeping an eye on next week at war. By Tuesday sources have told CNN that President Bush will have decided on that new strategy for Iraq. Look for a speech to the nation around midweek.

Wednesday a major conference of Southeast Asian nations will begin in the Philippines. Topic one, how to deal with North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Thursday the new Congress is back in session and the scrutiny begins. The Senate Intelligence Committee will have tough questions for top intelligence officials.

Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm John Roberts. Straight ahead, a check of the headlines and then CNN PRESENTS, "No Survivors, Why TWA 800 Could Happen Again."

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

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