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THIS WEEK AT WAR

Week's War-Related Activities Recounted

Aired February 18, 2007 - 13:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: The intelligence on Iran, can it be trusted? How did the PR campaign go so wrong? The U.S. deal with North Korea, a good first step, says the president, but could it have been done four years ago before they had nukes? As the snow melt in Afghanistan, will the war there turn even hotter? THIS WEEK AT WAR is one minute away after a check on what's making news right now.
(NEWSBREAK)

ROBERTS: President Bush insists that Iran is the source of weapons killing American troops, but where is the evidence and what does he plan to do about it? Congratulations and criticism over North Korean nukes. Was it, in fact a good deal? And CNN reporting gets action. Nigerian rebels release their captives after our Jeff Koinange shows them to the world. I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR. Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day this week.

Monday, bombs ripped through Baghdad one year after the golden mosque bombing plunged Iraq into deadly sectarian warfare. Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warns there's no end in sight as she leads the charge against the surge of troops. Wednesday, President Bush directly blames Iran for weapons, killing Americans in Iraq. Thursday, U.S. and Iraqi forces make their final play in Baghdad, operation law and order. Friday, a new warning that violence could force a million more Iraqis to flee their homes this year.

Helping us to put it all into perspective for you this week, Michael Ware on the security crackdown in Baghdad, Brigadier General David Grange on Iran's weapons in Iraq and Suzanne Malveaux on the war of words in Washington. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

Iranian weapons are killing Americans in Iraq. There's not much argument about that, but who is calling the shots, the supreme leader Ayatollah ali Hamani (ph) or Iran's military guard corps and does it matter? Joining me now is John Pike. He's the director of globalsecurity.org, CNN military analyst Brigadier General David Grange, U.S. Army retired, is outside Chicago. And Jim Walsh, security analyst at MIT. He's in Boston for us today. President Bush pointed at the Iranian revolutionary guard corps in his news conference on Wednesday as the source of the deadly explosives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know they are provided by the quds (ph) force. We know the quds force is a part of the Iranian government. I don't think we know the -- who picked up the phone and said the quds force go do this. We know it is a vital part of the Iranian government. What matters is is that we are responding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Now President Bush's comments were made just a few days after a senior intelligence official in Baghdad at a special briefing to lay out all of this intelligence said quote, we insist that the orders are coming from the highest levels of the Iranian government. So Jim Walsh, start us off here, more problems with intelligence here. Do we believe them anymore? Does the world believe them?

JIM WALSH, SECURITY ANALYST, MIT: Well, I think the world is skeptical John and two things hang over the announcements this week. First is the ghost of Iraqi intelligence, the ghost from the intelligence that was faulty that led to our invasion in Iraq. And the second, more particular thing that is involved here, that makes people skeptical is the way the information was released. It was announced it was going to be released. Then the announcement was delayed. A top official said that the intelligence was claiming too much. Then they released it and then had to back off it because the briefer went too far. All of these problems and more have made people question the intelligence. I think at the end of the day, people do think that Iran is providing something in Iraq. But today we had the president, we have the secretary of defense and we've had the head of the joint chiefs of staff all say they can't show a direct link to the Iranian leadership.

ROBERTS: General Grange, let me ask you about how this intelligence disconnect perhaps happened. But first of all, let's listen to what Major General William Caldwell, who is the spokesman for multinational forces in Iraq, said about it on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: The military analyst was making an inference as to where the chain of command existed for the quds force.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: There is Caldwell trying to explain those crossed signals. General Grange, was the problem here that this intelligence analyst told people what he thinks as opposed to what he knows?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it was probably his assessment and a lot of intelligence is an assessment. There are facts and then you assess what you know or then there's assumptions. You assess those. And that's probably what the intelligence officer did. The funny thing about this whole issue is that we do know, I think the facts are out there, that weaponry is being -- ammunitions being supplied from Iran to Iraq. So who is responsible? If it is the quds force that they know is tied to it, they report to somebody. Now, do you need a written document to prove that someone in the regime of Iran gave the order? Most of these kind of orders happen over a slivovitz if you are in Bosnia. They happen over a cup of tea if you are in this part of the world. They say I want you to raise havoc and I want to create chaos and I want you to kill Americans in Iraq. Then they respond, the quds force responds to that order. What kind of proof really is needed? Americans are dying from those weapons.

ROBERTS: So John Pike, if there is little argument that Americans are dying from weapons that are provided somewhere in Iran, what are the implications of this? Is it setting the stage for war?

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: Well, I think that a lot of people are concerned precisely because of that. You have you the second aircraft carrier that's going to be coming on station. The 60-day deadline that the Security Council gave Iran, that's up on February 21st. I think there is concern that this is simply laying the groundwork for war.

ROBERTS: We have covered these deadly EFP IEDs before. But just a quick refresher on the threat that American forces are facing from Barbara Starr. Take a quick look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This fake rock contains one of the armor penetrating Iranian bombs. But it is detonated by a special passive trigger. It simply detects the engine heat from a passing vehicle or even a person walking by and explodes. U.S. troops have no easy way to detect the bomb and no defense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Jim Walsh, a deadly threat to be sure but can the White House -- can the Pentagon make a case for some sort of action against these that Congress, the American people, will buy given the intelligence that they have?

WALSH: I think that's going to be difficult. In Congress this week, we've had all sorts of calls, including from Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, saying don't go into Iran without seeking authorization from us. I also think we have to put this in some context here. Most of the Americans being killed in Iraq are not from these devices. It is not from Shiite militia. It is from the Sunnis and it is from al Qaeda in Iraq. Over 85 percent of those deaths are related to other players, other factors and those folks don't get any support from Iraq.

ROBERTS: General Grange, on these weapons, though, short of war, is there any way to stop them coming across the border?

GRANGE: You know, I agree that when -- you know, this isn't something you would react to where you would invade Iran. I mean, I'm not arguing that point. I do think that there are things that we can be done along the borders, increasing some of the infiltration routes. I think there are some things that could be done inside of Iraq, whether it be against militant militia groups, Shia, or al Qaeda or insurgent groups of the Sunni and pick up offensive operation. I mean, I don't think there is much choice in that until the Iraqi military can do it themselves.

ROBERTS: John Pike, given this new commitment in Afghanistan, upping the number of troops there, if there were to be some sort of military action against Iran is there anybody else to fight it?

PIKE: I don't think you're going to be looking at a grand campaign. It is probably going to start out with strikes against Iran's WMD facilities with heavy bombers followed up with air power from those aircraft carriers, not a ground war.

ROBERTS: John Pike, thanks very much. To you as well, Jim Walsh at MIT. General Grange, stay with us because we want to come back to you a little bit later on in the issue of Afghanistan.

The U.S. and Iraqis launch a massive new campaign to secure Baghdad. What are the odds that it will work? That's coming up straight ahead. But first, a THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. Petty Officer Third Class Manuel Ruiz, Federalsburg, Maryland, made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq earlier this month. Ruiz and six others were killed when their helicopter crashed about 20 miles from Baghdad in Iraq's Anbar province. The military announced this week that the cause of the crash of the CH-46C Stallion helicopter was the result of hostile fire. Ruiz's mother Lisa said serving his country in Iraq was exactly what her son wanted to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LISA RUIZ, MOTHER: He was very proud of what he was doing. He was happy. He loved his job. He did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Family members say Manuel loved to draw in high school and they believe he had a bright future as a graphic artist. Ruiz was just 21 years old.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: U.S. and Iraqi forces launched operation law and order this week in an effort to crack down on the sectarian violence that's raging across Baghdad. And while Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr's whereabouts remain unclear, will Iraqis have the chance to make real progress politically and economically? Joining me now is CNN correspondent Michael Ware. He is in Baghdad for us, Romesh Ratnesar, assistant managing editor of "Time" magazine joins us from New York. And with me here in the studio, senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. On Wednesday Major General William Caldwell said Iraqi forces are ready to implement the new security plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CALDWELL: Unlike any time before when we have worked to deliver a plan in the city, this time it truly is. The Iraqis have put forth the political will. They are demonstrating political will to follow through and make the tough commitment. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Michael Ware, how is this new crackdown going? Any signs of success? How does it look for the future?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has actually been a quiet few days but as the American commander for Baghdad, the commanding general of the first cavalry division said, what they believe is happening and what's clearly happening, is that the militias and the insurgents have simply melted back. The general says they are sitting back waiting to see what we do. We are studying them and they are studying us, sorry and we know that there are some rough days ahead. So initially, it has been some success. The borders have been sealed and these operations simultaneously in Baghdad, in the center of the country and in Basra in the south.

ROBERTS: Romesh, what do you think? Is this the way out? Another question, too, on these joint security stations that they are setting up with U.S. troops now in these neighborhoods, could that put them at greater risk? How long is it going to be before somebody drives a truck bomb up to the gates to one of those buildings?

ROMESH RATNESAR, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, I think they're definitely going to be more exposed than they have been at the large forward operating bases where many troops have been stationed in and around Baghdad for the last several months. You know, I think that the test of this operation always comes, you know, weeks down the line. I mean, we have seen in the past, in operations like this, the Americans and Iraqis have been able to bring some stability to the areas that they clear. The problem is that once they leave to move on to the next neighborhood, the violence often returns. The test will be do we have the resources and the will this time to stick it out. I think that is still a question that's going to be answered both in Baghdad and Washington in the weeks ahead.

ROBERTS: One of the other big topics of discussion this week, Jamie McIntyre, you did a terrific timeline on this force in terms of research, was this idea, who is providing these EFPs, these explosive (INAUDIBLE) penetrators that are so deadly against U.S. troops? A briefer in Baghdad said, we connect it to the highest levels of the Iranian government, but then on Thursday, General Peter Pace walked it back. Let's take a listen to what he said about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We do not have proof that the senior leadership in Iran is directing these activities in Iraq. But it is -- as the secretary just pointed out, either way, either they are and that's not good, or they don't know and that's not good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So Jamie, You had this big PR effort to say here is the threat against U.S. forces. Here is where it is coming from. The whole thing goes off the rails. The intelligence is now in question. Is anybody going to believe them the next time they claim the sky is falling?

JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was clearly - it was clearly a debacle. I think Secretary Gates said it best. He said that when -- he wanted the presentation to be a factual presentation, no adjectives, no adverbs, no assessments. But that intelligence officer gave his assessment, an assessment by the way that the U.S. believes to be true. But that wasn't supposed to be part of the presentation and the problem is it undermined the whole presentation. Now they are trying to reel it back in.

ROBERTS: He was supposed to tell people what he knew, not what he believed.

McINTYRE: Exactly.

ROBERTS: The president, of course, earlier or later on this week talked about the quds force. He called it the quds force. It is the quds force, which is a part of the Iranian revolutionary guard corps, saying they were at least the source for it. How high up the chain it goes from there, he's not sure. Michael Ware, does the quds force do anything without orders on high?

WARE: No, absolutely not. This is a strictly regimented organization. I mean, this is one of the premier special operations outfits arguably in the world. It is certainly one of the most experienced. It's been in all sorts of hotspots from Sudan to Bosnia to Afghanistan and, of course, southern Lebanon and its key partners there Hezbollah. So no. The quds force does not do anything without orders on high and basically it is known that the quds force while normally a part of the revolutionary guards corps, really takes its orders directly from the office of the supreme leader himself.

ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre, what are the military options for going after the quds force?

McINTYRE: Well, they're targeting them on the ground in Iraq, not in Iran. They are also trying to seal the border and it is part of this general crackdown and you've seen in some of these sweeps where they have rounded up people that they have taken in Iranians and they see that as further evidence of their involvement.

ROBERTS: We should remind, as Michael Ware pointed out earlier this week in a story he did, that the United States military has worked with the quds force in the past on different engagements, obviously. Romesh, final question to you here. It looks like Muqtada al Sadr has left for Iran. Let's take a quick listen to what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said about that on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't think he went there for a vacation. I think -- they are very concerned about this operation. And, frankly, I think one possible outcome is that these guy will go to ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Romesh Ratnesar, if in fact it is true that he left because he fears for his safety, what's the significance of that? Would it have any effect on Mehdi militia operations?

RATNESAR: I am somewhat skeptical it would have any effect because I'm skeptical that he has fled because he fears for his safety at least in the long term. I think that he's done this before. He has gone to Iran on many occasions in the past. You know, his representatives are already saying he plans to be back in Iraq in the next few days. You know, I don't think -- whether he goes to Iran or not has any real impact on the kind of momentum of what's happening in Iraq because as we know, it is -- it is not just the Mehdi army. It is many groups. The national intelligence estimate said we are fighting many wars there. It is not just Muqtada al Sadr and whether he comes or goes I think has little bearing really on what the action on the ground.

ROBERTS: Certainly, it seemed to give the U.S. military a card there in the PR game. Romesh Ratnesar, thanks very much as well, Michael Ware and Jamie McIntyre, as always, good to see you both.

Are Democrats going to put muscle where their mouths are on Iraq? Or is it all just talk? Our war of words is coming up later on. Straight ahead though to North Korea and what the nuclear deal means. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: The deal for North Korean nukes has a member of the president's axis of evil been sidelined and will the payoff just embolden another member of that axis, Iran? Joining me now is Joseph Cirincione. He is the senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress and the author of a book coming out next month, "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons." And in New York, Michael Levi. He's a fellow on science and technology with the Council on Foreign Relations. He's also the co- author of "The Future of Arms Control." The deal with North Korea sparks some conservative criticism including this from former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton on Monday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, FMR US AMBASSADOR TO UN: It sends exactly the wrong signal to would be proliferators around the world. If you hold out long enough and wear down the State Department negotiators, eventually you get rewarded.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Michael Levi, is he right? Is this a bad deal? Is this the sort of deal that the Bush administration could have cut with North Korea years ago?

MICHAEL LEVI, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, those are two separate questions. I agree with the president of the United States. John Bolton is completely wrong here. Is this a fantastic deal? No. It is a deal where we are falling short of what our aspiration as few years ago. But given the North Korean nuclear task, given its progress, this is about all we could have expected over the next year or two and the State Department has done a great job. Negotiators have done a great job of accomplishing what they can. Had we tried this a few years ago, we might have held North Korea much further back in its progress. But right now, we couldn't really have hoped for much more.

ROBERTS: Michael as you said, you agree with President Bush who thinks it is a good deal. Here is what President Bush had to say about the deal Wednesday at his press conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The assessment made by some that this is not a good deal is flat wrong. Now, those who say that the North Koreans have got to prove themselves by actually following through in the deal are right. I'm one. This is a good first step.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Joe Cirincione, a good first step but you heard the president say that they have to prove themselves by following through. Do you expect that that's going to happen?

JOE CIRINCIONE, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I actually do expect that they are going to happen. The same pressures that brought us to this point, North Korea's weakness, China's anger at their test and the pressure they brought, and the need for President Bush to have a foreign policy victory are exactly the pressures that are going to see this through. As the president said, it is step by step. Basically we are going to trade heavy fuel for heavy metal. They we give us plutonium. We give them oil, not a bad deal. John Bolton should like this deal. North Korea doesn't get anything until they deliver. And if they don't deliver, no reward.

ROBERTS: You've been pretty good we should point out at predicting what's going to happen with North Korea. So perhaps you will be right on this one. Michael, let me get you to respond to a "Wall Street Journal" editorial that came out on Wednesday. characterizing this whole deal as quote, faith-based proliferation, in comparing it to the deal that the United States did with Libya. They said quote, Qaddafi relinquished his entire nuclear program up front. And only later once compliance was verified and the nuclear materials were removed from the country did the U.S. take Libya off the terror list and provide other rewards. This is not the tough measures that the United States had insisted on and are they giving Kim Jong Il a potential out here by saying you don't have to do a lot of other things at the beginning. We will talk with you about that as time goes on.

LEVI: The United States does not have the choice of whether or not to give Kim Jong Il a potential out. The status quo is Kim Jong Il pressing forward with its nuclear program. The United States is doing as best it can to restrain North Korea. This is not faith based as Joe said. This is a staged approach if North Korea doesn't continue moving forward on its end, the rest of the six parties don't move forward on their end. Would it be better to have a Libya-style solution where there's a strategic decision and complete disarmament up front? Of course but that's not what's happening and we're finally confronting reality. It's a much better way of doing things.

ROBERTS: Joe, listen to this excerpt from a David Sanger article in "The New York Times" on Wednesday. He said quote, Mr. Bush's big worry now is that Mr. Kim is playing the administration for time. Many experts think that he's betting that by the time that the first big deliveries of oil and aid are depleted, America will be distracted by a presidential election. What's to stop Kim Jong Il from cheating again as he did on the 1994 agreed framework (ph)?

CIRINCIONE: Lots of things can go wrong. We can drag our heels, too, as we did in the 1994 agreed framework. Both sides are responsible for the collapse of that deal. But this timetable is actually very aggressive. The North Koreans are supposed to freeze the actor in the next 60 days, let the inspectors in in the next 60 days. Then and only then do they start getting the deliveries of fuel oil. And new negotiations have been set up for March 19th. The North Koreans have already agreed to that. We are off to a pretty rapid pace. We should know by the summer whether this is working or not.

ROBERTS: And Michael Levi, real quick answer to this, if you could. Did the breakthrough here with North Korea came after one-on- one talks between the U.S. and North Korea in Berlin. Is that a suggestion that one-on-one talks with Iran might lead to a breakthrough?

LEVI: One-on-one talks can always help. It is useful to understand what the other side is thinking if you want to try to figure out a way of making a deal. Does that mean I'm optimistic the talks will work with Iran? No. But I'm less optimistic if we don't have talks.

ROBERTS: Michael Levi, from the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Joe Cirincione, thanks very much.

More U.S. troops headed to Afghanistan. How badly are things going in the forgotten war? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

JOHN ROBERTS, HOST: President Bush listed a string of successes in Afghanistan this week.

If that's the case, why is he sending in thousands of more U.S. troops? And how fierce could a predicted Taliban resurgence be this spring?

Joining me here in the studio is Steve Coll. He's a staff writer for "The New Yorker" and author of "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden" and CNN military analyst Brigadier General David Grange, U.S. Army, retired, is back with us from outside of Chicago.

President Bush spelled out his Afghanistan build-up on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've ordered an increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan. We've extended the stay of 3,200 troops now in the country for four months and we'll deploy a replacement force that will sustain this increase for the foreseeable future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Steve Coll, six years after the Afghanistan War and here we are building up U.S. forces.

How did it get to this point? And should this type of action have been taken earlier?

STEVE COLL, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, the original theory of the invasion, which was proved successful initially was that a light force was best. And for a while that seemed to work. Last year, the Taliban had a very good year. And so belatedly, perhaps a year after the signs were present, the Bush administration is coming in with a heavier footprint.

ROBERTS: And General Grange, what are you expecting for this predicted spring offensive by the Taliban?

They were already taking over some towns and villages, I understand, along the border in some of the southern provinces.

When the snows melt away from those mountain passes, what could happen?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, their offensive will begin, there's no doubt about that. And, you know, a commander in Afghanistan made a comment once which is really the way it is, I believe, over there, and that is that where the roads end, the Taliban start.

And so in some of these remote villages that we don't have provisional reconstruction teams, we don't have a lot of economic assistance from the government or from a coalition of nations outside of that local government, the Taliban take over.

So they're going to persuade these people, threaten these people. They're going to take over areas that they can with their influence. And they'll start a big offensive this year.

ROBERTS: Adding another brigade, is that going to be enough troops to get the job done?

GRANGE: A brigade is a good sized combat formation. The problem is -- and maybe we can bat this around a little bit more -- the problem is you only have certain NATO countries really in the fight. The rest are in certain areas that are rather benign.

And so it's going to be all the -- that can be used of the American forces and some of the other nations, like U.K. and Netherlands that step up to the plate.

ROBERTS: All right, some discussion of this after the president's speech in Congress from Tom Lantos, who is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in terms of the commitment that the United States is making and what the U.S.'s allies should do. He said: "No longer should American taxpayers have to pay the lion's share of the bill, while the Saudis receive more than $300 billion of windfall oil profits."

He believes that in addition to NATO, other countries in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, should be contributing, as well.

But Steve Coll, even with these new troops, even with the NATO commitment, even if you got some other countries to kick in, unless Pakistan really steps up to the plate here, can anything really get done?

Because the Taliban just seems to be moving back and forth across the border from safe havens into Afghanistan.

COLL: The 20 years of warfare in Afghanistan leading up to 9/11 demonstrate that you can't -- you can't stabilize Afghanistan unless you control the Pakistan side of the border. Right now, the Taliban are benefiting from havens both in these tribal areas immediately across the border, but also in cities like Quetta and Peshawar, where they appear to have leadership situated. So...

ROBERTS: And, General Grange, what's the result of this deal that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf cut with tribal leaders in Waziristan back in September?

He said that it was going to end the attacks.

Did it?

GRANGE: Well, not really. I mean I think he made some headway. You know, to his benefit, he's done some very progressive move -- coordination and -- and achievements with these tribal areas. But they don't believe that they're really part of Pakistan.

It's -- it's a state within a state. I mean they control that area like they have for years. That was just stated. And it's a sanctuary, no doubt, very similar to what Cambodia and Laos was to Vietnam.

ROBERTS: And, Steve Coll, after the president's speech, there was some criticism that he's still painting too rosy a picture of the situation in Afghanistan, that he still isn't fully either understanding or addressing the scope of the situation there.

Do you agree? Disagree? COLL: Well, this is an important year and I think the problem is that military approaches are necessary, but not sufficient. If Afghanistan is to become stable over the next five to 10 years, it's going to require a political solution that brings these populations in the south and east into the mainstream, the peaceful mainstream of Afghan politics.

And I'm afraid that has not been a successful project so far.

ROBERTS: All right, very quickly, General Grange, if you could, bumping up the number of troops in Afghanistan, is that going to stretch the military really thin now?

GRANGE: It's already stretched. That's the biggest problem for the long-term health of the -- of our armed forces is that the military is really too small to take on these global tasks.

ROBERTS: All right.

Just when things in Iraq are going downhill, they start going downhill in Afghanistan, as well, demanding more and more blood and treasure from the U.S.

Steve Coll from "The New Yorker," thanks very much.

As well to you, General Grange, for hanging around. Appreciate it.

Coming up, the political debate over Iraq -- our War of Words segment.

But first, some of the fallen in this week at war.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Well, is Congressional debate on non-binding issues this week the beginning of more concrete action to reign in the Iraq War?

And another administration intelligence foul-up , this time on Iran.

Does anyone believe them anymore?

Joining me in our War of Words segment, White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. She's at her post.

And John Harris, the editor-in-chief of the politico.com is here in the studio.

On Wednesday, President Bush laid out his concerns about the recent Iraq debates on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: My hope, however, is that this non-binding resolution doesn't try to turn into a binding policy that prevents our troops from doing that which I have asked them to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, John, are his concerns legitimate? Is there a chance that this could be the start of something that's got a lot more teeth in it?

JOHN HARRIS, POLITICO.COM: They are totally legitimate. A lot of people look at a non-binding resolution and say hey, why doesn't Congress use the power it has?

But I think this is much more than symbolic. You have Republicans distancing themselves from the president's policy. That is just the first step down a road which is -- might see Congress actually using its power to genuinely limit the administration's options.

ROBERTS: John Murtha talking about restrictions on how the president could use U.S. forces. Joe Biden talking about repealing the 2002 authorization to go to war in Iraq...

HARRIS: That's exactly...

ROBERTS: These are just a couple of the things...

HARRIS: Now, they could turn it off tomorrow like a spigot by cutting off the funding, but they don't want to do that. That would lead to the accusation that they're abandoning troops in the field, not giving them the resources they need to fight.

What Murtha, who has got a lot of clout because he's on the Appropriations Committee, is trying to do is say look, you have to -- you can't send those troops because he's going to put so many restrictions that it's not going to be possible for the administration to send new troops in.

But not turn off the money for troops that are there.

ROBERTS: All right, Suzanne, just at almost exactly the same time that the president was expressing his concerns about what might happen in Congress, a lot of Republicans were up on the House floor criticizing his plans for a troop surge.

Take a listen to a couple of items of what was said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RIC KELLER (R), FLORIDA: Interjecting more young American troops into the crosshairs of an Iraqi civil war is simply not the right approach.

REP. JIM RAMSTAD (R), MINNESOTA: It's time for a surge in diplomacy, not a surge in troops, to mend a broken country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Suzanne, how much does that undercut the message that he was trying to get out during that press conference?

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, here's how the White House is playing it. On the one hand, publicly, the president is saying OK, go ahead, freedom of speech, it really doesn't impact the mission if you go ahead with this non-binding resolution expressing your displeasure.

But then there's an I dare you factor here. The president's saying I dare you to go ahead and come up with a binding resolution that would take away those dollars from U.S. troops in the mission.

So that is really a direct challenge to those members of Congress. They're downplaying this resolution, saying, look, ultimately is not going to impact the mission.

ROBERTS: Suzanne, this whole debacle over Iranian intelligence and was it Ahmadinejad or somebody lower than him that ordered these EFPs sent into Iraq, how much does -- does that create a credibility problem for the president? Is anybody going to believe him anymore when he comes out and he says this is what we think is happening?

MALVEAUX: John, it really is a very big problem, the credibility problem, because it really was a debacle here. You had the administration, a debate that was going on, how to release this information. It ended up anonymous sources, low level defense officials who ultimately had to walk back that accusation that the highest levels of the Iranian government were involved in passing over those weapons.

This is something that the Bush administration is really going to have to deal with here, because it ultimately looked like what they were doing was overplaying their hand here and exaggerating the intelligence.

ROBERTS: John, what do you think about this whole Iran thing?

It almost looks like a replay of the summer of 2002, when people started to talk about Iraq. The press was wondering what's going on here? Are we going to war?

And the White House says no, no, no, don't worry about it, and boom, there we were nine months later.

HARRIS: Well, there's two credibility issues here. One, the credibility of the intelligence -- is it believable?

But this time, unlike five years ago, there's also the credibility of the president's threat. We're obviously deeply committed in Iraq, with big problems.

Is there actually a credible military threat that administration can use, as well as diplomacy, to put pressure on Iran?

Things are much different in important ways than they were in 2002.

ROBERTS: And, Suzanne, we've talked, obviously, about the criticism the president is getting from his own party on Iraq. But he's also getting some criticism on Afghanistan. People like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen coming out and saying hey, this plan is just not enough. You're not going to handle the opium problem if you don't do more. He's got problem after problem here with his own party.

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, you're absolutely right. But the one thing that I guess the Afghanistan model shows is that at least there is some sort of support for resources going into that country, the $12 billion he's asking for -- more troops.

There's a general sense here that at least throw it into Afghanistan, maybe it will work.

But, clearly, there are a lot of problems here that the American people just didn't expect five years later. And I thought what was particularly startling, John, is when he described the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan as the wild, wild West.

That, clearly, is not going to get the kind of support from NATO members, resources and troops, that the president is hoping for.

ROBERTS: Yes, but he may have actually been understating the case.

Suzanne Malveaux.

John Harris, thanks for joining us for the first time.

Hope to have you back.

HARRIS: I look forward to it.

ROBERTS: Coming up next, the fallout over Jeff Koinange's reporting on the rebels in the Niger River Delta -- hostages released, angry government accusations, all coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: In western Africa this week, Nigerian militants released 24 Filipino sailors that they had held captive for nearly a month. It came just days after CNN's Jeff Koinange discovered the hostages deep in the Niger Delta and showed them to the world. And it also followed scathing criticism of Jeff's reporting by the Nigerian government.

Jeff joins us now from Johannesburg, South Africa, to put a coda on this whole episode -- Jeff, how is it that you came to be able to be in the company of these hostages and bring this videotape back to the world?

JEFF KOINANGE, AFRICA CORRESPONDENT: John, the only way I can describe it is pure luck, because what we did, we literally just rented a boat in the port of Wari in southern Nigeria and just were in the -- in the swamp for about an hour-and-a-half. And before we knew it, we were surrounded by masked men shooting at us, demanding who we were. After we identified ourselves, they took us on deep into the swamps to one of their hideouts and literally paraded these 24 Filipino hostages right in front of us.

But for a while, John, it was pretty scary because, A, we didn't know what to expect, B, we didn't know where we were going.

ROBERTS: Did you have any idea at the time that the hostages might be released in just a few days?

KOINANGE: Had no idea whatsoever, John. In fact, when we first -- when they were first paraded in front of us, I felt so sad for them, because they looked scared. They looked worried. They looked sick, some of them. And they just didn't know what was going to happen to them.

They were completely terrified to death about their future. And despite the fact that the militants kept saying they weren't going to harm them, it was pretty difficult convincing them that they were going to be released any time soon.

ROBERTS: So, Jeff, when your story first aired -- and it aired around the world -- it sparked a pretty harsh reaction from the Nigerian government.

Take a listen to what Frank Nweke, the Nigerian minister of information, said in an interview on Monday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK NWEKE, NIGERIAN MINISTER OF INFORMATION: We're also aware of another group of people who are mostly criminals, who are mostly kidnappers and gunrunners and the rest of them. And what happened on that day was that we have evidence that some of these people were actually paid to put up a show.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So what Nweke is saying, Jeff, is that you went out and you found a bunch of criminals and you paid them off to put on a show.

What do you say?

KOINANGE: Well, John, you know, there's one picture I can't seem to get out of my mind in that whole scenario. And that's when the militants came up to us in their speedboats. There's this guy pointing a .50 caliber machine gun off to one side. And then as the camera points to him, he kind of pointed toward the camera and directs it at us.

And had that militant had an itchy finger on that day, god knows what would have happened. And if the minister is trying to say we staged that, John, I just literally cannot believe it, because we were scared to death.

And then when they took us deeper into the swamps and paraded the hostages in front of us, we didn't even know what to expect. We were shocked, to say the least.

And to say that all that was stage is simply absurd, John.

ROBERTS: What do you think, Jeff, is ahead for this conflict?

KOINANGE: Well, you see, there are still more hostages deep in those swamps. There's an American hostage still being held. There are three Italians still being held. There's a Lebanese and probably countless of African hostages still being held by those militants down there.

This conflict is not going away any time soon. The fact that we exposed it and the government had been sweeping this under the rug, hoping that no one will talk about it, everyone will just avoid talking about it, the fact that it's now in the open, hopefully, there will be some kind of dialogue, some kind of debate.

That's what we want. That's what the people of the Niger Delta want. They want equal say. They want equal opportunity. They want what's deep in those swamps to be distributed equally among all people.

ROBERTS: Well, you know, Jeff, the best result of good journalism is to affect change. And it looks like you've done that.

Thanks very much.

Appreciate it, my friend.

As you heard in the interview, the Nigerian information minister made a very serious allegation about CNN's reporting, including accusations that CNN staffers paid to have the self-described rebel group put on a show for our camera.

CNN did not pay for or stage any part of the report. The only money that ever changed hands in gathering this story was the standard rental for a motor boat and captain -- that was about $700; and the standard fee to a local freelance journalist, who we call a fixer, for his help in the reporting and translation, about $150 a day for that for three days.

CNN does not pay for interviews.

CNN has sent a letter to the Nigerian information minister asking him to provide any evidence to support his claims. Nothing so far. If any credible evidence is forthcoming, CNN will report on that, too.

Coming up, an international watchdog keeps an eye on Iran.

Are officials complying with U.N. sanctions, this week at war?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: In September of last year, to take pressure off his government and military, Pakistan's president cut a deal with tribes along the border with Afghanistan. The deal was that if tribal leaders prevented the remnants of the Taliban from crossing the border into Afghanistan, Musharraf would pull his military out of the area.

In the two months prior to that deal, according to the U.S. military, there were 40 cross border attacks into Afghanistan.

In the two months following, attacks more than tripled, to 140.

Clearly, something in the deal didn't work. Now, according to U.S. officials, that entire region has become the center of gravity of a resurgence in both the Taliban and al Qaeda.

How serious is it?

Thirty-two hundred American troops have just been extended in Afghanistan, with another brigade on the way to increase the total number of forces there. Analysts fear, though, that it's still not enough, that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating so rapidly that like Iraq, the best that the U.S. can do is just try to slow the decline.

Critics point to neglect on the part of the White House for letting it get to this point. The White House doesn't really have an explanation.

But with Taliban and al Qaeda forces freely passing between safe havens in Pakistan and the Afghan battlefield, one urgent aspect of the problem appears pretty clear.

Well, looking ahead to our next week at war, Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney is on the road, bound for Japan and Australia, talking about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global fight against terror.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East, talking to Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with stops in Jordan and Germany, as well.

And Wednesday marks the deadline for the International Atomic Energy Agency to report back to the U.N. Security Council about Iran and its nuclear program.

Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

I'm John Roberts.

Straight ahead, a check of the headlines.

Then, CNN Special Investigations Unit, "The Martin Luther King Papers: Words That Changed A Nation."

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