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THIS WEEK AT WAR

Week's War-Related Activities Recounted

Aired February 25, 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: A disturbing evolution in the Iraq war, insurgents now using chemicals as weapons. The Brits draw down in Basra. Politics or a sign of progress? New signs of an al Qaeda comeback. Is the U.S. in danger again?
Fear of chemical weapons lured the United States into war with Iraq four years ago. They weren't there. Now they are. The British pullout from Basra. Progress or a slap at President Bush? And al Qaeda, reinventing itself. A new chain of command and new training camps. Is the U.S. in the crosshairs again? I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR. Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day this week.

On Monday, a U.S. admiral blasts Iran for provocative and intimidating war games in the Persian Gulf. Tuesday, the Brits, number one in the coalition of the willing are unwilling to stay in Iraq. Wednesday, Iran's president thumbs his nose at another UN deadline, promising no retreat from the path of nuclear victory. Thursday, the U.S. military warns of a new insurgent tactic, improvised chemical weapons, poisonous chlorine mixed with explosives. Friday, congressional Democrats consider turning back the clock on Iraq, reversing the 2002 vote to go to war.

It is a busy week so we have called out some of the best. Arwa Damon on the chemical attacks in Baghdad, Major General Don Shepperd reveals problems was the F-22 stealth fighter and Jamie McIntyre with the embarrassing conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

Another chopper shot down, British troops packing up and now insurgents improvising chemical weapons. A lot to makes sense of this week. CNN correspondent Arwa Damon is in Baghdad. CNN military analyst Major General Don Shepperd, U.S. Air Force retired is in Tucson and here in Washington, Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. He's also the author of "Defense Strategy for the Post Saddam Era." Lt. General Ray Odierno, the commander of the multinational corps in Iraq described the new threat of chemical weapons on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GEN RAY ODIERNO, US ARMY: They adapt like we do. What they're they to do is try to adapt in such ways where they can continue to create instability. And that's what they are doing, especially with these VBIEDs. That's just another way they are trying to adapt to cause some sort of chaos here in country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Chlorine VBIEDs, that's a vehicle borne improved explosive device. Arwa Damon, there seems to be a very disturbing new development. There weren't any chemical weapons in Iraq back in 2003. Now there are some even though they are improvised devices.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, that's right. I mean the attacks that we saw over the last week, two of them to be specific, hospitalized more than 200 Iraqis due to the side effects of the chlorine gas that the insurgents had mixed in with the explosives. Yes, this is a very crude method of attacking the local population. It is incredibly petrifying to imagine that the insurgency has developed to try to employ these types of tactics. Chlorine and other industrial chemicals are readily available throughout all of Iraq and as are the explosives.

ROBERTS: Michael O'Hanlon, as Arwa pointed out, these are very crude devices. It would seem to bring a new level of fear and havoc to the situation on the ground there in Iraq.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: That's certainly not good news, John, although it remains to be seen just how dramatic of a departure it is. Obviously, most of the fatalities from large car bombs are from the conventional explosives. They are plenty powerful enough. The addition of chlorine gas to this or other devices may not make a huge difference. But as you say, it could have an additional terroristic effect. I tend to think Iraqi citizens are already so terrified that the effect here will be marginal. But it is certainly bad news. I don't want to in any way sugar coat that.

ROBERTS: It was first employed during World War I and certainly for those troops who were in the trenches in World War I, the thought of chlorine gas or phosgene or mustard gas which is absolutely terrifying. Another big piece of news this week, General Don Shepperd was that the Brits announced that they are going to take 1600 of their troops down in the Basra area and move them back home. Here's what Arwa Damon had to say about that on Wednesday in terms of what might happen after those British forces pulled back. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAMON: Now with the British pullout looming, there is concern that handing control of southern Iraq over to the largely militia- dominated Iraqi security forces might open the door wider to Iranian influence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: First of all, General Shepperd, what do you think this is all about? Is this a sign of progress or is it just all about politics?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think it is mainly about British politics. You can't sustain a war effort without the support of the people and the British are doing what we are going to have to do at some point. They are starting to manage their departure. What they are saying is we have done all we can do. Our staying is not going to make things any better and so they are starting to withdraw. Basra itself is calmer than Baghdad from a sectarian standpoint. It is monolithic. It is all Shia. It does however open up things more to Iranian influence John.

ROBERTS: Right, but in terms of the Iranian influence, Arwa, you reported on that, as we pointed out on Wednesday, you have been there for so long. You have seen what's happened when authority for certain areas had been turned over from U.S. forces or other forces to the Iraqis. What do you expect might happen down there in Basra?

DAMON: Well, John, one of the main concerns is that when these areas are turned over to the Iraqi security forces as we saw was the case when some areas were handed over down in southern Iraq where these pitched battles between a militia dominated Iraqi security force and a rival militia that is on the streets. Put simply the Iraqis security forces in southern Iraq are largely infiltrated by the militias. The militias are largely backed by Iran. The concern is that if you decrease coalition British boots on the ground, that is going to create a vacuum that Iran or Iranian backed militias are eventually going to fill.

ROBERTS: Michael O'Hanlon, do you think that the Iraqis will be able to back stop the Brits when they get out? Do they have the expertise? Do they have enough trained forces that they can go in there and keep the peace or do you expect that as we have seen as Arwa pointed out in other areas of the country that they may fold under the pressure?

O'HANLON: I agree there are some real worries about Iraqi forces folding under the pressure or at least not managing to keep the peace. But I still think if only we could be so lucky as for the rest of Iraq to have the problems of Basra, I agree very much with the way General Shepperd put it. You don't have the sectarian risk. Militia violence is regrettable. It is too bad, but it doesn't threaten all-out civil war. You don't have a big al Qaeda presence in Basra because al Qaeda operates among Sunni Arabs primarily. You don't have a big Baathist presence for the same reason and so while there will undoubtedly be criminality, be (INAUDIBLE) this city will look like somewhat lawless, you know, Chicago at its worst 100 years ago times 10. Nonetheless, I would be very happy if we could re-create nothing worse than that same level of problem in the rest of Iraq. So I think it is a risk we can live with on its own terms, but of course it sure would have been nice if those British troops instead of coming home to Britain could have gone to Baghdad.

ROBERTS: I was just about to go into that, that very point. So let me make that point by playing a little bit of what Tony Blair said to the British parliament on Wednesday right after he announced that the 1600 U.S. (sic) troops were going to be pulling out he turned his attention towards Baghdad. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is the capital of Iran, its strategic importance is fundamental. There has been an orgy of terrorism unleashed upon it in order to crush any possibility of it functioning. It does not much matter if elsewhere in Iraq, not least in Basra, change is happening. If Baghdad cannot be secured, the future of the country is in peril.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: General Shepperd, what about that? If Britain was the ally that they say that they are, wouldn't they take those 1600 troops from Basra and move them up to Baghdad where they are really needed?

SHEPPERD: Well, again, John, it would be our fondest dream they would do that. But again, the support of the British people for the war effort is key to Prime Minister Blair and it is simply waning as it is in the United States. And so it is simply not going to happen. In Baghdad itself, the new troops are starting to arrive. They won't all arrive by June. They are starting to make a difference but clearly in Baghdad the level of violence is starting to go down as the insurgents pull back a little bit and watch to see what happens. They will adapt to the new tactics and we will adapt to the new tactics. So it's going to be a long battle to secure Baghdad.

ROBERTS: Arwa quickly to you to put a button on this, is what General Sheppard says in fact the case on the ground, that the violence is subsiding, even if ever so slightly there in Baghdad?

DAMON: John, I think as we all know here, the insurgency has a tendency to decide when, where and how it's going to attack. If we look at what the Iraqi government said last week, they said prematurely that violence had decreased by 80 percent because of this security crackdown in the capital and within 24 hours of the Iraqi government making that statement, we had a devastating attack in a marketplace that killed dozens of Iraqis. So the violence here again is always rising and falling. The insurgency do have a choice in what happens.

ROBERTS: It's all day by day. Arwa Damon in Baghdad, General Shepperd in Tucson and Michael O'Hanlon at the Brookings Institution. Thanks much. General Shepperd also hang around because we want to come back to you a little bit later on. Coming up later in the hour, General Shepperd's going to join us for the incredible story behind the F-22 stealth fighter, what went wrong before the rafters even arrived at their first overseas deployment? That's straight ahead.

The state of the military, from longer deployments to substandard facilities at a renowned Army hospital. We will examine how troops are faring in military missions around the globe.

But first a THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. Swampscott, Massachusetts saluted one of its fallen heroes this week, the second of its children to fall in Iraq. U.S. Marine Captain Jennifer Harris was just days away from completing her tour of duty in Iraq. It was her third time over there. The U.S. Naval Academy graduate was killed when the helicopter that she was piloting, a CH-46 Seaknight went down under enemy fire February 7th in Anbar province. Everybody onboard died.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. ROSE GASCINSKI, US NAVY: If I wanted anybody to my pilot in that moment I would want it to be her. She had a nickname called the Dove from her enlisted Marines because she was so calm under pressure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Captain Harris is the first service woman from Massachusetts killed in Iraq. She was 28 years old.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Thousands of more troops for Iraq, thousands more for Afghanistan. Are the demands of two wars degrading the capabilities of the U.S. military? What happens if war breaks out somewhere else? Thomas Ricks is "The Washington Post"'s military correspondent. He's also the author of "Fiasco, the American Military Adventure in Iraq." Brigadier General David Grange, U.S. Army retired is a CNN military analyst. He joins us from Chicago. And Jamie McIntyre is CNN senior Pentagon correspondent comes to us from the Pentagon today. General Grange, we've got another brigade that's headed for Afghanistan, more brigades heading for Iraq. How thin is the American military stretched right now?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it is stretched very thin. And as you stated just a moment ago, it is not just Afghanistan and Iraq. I mean, that's a large commitment, especially on a proper cycle of troops where they fight, they come back, they refit and they go to school. They do some family things. They get ready to go again to another deployment. But what about if there is another war? And that's why the military is much too small for the task at hand.

ROBERTS: They seem to be moving the pieces around on a chess board here. They're sending one brigade to Afghanistan. They're diverting another one that was supposed to go to Iraq, sending it now to Afghanistan, trying to find others to backfill. Tom Ricks, what's all this doing to morale, particularly when you look at this idea that some of these forces like the ones in Afghanistan are being extended another four months? I read an article of one service member said I'm worried that by the time I get back my kids aren't going to recognize me.

THOMAS RICKS, THE WASHINGTON POST: And sometimes that happens. If you leave when your kid's an infant and you come back 16 months later, yeah, the kid won't recognize you. Troop extensions, extensions of duty, extensions of tours is the worst possible thing you can do to a soldier and his family. It really hurts morale. Some of the biggest complaints I heard a lot in Iraq in '03-'04. That said, I'm consistently surprised how good morale is among troops. We have an all-volunteer force, very cohesive, well trained. They know and trust and like each other. The problem is the third tour is especially -- the point where you start breaking the force, start losing your mid career sergeants, your mid-career officers who say I really can't do another 10 years of this or my family can't do it. ROBERTS: Those are the ones who are really important as well to the combat capability of the military. You know the Iraq study group, in its report out last year, warned about the shortages ahead. Here is what they said. Quote, American military capacity is stretched then. We do not have the troops and the equipment to make a substantial, sustained increase in our troop presence. Increased deployments to Iraq would also necessarily hamper our ability to provide adequate resources for our efforts in Afghanistan or respond to crisis around the world. So Jamie McIntyre, we got increases now in Iraq, in Afghanistan. What's this doing to the U.S. military's ability to fight in the future, particularly in the areas of refitting, reequipping and retraining?

JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's hurting it. And we are seeing that acknowledgement from both the chief of staff of the army and congressional testimony, the commandant of the Marines Corps. Both of them have expressed serious concerns about the ability to respond. You know -- put your finger it. The Iraq study group didn't say a surge couldn't work. It simply said the U.S. doesn't have enough troops to really do it effectively. The evidence of that is simply that General Patreus who would like to have those troops, those extra troops as soon as possible, can't get them any faster than having them all there by the end of May. The U.S. simply doesn't have enough troops to do it.

ROBERTS: General Grange, the Democrats in Congress are trying to take some of the pressure off of the military with a new resolution that would either repeal, rescind or modify, they're not quite sure of the language yet, the 2002 authorization to go to war, take combat troops out of Iraq by March of 2008, re-task the remaining troops to either counter terrorism operations or training Iraqi forces. Good idea? Bad idea?

GRANGE: I'm against it and I will tell you why. I never liked dates published. One reason, it is true that the enemy uses this. I mean if anyone here -- I'm sure we all have looked at bin Laden's strategy, his comments, is that to attack the morale, to attack the length of a campaign because we are not good at long-term commitments and attack morale using the media as a tool. And they are very savvy at and they use it to a great extent to influence politicians, the will of people, and you see some of that going on. But what happens is those others that are there engaged actually it increases their threat.

ROBERTS: And Tom Ricks, how does this affect the regional dynamic and affect the dynamic around the world when Iran looks at how stretched thin the U.S. military is, when they look at the debates in Congress, are they emboldened? What would happen if, say, China thought that it would take this opportunity to get back Taiwan?

RICKS: It's very worrisome. We are out of Schlitz as a officer in the Pentagon said to me. We don't have a lot of reserve capability left in the system. I think what you see in the region especially is the sense that they have time that America doesn't. So they are kind of trading space and time. The militias are willing to withdraw from Baghdad. Sure, let Uncle Sam muck round for a few months. When he gets tired, when the troops have to go home, then we can come back in. I think Iran is the same feeling, that in the long run, things are going their way and they are happy with the transient in the region.

ROBERTS: If there were a war to break out Tom in another area of world?

RICKS: Well, it would depend partly on what kind of war. If China decided to out of the blue take Taiwan, that would primarily be a U.S. Navy, U.S. Air force job and the U.S. Navy and Air Force are really not doing half as much as the ground forces are doing right now in Iraq and Afghanistan.

ROBERTS: Of course, another big story this week that shows that the toll that these long deployments, the number of troops who are coming back wounded is taking on the facilities was this whole controversy of Walter Reed Army Medical Center where in one of the buildings, wounded troops were living in - I don't want to say squalor, but certainly substandard conditions. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this about that situation on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If there is one thing that everybody is unanimous on is how these soldiers need to be treated. And so we are determined to fix it. And fix it fast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So Jamie McIntyre, you reported extensively on this over the past week. Where's this going now? Are they going to fix that? Are they going to find as they go across the country, other areas where there are the same problems?

McINTYRE: They are certainly looking at that. This independent review panel appointed by Gates when he made that announcement has been given carte blanche to look at everything. It was interesting, Gates said when he came into a staff meeting Tuesday morning, brandishing those "Washington Post" articles, he was very upset about that and he wants it fixed quickly. He also said that he's going to hold commanders accountable as soon as he gets all the facts in, indicating that someone might lose their job over this. And it was a major embarrassment and as he said, everybody agrees the wounded troops should get the best treatment all the way through. As you can see, they really -- "The Washington Post" series really lit a fire under them.

ROBERTS: It certainly was a national embarrassment and a real slap in the face to people who gave so much to this country. Tom Ricks at the "Washington Post," General Grange and Jamie McIntyre, thanks as always. Coming up later on in the hour, al Qaeda regrouping and gaining strength at new training camps in Pakistan. Is Osama bin Laden calling the shots again?

And straight ahead, he promised supremacy in the air. So why were a squadron, sparkling new F-22 fighters sitting ducks? We'll tell you what happened next in our weapons of war department. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Twenty five years from development to deployment, the F-22 Raptor is the most advanced fighting machine in the air. But it was no match for a computer glitch that left six of them high above the Pacific Ocean, deaf, dumb and blind as they headed to their first deployment. So what happened? We turn to a man who's at home in the cockpit, Retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd. Don, let me set the scene. These F-22s, eight of them, were headed from Hickam (ph) Air Force base in Hawaii to an (INAUDIBLE) Air Force base in Japan. They were approaching the international date line, pick it up from there.

SHEPPERD: You got it right Don. You want everything to go right with your frontline fighter, $125, $135 million to copy. The F-22 Raptor is our frontline fighter, air defense, air superiority. It also can drop bombs. It is stealthy. It's fast and you want it all to go right on your first deployment to the Pacific and it didn't. At the international date line, whoops, all systems dumped and when I say all systems, I mean all systems, their navigation, part of their communications, their fuel systems. They were -- they could have been in real trouble. They were with their tankers. The tankers - they tried to reset their systems, couldn't get them reset. The tankers brought them back to Hawaii. This could have been real serious. It certainly could have been real serious if the weather had been bad. It turned out OK. It was fixed in 48 hours. It was a computer glitch in the millions of lines of code, somebody made an error in a couple lines of the code and everything goes.

ROBERTS: This is almost like the feared Y2K problem that happened to these aircraft. We should point out that computers control almost every aspect of this aircraft, from their weapons systems, to the flight controls and the computers absolutely went haywire, became useless.

SHEPPERD: Absolutely. When you think of airplanes from the old days, with cables and that type of thing and direct connections between the sticks and the yolks and the controls, not that way anymore. Everything is by computer. When your computers go, your airplanes go. You have multiple systems. When they all dump at the same time, you can be in real trouble. Luckily this turned out OK.

ROBERTS: What would have happened General Shepperd if these brand-new $120 million F-22s had been going into battle?

SHEPPERD: You would have been in real trouble in the middle of combat. The good thing is that we found this out. Any time -- before, you know, before we get into combat with an airplane like this. Any time you introduce a new airplane, you are going to find glitches and you are going to find things that go wrong. It happens in our civilian airliners. You just don't hear much about it but these things absolutely happen. And luckily this time we found out about it before combat. We got it fixed with tiger teams in about 48 hours and the airplanes were flying again, completed their deployment. But this could have been real serious in combat. ROBERTS: So basically you had these advanced air -- not just superiority but air supremacy fighters that were in there, up there in the air, above the Pacific Ocean, not much more sophisticated than a little Cessna 152 only with a jet engine.

SHEPPERD: You got it. They are on a 12 to 15-hour flight from Hawaii to Okinawa, but all their systems dumped. They needed help. Had they gotten separated from their tankers or had the weather been bad, they had no attitude reference. They had no communications or navigation. They would have turned around and probably could have found the Hawaiian Islands. But if the weather had been bad on approach, there could have been real trouble. Again, you get refueling from your tankers. You don't run -- you don't get yourself where you run out of fuel. You always have enough fuel and refueling nine, 10, 11, 12 times on a flight like this where you can get somewhere to land. But again, attitude reference and navigation are essential as is communication. In this case all of that was affected. It was a serious problem.

ROBERTS: So the fact the computers run so much of the systems on these aircraft, General Shepperd, is the -- is the military at risk of over engineering here so if they did have a problem like that when they were going into a hostile situation, they could be, as you said, repeatedly in real trouble?

SHEPPERD: Well, you have redundant systems but it's just a fact of life in the modern computer age. By the way John, you are going to have the same problem coming up on your laptop computer as we conferred from -- from standard time from daylight savings time to standard time. Your program -- your computer is programmed for one thing and we have changed the dates and you are going to have a problem. It's going to have to be dealt with.

ROBERTS: Do me a favor Don. Make sure I'm not on my laptop computer when I'm flying in an F-22 on that day.

SHEPPERD: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: Appreciate it. Thank you, sir. Still ahead, there are plenty of failures in Iraq but is anyone better off? We've got a surprising look at who is winning.

Also ahead, al Qaeda leaders regroup. How will Osama bin Laden and his deputies built up their training camps and what key governments in the region can do about it.

But first, last November while serving in Iraq, Private First Class Tyler Fillian wrote to his brother Kyle about his army platoon's lack of resources. Specifically, safety supplies like quick clot bandages and fire retardant gloves. Big brother Kyle decided to take action. He published his brother's wish list in a newsletter and word quickly spread around New Hampshire. This past weekend Kyle held a fundraiser at a restaurant in Concord leading to a show of support from the local community.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KYLE FILLION, BROTHER OF PFC TYLER FILLION...raised over $10,000 for his platoon in one night, really beyond my wildest dreams.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Kyle will send the materials to the marauders of the 118 in the next few weeks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ROBERTS: The once battered al Qaeda network is staging a comeback. According to U.S. intelligence, senior al Qaeda leaders are operating al Qaeda training camps in the remote tribal areas of northern Pakistan. Has Pakistan's government turned a blind eye to the terror group's resurgence? And is al Qaeda gearing up to launch more attacks in the United States?

joining us from Austin, Texas, is Lawrence Wright -- he's the author of "The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11." He's also a staff writer at "The New Yorker" magazine. And Vanda Felbab- Brown. She's a research fellow at the Brookings Institution.

President Bush has recognized the renewed strength of al Qaeda. Listen to his remarks from last October, compared to what he said just last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Absolutely we're winning. Al Qaeda's on the run. Taliban and al Qaeda fighters do hide in remote regions of Pakistan. This is -- this is wild country. This is wilder than the Wild West. And these folks hide, recruit and launch attacks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Lawrence Wright, al Qaeda recruiting, regrouping rebuilding -- were all of the efforts over the last six years to smash al Qaeda for nothing?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT, "The NEW YORKER," AUTHOR, "THE LOOMING TOWER": Well, John, you have to realize that in November, December of 2001, al Qaeda was dead. American and coalition troops swept aside the Taliban. They pummeled al Qaeda. Eighty percent of its members were captured or killed. The leaders got away, but for three years, they wandered around like zombies, unable to communicate with each other, destitute, repudiated all over the world.

It was Iraq that brought al Qaeda back to life, and now it's very much resurgent. We eliminated the sanctuaries in Afghanistan, but now we see sanctuaries in North Africa, in the Sunni areas of Iraq, in the tribal areas of Pakistan. So it's very much on the march.

ROBERTS: President Bush was referring to the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border known as Waziristan and South Waziristan. The Pakistani government, though, is resisting this notion of a broad resurgence of al Qaeda. Here's what Mahmud Durrani, who is the Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations (SIC), said to Wolf Blitzer about that on Monday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHMUD DURRANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: There may be an odd place, and when we find out, we take it out. We have done that recently. But saying that they have reestablished themselves and they have a lot of compounds and they have rejuvenated -- that is incorrect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Vanda, incorrect to say that they have reestablished or rejuvenated -- is the ambassador, with all respect, ignoring reality here?

VANDA FELBAB-BROWN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It is absolutely correct that al Qaeda is rejuvenating, as is the Taliban. And yes, they are using Pakistan as safe havens, as important safe havens. In fact, we've seen that after the conclusion of the peace treaties with tribal regions, both South and North Waziristan, these areas have become not only important hideout but increasingly important visible (ph) areas of both Taliban leadership and al Qaeda activity.

ROBERTS: All right. And Lawrence, was it that deal that Musharraf cut with the tribal leaders back in September in Waziristan and South Waziristan, as Vanda alluded to, that was responsible for that? "The Washington Post" certainly seems to think so. Here's what they said in an editorial on Wednesday. Quote, "Mr. Musharraf has done nothing. Instead, he has continued to defend his deal with the Taliban and suggested that similar havens should be created in Afghanistan."

I read something in just the last couple of days where the Pakistani leadership is saying, Hey, this is beginning to work now. That would seem to be going against any sense of reality.

WRIGHT: I think so. This is an acknowledgement of what was already happening. These had become sanctuaries for Taliban and al Qaeda. And really, Pakistan was very ineffectual in dealing with them. They finally decided not to deal with them.

ROBERTS: Vanda, the U.S. just identified at least one al Qaeda compound -- says it's identified a number of compounds, but at least one compound where they believe that al Qaeda forces are being trained for operations beyond Afghanistan. They don't say how far, but could this be a recentralization of al Qaeda, as opposed to what we saw in the last few years, where it was very much more decentralized? And in recentralizing it, could that put the U.S. more at risk? Could we see them try to hatch another 9/11 type of plot?

FELBAB-BROWN: Certainly, the strengthening of core al Qaeda is a very serious development for the U.S. and globally for countries that are struggling with terrorism, such as Western Europe. Al Qaeda was never completely decentralized. Core al Qaeda, bin Laden and Zawahiri were hiding in Pakistan. And now they are more prominent. And the strengthening of the core is very dangerous. Nonetheless, it is equally dangerous that al Qaeda is able to operate these various franchise groups in North Africa, increasingly Iran and in Europe that carry out local attacks, but nonetheless, from al Qaeda's perspective, attacks with global impact.

ROBERTS: Right. And Lawrence Wright, what could the United States do about this? It knows, as we said, where these camp are. Can it go in there, take them out, ground forces special forces, air strikes?

WRIGHT: Well, yes, we could do that, but the consequences in our dealings with Pakistan would be catastrophic. So we're in a paradoxical situation of knowing where they are but wondering if the consequences of acting are worse than the ones of not acting. And it's a really difficult thing to measure because Pakistan is, after all, a nuclear power, and we have a lot of concern about an Islamist takeover in that country.

ROBERTS: All right. Vanda, if the United States doesn't do something about this, if its hands are tied and it just has to leave this to the Pakistani government, where are we headed?

FELBAB-BROWN: Well, I think that the question is not doing anything, but as Larry pointed out, what to do. Obviously, direct military attacks -- and there are illusions, for example, than an attack a few months ago on a military compound- the Pakistan government claims it was carried out by Pakistanis -- (INAUDIBLE) population believes it was a U.S. attack. And that has generated tremendous resentment.

So the question is not hands-off policy, which obviously would be very detrimental, but policy that is cognizant of why the struggle, not simply militants, but trying to eliminate the base among which al Qaeda, the Taliban and other operate.

ROBERTS: Well, I think we certainly saw what happened in 2001, when these operatives are given free rein. Vanda Felbab-Brown and Lawrence Wright, thanks very much. Appreciate your being with us today.

Still ahead: A veteran of the wars in Iraq and Vietnam speaks out about his tours. Also ahead: Who is winning in Iraq? We'll find out who's better off because of the war. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Victory in Iraq appears a long way off, if it's ever achievable at all. But there are plenty of people who have gained as a result of the war. The prestigious journal "Foreign Policy" asks in a series of essays who won in Iraq in its latest edition leading up to fourth anniversary of the war.

Joining us now is William Dobson. He's the managing editor of "Foreign Policy." You came up with a top ten. Number one choice was Iran. In his essay, Vali Nasr (ph) of "Foreign Policy" magazine writes, quote, "For Iran, the war in Iraq turned out to be a strategic windfall, uprooting Ba'athism and pacifying a nemesis that had been a thorn in its side for much of the 20th century."

Why number one for Iran now?

WILLIAM DOBSON, "FOREIGN POLICY" MAGAZINE: Well, for Iran -- Iran is probably the biggest winner because right away, on its border -- it had fought an eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s. So right there, in going to war and toppling Saddam Hussein, we eliminated one of the chief enemies. Now, in the new Iraq, Ran has tremendous influence with this new Shi'ite-led government. So they're a clear winner, and they have the war to thank for that.

ROBERTS: Number two choice was Moqtada al Sad, the radical Shi'ite cleric. Dexter Filkins (ph) writes, quote, "The Americans would like to see Moqtada off the scene. Many moderate Shi'ite leaders would like to see him dead. Yet Sadr, still in his 30s, appears unassailable. Indeed, he seems the person most likely to benefit should Iraq sink further into chaos."

This was a guy who was at risk of being marginalized a couple of years ago. Now he's one of the most powerful political figures in Iraq.

DOBSON: Four years ago, you'd never heard of him. Now a 30- something cleric has probably the greatest control, as an individual, over the country's future. He has more allies in parliament than any single political party. His loyal -- armed loyalists are, you know, infiltrated in the military, have death squads that keep him safe, as well. So he's someone to contend with.

ROBERTS: Now some question, though, as to where he is. Is he in Iran in hiding? And has he told leaders of his Mahdi militia to lay low or even leave the country?

Number three on the list was al Qaeda. Daniel Byman (ph) in his essay writes, quote, "The jihadists who came to Iraq are forming a network similar to the one formed in Afghanistan during the anti- Soviet struggle. Some will die there, but not enough, not all of them. Many will survive and return to their home countries with increased fervor, a more coherent ideology and a Rolodex filled with contacts."

Lawrence Wright said a little bit earlier on that it was Iraq that allowed al Qaeda to regroup in the way it has in Pakistan.

DOBSON: Yes, he's absolutely right. In the case -- if you go back four years ago and you look at al Qaeda, it was on the ropes. Their leadership was on the run. Their safe haven had been taken away from them by toppling the Taliban, and there was division in the ranks. Now Iraq has served as rallying point. There's a new generation of jihadists that are getting the training that they need there in this battle, and now they're taking that craft and taking it elsewhere, to Afghanistan, where see some of those deadly tactics now appearing.

ROBERTS: We're going to skip over number four and go to number five. And this is a topic that has become a favorite of our Lou Dobbs. China, you say, is a big winner in the Iraq war. Steve Sang (ph) of "Foreign Policy" magazine writes in his essay, quote, "The U.S. military now has fewer resources to build up the capabilities to win a potential war with China over Taiwan. This is a goal Chinese diplomacy has on its own never managed to achieve until Iraq."

We were talking earlier today about, is the U.S. stretched so thin that if China were to say, Well, here's a great opportunity to take back Taiwan, what could the U.S. military do about it?

DOBSON: Well, it's true. I mean, now Iraq is a central preoccupation in the United States, and it's -- it is true that at this point in the war, we've spent $500 billion, and are focus of our military is really there. So does that lower our ability to come to their defense? Quite possibly. But also diplomatically, this has been a real watershed for China. Now they have more positive relations around the world than ever before -- Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia -- and we are known as the unilateral superpower.

ROBERTS: Yes, well, you know, he -- President Bush said he thought of them as strategic competitors, and they've certainly lived up to that billing.

Number eight we want to go to, the United Nations. Martin Wolf (ph) writes, quote, "A reformed United Nations is at least likely to be more affected than the spasmodic interventions of a solitary and often inattentive superpower partly because it is more legitimate and partly because it is more experienced."

President Bush was saying a few years ago that the United Nations was on the edge of being irrelevant, of not -- of being illegitimate. And now you're saying they've gained power because of this.

DOBSON: That's right. When the president spoke to the General Assembly before the war, he made that point. He challenged the organization. And Kofi Annan, then the secretary general, said, Look, be careful. You may need us. Now we need the U.N. more than ever because they are really the storehouse of knowledge when it comes to nation building and reconstruction, and there's certainly a need for that now.

ROBERTS: Well, it's really a thought-provoking series of essays, the latest edition of "Foreign Policy" magazine, leading up to the 4th anniversary of the Iraq war. William Dobson, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Up next: A helicopter pilot returns from Iraq 40 years after he left Vietnam. His unique story is ahead on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: When critics talk about the Iraq war, you'll often hear the word Vietnam used in the same sentence. Is it a valid comparison? There are some people who can speak from firsthand experience. They served in both wars. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has the story of a helicopter pilot who is just back from Iraq nearly 40 years after he left Vietnam.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chief Warrant Officer Ray Johnson is returning home after a year of flying Black Hawks in Iraq.

CWO RAY JOHNSON, U.S. ARMY: Good to be home, I'll tell you!

STARR: He's done this before. In 1970, he came back from a tour of duty flying Hueys in Vietnam. He says the two wars are different, but some things never change.

JOHNSON: Occasionally, just like Vietnam, the troops in Iraq would fire up a barbecue grill. And we got the charcoal from the locals. And it -- the smell, it was just like Vietnam.

STARR: And certain sounds, like incoming rockets, are just as familiar.

JOHNSON: Late at night, I heard the thump, thump. And I knew immediately what it was.

STARR: Before he left for Iraq, Johnson, who is also a Maryland state police pilot, was positive, upbeat.

JOHNSON: If you go with a good attitude, I strongly believe that the training that we've gotten will bring us back home safely.

STARR: Now his tone has changed.

JOHNSON: Should we have occupied? Should we have stayed in Iraq? That's something that the history books are going to have to write about later on.

STARR: So after a year in Iraq, back home safe, what does this 59-year-old grandfather take away from Iraq?

JOHNSON: The best things that I took away from Iraq? I don't know if I can say that there's really been anything good out of this tour. I see a lot of suffering.

STARR: Even though he considers the war in Vietnam a mistake, at the time, Johnson tried to go back. But, now after a year in Iraq, Johnson says he would rather stay home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Straight ahead: State governors take issue with President Bush's authority over the National Guard. But first some of the fallen in THIS WEEK AT WAR. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: When I embedded with the U.S. military for the invasion of Iraq, the greatest fear that any of us had was of chemical weapons. At the camps in Kuwait, we were frequently awakened with shouts of, "Gas! Gas! Gas!" when radar detected Scud missile launches. Some nights, we just slept with our gas masks on. During the invasion, we wore our chemical protective suits 24/7. Some days we were told to add the chemical boots and heavy rubber gloves to that. Each mile that we progressed into Iraq, commanders warned us the risk of getting "slimed" dramatically increased. Though no one wanted to talk about it, we all wondered whether death would be swift or painful, agonizing and slow.

When we crossed the Tigris River for the final push on Baghdad, we were in full MOP-4 status -- suits, boots, gloves and masks. Of course, we all know now that there was no reason to worry.

So it's one of the great ironies of this war that four years after we went through all of that, chemical weapons are now being used in Iraq. They're crude, of course, tanker trucks blown up, chlorine canisters embedded in car bombs. It's not known how many people died from the chlorine versus the actual explosion itself. But they are an extremely effective weapon of terror. If the mighty U.S. military was so frightened by them, you can just imagine how ordinary Iraqi civilians feel.

A quick check now on what we'll be watching for next week at war. Monday, governors continue meeting in Washington, opposing new powers of the president to call up National Guard units even without state approval. Tuesday, Senate Democrats are expected to unveil their plan to reverse Congress's 2002 Iraq war resolution. And also on Tuesday, House and Senate Veterans Committees meet together on disabled vets, with special hearings expected next month on what happened at the Walter Reed Medical Center.

Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR. I'm John Roberts. Straight ahead, a check of the headlines, and then "CNN Special Investigations Unit," "Chasing Angelina: Paparazzi and Celebrity Obsession."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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