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9 U.S. Troops Killed in Iraq; Stubborn Wildfire

Aired April 24, 2007 - 06:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Heavy losses. Nine American paratroopers killed, 20 wounded. One of the war's deadliest days. With new worries troops at outposts around Baghdad are more exposed than ever, on this AMERICAN MORNING.
And good morning. Thanks for being with us on this Tuesday, April 24th. I'm Kiran Chetry here in New York.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you. I'm John Roberts in Washington. Thanks very much for joining us.

And, Kiran, some terrible news this morning coming out of Diyala Province. Just awful.

CHETRY: It really is and that's one of the big stories on our radar this morning. Some new worries in Iraq about the security of these patrol outposts. This is where those heavy loses took place, at an area not as easily protected as some of the other areas where our troops are. So coming up live from Baghdad, we're also going to be going to Ft. Bragg to give you the latest details on this blast in Iraq.

ROBERTS: Hearings on Capitol Hill today. We're going to get, for the first time, to see and hear the family of Pat Tillman, who you'll remember was killed in Afghanistan a number of years ago. Kiran's got an update on what to expect coming up in just a couple of minutes on that.

CHETRY: And, also, let's check out this video for a second. This was a Colorado State spring football game. And there you go.

ROBERTS: Ooh. Ouch.

CHETRY: He accidentally -- that was a little four-year-old fan who was mowed down accidentally. There he is on the sidelines. We're going to tell you how the little guy is doing today. He -- look at him. He looks like a bruiser, though, because he did sit right up after that. And we're going to tell you -- obviously, he was scared. Any of us would be if a huge football player came at him that way. So we're going to give you an update. It looks like he did hurt himself.

ROBERTS: Yes, bleeding just a little bit from his eyebrow there. You know what, that's probably going to influence him. He'll probably be a linebacker one of these days when he goes to college, Kiran.

CHETRY: Or a quarterback, since they're the ones that have to get used to being tackled like that, right? ROBERTS: Well, that's true. Maybe. You know, it's some good training for the future, perhaps.

Hey, we begin in Iraq this morning. The single deadliest attack on American ground forces there since August of '05. Nine Americans killed at a patrol base north of Baghdad in Diyala Province. Twenty others were wounded. All from the Army's 82nd Airborne. CNN's Hugh Riminton is in Baghdad.

Hugh, this was at a small outpost in a valley. This is all part of General Petraeus's new counter insurgency plan.

HUGH RIMINTON: Very much, John. This comes from what was perceived to have been a flaw in the previous system, which is where U.S. troops would go in and try to clear areas out of insurgents but then retreat from them or leave them and the insurgents would simply go back in again. So part of the plan is to get out these local patrol bases and keep them permanently manned by U.S. troops. But, of course, these are small bases and they're much more vulnerable to the kind of dreadful, devastating attack to we've just seen in the last few hours.


ROBERTS: Hugh, it used to be, before this new insurgency, or counter insurgency strategy, that these troops would be housed in these massive bases, like Taji, north of where you are there in Baghdad. They would be ringed by blast walls, multiple layers of security. How exposed are these troops when they're out there in these either smaller patrol bases or these joint security stations?

RIMINTON: Well, a lot of these -- it differs from patrol base to patrol base. I've been out to a couple of them just in the last couple of days. Some of them feel reasonably secure. They might occupy a little bit of high ground.

But other ones are just put into the middle of a neighborhood. They have no height advantage over their neighbors. They can easily be sniped at. They do what they can, obviously, to secure them.

But this is, obviously, difficult and a suicide car bomber is a very hard enemy to control under these conditions. They have relatively small numbers of troops on the ground and they're vulnerable to what goes on around them. And we have seen this. Whether it brings a change, a tactical change, remains to be seen.

ROBERTS: Hugh, things have never been stable in Diyala Province. But since the counter insurgency strategy took hold in Baghdad, we seem to be seeing an increase in the number of attacks there. Is that because all the bad guys who were in Baghdad are fleeing to elsewhere?

RIMINTON: Well, I mean, it might be (INAUDIBLE) this is a sign, John, of success in Baghdad. It's getting harder because of cordoning off of whole neighborhoods, harder for insurgents to come and go. There are suggestions that there is a move, particularly of some of the Sunni insurgent groups, al Qaeda linked groups and others, up to Diyala, a mixed province. It goes from just north of Baghdad, right across to the Iranian border. And as life's getting harder for them in the west of Iraq, in Baghdad itself, this is becoming a new front line. The death toll among U.S. troops in recent months in Diyala has spiked sharply, that's partly because more insurgents are going in there. Partly also because the U.S. troops are determined to take the fight up to them.


ROBERTS: And your colleague, Michael Ware, just recently came back from Diyala and he said it looked like things had gone significantly downhill from the last time that he was there.

Hugh Riminton in Baghdad, thanks very much. We'll get back to you further out throughout the morning.

We're also going to talk with the spokesman from Ft. Bragg coming up. It's the home base of the soldiers killed. This is the worst incident that the Ft. Bragg soldiers have had since the beginning of the Iraq war.

Final votes are possible tomorrow on a war funding bill. It calls for troop withdraws to begin in October and to be completed by April of next year. Those plans are sure to provoke a presidential veto by weeks end. We'll talk more about that this morning, too.


CHETRY: All right. And for the first time, we're going to see and hear the parents of Pat Tillman speak about their son's death by friendly fire in Afghanistan. They're appearing before a congressional committee demanding to know why they were told what they call misleading information about their son's death.


MARY TILLMAN, PAT TILLMAN'S MOTHER: What they did is they made up a story. That's not a misstep and that's not an error. They made up a story. It was presented on national television. And we believe they did that to promote the war.

CHETRY, (voice over): Pat Tillman's mother, Mary, spoke on national public radio last month after meeting with Pentagon officials investigating her son's death.

TILLMAN: They always lie. And I'll be quite honest with you, the meeting was a travesty.

CHETRY: Nine Army officers were recommended for discipline, including four generals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In April 2004, the Army broke face with the Tillman family in how Pat Tillman's death was reported in brief to him. For that, I am truly sorry, both as a general and as an Army father. CHETRY: The Tillmans testify today before a House Oversight Committee, along with former Army Private Jessica Lynch. She was wounded and captured by the Iraqis. The military is also criticized for how it handled the account of her rescue.


CHETRY: And military witnesses will include Brigadier General Rodney Johnson, of the Amy criminal investigative command. The House committee is also asking the CIA about the possibility of videotape from a predator drone that may have been flying over Tillman at the time he was killed.

ROBERTS: Families of people affected by contaminated spinach and peanut butter, you'll remember that incident, they're also going to appear before Congress today. E. Coli in spinach killed three people last fall, made 200 others sick. The family of a two-year-old girl who nearly lost her life after eating contaminated baby spinach talked to our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We'll find out what her parents are demanding of Congress today.

A toxic chemical leak has residents in three northern Illinois communities waiting to get back into their homes this morning. Anhydrous ammonia, which is used as a fertilizer, began leaking last night in the town of Seward, Illinois. That's near Rockford. Ten people were hospitalized with respiratory problems, none of them serious. Residents in Seward and in the towns Pecatonica and Winnebago were all asked to leave their homes as well.

There's a new champion of the world, at least as far as selling cars go. Toyota sold more vehicles than General Motors or anybody else in the first quarter, making it the world's busiest automaker. Analysts knew that it was going to happen because of some GM cutbacks. It was just a question of when it was going to happen. Toyota sold more than 2.3 million vehicles worldwide between January and March, while GM sold 2.2 million in the same period. Ali Velshi is going to have more coming up on "Minding Your Business" at 6:26.


CHETRY: And this is the video we showed you right at the top of the show. Four-year-old Caden Thomas. He may have a future in football because he's proven that he can play through the pain. A little four-year-old watching a scrimmage on the sidelines there at Colorado State when he was hit. And there you can see, hit pretty hard. It was a touchdown, but the momentum of the wide receiver, George Hill, took him right into Caden, who was standing on the sidelines. I'm sure he didn't even see him. CSU let's families hang out on the sidelines during spring practices.

So how is he doing? Well, you can see that he's bleeding there. It was a cut to his head. He did need some stitches. But, thanks goodness, all the neurological exams were normal. And he had no skull fracture, no other trauma and he was actually released from the hospital on Saturday night. After that incident, of course, everyone wanted to know how he was doing so they -- his dad says he has about 3,000 to 4,000 people wanting to know how he's doing. I'm sure that's much more today. And, in fact, on the phone right now, John, we have Michael Thomas, Caden's father, on the phone with us.

Hi, Michael.


CHETRY: How's he doing today?

THOMAS: Remarkably well. He's functioning totally as a rambunctious four-year-old again.

CHETRY: How did you feel when you were out there and you saw this? I mean, what went through your mind?

THOMAS: Well, there's the sickening thought. It was just tremendously worried about the rest of his life. You make automatic assumptions that there's going to be some damage when you see something that horrific. And to see that he bounced back so quickly was really a blessing. He's just moving around and, you know, his only complaint is that I don't let him jump on the trampoline.

CHETRY: Oh, goodness. Now was that you in the blue and red striped shirt on the ground with him?

THOMAS: It was.

CHETRY: OK. So you were right there when that happened. And you guys attend a lot of these practices and see Colorado State play?

THOMAS: We have a cousin who's playing for CSU and we go to some of the practices and, yes, we enjoy being at the games and they -- spring football, they let you get down on the field and I'm always -- you know, get you close to the action and that's why we were down so close to the field of play.

CHETRY: And what was he saying to you? I see you were talking to him. What were you guys saying to each other at that point?

THOMAS: He was saying he wanted to go home. I think he had a pretty good idea that this was going to require a trip to the hospital and was none too excited about that prospect.

CHETRY: So how many stitches did he end up needing?

THOMAS: I'd estimate about 30 of the absorbable types. He had to go to the operating room and a plastic surgeon had to stitch it together because there were kind of multiple lacerations close to one another.

CHETRY: Wow, 30 stitches. Did George Hill talk to you guys? How bad did he feel? THOMAS: He has -- we've not talked to him personally. Coach Lubick, Sonny Lubick, the coach at CSU, has given us a call and they've sent over some footballs with some signatures and things. They've been very nice.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we're happy this morning to know that your little guy, Caden, is doing all right. Quite an adventure for him at such a young age. But thank goodness he's OK this morning. Thanks for calling in, Michael.

THOMAS: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Boy, if you can take the hit and you can get up and keep going, that's what's really important there.

Coming up, community reaction from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, after one of the deadliest attacks in Iraq since the war began. Plus, a 58,000 acre wildfire burning out of control in Georgia right now. We're going to have an update on that.

And mother nature's furry caught on tape. We're going to let you know if severe weather is heading your way.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.


CHETRY: Welcome back to CNN. The most news in the morning is here on CNN.

This is spectacular video just in this morning of a twister touching down near the town of Protection, in southern Kansas. The funnel, one of several around the state on Monday in a storm system that included strong thunderstorms, this twister, as dynamic as it looks there and as spectacular as this video is, caused no damage.

In southeast Georgia, those wildfires continue to burn near the town of Waycross. More than 56,000 acres now scorched so far, 18 homes destroyed and schools have been closed since last Tuesday when the fire started. Again, it was reportedly sparked by a downed power line.

It's 14 past the hour. We're going to check in with Chad Myers right now to talk more about the weather system.

Did you see the -- the funnel cloud, when you saw it so close like that, you could see it just tearing up the ground as it went. No injuries and no damage though.


ROBERTS: More now on the deaths of nine American soldiers in a suicide attack in Iraq. Twenty others were wounded. All of the casualties were members of the Army's 82nd Airborne based in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Joining us now from Ft. Bragg is Major Tom Earnhardt. He's a public information officer.

Major Earnhardt, what's your understanding of what happened up in Diyala Province yesterday?

MAJ. TOM EARNHARDT, U.S. ARMY: John, yesterday we learned of the incident in the late morning. And then as the day progressed, the news just got progressively worse. We lost nine very brave paratroopers yesterday. It's just a sad and somber event here at Ft. Bragg.

ROBERTS: I've been down to Bragg a couple of times. It's the worst incident that you've had since the beginning of the Iraq War. How are the families coping there this morning?

EARNHARDT: John, this is the worst incident we've had in the whole global war on terrorism. We're coping. Paratroopers have an indomitable spirit. Our families tend to adopt that same spirit. And, you know, it's time to band together and we'll hug and we'll cry and we'll get through it.

ROBERTS: Major Earnhardt, this was an outpost in Diyala Province, in a valley, fairly exposed area. This is all part of the counter insurgency strategy that General Petraeus is engaged in. A few weeks ago at my (INAUDIBLE) war program, I asked a couple of military experts if this was going to leave our military more exposed. You know, it's getting them out of those big bases like Taji and Camp Victory and places like that. Do you think that was partly responsible for what happened, this counter insurgency program?

EARNHARDT: Unfortunately, John, I'd have to speculate on that because I'm not there. I'm here at Ft. Bragg. And the folks that can answer that question best is probably the multinational corp Iraq. And I hate to refer questions away, but that's one I really can't answer.

ROBERTS: No, I'm just wondering if there were concerns among the folks there at Ft. Bragg that perhaps their loved ones and their soldiers may become more exposed because of this counter insurgency program. Did you ever hear anything about that?

EARNHARDT: Well, what people here rely on, John, is the fact that our paratroopers are the best trained, best resourced soldiers in the Army. And we believe that. And we believe in their training. They believe in each other. They believe in themselves. And so we tend to count on that as our, you know, as our security, if you understand what I'm trying to get across.

ROBERTS: Yes, absolutely.

EARNHARDT: It's just that -- it's a hard day and, you know, this is a sad, somber day here and . . . .

ROBERTS: Major, do you still believe in the mission today?

EARNHARDT: Oh, yes. We believe in our mission. And that's -- I mean, that's part of that indomitable spirit of the paratroopers. We accept our missions. We know they're hard. We don't generally get an easy mission. So when the mission comes out way, we accept it. We go after it with as much zeal and as much confidence as we can and we try to make things happen. And that's what 573 Cav is doing in Iraq and they've made it happen to a point that they've got a good reputation over there and they're doing the right thing.

ROBERTS: Well, certainly the 82nd Airborne didn't make its reputation on easy missions. Major Tom Earnhardt, thanks for being with us this morning. Our condolences to everybody there at Ft. Bragg.

EARNHARDT: Thank you, John.

ROBERTS: This morning, friends and colleagues are remembering David Halberstam as a brilliant journalist, author and historian. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was killed Monday in a car crash on northern California. Halberstam chronicled the Vietnam War generation, the civil rights movement and the world of sports. He was 73 years old.


CHETRY: Coming up, we're going to be talking about a growing problem, apparently, driving while texting. It may be hard for some people to resist checking the phone or the Blackberry behind the wheel. Now some states want to make it a law to keeping your eyes on the road. We're going to show you how they're sending a message of their own.

And we're going to talk about rising prices at the gas pump. They may not just be affecting your bottom line. Ali Velshi will explain. He's "Minding Your Business" next on AMERICAN MORNING.



Investigators in New Jersey are checking reports about the state trooper who was driving Governor Jon Corzine the day that their SUV crashed. "The Newark Star-Ledger" is reporting that the trooper may have been checking an e-mail from an angry husband right before the crash. The trooper and his union deny that. But some states are considering legislation that would ban text messaging, along with talking on cell phones while driving. And AMERICAN MORNING's Alina Cho is outside in Columbus Circle today. Are you actually driving right now? I'm scared, Alina. Don't look at me.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am driving, Kiran, trying to keep my eye on the road. You know, we've all heard about how bad it is to talk on your cell phone while you're driving. Well, imagine text messaging. And many times it requires not just one hand but both hands, which means no hands on the wheel.

You know it's called DWT, driving while texting. There's a name for it. And it doesn't take an expert to tell you that this kind of distraction can easily lead to an accident. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERT SINCLAIR, JR., AAA: Imagine what you have to do when you're texting. You need two hands to operate the device. So automatically one hand -- it's not going to be on the steering wheel.

CHO, (voice over): AAA's Robert Sinclair Jr., says drivers only can be distracted safely for two seconds. Just two seconds. We've seen drivers doing all sorts of crazy things at the wheel --applying makeup, eating, reading, writing. Now drivers are reading and writing at the same time. A relatively new problem, but potentially a deadly one.

SINCLAIR: If you're on the highway doing 60 miles an hour, you're traveling at 88 feet per second. So if three seconds go by, you've traveled the distance of nearly a football field. So anything that takes your attention away for even a second or two can lead to disaster.

CHO: Like in Washington state, where a man caused a five-car pileup after he was distracted by an e-mail on his Blackberry. That was December. As early as next month, Washington state will become the first in the nation to make it a crime to text while driving. Arizona and Oregon are considering similar measures. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., have defacto bans on driving while texting. Under broader measures that ban handheld cell phone use in the car. Sinclair says drivers should use common sense, regardless of the laws.

SINCLAIR: My dear old grandfather used to say, common sense ain't common. And as more of these devices proliferate, I think we're going to see a lot more trouble.


CHO: Now part of the problem is that we're all so busy these days that we get in the car, we look at it as downtime. Time to multitask. Return phone calls. Return e-mails. Well experts say driving is one of the most dangerous things you can do in the course of the date. And it's the reason why we shouldn't be talking on the cell phone, the reason why we shouldn't be text messaging, because, Kiran, it requires 100 percent of your effort the moment you get in the car.


CHETRY: You're absolutely right. Unfortunately, as you said, a lot of people don't see it that way and they're very strict about needing to wear, especially in New Jersey and New York, an ear piece because they don't want you dialing on the phone. But the texting, you're actually looking down way more than if you're just talking on the phone.

CHO: Oh, absolutely. You're looking down and you're using your mind, really, you know, because you've got to use punctuation, you've got to use the keys. And experts say it's far worse than talk on the cell phone. It just hasn't gotten a lot of attention, Kiran, because still it's a relatively new phenomenon, but it's certainly becoming more popular, which is why a lot of states are now looking at it and trying to put specific language into law.

CHETRY: I got you. Now slowly back that thing into the driveway, the garage, and get back here, Alina.

Thank you.

CHO: sure.

CHETRY: Twenty-six past the hour now. Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Hi. Good to see you.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's so much going on this morning that I want to get a lot into this so that people don't end up checking these things through the course of the day. I mean, people who are following business have (ph) big problems with this. So stop it. I do it too.

The biggest news this morning, of course, is that Toyota has beaten GM in sales for the first three months of 2007. That's the first time that's ever happened. Now worldwide, Toyota sold about 122,000 more cars than GM did in the first three months of this year. It's just a quarterly number, but some folks think it might be this year that Toyota steals the title of world's biggest automaker from GM. And GM has had that title since the 1930s.

While we're on the topic of sales, Target has revised its sales forecast for the spring, saying it's going to sell less than expected. That's a big deal for investors, particularly in the retail sector, because Target is generally pretty reliable in its forecasts.

Now analysts say it probably has more to do with the cold weather we had in the first two weeks of April, which means it's probably not a fundamental problem with the way Target does business. But it could have something to do with how you, the consumer, is feeling. Whether that's because of gas prices or trying to make sense of this housing market.

We're going to get a better sense of things this morning with the March Consumer Confidence Survey. It tells us how consumers felt in March about the economy and about their own jobs. We'll also get March existing home sales numbers this morning.

Lots of corporate earnings. We've already heard from DuPont. Later today we'll get many more. Oil back up above $65 a barrel. So that's a bit of a problem. We're all looking at the Dow hitting 13,000. That's still about 80 points away. And with all these things weighing on the market, it's anybody's guess as to how it will work. But get your information without doing it in the car.

CHETRY: Right, put down the crackberry, as they call it. VELSHI: Put down the crackberry, exactly.

CHETRY: Ali, thanks so much.



ROBERTS: I could say also put down the television camera because, you know, I mean, what's more dangerous, Blackberrying while you're driving or being on TV while you're driving. Hello.

CHETRY: Exactly. I told her, don't look at me. Don't look at me. Just keeping driving.

ROBERTS: All right.

The top stories of the morning are coming up next. A line of fire cutting a swath in the south, destroying everything in its path down near the Okayky Fanoky (ph) swamp. We're there live.

And a college professor is fired after a controversial lecture on the Virginia Tech shootings. Now he's taking his side of the story to YouTube.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is here on CNN.


ROBERTS: Devastating flames. A massive wildfire is tearing across a section of the South right now. Flames as high as trees and smoke plumes so big you can spot them from space.

Elsewhere, powerful tornadoes. New pictures coming in all on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Wow, fire, heavy weather. Good morning. It's Tuesday, April the 24th.

I'm John Roberts in Washington.

CHETRY: And I'm Kiran Chetry in New York.

Thanks so much for joining us. We have a lot of stories on our radar this morning.

The first one a really disturbing and sad news today out of Iraq. Nine U.S. troops killed in suicide bomb blasts. We're going to update you and have more on exactly what went on, because they're still trying to figure out exactly how this happened -- John.

ROBERTS: We're going to have more on those wildfires, 56,000 acres burning down near the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia. It's only 36 percent contained right now.

Sean Callebs is on the scene, and he's going to be reporting for us live from the fire line coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

CHETRY: Also, a big step forward in fire safety. A new study looks at smoke. This is really interesting, because they're saying it could have a fingerprint, almost, just like our finger prints do to help better detect it and also possibly save lives. So we're going to have more on that, as well.

ROBERTS: All right. Looking forward to all of that, Kiran.

We begin in Iraq this morning. The single deadliest attack on American ground forces in Iraq since August of '05, the worst ever for the 82nd Airborne since the war on terror began. Nine American soldiers killed at a patrol base north of Baghdad in Diyala Province, where things are really going downhill. Twenty others were wounded. As we said, they're all from the Army's 82nd Airborne.

CNN's Hugh Riminton is in Baghdad.

Hugh, what do we know about how this happened?

HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there were two suicide bombers. Apparently, the initial report said just one, but two suicide bombers attacking this patrol base. Patrol bases one of the new tactics under the new Baghdad security plan underneath the surge plan under General Petraeus.

It's an attempt to not simply put in U.S. troops to clear insurgents out as they've done in the past, just to withdraw and let the insurgents regain their terrain. It's an attempt to actually hold that terrain by putting somewhat isolated patrol bases into place. Diyala Province, a dangerous part of Iraq, and we've just seen exactly how dangerous this is.

Somewhat vulnerable. A patrol base hit by two suicide car bombs. This dreadful toll, nine dead, 20 wounded -- John.

ROBERTS: Hugh, how much more dangerous has Diyala Province become since the beginning of General Petraeus' counterinsurgency surge?

RIMINTON: Well, it's become a great deal more dangerous, and this might be measured as a sign of success for General Petraeus's plan in as much as it has been his great drive to get insurgents out of Baghdad, to buy a bit of political room for the politicians here to negotiate some sort of compromise, get the political wheel moving forward. But what he's done there is made life difficult.

By cordoning off parts of Baghdad, insurgents can't have the same movement, freedom of movement around the capital. This, and also some successes in the west of Iraq, in Al Anbar Province, has made Diyala Province the new frontline, if you like. Insurgents pouring in there to see what damage they can cause -- John.

ROBERTS: Hugh, this is almost like that carnival game of whack- a-mole, isn't it, that you wack down the insurgents in Baghdad...


ROBERTS: ... they pop up in Diyala Province? Can the military ever hope to get a hold on all of these restive areas?

RIMINTON: You know, I haven't heard the whack-a-mole metaphor, but I think it's just about spot on. That's exactly what's happening. Where you succeed in one area, it pops up somewhere else.

The death toll among U.S. troops in Diyala Province has spiked steeply in the last few months, compared with previous years. This is really one of the frontline areas that's going on.

And it's as simple as this: if you're going to take the fight up to the insurgents, if you're going to try and hold the ground, not merely clear ground, you're going to expose yourself to attack. And that is what is causing this increase in U.S. troop numbers.

They hope they can win this fight on the ground and hold it. The long-term story will be a good one, but in the short term, it's a bitter battle being fought with real, real death tolls coming in, as we've seen in the last few hours.

ROBERTS: Yes, just terrible news. Hugh, thanks very much for that. We'll keep checking back with you this morning.

Congress could make its final vote tomorrow on a war funding bill that calls for troop withdrawal to begin in October. Under certain circumstances, it could be as early as July. The president's veto of that bill which he has promised could come by week's end. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Monday that the president is out of touch with reality.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: In describing his escalation of American troops, what he calls a surge, he further said, "So far, the operation is meeting expectations." The White House transcript says the president made those remarks in the state of Michigan. I believe he made them in the state of denial.


ROBERTS: The president, again, said that setting a timeline would send the wrong signal to the enemy.

We're going to bounce this around off a Democratic and a Republican. We've got Congressman John Murtha and Senator Kyl coming up later on in the program -- Kiran.

CHETRY: That should be very interesting.

We also have an update for you. Remember yesterday when our own Sean Callebs was standing on that huge pile of peanuts? Part of the original war spending bill had subsidies or funding for peanut storage, as well as other things. Well, House and Senate negotiators Monday took out that, added $74 million for peanut storage, funding for the spinach, for Christmas tree farms, and other non-related war -- non-war-related issues also tossed. They were put in hopes of being able to get more congressional votes on that war funding bill.

Well, speaking of Sean Callebs, he is now chasing fires today. A stubborn wildfire in southeast Georgia only 50 percent contained. It's been burning for the last week. Now we have 86,000 square miles -- or rather 86 square miles lost so far.

Sean, why is this fire in particular giving Georgia firefighters such a tough go at it?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the big reason, Kiran, is the fact that this is such a rural area and the fact there's been no rain here, no significant rainfall -- hopefully we can talk to Chad about that in a bit -- in the past two months. That has made conditions extremely brittle and caused a big trouble in fighting fires.

Now, the good news is it was a good day yesterday for firefighters. They say they got the upper hand after being contained only about a third. Now it's contained about a half or so. They hope to put planes up in the air about dawn and get a look at where the hot spots are. But they hope, they hope that they now have the upper hand in this blaze.


CALLEBS (voice over): Bone dry, south Georgia is burning.

NICKIE JORDAN, CHIEF RANGER, GEORGIA FOREST COMMISSION: If you can keep it inside the control line and the fuel is burned out, we're ahead of the game.

CALLEBS: After more than a week, some 56,000 acres of mostly pine forest has been consumed by flames. At a time (ph), this is what the fire looked like in space, smoke enveloping a wide swath.

CHRISTY FULLARD, LOST HOME IN FIRE: I still thought something would be here, something.

CALLEBS: This is the harsh reality on the ground for the Fullard family.

FULLARD: You can see the frame and everything. I mean, we knew, you know, there was nothing left. And that's when it was the hardest.

CALLEBS: Their home of 10 years simply gone. Forced to evacuate twice as flames threatened, Christy, her husband, Robin, have three children and one on the way. They escaped with only the clothes on their back. A lifetime of photos and heirlooms passed down through the generations all in ashes.

Eighteen homes, some vacant, destroyed by this, the largest forest fire in the state in more than half a century. This inaccessibility has also worked against crews who have been fighting the fire from above and on the ground with bulldozers carving fire breaks.

JORDAN: We go four steps forward and come back two. It's been slow progress, but we're making good progress now.


CALLEBS: A couple of other items.

Very smoky. This fire has been characterized by smoke that has really been seen all the way in Tennessee and down into Florida. We're only about an hour from the Florida border. Also, the reason we're wearing a hard hat and something like this at this hour, you can't really see behind me, but the fire has eaten out the brush at the bottom of these trees, and firefighters are concerned that more trees could fall.

Kiran, we're in an area that has been voluntary of an evacuation, but most people have gotten out. Not so much because of the flames, but because of the smoke. And as it gets lighter, we'll be able to show you just how bad it is in this area -- Kiran.

CHETRY: And you can see it burning right over your shoulder as well, but -- so, it's been the worst fire that they've had in more than half a century. Is it also just how dry it's been this season?

CALLEBS: That is -- that is the big problem. The area we were at yesterday, dry as a bone. But the big thing is, that's usually an area that touches near the swampland area, and usually it's wet underneath where we are. But it is so dry, the ground is just like the kind of sand you can toss up in the air and it just blows away.

It is very dry. And they say there's no rainfall predicted in this area for some time. So even though the fire is knocked down pretty well, they're going to be here a long time making sure these hot spots don't jump over those fire lines and threaten areas that are more populated.

CHETRY: All right. Sean Callebs reporting from Waycross, Georgia, this morning.

Thank you.

ROBERTS: Here is a rather unusual story this morning. A former accounting professor at Boston's Emmanuel College is speaking out. Nicholas Winset was fired after making comments in class about the Virginia Tech tragedy.

Here's his side of the story.


NICHOLAS WINSET, FIRED EMMANUEL COLLEGE PROFESSOR: I said that more U.S. soldiers will die this week than died in Virginia Tech. I said that more people will die of AIDS this day in the United States alone than died at Virginia Tech. If I came off as cold and as insensitive, well, you know, that's part of academia, isn't it? You're not always going to disagree with your professor.


ROBERTS: The college says that Winset disparaged the victims as "rich white kids," and not as part of an open debate with his students. Winset says the college was encouraging its staff to talk to students about the tragedy.

Barbara Bush is sticking up for presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Last night on "LARRY KING LIVE," the former first lady said that Romney's Mormon faith shouldn't matter.


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Should Mitt Romney's religion be held against him?

BARBARA BUSH, FMR. FIRST LADY: Not at all. I mean, it was in 1897 that bigamy was outlawed in that church. And, you know, we have a lot of Christian wild people, too, and a lot of Jewish wild people and a lot of Muslim wild people. The Mormon region religion takes care of their own.


ROBERTS: Some people have implied that Romney's Mormon faith might be difficult for voters to accept.

Now, perhaps you have questions about what's going on in the political campaign trail, or some other news stories, but you're not hearing quite enough about it and you want to hear more. We're going to give you an opportunity.

Aren't we, Kiran?

CHETRY: That's right. We want to hear from you.

We want you to e-mail us if you have a question about some of the stories that we've covered or you have some ideas about some other ones that you think would be more interesting, or as interesting, and you want to know more about it. Well, we're going to be picking some of the e-mails.

It's And we're going to be finding out more and getting answers for you as we go along here on AMERICAN MORNING. So go ahead and shoot us an e-mail. Make sure it's not while you're driving, though. You'll get in trouble with Alina for that one.

Well, did you know that the smoke from each fire is unique? It almost has its own fingerprint, if you will. Up next, Greg Hunter shows us how that knowledge could actually be working to save your life. GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How will does this coffee pot burn? What kind of smoke does it put out compared to this pillow? Well, we're going to light things on fire and talk about Underwriters Laboratories smoke study and what it means to you as AMERICAN MORNING continues.


ROBERTS: Well, the weather here in the Washington area has been absolutely spectacular. It hit 89 degrees in some spots yesterday.

But Chad, if you're in Nebraska or Iowa, heads up.



CHETRY: Well, there's a groundbreaking study that's out today that could be a lifesaver in the event of a house fire. Each fire has its own unique smoke, and knowing that could save your life.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Greg Hunter is live at a special smoke lab for us. It's in Northbrook, Illinois.

And Greg, you guys are lighting things on fire this morning. What are you doing?

HUNTER: Well, yes, we are. This may not look like it has anything in common, but this coffee pot and this pillow has a lot in common.

They're both made out of synthetics. And you can see the coffee pot actually drips, and that's one of the characteristics of a coffee pot, its synthetic materials. It actually liquefies, as opposed to, you know, cotton or leather, or something like that.

Well, you can see right now there's not a lot of smoke about this. And this is what they studied with this smoke study. And they also studied the smoke that some polyurethane or synthetic pillows like this will put off.

Let's take a look at this groundbreaking study and what it means to you, and how it might some day produce technology that will save your life.


HUNTER (voice over): By the time a fire gets to this point, it's too late. Underwriters Laboratories conducted tests comparing fires involving natural fabrics, such as leather and cotton to synthetic ones, like polyurethane foam and microfiber. Their conclusion, the synthetic fibers burned much faster and much hotter than natural fibers.

(on camera): The other is heat-resistant, flame-resistant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's much more resistant to the flame, obviously, than the synthetic materials.

HUNTER (voice over): So the folks at UL decided to take another look at the same fire to see exactly what happens to smoke at the very beginning of a fire.

TOM CHAPIN, UNDERWRITERS LABORATORIES: Smoke is uniquely different, just like the fingerprint on your hand.

HUNTER: They tested 27 different materials commonly found in the home, some of the same materials from these fires, to see how they would break down and what type of smoke they would give off. We're told this information will improve smoke detectors, making them detect smoke faster and be able to tell the difference between, say, burning toast and a burning couch.

(on camera): Could that make smoke detectors go off more accurately and sooner?

CHAPIN: We believe so.

HUNTER (voice over): Not only will smoke detectors improve, but their location may change, too. That's because Chapin and his team discovered certain types of smoke may not reach your detector if it's located near the ceiling. All of this could lead to better, more accurate smoke detectors, as well as more flame-retardant materials in home furnishings.

CHAPIN: Once the data is put into the hands of scientists and engineers, new technology will come out that will save lives.


HUNTER: Well, you can see they're lighting this polyester pillow on fire. And if you notice, this coffee pot didn't hardly put any smoke out at all. And this pillow put smoke out right from the beginning, and it's because of the different types of textures in the -- in the materials.

The one thing they do have in common, of course, they're synthetic. And what they did with this smoke study, as I said in the report, they basically -- this smoke has a completely different signature than this smoke. And this will some day produce probably better smoke detectors.

Most smoke detectors are very good right now, but they plateau, according to Tom Chapin, their expert here at Underwriters Laboratories, that they haven't really gotten any better. Even though they're very good right now, likely this information will likely make them much better in the future. And the other thing that will happen right away is that this smoke study, when it comes to movement and to how smoke, you know, gathers in rooms and how it ages, that will probably help firefighters soonest in this study.

Back to you guys in the studio.

CHETRY: Wow, really fascinating. Sorry you had to sacrifice that nice pillow though to tell us about it, but a very, very interesting study.

Thanks a lot, Greg.

Coming up, if you're thinking about having wine at lunch or maybe drinks after work, there is a new warning, specifically for women, about just how damaging alcohol can be to your brain long term.

Also, families (INAUDIBLE) contaminated spinach or peanut butter are making new demands from Congress today. We're going to hear from them ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: Five minutes now to the top of the hour, and Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business".

And we're talking oil. Its earnings reports.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, its earnings reports. And this is the time of -- well, four times a year when we get to realize how much money is in oil.

This is the part where you start to say, I complain about the gas prices all the time. Maybe I should invest.

We've got earnings reports coming out with BP started today. It is reporting income of $4.66 billion. That is down 17 percent from the same time a year ago. Still, pretty big numbers.

There's some specific problems at BP. One of them is increased safety spending, because, you know, they had this blast at Texas City, the refinery. Killed 15 people, injured many, many more. It also had those oil leaks in Alaska last year. So, it's got specific problems, but there are industry-wide problems, and we're going to see that later this week.

We're going to see ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips later this week, also Chevron. The industry problems are that there's a lot of oil. We use more oil than we've ever used before. So there are only so many rigs and drilling platforms out there, and they are renting out at higher rates.

So, it's more expensive to get platforms, more expensive to get rigs, and way more expensive to get oil workers, those rough necks and roustabouts. Honestly, people are looking for a new career worldwide.

Being an oil worker is very, very lucrative. And because it's, like, two weeks on, or 10 days on and then 10 days off, you can't spend your money, anyway.

CHETRY: Yes, right, because you're always working.

VELSHI: You're always working.

CHETRY: One way or another.

Ali, thanks so much.



ROBERTS: The funding fight over Iraq looks like it's heading for a head-on collision. One of the most vocal advocates for a pullout from Iraq is Democratic Representative John Murtha. He's going to be joing us, coming up live in the next hour.

Also, the fight for food safety comes to Capitol Hill. Bad spinach and dangerous peanut butter on the menu today.

And a 4-year-old kid versus a college football player. No question who won that. Ouch.

An accident on the field that you have to see to believe, coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.



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