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AMERICAN MORNING

Obama to Unveil New Strategy in Afghanistan; U.S. Warship at the Ready on Missile Showdown With North Korea; Obama Pushes Agenda on Online Forum; Obama Pushes Agenda in Online Forum; Pakistan Mosque Bombed; New Orders in Afghanistan; Fargo Levee Breached; Drugs Coming Through the Border; When African Aid Does Harm

Aired March 27, 2009 - 06:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks very much for being with us on this Friday, it's the 27th -- it's the 27th of March. This is the last weekend in March. April is just about upon us here.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. We have March Madness, right? We're getting down to the Elite Eight.

ROBERTS: We are. Where's the year going? It's going so quickly here.

CHETRY: I know. It is. Hopefully it will be better than last year. Fingers crossed, for the Dow.

ROBERTS: Oh, yes, yes, in terms of the economy.

CHETRY: Yes. Absolutely. We have a lot to cover this morning. Here are the big stories we're going to be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes.

We have new details right now actually on President Obama's order to beef up U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. We're going to be taking you live to the White House for more details on that.

Also right now, the danger is rising along the Red River in North Dakota. This morning the river is more than 20 feet above flood stage. People in Fargo trying desperately to head off disaster. We're live along the flood lines.

And as we speak, U.S. warships are steaming toward the Sea of Japan. This move comes as North Korea prepares to launch a missile that could reach the United States. The latest developments straight from the Pentagon just ahead.

ROBERTS: But first in just a few hours time, President Obama will take on what may be one of his toughest foreign policy challenges, Afghanistan. And CNN's White House team is learning new details of the war strategy. It includes devoting several thousand U.S. troops to train and advise the Afghan army.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live at the White House for us this morning.

Suzanne, you got a late night briefing on this. What can you tell us about the plan?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there were three senior administration officials who gave that briefing. And according to one of them, this is his words. He paints an ominous picture regarding al Qaeda and Taliban. He said that by every indication the Taliban are now stronger than they were several years ago, and that is why we're going to hear President Obama later this morning outlining a different strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Senior administration officials say President Obama will warn Americans that al Qaeda is now plotting and planning to do the worst against the U.S. It is the central challenge now facing the country. But the leadership of al Qaeda has now moved from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to a safe haven in neighboring Pakistan at an unknown location.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot allow al Qaeda to operate. We cannot have those safe havens in that region.

MALVEAUX: That's why President Obama is announcing a new strategy, a war against al Qaeda and its allies, now focused on two countries, Afghanistan and now Pakistan. The goal, according to one senior administration official, to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and destroy the safe haven that has developed in Pakistan and prevent it from rebuilding in Afghanistan. Also to perverse the Taliban's momentum by working with Afghans who want another way of life.

President Obama is ordering 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, along with 4,000 military personnel to train the Afghan army and police. The goal, by 2011, Afghanistan's own security will nearly double in size to 135,000 serving in the army and 80,000 acting as police. The president will also call on Congress to pass a bipartisan bill to triple U.S. aid to Pakistan.

As for an exit strategy for U.S. troops, there is no timetable. As one senior administration official put it, this is a strategy, not a straight jacket. Getting out will depend on the progress made on the ground, from periodic assessments and consultation with commanders.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And senior administration officials say that President Obama did reach out to the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan to brief them about this new strategy, about this plan. Now those officials did not give us the details in terms of how they reacted to it but they would only say in their words that Mr. Obama was gratified by their reception -- John.

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux for us at the White House this morning. Suzanne, thanks so much.

And again, President Obama will unveil his new war strategy for Afghanistan. That will be this morning at 9:25 Eastern. You can see it live right here on CNN or online at CNN.com/live.

CHETRY: Well, another big story that's developing this morning, severe and dangerous weather from the plains to the Deep South. In Fargo, North Dakota, it's a race against time along the Red River. In fact, we're learning that Fargo police ordering dozens of homes evacuated because of a breach in flood protection. Forecasters now expecting the river to crest at 43 feet sometime tomorrow. That's more than two feet higher than originally predicted.

Sandbagging has been going on all week, and there's again been a breach at least one floodwall in the city now triggering mandatory evacuations.

Severe storms, heavy rain also moving across the south where a tornado ripped through the small town of Magee, Mississippi, packing 150 mile-an-hour winds and spreading debris across a 50-mile area. The storm flattened homes and 20 people at least were hurt.

And then there's Colorado, where they're dealing with 15 inches of snow on the ground in Denver. A major spring storm causing Colorado's governor to declare a state of emergency. And there are blizzard warnings for parts of Texas and Kansas as well.

Back to North Dakota now, CNN iReporters have been sending us some dramatic images of the rising Red River and what people are doing to protect their homes and their neighbor's homes. These pictures coming to us from Kevin Johnston in Fargo. Also, iReporter Jennifer Sondag is checking in from Fargo as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER SONDAG, IREPORTER: This evening I have been working on packing up stuff from the basement to get it out of the way. I was talking to my parents earlier and asking them do you think that will really get water in the basement? And then they said yes, the whole basement could be flooded with water if the dikes break.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Jennifer says the number of people that have been volunteering in Fargo has been just unbelievable. Susan Roesgen live in North Dakota for us this morning and we saw it firsthand with your reports yesterday of the sandbagging that was going on at the Fargodome. People were doing all they could to try to help save their home but also their neighbor's.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Kiran, and there's more going on right now, overnight. No rest for the weary at all here in Fargo.

I'm at a different place where they're packing these sandbags. Again, they've got a couple of machines, they call them spiders. And I'm going to show you them later in the hour, how they're trying to crank out even more sandbags. They're bringing sand in and also they're finding the day with a couple of problems here and one is that a lot of the sand has rocks, giant rocks. And they've got National Guard guys inside beating on the sand, beating on the rocks to try to pulverize it to get more sand in the sandbags. And also, they bought in a couple of trucks of sandbags that they had returned here, Kiran, because they were frozen. They could not even pry the sand bags apart.

You see the steam coming out when I talk to you. It's about 11 degrees here without the wind chill, so they had to bring back two giant truckloads of these sandbags. They say what are they going to do with them. They couldn't even heat them up inside this warehouse where they're doing some of those sandbag filling. So they're going to take them to the bus station, the local bus station and try to warm them up there, where they keep the buses from freezing from inside the buses engines.

So, people here are still going at it. The latest word from the mayor is yes, OK, now we know that this river is going to be 44. Start at 35, then to 39, then 41. OK, 43, 44, he says whatever. His word today and this is his quote "We are going to go down swinging. If we go down, we'll go down swinging." So they're still going at it. We'll take you inside and show you this incredible operation a little bit later.

CHETRY: All right. Susan, we look forward to it. Thanks so much.

ROBERTS: There's also some tremendous snow blanketing the western United States. The word blizzard is being used this morning.

Our Rob Marciano tracking the extreme weather for us from Atlanta in the weather center this morning.

And, Rob, obviously this is going to cause some problems for travelers there, anybody who's flying through Denver today and other parts in the west.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, no doubt about that. Obviously, a very late-season storm coming through the Denver area. And already on the radar scope, a lot of bright white that means moderate to heavy snowfall. This doesn't include the wind which will blowing that snow sideways at times reducing visibilities. And you can see getting around this part of the world is going to be quite treacherous today as it was yesterday.

So Denver, the snow is about to wind down but the damage done there anywhere from 10 to 15 inches of snow in Denver proper. Higher amounts on the front range with some tallies coming in at over 20 and 25 inches. So quite a doozy here.

Now, let's heading into the Plains, and we'll see similar scenes to what you're looking at right now throughout the day today. Across the Texas panhandle, a blizzard warning in effect for that area including Wichita, Kansas, and we're almost into April 1st. Can you believe that?

All right. Let's talk severe weather. We had a number of storms roll through and damage the southeast yesterday including that one in Magee, Mississippi. We had a storm that rolled through just to the northwest of New Orleans overnight. We're waiting to get reports on that particular storm.

And just issued by the Storm Prediction Center out of Norman, a new tornado watch that's in effect that includes southeast Alabama and parts of the Florida panhandle until 10:00 local time. This was an area that yesterday saw severe storms with damaging winds, so no rest for the weary here and on top of that some flooding potential with this heavy rain heading across the southeast. So three spots across the country, John, that are getting hit pretty hard by Mother Nature this morning.

Back to you.

ROBERTS: Wow. As you said, we got to check the calendar, make sure it's still spring.

Rob, thanks so much.

MARCIANO: All right.

ROBERTS: Also new this morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton back in the United States this morning after a two-day visit to Mexico. Secretary Clinton says drug violence in Mexico and the U.S. border area has reached an intolerable level that demands both countries join forces to fight back. And she weighed in on the controversial border wall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: There have been lots of very legitimate concerns raised about the border wall and, you know, in some parts of our border, which are so desolate and isolated, it might very well make sense but in many places that it was routed by the Bush administration we don't think it does. And so we're taking, you know, a hard look at that and trying to figure out what works and what doesn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: "The Washington Post" reporting this morning that Marion Barry owes more than $227,000 in back taxes. Federal authorities say the former Washington mayor and current D.C. city council member has failed to make schedule tax payments for the past six months. The 73-year-old Barry is currently on three years' probation for tax violations. Barry has said that health issues prevented him from filing his returns.

And pot takes center stage at President Obama's virtual town hall. We'll tell you how the president addressed the question of whether legalizing marijuana might actually help stimulate the economy.

It's nine and a half minutes now after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: Twelve and a half minutes after the hour. Let's fast forward now to the stories that we'll be making news later on today.

At 10:00 a.m. Eastern, rap star T.I. will head to an Atlanta courthouse to face sentencing for charges that he tempted to buy illegal firearms in 2007. The rapper has previously worked out a plea deal that will significantly cut down his jail time. Just goes to show you can't have whatever you want.

At 9:25 a.m., President Obama unveils his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. The plan calls for up to 4,000 more troops on the ground and up to $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid to Pakistan. That's nearly triple the amount that the country receives now. The goal, defeat al Qaeda and destroy the safe havens that have developed in Pakistan.

And preparations begin today for the shuttle Discovery's return home. The shuttle is scheduled to make it back to earth at 1:39 p.m. tomorrow. The astronauts successfully installed all six solar panel wings, which you can see in the picture there.

And if you're away from your television, you can check out extensive coverage of the shuttle and all the day's events on CNN.com. And that, Kiran, is what we're following this morning.

CHETRY: All right. And also this morning, U.S. Navy destroyers are steaming into the Sea of Japan. The move comes ahead of North Korea's expected missile launch in the coming weeks. Japan also deploying interceptors to protect against any possible debris.

Pyongyang is claiming that they're launching a satellite into space, but the U.S. and other western governments are convinced that they're actually testing a ballistic missile that would be capable of reaching Alaska. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr takes a look at how this showdown might play out.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, North Korea says it's got every right to launch a satellite into space.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): This is the latest satellite image of what the U.S. says is a long-range missile on a launch pad in North Korea. The White House worried enough to keep U.S. warships at the ready.

Pyongyang says it will launch a commercial satellite on top of this ballistic missile sometime between April 4th and April 8th. When North Korea launches, the Obama administration may have as little as five minutes to decide whether to shoot it down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know we're ready to defend our territory and our allies.

STARR: The missile's anticipated route would take it over Japan in seven to eight minutes. If deemed threatening, it could potentially be shot down by U.S. Navy warships in the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, or if the missile keeps traveling by ground-based missiles, shot from Alaska or California.

The Navy has already canceled a port call for the USS Hopper. It will remain off the Korean peninsula. The Navy says it has other ships positioned in the area equipped with the latest technology for shooting down ballistic missiles.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We believe that such a launch would be provocative and that such a launch would be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

STARR: But if it's a commercial satellite, is it a threat? U.S. officials say the satellite is a cover for Pyongyang's efforts to perfect missile technology. If the launch is successful, North Korea will have gained valuable experience in missiles that could someday reach the U.S.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: The U.S. does not have a policy of shooting down commercial satellites, and North Korea knows it. Pyongyang may be backing President Obama into a tight corner -- John, Kiran.

CHETRY: Barbara Starr for us. We're going to have much more on that throughout the show today.

Meanwhile, it's a White House first. President Obama going online to answer questions that were submitted online. Questions were supposed to be a surprise, so where they? Well, we're live at the White House at 16 minutes after the hour.

ROBERTS: Desert shield. Gary Tuchman on the border in Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And now I'm in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: The never ending war to keep drugs and smugglers on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Bale after bale of marijuana -- 40 bales, 908 pounds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: You're watching the Most News in the Morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's moving day for Christine Prince and her children, away from the misery of a temporary shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We killed more than 300 mice in that apartment.

CHRISTINE PRINCE, RESIDENT, INTERVALE GREEN: We were living literally in fear.

WHITFIELD: A new address and a fresh start for this family.

PRINCE: I know it's a dream come true.

WHITFIELD: They are among the first residents of Intervale Green, an innovative low-income housing project developed by WHEDCo, the Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation in the Bronx.

PRINCE: It's like I won the lottery. I was so overjoyed because I know my children will finally have a place to go home.

WHITFIELD: This home will have residents seeing and saving green. Features like compact fluorescent light, efficient appliances, and low flow plumbing are designed to conserve both energy and cash, saving residents nearly a third on monthly utility bills.

NANCY BIBERMAN, FOUNDER, WHEDCO: It's the largest, affordable green building in the country.

WHITFIELD: From the donated tile in the lobby to the rooftop garden, this 128-unit apartment building is green from the ground up.

BIBERMAN: This is green that they can see and feel and touch and live.

WHITFIELD: But for this grateful family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need cupcakes.

WHITFIELD: It's home sweet home.

Fredricka Whitfield, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Perhaps a ray of hope about the nation's struggling economy.

According to a new Gallup poll, optimism about the future is ticking up. Twenty-nine percent of Americans say they think the economy is getting better and while that may not sound that high, it's actually up 12 percent from a little more than two weeks ago.

Some stunning remarks coming from the president of Brazil this morning on the cause behind the world's economic crisis. Brazil's leader, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, isn't blaming any particular country. Instead, he's pointing a finger at people of a particular skin color.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA, BRAZIL (through translator): This crisis was not created by blacks nor Indians nor poor people. It was a crisis that was created and spread throughout the world due to the irresponsible behavior of white people, blue-eyed people that thought they knew everything but are now showing they knew nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Brazil's president made those comments standing next to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown during a joint news conference -- John.

ROBERTS: Well, time now to answer your money questions. Every day we're asking our CNN money team to listen to what you're saying on our 1-877-my-amfix hotline and offer their advice.

Christine Romans and personal finance editor Gerri Willis are standing by to help you out. Before we get to our first question, let's get a little reaction to what Lula da Silva said there. Sounds like something for domestic consumption.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And keep in mind there can be -- that kind of rhetoric from Latin America that maybe would be shocking to us but this is something you hear from time to time from politicians and folks who are, you know, trying to stir up their own audience for sure.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: I can't imagine it goes down well across the country here, though.

ROBERTS: No, no, absolutely not. But, you know, he is playing to his home audience there. But...

ROMANS: But he's no Hugo Chavez, let's be clear. He hasn't called the president the devil.

ROBERTS: He certainly isn't, but Gordon Brown quite taken aback by those comments.

ROMANS: I don't know what color eyes Gordon Brown has but actually, it's interesting. I wonder if he has...

ROBERTS: I would expect that they're probably brown, but we can double-check that.

All right. Let's get to our first question here about 401(k)s this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: I have a question about 401(k)s. These poor people -- I do not have a 401(k) of my own but I know plenty of people that do and they've lost $40,000, $50,000, $60,000 due to the economy, due to the fault of Wall Street. I want to know why do they have to be penalized to take the balance of their money out and to invest it elsewhere?

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Let's hope that if Dawn doesn't have a 401(k) she's got some sort of retirement investment somewhere else.

WILLIS: Right. Well...

ROBERTS: What about that, you know, being penalized because if you do take money out of your 401(k), which many people say you shouldn't, you do have to pay tax on it?

WILLIS: You pay taxes. You pay a 10 percent penalty. All this added together is about 40 percent of the value of your 401(k), but it's not nothing, obviously. But here's the deal.

When you get involved with a 401(k), Uncle Sam is helping you out here. You're saving your money pre-tax. Part of that money actually belongs to the government, part of it belongs to your employer. They're contributing, too. So the rules of the game here are it's not all your money so you have to give a bunch of it back. You're much better off rolling it over obviously to an IRA, possibly a Roth IRA. That's the best deal out there, but I feel your pain about whose fault is it that my stocks, my retirement dollars have shrunk 40 percent, 30 percent, you name it.

ROMANS: You can hear the anger in her voice, too. I mean, we get a lot of calls and a lot of e-mails from people who say I just want to get out. I'm too afraid of all this. I want to get out of my 401(k). We keep saying wait a second. Then you're adding insult to injury.

You know, now you are completely bailing out, taking all these penalties so you really have to be careful about your own -- your own tax situation. People are very angry about it.

WILLIS: And you can always simply just change the way you're investing.

ROMANS: Right.

WILLIS: You put your new money into safer investments.

ROBERTS: That will rebalance your 401(k).

ROMANS: And there are safer investments. People keep saying only in my 401(k) I only have stocks. You answered a question about this yesterday. You can find a stable value fund or something that is...

WILLIS: A money market fund.

ROMANS: That's absolutely right, within the 401(k).

ROBERTS: Or you can put it into a bond fund and some of those are actually making money.

WILLIS: Right.

ROMANS: Right.

ROBERTS: And, you know, the Dow is starting to show signs of life here, too.

WILLIS: That's right. Now is the time.

ROBERTS: We got to run. Save that thought.

We want to hear your questions and all the big stories. Call our hotline 1-877-my-amfix. You can also follow us on Twitter. Just go to AMFix, and we'll continue to get your answers this morning -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. President Obama doing something never done before, holding a town hall meeting on the Internet fielding questions from across the country, but was it as transparent as the administration claims? We're live at the White House with more.

And terror suspects being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba may be freed on U.S. soil. What President Obama's intelligence chief is saying about inmates at Gitmo.

It's 26 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Twenty-eight and a half minutes after the hour and here are the top stories that we're following for you this Friday morning.

Mandatory evacuations ordered in Fargo, North Dakota, after a breach of the flood wall in one neighborhood. Right now, the Red River rising to record levels, an army of volunteers sandbagging around the clock. The Red River expected to crest at 43 feet tomorrow. That's two feet higher than originally forecast.

Gasoline prices continue their slow but steady rise now topping $2 a gallon. AAA reports the new national average for unleaded regular is $2.03 a gallon. That's about two cents higher than yesterday. Still more than $1.20 low though than it was this time last year.

National intelligence director Dennis Blair says some inmates held at Guantanamo Bay may be released in the United States and given financial assistance to return to society. In his first press conference, Blair said, "You can't just put them out on the street." President Obama promised to close Gitmo and ordered individual reviews for cases against each of the over 240 remaining prisoners.

CHETRY: Right now, the White House and White House officials are making great efforts to have President Obama bypass what they called the traditional media and speak directly to the American people.

Well, yesterday's virtual town hall where the president answered your online questions was just the latest example. So how did it go? Well, here's CNN's Jim Acosta. JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, the president made history but he also made some news saying he is days away from revealing his plans for the struggling auto industry. This White House chat session shows how Washington has come a long way since former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens referred to the Internet as a series of tubes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Barack Obama.

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Obama got digital, fielding a small sample of the tens of thousands of questions sent to the White House Web site. The submissions range from why can't the U.S. have European-style universal health care?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think the best way to fix our health care system is to suddenly completely scrap what everybody is accustomed to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what proposals do you have?

ACOSTA: To video messages on student loans, all of it watched by a small audience inside the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Mr. President.

ACOSTA: Where one woman got the president to make some news about what's in store for the struggling car companies. The automakers make drastic cuts, Mr. Obama said.

OBAMA: We will provide them some help.

JAMES KOTECKI, ONLINE POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But mostly the president was able to kind of just go back to his talking points.

Congressman Ron Paul, thank you so much for joining me.

ACOSTA: But James Kotecki, a young online political commentator, complains most of the questions were too general.

Sort of predictable?

KOTECKI: It was a little bit predictable and it's kind of a shame because you want to think new media spontaneity. I would say the best and most spontaneous moment of the town hall was when he addressed the marijuana issue.

ACOSTA: As in, would legalizing marijuana help the economy?

OBAMA: I don't know what this says about the online audience.

(LAUGHTER)

The answer is no. I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy. KOTECKI: That was probably the most interesting moment of the day.

ACOSTA: And unlike the CNN/YouTube debate during the campaign, in which CNN and YouTube selected the questions asked --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next we have a video question.

ACOSTA: The White House was in control this time with Mr. Obama taking several minutes to answer each submission. So one reporter used the White House daily press briefing to raise questions that did make the cut.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will we ever see any CEOs go to jail?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But I think there are executives -- they were a part of accounting scandals that are currently serving time in jail.

ACOSTA: But it was message accomplished for a president seeking young voters swimming in an ocean of new media outlets, a world where the new administration already has been turned into a cartoon.

CARTOON CHARACTER PLAYING PRESIDENT OBAMA: Our financial system is a phony baloney carnival run by blood-sucking clowns. Is that correct?

FEMALE CARTOON CHARACTER: Yes, I think that's it.

FEMALE CARTOON CHARACTER: Very much.

ACOSTA (on camera): The White House says the president will do more virtual town halls and why not when you consider the response. In the end, more than 90,000 people submitted questions, just part of an audience that rivals some of the largest crowds from the campaign.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY: Jim, thanks so much.

And we're going to go to the White House now for more on the president's virtual town hall. It's where CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live.

And, Suzanne, it was a controlled environment, though. So is that transparency really?

MALVEAUX: Well, one of the interesting things that Jim brought up was that whole marijuana question. That was one of the most popular questions, at least in the health care reform section, and so the White House really kind of -- was trying to figure out how to deal with that. They knew it was creating some buzz. We were talking about it yesterday morning. And so the White House had promised they were not going to give the president a heads up on the questions, but what ended up happening was that a White House aide pulled the president aside on his way to the East Room and told him about this question, the marijuana question that was creating so much heat.

That allowed him to tell this joke and not really have to deal with that issue, with that question, and so in a way, Kiran, the White House bended its own rules. And so on the one hand, you talk about transparency, accountability, but there was still the White House very much invested in controlling the message.

CHETRY: In the end, though, he sort of dodged the question as well. I mean, he touched on it but he didn't give a lengthy answer.

MALVEAUX: No. I mean, it was kind of, he made a joke of it, but he did say he didn't think it was good for the economy. It was interesting, if you go to all those questions in the categories, there were some serious issues about it. There were people who had ailments and they were asking about it in a very serious way, and then it did come up in the briefing. Because as we know, it's been a big topic, the whole drug war in Mexico, the secretary of state down there in Mexico. So, clearly, a lot of people are thinking about it in a very serious way.

CHETRY: Yes. Actually, we have been talking about that issue much more than we have in recent years, for sure, because of the growing drug violence in Mexico.

Suzanne Malveaux for us this morning. Thanks so much.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Kiran.

ROBERTS: Thirty-four and a half minutes after the hour now. And just in to CNN -- new pictures. This comes from the town of Jamrud in Pakistan. It's about 10 miles west of Peshawar, up there in the northwestern part of the country. This is on the town on the way to the Khyber Pass.

Apparently, a suicide bomber walked into a mosque, a graphic of the mosque there, exploded, detonated the device that he had on him, collapsed the mosque. According to officials there, at least 48 people have died and they are still digging around in the rubble looking for more victims. Again, this is in the town of Jamrud. It's on the way to the Khyber Pass from Peshawar on the northwestern of Pakistan.

We'll keep working the story. We've got sources on the ground there in Pakistan, and they'll bring us the latest information. We'll get it to you just as soon as we get it. 48 people dead in that mosque bombing. Apparently, the building completely collapsed in the explosion.

Thirty-five minutes now after the hour. You're watching the Most News in the Morning.

Desert shield. Gary Tuchman on the border in Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And now, I'm in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: The never-ending war to keep drugs and smugglers on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Bale after bale of marijuana. Forty bales, 908 pounds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: You're watching the Most News in the Morning.

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ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. In just a few hours, President Obama unveils his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. He is expected to call for an additional 4,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan security forces. That's on top of the 17,000 extra combat and support troops that he has already ordered through the war zone.

Joining us now from Washington to talk more about this is Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl. He is the president of the Center for New American Security. He also helped rewrite the U.S. counterinsurgency manual and he'll be attending the president's announcement and be briefed on the details of the plan a little bit later on this morning.

Lieutenant Colonel, thanks for being with us this morning. Maybe you can give us your assessment of the situation on the ground currently in Afghanistan, the level of violence in the area, particularly in light of this mosque bombing that we saw in Jamrud in Pakistan, just west of Peshawar on the way to the Khyber Pass, which is the route to Afghanistan through Pakistan.

LT. COL. JOHN NAGL (RET.), PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Well, John, the situation on the ground clearly isn't good. And this bombing this morning just underscores how critical it is that we make some changes to American strategy, put more resources into this effort so that we can stabilize both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The threat to American vital interests is real. The danger is imminent and so it's very, very important, I think, that the administration is putting more resources into this fight at this time.

ROBERTS: The president is sending 17,000 more combat troops to the region, mostly they'll be in the southwest in and around the Helman Province. Also sending another 4,000 trainers in there to try to beef up the Afghan Army and triple aid to both Afghanistan and Pakistan with the caveat, though, that there will be benchmarks for performance that they have to meet to get that money. As we said, you help write the counterinsurgency manual along with General David Petraeus, what's your -- what's your opinion of this plan? Is this what Afghanistan needs?

NAGL: This is exactly the right plan. So, what we have to do in any counterinsurgency campaign is clear, hold and build. We've had enough forces to clear the Taliban out of areas in Afghanistan. There haven't been enough Afghan forces to hold the area we've cleared. So we've had to send forces back to clear over and over and over again. The troops call it "mowing the lawn."

What we need to do is put more American troops on the ground now to improve security for the elections, the presidential elections coming up this summer. Build a bigger Afghan army that over time can secure Afghanistan on its own, and we have to build a more secure Afghanistan with a government that has the support of the Afghan people.

ROBERTS: General David McKiernan had said that he wanted an additional 30,000 combat troops. He's only getting a little more than half of that, and these trainers as well. So, you know, was he overshooting, do you think, with 30,000, or is he not getting what he really wanted?

NAGL: Well, there's an important balance that has to be struck here between the continuing efforts in Iraq, which have been going much better of late. There are some indications that we're going to be able to draw troops down faster in Iraq to send more resources over to Afghanistan. But General Petraeus, as General McKiernan's boss, is balancing the demands of those two ongoing counter-insurgency campaigns.

It looks to me as if we're going to be able to pull more resources out of Iraq sooner than we had planned, and we're going to be able to give General McKiernan more of what he needs. But this additional investment, in particular, these 4,000 trainers to the Afghan army are going to pay, I think, huge dividends. There's a great multiplier effect in more capable Afghan forces, who can fight this war and win this war increasingly on their own.

ROBERTS: And to the other point of the strategy, increasing the aid, but yet setting benchmarks, the president would seem to be saying to the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, we'll give you aid if you do the hard work to work together to transform your societies. Is it realistic, though, that they can transform their societies?

NAGL: They can make progress. And, unfortunately, we've given them a bit of a blank check to date. We've provided them with an awful lot of resources without putting conditions on the continuation of that assistance. So I think this is very good carrot and sticks diplomacy. We'll help you as long as you take the actions that increasingly Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States all agree have to be taken to build governments in both countries that meet the needs and have the support of the people so that we can stop attacks like the one we saw in Pakistan this morning. ROBERTS: Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, the president of the Center for New Americans Security. Thanks for your analysis this morning. It's good to hear from you.

NAGL: Good to be with you, John.

ROBERTS: Appreciate it.

CHETRY: Well, the border drug war. We're going to take you to the frontlines to see what the fight looks like through the eyes of U.S. border patrol officers who are working to keep the flow of drugs in Mexico from coming north.

Also a levee breach forcing an entire neighborhood in Fargo, North Dakota to evacuate. And the water is still rising. They are still working to try to make sure all of those levees and dikes are secure before the river crests. It's expected to happen on Saturday. We're going to take you live for a check on the progress. 42 minutes after the hour.

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ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Another casualty of the drug war that is raging along the U.S.-Mexico border. The body of fugitive U.S. Marshal Vincent Bustamante was found in Juarez, Mexico. Law enforcement official say he had been shot execution style. Bustamante was facing federal charges, accused of stealing weapons and other government property.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just back from a two-day trip to Mexico says the drug trafficking and violence is, quote, "intolerable." Secretary Clinton toured a state-of-the-art police facility in Mexico yesterday. She says the U.S. plans to increase its efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border. Here's what callers to our AMFix hotline are saying about that.

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QUESTION: This is R.N. from Illinois. I would just like to know why, after Mexico has spent so many years refusing to help us with the illegal immigration problem, and now we are expected to go down and spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to help them.

QUESTION: Mexico is not my problem. You don't need to take our weapons away, if the government would do their job, then they wouldn't have a problem enforcing the border. It's not our problem what goes on in Mexico.

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CHETRY: All right. So some of our calls to the hotline with a very different take compared to what the administration thinks we should be doing right now. CNN's Gary Tuchman takes us to the front lines of the drug war in the Arizona desert to see this daily battle that goes on between the agents and the drug traffickers. TUCHMAN: John and Kiran, there are four states that border Mexico. The one that seizes the most illegal drugs is Arizona. That's why we thought it would be very illuminating to spend the night with the Border Patrol in the border city of Nogales, Arizona.

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TUCHMAN (voice-over): Handcuffed to a bench in the U.S. border patrol station in Nogales, Arizona, this Mexican man is under arrest. He was driving a huge semitruck through a checkpoint 30 miles north of the border.

(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

I ask him what was in the vehicle. He says tomatoes. And he's right. His truck impounded by the Border Patrol is full of tomatoes, but this dog smells more than produce. He smells dope. And lots of it. Bale after bale of marijuana, 40 bales, 908 pounds. At 800 bucks a pound, a street value of over $720,000. It's believed this man is doing transport work for a Mexican drug cartel, just another night for Border Patrol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, there's not much of a surprise to us anymore.

TUCHMAN: About 2.8 million pounds of narcotics were seized on the border in 2008, almost half of that just in this part of Arizona. We follow Sarah, the drug-sniffing dog, through hilly brush near the border wall. Two men were seen jumping over the wall with backpacks. The men are gone now, but Sarah is on to something. She's trained to sit if she finds the target. She sits and then jumps.

(on camera): You wouldn't know it as a human being, but she smelled it. It looks like Christmas tree or bushes, you turn it around, and inside there is the marijuana.

(voice-over): Agent Ray Rivera has been with Sarah for two years.

(on camera): How many pounds of marijuana has she found with you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Almost 7,000 -- 6,800.

TUCHMAN: So, it didn't surprise you when she found this just now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No. She's got a green nose. She's a great dog.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Agents also have great technology. This is an X-ray truck. It drives up to vehicles taking images that can reveal hidden trucks. Cameras and sensors watch along the border fence. Agents monitoring the video in a control room.

(on camera): Right now, I'm standing in Mexico behind the border fence. I don't want to say exactly where I am because of the loophole you're about to see. Let's say this gigantic rock is a bundle of marijuana. Well, at this point, the border fence, all I need to do is take it, walk around the fence where it's discontinued, and now I'm in the United States.

(voice-over): But just minutes later, four Border Patrol agents showed up, one pointing his rifle at my crew and me, concerned we were criminals. We were spotted on one of those video cameras. They let us go after we explained who we were, but it was a tense few moments.

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TUCHMAN: Illegal immigrants are often just sent back to Mexico, but illegal immigrants with illegal drugs are not. That man with the tomato truck could spend a couple of years in prison -- John and Kiran.

CHETRY: Gary Tuchman, thanks. And you can catch Anderson Cooper at the U.S.-Mexico border live tonight. It's an "AC360" special, "THE WAR NEXT DOOR," 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

ROBERTS: Over the past 60 years, more than $1 trillion in aid have gone to Africa. But is it money down the drain? Meet the woman who says yes, and now wants the world to stop giving.

Plus, a levee breach forces an entire neighborhood in Fargo, North Dakota, to evacuate, and the water is still rising. We'll take you there live for the latest. It's coming up on 51 minutes now after the hour.

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CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. For decades now, much of Africa has relied on checks -- big checks from foreign governments and pledge drives from rock stars, and it has paid off. More than $1 trillion in aid has been funneled to Africa over the past 60 years. But one woman dubbed the anti-Bono is making the case of the help is doing more harm than good. Here's CNN's Lola Ogunnaike.

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LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Aid in Africa. The two have gone hand-in-hand for decades. But this economist wants to change that.

DAMBISA MOYO, AUTHOR, "DEAD AID": There is no logical or evidence-based reason to provide aid. There's not a single country on earth today that has achieved economic development in the manner of in which Africa depends on it today.

OGUNNAIKE: In her controversial new book "Dead Aid" Dambisa Moyo, a Harvard-educated economist from Zambia, argues that aid for the most part has hurt Africa and not helped it.

MOYO: Governments in Africa tend to be much more accountable and much more focused on courting western donors than they are being accountable to their people.

OGUNNAIKE: She makes exceptions for the type of humanitarian relief that follows the tragedy like the tsunami and charitable giving from health organizations. But that's where she draws the line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this boy hungry?

OGUNNAIKE: And don't get her started on celebrities. She's already been dubbed the anti-Bono.

(on camera): Celebrities obviously have a platform. Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Bono, what's wrong with that? What's wrong with them shining a light on what's going on in Africa?

MOYO: If they were on the global stage showing a positive perspective that Africa has, an African woman president, or we actually have seen significant growth rate, I wouldn't be so negative about it.

OGUNNAIKE (voice-over): Naturally, some in the aid world are outraged. John McArthur is head of the Millennium Promise. He says his organization has raised more than $100 million for the continent, and worries that "Dead Aid" has the potential to do more harm than good.

JOHN MCARTHUR, CEO, "MILLENNIUM PROMISE": It would be like looking at all the problematic contracts at the Pentagon, and then saying, therefore, we should disband the military. It's a false logic.

OGUNNAIKE: He is also quick to point out how aid has done wonders for Africa.

MCARTHUR: Ninety percent reduction of death to measles. I would cite two million people on AIDS treatment. Basically, none of whom were on AIDS treatment at the turn of the decade. I would say tens of millions of anti-malaria bed nets distributed with 50 percent reductions in child morbidity in those cases.

OGUNNAIKE: So what's Moyo's solution? She says trade and not aid is one answer. And she's also big on microfinance, where individuals lend to other individuals on Web sites like Kiva.org.

MOYO: You can lend a minimum of $25 to anybody, and the operative word here is lend. It creates incentives, positive incentives. The good news is that we have alternatives.

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CHETRY: Fascinating point of view, and controversial.

OGUNNAIKE: Yes. It's really controversial, especially coming from an African woman. People would assume that she'd be the one championing aid. But actually, she's saying no aid. If she had her way, she'd eradicate it within the next five to ten years, which is really aggressive. People in the aid community are saying, wait, wait, wait, wait, you can have both. You can have trade, but you can also have aid.

CHETRY: The book comes out this week.

OGUNNAIKE: It comes out, actually early next week. She's having a book party on Tuesday, but I expect it to be something that people are talking about for a very long time.

CHETRY: Lola Ogunnaike this morning. Thanks.

OGUNNAIKE: Thank you.

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ROBERTS (voice-over): (AUDIO GAP) keeps rising.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pray every day that it doesn't.

ROBERTS: A levee breach has dire predictions get worse for the great flood in the frozen tundra of Fargo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it the wrath of God, you know, or what is it?

ROBERTS: And building homes for heroes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mission statement is one home, one dream.

ROBERTS: An army of volunteers helps a severely wounded soldier start over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People really do care for each other.

ROBERTS: You're watching the Most News in the Morning.

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