Return to Transcripts main page


Digging Deeper into President Obama's New Plan in Afghanistan: Troops, Timeline and Trying to Get Out

Aired December 1, 2009 - 23:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to 360.

We are live in this hour, "Digging Deeper" into President Obama's new plan to fight the war in Afghanistan and he says finish it soon; 30,000 more troops but only a year and a half's time to fight the Taliban, buildup Afghan governance and security forces and then try to get out.

He made his case at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point about an hour north of New York's Ground Zero where the war began of course more than eight years ago. We have extensive coverage in the hour ahead from our reporters who have been there for years, our political analysts on the heat this is already generating, Dick Cheney blasting the president today. Liberal Democrats already opposing any additional troop commitment.

But first: some of the key moments of President Obama tonight, in his own words.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Afghanistan is not lost. But for several years it has moved backwards. There's no imminent threat of the government being overthrown but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not re-emerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan Security Forces and better secure the population.

Our new commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short, the status quo is not sustainable.

Now, let me be clear, there has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010. So there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war during this review period. This review is now complete. And as commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.

I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11. And it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.

This is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards. And al Qaeda can operate with impunity.

These are the three core elements of our strategy -- a military effort to create the conditions for a transition, a civilian surge that reinforces positive action and an effective partnership with Afghanistan.

It's easy to forget that when this war began, we were united, bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack. And by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear.

I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again.


COOPER: President Obama earlier tonight.

The question now of course: did he change any minds and will this new strategy work on the ground and in the region. Let's get some quick initial reaction from our panel most of whom have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan over the last couple of years.

First up: chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. You know he talked about getting more NATO buying and more NATO help. Is there any evidence that they're actually willing to do that?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not immediately but there is this conference coming up in London in January and I've already talked to some French officials. There may be more help from the French in terms of trainers.

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany is not promising anymore but may be extending the mandate of those who are already there.

The British have already put up 500 more. That brings them to more than 10,000. And it's been the bloodiest for the British. They've lost the most.

Public support in Europe is not great. In France it is still onboard but they underscore Rasmussen the head of NATO has said tonight in a statement supporting what President Obama has said, that he believes he'll get some substantial new NATO troops in the New Year.

COOPER: But Nic, I mean, you live in London; it is wildly unpopular as the casualties have increased.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's becoming more unpopular. One of the reasons the British coffins of soldiers when they are brought back, they come off in an aircraft. It's carried live on television. They drive through the British countryside.

They slow down through one particular village, actually stop and people come lining the streets in that village, service veterans, mothers, children, store owners. And they come and they'll put flowers on the top of the hearses. And then they drive off. It's very much in the public conscience right now.

COOPER: Roland Martin, we are going to see -- this is the beginning for this administration in trying to sell this policy.

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The left must be extremely careful in terms of how they respond because like it or not, they cannot afford for any kind of terrorist attack to take place on a Democratic watch. And so they want to say, "Hey, pull all the troops out. Let's not spend the money." But again, their weakness is that they're soft on defense. And so they must be very careful how they approach this. And so they should not be attacking him by saying, "Hey, this makes no sense at all. There should be a measured response." So absolutely not the way some of them are going right now.

COOPER: Peter, do we know -- is this McChrystal's strategy that President Obama is supporting? I mean, McChrystal wanted some 40,000 plus troops. He's getting only 30,000. But do we know, is it the continuation of the counter insurgency?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I think it is. And you know, speaking to White House officials today, they're expecting that NATO and other countries will produce 5,000 or 7,000. So I guess you're very close to the McChrystal number of 40,000.

COOPER: Sanjay Gupta, obviously, you're interests have been focused on medical attention and the kind of casualties that we're going to be seeing. A lot of walking wounded is going to be coming back to the United States.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, what's so interesting about this, is a lot more people are surviving. But they are terribly wounded. And they're starting to be able to assign numbers to predict our casualty rates.

For example, they were saying about 127 wounded for every 10,000 troops. They expect the numbers to go up. As you know as fighting increases as well. And I will say this, but you've got to increase the medical capacity when you anticipate numbers like that.

COOPER: We're going to have a lot more with our panelists throughout this hour. Let us know what you think. You can join the live chat now at Up next, opposition from the left, Congressman Dennis Kucinich joins us. Roland was just talking about opposition, opposition, too, from Dick Cheney. Was it appropriate for the former vice president to blast President Obama today in a new interview? Hear what the vice president -- former vice president had to say.

And later, more on the challenges on the ground, a very hostile ground for any outsiders soon to be home to a 100,000 American troops.



COOPER: It's so strange when you're on patrol, even if the soldiers so many contact with the enemy, even if you don't see any enemy fighters, you know that they were here.

On a lot of the trees you find these -- these cross marks or horizontal slashes. They're reference points, helping enemy fighters figure out where to fire rockets that will hit the forward operating base.


COOPER: That was in 2006 when we were out with the 10th Mountain division on the eastern border, on the Pakistan border inside Afghanistan, very remote locations three years ago on the anniversary of 9/11.

Now those remote locations are being down played in favor of holding and securing towns and cities in Taliban dominated areas. That change, not drawing much criticism, nor is the troop escalation. The new timeline though, already coming under fire as too cut and dry or perhaps cut and run.

Some very "Raw Politics" listen to what former Vice President Cheney who laced (ph) into President Obama during an interview with today. And bear in mind this was before the commander- in-chief even spoke tonight.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's talk about exit strategies, how soon we can get out, instead of talk about how do we win? And those folks watch enough of that will begin to move away from what I would describe as the U.S. position and they'll begin to look for ways to accommodate their enemies.


COOPER: Joining us now, perhaps the anti-Cheney, Cleveland Congressman Dennis Kucinich who voted in favor of the war but now opposes escalating it.

Congressman, thanks for being with us. Are the security of the United States and the safety of the American people at stake in Afghanistan as the president said tonight?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), CLEVELAND: No. And for that reason the United States should get out of Afghanistan. Stop the escalation. Congress needs to do its role and stop funding.

And it's really unfortunate that Vice President Cheney who has a sorry record of leading us into a war based on lies should be given the kind of platform that enables him to slander President Obama at the very time that if we had a just society Mr. Cheney would be in the dock.

COOPER: How can you say though, that security of the United States is not a threat in Afghanistan? The president said tonight just in the last couple months people have been apprehended in the United States who came from the Afghan/Pakistan region.

KUCINICH: Well, that doesn't mean that we don't have a strategy to deal with Pakistan. They have training of their troops to deal with the corruption in their central government, to do something about the drug prevalence that feeds 90 percent of the drug production and opium coming from Afghanistan. Those are all issues that we should deal with. It doesn't mean there's no issue there.

But to try to say that the long-term security of the United States is linked to an escalation in Afghanistan belies the fact that al Qaeda's been routed, that the Taliban is a homegrown insurgency and that the occupation fuels the insurgency. I mean, the more we get in there the deeper we're going to get into it. And it's not going to help our security here at home which has been undermined.

COOPER: So do you not want not one any U.S. combat forces inside Afghanistan?

KUCINICH: That's right. We should have gotten out of there...

COOPER: How do you effect change on the ground? If the Taliban then move up from Helmand Province move up further north as they already are move from the west?

KUCINICH: Well, at some point, we are going to have to deal with the Taliban. You know, it's not as though we can't stay there forever. This start...

COOPER: You mean a political deal with the Taliban.

KUCINICH: You deal with it politically by having -- by having the United States recognize that the Taliban will eventually be displaced by loya jirga process at the town council level. You know before...

COOPER: The Taliban ran the country and they were only displaced not by a loya jirga; they were displaced by the United States forces.

KUCINICH: They were displaced by U.S. forces but the fact of the matter is the people of Afghanistan aren't ready to let the Taliban dominate them. The only reason why they closed ranks behind the Taliban is because the United States is there. It's like we -- we have created strength for the Taliban by our increased presence.

COOPER: But plenty of people oppose the Taliban but they ran the country for years. And there was no sign of them being overthrown by the Afghan people until the foreign forces invaded.

KUCINICH: It's not -- it is not up to the United States to be able to choose the government of any other country. And every time we try to do that, we end up in a mess. That's what happened in Iraq. That's what's happening in Afghanistan. That's what happened in Vietnam. And that's what's going to happen any time that we get into empire building.

We've got to realize that we have limitations in the use of power. And there also is a thing, you want to talk about nation- building, how about building bridges and water systems and sewer systems in the United States? How about putting millions of Americans back to work? How about saving millions of homes? How about helping 47 million people get health care.

I mean, these are the focus -- you know, things that we should start to focus on. It's seems that America is losing its way in the world, you know, we should start studying history about what happened with the Roman empire and study history on what happened with the Bush administration leading us into a war based on lies and keeping us in a war, you know, that's based on the false pretext that somehow al Qaeda is still -- had a long time presence in Afghanistan.

COOPER: This new escalation is going to cost billions and billions of dollars just in this year alone. That money has to come from Congress. Congress has to approve that. What's going to happen when the president comes with that request?

KUCINICH: Well, Congress does have a responsibility. Congress should reject any more money for war. Congress should start focusing on things here's at home.

COOPER: But realistically, you think the president can get this passed?

KUCINICH: I think the president will have a lot of support in Congress. You know realistically, unless Congress starts to pay attention on what's being said back in our communities where people are desperate for jobs, trying to protect their wage levels, worried about their investments, their savings, their retirement security.

I mean, this is about rebuilding America. That's what we should be talking about; $13 trillion to Wall Street, money for Wall Street, money for war. Where is the money for work in America?

COOPER: Congressman Kucinich, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much sir.

KUCINICH: Thank you very much.

COOPER: We've got a lot to talk about with our panel who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. We're going to continue the conversation. Our senior political analyst David Gergen, I'm sure David your thoughts in the speech and what Congressman Kucinich said and Vice President Cheney as well.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'd like to move off Dennis Kucinich, just to move on.

I think the speech was carefully crafted and very well calibrated. It was a speech that was intended to please -- have something that will please everyone. But by its very nature, then it also had something that would displease everyone.

And people and responses are focused -- focusing on what they don't like about it. And it's what happened to our society. The reason, I think, his plea for unity at the end of the speech which I thought is one of the best pieces of it.

COOPER: By trying to please everyone in a political sense, doesn't he open himself up to criticism, that that isn't the a way to run a military campaign?

GERGEN: Exactly. I think that the -- I think that seeking a golden mean which is in his DNA.

COOPER: It's very much what President Obama has always said he does.

GERGEN: That's right.

COOPER: He wants to find his own path.

GERGEN: That's right and in war that's often not the best policy. If you really want to rally people, one way or another you either get in or you get out. And if you're for getting in, you go in to win. If you're getting out, you get out cleanly. But if you go half way, you'll leave a lot of people displeased, as they are tonight.

COOPER: Chris Lawrence, you're just back from Afghanistan, you spent a lot of time in this forward operating bases where we were in September. A very difficult terrain, very difficult conditions for the Marines and Soldiers who are there now. What did you hear tonight that surprised you or concerned you?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The one thing that really jumped out at me was when the president said that he wants to train competent Afghan Security Forces. Riding with some of these troops and going to some of these police stations, one station the police officers are so high, eyes were rolling in the back of their head.

At another station, they got a new police chief because the last guy was hiding the Taliban right at the police station. In the third station, the police officers are scared to leave their police station because they get shot at when they go out.

Combine that with the fact that so many of these officers are dying or more often just quit that these troops are repeating the same training classes, two, three, four times. And a lot of these men are illiterate which means you can't just give them a manual and say take this home and study it.

When anyone talks about training, 40,000 more Afghan police, I'd say go out there with some of these troops and see how hard it is to train forty.

COOPER: Does that matter though Fareed, that they're -- they're illiterate I mean, the Afghans were great fighters against the Soviets why is everyone is saying well, it's so hard to train these troops?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, GPS: Well, it raises the broader issue which is, how should we array an anti-Taliban force?

COOPER: Are we just trying to train them in a conventional sense?

ZAKARIA: Right, are we trying to play the wrong game? I mean, maybe what we should be trying to do is to find these very smart ruthless fighters illiterate fighters and tribal militias, pay them, rent them.

COOPER: Which is essentially what we did in Iraq.

ZAKARIA: It's exactly what we did in Iraq. And maybe it was a way of cobbling together a kind of alliance of these groups and finding a way to make that work. I think that in many ways the counter insurgency strategy that General Petraeus and General McChrystal have outlined is a strategy that is essentially about very expansive nation-building ideas. You know a centralized army or centralized bureaucratic system or centralized court system.

Afghanistan is the third poorest country in the world. If we applied that kind of nation-building template...

COOPER: Because no matter what they call it. And now on the ground they call it promoting governance in small villages and stuff, it is nation-building -- I mean, they don't want to use that word but what we are doing in Afghanistan is nation-building.

ZAKARIA: And what we think of when we think of nation-building is we think of nation-building along modern bureaucratic structures with institutions and such. Well, we should -- perhaps should be thinking more about is just creating order; creating some kind of political stability with allies who are anti-Taliban, anti-al Qaeda.

COOPER: Kandahar is not going to be become a shining city on the hill. We just need it to under control?

ZAKARIA: But the key here Anderson, is this is actually something that Obama does talk about in the speech. I mean, we've all focused on how the speech is about the surge, about the buildup. But if you read the speech, it's really about the limitation of the goal. The goal is al Qaeda. He never mentions the Taliban when talking about the core mission. He doesn't talk about nation-building. He doesn't talk about drugs much. He doesn't talk about...

COOPER: In fact, you had Robert Gibbs I believe earlier today saying on television this is not nation-building.

ZAKARIA: Right, this is almost a scaling back. What I think he is trying to do, it's a very difficult balance. And I think David is right, he is looking for a mean is to say we need to be here. We need to chase these guys around because they are bad people who want to do bad things to us. But there are limits to our interests and our involvement. We are not going to be there. No, this is not World War II; this is not a battle to the end.

COOPER: Joe Johns, I seem to remember Condoleezza Rice a couple of years ago saying, you know, we're not going to have the 82nd Airborne escorting Afghan kids going to school. But essentially, I mean, we're coming close to that in terms of trying to maintain order in these villages.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure and it's a tough sell.

I've been talking to a lot of people on the Hill tonight, among the Congressional leadership. And I really get the impression that people are looking at this thing and saying I wasn't really for this before I heard the president's speech. And I'm not for it now. Particularly on the president's left.

It's a tough sell. And the other thing that's happened here is the president took 90 days to make a decision. And the decision essentially was not to send 10,000 troops that had originally been requested.

So now we're going to go into a season of hearings on Capitol Hill with people in the left grumbling as they have been for four weeks. They're tired of war. And that's the bottom line.

On the right, the president doesn't have quite as much trouble.

COOPER: We've got a huge team of correspondents, all of whom have spent an awful a lot of time over the last several years in Afghanistan. We're going to talk to them extensively throughout this hour.

More ahead on what the troops are now facing and how the additional 30,000 additional forces will help and perhaps also complicate things. No doubt about that.

Also tonight: our trip to Helmand province this past September and what life looks like on the ground for the Marines now. How Marines live, how they relax, how they handle the necessities of the life that we take for granted back here at home, day after dusty day.


COOPER: In a few moments, John King is at the magic wall showing us where these 30,000 new troops are coming from in America and where they're going to end up in Afghanistan. First, Erica Hill joins us with a "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the manhunt we covered live last night ended early this morning when a Seattle police officer shot and killed the man suspected of gunning down four other officers on Sunday. Police say Maurice Clemmons was carrying a gun taken from one of the slain officers.

Tiger Woods will not face criminal charges in connection with a car wreck near his Florida home early Friday morning. But the Florida Highway Patrol has issued the golf icon a careless driving citation. It carries a fine of $164 and four points on his driving record.

Stocks rallying today as worries about Dubai's debt problems eased and gold hit a record high. The DOW closing just short of a 14- month high after adding nearly 127 points, while the NASDAQ gained 31, the S&P 500 up 13.

And a home movie of Marilyn Monroe has surfaced. The short clip of the 16 millimeter silent film shows the actress as you can see here sitting with friends, smoking. The footage was reportedly shot in the late '50s in an apartment in New Jersey, Anderson.

COOPER: When I saw the police announcing $164 charge against Tiger Woods, I thought it was like Dr. Evil saying $164.

HILL: Yes.

COOPER: All right, just ahead the challenges the U.S. forces are going to face in Afghanistan. John King and Michael Ware will join us from the magic wall and we'll map out the fight on the ground. Plus, our team of correspondents who spent a lot of time in Afghanistan over the years; we'll talk to them ahead.

We'll talk to them ahead.


COOPER: Thirty thousand more troops for Afghanistan puts real pressure on an already stretched military. Tonight, we're going to take a quick closer look at the troops. Where exactly are they're going to be going in Afghanistan. Let's bring in John King who is at the magic wall with Michael Ware -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson thanks, and as we zoom in on Afghanistan, let's first remember it is in perhaps the world's most volatile neighborhood here. Now it's coming a little bit closer. We'll underscore the challenge the president outlined tonight.

Here is Afghanistan and I want to draw a quick line just to help as we go forward here. Just going to draw this line through here and as we go forward, you'll understand the significance of why.

And Michael, you jump in as we do this. First, let's take a look at where the troops are now in Afghanistan. And you see the American flags and British flags down in this region.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, yes, and not is all American flags, Aussie flags, British flags here. And the NATO European flags to the north.

Now let's go to the next item and you'll see why.

KING: I can show you right here. The dark is the province, right.

WARE: This is where the fighting is.

KING: The darker the province the stronger the Talibans.

WARE: This is where it is. Right. The darker the province, more Taliban influence or control. This is where the NATO troops are. This is the bulk of the fight. And indeed even on this map, I would argue that you could make Kandahar as dark as Helmand perhaps Zabul, perhaps Parteeka (ph), even perhaps Horst (ph).

I mean the Taliban's control is even worse than it looks here, especially at night in the villages. American patrol will come at day. But by night, guess who's in charge?

KING: And if you send 30,000 more U.S. troops, most of them highlighted in here, what is the impact even if things go very well? I want to bring in the neighboring region here? Because what happens in Afghanistan will deeply affect what happens in the border region in Pakistan.

WARE: Absolutely. As we know Pakistan's role in this great Afghan game, as you may want to call it, is that they're giving sanctuary to those who are killing the American soldiers and attacking the U.S. government. Now up here there is Pakistani Taliban which is different to the Afghan Taliban.

There is al Qaeda. There's the Hisbee Islami (ph) of Goberdain Hikmatia (ph). But these sanctuaries, these safe zones for the fighters stretch all the way down. Indeed even down here in the major city of Quetta in Pakistan, the Taliban leadership there is well known there. It's called the Quetta Sura (ph) they're the ones running the war from here.

So the problem stretches all along. And I would suspect the bulk of the 30,000 troops going there are going to be going to this region.

Right now this is where the fight is. Right here in Helmand Province where Anderson was. So the problem is, America's bitten off a very small piece of a large apple. To the Taliban this is all one operating area. But we're trying to do bit by bit by bit. And they're just simply running rings around us.

KING: Well, Anderson as you can see and you know it from your time there, again, most of the concentration will be down in here. Some NATO forces up here. And one of the big questions we will answer in the coming days, is will the NATO allies put up real numbers or will they send modest symbolic contributions -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Michael and John, stick by that wall for a second. I want to bring in also our panel of correspondents and analysts who've been going to Afghanistan and risking their own lives for years to get us the facts on the ground.

Christiane Amanpour, what do the Afghan people want and expect?

AMANPOUR: The Afghan people, we've been talking about they're being illiterate, they're being poor, all of this. The Afghan people -- they say, yes, we're illiterate. But we want be literate and we want to educate our children. And we need your help for that.

The Afghan people say, yes, we're dying. We don't have the right medical care. But we want it. And we need your help for that. And then we'll be able to do it.

They say, yes, we have a corrupt government. But we want good governance. And we want to be able to see that.

COOPER: But there's a lot of Americans who say this sounds like a bottomless pit of need.

AMANPOUR: It's not a bottomless pit of needs. The good news is that the majority of the Afghan people do not see this as an occupation, first and foremost.

COOPER: They support the foreign troops...

AMANPOUR: Absolutely. They can see the difference between what the British did 100 years ago and what the Soviets did in the 1980s. They know that the United States came not to occupy and defeat and destroy, but to help and liberate and put them along the lines of progress.

The good news is that most of the Afghans do want these forces of progress. They want a decent government. They want a decent life. They want to be able to educate their children.

COOPER: You also made the point earlier that the Taliban was overthrown in a very short amount of time, by a very small number of troops.

AMANPOUR: That's absolutely correct. When the United States and allies and the northern alliance on the ground at that time after 9/11 came in and fought, within seven weeks the Taliban and their parasitic, symbiotic allies al Qaeda were thrown out. And then we all know history showed that the eye was taken off the ball. And they came back.

So now it's a question of taking this moment and really starting to see if we can have one last chance to do it properly.

The people of Afghanistan want it. Every single person we talk to, the first thing they want is security. The second thing they want is good governance and an economically viable future. COOPER: Then Nic, as you know, I mean, the last time I was in villages in September, the first question they say to the Marines is, how long are you staying? And the Marines on the ground say, well, we can't tell -- we don't know exactly. Well, they now say well, President Obama says we're staying for another year and a half. I mean, how is that going to play?

ROBERTSON: It's not going to play very well. There's already a trust deficit between the Afghan population, their government and what the international community, the United States in particular is trying to do.

Christiane is absolutely right. The Afghans want these things. They've been looking for them since we came in, in numbers in December of 2001.

They've been looking for that. It hasn't been coming. They wanted the warlords to be disarmed.

COOPER: They're on the fence right now?

ROBERTSON: Well, you know, they're hiding behind the fence. I don't think they're really on it. I mean, in places we see them getting out of their villages because the fight is coming back there. It's going to take a lot to convince them that we really are going to help.

And General McChrystal said the war is going to be won when the Afghan people think it's won. And clearly we're not into nation- building. But it comes back partly to winning hearts and minds. If you want them to come on your side of the fence...

COOPER: Let's talk about the strategy though...

ROBERTSON: ... you've got to rebuild that trust deficit.

COOPER: The strategy which is the counter insurgent strategy. Clear an area of Taliban, hold it and try to build the governance in the region. It requires a lot of troops. That's why they are -- did we hear anything tonight about any kind of change in strategy?

Now they're saying, well, we're going to be looking at sort of -- taking over Kandahar and trying to hold large population centers. Marines are running around in Helmand province in very small population centers right now.

BERGEN: Well, when the president spoke, he didn't get into operational details. But I mean, we know from --- that 9,000 Marines are going to go into Helmand supplementing the 11,000 are already there.

Kandahar city is the center of gravity for the Taliban; it's their de facto capital. It's been very under resourced, 2,500 Canadians there. It's a city of a million plus people. That is obviously going to be a big target for the operations in the future, securing the Kabul to Kandahar road politically and economically. The most important road in the country right now is a suicidal drive for most who would want to take it. That has to change and that's a benchmark you could observe in a year and something that will be very useful for the Afghan people.

COOPER: Fareed Zakaria, you were at the White House today along with several others; had lunch with President Obama. He has really been looking into the minutia of this policy. I mean, that's what he's been spending a lot of time doing, correct?

ZAKARIA: He's been looking into the minutia. He is very well informed on it. He I mean, he can talk about Pashtun areas and Tajik (ph) areas. He would give Michael Ware a run for his money on that map.

But I think what he's...

COOPER: But he is not wearing pajamas like Michael Ware.

ZAKARIA: I didn't tell you what he was wearing.


ZAKARIA: No, but I actually think what he spent a lot of time focusing in on is a bigger issue. Which is what are the strategic states here for the United States? Because you know, if we give ourselves the challenge, how do we stabilize Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban? That's a huge challenge. It's one when we could do if provided the resources and time.

But the question is, is that in the national interest of the United States? And what he has focused in on is the idea that disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda is the core national security interest of the United States.

And I think in that sense, this is a limitation of what have been previous conceptions of why we are in Afghanistan, and certainly a limitation from Bush.

President Bush talked often about the need to establish a viable functioning democracy, a flourishing economy. Obama doesn't talk about a lot of that. It really is focused on dismantling al Qaeda.

COOPER: Michael Ware, can they then do what they did in Iraq? Can they either co-opt Taliban, those $10-day Taliban the ones who aren't hard core ideologues and can they just start to buy off people? Pay thugs to form militias? And control small amounts of territory.

WARE: Anderson, there certainly is some room for that. And I can tell you now that from when I was there back in September, the American military is already investigating this option. Indeed, a pilot program was underway at that time being run by the president's brother in Kandahar. They're calling it the local National Protector's Program.

Now it'll be a lot more complicated than Iraq. It'll be a lot bloodier. It'll be a lot messier. Expect a lot of human rights to go out the window. But once you give power to these men --- and I sat with them in Kandahar -- if they say there will be no Taliban in my district, then there will be no Taliban in their district.

And if they show up, they won't just kill their wife and their father and their mother. They'll kill their goats, their dogs and everything.

There is an option that needs to be explored.

COOPER: We're going to talk more with Chris Lawrence and Joe Johns and Sanjay Gupta and Roland Martin as well. More with our panel coming up.

Also we want to take you on the ground with the Marines in Afghanistan who are there now. We recently spent a week with them.

I saw firsthand why training a new Afghan army is more difficult than it may seem. We went out with some Afghan soldiers. They ended up stealing from the people they were supposed to be protecting. We'll show you how that happened.

Also, we'll show what it's really like on an isolated Marine base in Helmand, the incredibly difficult conditions our Marines are dealing with every single day.




WARE (voice-over): This is one night, one police patrol in Kandahar. A hidden Taliban roadside bomb, an IED, is about to hit this Afghan police gun truck. A CNN camera man and I are riding in it.

By some miracle, it detonates a heartbeat too soon. Otherwise, we'd all be dead. Instead, gravel rains over us.

(on camera): Are you all right?


COOPER: Michael Ware in a very close call in Kandahar with an IED. That happened recently.

Targeting the enemy, protecting civilians, and training Afghan forces: those are the marching orders for the additional 30,000 troops are going to be heading to the war. But as we saw firsthand in Afghanistan in September when we spent a week embedded with Marines in Helmand province, training Afghan forces is a lot more difficult than it might sound.

Here's what happened on one patrol we went out on. It's my "360 Dispatch." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): It is, at first, an odd sight: U.S. Marines on patrol with the ANA, the Afghan National Army, and their U.S. Army advisers.

(on camera): What's the purpose of a combined patrol like this?

1ST LT. ZACHARY BENNETT, U.S. MARINE CORPS: The mentorship is the key piece, one. Two, it's showing the people that it's not just us. It's the ANA; it's their own government, as well.

Now, we weren't here. We didn't come here as an invading force.

COOPER (voice-over): Assisting the Afghan National Army, however, is a slow and often frustrating experience for U.S. forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

COOPER: It's not just the language barrier, which leaves both forces dependent on a limited number of interpreters. Afghan soldiers often lack training and discipline.

Today First Lieutenant Zachary Bennett is bringing a new Afghan army lieutenant to a village to meet with elders. An IED went off here just the other day, killing one Afghan soldier.

(on camera): So the Taliban is still around here?

BENNETT: Yes, they are, no doubt about it. It's just a matter of, you know, they come at night. They come in during the day when the Marines are not around.

If you ask the villagers, for the most part, they're going to tell you, "I've never seen any Taliban or the Taliban have been gone since you guys got here."

COOPER (voice-over): Prayers are called as the patrol enters the village. Few people are on the streets, other than kids.

One man, however, approaches Lieutenant Bennett with information. We agreed to obscure his face for his own protection.

He tells Lieutenant Bennett that the Taliban were here just yesterday; two men on a motorcycle looking for places to plant IEDs.

(on camera): Do you trust the Marines?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)


COOPER (voice-over): "Yes," he says. "But if the Taliban spies knew I was talking to you, they'd kill me."

(on camera): So there are spies around here? (voice-over): "When the Taliban comes to the village," he says, they talk first to the children about who gave information to the Marines."

BENNETT: You got eyes on him?


COOPER: The meeting is suddenly cut short when Lieutenant Bennett gets a call on his radio.

(on camera): What happened?

BENNETT: Someone threw a flare, they're saying. We're going to start pushing this way.


BENNETT: What's up?

COOPER (voice-over): This may be a joint patrol, but the Marines instantly take charge of the situation.

(on camera): Somebody threw some sort of a homemade flare at them, at U.S. forces. So now they're trying to investigate this compound.

BENNETT: Hold the cordon. Don't let anyone out of the village for the time being.

Just knock on the door.

COOPER: To the Marines, it's a sensitive situation. They don't want to do anything to alienate the local population. At the same time they want to investigate that guy's house. So they do a quick search. They didn't find anything, and now they're moving on.

(voice-over): Lieutenant Bennett reports the incident. He thinks it may just be someone trying to distract the patrol.

BENNETT: Make sure you guys are being smart up front too because I don't know if these guys placed something on the road down there.

COOPER: On the way back to base, the Marines are especially cautious. One Afghan soldier however tries to steal corn from the village and gets caught. But another Afghan Soldier seems to have had more luck.

It's an incident which concerns Lieutenant Bennett.

(on camera): That's a minor incident. But it's important in counter insurgency because you don't want to alienate the civilians.

BENNETT: Yes definitely. The key is the civilians. It all comes down to it.

COOPER: Getting them on your side and keeping them on your side.

BENNETT: Yes. And letting them know that we're going to stay on their side. Not that we're going to stay here permanently. But we're going to stay as long as it takes to let the ANA and the Afghan national security forces stand on their own two feet.

COOPER: It's going to be a while though?

BENNETT: I can't speculate on that. It's not going to be next week.


COOPER: Not going to be next week, certainly not. The challenges of training the Afghan army are real. So can they be trusted to take over the military operation? What about the question of the Afghan government? We'll talk to reporters all of whom have been there, coming up.

We'll also show you the conditions our Marines are facing every single day; what their lives are like on a remote base. It's our "Shot" of the day.


COOPER: Welcome back to 360.

We're taking a close look at President Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan. Will it work? That's the bottom line question. And what are the potential pitfalls and what awaits the 30,000 new troops who are going to be deployed after the first of the year.

Some of tonight's panelists have been to the war zone as recently as September. A lot of our reporters have just spent a lot of time there over the years joining us, around us here on the set.

Chris Lawrence, you just returned from Afghanistan, spent a lot of the time there on patrol. The thing that I learned on patrol in September is how much of our policy depends on how American troops, Marines and soldiers interact with Afghan civilians on the ground.

That -- you know, you can go out on patrol. The one I was out, we just showed you Zachary Bennett, a Marine, young Marine lieutenant. He totally got it.

You know, he wanted his soldiers, his Marines to go in with a certain kind of attitude, a certain kind of respect for the locals. Some folks who have just been there maybe don't have that same nuanced approach. But McChrystal has pointed out that is key for success on the ground.

LAWRENCE: That's right. I think you hit it. Some of the folks who are new there don't get that nuance.

We talked to some of the younger soldiers. They're on their first deployment in Afghanistan. I know President Obama is saying, "Yes, we've got to work together. We've got to make these joint patrols."

The thing about that is some of the American troops don't necessarily want to have these joint patrols. Some of the young soldiers don't trust the Afghan forces. They are nervous around these Afghan forces. So you've got to take that into account.

It's a great goal to have. But the reality on the ground is there is not that level of trust going back and forth yet.

COOPER: And Sanjay, as you well know from going out on patrol, with more troops going, the kind of patrols that we've been going out on, that we've been seeing, it's foot patrols. It is a lot of interaction with civilians.

Our Marines are incredibly exposed, and our soldiers are incredibly exposed to IEDs. And you see the results of that in the hospitals you've been to.

GUPTA: Those are the most horrific injuries of all.

But you know, to Christiane's point earlier, there is a real desire for medical training in Afghanistan. They haven't had it, really, since really the late '80s. The medical infrastructure just sort of fell apart at that point. There are about 11 physicians for every 100,000 people.

But right now you also have, like, these residency training programs. The coalition forces going in and training doctor, but as you might imagine, it's a long process.

In the interim, even with the coalition forces out there, they are very, very busy. Nic and I were talking about this earlier. They try and centralize some of the forces to try and get transit times down. They take medical, some of those precious commodities on the battlefield, and move them forward so they can take care of injuries more quickly.

It's all about time. But there is this awkward dance between medicine and the military that is ongoing out there.

COOPER: Roland Martin, some folks here tonight have expressed disappointment with President Obama's speech. This is not a one-night speech though. This is something that we're going to be hearing a lot from the president's advisers, certainly, if not the president over the next days and weeks, basically trying to sell this policy not only to the American people but also to Congress.

MARTIN: He has to sell it to the American people first, so they can understand and say this is why it matters to me.

Earlier on, Christiane was talking about the issue of illiteracy in terms of in Afghanistan, what their concerns are. While I was hearing that, I was here thinking about what I've gone through in Greensboro, North Carolina, New Orleans, Houston, Chicago; people saying the exact same thing, dropout rates.

Americans right now with 10.2 percent unemployment rate, they're saying, "You know what? I don't give a damn about anybody else. What are you, Mr. President, going to do for me?"

And so he had to hone in on how you felt, keeping you safe when it came to 9/11. He kept coming back to that theme. Here's what he said because it was important: I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests. And I must weigh all the challenges that our nation faces.

That was -- that was an economic line he was talking about. He is sensitive to that. He has to get them to buy in to keeping them safe first. Then all that is secondary to that particular...

COOPER: The thing though Fareed, we did not hear a lot in the speech tonight about was Pakistan.

ZAKARIA: Yes. You know, if you think about the comparisons people have made to Iraq, there are some legitimate ones and there are some not so legitimate ones.

The one big difference in Afghanistan which complicates it enormously is that you have across the border, this other power, this regional power that has historically supported many of the militias that have destabilized Afghanistan. That still supports some militias and some terrorist groups. What do you do about that?

Michael Ware pointed out the leadership of the Afghan Taliban, the people who are waging war in Afghanistan against U.S. forces are all in a city called Quetta. They are called the Quetta Sura. Sura means council. The people now think many of them are in Karachi.

Al Qaeda is almost entirely, its leadership, in Pakistan. So we don't have an easy strategy. Now, I actually brought this up with the president at the luncheon. He said, "Look, the problem is you don't have an easy option in Pakistan. We can't just go in there. It's a sovereign nation. We have to work with them. We have to cooperate."

But that's -- it's a policy that is in some substantial part based on the goodwill of the Pakistani military and a Pakistani government that is in severe crisis.

If I were to point to one weak spot in the overall strategy, that's it. Not that it's clear that President Obama could do anything about it. But fundamentally, it's very difficult to solve this without dealing with Pakistan.

COOPER: Up next, if you think the Marines are living on big comfy bases in Afghanistan, you've got to see some of our "Shot" tonight. We'll take you inside one patrol base and show you how far the Marines are from the comforts of home.

We'll also play you the key moments from the president's speech coming up at the top of this hour. We'll have more from our panelists as our live coverage continues. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: For tonight's "Shot": what life is like for some of the Marines now in Afghanistan. We spent a week in September at Patrol Base Jaker in Helmand Province.

Erica, conditions, as you know, are extreme, comforts few, and everything is coated in a thick layer of dust that never quite goes away. Take a look.


COOPER (voice-over): As for leisure activities, a few old weights and a sledgehammer is the gym.

For golfers, the whole place is a sand trap.

There is no privacy here, no place to simply take a break.

(on camera): The bathroom facilities here are primitive, to say the least. There are pipes in the ground which are -- well, it's obvious what the pipes are for. And then the toilets, there's four of them. They're communal.


COOPER: And, Erica, there you go.

HILL: Gives you a whole new appreciation for what they do.

COOPER: Yes, that is certainly true.

You can submit all your "Shot" suggestions at

Hey, that's it for "360." Thanks for watching. I'll see you tomorrow night.

Live coverage continues now with "LARRY KING."