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Afghan Strategy Under Fire on Capitol Hill; U.S. Troops in Afghanistan React to New Plan; Military Families Hear Message

Aired December 2, 2009 - 12:00   ET

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


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Time now for your top of the hour reset. I'm Tony Harris in the CNN NEWSROOM.

It is 12:00 on Capitol Hill where the president's top lieutenants are trying to sell his new Afghan war strategy to Congress.

To New York, where we get a lesson on the geography of a troop surge in Afghanistan, and Detroit where the new GM has pushed its top executive out of the driver's seat. Well, now.

Let's get started. President Obama's exit strategy for Afghanistan comes understand fire on Capitol Hill. Top administration officials facing some tough questions from the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar is live from Capitol Hill.

And Brianna, that drawdown date, July, 2011, seems to be one element of the president's plan bringing sharp questions from Republicans.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tough questions from all directions, in fact, Tony, from Democrats who really want to make sure -- many of them, of course, don't approve of this troop buildup -- they want to make sure that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and they want to be able to hang their hat on that date, July, 2011, when troops would start to draw down. But also some pretty tough questions from Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican on this committee, who is concerned that this date may not be based on the conditions on the ground, but really may be an arbitrary timeline, as he puts it.

Listen to this exchange that he had with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I say with respect, Secretary Gates, my question is -- is will the date of withdrawal of 2011, which the president said, will be based on an arbitrary date of July, 2011, regardless of conditions on the ground?

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think it's the judgment of all of us in the Department of Defense involved in this process that we will be in a position in particularly uncontested areas where we will be able to begin that transition by July, 2011. MCCAIN: Well, let's suppose you're not. Let's suppose you're not. Let's suppose that conditions on the ground, so that our commanders believe that it would jeopardize the succession of the mission if we start a withdrawal on July, 2011. Will we do it anyway?

GATES: Well, I think that we will be in a position. The president has indicated that we will have a thorough review of how we are doing in December of 2010, and I think we will be in a position then to evaluate whether or not we can begin that transition in July.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: We will be, then, in a position to evaluate, Secretary Gates said. And Republicans like Senator McCain will take that to mean that there is some wiggle room. If things are not going so well in Afghanistan, there may be a chance to revise the plan.

Now, that's something, Tony, as you can imagine, many Democrats will not be happy about.

HARRIS: OK.

So, Brianna, look, tough questions, obviously. But what is the role of Congress here? What can it say? What can it do in shaping this policy?

KEILAR: The power of the purse. Congress holds the purse strings. It controls the spending. And so many Democrats who are not on board with President Obama's plan here, they can do a couple of things.

They can place conditions on the money. And they can also make it politically difficult to spend, Tony.

One of the things we've been talking about is this idea that Democrats have had of putting a war tax in place. The way a lot of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been financed is by asking Congress for money that is really deficit spending.

HARRIS: Yes.

KEILAR: And so you hear Democrats saying, no, we're going to not put this on a credit card, as many of them have said. We're going to make sure it's paid for. And that would be to put a tax out there. Very unpopular right now to tell Americans, as you can imagine, hey, in this economic climate, you're going to be paying with increased taxes for this war that a lot of you are not on board with -- Tony.

HARRIS: Yes. Well, we need to have that discussion in this country.

All right. Brianna Keilar on Capitol Hill for us.

Brianna, thank you.

An attack today outside Navy headquarters in Pakistan. A suicide bomber detonated at the entrance of the compound in the heart of Islamabad. Officials say a security officer was killed and 11 others were wounded. The bomber was apparently about to be searched when he blew himself up.

The families of five British yachtsmen are celebrating the men's release today. After holding them for eight days, Iran towed the sailors to international waters, where members of their sailing company were to meet them. The group's racing yacht may have drifted into Iranian waters after it lost a propeller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES PORTER, LUKE PORTER'S FATHER: I think he would have done very well. He would have held it together and been very strong. I'm sure he's dealt with it very well. And I'm very, very relieved that it appears to be over and he's on his way home. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: GM is changing drivers. CEO Fritz Henderson is out after just eight months on the job. Insiders say Henderson was old guard and hadn't moved fast enough to change GM's corporate culture. GM's chairman will handle the top job until a replacement is named.

More with CNN's Poppy Harlow in just a few minutes.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is spending time today addressing his front line forces. General Stanley McChrystal wrapped up comments about 30 minutes ago in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. He told the troops he has exceptional confidence right now in the war plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES, AFGHANISTAN: I believe that by this time next year, we'll see a level of progress that will convince us that we can clearly articulate the progress and predict the effectiveness of our operations. And I believe that by the summer of 2011, that will be obvious to all the players involved -- to the Taliban, to the insurgents, I think it will be obvious to the Afghan national security forces, it will be obvious to us, and it will be obvious to the Afghan people in all of those areas. And that's the critical point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Wow. General McChrystal says everything changes right now.

U.S. troops in the war zone are looking forward to that change. They welcome the 30,000 additional forces being deployed.

Our Frederik Pleitgen has been talking to U.S. troops in Kandahar about President Obama's plan.

Fred, good to see you.

An amazing briefing wrapping up about 30 minutes ago. What have you been hearing from U.S. forces? FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was an amazing briefing. General McChrystal, as you said, just wrapped up only a couple of minutes ago here.

One of the other things that he did say is that the bulk of the U.S. troops that are going to be coming in here are going to be coming right here to where I am, the south of Afghanistan. He defined this as the epicenter of the insurgency.

Now, if you're asking about American soldiers, I have been spending the day with them here on the base in Kandahar. I also watched the president's speech together with them. And I can tell you, every single one of the soldiers that I spoke with felt that bringing in additional troops was a very good idea.

Now, there were some who were saying they thought it wasn't enough. They felt that more troops were needed on the ground. But one thing that every single soldier that we spoke to said was that they believe the important thing right now is bringing these troops into the battlefield, trying to create a security situation, and, if you will, under that umbrella of this security situation, giving the Afghan security forces time to develop and, of course, giving the U.S. forces here time to develop the Afghan security forces to get them to take security into their own hands.

That's going to be the main thing. That's exactly what Stanley McChrystal told us right now at this briefing, and that's exactly what U.S. forces here on the ground, on the front lines, are telling me -- Tony.

HARRIS: Fred, I'm going to ask you for some of your thoughts, but I was struck by a number of comments from General McChrystal. I'll ask for your thoughts on this in a moment, but a clear articulation of the mission.

The general said the mission is to prevent the insurgency from being a threat to the government and to our allies, the government of Afghanistan. The general saying that he has exceptional confidence in the new strategy, saying we are more capable than we used to be.

Any other thoughts ring out to you?

PLEITGEN: Well, I mean, certainly one of the things that he was saying, one of the reasons why he has more confidence, he says, is that he believes that in the past eight years in Afghanistan, certainly not everything went right here. There was one statistic that he cited at the beginning of his presentation here, saying that in the past two years, violence here in Afghanistan has actually risen by 300 percent. But he did say he believes in that past eight years, there's been an immense learning curve by the U.S. military and, of course, also by its NATO allies. He feels that they are now better at anti-insurgency strategy.

They believe that any now understand the insurgency better than he did -- than they did before. So, he says right now, with the way things are going on the ground, he believes that they're actually doing the right thing.

What he does also believe is that they need more soldiers on the ground to basically cover those efforts, supply security for those efforts, so that, then, these efforts can continue and then really make a big impact. But he went right back to the point.

Every single time, again, he said the main thing to focus on right now is the civilian Afghan population, providing them with security, and also providing them with a perspective, giving them something like trust in NATO forces, but also in their own government. And that, of course, comes back down to governance as well. That's something that he touched on as well. But giving them security and also giving them a perspective for the future -- Tony.

HARRIS: Well, I thought it was an amazing briefing. CNN was granted access to bring you the briefing by the U.S. military.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen for us in Kandahar.

Frederik, appreciate it. Thank you.

We are devoting a large portion of today's newscast to your thoughts and comments on the president's speech last night. Here's what some of you are saying on our blog.

Jasmine writes, "Not only is this war a continuous financial burden on our country, it will also continue to be a burden on the future as our country pays for those wounded, killed and forever changed by what they see while fighting for our country."

Dan says, "We're stuck between a rock and a hard place. What the president couldn't say was that if we were to leave Afghanistan, there would be a bloodbath."

Keep those blog comments coming. Just go to CNN.com/Tony, or you can send us an iReport at CNN.com/ireport.

We will share more of your comments and iReports throughout the rest of this hour.

Families of those who serve are also sharing their thoughts on the president's plan. We will bring you their reaction.

First, though, our "Random Moment" in 90 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: As President Obama made the case for sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, military families were listening intently.

CNN's David Mattingly caught up with one group at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Military families here sitting down for the president's speech say they had two main questions on their minds: What will you be asking of us, and for how long? And for the most part, they say they got their answers.

(voice-over): The president's decision to send 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan puts the war there back on the nation's front burner. Exactly where it belongs, say these Fort Bragg families.

JESSICA SHOWALTER, ARMY SPOUSE: Hopefully this will bring the country back to the realization that we're fighting two wars, not just one, that Afghanistan has been a war the whole time.

MATTINGLY: These wives and relatives of soldiers tell me how Afghanistan has been a strain on them for years, long-term separations that grow more difficult with each passing deployment.

(on camera): Your husband has been deployed how many times?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Six.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I want to speak to you tonight about our effort in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Did you hear anything tonight that told you your life is going to get easier?

AMY WALLACE, ARMY SPOUSE: Initially, absolutely. But as it starts to soak in a little bit, I had some mixed emotions. I -- I understand this is an enemy that has been at war for thousands of years, and they are very patient and they're very smart.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And sending more troops means even more Fort Bragg soldiers will go, but the president gave these families something they haven't had before -- a timetable.

MARIBELLE MENO: It's been hard as -- as a military spouse, having to hear deadlines but it's never fulfilled, but, in this case, he -- he gave a strong background for his need to have a deadline, and it was reassuring to hear it.

MATTINGLY: But while encouraged by the president's remarks, no one in this room was ready to relax.

(on camera): Do you think that this will bring an end to the war in Afghanistan? Anybody? Nobody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well that's...

MATTINGLY: It's not that simple?

(voice-over): They tell me they've come to believe the problems in Afghanistan and the need for U.S. military involvement may never completely go away.

NICOLE SULLIVAN, ARMY SPOUSE: It's difficult to tell what the enemy's going to do, how things will change dynamically over time. So it's not fair for to us say that based upon the fact that there are 30,000 more troops going to Afghanistan, that the war will come to an end.

MATTINGLY (on camera): The president's plan to wrap up quickly in Afghanistan was applauded by the families here, who say the more boots on the ground to support the troops who are already there, the better.

David Mattingly, CNN, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: We are hearing more of your views on President Obama's new Afghanistan strategy through your iReports. Here's what some of you have to say about the plan to send in more troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATY BROWN, IREPORTER: Thank you, President Obama, for agreeing to send more troops. It is needed.

We need to take out al Qaeda. We need to finish the job. And with these 30,000 more troops, we will do just that, no matter the cost money-wise.

EGBERTO WILLIES, IREPORTER: This was a political compromise. Unfortunately, I fear the ramification of this escalation will have two distinct effects on his domestic agenda, specifically health care reform.

MELISSA FAZLI, IREPORTER: There's no exit strategy yet for Afghanistan. Haven't heard of one. All we hear now is that he wants to send in 30,000 more troops.

I believe, yes, if you want to rotate the troops, as far as the people who have been there for so long and haven't -- you know, have the fresh troops come in, but I believe that Afghanistan is a black hole, and that we are spending way too much money there and resources. And our men and women are in harm's way.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS: OK. Let's talk weather. And there is a lot to talk about -- rain, snow, and the possibility of tornadoes. Man.

Jacqui Jeras is keeping an eye on all of it from the Severe Weather Center.

We're back in a moment.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: And happening on the Hill right now, a Senate committee is scrutinizing the president's planned timetable for U.S. troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan. Critics argue the president should not set a deadline of the summer of 2011. Instead, they say, he should wait to see what conditions are like on the ground when the time comes.

Iran is vowing to enrich uranium to much higher levels without help from any other countries. President Ahmadinejad says he needs enrichment to reach 20 percent in order to power a medical research reactor. He says he is done discussing the issue.

Vice President Joe Biden is speaking out about the White House party crashers. In interviews today, Biden acknowledges he didn't know the Salahis but assumed they were invited. He says they were extremely friendly, acting like -- quote here -- "his old buddies."

We'll get another check of our top stories in 20 minutes.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: In his speech announcing 30,000 more U.S. troops for Afghanistan, President Obama stressed this is not just America's war. He makes it clear he expects more help from nations around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Because this is an international effort, I've asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we're confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead.

Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now we must come together to end this war successfully, for what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility. What's at stake is the security of our allies and the common security of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: So, what will NATO do? That is one of the biggest questions surrounding this next phase of the war. Some answers coming in now.

Josh Levs joins us with that.

Good to see you, Josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, too.

I'm going to show you the cool maps in a minute, but, you know, it was interesting. You were just playing that sound bite from the president last night. I was following the fact-check agencies last night, and The Associated Press took a look at that, specifically in talking about being confident that NATO and others will pull through with more troops.

Let's go to this graphic. I want you to see what The Associated Press fact checkers said.

They said that, "In expressing that kind of confidence, the president is setting aside years of mostly empty-handed American efforts to get others, including allies in NATO, to deepen their commitment to combat in Afghanistan." And they go on to say, "Other countries, particularly those in Europe, have seen it primarily as a humanitarian and reconstruction mission rather than a counterinsurgency fight. And they have pushed for greater non- military means of addressing Afghanistan's instability."

The key point there, this focuses on the dynamic we're talking about, the U.S. pushing NATO to send more troops after years, as they're pointing out there, of NATO kind of taking a different tact, seeing the war differently from the way the United States is seeing it.

So, one of the big questions today, what will NATO do? The chief of NATO came out with some pretty strong comments. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: Instability in Afghanistan means insecurity for all of us. If we are to make Afghanistan more stable and ourselves more secure, we must all do more. At this very important moment, NATO must demonstrate its unity and strength once again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEVS: So, strong remarks.

First thing I wanted to know, just like a lot of people, give me some numbers. What is NATO thinking about sending troops? We got a little bit in his announcement.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RASMUSSEN: In 2010, the non-U.S. members of this mission will send at least 5,000 more soldiers to this operation, and probably a few thousand on top of that. That is in addition to the more than 38,000 they have already there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEVS: Now, will 5,000 more be enough for people? Well, yet to see what kinds of reactions. And also, it could turn out to be more.

That will bring the NATO's contingent up to over 40,000, the U.S. with an additional 30,000. We'll have about 100,000 troops.

Let's go to the maps now, because it's not just about numbers, it's also about where everyone is.

The United States is mostly in the southern section of Afghanistan. You can see the lead nations marked by these flags.

Now, why is that significant? Because the areas of most violence are in that southern section.

Keep in mind, we're always talking to you about Afghanistan/Pakistan border. It is that section right here, that southern part of Afghanistan.

One more map to show you. Take a look at this.

Where it's most red, that's where the Taliban has its most influence. Look at where it's most red, and then we're going to go back and we're going to keep in mind where the United States flags are. So, the U.S. doing a massive amount of work in Afghanistan against the Taliban.

HARRIS: In the toughest areas, yes.

LEVS: Will NATO not only send more troops, but also change where they are? It's something else to watch out for -- Tony.

HARRIS: Terrific. All right. Great mapping there. Thanks, Josh.

LEVS: Thanks, Tony.

HARRIS: You've heard from President Obama, and soon you can hear from Afghanistan's president. Hamid Karzai talks exclusively with CNN's Christiane Amanpour this Sunday, 2:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

We've been asking you to weigh in on what you think the U.S. should do next in Afghanistan. Here's what some of you are saying on the phone lines now that the president has spoken.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CALLER: We voted for the president, and I think he's making the biggest mistake of his administration.

CALLER: Hello. My name is Robert (ph). I'm calling from Wilmington, Delaware. I think Obama is doing the right thing. I think he has no choice. This isn't his war, this wasn't something he started. But I think he is more than able to finish it.

CALLER: My name is Ethel (ph). I live in Marion, Indiana.

And I'm calling about Afghanistan. I do support the troops being sent to Afghanistan, but I think we should have gone in there to begin with to win that war.

CALLER: This is Richard Bear (ph) in Jonesboro, Tennessee.

I just wanted to give my opinion about the wars. I highly oppose these wars, and I was really thinking Obama was going to help us out. And he and what the Bushes started -- and I would highly love for us to get out of Afghanistan and bring those boys home.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HARRIS: And you can still voice your comments. There's the phone number: 1-877-742-5760. You can also leave us a comment on our blog. Just go to CNN.com/Tony, or send us an iReport. That address is CNN.com/ireport.

We have all seen President Obama give speeches, but there was a little something different in how he approached things last night. We will take a look at what he did.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: All right. Let's see, 12:32 Eastern Time. Lunchtime in the East. Good morning to the West Coast. We'd like to direct you to CNNMoney.com at this time every day for the latest financial news and analysis. I don't know what the lead story is at CNNMoney.com. But if you want the best information available from the smartest team on money in the business at CNNMoney.com.

Let's go to the big board now. New York Stock Exchange. Just a bit past three hours into the trading day and we are selling off a bit. The Dow down 37 points. The Nasdaq, at last check, up four. So kind of a mixed day on stocks and we'll continue to follow these numbers for you throughout the day right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Facing the nation on the war in Afghanistan. We're going to take a closer look at some key moments in President Obama's speech. Normally the president looks from side to side as he uses the teleprompter, like he is doing here, right? Got that. OK. Last night he did something a little different. Joining us to talk the president's delivery is body language expert Patti Wood and CNN political editor Mark Preston.

Mark, good to see you. Patti, good to talk to you as well.

All right, so, again, the teleprompter work that we see from the president is him moving from side to side between the teleprompters on either side of the lectern there. There was plenty of that last night, would you agree, Mark? Would you agree Patti? PATTI WOOD, BODY LANGUAGE EXPERT: Yes. Yes. A lot of tennis match head.

HARRIS: OK. Way to break the ice, Patti. But there were also two moments when the president spoke directly to the straight-on camera. Patti, let me start with you. What did you think of those two moments?

WOOD: Well, what was significant is that he started by looking, which I feel was very coached, but he couldn't maintain it. He had to look down and away. That first one where he was addressing the Pakistanis, he looked down, away. And then there was a big gulp as if he didn't truly want to make that commitment.

HARRIS: Huh.

WOOD: So not all the way committed. Couldn't keep that head on.

HARRIS: So the look-away says non-commitment to what he's saying to you?

WOOD: Absolutely. When you make a definitive statement and you're making eye contact, it's to stay direct, on target, through the end of the sentence.

HARRIS: Mark, I'm going to get to you in a second. But, you know, the other thing you can get when you make that definitive statement to the camera, I really want you to pay -- you get that crazy-eyed prompter stare thing going there and that's a little off- putting, isn't it?

WOOD: I -- I believe that if you want the audience to actually know that you believe in what you say, you have to make that commitment to the end.

HARRIS: Yes, all right.

Mark, what did you think of those moments when the president broke the mold just a bit and at two different points in the speech looked directly into the camera?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, I mean, clearly it was deliberate, Tony, there's no question about that. And he reluctantly is making this decision. He said that himself in the speech last night. He campaigned for the presidency on the idea of getting troops out of Iraq and really trying to end our commitment over in Iraq, and then, of course, just trying to finish up what's going on in Afghanistan.

This was a critical moment last night in the president's really early presidency at this point. The fact is, he's sending a lot of young troops overseas, you know, many of them won't come home. This was a critical juncture. I don't think he wanted to give that speech last night. He had to give that speech last night.

HARRIS: Wow. I -- but the president obviously underling those key moments. Mark, would you agree if the president isn't solid and believable in those moments, boy, imagine if he had sort of fumbled through those very direct moments. Would he have been running the risk of not being viewed as convincing at all throughout the speech?

PRESTON: Well, what he -- what he's very lucky for having is his ability to deliver a speech and to deliver a speech convincingly.

HARRIS: Yes.

PRESTON: Even his critics say that. And last night, whether you agree with what he said or you disagree with what he said, he delivered a pretty good speech. It was very poignant. Look, he did it in a setting that was very somber. A lot of those cadets are going to go overseas. There was no cadets standing behind him, Tony. Look, it was all scripted out. He did a pretty good job delivering it.

HARRIS: Yes. Patti, what do you think? Did it feel planned? Did it feel staged, the direct moments into the camera? Because I personally think he should do more of that.

WOOD: Yes, I absolutely agree with you. I think he does have that strong voice, that melodious voice. But even in those two statements where he started direct, his voice faded out. His mouth got tight. So, again . . .

HARRIS: Wow.

WOOD: Need to work on it.

HARRIS: You were watching every nuance. Well, that's why we invited you in. Patti, appreciate it. Mark, good to see you as well. Thank you both.

WOOD: Thank you.

HARRIS: People around the world have strong opinions about the war in Afghanistan. Our Atia Abawi is getting feedback from many on Facebook and Twitter. And Atia joining me live now from the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Atia, great to see you. Share with us what you're hearing.

ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, Tony, what I love about Facebook and Twitter is that I have followers from all over the world, all over the United States. And I asked them, actually, what they thought about President Obama's prime time address about the troop increase.

On Facebook, Jamil told me that "setting a pull out date proved that Obama is still a rookie at politics." Ouch.

And then Paiman actually contradicts what Jamil says, showing that there are different opinions coming out there. And Paiman says, "setting a pull out date gives Americans some hope that the war has an end and puts it on a positive note. The strategy to pull out troops may be adjusted later according to how the situation in Afghanistan improves."

And then on Twitter, Pedro says, "sounds like a man who isn't sure he'll be around in three years."

And then pga1ht told me that, "I believe it's a necessary evil to send more troops. Glad the president considered all options and made a thoughtful decision."

And, Tony, I encourage some of your viewers to go ahead and follow me on Twitter at atiaabawi, because I'd love to hear what they have to say on the situation in Afghanistan, the situation back home, wherever they're from, to let me know what they think about the troop increase here in Afghanistan -- Tony.

HARRIS: Atia, terrific stuff. Appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Let's do this. Let's check our top stories now.

President Obama's war strategy for Afghanistan is under scrutiny on Capitol Hill. Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are questioning top administration officials. Critics are raising concerns about plans to start pulling out troops in 2011.

The military has ordered the Fort Hood shooter to undergo psychological testing to see if he is competent to stand trial. His lawyer says it is not clear when those tests will take place. Major Nidal Hasan faces 13 counts of premeditated murder in last month's shooting rampage.

Atlanta's mayoral candidate, Mary Norwood, says she plans to ask for a recount in yesterday's runoff race. Norwood is hoping to become the city's first white mayor in 35 years. But right now, Kasim Reed is in the lead by just over 600 votes. He is claiming victory.

Another CEO out the door at General Motors. What does the latest shake-up mean for the future of the automaker?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Well, the search is on for a new CEO at General Motors after the resignation of the man at the steering wheel. CNNMoney.com's Poppy Harlow is in New York.

And, Poppy, a bit of a shocker here.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: A huge surprise, Tony. I mean this news came out on Tuesday, after the market closed. Everyone was really surprised with it. Fritz Henderson, the CEO of General Motors, no longer out after about eight months only at the helm of the struggling company. The man replacing him is Ed Whitacre. He's the current chairman.

And, you know, Ed, when he made the announcement, he described it as a hectic meeting of GM's board, ousting CEO Fritz Henderson, or him resigning. Whitacre's going to run the company until GM finds a replacement. And, Tony, this is the third CEO in less than a year for General Motors. Here's what Ed Whitacre had to say on the announcement late yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED WHITACRE, INTERIM GENERAL MOTORS CEO: Fritz has done a remarkable job leading the company through an unprecedented period of challenge and change. And momentum has been building in our company over the past several months. But we all agree that some changes needed to be made going forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. Well, we are yet to see what those changes are. But we should note, Tony, you know, Fritz Henderson got GM through bankruptcy extremely quickly.

HARRIS: Yes.

HARLOW: But what happened and what some say led to his downfall is that the proposed sales of Saturn and Saab and the European brand, Opel, they all fell through, Tony, as you know under his leadership. So a lot of people are saying, listen, GM needs fresh blood to turn around this company.

Fritz Henderson has worked there for 25 years. So he's somewhat of an insider at the company.

HARRIS: Yes.

HARLOW: The evidence we have that that works is at Ford, where the CEO, Alan Mulally, came from Boeing to run Ford. Huge success story there, turning Ford around. Of course, it's the only one of the big three automakers that didn't need to be bailed out, Tony, by the U.S. government.

HARRIS: That's right. That's right. What does the next CEO of GM have to accomplish? I mean what didn't Henderson get done outside of not selling those divisions?

HARLOW: Sure. Yes, you know, I mean he was a very different thinker than his predecessor at GM, but apparently not enough happened. We spoke to AutoNation. They're the biggest car dealership in this country. And they said, you know, they were a big fan of Fritz Henderson at General Motors. He did hard work in terms of cost cutting. But they say maybe GM is looking for a visionary. Someone that can say what this company's going to look like in a few years and they argued Fritz Henderson didn't exactly do that.

As for what GM does now, here's the problem, Tony, they've got to bring a new CEO in. That CEO is going to be subject to executive pay restrictions imposed by the U.S. government.

HARRIS: Yes.

HARLOW: They're still $50 billion in debt to taxpayers. That's going to be a very interesting thing to watch what happens when they do bring in new leadership. You can see more details on that story right there on CNNMoney.com -- Tony.

HARRIS: CNNMoney.com, there she is, Poppy Harlow. Poppy, appreciate it. Good to see you. Thank you.

Now that the president has laid out the plan ahead for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, what does the battleground look like. We map out the geography of the fight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: So, where are U.S. troops now in Afghanistan? And what does the geography of the battle really look like? Two of CNN's best, chief national correspondent John King and correspondent Michael Ware, map it out for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's take a closer look with Michael Ware at the challenge the president outlined tonight. Let's just begin right here. Here's your map of Afghanistan. The capital, Kabul, is here. Some of the more dicey regions here.

And let me start by showing the state of play right now, by bringing in the current troop levels, just quickly to refresh. About 45,000 NATO troops, about 68,000 U.S. troops now. The president says he will add 30,000 plus to that.

Now let's close it down. Michael Ware, what is most significant, just as a quick setup, about this map? You see most of the American flags down here, the NATO forces up here.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the flags say it all, John. This is an American war. Now, when NATO antes up with more troops, or not, which most likely it's not except in a tokenistic (ph) sense, look at the NATO flags. Where's the conflict? It's not there. The conflict is down here on the Pakistani border region.

KING: I'm just going to jump in and illustrate as you talk. Keep going. I just want to show our viewers . . .

WARE: That's it. That's where this war is being fought. America, Britain, even the Aussies in Rosgan (ph) province. That's where the battle is. NATO isn't in it. This is an American war. That's what that tells us.

KING: Just to reinforce your point, inside the line where you saw most of the American troops, the darker the province, the stronger the Taliban. So the greatest Taliban presence . . .

WARE: And (INAUDIBLE) some of these provinces darker. Kandahar, the capital city, is under siege. Zabul, there's entire districts that the Taliban control right at this moment. Paktika, I mean most of that is under Taliban influence, if not control. And, remember, there's an American soldier still being held hostage. He was taken out of this area and is somewhere around here. So I'd make this a lot darker.

KING: And let's reinforce the reason. You're in this area right here. We're focusing on this side of the border, which is Afghanistan, a huge military challenge. But the president did make the point that even if things go perfectly here, you still have a giant question as to what happens in Pakistan.

WARE: Absolutely. The war in Afghanistan is not going to be ultimately won or lost in Afghanistan. There's a lot of other pieces. Key to that is Pakistan. These sanctuaries. These safe havens. Now let's remember...

KING: Just want to show one viewer -- interrupt you for one second. Safe havens including...

WARE: Osama bin Laden.

KING: We believe Osama bin Laden.

WARE: Most likely people say he's here in this region.

But let's not forget, there's two Talibans. There's an Afghan Taliban and there's a Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani military right now is fighting the Pakistani Taliban, right? But that's not the only sanctuary. All of this, all of it, is Taliban sanctuary. Indeed, down here, in the Pakistani city of Quetta, it's known by American intelligence, by Ambassador Holbrooke, as the home of the Taliban Shura. So all of that is Taliban and anti-American militant safe haven, not just the highlighted areas. KING: I want to do one other point. I want to show one other thing to illustrate two points. Number one, the president talked about the past and the under resourcing, under U.S. resourcing. And he talked about mistakes that were made. Said the al Qaeda leadership was allowed to escape.

This, of course, is Tora Bora, where they believe back in the early days Osama bin Laden escaped in Pakistan. Instructive not only to talk about past mistakes, but also, Michael, the terrain. This is not Iraq. This is not flat desert.

WARE: Absolutely not. Yes, I mean a very key lesson was learned in this battle in 2001. There, Afghan -- American special forces relied on -- American special forces relied on Afghan militia to do most of the fighting. Well, Osama paid them more than we did. So he just slipped through the back door, which you can see, you know, there's a myriad of back doors. So the next big battle in similar terrain in March 2002 operate in Shahicalt (ph) that was American-led and fought. That was the first lesson.

The second lesson, look at this, mate. Look at this. This border region, this is the end of the Himalayas. These valleys swallow infantry divisions whole. How on earth do you ever expect anyone, let alone the Afghans, even the American military, to seal that? It's just not going to happen. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Fascinating stuff.

Instant reaction to the president's war speech. What our CNN focus group liked and what they didn't, in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: A CNN focus group weighs in on President Obama's Afghanistan speech. A largely supportive crowd of all political stripes. Here's CNN's Jim Acosta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL MASLANSKY, LUNTZ MASLANSKY STRATEGIC RESEARCH: Any other specific phrases that stood out?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pollster Michael Maslansky brought together a group of roughly 30 people and split them up into Obama and McCain voters to rate the president's speech. Armed with dial testers, the focus group turned their knobs up for parts of the speech they liked, down for parts they could do without.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might.

ACOSTA: Through much of the speech, results were positive. McCain voters were actually more supportive than Obama voters.

OBAMA: This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards and al Qaeda can operate with impunity.

ACOSTA: When the president responded to critics who say he's taken too long to make up his mind . . .

OBAMA: There has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war.

ACOSTA: Conservatives were not buying it.

MASLANSKY: How many of you thought he succeeded tonight? Show of hands?

ACOSTA: But after the speech, we heard something we haven't heard much all year, strong praise from Republicans for Mr. Obama.

DAVID NORDSTROM, REPUBLICAN/FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANT: It was the most presidential speech I've ever heard him give.

ACOSTA (on camera): And you're a Republican or Democrat?

NORDSTROM: I'm a Republican.

LINDA BARNETT, REPUBLICAN/FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANT: He reminded me, and I hope he reminded a lot of people, that we are first and foremost Americans.

ACOSTA: And you didn't vote for Obama?

BARNETT: No, sir.

ACOSTA: And you are a Republican.

BARNETT: I am.

ACOSTA: But you really liked this speech?

BARNETT: You know what, I hope he does well.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Just not all Republicans.

JUSTIN KUBIAK, REPUBLICAN/FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANT: He laid out a broad, kind of a generic strategy, which is kind of what he does, he's a good performer, laying out a broad strategy. But when it gets down to brass tacks, when it gets down to specifics, I didn't hear anything new.

ACOSTA: The biggest doubts came from Democrats.

ACOSTA (on camera): Do you think the president's making a mistake?

PATRICIA CHITTAMS, DEMOCRAT/FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANT: In some ways, yes, and in some ways, no. I think that we need more troops than the 30,000.

MASLANSKY: It was an overwhelmingly positive reaction.

ACOSTA (voice-over): While Michael Maslansky's not sure Mr. Obama responded effectively to his critics . . .

MASLANSKY: He tried to reject the idea that he had delayed his decision.

ACOSTA (on camera): The dithering.

MASLANSKY: The dithering. He said, "we did not delay any of our decisions." Now, that may be true. It may not. It doesn't matter. The American people believe that he's taken too long to make the decision.

ACOSTA: And this focus group believed that.

MASLANSKY: They completely believed it.

ACOSTA (voice-over): He does believe the president succeeded in rallying the nation.

MASLANSKY: The whole speech, except for a few parts, McCain voters scored this higher than the Obama voters. Now part of that is because it was a fairly hawkish speech. He used history as a foundation for what he was trying to say, but he did not bash the Bush era, and it really resonated with McCain voters.

ACOSTA (on camera): Do you think maybe he bought himself a little time tonight?

MASLANSKY: I do.

ACOSTA: Another surprising take from our focus group, nearly everybody in the room told us they'd support a decision to send even more troops to Afghanistan, a sign there may be some lingering doubts the president has enough forces to finish the job.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Fascinating.

We are pushing forward now with the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM with that lady right there, Kyra Phillips!

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Tony.