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THE SITUATION ROOM
Yemen Nearing Shift In Power?; Anti-Aircraft Fire in Tripoli; War Against Gadhafi; Dogs Critical to Desperate Search for Survivors in Japan
Aired March 21, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Brooke.
Happening now, breaking news -- new anti-aircraft fire over the Libyan capital after two days of coalition attacks to enforce a no-fly zone. New questions about whether Moammar Gadhafi will still be in power once the bombing stops.
President Obama says it's still U.S. policy for Gadhafi to go. But that's not the mandate of the United Nations mission. This hour, live reports, new information about the battle plan right now and the president's end game.
And frightening new setbacks in Japan's nuclear crisis. Health officials try to calm spreading concerns about the food and water supply after radiation contamination was found outside the evacuation zone.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Anti-aircraft fire over Tripoli just a little while ago. One U.S. official tells us coalition attacks appear to have stalled Moammar Gadhafi and his forces. But it's unclear what the Libyan leader may be doing next or where he is even right now.
Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli took a pounding today. U.S. and Allied commanders deny they're specifically targeting him or his residents. One U.S. commander acknowledged today that Gadhafi may still be in power when the bombing stops.
President Obama, though, says the U.S. will try to push Gadhafi out, but within the limits sanctioned by the United Nations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go. And we've got a wide range of tools, in addition to our military efforts, to support that policy.
But when it comes to our military action, we are doing so in support of UN Security Resolution 1973. That specifically talks about humanitarian efforts. And we are going to make sure that we stick to that mandate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go straight to Libya -- both ends of Libya.
Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is in Tripoli.. And Arwa Damon is reporting from Benghazi -- Nic to you first.
The president made it abundantly clear what U.S. policy is. I assume Gadhafi, his sons and those closest to him are under no illusions, the U.S. will stop nothing short of regime change -- in other words, getting rid of Gadhafi when all the dust settles.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They've been aware of that for some time. And for them, that's non-negotiable. It's not something that's going anywhere. I've been putting that -- when I've got a chance to interview or talk to any of the -- the sons of Moammar Gadhafi I've met here. And it draws a straight no. He's the leader and anything else that may happen further down the road, any changes in the future of this country, are not going to be negotiated now, not as -- when the -- the father, Moammar Gadhafi, is under threat.
And certainly, the indications -- all the indications we're getting now -- and I just talked to a senior official and they're not bulging on that. The government's very firm, the leadership is -- is very firm in its position right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: There's something that's sort of shocking crossing right now. Fox News reporting that last night -- we were speaking live on CNN last night. You were taken to Gadhafi -- a Gadhafi compound to inspect what the damage was from a U.S. coalition air strike.
Gadha -- Fox is reporting now that you and a Reuters crew, some others, were effectively used as human shields and that deterred the British, for example, from launching other air strikes at this area.
What -- what's the truth here -- Nic, because you were there?
ROBERTSON: Well, Wolf, I can talk you through what happened last night. To be perfectly honest, I don't see how that could have been the case. There were about 40 journalists on the bus that the government organized. They took some time to organize if after they said they wanted to go. We weren't exactly clear where we were going. We knew there had been a strike close to the palace compound. We didn't know precisely that's where we were going.
And it took perhaps -- over half an hour, 45 minutes, to sort of fight our way through the traffic there to get there, because there's so many cars outside that sort of palace compound area. All the Gadhafi loyalists were going there.
But before the bus left the hotel, a couple of people wanted to get off. They got off the bus. They had no problem getting off the bus, even as they were sort of driving out the gates, last minute changes of mind, changes of plan. Those people got off the bus.
And there was no compunction, honest, to go and get on the bus. I mean some journalists, Fox among them, chose to go out on -- not to go on the trip. Another group of journalists chose not to go on this particular trip. We'd chosen not to go out on a trip earlier in the day. You know, you're just -- if you don't go, you're just ignored by the officials. They don't come banging on your door.
So it took us about 45 minutes to get over there. When we got there, we got off the bus, put our bags through security. There's like an airport screening thing. You walk for five minutes, go through another security, wait for five minutes. Then we were taken through to the building that had been damaged and destroyed. And we had just about enough time to shoot everything that we wanted to shoot around that building -- 15, 20 minutes. Then we were whisked away to the tent where Moammar Gadhafi sits, given about three minutes to grab a couple of hasty shots there, whisked out of the compound back through security and back to our bus.
And I was literally bundled -- pushed on the bus while I was trying to be on the air broadcasting by a government official pushing -- pushing me on the bus, trying to get us out of there.
So my analysis is -- and I've been doing this for many, many years and we're very cognizant of the fact that maybe the government might try and pull stunts like that with journalists here. It's something that you're very acutely aware of.
But my sense of what happened was, that wasn't what was happening. The time that we arrived there was quite a random time. We were in. We went -- we were pretty quickly taken to where we were going and pretty quickly they got rid of us.
I think what they were taking us there for was to show us this building that had been hit, because, they said, the Pentagon spokesman had said no buildings in the compound would be hit. That's what they wanted to do. And then they got rid of us. And that's the way this government operates here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So it's just -- to the bottom line, you don't believe that the Libyans were using you and your colleagues as human shields to prevent British jet fighters from attacking this site?
ROBERTSON: Wolf, we were in that compound for about two-and-a-half hours on the previous night, waiting there with about 1,000 Gadhafi supporters, expecting Gadhafi to come out for a speech. We went there when we wanted to go. We left there when we wanted to leave. All the other journalists, when they wanted to leave, were able to leave, as well.
When we went last night to see this building that was bombed, we weren't kept hanging around there for half an hour or an hour or told, no, you must wait a bit longer; no, you have to stay here, you can't leave.
I think if somebody wanted to use us as a human shield -- and, of course they didn't know if -- if the building was planned to be targeted when it was planned to be targeted, if they wanted to use us as human shields, I believe -- this would have been my suspicion and expectation -- they would have kept us there for a lot longer. That's not what happened.
And I think -- my perception of this is that any journalist who came along on the trip last night would share that experience and would see it from the same perspective. If people didn't go on that journey, as Fox didn't, then perhaps they would have a different perspective. But I think if they had been there to witness it themselves, there -- they would have seen how it played out -- Wolf.
That's my perception.
BLITZER: Nic, be careful over there.
We'll stay in very, very close touch.
Nic Robertson in Tripoli.
Let's go to Benghazi right now.
That's the second largest city in Libya. It's under the control of the rebels, the opposition to Gadhafi.
Arwa Damon is joining us now.
So what's going on on this day, a day where there was an offensive, I take it, by the rebel forces?
What are they doing?
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the opposition military, the fighters, have actually now been able to take the battle back to the city of Ajdabiya, around 100 miles to the west of here. And that is just two days after Gadhafi's military, on Saturday, attacked the city of Benghazi, killing at least 95 people, according to hospital officials.
It was a terrifying moment for the residents here, many of them telling us about how the tanks came barreling down the road, firing indiscriminately into the buildings. Gadhafi's military using automatic heavy machine guns to shoot at residential blocks.
The opposition did, on Saturday, manage to drive Gadhafi's military out, but was under no illusion that they would be able to do that in the long-term on Sunday. Finally, they say, foreign fighter jets, French fighter jets, most likely, pounded Gadhafi's military, that was massed some 20 miles outside of Benghazi.
We went to survey the scene afterwards. And the carnage just stretched for miles. We counted at least 70 burnt vehicles.
Everyone here, Wolf, very grateful for this foreign intervention, without which they firmly believe they would have all eventually been massacred. And now they feel at least that the playing field here has, to a certain degree, been evened out.
BLITZER: They must have been thrilled when they heard the president of the United States, Arwa, say flatly, that, yes, the United Nations Security Council resolution has a limited objective, protecting them, creating a no-fly zone, but U.S. policy remains unchanged, Gadhafi must go.
I assume the reaction was very enthusiastic where you are?
DAMON: Absolutely, Wolf. And this is the kind of support from the United States that the opposition has been looking for from the start, that up until the last few days, they really felt they didn't have. Until that UN resolution was pushed through, most members of the opposition here felt that the international community -- and they would especially point to the United States, in this case -- was abandoning them, was going to leave them to the mercy of Gadhafi.
But ever since that UN resolution passed, we've been really hearing a change in attitude amongst opposition members toward America, who now they do believe is firmly behind them.
And this is exactly the kind of legitimacy that they are looking for, especially as they, too, share that same goal at the end of the day. They also want to see Gadhafi removed from power. They do, however, say that they don't necessarily want to see that taking place by some sort of an air strike. They say that they want to be the ones to do it themselves -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa, we'll stay in close touch with you, as well.
Please be careful at Benghazi.
Another domino may be close to falling in the Middle East. There are now new warnings that a bloodless coup may be in the works in Yemen, where al Qaeda is a very dangerous wildcard. We're getting late word of a possible deal, though. Stand by.
President Obama already setting the stage for the next phase of the mission against Libya and America's role in it.
And we'll find out if there's any new light on why smoke has been spewing from two crippled nuclear reactors in Japan.
Lots of news happening today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: As we certainly would expect, the military action in Libya is on Jack Cafferty's mind.
He's here with The Cafferty File -- welcome back, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf.
The United States military leading the initial air attacks against Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Libya. It all got started over this past weekend -- something eerily reminiscent to me about the way the war in Iraq started almost 10 years ago. Remember?
President Obama, though, insisted at a news conference this afternoon that the U.S. will soon step aside and that the mission will then be controlled by NATO forces and other allies.
It was the first time the president has answered questions on the topic of Libya since Allied air strikes got underway on Saturday.
Republicans have sharply criticized the president and the administration for the way they have communicated about the U.S. military mission in Libya. House Speaker John Boehner says he supports helping the people of Libya, but he also says, quoting here, "before any further military commitments are made, the administration must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission in Libya, and how it will be achieved," unquote.
Republican Senator Richard Lugar, ranking members of the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed Boehner concerns. He told CNNs John King he doesn't understand the mission either and believes that there are no guidelines set for success. It's not a partisan issue either, so far. A group of liberal House Democrats held a conference call Saturday. They are very upset that Congress wasn't formally consulted before the United States and the allies attacked Gadhafi's forces.
They're concerned that involvement in the air strikes could lead to a third war in the Middle East that the United States is involved in. Ohio congressman, Dennis Kucinich, even raised the prospect of impeachment over the president's actions and decisions.
Here's the question then, what is your understanding of America's role in the Libya offensive? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm happy to hear what our viewers think, and I'll check that blog. Thanks, Jack, very much. See you in a little while.
The political turmoil that sparked the military action we're seeing in Libya is part of an escalating wave of unrest erupting across North Africa and the Middle East. In Syria, hundreds have taken to the streets following the death of a protester killed by Syrian government security forces. Witnesses say five people have died since Friday.
In Bahrain, human rights watches urging the government to end what it's calling a campaign of arrests against doctors and pro-democracy supporters. Thousands have been demonstrating since last month. King Hammad says it's all part of a foreign plot to destabilize the country.
And in Yemen, a massive show of force against the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, as three top generals quit and joined up with the protesters. One official now warning of a bloodless coup, says that could be in the works. CNNs Mohammad Jamjoom is in Abu Dhabi for us. Mohammed, we're hearing the president, President Saleh. What? He could be on the verge of an agreement. What's going on?
MOHAMMAD JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, U.S. and Yemeni officials are telling CNN now that, in fact, President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his people are in talks with one of the military generals who defected earlier in the day and joined the ranks of the youth revolution in Yemen. They're saying that they're talking about a five-point plan. Parts of this plan would include making sure that protesters there were protected, investing crimes that had happened, and violence that happened and making sure that the president followed timeline and left office before the end of the year.
Now, what's interesting about this is even of they agree on this, the opposition in Yemen would still have to agree to come to the table, and in the past couple months, as this protest movement has gained more and more momentum, the opposition has just said they are not going to talk to President Saleh. Now, there's a lot of concern about what's going on in Yemen right now.
Even if there are talks that are going on, diplomats were telling me earlier, they thought that what they're seeing now, the early stages of a bloodless coup, but the concern is, could this turn into a bloody coup? You have different military factions now out in the street. Military of defense, they are standing by Saleh and staying the army will.
These other military generals have the fact that even if they're in talks, they've sent out their troops to the streets to protect the protesters. If they start clashing, it gets bloody, and diplomats tell me they are afraid that Yemen could be on the brink of a civil war -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I know you're monitoring that for us, but you're also monitoring Arab participation in the proposed no fly zone over Libya. We know Qatar is going to get involved, symbolically, at least. They're sending a jet fighter or two or three. I know that's right, but United Arab Emirates, you're in Abu Dhabi right now, they were supposed to get involved. They've got a robust U.S. supplied air force, F-15s, F-16s, what are they doing?
JAMJOOM: Wolf, that's what's been so interesting. A UAE official told CNN earlier in the day that the UAE has now confined its role to a humanitarian aide role and that they've been assisting in the effort for the past three days, but everybody expected that the UAE would actually be in there with fighter planes right now. Military defense analysts in the region were telling me the past few days, they fully expected that the UAE would commit planes, that they would be flying over Libya.
So far, all you've seen is Qatar. People thought Qatar would actually be doing the humanitarian aid. So, a lot of confusion about why the UAE isn't participating in a more robust way. People wondering if this is because the Arab league and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are concerned that, perhaps, if they're supporting the rebels in Libya, how does that affect the street here when you have countries that are calling for regime change. A lot of GCC countries, and yet, their leaders don't want to support the protesters in their own countries, but they're going ahead and siding possibly with the rebels by enforcing a no fly-zone in Libya. A lot to sort out in the coming days, and hopefully we'll hear more from the UAE in the coming days, as well -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Of course, we'll be staying in close touch with you. Mohammad, thanks very much. Mohammad Jamjoon is in Abu Dhabi.
President Obama seeks to reassure the world just days into the attacks on Libya. Just ahead, the transition, he says, is about to take place. Will it? How long? Standby.
And new fears for those trapped inside the Libyan war zone. My interview with one woman whose family is now missing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because we're working with international partners, after the initial thrust that has disabled Gadhafi's air defenses, limits his ability to threaten large population centers like Benghazi, that there's going to be a transition taking place in which we have a range of coalition partners, the Europeans, members of the Arab league who will then be participating in establishing a no fly-zone there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Obama trying to reassure the world, the United States will step back from its leading role in the attacks on Gadhafi's Libyan targets sooner rather than later. Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's traveling with the president in Chile right now. Ed, the president says U.S. policy is Gadhafi must go? Is there a timeline on when he will go?
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There really is not. The president is hedging on that and that is very critical to how this mission is being viewed around the world. On the first part of what you're saying about handing this over the mission itself to NATO, the president says that will happen in days, not weeks, but he won't specify how many days in part because they have to make sure they can actually get NATO allies on board, maybe get some Arab allies, as well, and they're not all quite there yet.
Secondly, on the Gadhafi question that you asked, the fact of the matter is the president was trying to walk a fine line today and say, look, the U.N. mandate is narrow. The president sort of has his hands tied a little bit here because it only says that you're trying to deal with humanitarian crisis, protect the civilians. The U.N. mandate is not for regime change. It's not to knockout Gadhafi.
Separate from that, the president noted, it's U.S. policy that they want Gadhafi to go, but the fact remains, you can split this anyway you want rhetorically, but at the end of the day, when this mission is completed in some form or fashion, if Gadhafi is still in power, it's going to be hard for the U.S. and its allies to claim it's a success. That's bottom line fact that makes s it very difficult.
BLITZER: Absolutely. You know, while you're there in Santiago, Chile, there's some criticism here in Washington on Capitol Hill, as you well know, Ed, from not just Republicans, but even some Democrats, Dennis Kucinich, for example, among others saying the president did not adequately consult with Congress before sending U.S. troops off to war. How is the White House reacting to that?
HENRY: Well, look, they're pushing back pretty hard and saying the president, himself, called in congressional leaders of both parties last Friday, a quiet meeting in the White House situation room to sort of lay this mission out for them. And then on Saturday, one of the president's top aids, Dennis McDonough, was back at the White House when the president was in Brazil.
He was phoning lawmakers to give them more details as this mission began, but the bottom line is, while the White House did reach out, in fact, when you look at that, there are still, as you say, lawmakers in both parties who are not satisfied. They think there's too many unanswered questions, and as you noted, the big problem, it's not just Republicans like Dick Lugar. There are a lot of Democrats.
In fact, I just spoke to this group, Vote Vets pack (ph), it's a liberal advocacy group, normally with the president on a lot of key issues. They say they can't support this mission in Libya. Too many unanswered questions. That shows this president still has a big, big political problem, not just with Republicans, but on his left flank right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. We'll see. He might not have a big political problem if he succeeds. There's nothing succeeds as much as success. All right. Thanks very much for that, Ed.
Attacks and chaos in Libya, but there is some positive news to report. We'll update you on the fate of four "New York Times" journalists. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We've learned that four journalists captured by pro- government forces in Libya have now been freed. "The New York Times" sending an e-mail to staffers saying its four employees are now in Tunisia.
Look at what's been going on over the skies of Tripoli in recent hours. Anti-aircraft fire lighting up those skies and explosions echoing across the city. A top U.S. military commander stressing today that coalition forces are fighting to protect Libyan civilians, but not necessarily working to support the rebels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. CARTER HAM, COMMANDER, U.S. AFRICA COMMAND: Our mandate again, our mission, is to protect civilians from attack by the regime ground forces. Our mission is not to support any opposition forces. So while we have reports from people who are reported to be in the opposition, there is no official communication or formal communication with those in this so-called opposition that are opposing the regime's ground forces.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's General Carter Ham, the head of the U.S. military's Africa command. He's in charge of this operation, at least now, until the transition to others goes forward.
Let's bring in retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark. He's a CNN contributor, the former NATO supreme allied commander.
Does that make sense to you, what General Ham just said, that the U.S. is not working with the opposition? We know that the president only the other day announced there would be a representative to the opposition. The secretary of state, in Paris, met with an opposition leader. There are Americans who deal with the opposition on a day-to- day basis.
Is he just being precise that there's no military representatives dealing with the opposition? Is that what you're hearing?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FMR. NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: That's what I'm hearing. I'm hearing that the military operation is strictly in line with exactly the mandate that came out of the United Nations.
BLITZER: Well, that's the military operation, but you know there are plenty of U.S. civilians who work for the United States government, whether the intelligence community, or contractors, who are not necessarily military, that they can do all sorts of other things right now. Isn't that right?
CLARK: That's true. And presumably, there are NGOs in there, and there are other people. There's a Libyan opposition group in Washington -- in fact, and several other members of the former Libyan royal family, for example, who are deeply engaged in this.
They're receiving all kinds of information. And whether -- and what the assistance is, of course, we don't know. It's one of those questions I think the public would like to know.
But, you know, there's a gap between what the U.N. Security Council resolution says and what now the enunciated U.S. policy is. The policy says Gadhafi has to go. The U.N. Security Council resolution doesn't say that. And so the U.S. military's very technical, very legal, very much in accordance with the mandate of the U.N. Security Council.
BLITZER: So even hypothetically, Special Operations commandos, Green Beret forces, U.S. military personnel, they can't participate in this on the ground? Is that what you're saying? They're that technical?
CLARK: Well, I'm saying that not under the U.S. chain of command they can't. Now, there is a separate procedure for presidential finding, and if that were to be done we would never know about it. This is a so-called covert action, and that doesn't have to be bound by the U.N. Security Council.
And there have been reports of SAS troops on the ground. Obviously, the Brits following that procedure.
We don't know about it right now, if there are any U.S. covert operatives in there. That's a decision the president is going to have to make, and we might not know for months or years.
BLITZER: There's a little confusion in my mind when the U.S. will actually hand over authority to someone else. When General Ham, for example -- and I assume you know, General Carter Ham.
CLARK: Sure do.
BLITZER: When he relinquishes the leadership and gives it to some French general, or British admiral, or someone like that, supposedly within days, the president today said several days. Others are saying to me, not so fast, this could take a while.
CLARK: Well, there are some agreements that have to be worked out. There's a European Union command and control capacity. Maybe they can invoke that.
Does it have all the technical means and does it need U.S. national technical means directly fed into it? If it does, there's a problem there.
And so exactly what the mission is of the force after the United States hands over command and control, all that has to be agreed. Right now I believe, from what I'm hearing behind the scenes, that there's still discussion going on in NATO.
Turkey's concerned because they have guest workers in Libya. They don't know what the impact on those Turks would be that haven't been evacuated, if Turkey were to side with NATO and say use NATO command and control.
So these issues are ongoing and in discussion right now.
BLITZER: The Arab League wanted a no-fly zone, they endorsed a no-fly zone unanimously. Even Syria voted for it. But now most of those Arab League countries, they're MIA. They're missing in action. Qatar is going to maybe send a plane or two. UAE does some humanitarian assistance.
Are you disappointed that the Arab countries, even those friendliest with the United States, Britain and France, are sort of moving to the sidelines?
CLARK: Absolutely disappointed, but not surprised. They don't have the legitimacy and their own political systems aren't such that it's easy for them to make these kinds of decisions and then live with the consequences of it, because this decision is a decision is that could entail a very long-term operation. It could be very damaging. For example, Wolf, I was reading -- and this is all public reports -- that Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, was in Cairo, and he was accosted by a Libyan mob. I don't think that was a spontaneous Libyan mob.
Gadhafi runs a dictatorship. It's a totalitarian regime. And he's got a long reach.
So there's problems there for these states if they go against Gadhafi. They're looking at it, trying to figure out what to do.
BLITZER: Yes. And he's got a history of reaching outside of Libya --
CLARK: Yes, he does.
BLITZER: -- over many years. We all remember the Lockerbie bombing, Pan Am Flight 103.
General, thanks very much.
CLARK: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Inside Libya, some people are scared for their lives, wondering what might happen next. We're talking to people inside the country. Stand by. A live interview.
And was it a risky move by President Obama to order this attack on Libya?
BLITZER: Just days into the coalition attacks in Libya, dramatic new accounts of what's happening inside the war zone from people who live there.
Lisa Sylvester is here. She's joining us with details.
Pretty amazing stories.
SYLVESTER: It is, Wolf. You know, I spoke to a man named Ibrahim in Benghazi today via Skype, but he does not want us to show his face or use his full name. Benghazi was spared the worst of Gadhafi's troops when coalition forces stepped in, but he says that in other parts of Libya, Gadhafi's reign of terror continues.
IBRAHIM, LIBYAN: The center of Zawiya is flattened to the ground. That's what he's trying to do to Misrata now.
Tanks are firing on buildings and are destroying buildings where -- apartment buildings where people are living. He has snipers on some rooftops that are shooting at anybody who moves anywhere in Misrata. He has cut off water supply for almost a week now from Misrata.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Ibrahim's comments about Misrata can't be confirmed, but opposition sources say about a dozen people were killed there today. And Libyan TV says the government has purged the city of rebels.
Ibrahim says Gadhafi's forces, including tanks and artillery, were closing in on rebel-held Benghazi, where he and his family live. A few hundred fighters loyal to Gadhafi made it into the city.
IBRAHIM: They started shooting and firing. Some of the tank shells fell on houses and destroyed them partially. There were victims, some dead. And these people, the other people other than the tanks, were driving around the city throwing hand grenades all over the place and firing in all directions, trying to create an atmosphere of chaos and panic in the city.
SYLVESTER: But then on Saturday night, coalition forces stepped in. French military planes destroyed pro-government tanks and other vehicles.
IBRAHIM: I know people started crying when they saw the equipment that was heading towards Benghazi, just imagining what it would have done to Benghazi if the French had not eliminated that threat.
SYLVESTER: Ibrahim says pro-Gadhafi forces have either been arrested or killed in Benghazi. He says Gadhafi can only hold on for so long.
IBRAHIM: His days are numbered. It might be a low number, it might be a high number. It's very difficult to tell, but it depends also on the amount of aid that we get from the international community to neutralize Gadhafi's military force, because if he's not able to terrorize people with a military force, he will not last very long at all.
SYLVESTER: Now, it's hard for many people to communicate in the cities that are seeing the most intense clashes like Misrata and Tripoli. Ibrahim says phone lines are not working, the Internet is down, but they are still getting reports from people who have managed to flee those cities -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting, fascinating stories. All right. Thanks very much. We hope these folks are going to be OK.
Outside Libya, some Libyans are desperately waiting for word from loved ones. Some of them, now missing.
Plus, pressure on the Pentagon to give details of the end game they envisage in Libya.
BLITZER: Coalition air strikes in Libya, a welcome sight to many civilians under assault by pro-Gadhafi forces if they know what's going on. Some apparently are in hiding or missing right now.
We spoke a couple of weeks ago with a woman from Misrata. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAIMUNA IBRAHIM, MISRATA RESIDENT: The situation is really unstable. Like, it seems like it is liberated, but you don't know what's going to happen next, so you're constantly kind of in fear. Like, the people are really stressed out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, Maimuna Ibrahim's relatives say they haven't been able to reach her.
Joining us now from Ottawa, her sister, Safiah Ibrahim.
Safiah, thanks very much for joining us.
When was the last time you spoke or heard from your sister?
SAFIAH IBRAHIM, SISTER MISSING INS MISRATA: The last I spoke to my sister Maimuna was on Tuesday afternoon our time. And they forewarned me that the lines might be disconnected for the next little while.
It seems that they had some sort of inclination about what was coming. Not speaking to them for about a week has been extremely stressful.
BLITZER: Have you been able to get through to anyone in Misrata?
IBRAHIM: We have not been able to get through to anyone. We have tried landlines, we've tried cell phones. Directly, we have not been able to get any news from them.
BLITZER: So your sister, presumably, is OK, but all communications have been cut off and that's why you're not able to hear from her. I assume that's what you think, right?
IBRAHIM: That's right. We're hoping she's OK. There's no sure way of knowing.
We've seen footage coming out of Misrata, and especially the areas where my family resides. And it's been pretty scary.
I mean, just the amount of destruction that we see isn't really a good indicator of how the people are doing over there. It's terrifying to know that my people in the city of Misrata are living this every day for a week now.
BLITZER: I remember when I spoke with your sister Maimuna she was obviously very excited, she was passionate, she was anxious for Gadhafi to simply go away. I assume you share her thoughts. Is that right?
IBRAHIM: Yes. Yes. We've been dreaming of this day for a very long time now.
And we kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we realize that it's going to take a little bit longer. Hopefully it will happen very soon. But we realize that 41 years doesn't disappear overnight. And we're willing to stay for the long run, for as long as it takes.
BLITZER: We're praying for your sister and we're praying for all the people of Libya. Thanks very much, Safiah, for joining us.
IBRAHIM: Thank you so much, Wolf.
BLITZER: So what's your understanding of America's role in Libya? Jack Cafferty has your answers when we come back.
Plus, a major setback in the desperate attempt to stop a nuclear meltdown in Japan.
And on Capitol Hill, President Obama getting backlash from both sides of the aisle on the Libyan offensive.
BLITZER: Let's take a look at some of the memorable images coming in from Libya.
In Tripoli right now, a supporter of Moammar Gadhafi rallies support for the Libyan leader.
Meanwhile, a rebel man's machinegun during a firefight with Gadhafi's forces.
In Tripoli, a boy is hoisted on the shoulders of Gadhafi's supporters.
Outside Ajdabiya, a man smiles before launching a failed attempt to take control of that city.
A look at the dramatic situation unfolding in Libya.
Let's bring back Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What is your understanding of America's role in the Libya offensive?
Kim in Virginia writes, "The mission is to give aid and stop the genocide of people who want to remove a dictator of 42 years who uses military force to stay in power. The world cannot sit by and watch one more war of attacks on innocent women and children."
Steve in New York says, "Obama is so slow. If had he acted two weeks ago, Gadhafi would have been circled by his own people and probably taken out by now. The result now is where we were with Saddam, in Iraq -- no-fly zone for the next five years, while Gadhafi will be busy killing his own people."
Chris writes, "I just kind of figured it must have been some kind of a wage two wars, get a third war free promotion."
Loren in Chicago writes, "We get to spend the most money by using our expensive munitions to blast the command and control structure to hell, and then the remaining countries get to practice their flying skills when it's safe to do. In other words, we bear the brunt of the expense but no boots on the ground so the president can say we're not at war. It's government by public relations."
David writes, "My understanding is we'll take control of Libya's oil production to help bring down gas prices in the United States. After that, we're building a Disney Middle East theme park on top of Gadhafi's main compound."
Some of you people are not taking this seriously.
Michael in Virginia writes, "We're there to clear the skies for England and France. Once the air defenses are obliterated, we will be in support."
Bill in Wisconsin, "Change the name of the country Libya to Iraq. Change the year from 2011 to 1992. Change the name Obama to Bush. The bottle might look different, but the wine is the same."
And Tony writes, "President Hillary Clinton has stated our position. She's doing a great job while her subordinates travel and play golf."
If you want to read more on the subject, go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Some tough comments there. All right. Thanks very much, Jack.
Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."
We're not just focusing in on Libya. In Japan, a new concern, food and milk exposed to nuclear radiation. Should any of us be worried?
Plus, we're digging deeper into the Libyan opposition. Is al Qaeda playing any role at all? Find out. Peter Bergen is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're going back to Nic Robertson and Arwa Damon in Libya in just a few moments.
First, though, some new information on the aftermath of the Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. Following reports of Japanese food and milk exposed to nuclear radiation, the World Health Organization today announced short-term exposure to foods contaminated by the radiation poses no immediate health risk. Meantime, Japanese authorities have banned the sale of some of those products, including milk and spinach.
Also, a setback in the desperate struggle to prevent a nuclear meltdown. Smoke is spewing from two reactors in the Daiichi plant. Some workers have been evacuated.
And a remarkable story of survival. More than a week since the tragedy, a 16-year-old boy and his 80-year-old grandmother have been rescued from their home. He tells reporters that they survived on snacks. The desperate search for survivors in the disaster zone is a daunting task and one that in cases like Japan requires more than just human efforts.
Our Brian Todd has this part of the story.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, meet my new friends Tomo (ph) and Petzel (ph). They're crucial members of the U.S. search and rescue teams, veterans of disaster response efforts in Haiti and elsewhere. And they're definitely not mascots.
TODD (voice-over): With an energetic, hard-wired burst, Atticus (ph) charges into the rubble, bouncing around a fallen roof. He's focused on one thing, finding a living, breathing human amid the sprawling wreckage of the tsunami.
It might seem an unfair request of a German Shepherd, but Atticus (ph) and more than a dozen other dogs working with U.S. and British rescue teams here are more than equal to it.
(on camera): How important are these dogs to these operations?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very. There's a lot of technical gear, obviously, the listening devices, the cameras, all that stuff for locating people. But at the end of the day, you can't beat a dog for hitting the scent of a human being.
TODD (voice-over): Like most canine specialists, Rob Furnis (ph) has a tight bond with his Border Collie, Byron (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good boy! Good man!
TODD: The dogs are so highly trained, they're able to block out the scent of a deceased person and pick up only on someone who's alive. Their success rate is impressive.
These teams pulled more than a dozen survivors safely from the rubble in Haiti, in no small part due to teammates like this German Shepherd named Racker (ph). But keeping this sharp involves some creativity.
(on camera): The team just had to do a drill with Racker (ph) because they haven't found anyone live in a few days. They just had one of their own team members hide in this place, out of sight out, just out of any sensory perception for Racker (ph), sent Racker (ph) in there to see if they could find that team member. That's how they keep the dogs sharp if they haven't found anyone in a few days.
(voice-over): You stare in amazement as they run full speed, jump, land, and bounce off objects that are so jagged and uneven, that most people couldn't even attempt it. But they're not invincible.
(on camera): Did he give you any kind of signal or did you just see the blood?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I just saw blood.
TODD (voice-over): Tomo (ph), a German Shepherd, snagged something in his paw. A little field surgery, and he's back in the game. Later on, Racker (ph) needs more work to stitch up a wound. Never during either incident do we hear one whimper from either dog.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good boy.
TODD: Traveling, sleeping, eating and playing with their handlers is part of the routine. Their communication is so instinctive, that they sometimes understand each other just by making eye contact. We didn't witness them finding survivors in Japan, but the dogs serve another purpose for those who have lost everything.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Having the dog and seeing the times that the people in Haiti or something would enjoy a little solace from the dog, that's also part of their job and helpful to everybody, to teammates and myself alike.
TODD: And all these dogs like Atticus (ph) here actually live with their handlers who are heavily involved in their training. That of course helps solidify the bond between them and helps them get through these long deployments a long way from home -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, doing an excellent job for us in Japan.