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Defense Secretary Announces End to Combat Mission in Afghanistan Next Year

Aired February 3, 2012 - 04:00:00   ET


GROUP: This is Ms. (Inaudible) current issues class from (Inaudible), South Dakota, and you`re watching CNN Student News. I


CARL AZUZ, HOST, CNN STUDENT NEWS: Yes, I am, and you guys are awesome, just like Fridays. We thank you for the introduction. I`m Carl Azuz, the real one here with your commercial-free headlines.

First up, a military mission that started more than a decade ago could be ending earlier than expected. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States and NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, want to end their combat mission in Afghanistan next year.


AZUZ (voice-over): That`s earlier than the current deadline for troops to be out by 2014. U.S. officials say the plan is what they`re hoping to do. Nothing is final yet, but some U.S. politicians say there`s no reason to change the timeframe. Ninette Sosa has more on the reaction to this new plan and on how it would work.

NINETTE SOSA, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): The U.S. military and NATO want to end the combat mission in Afghanistan a year ahead of schedule. The Obama Administration had set a deadline of 2014 to end the fighting. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he hopes the mission will shift to a training and advisory role in 2013.

President Obama painted an optimistic picture of U.S. progress in Afghanistan during his State of the Union address last month.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Taliban`s momentum has been broken and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.

SOSA (voice-over): But a leaked NATO report has raised concerns about what will happen in Afghanistan once coalition troops pull out. The report suggests the Taliban are confident they will be ready to take over.

NATO is downplaying the significance of the report, but Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney slammed Defense Secretary Panetta for publicly revealing U.S. plans to end the combat mission early.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He announced that so the Taliban hears it, the Pakistanis hear it, the Afghan leaders hear it. Why in the world do you go to the people that you`re fighting with and tell them the day you`re pulling out your troops? It makes absolutely no sense.

SOSA (voice-over): U.S. officials say no plans for the mission in Afghanistan will be final until a NATO meeting in May. I`m Ninette Sosa reporting.


AZUZ: Next up, we`re heading down to the Pacific Ocean to talk about rescue efforts off the coast of Papua New Guinea. A ferry sank on its way from an island there to the mainland. The ship was about 10 miles offshore when it sank early on Thursday.


AZUZ (voice-over): There were around 350 people on board when this happened. Boats and helicopters rushed to the scene after an alert was sent out. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 230 people had been rescued.

Australian officials are coordinating the search effort for the people who are still missing. One witness who was helping with the rescue said the weather probably played a role in the ship sinking. He said the area is notorious for having strong winds.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Time for the Shoutout. Which of these locations is farthest north? You know what to do. Is it Cape Hatteras, Coney Island, Cape Cod or Southernmost Point? You`ve got three seconds, go.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is the farthest point north on that list. That`s your answer, and that`s your Shoutout.


AZUZ: Some scientists are trying to solve a mystery on Cape Cod. Dolphins have been getting stranded there. It`s not completely unusual. There are typically around 120 strandings per year. But more than 100 dolphins have gotten stranded since the start of January. Sometimes they`re washing 10 at a time.


AZUZ (voice-over): At least 81 of these dolphins were either found dead or they died shortly after being discovered. One animal welfare group director called the number "disturbing." Now, no one`s certain what`s causing the dolphin deaths.

A local harbor master says changes in water temperature could be a contributing factor. Usually the Cape Cod harbor ices over in winter, so dolphins don`t get close to shore. But the harbor master says now that the water`s warmer, more are showing up than ever before.


AZUZ: All right, here`s some lunar trivia for you. The time it takes for the moon to make one rotation on its axis is the same amount of time it takes for the moon to orbit around the Earth. So you have one side of the moon that`s always facing the Earth, and the other side is always facing away.


AZUZ (voice-over): Well, this is that other side, and these are the first video images that NASA has released of the far side of the moon from one of the pair of probes that are studying the moon`s gravitational field.

One of the interesting features here on the far side is this massive crater that scientists think might have been caused by an ancient comet or asteroid`s impact.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just the facts: the Tuskegee Airmen composed the U.S. military`s first African-American flying unit. They were named after Tuskegee, Alabama, where they trained during World War II. Nearly 1,000 pilots graduated from the Tuskegee program. The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 1,500 missions and earned more than 850 medals.


AZUZ: The Tuskegee Airmen proved that with equal training and opportunity, African-Americans could serve in combat units as well as anyone. Their efforts helped lead to the integration of the U.S. military, and as we commemorate Black History Month, we`re giving you a chance to hear about the Tuskegee Airmen from some of the pilots themselves.


RAYMOND WILLIAMS, TUSKEGEE AIRMAN: What does it mean to be a Tuskegee Airman? Certainly we`re a member of the very exclusive group of airmen. We all worked together. We love one another.

HERBERT CARTER, TUSKEGEE AIRMAN: I was doing what I considered the one of the most challenging and pleasant careers of my life, and that was flying.

WILBUR MASON, TUSKEGEE AIRMAN: So it was like a fraternity. There was a tremendous amount of brotherhood because guys were helping each other, you know. A fellow couldn`t perform to some degree or could bear something immediately, his buddies would jump in and try to encourage him and teach him.

CARTER: I went overseas with the 99th Pursuit Squadron. We were the first black fighter squadron in combat. I flew 77 combat missions, going overseas to fight, was doing so as an American, that I felt very proud of being and was willing to go fight and die for. It had nothing to do with the racial status that I had to endure. And it was love for America in spite of her imperfections.

MASON: Thinking we were making history or a part of history, never occurred to us, and we were just doing the best we could.

WILLIAMS: We went for many, many years when nobody knew that we existed. Right now, it`s about almost 70 years ago. So it took a long time for them to recognize us.

CARTER: I feel that recognition has finally come around. I simply hope that our young men and women of America will look at this experience and the story of these Tuskegee Airmen, and from it make themselves a committee of one so that we can perpetuate the legacy that these airmen have left.



AZUZ: We want to see you on an upcoming edition of CNN Student News. And this is how you can do it. You can record yourself on either a camera or a phone, like you see me doing right now, talking about Black History Month.

We want you to tell us, in 60 seconds or less, about an important figure in black history. We don`t want to hear any music or see any pictures. We just want to see you talking. Send it to us as an iReport at, and then look for our response in your email inbox.


AZUZ: All right, before we go, we`ve got a gaggle of groundhogs. We`re going to start in Pennsylvania --


AZUZ (voice-over): -- with old Punxsutawney Phil. He said we`re in for six more weeks of winter. But Phil doesn`t have the best record with these predictions, and he`s not in sync with Georgia`s General Beauregard Lee, who declared spring is almost here. Don`t you hate it when your weather predicting whistle pigs disagree?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then there`s Chuckles -- he chuckles around a little bit.

AZUZ (voice-over): Here`s Chuckles in Connecticut who declared that winter is canceled. I didn`t think a groundhog had that kind of power --


AZUZ: -- but if you never want to see another winter, hope springs eternal. I think that`s one of better and higher-brow puns. Now before we charge to the weekend, we want to salute the Chargers of Lawrence Marathon (ph) Middle School in Iowa. A student there got our social media question of the week right. We hope you guys and everyone out there has a wonderful weekend. We`ll see you on Monday.