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On the Story

London Bombings And U.S. Reaction; U.S. Forces In Afghanistan Under Fire From Insurgents; Supreme Court Vacancies; Keeping Interest Alive In Natalee Holloway Case; First Swedish Woman To Climb Everest

Aired July 09, 2005 - 19:00   ET


From the campus of the George Washington University, at the center of the nation's capital, CNN is ON THE STORY. Our correspondents have the stories behind the stories they're covering, from the terror of the London bombings, to the battlefields of Afghanistan, to the political fight over the Supreme Court.

Welcome. I'm Kyra Phillips.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Christiane Amanpour ON THE STORY in London, the story of the worst ever terror attacks to strike this city, the worst attack since World War II.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jeanne Meserve ON THE STORY of U.S. reaction to those London bombings, including a move to a higher threat level for mass transit.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I'm Barbara Starr ON THE STORY with U.S. forces in Afghanistan under fire from insurgents along the Pakistan border.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Joe Johns ON THE STORY of the political storm hanging over the Supreme Court, raining down on President Bush and the United States Senate.

PHILLIPS: Our new edition of ON THE STORY will take you behind the scenes to show you how CNN covers the news. Our correspondents will be taking questions from the studio audience, drawn from visitors, college students, and people across Washington.

And we want to hear from you, our viewers. E-mail us at

Now straight to Christiane Amanpour, terror in London.

AMANPOUR: Thanks, Kyra.

And terrorism roared back onto the world stage this week with a series of four bomb blasts here in London, three on the underground tube station. We're here at King's Cross which suffered the worst death toll, 21 people dead so far confirmed. But there are more still underground, still trapped in that carriage, bodies that can't yet be reached because of what the police are saying is an unstable tunnel in that area where the train carriage is trapped.

I'm joined by my colleague, Richard Quest, who has been covering this alongside me and other reporters who've been really blanketing this story for the last several days since this has happened.

Richard, you know, this is not just about a terrible, terrible, terrible attack on London but also -- you're a Londoner -- about the resilience of these people.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, there's no question. I mean, I was one of the first reporters on the scene yesterday at Aldgate East where one of the other -- where one of the first explosions took place.

What struck me, Christiane, about covering that moment was, first of all, the calmness. People weren't panicked. They were going about their business. Local shops were offering police (ph) or cells. Anybody around, they were offering us tea, coffee, did we need a sandwich?

But what really struck me about it was the way we were back to square one. The mobile phones didn't work. I mean, you will remember the days you turned up at a story and you had to borrow a local phone, you had to actually pay somebody to use that phone.

AMANPOUR: I thought what was so interesting was the way, you know, we really knew something was wrong was because those mobile phones went down. And what we know now is that cell-phone companies shunted over a lot of their capacity to the emergency services and that the police considered shutting the entire cell system down because they were afraid that they may be used as triggers for these devices, or further devices.

But then they didn't manage to actually do that. They didn't want to further panic...

QUEST: Cause chaos, yes.

AMANPOUR: Yes, exactly.

Kyra, back to you.

PHILLIPS: Christiane, we actually have a question for you from the audience. Why don't you stand up, tell us your name, where you're from, and what your question is?

QUESTION: I'm Scott Somerset (ph) from Detroit, Michigan. And I was wondering, did the reaction of the British people and government resemble more of the Spanish's withdrawal after they were attacked or the emboldened reaction of the United States after September 11th?

AMANPOUR: You know, the reaction of the British people was the reaction of the British people. These are people who have gone through terror, war bombings, the Nazi bombings of World War II known then...


AMANPOUR: And here we go. We have the British people intervening right here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell the truth about what happened. They're in Iraq. That's why. That's why it happened.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were 50 killed in Iraq.

AMANPOUR: As you can tell, and this is actually important, you're seeing a live version of what is aggravating a lot of people here in England and around the world.

The fact of the matter is that the war in Iraq is very, very unpopular. But beyond that, the people of England and the people of London reacted incredibly because they've been here before.

QUEST: Her majesty, the queen, said today, when she addressed the people, she said, you know, people recognize what has happened. And then crucially she said, for people of her generation, and that was, as you just said, "We have been here before."

And what that tells us -- you know, that the phrase, "the Dunkirk spirit," came from this country during the Second World War. And even tonight, people are on the streets, maybe not as many as normal, Christiane, but let's face it. There is still an atmosphere in the capital.

AMANPOUR: Well, there really is. And again, to address the question, you know, I remember after 9/11 the mayor of New York said that we New Yorkers are going to react as the British did back in World War II and through all the decades of the IRA bombings.

This is a city that has incredible backbone, incredible resilience, no surrender to these kinds of attacks, no fear, no cowing to them.

QUEST: I can't remember doing a story like this where there has been -- where the plan for executing has gone as well. I mean, the authorities -- all right, yes. If you're at the extremities of it, there was a certain amount of confusion and chaos. But by and large, they planned for this, and it worked as they'd intended for the authorities.

AMANPOUR: That's right. And people are crediting that with saving a lot of lives.

But you just saw a live example of a huge amount of aggravation -- I mean, these people are probably drunk and angry. But there is an incredible amount of opposition to the Iraq war. And it was after 9/11 and after Britain joined the U.S. in the Iraq war that Britons really felt that an attack here was inevitable, that it was not a question of if, but when -- Kyra?

PHILLIPS: Joe, did you have a question for Christiane?

JOHNS: I did, in fact, Christiane. The political ramifications of all this, do you expect at the end of the day the government there is going to be able to in some way sort of use this to say, "Look, there is so much more to do across the world in the issue of terror and terrorism"?

AMANPOUR: You know, I think they already have. I mean, this happened, as you know, at the height of a G-8 summit. So you had every powerful world leader here. They were in Scotland meeting when this happened. And there was this incredible family photo, if you like, of world leaders standing behind Tony Blair and again uttering their resolution and their resolve, rather, to not allow this to defeat them or to defeat what they always call our way of life, to defeat our freedoms and the kind of lives that we hold dear.

And they also said that this is the kind of -- we're not going to give in to the politics of destruction. We're going to keep pursuing the politics of hope. And by that, Tony Blair was really talking about the G-8 agenda, which put Africa and trying to help the poorest of the poor in Africa and around the world.

And they actually did come out with perhaps a higher commitment of aid and a doubling of international aid to Africa within the next five years. So it will have political ramifications for sure, but certainly, people aren't going to step back from this fight.

PHILLIPS: Christiane Amanpour, Richard Quest, we have more questions for you. Stay with us.

ON THE STORY will be right back after a quick break.


QUEST: This is Aldgate East station where one of the first explosions went off. In fact, one of the reasons it took me so long to get here was we had to carry the equipment the last mile or so because we just simply couldn't get any closer, except on foot.

The mobile phones didn't work. The BlackBerries didn't work. It was just as if one was reporting back in the first days of my career. There will be many more moments over the next few days when we'll pause and reflect on what has taken place. And perhaps there's a slightly personal aspect in all of it. After all, this is the city where I live and where I work.



JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm Jacqui Jeras in the CNN Weather Center. Hurricane Dennis some 300 miles away from the Florida panhandle now. A major category-three hurricane packing winds of 115 miles per hour.

Additional strengthening is expected for tonight before it makes landfall tomorrow afternoon likely to the west of Pensacola. But if you live anywhere in this shaded area, keep in mind there could be some minor deviations in this track. So there's still a little bit of uncertainty exactly where this is going to go.

However, the intensity is expected to continue to go up and actually become a category-four, with winds of 131 to 155 miles per hour tomorrow afternoon. The winds you're dealing with across -- just kind of skirting along the coastline here. Tropical-storm-force gusts occasionally are occurring, and that's 39 miles per hour-plus, up to maybe 70 miles per hour.

But the heaviest we've been finding have been some of these stronger rain bands extending on up towards the Gainesville area up to 60 miles per hour. And be aware of the threat of tornadoes in the Florida peninsula also tonight.

Another update in 15 minutes. Back to ON THE STORY.

PHILLIPS: And CNN's ON THE STORY back in Washington with our audience in the George Washington University. Now straight to homeland security.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Terrorists may bomb, and attack, and attempt to use weapons of fear to shake the confidence in the world of free nations and free people, but they will not succeed.


PHILLIPS: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff reacting to the London bombings.

Jeanne Meserve, that's your beat. I'm curious. Do you think this is more P.R. or substance?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was probably more P.R. than substance, but when it comes to homeland security, that's actually important. It's true that most transit systems in the country had already taken precautionary steps before they took that official action of moving the country to orange for mass transit.

But when it comes to homeland security, it's about tone. It's about settling people down. It's about letting them have confidence in their security. And that's part of the reason he went up there and spoke to the American people.

PHILLIPS: And you know, there's a lot of criticism over the color coding. And do you raise it? Do you not raise it? Does it mean anything? I mean, what do you hear out on the streets, when you're talking to your sources, and you're talking to just folks that live, you know, in this area and across the country?

MESERVE: You hear very mixed things. And when it initially came out, people said, "I can't make sense of this." It isn't really so hard. If you can read the temperature chart on the back page of the newspaper, you can make sense of the color-coded system.

And I think for emergency responders, it can be very useful, because they have developed a set of protocols on how they're going to respond at yellow, how they're going to respond at orange, how they're going to respond at red. When they get those words from the Department of Homeland Security, it's a cue to them on how to respond.

PHILLIPS: Let's go back to London.

Christiane Amanpour has a question for you -- Christiane?

AMANPOUR: I was going to ask Jeanne a question about red, amber, and green, or whatever the colors are. How do you think you would have reacted, the people would have reacted, if, like, the commissioner of the metropolitan police after a bombing admitted that the security level had been ratcheted down a notch to the second- highest level that it could be?

MESERVE: You know, there's been some discussion about that amongst the people who I talked to here in Washington about whether -- what that says about the state of our intelligence. Here we had London moving down a notch. We have officials in this country and London saying they had absolutely no idea that this was going to be happening in London on this date.

It makes you wonder about the state of our security and our intelligence, and if we truly can be reassured when you have an official like Michael Chertoff saying, "There's no specific threat." Well, there wasn't a specific threat in London.

STARR: But, Jeanne, doesn't this really get to -- doesn't this really get to the point that probably all of us wonder about, which is, can all of these public facilities be protected, buses, subways? What happens, you know, god forbid, the first time there's an attack in a shopping center in the United States?

PHILLIPS: And all the resources are going toward aviation, it seems like, since 9/11.

MESERVE: Well, of course, a lot of members of Congress are saying that today. When you look at the numbers, about $250 million has been put towards mass transit security. About $18 billion has been put toward aviation. There's been a big emphasis on aviation. Almost anyone will tell you they're not paying enough attention to rail security yet, despite Madrid, and now despite London.

Congress, however, has to take some of the blame in all of this. They, of course, appropriate the money. And they have a very short attention span. And they said, "Do aviation first." Frankly, that was the emphasis they put on this.

As to whether you can secure these systems, money alone may not solve the problem. A mass transit system is like a rabbit warren. Look at Washington's metro system. There are 86 different stops on the line. At each one of those stops, there are multiple entrances. There are thousands of people streaming in there everyday. How can you possibly effectively screen every one of them the way you screen airport passengers, where you have a single point of entry?

PHILLIPS: You bring up the point about Congress.

Joe Johns, in the "New York Times" all week I've been reading various op-ed pieces about all these bills that haven't been approved with regard to mass transit, protecting chemical plants, the transport of dangerous chemicals. What's the status of all these bills? And will all of a sudden they come alive now again because of what we saw in London?

JOHNS: Well, there's a lot of disagreement, obviously. But the big thing about the Congress is, the one thing they do react to is a crisis. And when the United States Congress sees a huge problem, perhaps even one that happened in London, it can serve as an impetus, just as 9/11 served as an impetus for so many different bills.

But, quite frankly, you're right. The United States Congress has not been on the ball, and there are a number of people in the Congress, Markey and others, who have said, "We've got to do more." The question is, why not?

PHILLIPS: Yes, preventative maintenance. We'll talk more about that.

Barbara Starr, I know you have a lot to say with regard to military and, of course, protecting our country.

We're going to go back ON THE STORY to London and to our Christiane Amanpour. We'll be back in just a moment.


PHILLIPS: CNN's ON THE STORY with the inside word of what we're covering this week. Straight to Christiane Amanpour and terror in London.


TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: We are united in our resolve to confront and defeat this terrorism that is not an attack on one nation but on all nations.


AMANPOUR: That was Prime Minister Tony Blair surrounded by his fellow world leaders up at the G-8 summit in Gleneagles condemning these attacks here in London as barbaric. You know, this was not the week that these attacks were meant to happen to London, even though Londoners had expected some time to suffer the same consequences as many other cities have done.

It wasn't meant to happen this week. This was the week that they were overjoyed that they had received the go-ahead to be the host city for the Olympic Games in 2012. Instead, they're recovering from a real nightmare.

Let's look at another one of our reporter notebooks, this one from my colleague, Charles Hodson.


CHARLES HODSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thursday began for me here on the set at CNN, because I was doing the early programs. And I was just finishing and was about to walk out of the door when I gathered that there was some kind of incident on the London Underground.

My blood ran cold, particularly as two of the incidents seemed to have happened very close to my own apartment and I didn't know where my son was at that point.

(voice-over): Carnage it may have been, but at nearby Euston station, I saw commuters trooping on and off public transport almost as if nothing had happened, and the Royal George is awash in that spirit. The small TV screen has the news on. The big TV screen beside it, the cricket match between England and Australia.

Funny enough, as a Londoner, I do understand why that should be, when Olympic euphoria turns to shock, sorrow and disgust.

(on-screen): Terrible things have happened today. And terrible things will continue to happen.


AMANPOUR: So police are still trying to figure out, obviously, who did this. They're sifting through every bit of wreckage they can. They're looking at all the CCTV cameras that are in all the Underground stations and, in fact, in many, many parts of London. And they're interviewing witnesses.

They have said already that this bears all the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda attack, but they have not yet said who they think is responsible. But many people are believed that this was an extremist Islamist group, and they know that an offshoot previously unheard of, Al Qaeda offshoot, has claimed responsibility -- Kyra?

PHILLIPS: Christiane, as we listen to our co-workers, what about you? You've been to the most dangerous parts of the world. You live in London. This is home for you. You're raising your child there. Was this different for you versus other assignments in dangerous areas?

AMANPOUR: In a sense, yes, because it was in my hometown and the city that I'm based in for CNN. On the other hand, you know, you kick into story mode and reporting mode when something like this happens.

My son, like many children, was at school, and schools did not close down. The kids stayed in school for the most part. And basically, they were safe, and they were immune from what had happened.

I personally couldn't basically get in to work, other than taking a bicycle, which then lost its pedal, which meant I had to walk, all of that sob story. But we got there. We all did it. We rallied around.

But nothing compared to the way the emergency services rallied around, the fire brigade. People here have been really game planning this for the last four years, ever since 9/11. And this is a city that was already extremely prepared for terrorist attacks, because they'd gone through decades of bombings by the IRA.

This was the worst. But their anti-terrorist forces are known to be amongst the best in the world, and their emergency services, as well. And all the rehearsal and planning they made, they believe, went according to plan and probably saved lives.

PHILLIPS: Christiane, we take note of the seriousness of the story, but I promise you CNN will buy you a new bicycle. You have my word on that, OK?

We have a question from the audience. Why don't you tell us your name and your question for Christiane?

QUESTION: OK. My name is Christina Sola (ph) from Rutherford, New Jersey. And my question is, having seen the United States deal with September 11th, how were Londoners better prepared for both the attacks and for how to deal with it?

AMANPOUR: Well, better prepared only in that they've been through this so many times. You know, when that happened in New York, and Washington, and Pennsylvania, it was the first time the mainland of the United States had been attacked and in such a catastrophic way. And of course, the death toll was so much higher than it has been in other capitals and even here in London.

And of course, it traumatized America. And to an extent, that trauma persists. Here in London, they've been through that for so many years, perhaps on a lower scale. But they've been through the IRA bombings. Most of those, however, were usually directed not against civilians, so that is what is the change this time.

IRA bombings for the most part hit British infrastructure, hit military targets, and for the most part they also came with warnings. They would warn the police in coded messages, and for the most part they were able to clear the areas that were then bombed.

Obviously, civilians were hurt. Many people did get killed. But this is something that London has been bracing for, for a long time.

PHILLIPS: Christiane Amanpour, live from London. Thank you so much.

Now we want to see...


We'll see you back ON THE STORY. That is for sure.

From London to the big political news in the U.S. this summer, a surprise vacancy in the Supreme Court. Joe Johns is back on that story.


JERAS: I'm Jacqui Jeras in the CNN Weather Center. Hurricane Dennis rapidly intensifying at this hour and will continue to do so likely for about the next 12 hours before making landfall tomorrow afternoon along the gulf coast.

A category-three hurricane packing winds of 115 miles per hour, less than 300 miles now from the coastline. It's moving to the northwest, should be taking a little bit of a turn towards the north. Hurricane-force winds arriving along the coast tomorrow morning, likely sometime around dawn.

That will continue to smack you throughout the day before the eye wall makes landfall. And then the eye, we think, sometime maybe between 2:00 and 6 o'clock Eastern time makes it way inland and then becomes a flooding problem for people in the Tennessee and Ohio River valleys.

Another update 15 minutes from now. Back to ON THE STORY.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The nation deserves, and I will select, a Supreme Court justice that Americans can be proud of. The nation also deserves a dignified process of confirmation in the United States Senate.


PHILLIPS: We're ON THE STORY, the Supreme Court vacancy. Joe Johns, he covers Congress. He knows the heat this story has already generated. A lot of talk, not only on the Hill, but every place else around this city.

JOHNS: Everywhere. And the thing that's really is, when I look at the people who are involved in this thing, they are very nice people, very decent people who just want to brawl on the left and the right.


It's the most amazing thing. You know...


It's true. And they've raised huge amounts of money. You see more coming in everyday. When I talk to people on the phone about how much money they're raising, they won't even tell, quite frankly, but they know it's coming in from the left and the right in droves.

They're putting ads together shooting at each other because there's not a nominee. It's quite an incredible process.

STARR: Joe, that's what strikes me right off the bat. We haven't seen a Supreme Court nomination in this country for something like a decade or better. Ten, eleven years ago, we didn't have blogs. We didn't have chat rooms. Yes, there was the Internet, but not to the extent, 24-hour cable television.

This is like suddenly a massive advertising campaign, a play for power. And we don't know who it is yet.

JOHNS: We have no idea. And there's an echo chamber in Washington. Right after Justice O'Connor decided to step down and put out a retirement, immediately the phones started ringing off the hook. The e-mails -- I must have gotten, you know, hundreds and hundreds of e-mails from people.

And the thing that's so fascinating is a small group of Americans in this city controlling a big fight that's about to get a lot bigger.

STARR: Does anybody really know what President Bush is thinking right now, who he's looking at?

JOHNS: It's so hard to say. Everybody says, of course, that Karl Rove has the president's ear. And that's what a reporter would immediately think.

STARR: But not that he's going to be the nominee.

JOHNS: No, right.


Obviously not. But there's no way to tell.


PHILLIPS: Well, from scrambling to make a decision on that vacancy -- many reporters were scrambling to get that story. Joe Johns, I remember the sweat on the brow, your run into the camera. Let's take a look at your reporter's notebook.


JOHNS: We really thought there could be something happening on Friday. And Friday was one of those days that was always out there. So everyone was on high alert.

A phone call from Darius Walker (ph) on the desk here in Washington saying, "We've got one source. We need you to get on the phone, call people on the Hill and find out if we've got a retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor." 9:27 about is when I think I got the call. And I was in front of the camera at about 9:57.

The historic announcement today, released in a statement, "This is to inform you of my decision to retire from my position as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in the United States."

It's blazing hot, and I'm trying to, like, hide the sweat on camera. There's absolutely no sense in me even trying to put on makeup because it would wash right off. It's never just nice whenever there's a big story at the Supreme Court. It's always hot or cold.

We saw the Keep Abortion Legal folks who showed up. And they started chanting. That's when I noticed they were here. And then we saw the people who were opposed to abortion who have the famous tape that they put around their mouths. They came a little bit later.

You know, it's a gathering storm. There are also discussions, of course, underway about what happens when the president names a successor for her. That's the unknown factor, someone's name gets out there and there's something that the opposition can really, really chew on.


PHILLIPS: Joe, you talked about this being a historic moment, being able to cover that story, but how about Sandra Day O'Connor? She made history when she was appointed to that court.

JOHNS: She certainly did. The very first Supreme Court justice who was a woman really made history in this city. And, of course, we now have another woman who is on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But she was the first. She was the trailblazer.

She set the standard. And quite a standard she set, because she's been in the middle of so many of the very largest issues in the court. She's been the person who has broken the tie, and now she's stepping away.

PHILLIPS: Are you starting to sweat because you're thinking about who could be that person to replace that's going to be another battle for the story?

JOHNS: Sure. Yes, it will be a battle for the story. I mean, people just go wild on the Supreme Court stories. And they always have. I've been in this city watching these things at least since Clarence Thomas, and that was quite an amazing story to cover.

And there's a real danger, too, for all of us, because it's so closeted, it's so secretive. You can get it wrong. And if you get it wrong on such a big story, it's very embarrassing. It happens to reporters.

PHILLIPS: We have a number of questions, of course, from the audience.

Tell us your name and what your question is for Joe Johns.

QUESTION: My name is Devin (ph). I'm from Los Angeles, California. I want to know if, given recent conservative angst over the possibility of an Alberto Gonzales nomination to the Supreme Court, if the president is likely to nominate the attorney general.

JOHNS: That's a real interesting question, and that's one that people have been trying to figure out for a long time. The fact of the matter is that the conservative groups came out and really started firing away at the attorney because they didn't think he was conservative.

And there have been other questions, of course, about whether he'd be sort of conflicted out of a lot of cases because he's the attorney general. That's an issue, too. It's a controversial subject, but I wouldn't want to go there, at least not right now.

PHILLIPS: But you'll be there. You'll be covering it. Joe Johns, thank you.

Well, from the political battles at home to battles still raging against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Barbara Starr is ON THE STORY straight ahead.


PHILLIPS: I'm Kyra Phillips. We're at the George Washington University. And from right here to eastern Afghanistan, Barbara Starr is ON THE STORY.

Barbara, you were there before, but I know this trip was very different. What I remember, I think, the most -- I asked you, "What was the most memorable moment?" And you said, "Well, I'm in the helo (ph). We're hitting the Pakistani border." And I hear, "Incoming!" And I didn't know what to think at that point.

STARR: It was indeed, out of all five trips to Afghanistan, the first time I heard somebody standing next to me saying the word "incoming." And that does get your attention.

The cameraman I was with, he went for the camera. I went for my helmet and vest first. I went to put that on.

PHILLIPS: I would do the same thing.

STARR: It was amazing, because what we had done -- the 82nd Airborne took us right up to the Pakistani border. That is the frontline in the war on terrorism these days. Every day, U.S. troops are up there looking for insurgents, looking for Taliban, looking for Al Qaeda.

We sort of found them. You don't expect that, but that is what they are dealing with. And as we saw the terror attacks in London this week, as we saw the specter of 9/11 come back and face the world again, you can't really help but stand in Afghanistan and think that, "Well, this is where the 9/11 attacks were planned." It's really quite an amazing experience.

PHILLIPS: A totally different feeling from prior -- we have a question from the audience.

Tell us your name and your question.

QUESTION: My name is Farhatz al-Hayan (ph). I hail from Berkeley, California. Afghanistan hasn't been in the news much, and is now being called the forgotten war. Why do you think this is so? STARR: Well, I think because Iraq has overtaken the news. We see, unfortunately, bombing attacks, violent, U.S. troops, Iraqi civilians dying everyday in Iraq in, you know, relatively large-scale numbers that none of us had really expected.

In Afghanistan, you don't see that so much. Most of the violence, most of the attacks, in fact, are along the Pakistani border largely out of sight of the public. But I think that what has happened with the 9/11 attacks, with the Madrid attacks, with the London attacks that we saw this week, it remind all of us that in some way, shape or form Al Qaeda is still out there and the war on terror is still very, very hot.

PHILLIPS: Now, you were there also traveling with the commander of the U.S. forces.

STARR: General Karl Eikenberry, yes, commander of U.S. forces. He took us -- everywhere he went, we went.

PHILLIPS: All right. Let's take a look at your reporter's notebook.


STARR (voice-over): The journey moves south to Gardez. Once a Taliban stronghold, Eikenberry leaves his security detail behind and walks through the town with the local governor, meeting Afghans directly.

But another reality of Afghanistan emerges. We join a combat patrol into the mountains with U.S. troops and Afghanistan militiamen. It is rough terrain. Almost immediately, the convoy stops. The Afghans worry there is an Al Qaeda ambush ahead. Soon, we get the all-clear and proceed.

At this fire base, matters take another turn. Insurgents fire rockets at us. U.S. troops immediately return mortar fire.

But the ultimate sign of hope: The new Afghan army. The men who fought against the Soviets, fought against the Taliban are now fighting for their country.


STARR: And that's what was so remarkable. When you see these Afghan troops, these Afghan soldiers, the militia that we traveled with in the mountains, these are some of the most ferocious fighters. They are very determined. They are very anti-Taliban, anti-Al Qaeda, and they are determined to take their country back. That is very much what Afghanistan is all about now.

PHILLIPS: Do they talk to you about Osama bin Laden?

STARR: Absolutely. We asked an Afghan general, you know, "How important is it to get Osama bin Laden?" And they are adamant about that. There's no P.C. politics with the Afghans. They want him. They want him bad. They want the Taliban out of their country. They want their country back.

PHILLIPS: Well, Barbara, you, of course, also went along the border with Pakistan.

We're going to take a look now at part of that report that Barbara filed.


STARR: U.S. Special Forces continue to believe that Osama bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the mountains with Pakistan which lie just behind me. But it is the flow of foreign fighters and other insurgents that has U.S. troops most concerned along this dangerous border.

Barbara Starr, CNN, along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.


PHILLIPS: You must have had quite a security detail around you.

STARR: Well, yes and no. I think you all saw the pictures of the Afghans we were traveling with. Those are militiamen. They are very friendly to the United States, but, in fact, those are the people that the U.S. military pays to be friendly. They are in the hire of U.S. Special Forces, and we are traveling through these mountains at their guidance.

We are also traveling with the 82nd Airborne Division. They're a bunch of tough guys. When somebody says, "Incoming," the best thing to do is plaster yourself next to the guy with the most guns from the 82nd.

PHILLIPS: And the helmet and the flak jacket.

STARR: It's just the safest place to be. I'm going with him.

PHILLIPS: But there are a lot of positive stories that you've covered, also. You went into the schools...

STARR: We went to schools. We went on the streets. We talked to women. I think, for a lot of women in the west, the question still is, why do Afghan women still wear the burqa when they don't have to?

And we learned a lot about that, that that is still very predominant in many parts of Afghanistan because the women of Afghanistan still do not feel safe. They are still very much afraid of violence. They're very much afraid of the violence against them.

PHILLIPS: Barbara, how has everyday life changed in Afghanistan?

STARR: I must tell you, we went -- we spent a lot of time on the streets. One of the things you do when you're a reporter -- as we all know, the best thing to do is go to the marketplace, see what's going on. It is mobbed. There are traffic jams. There are fruits and vegetables piled everywhere. That was not the case in my first trip to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. It was still a very dark place. It was a place where there was nothing to buy, very few goods on the street.

Now, piles and piles of fruits and vegetables, lots of things to buy. Still a very poor country, but they are really trying to make their way.

PHILLIPS: Is it going too far to call it normalcy?


STARR: I do want to share one last anecdote. Normal for Afghanistan -- as those rockets were coming in, the Afghan gentlemen, they all put on a pot of tea.


PHILLIPS: Now, let's not forget, Barbara Starr also had many marriage proposals within the city also.

STARR: Well, at least two.

PHILLIPS: Right, at least two?

STARR: At least two. General Eikenberry was reluctant to tell me, but as we made our way down that street, apparently, there were two inquiries. And that was about the nicest thing that's happened to me in a warzone lately.




PHILLIPS: Thank you, Barbara.

Well, from Afghanistan, we're back ON THE STORY. A missing girl in Aruba. We're talking about Natalee Holloway. Chris Lawrence is covering that story. The backlash from the Arubans, and how the family keeps that story alive.

JERAS: I'm Jacqui Jeras in the CNN Weather Center. Some of the outer bands of Hurricane Dennis are intensifying now across central parts of Florida, especially along the I-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando.

We're also seeing some very heavy thunderstorms around Gainesville. Expect to see rainfall rates maybe around an inch-plus per hour, in addition to some gusty winds between 50 and 60 miles per hour. A tornado watch also remains in effect across the area.

Dennis remains a powerful category-three hurricane with winds of 115 miles per hour and spreading rain all across the southeast. In fact, airport delays even in Atlanta because of the heavy showers and thunderstorms, which I pushed on in.

There you can see all the statistics off to the east. Forecast track remaining the same. Tomorrow afternoon, likely somewhere to the west of Pensacola.

More to come in 15 minutes.



BETH HOLLOWAY TWITTY, MOTHER OF NATALEE HOLLOWAY: In the name of my beautiful, intelligent, and outstanding daughter, who I haven't seen for 36 days and for whom I will continue to search.


PHILLIPS: Beth Holloway Twitty, the mother of Alabama girl Natalee Holloway missing in Aruba. CNN's Chris Lawrence joins us from Chicago.

Chris, you're just back from Aruba. You covered the story for weeks. We have all shared the mother's pain in this case. How has she kept interest alive, you think?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They worked. Her and the dad have just worked so hard every day. They're up at 5, 6 o'clock in the morning talking to reporters. They're out all day. They're passing out prayer cards. She's out in the street. She's going to meetings with the FBI.

And then at night, she's back on television again until 9, 10, 11 o'clock at night. So they work. But, I mean, who's going to care more about that girl? I mean, not me, not you, no one's going to care more about her than her own mother.

PHILLIPS: Jeanne, you've seen a lot of similarities, right, because you covered the Elizabeth Smart case?

MESERVE: That's right. I covered the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping. And the family there was incredibly sophisticated about the media. They even, you know, took television schedules and sort of divided up duties on who was doing what show, just to keep that name out there, keep that picture out there.

Has Natalee Holloway's family taken a page from that book? Have they hired media consultants and things like that?

LAWRENCE: Yes, very much so. You'd even hear them sometimes talking about -- like, they'd talk to us on a Friday and say, "Hey, what do you guys need this weekend? We know we've been doing NBC or FOX a lot the last couple of days. We really want to hit CNN hard this weekend. What do you need? Call us, let us know."

So they were very, very savvy about keeping this case out there, because they knew the longer the case was in the media, you know, the more resources they were going to have to try to find their daughter.

PHILLIPS: Chris, let's talk about Natalee's mother coming forward and making a formal apology. Why do you think that happened?

LAWRENCE: Well, I think it had a lot to do with the way the Aruban people felt a little bit slighted. And again, you can go back -- you can say, "Who is going to care more about this girl than her mother?" I mean, she is in pain every single day.

But the Aruban people, right from the jump, just came right at this as trying to help. I mean, the government gave everybody a day off of work to go help with the search. They brought F-16s from the Netherlands to help search. Banks coughed up $10,000, $20,000 to donate to a volunteer search team.

And I spoke with one of the women in Aruba. And she said, "What else would you want us to do?" They were getting slammed every day. Their legal system was getting criticized. And she said, "If an Aruban girl went missing in the United States, how many people would take off the day from work to help search?"

And you and I, I think, both know the answer to that question: Not many.

PHILLIPS: That's a very good point. Chris, we've got a question from the audience for you.

Tell us your name and your question.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Corrine Farrell (ph), and I'm from Tampa, Florida. And you actually touched on my question right there. I wanted to know, why do you think the media focused on this missing person case of all of them?

Is it because of Aruba's low crime rate, the vocal mother, the fact she's so photogenic? Why do you think this was the case chosen?

PHILLIPS: Great question.

LAWRENCE: I think a lot of things played into it. I think number one was the fact that it happened in Aruba. It was a high school graduation. I think something a lot of parents could relate to, the kids graduate, they go onto spring break, they go on a trip. You don't expect something like this to happen.

And I think two other things, the mystery of it, not knowing exactly what happened, hearing a few details here and there. And the fact that, yes, she's white, she's blond, she's attractive, her parents have the resources to get down to the island to keep the case out there. I think all of those played into it.

PHILLIPS: There has been a lot of controversy, if you read a number of the newspapers. And a lot of families coming forward in the United States, Chris, saying, "Well, what about my daughter? What about my son? They've been missing for months, for years. Why is the media focusing specifically on this case?" Have you personally been attacked for that while covering this story?

LAWRENCE: Not so much from the people in Aruba, but more, I think, from my own friends, in some respects. People saying, you know, "Why her? You know, all of these people missing in the country every day, why her?"

And I had one friend of mine say, you know, that all these missing kids, missing teenagers, missing adult women, like the runaway bride, they're from different areas of the country but they are typically all white women. And I had friends of mine saying, you know, "Why is that? Why do you keep doing that?"

And it's kind of tough, because, Kyra, you know we don't make the decisions to say, "We're only going to cover this or we're only going to cover that." I mean, we're reporters, so we get an assignment, you know, and that's what we do.

PHILLIPS: Sure. And we're talking about this now, which is important, too. Maybe it will lead us into covering other missing persons cases.

Chris Lawrence, thank you so much.

We're back ON THE STORY and back with our audience here in Washington right after this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): The first Swedish woman to climb Mount Everest now plans an American conquest. What's her story? More, when we return.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Renata Chlumska, what's her story? Chlumska's circling the United States by kayak, bicycle and inline skates. Her voyage around the edges of the country started Monday in Seattle and will take her to San Diego, El Paso, around the Florida Keys, Maine, and back to Seattle.

RENATA CHLUMSKA, FIRST SWEDISH WOMAN TO CLIMB MOUNT EVEREST: Well, I've done some long trips before, so I kind of know a bit how I work in tough situations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's dedicating her journey to her late fiance, Goran Kropp, who was killed in a climbing accident in Washington. Her trip should take about 480 days, covering more than 11,000 miles.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PHILLIPS: Well, of course, I want to thank my colleagues. I want to thank the audience here at George Washington.


And thank you for watching ON THE STORY. We'll be back each week, Saturday night, Sunday morning. Straight ahead, a check on what's making news right now.