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ENCORE PRESENTATION: Week's War Activities Recounted

Aired March 4, 2007 - 19:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: Are expectations set too high for next week's talk with Iraq and its neighbors and reality check in the spy business. Maybe the U.S. got it wrong about North Korean nukes. Plus the Shanghai stock market rocks Wall Street. China finds new economic clout. THIS WEEK AT WAR begins in one minute after a check on what's making news right now.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right John. Thanks so much. We're going to get back to John in just a little bit. I'm Rick Sanchez at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Here's what we're following for you. Three American soldiers were killed in central Baghdad today. The military says a roadside bomb exploded next to their vehicle. A meeting of the Arab league opens in Cairo, Egypt tomorrow. The group has some weighty problems to discuss including the security situation in Iraq and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Also this, fate of a group of British tourists in Ethiopia is uncertain tonight. Senior Ethiopian official accuses commandos from neighboring Eritrea of kidnapping them. The group which includes several diplomats disappeared two days ago. I'm Rick Sanchez. Those are the stories we're following for you. Certainly, if there's more news, we'll break in right away. Now back to John Roberts and THIS WEEK AT WAR.

ROBERTS: A sit down for Iraq and its neighbors. Can it make a difference? Vice President Cheney tells Pakistan to crack down on al Qaeda and U.S. markets get the Shanghai flu. How much control does China have over America's economy? I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR.

Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by day this week. On Monday, a secret Pentagon warning that the U.S. military is maxed out, facing significant risks, responding to another war. Tuesday, a Taliban suicide bomber outside a U.S. air base. he target, Vice President Dick Cheney. Wednesday, Iran accepts an invitation to Iraq's neighbors conference next weekend. Thursday, another admission of faulty intelligence. New uncertainty over North Korean nukes. Friday, new reports that China is building up its naval forces, ships and submarines with nuclear missiles.

From bombs and bullets to America's economic security, we'll sort it all out for you today. Jennifer Eceleston on Iraq's upcoming conference, Bing West on the Sunni/Shiite conflict throughout the region and Peter Bergen on a renewed al Qaeda threat. THIS WEEK AT WAR.

We're going to get to all of that in a moment, but first, dramatic events at the end of the week surrounding Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The secretary of the Army out, the head of the medical center out after substandard conditions were uncovered at the nation's preeminent military hospital. Joining me now is CNN military analyst Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army retired. Spider, let's take a listen to what Defense Secretary Robert Gates said about this on Friday.


ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I am disappointed that some in the army have not adequately appreciated the seriousness of the situation pertaining to outpatient care at Walter Reed. Some have shown too much defensiveness and have not shown enough focus on digging into and addressing the problems.


ROBERTS: Spider, we're told that Gates fired Army Secretary Francis Harvey because his solution to fixing Walter Reed Army medical center was to put Lieutenant General Kevin Kylie (ph) back in charge. Kylie had been in charge of Walter Reed when all of these problems developed and of course, Major General George Whiteman was relieved of duty back on Thursday. What do you think of all these developments?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): That's right. Kevin Kylie commanded through '04 and then George just took command from Kevin's successor this past summer. Clearly what happened is, Kevin was present when the challenges and the problems and what's been identified at Walter Reed occurred. George had been in command six months. George probably could have provided a solution and been part of the fixes that they were looking for.

ROBERTS: It's clear that Gates was looking for something else other than a solution that Harvey proposed even in the interim. We have investigations being proposed in Congress. The president wants a bipartisan committee start to look into this. The Pentagon's going to be looking into this. Where's it all going?

MARKS: None of that is surprising, John and you know it. A lot of the focus will go into this as it must. There will be very specific deliverables. One of those should be what's the status of Walter Reed? It's supposed to close in a few years. Is it going to stay open? Will they invest money in that facility? That remains to be seen.

ROBERTS: That's something definitely that we're going to keep looking at and we'll bring you back to talk more about it. But right now, let's move on to developments in Iraq this week, first among them, calls for a regional conference to resolve the violence there. Is it an opportunity or just an elaborate photo op? Could it lead to more contact between Washington and Tehran? We want to bring in CNN international correspondent Jennifer Eccleston. She's in Baghdad and in Boston, "Atlantic Monthly" correspondent Bing West. He's also the former assistant secretary of defense and just returned from his 11th trip to Iraq. Bing West, the administration said they would not sit down with Iran and Syria in the past. Now they've come forward to say that they will attend this conference. Do you see this as being a significant shift in policy?

BING WEST, FMR. ASST. DEFENSE SECRETARY: John, I think it's a very healthy change, particularly if Iran and Syria both come because it indicates the administration is saying, look, let's all sit down and try to work this problem together and therefore I see it as an opportunity.

ROBERTS: And Jennifer Eccleston, what's the expectation there in Baghdad? Is anything going to come of this or might it just be a photo op, an opportunity for the Maliki government to say we're trying to do something.

JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's probably the latter. Most people will probably think there will be a nice statement coming out of it. There will be pledges of cooperation, pledges that the neighboring countries will do whatever it takes to stem the violence here, perhaps not even to mettle in Iraqi affairs. It will be a grand symbolic gesture when they really want on the ground here, all they really want is action.

ROBERTS: Spider what's the military thinking on this? The military has long said there has to be a political solution to this equation as well. Are they looking for anything to come out of this?

MARKS: A step in the right direction, certainly. I mean you've got to keep your enemies closer. You've got to understand what's happening in Iran, what Tehran wants to try to achieve, certainly in Damascus as well. So yes, I think there is a great opportunity and the military would be able to gain from this absolutely.

ROBERTS: Let's take a look at the situation on the ground. David Petraeus, now there, firmly ensconced trying to make some changes. American troops are coming over. Bing West, in the January/February issue of the "Atlantic Monthly" magazine, you wrote, quote, in the fourth year of war, America teeters on the verge of defeat despite being exponentially outnumbered and outspent, the forces of murder and chaos seem to be winning. You also ask, is it too late to reverse this trend? You're seeing anything on the ground that gives you hope since Petraeus has gotten there?

WEST: Since Petraeus went there, I've definitely seen a difference. There are many more American troops now on the streets in Baghdad and as they've come forward, so have the Iraqi security forces, and this is the first time, John, in this visit that I just came back, that I actually saw Sunnis and Shiites in different parts of the city walk up to American patrols and begin a conversation. I hadn't seen that before and I attribute that to meaning that some of the gang leaders on the other side, both Sunni and Shiite, have gotten out of town.

ROBERTS: There certainly is some indication that they've at the very least gone to ground if not gotten out of town altogether. And Spider, the United States military had another success this past week, uncovering the second huge arms cache, mostly components for these deadly EFP IEDs. Are they getting better intelligence? Are they making a dent in the number of munitions on the ground? MARKS: I would say that the intelligence certainly improves always over time. You get a better sense of the environment, more sources come forward, so you can really get your arms around it that much better. Is it going to make a difference on the ground? You certainly would hope so. The EFPs, the explosively formed projectiles, as they're called, aren't that numerous. It's not like finding a big cache of artillery shells, for example.

ROBERTS: There aren't as many that were leftover from the Saddam Hussein regime either. These are specially manufactured and brought in. Jennifer, the Associated Press reported this past week that there has been a 50 percent reduction in the amount of violence on the streets of Baghdad. Are you sensing that and if so, do you think it's a trend or is this just a temporary respite and things could gear back up again?

ECCLESTON: Well, it could be a bit of both. This is a result pretty much that new security operation going on in Baghdad. We do -- we have seen an enormous police presence on the street. There are many more checkpoints. And we're not just seeing those big type of disastrous events that we've become so accustomed to. Of course we still get the police blotter of the daily violence throughout the country, but there is a sense here that the violence has decreased and that's significant because U.S. and Iraqi officials have been saying since the outset of this new operation, it's just two weeks old, that the people need to have patience, that we won't see tangible results until the summertime when, in fact, they are seeing a few results now.

ROBERTS: Of course, Jennifer, it's also possible that insurgents and militia members may just wait them out. Jennifer Eccleston, thanks, Bing West and General Marks hang around, because we want to come back to you a little bit later on.

Ahead this hour, North Korea's nuclear might. The White House backs off its claim that the axis of evil nation is secretly enriching uranium. Is this another credibility crisis for U.S. intelligence?

And straight ahead, the Taliban boasts the U.S. vice president was the target of a suicide bomber in Afghanistan this week. What's his plan to combat the terror network's spring offensive and will his message to Pakistan's president get results?

But first, honoring a hero from a war 41 years ago. On Monday, President Bush awarded the nation's highest military award, the medal of honor, to Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Crandall, U.S. Army retired for taking his unarmed helicopter into one of Vietnam's hottest landing zones, the famous battle in the (INAUDIBLE) valley.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They delivered desperately need supplies. They carried out more of the wounded, even though medical evacuation was really not their mission. If Major Crandall had stopped here, he would have been a hero, but he didn't stop. He flew back into x-ray again and again, 14 times he flew into what they call the valley of death. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Ironically, Crandall made it to Hollywood long before he made it to the White House in the movie "We Were Soldiers Once." He was played by Greg Kinnear (ph), opposite star Mel Gibson.



You sure don't.


ROBERTS: Crandall rescued 70 Americans on that November day in 1965, 22 flights over 14 hours, braving fierce enemy fire, each and every time.


ROBERTS: Vice President Dick Cheney has a stern warning for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, crack down on al Qaeda's terror network or risk losing U.S. aid. And Cheney gets a firsthand look at the growing chaos in Afghanistan as he becomes the target of a suicide assassination attempt. Can Afghanistan be saved?

Robert Grenier is the former director of the CIA's counterterrorism center. He was also the CIA's point person in Pakistan after 9/11. Peter Bergen is CNN's terrorism analyst, al Qaeda expert and author of "The Osama bin Laden I know." On Tuesday, the newly minted director of national intelligence said al Qaeda's elite is hiding out in Pakistan's northern tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan.


VICE ADMIRAL MIKE McCONNELL (RET), NATL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: The best of our knowledge, the senior leadership number one and number two, are there and they are attempting to re-establish and rebuild and to establish training camps. So it's something we're very worried about and very concerned about.


ROBERTS: So you had Mike McConnell who's telling Congress we believe al Qaeda is there. You've got Cheney going over to Pakistan to not exactly crack heads with Musharraf, but certainly tell him he's got a problem on his hands if he doesn't do something about this. Is this an indication of heightened White House anxiety about the situation there, Bob?

ROBERT GRENIER, FMR. CIA COUNTERINTELLIGENCE DIR: I think clearly. This is really the culmination of a crescendo of warnings if you will, starting with General Abizaid, then went to Secretary Gates and now it's the first visit by Vice President Cheney to Pakistan since 9/11. I think this is designed and probably has gotten the attention of the Pakistanis.

ROBERTS: Cheney I guess was playing to some degree good cop, saying, I'm here to warn you that if you don't do something, Congress may cut off your money. And certainly, if we listen to what Carl Levin on the Armed Services Committee was saying ...



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