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THIS WEEK AT WAR
Blue Angels Plane Crashes in South Carolina; Afghanistan and Iraq Update
Aired April 21, 2007 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we're going to get to THIS WEEK AT WAR in just a little bit, but first there is some very important news that we need to share with you. I'm Rick Sanchez right here in the CNN newsroom.
There has been a plane crash in Beaufort, South Carolina. Let's try and bring you up to date. First of all, the newest information that we have is that folks are at the coroner's office in Beaufort, South Carolina are now telling us that indeed the pilot is deceased. They told us about an hour ago that in fact there was at least one person dead. Don't know if there are others at this point, but they are telling us now that the person who they first confirmed as deceased was, in fact, the pilot of one of these Blue Angels, one of the demonstration units from the Navy. Of course, it's the elite fighter pilots who have gone on to tour the country in these air shows.
By the way, new pictures coming in now. This is from WCIV. These pictures being seen now for the very first time from the scene of what emergency officials are dealing with there. I imagine they had thousands of people who had gone to this air show there at what is a military air station, or Marine air station there in Beaufort, South Carolina and then they had a problem, because this happened just as the show was coming to a close of trying to direct traffic and direct people out of there after the person who was in charge of the microphone there at the event had announced to them that this crash had happened. Now, it happened a little bit, as far as we could tell, a little bit far removed from the air show itself. It was over a residential area. In fact, we've talked to at least one person who lives in the residential area, who was shaken by a sound then immediately went outside and actually was able to see what was left of this plane crash as it developed. His name is Fred Yelinek. He's good enough to join us now on the line as well. Mr. Yelinek, are you there, sir?
VOICE OF FRED YELINEK, WITNESS: Yes, sir I am.
SANCHEZ: We're looking now at what are new pictures coming in. These are unedited and they're coming to us from the scene itself. These are, I do believe -- yes, they are from a television station there that has been following the progress of the story. But we also have pictures that you took, and those are the ones we want to get to now, if we possibly can Tanisha (ph). Let's go ahead and put Mr. Yelinek's pictures up and maybe we can go through them with him so he can kind of break down what he saw. Let me try and set the scene for you. You're inside, as you described to us, you hear a sound. You run outside. Take it from there.
YELINEK: I was working on a well pump and about five minutes before the crash, the Blue Angels came over in formation very close formation at their normal low altitude. Nothing unusual and I'm a pilot so I enjoy that kind of thing. Took a look and nothing unusual. I went back to the task that I was doing. A couple minutes later I hear them coming again and I didn't even look up this time because I expected the same thing that I had seen. However, when the crashed plane hit the first tree, which is only about 150 feet from where I was standing and behind me, of course it turned me around. The noise was very loud and very unusual, and in the instant that I turned around, the plane had passed through three yards and it, in fact, impacted at the intersection of Shanklin Road and Pine Grove Road which is only about you know, 150 yards from where I was standing. Big fireball goes up and just -- instantly there was -- there were people running around and chaos everywhere. I dropped my tools and had my camera in the truck. So I grabbed my camera and took it from there.
SANCHEZ: Can you tell at this point, had you been able to gather whether other people were injured as a result of the crash?
YELINEK: Everyone that I encountered and you can see from some of my picture there, the man sitting in the road, his truck was hit, his windshield was hit by shrapnel from the airplane and it penetrated the cabin of his truck, but he was uninjured. The lady, I've got pictures of a house that was immediately across the street from where I was standing. The tree that was first hit was in her yard. Pieces of the airplane went through the side of her house. But other than being completely upset, of course, she was uninjured. She was very concerned about her dog who was in the yard and under a part of the tree that was knocked down. He was uninjured. As I continued down the path of the crash site, everyone I encountered, of course, was upset, but I was amazed to find no one hurt.
SANCHEZ: Look at that picture right there. Do you have your TV on Mr. Yelinek?
YELINEK: Yes. That's Shanklin Road. You're looking down Shanklin Road. The body of the airplane is about 11:00 and about 100 yards. That's where the main part of the crash occurred.
SANCHEZ: We're looking at it. Go back, if you can, to that picture Tanisha. You're looking at that picture now. As we're looking at it, it's looking down that road is where the plane ended up. Correct?
YELINEK: Correct. That is not where it began. That's about 300 yards where it hit the first tree.
SANCHEZ: And those are pieces of the plane?
YELINEK: Those are pieces of the plane on Shanklin Road and they go back, if you continue through my file of photos, you will find and I will tell you, the pieces of the airplane go back hundreds of yards from where the body of the airplane actually hit. SANCHEZ: Look at that.
YELINEK: One piece of the skin of the airplane was at least 300 yards from the final crash site.
SANCHEZ: Three hundred yards you say.
YELINEK: Yeah, from where the body, the biggest piece of the airplane hit the ground.
SANCHEZ: So that must have been some impact.
YELINEK: It shook the earth for quite a ways. This gentleman that you see on there now, his windshield was pierced by shrapnel and he is trying to calm people there but he was shaking and I don't blame him. But he was unhurt. Another vehicle, a truck, a service truck, was also hit. His windshield was pierced and he wasn't hurt, unbelievably.
SANCHEZ: Let me ask you about this fire we're looking at there because we're led to believe that this impact, this accident, occurred towards the end of the show which would then lead us to believe that the plane probably did not have a lot of fuel on it which would be good news.
YELINEK: I believe that to be true, because the fireball that occurred upon impact went away almost instantly. I expected a raging fireball to last and last. It only lasted a couple of three seconds. And then there were little fires, like the one I had photographed everywhere.
SANCHEZ: Again, this is a residential area. Right? We're looking at houses, but they're pretty spread out?
YELINEK: Yes, you notice there's fire in and around all of those houses. There are pieces of the airplane in and around all of those houses. Again, this is a couple of hundred yards from where the body of the airplane ended.
SANCHEZ: How long did it --
YELINEK: When it hit the tree, hit the big pine tree, lots of pieces broke off.
SANCHEZ: And, really, it's almost like the plane started to disintegrate?
YELINEK: No question. It started to disintegrate when it hit the big pine tree.
SANCHEZ: How long did it take authorities to get to the scene, Mr. Yelinek?
YELINEK: The Blue Angel team itself instantly began to circle the site. That happened within a minute of the crash. Then a helicopter showed up about five minutes later and a couple of minutes after that, the first fire engine and rescue vehicles arrived. It wasn't very long. This site, by the way, as the crow flies, it's about one mile or a mile and a quarter off the edge of the Marine Corps air station. It is not very convenient to the air station by road. You probably have to drive three miles by roads, but as a crow flies, it's just off the edge of the air station property.
SANCHEZ: Give me that distance once again. I'm sorry?
YELINEK: It's no more than a mile.
SANCHEZ: No more than a mile. And when you were taking these picture, authorities hadn't arrived yet?
YELINEK: Oh, no. The picture that you're showing right now was taken within the minute that the airplane hit the ground.
SANCHEZ: That's remarkable. Mr. Yelinek, Fred Yelinek, we thank you, sir, for taking time to talk to us and bring us up to date on this.
YELINEK: I'm sorry I had the opportunity to do it.
SANCHEZ: We thank you, sir. You're a good citizen and we'll be checking on you and checking on the details of the story as they continue to emerge. Bringing viewers up to date once again if you may just have joined is, it has been a deadly crash there in Beaufort, South Carolina and the coroner's office has confirmed to us that the pilot of this Blue Angel demonstration team is deceased. We did a little homework on this, by the way, we did a little research and we found out that the last time there was a fatality involving the Blue Angels was at Moody Air Force base in Valdosta, Georgia, not too far from where this accident occurred. And that was back in 1999. Now, there've been other accidents, but this is the last one that actually involved a fatality. I understand we also have Michael Frazier on the line. Michael Frazier was also at the air show along with thousands of other folks there in Beaufort, South Carolina. And as he was leaving, he says he started to hear someone make an announcement over the loud speaker that something was going on. Catch us up, if you would, Mr. Frazier.
VOICE OF MICHAEL FRAZIER, WITNESS: Yes, sir. When my wife and I were walking out we heard that they announced that they were coming to make a landing and they were off to our left and we're facing Broad River and the air strip is actually behind us. Just out of nowhere we see this big cloud of smoke and my wife (INAUDIBLE) plane and she says something's wrong. We didn't think anything to it and was a matter of just a few minutes, we get in the car and the smoke just escalates more and more. And you turn around and here come rescue vehicles. I proceeded by it and we knew something was wrong immediately after that.
SANCHEZ: Mr. Frazier, let me ask you a pointed question. What did the announcer say? You had mentioned something in a previous conversation about that.
FRAZIER: The announcer had said, we hit the car that they had regrets, we heard the word regret. By the time we heard this come back over the loud speaker, that's the only word we could hear. We couldn't understand.
SANCHEZ: But he was obviously making reference to the plane crash itself?
FRAZIER: That would be correct.
SANCHEZ: Mr. Frazier, thanks so much for joining us. We're going to be checking with you again as well. Let's go over now to Jacqui Jeras. I think it's imperative upon us after something like this to get a sense of whether or not there's even a possibility that this thing could have been caused by some kind of weather system. Is there any possibility of that?
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I don't think so Rick. Actually we've been watching the weather there all day and relatively calm conditions. The winds were very light at the time that the crash occurred, between three and five miles per hour. The winds have since picked up a little bit, but we don't have a lot of shear in the atmosphere and skies. We're almost clear. There are partly cloudy. So that three quarters of the sky looking pretty good. Also the relative humidity was low, so visibility was great. There wasn't a lot of haze or anything in the atmosphere. So at this time we see nothing obvious that weather could be concerned. I think that would be one thing we could possibly rule out.
SANCHEZ: Thanks so much, Jacqui Jeras bringing us up to date on the weather conditions around the area where the plane crash took place. There you're looking at some of the pictures that we're getting now of the traffic snarled, that has been caused by this. You would imagine there would be ordinary traffic anyway, after any air show. But now given that some of the streets have been blocked according to state troopers who have been in contact with us, it obviously is going to make for a much more difficult situation in that area. The latest is confirmed by the coroner's office, that the pilot of this Blue Angels demonstration team is in fact deceased. We expect to get more information, more pictures and talk to more people there on the scene including our own correspondent. We're going to be getting to the scene right about now. I'm Rick Sanchez.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The clock is ticking for our troops. Congress' failure to fund our troops would mean that the readiness of our forces will suffer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: You could be excused for thinking that there was a bit of cynicism in the fight over military funding. The president counts the days. Although it too longer to pass a supplemental budget when the GOP was in charge. The Democrat are preparing a bill they know the president will veto and both sides sat down at the White House on Wednesday to at least looked like they were negotiating.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: We came here in a spirit of hope recognizing that this is an historic opportunity for the executive branch, for the president and the Congress, to work together, to wind down this war.
SEN. HARRY REID (D) MAJORITY LEADER: We believe he must search his soul, his conscience and find out what is the right thing for the American people. I believe signing this bill will do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Suzanne Malveaux joins me from the White House now and Andrea Koppel is just blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue on Capitol Hill. Let's start with you, Andrea. Does anybody in the Congress right now have a solution to this or do they just not like the president's solution?
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fact is, Tom, they believe that they came in to power in the 110th Congress with a mandate from the American people to change the course of the war. So even though they recognize that they are not going to win this fight in the short term that is, to get a hard deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw and get the president to sign off on that, they feel that it is a battle that they must fight and it's a step-by-step process.
FOREMAN: One of the things the Democrats have always worried about is looking weak on defense. Listen to what was said by Harry Reid this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: As long as we follow the president's path in Iraq, the war is lost. But there is still a chance to change course. And we must change course.
DANA PERINO, DEP. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY: His comments about the war being lost are in direct conflict with what commanders on the ground are saying.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Suzanne, I was surprised that the White House didn't jump harder on that because in effect, they could say, here's a Democrat surrendering. Why didn't they jump harder than they did?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tom, I think what the strategy here at the White House is all about kind of the, I dare you factor. We heard from Dana Perino as well, responding to Harry Reid's comments about the war is lost, simply saying if you have the courage of your convictions, if you believe that it's truly lost, then I dare you here to defund this war, because you'll pay the consequences. What the White House is counting on, what they're hoping on is that somehow the Democrats are going to pay for this, that the American people are eventually not going to support this and not tolerate not funding the troops here. And they set up this debate as one painting Democrats against either the generals or the Democrats versus the troops, when all reality, it is going to be the president who's going to veto that bill that requires the funding.
FOREMAN: Is the White House absolutely unyielding on this question of a timetable? A lot of times politicians say this then quietly in the back rooms, they start working it out?
MALVEAUX: The White House I don't think is going to compromise on this point. They're pretty straight on that. What they also believe is that they believe they've got some wiggle room here with the Democrats. They have heard different sides from the Democrats. We've heard something from Senator Carl Levin. We've heard something from Senator Barack Obama different than what we've heard from Senator Harry Reid. So they are counting on banking on the fact that they don't believe the Democrats are united in this front.
KOPPEL: Actually, Tom, can I jump in on that point?
KOPPEL: OK. When Harry Reid said that he believes the war is lost this week, he did not say that, even though he wears the cap of majority leader. He wasn't speaking as the majority leader. He was speaking as the senator from Nevada, and in point of fact, I spoke to one of his aides. He said that Harry Reid has reached a point in his own mind where the war is lost and this is a very personal moment for him. He just went to Walter Reed a few weeks back, saw the troops, and it was from that point on that he felt that there was nothing more that throwing more troops at this war was not going to resolve it, and that he had to come out and make a very public stand which is why he said that this week, which is why he signed on to a very unpopular bill by Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin saying U.S. troops need to be out by March 31st of next year and there will only be funds left for a very narrow mission in Iraq.
FOREMAN: But that must be terrifying to other Democrats, because they may not be willing to have their name connected to the phrase lost war.
KOPPEL: Absolutely. And in fact, I spoke with a number of Democratic aides who said you're not going to hear my boss coming out publicly and criticizing Harry Reid, by the same token, you're not going to hear them signing onto what he said, but he believes in his soul right now, Tom, that the president is facing a very similar situation to the one that Lyndon Johnson faced in 1965 when he, along with then Secretary of Defense Bob McNamara knew that they were not going to win the Vietnam war and yet they sent tens of thousands of troops in. That's what Harry Reid told President Bush this week in their closed door meeting as the White House. He said, Mr. President, this is going to be a repeat of what happened with Lyndon Johnson and apparently the president's back stiffened and Harry Reid reached out and put his hand on him in a comforting manner.
FOREMAN: Suzanne was the president comforted? MALVEAUX: I don't think the president was really comforted in that meeting. It sounded like it was a lot of frustration in terms of what actually happened. Whether or not there was anything of great significance that was going to come from that meeting, a lot of frustration, particularly from the Democrats who saw this as well as first going in to it saying, look, we're going to tell him how we feel, but how do we come out of this on top? What we see the president doing here is a new kind of strategy, but it's the same old one. And that is taking this message directly to the American people. That's why we've seen him this week traveling to Ohio, to Michigan, having these town hall forums, basically trying to pitch the war directly to the people and he's also using this kind of illustrations in graphics. He used a map to actually show, here's where the troops are. Here's where we're seeing the problems. He showed a photo from the outcome of this horrific, horrific bombing that happened, that happened on Wednesday, that, with the Iraqi people, nearly 200 killed, showed a photo of that, which was extremely unique to show people, or at least to convince them, look I get it. I see what's happening here. I see how badly things are going.
FOREMAN: Suzanne, we'll see how that settles with the American people. You, too, Andrea. Thank you for your time and your help.
Coming up, are U.S. troops high in the mountains of Afghanistan following in the footsteps of Osama bin Laden? And, is the long, tough war in Iraq wearing out the old volunteer military? That, straight ahead on THIS WEEK AT WAR.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I want to assure parents whose loved one may be in the military, we're not going to put your son or daughter over there unless they're ready.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: The fact that the president felt he had to reassure parents reflects how much debate there is over how the increased tempo of deployment is stressing the American military. Is it too much for the all-volunteer force and if so, is a draft the answer? To help me break all this down, CNN military analyst Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks, U.S. Army retired and former Defense Department official Lawrence Korb, now with the Center for American Progress. Let's start with you, Lawrence. What do you think? Have we reached a breaking point because of this war?
LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: There's no doubt in my mind that the army is broken. The question is, how bad and how long will it take to get it back where it needs to be.
GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): I don't think the army's broken. I think what is happening is there are levels within the army that are broken and I would say at the very top level we just don't have enough -- the short answer, there aren't enough troops in order to sustain this type of combat for an indeterminate amount of time.
FOREMAN: How do we determine this at a time like this when such things are happening in Iraq and when even this surge of troops over there, the so-called surge, is still in progress? Listen to what General Petraeus said on Monday about the level we're at right now with that surge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: We've got about three of our five surge army combat brigades on the ground and now in to the mix and the other two will be completely here and in their operational areas by mid-June. The Iraqis see that. I think that's of huge importance to the overall effort and it's also hugely important to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Easy to look at things going badly this week in Iraq, and say, that's a measure of the military. Is that fair? Is that accurate?
KORB: Look, this is not the first surge. This is the third surge within the last year that we've had. Each time it goes down a little bit. Then it comes back up. Look, I was just in Iraq. You're not even safe in the green zone. They were shelling the green zone. The parliament building is being blown up. What's happened is, we don't have enough troops, even when General Petraeus gets it to get all of the city of six million under control, they're just going to move to other areas. The Iraqi forces are not up to the job of picking up after we leave. And I think I can quote somebody that General Marks knows very well, General McCaffrey when we testified this week, he called it a fool's error (ph).
FOREMAN: Let's listen to what General McCaffrey said. This was testifying before the Senate Arms Services Committee on Tuesday. This is what he said about the current level of recruits.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET): My own gut feeling is that 10 percent of army recruits are of poor caliber and should not be in uniform. They're in there under waivers for non-high school graduates, moral turpitude, felony arrest, drug use. The notion that we're going to use 42-year-old first-term soldiers is simply laughable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: That's quite an indictment, Spider. Is that fair, in your eyes?
MARKS: Well, it's a fair statement, absolutely. I don't think General McCaffrey is making this stuff up. But again, bear in mind that the 10 percent or below, that average of 10 percent is on the margins. You look at the 90 percent goodness of the quality of the young men and women that are coming in. So the debate becomes are you fielding the right force to go in to combat today? The short answer is yes. Are you giving them the right kit and capabilities and training? The short answer is yes. Do you have enough of them? The answer's no, emphatically and I agree with Dr. Korb.
KORB: The shorter answer is no, they're not ready. We're taking people right out of basic training who missed the unit training at Fort Irwin, sending them over with a 10-day course. That's not what you do. Army doctrine says you should have two years at home for every year you're deployed. They're lucky if they get one year. They don't have the right equipment here, because it's over there and it's being burned out. We did not plan to do it. So when the president says that these people are ready, marginally at best.
FOREMAN: Is that because of Iraq or is that because of the overall move of the Pentagon towards having a leaner, quicker moving military first?
MARKS: You can't isolate the two. The two are forever mixed. The issue is the size of the military is not large enough to sustain this level of combat.
FOREMAN: Don't we have to be ready for that? Isn't that the point of having a military?
MARKS: Of course. Of course, that's my point is the requirements and demands of what's going on in Iraq right now would lead you to the conclusion that this 21st century threat that we are now facing has to be addressed with a 21st century army and fundamentally it needs to be bigger. We have challenges across the board. Right now we are focused exclusively on southwest Asia, counterinsurgency type operations, full spectrum ops we cannot address and that's exactly right.
KORB: People were telling this administration right after September 11th, let's expand the army. People in Congress tried to do it. We tried to do it in the think tank world and Rumsfeld had this idea that you could fight wars with three men and a small boy. You didn't need a lot of ground troops.
FOREMAN: How are you going to expand the army now?
KORB: That's the problem. They waited too long to do it. They finally agreed to do it. It's absolutely the worst time. General Marks was talking about only 10 percent of the people get these waivers. But that doesn't include the other 90 percent where you've dropped the standards, 8,126 people --
MARKS: We have not dropped the standards on the other 90 percent.
KORB: No, no. Even with dropping the standard you still give the waivers. These are waivers over and above, the fact, 81 percent are not high school graduates. The fact if you're not a high school graduate and then you also have a felony conviction, there were 900 felony convictions last year, that's the waiver. You don't have to get a waiver if you're a non-high school graduate.
MARKS: I'm not going to debate those statistics, but the issue becomes, we're looking in the mirror, what are we doing today to move it forward? What we're doing today to move it forward is we're not tapping into enough of the resources that we have. We haven't talked about a draft. I would tell you that's not a --
FOREMAN: Well how do we do this, politically that's dead. You may say we need it, but everybody politically says it's not going to happen. Look, so how do you do it without a draft?
MARKS: There are affinity groups in this nation, an affinity towards forms of service. You go tap into those and I don't think we're doing an effective enough job, we're not pouring the money into that.
FOREMAN: Is that going to work?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, the problem is that this war is so unpopular, the American people have turned against it. That normally young men and women who would go into the army, not the other services, the army, their mothers, their ministers, their priests, their rabbis and coaches are discouraging them from doing and that's your problem.
FOREMAN: We're going to take a look at a quick graphic as we go away here. Just look at this, out of the Americans on active military duty, 1.45 million, U.S. population, 301 million. That means one in every 208 Americans are on active duty. There are certainly a lot more people out there who could serve. Thank you very much, Spider Marks for being here, Lawrence Korb, appreciate your time.
Coming up next, CNN's Michael Ware is just back from an embed on the front lines in Iraq. We'll debrief him.
And in just a moment, Nic Robertson on the evolving situation high in the mountains of Afghanistan, where the roads end and the bad guys begin. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Rick Sanchez in the CNN NEWSROOM with that breaking news involving a plane crash that is taking place in Beaufort, South Carolina. It involves as well one of these, that's one of those FA-18s the Blue Angels fly. Apparently one of their planes has crashed into a residential neighborhood and it was confirmed by the coroner's office there in Beaufort, South Carolina that indeed that pilot has perished, has died on the scene. We don't know at this point if there have been any other injuries or any other fatalities as a result of this crash. We have been getting pictures throughout the evening from the area. These are some of them now. This was shot by a gentleman who lives in the area, lives in the exact neighborhood where he says he suddenly heard a loud boom, and it was the plane clipping the top of a pine tree, and after that, he says it continued on for several hundred feet. As you look down the end of this road which is Shanklin Road as I recall. Let me check my notes, yes, Shanklin Road there off of Pine Grove and Shanklin in that residential neighborhood. He says the plane then just disintegrated, just burst into pieces and continued rolling down the road. Others who have contacted us immediately who were also at this air show that was taking place there at the marine air station in Beaufort, South Carolina tell us that an announcement was made concerning the crash, that involved the word regret, but they can't quote exactly what the announcer has said at the time. As we continue to show you some of these pictures. Now, we have been talking to some of the officials on the scene, although they have not yet officially released either the cause or told us at this point what they are doing on the scene to investigate this situation. There you see some of the tape earlier in the day from some of the show. We've been getting a lot of tape and we'll continue to do so as we get more, we'll share it with you. We also expect to make contact with one of our correspondents at the scene. I'm Rick Sanchez.
COL. DAVID SUTHERLAND: In Diyala we're seeing an increase in attacks against coalition forces and across the battle space.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is this the new cutting edge of the front line against al Qaeda?
SUTHERLAND: I think the fight right now is in Diyala.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
WARE: A year ago the coalition forces in Iraq declared Baquba and the surrounding Diyala Province a relatively pacified area. Let's go the map and take a look at where this is. Its a little bit north and east of Baghdad. That's Diyala, a fairly large area and a lot of Sunnis in this area, and there's Baquba right in the middle of it. Now however, it's one of the most dangerous places in Iraq, as trained insurgents, perhaps some of them pushed out of Baghdad down here where they're fighting with U.S. troops, have moved up there. CNN's Michael Ware has just returned from an embed with the 25th infantry division in Diyala Province, he's in Baghdad now. Michael, give us a sense of what's happening there?
WARE: Well Tom what I've seen in Diyala Province is the fight of the new front line against al Qaeda here in Iraq. Where indeed the old become new again. Al Qaeda's always had a strong presence in Diyala, yet with the pressure applied to their organization, while U.S. forces unleashing Baathist insurgents and Sunni tribes against them in al Anbar Province with the focus of the surge in the capital of Baghdad, we've been seeing for some time now a migration of al Qaeda operations to Diyala Province. At the same time we've seen a new American brigade rotate in and apply aggressive new strategies. We're now seeing the levels of violence double what they were one year ago, and in just five months, since this brigade arrived in that province, already 44 U.S. soldiers have been killed. It's one of the most intense battle fronts of the war at the moment. Tom? FOREMAN: There are plenty of groups there, Michael that clearly don't like the Americans being there, but a lot these are groups that don't actually like each other much either. How much is that coming to play?
WARE: Well, that's always been the state of this war here. I mean, this is not been one homogonous enemy that has (INAUDIBLE) America or indeed the Iraqi government. There are many wars within wars and it has been this way from the beginning. What the U.S. has failed to do however, is capitalize on those divisions and fractures. That is until recently. We're now starting to see the results of a shift in U.S. strategy that began at least six months ago, that's now trying to separate more than ever the home-grown nationalist insurgent from the al Qaeda extremist. None the less, the sectarian -- well you know, al Anbar Province, it certainly is. I mean it's been an unhappy marriage from the beginning. From the outset of this war, when the professional Iraqi army was sent home in relative disgrace with dishonor by the then coalition administration, they returned to the places they know best, and it's from where they rose up as the insurgency, when al Qaeda came to join the fight it was the enemy of my enemy is my friend. They never shared the same agenda. So there's been so many fractures and it's only now we're starting to see them really, really come apart at the seams.
FOREMAN: Michael Ware, always interesting reporting. Thank you so much for joining us after your difficult trip up there. We look forward to more reporting.
Straight ahead, we'll go inside Afghanistan and look at how the Taliban is using all too familiar tactics to fight coalition forces. Stick with us.
FOREMAN: IEDs, suicide bomb attacks, identifying and killing informers, all tactics terribly familiar in Iraq and emerging more and more in Afghanistan. Is the Taliban being schooled by insurgents trained in Baghdad? Joining me for analysis are two experts in the region just back from the front lines in Nuristan, senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is now in Jalalabad, he spent the past two months embedded with British and American forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And here with me, Michael Scheuer, he was the chief of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit, he's now a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. Let me start with you Nic, how is the Taliban feeling right now about their war in Afghanistan?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: From their own perspective, they think that they're gaining ground. They say, for example, in large provinces in the south like Alman(ph) and Kandahar, that they say they have about 80 percent support of the population. They're using tactics that, similar tactics that are being used in Iraq. They're using suicide bombings. They're using roadside bombings. It's pretty safe to say that the way that they're using these tactics is not as effective as insurgents in Iraq, but they're beginning to mold themselves on an Iraqi style insurgency. The attacks so far this year, March and February of this year, are double the attacks on the same time last year. Tom?
FOREMAN: Let me ask you about this Nic, you've spent a lot of time down, we go to the map here, down in the southern part of the country and in the northern part. Nuristan is where you've been most recently. We've talked a lot about the south how they're strong down there. But up in these places like Kala Gush where you've been, are they getting stronger there as well?
ROBERTSON: What's happening, the U.S. military is expending its influence into Nuristan, which is a very, very mountainous area, it's the Hindu Kush Mountains, very steeply sided valleys. The roads that we over flew in helicopters today are absolutely impossible because of rock slides. Seven avalanches we saw in just a few short kilometers of road. In Kala Gush itself, which is at the bottom end of Nuristan that has become relatively stable. They aren't seeing a lot of Taliban-type attacks in that area. Further north this is an area that has traditionally been a holdout, an area of resistance against the government, it's where the resistance, against the Russian occupation in the 1980s began. The Russians never conquered Nuristan, they were never able to defeat it because of the terrain. And in that area, coalition forces here are seeing some small numbers of foreign fighters come in, some Taliban-type potentially fighters moving up from the south as well as sort of the indigenous resistance in that area holding out. Coalition says that they're making gains in those areas. It is very difficult. They're using counterinsurgency techniques but there's no doubt that the potential for violence there is increasing, because the number of fighters is increasing in that area, and they're seeing them crossing over the border, coming in from Pakistan, they're hearing people speaking Arabic on the radios that they're picking up. A clear indication they say that foreign fighters are moving in there. They do say not big numbers, though, Tom.
FOREMAN: Michael Scheuer, you were nodding your head during all of this. How much of what is happening in Afghanistan is imported tactics, imported war and how much of it is indigenous with the Taliban?
MICHAEL SCHEUER, FMR. CIA BIN LADEN UNIT CHIEF: I think a lot of it is indigenous, but clear what we're seeing is an exchange of talents across the two theatres of war, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iraqis for example are becoming proficient in downing our helicopters with small arms, which is an Afghan specialty. And as Mr. Robertson said, the use of IEDs and suicide bombers in Afghanistan was almost unheard of until the last 18 months or so. And as he also said, they're on a learning curve but they'll get much better at it.
FOREMAN: You say they're very good at the media war as well. I've seen packages coming out of the people in that area, very well produced.
SCHEUER: Yes sir, it's an astounding development. The Taliban before our invasion in 2001 really didn't give a hoot about international opinion or media coverage. The sophisticated packages we're seeing coming out of Afghanistan now I think is a direct reflection of the maturing of the Taliban as an organization, but also the very powerful influence of al Qaeda's al Sahab media organization, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
FOREMAN: And you see characters like Mullah Dadullah in the south who seems to be a very forward-thinking member of the Taliban in terms of embracing this media.
SCHEUER: Yeah, Dadullah is a very interesting character, he has a very good touch with the western world. He's much more Middle Eastern in ways regarding Islam and the way the war is fought than we think of when we think of the one eye Mullah Omar, kind of a recluse.
FOREMAN: Speaking of the idea of international influence, other countries getting involved, listen to what was said by Defense Secretary Robert Gates Wednesday in Cairo about Iran's possible role in Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, we have, as General Pace indicated, found Iranian weapons and Iranian explosives in Afghanistan. We don't know the magnitude of the assistance. It's obviously troubling.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Nic Robertson, I'm sure many Americans are troubled, too when they hear talk about other countries having weapons. What weapons are they? People are worried about what the truth may be. What do you know about this from the Taliban?
ROBERTSON: Well I certainly know from talking to a source here who is deeply involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations to try and bring a settlement here based on talking rather than fighting, and his analysis, and it does seem to be deeply nuanced analysis, is that Iran sees an advantage here in Afghanistan of keeping the fight going, of helping whoever it is to attack U.S. troops, to send a message to the United States. This was his analysis to send a message to the United States that they shouldn't go interfering in these countries and clearly a country that's on the border with Iran. Iran is plagued -- has had an involvement in the fights and battles of Afghanistan over several decades, they are intimately familiar with the players, with the country, with the terrain and how to effectively use forces inside here. So the analysis I've been given by somebody very close to this is, yes, Iran is involved, yes it is aimed at destabilizing what the United States is trying to achieve here, Tom.
FOREMAN: Michael Scheuer, it keeps coming back to Iran time and time again. Is Iran ultimately going to have to be dealt with by the world community?
SCHEUER: Certainly not on Afghanistan. The Iranians if there are Iranian weapons in Afghanistan they're very marginal. I think General Pace and Mr. Gates should be very careful about what they're talking about, suggesting Iranian influence. The Iranians are very eager to keep the Afghans at arm's length, and don't really want to get involved in Afghanistan, except for protecting the Shias. And we're kind of in the same position we were when people said that the Americans, if it wasn't for the Americans the Afghans wouldn't keep fighting. The Afghans are going to fight us until we leave, which probably won't be very much longer and they don't need Iranian guns. The Saudis are running guns in there, the Kuwaitis. All of the Sunni nations in the Middle East are supporting the Taliban. It's a mistake. I'm very wary of this Iranian claim simply because it looks to me like they're trying to create a cause (INAUDIBLE) for a war with the United States.
FOREMAN: All right, thanks much, Michael Scheuer for coming in. Nic Robertson, always great insights, we appreciate your help.
When we come back, the story of a soldier whose proudest moment came when he helped his comrades survive. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: A THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. Sergeant Joshua Schmit was just 10 days from the end of a year-long tour in Iraq when his humvee was struck by a roadside bomb in Fallujah. Schmit was assigned to the 1451st transportation company, 13th support command. This week neighbors in his hometown of Willmar, Minnesota lined their driveways with American flags to show support for his grieving family.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREA SCHMIT, WIFE: When I came here and opened up the doors, I see my mom crying and said that it was true that he was dead. That he was gone.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Josh's father said his son's proudest moment was when he played the enemy in live action drills and trained his fellow soldiers to survive. He was 26 years old.
When we come back, we will explore the controversy over anti- missile systems in Eastern Europe, but first a look at some of those who fell in THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: It's good to keep things in perspective. After the most devastating war in American history, the Civil War, there was great national concern about rebuilding farms, factories, businesses, schools, all needed educated, skilled hands for the work ahead. So under a program launched by Abraham Lincoln during the war, the government sold off land it owned in every state and used that money to fund institutions of higher learning. In one rural stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains, 132 young men showed up for the first day of class at one of those schools. They had no idea what would follow. For 125 years that school has produced some of the nation's best scientists, inventors, engineers, writers, scholars and soldiers. Three Medal of Honor winners among them. That school, Virginia Tech. The university that has always been defined by its fine traditions of success and service and will soon, no doubt, be back to that great work as it has always done. Our thoughts are with you all there. Turning now to some of the stories that we'll be following in the next WEEK AT WAR.
On Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates goes to Moscow to meet with the Kremlin furious about a U.S. proposal to put missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. On Thursday, the commander of the ground forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is expected to meet with legislators in Washington. Also on Thursday, the cost of fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan will be high on the agenda as NATO foreign ministers meet in Oslo. Thank you for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR, I'm Tom Foreman. Straight ahead a check of the headlines, then CNN's SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT, "Massacre at Virginia Tech."
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