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The Week's Events in Iraq and Afghanistan

Aired December 16, 2007 - 13:00   ET


TOM FOREMAN, THIS WEEK AT WAR: In Algeria, in Lebanon, and Southern Iraq, car bombs this week not only kill the innocent, they also ripped into any chances for peace in places struggling to recover from terrible conflicts. And all of them, all of them posed new dangers for the United States. We'll try to explain what's really going on in THIS WEEK AT WAR.

FOREMAN: Here is where things stand in THIS WEEK AT WAR.. It does not look good in Iraq as car bombs tear into the fragile peace there. A down arrow in North Africa as al Qaeda revives a dangerous insurgency. The question of torture is still undecided after a week of drama up on Capitol Hill. And a general who had big doubts, now says the new strategy in Iraq is the right way to fight the long war. That's how things stand, and here is where we are going to find out what is happening next. Paula Newton has been watching the newest battle for Algers. We will ask her how dangerous this new face of al Qaeda really is. Harris Whitbeck is in Baghdad, where a wave of violence is sweeping Iraq. The question is: Can Iraqis keep the peace without foreign troops there? And in Beirut, Brent Sadler has been covering yet another very political car bomb. How will Lebanon's troubles affect the rest of the Middle East? All THIS WEEK AT WAR.

A car bomb is a terrible thing, of course, but what happened in Amara, Iraq this week seemed somehow worse than usual because it showed such cold and deadly calculation. Listen to Harris Whitbeck's report from Tuesday.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): There were three bombs in the crowded marketplace. All timed to go off within minutes of each other. The first, seemingly designed to draw a crowd. Then, a second blast as the crowd stood by, inspecting the damage of the first. As people fled the second bomb, a third one went off.


FOREMAN: In a quick and dirty analysis of death in Iraq, car bombs are usually seen as Sunni weapons, but not this time. Amara is in a province so completely controlled by Shiites that it has escaped the worst of the sectarian violence, so are we beginning to see a bloody power struggle within the Shiite community? Harris joins us from our Baghdad Bureau right now. And with me in our Washington studio is Jane Arraf, formerly CNN's bureau chief in Baghdad and now a freelance reporter for national public radio (NPR). Harris, what are the Shia fighting each other over?

HARRIS WHITBECK, BAGHDAD: Well, many people think they're fighting each other in the south over the fact that the provinces in the south are very rich in oil and resources. Also, the province that was hit in the triple bombing is an area that borders Iran. So, obviously there's some strategic benefit to controlling that area. The big concern now is that there might be more Shia upon Shia violence, as you mentioned. The big player of course in all of this is the cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr.

FOREMAN: Let's take a look at that border you're talking about. If you can turn to this, Jane, this is what we're talking about. The bombing happened along on the border with Iran here. And when we talk about this area, we're talking about dozens of militias? Hundreds of them? What?

JANE ARRAF, FMR. CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Well, the thing about the evolution of the insurgency and the evolution of where this violence is coming from is that these groups of fragmented, so, while, on one hand we have had some main Shia militias and those include the group that's best known as loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the cleric, and others that are loyal to the other main party, the political party and more pro-Iranian. There are also splinter groups and that's one of the things and that's why it's so hard to control the violence, so hard to even figure out who is behind all of this. Because these groups are splintering and they're not really under strict control.

FOREMAN: One quote I want you to consider here from one of the clerics under al-Sadr. He said: "There is an entity in the Sadr trend that doesn't want the freeze." You mean, the freeze in violence that's been going on under Sadr. "We always hope for good and we hope the decision of Sayed Muqtada will be for the best of Iraq, but after he gives his final decision about the future of the Mahdi Army, many, I believe, will change their ideology and choose to leave the Sadr trend." That's that fractionalization that you're talking about, people under Muqtada al-Sadr who say I don't agree with your approach.

ARRAF: And that's a really interesting thing because it sort of sounds like he holds the town hall meetings. He doesn't really. And he's a guy who is -- you wouldn't consider him typically charismatic. If you meet him, you might think he was actually just another guy in the street. But because of his family, because his family was revered because of what he represents, which is some standing up to America, somebody who is Iraqi-born, he has a following that exists because of things that he is against rather than what he's for. So, there will be a group of people that listen to what he says, although he is not one of the most learned clerics. But, there's a large group of people who call themselves Sadr followers who are really not under his control and that's been part of the problem. And that's been why he has made the decision to try to reign in those elements.

FOREMAN: Harris, talk to me about some of those people who are not under his control. There seem to be cases of young Shia in particular who, you know, some of them seem like what they want to be is the mob, not the government or a governing force. And yet they're operating in some way under his umbrella. WHITBECK: Well, that's right. They are considered some of the more radical elements within his party and precisely to try to reign some of them in an indirect way and to gain more political power, if you will, some of al-Sadr's people announced just a few days ago that he's going back to seminary school to attempt to become an Ayatollah. If he achieves this higher rank, higher religious rank, some say that would give him much more political clout and be able to reign in some of the more radical elements.

FOREMAN: Jane, this question of political clout there, he has also done something that's a little bit unusual. He's been showing an inclination to reach across to the Sunni a little bit and say, in effect, I can be some kind of statesman here even though I'm not part of the main government. I'm sort of a de facto government. Is that a good idea? A bad idea?

ARRAF: Well, again, he's not your typical statesman but he is doing things that are really very clever. He has been going to some of the neighboring Sunni countries trying to convince them, in essence, that he is the guy. He is the Shia leader that they can work with. He's not the scary Shia leader who's aligned with Iran which of course all the Sunni countries are afraid of and the U.S. is afraid of that. That he is a guy who can span this bridge. Now again, we're not talking about a skilled politician. We're not talking about careful diplomacy. We are talking about somebody who is in a position where he could potentially be more powerful if he makes some clever moves. And this appears to be one of those moves that his aides are telling him he should make. Go out, expand your reach. Let people know the real Muqtada al-Sadr.

FOREMAN: So, Harris, what does all this mean for the United States? Is this good or bad? We've been - some of our military leaders have been praising him lately, saying he's helping to quell the violence. But in the long run, is this a good play?

WHITBECK: Well, I mean, the military commanders on the ground say the fact that he's extended this freeze on more actions by the Mahdi army is certainly encouraging. And they do recognize that because of that freeze, there might have been a decrease, if you will, in some of the violence. But the triple bombings that we saw down south are worrisome, again, because they see that there could be more of this in-fighting between the different Shia groups that we have talked about before.

FOREMAN: Let me ask you this, Harris. What does Baghdad think of all this? There is an actual government in Iraq, although it's highly criticized for not doing anything. They must be very concerned to have somebody or any group of somebodies creating really this shadow government that seems to be running things more than they are.

WHITBECK: Friday's demonstration in Sadr city as an indication of that. And would be cause for concern. There were thousands of people out in the streets protesting the attacks that took place earlier this week in Amara and also, again, expressing support for Muqtada al-Sadr.

FOREMAN: And we have to leave it at that. Thank you, Jane, thank you, Harris.

Flash brief: Around the world in 90 seconds. That's coming up in just a bit along with a story of a battle that the Marine Corps may not win.

And the surprising strength of al Qaeda in north Africa. The latest battlefield in the war on terror. You don't want to miss it.

But first: At THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance -- Sergeant first class John Tobiason of Bloomington, Minnesota who was killed late last month in Baghdad. Tobiason was one of the older members of his unit. His sister Nancy talked about what he meant to all of those younger soldiers.


NANCY MITCHELL, SISTER: He was their big brother. And everyone loved him. And he would comfort them. He helped them move ahead. I mean, these are young kids - ages 19 to 20-year-olds.


FOREMAN: Tobiason was scheduled to come home in October, but he volunteered to stay behind to help train his younger comrades. He was 42 years old.


FOREMAN: The truck bombs that devastated the center of Algiers this week were sadly not the first and almost certainly not the last in a campaign that promises to spread across North Africa and here's how CNN international security correspondent Paula Newton reported.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The handiwork of al Qaeda, determined to create an Islamic state in North Africa, now infused with hundreds of battle-hardened Algerian guerilla fighters and emboldened by its branding and tactics. Counterterrorism chiefs throughout Europe worry they are also poised for attacks in their countries.


FOREMAN: Paula joins us now from London and in Los Angeles, Emily Hunt has written on Islamic terrorism in Africa for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Paula, let me start with you. You say that they are determined to create an Islamic state in North Africa. They may be determined, but how far along the road are they?

NEWTON: What we've heard this week is for people not to exaggerate the threat here. What is happening is that people in Europe and the United States, security authorities, say that the potential threat is there. And it is. When you think about the hundreds of terrorists who have been plotting to carry out these attacks, they're well-financed, they're organized. They have the expertise they need. What they don't have yet are the numbers or, quite frankly, the kind of organization that takes to really be the kind of threat that we see in other places in the world. The problem, Tom, is that we've been here before. We have seen threats like this perk up on the radar and when they're not addressed, when people are not noticing, then that's what that is the tipping point to when this kind really of a campaign turns to what would be the Algerian government's worst nightmare.

FOREMAN: Emily, we're going to turn to the map now and show people what we're talking about. But as we're moving in here on Algeria, giving people a sense of what we're talking about. Why is this a good ground for al Qaeda and for terrorist extremist groups to grow?

EMILY HUNT, NORTH AFRICA TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, one of the reasons is that they have an historical base there. You have to keep in mind that you know, the GSPC also known as al Qaeda in the Islamic area has probably about a 20-year history in this region. So that is, I think, one issue. And the second issue is their connection to Iraq. I think a lot of these guys are going from Algeria to Iraq, training there, coming back and imparting the skills that they've learned in Iraq to the Algerian youth.

FOREMAN: Algeria certainly had a difficult time. I want to go to the fact file briefly here and talk about this. Algeria fought for more than 100 years to become independence from France. In 1990's, the military killed thousands at civil war with Islamist there. In 2006, Islamist radicals began working more with al Qaeda. That's when we saw it. Paula, so, it sounds like what we're talking about right now is almost a -- a feeling-out sort of process where al Qaeda is saying, can we get a toe hold here, can be build, and is there enough support?

NEWTON: Most definitely. And what they're doing, really is, speaking to years, decades, of this kind of terrorism in Algeria and then trying to pick up some other strands of discontent in places like Tunisia, like Morocco. What is very key here is the recruiting methods. You'll notice in after two very large terrorist attacks, the one we just had and the one in April in Algeria, how two suicide bombings videos released. This is the kind of propaganda that al Qaeda is looking for. This is what they need in order to be able to recruit more suicide bombers.

FOREMAN: Emily, how much should be worried in the United States about what we've seen happening here? Is this something that really can spread out from that area or is this something that with an international effort and the localized effort there can be tamped down easily?

HUNT: Well, it's certainly able to be tamped down easily. I think there's definitely some hope there to try to contain the problem. But, really I think there are two prongs that the U.S. should be concerned about. The first is the recruitment of the Algerian youth. Because this generation was too young during the civil war to really fully understand the violence. My generation and older I think, are less enthusiastic about this type of conflict because they've already been there. And then, the second concern that I think the U.S. needs to have is about the dramatic increase in capability over the past couple of years. Which I think is emanating from Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan and Pakistan. Two years ago, a lot of people said, you know, this group is dead. They're finished. And I think this past week has shown that, if anything, they're certainly not finished.

FOREMAN: One of the things that you wrote specifically Emily, that I found interesting was this. You said, "North African militants have played an important role in Iraq. Many young men who traveled there in the initial stages of the conflict became suicide bombers, but a contingent also has participated as insurgent foot soldiers and commanders. These men will have gained skills in urban combat that they may be able to use effectively upon return to northwestern Africa." Paula, this sounds awful lot about the same thing we heard in Afghanistan. Some people went and fought in Iraq, got some skilled, came back and now the Taliban resurgent.

NEWTON: Precisely and that what so worries the security authorities here in Europe and by extension the United States. When you think about how close North Africa is to Europe, the kind of immigration links that continue. This is what is so terrifying to the security authorities. And they have seen this happened before. It's certainly happened with the Madrid bombings when there were links back to Moroccan extremists in that incident.

FOREMAN: So, Emily, what is the most important thing that needs to be done now? If we do not want to be looking at Algeria in a few years and saying, how did it get so bad? How did al Qaeda get such a foothold there? What needs to be done?

HUNT: Well, I think the first thing is we in the U.S. have to fully understand and recognize the threat. There has been, as I said, earlier a lot of reluctance to really address the issue because you know, we don't want to hype it too much, we don't want to put too much focus on it. But, you know, for fear that that's going to actual enflame people in Algeria. But on the other hand, I think that we do have to understand that the Algerian security forces, although they have been very competent and traditional counter-insurgency tactics now are seeing things you know, emanating from Iraq that they are just not used to dealing with.

FOREMAN: When you say address the issue, what do you mean? With troops or diplomacy or using tactics or what?

HUNT: I mean in terms of counter-terrorism training. And actually, it's interesting that you bring them up because the U.S. Military and State Department actually currently have a jointly-led counterterrorism training exercise going on with countries in that region. And, you know, it has been kind of a mixed effectiveness. But I think they just really need to kind of ramp it up and go forward from here.

FOREMAN: And that's all the time we have. Thanks so much, Emily and Paula for being here. HUNT: Thank you so much.

FOREMAN: Straight ahead: The debate continues over how far the U.S. should go in this battle against terrorism. But first, let's take a look at our weekly gallery of combat photography. Amad Omar (ph) took this photo in Beirut, Lebanon as a soldier wept unashamedly, mourning the death of the army's chief of operations in a massive car bomb there. Two U.S. Army medics raced to save an injured Iraqi child hit by a mortar attack in a town of Aram Jabur (ph), Maya Alawutso (ph) was embedded at the tool base moray when he caught this moment of Mercy. And an anonymous photographer took this image of rebellion as Sunni insurgent celebrated after a battle with Iraqi police in a town north in Baghdad. And finally, Victor Calzado of the "El Paso Times" was there at Fort Bliss Texas as what must have seemed like an endless deployment ended for specialist, Ben Willis and his wife, Jessica.


FOREMAN: From Fidel Castro to (INAUDIBLE) in Nicaragua to the war on terror, there are desperate problems that sometimes demand desperate measures. Then, the same measures - employees in cigars, to arms deals to waterboarding are exposed, hearings are held in Congress declares itself as the police captain something like a shock, shocked to find out such terrible things are going on. With the latest revelations about CIA videotapes of interrogations that were later destroyed, we're deep into that second phase. CNN's senior legal analyst. Jeffrey Toobin joins us from our New York bureau now and with me in Washington, Michael Scheuer, 22-year veteran of the CIA and our senior fellow at foundation. Jeffrey, let me talk to you first about these tapes disappearing, being destroyed. I guess the question everybody asks in a logical sense is if you needed the tapes in the first place, they must have been of value. Why didn't you keep them? And, boy, doesn't it look like a cover-up?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It sure does especially because it does seem clear that both the 9/11 Commission and various lawsuits had made formal requests for these tapes. And it doesn't seem that like there was any justification for simply the CIA deciding on its own to get rid of them. You know, I think we need to tease out two different questions here. One is -- was anything illegal going on on the tapes? And there I think the CIA is probably unfairly safe ground. You know, there was -- there were, as I understand it, levels of review for what could be done in the course of interrogation. But in terms of the alleged cover-up, that is legally very problematic for the CIA people who are involved in doing it.

FOREMAN: So, Michael, tell us a little more and update us all. What do we think was on these tapes that people are so concerned about?

MICHAEL SCHEUER, FORMER SENIOR CIA OFFICER: Well, I think it's very simple. The tapes were of interrogations and there were three things on them we didn't want to come out. I believe. The information the enemy gave us in those tapes, certainly, we don't want to enemy to know what we know. The faces and voices of the officers involved in the interrogation, who were -- whose ability to operate internationally depends on anonymity. And third thing was by 2005 when the tapes were destroyed, the politicians in both parties had begun to attack the agency as if it was doing something that was unauthorized by the president.

FOREMAN: And to the beliefs that there is waterboarding shown on this part of this. I can't help but think images of that, people at the CIA, Congress, the White House, everybody knows if images like that got out, that's political dynamite.

SCHEUER: Oh, sure. And this whole episode just goes to show how little they care about protecting Americans. General Hayden has shown, said very clearly that this process has saved American lives. But the Congress is more important -- or more concerned with what the world thinks of them than they are with protecting Americans.

FOREMAN: I know there are people on The Hill right now who would love to be here to refute some of what you just said. Let me turn back to Jeffrey on the bigger question of this, legally. Jeffrey, when something like this happens, so often there are these recriminations. There's a sense of you shouldn't have done it. Listen to what the CIA director himself said about it when he talked about this on Wednesday.


GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR: I think it's fair to say that particularly at the time of the destruction, we could have done an awful lot better in keeping the committee alerted and informed as to that activity.


FOREMAN: But Jeffrey, my experience in courts is that, yes, people say things like that, but in the end the evidence is gone. And whatever the down side is of being caught at that, it's probably not as bad as the down side of the evidence.

TOOBIN: Well, you never know. I mean, I actually think that might not be the case here. I doubt there would have been any criminal prosecutions based on whatever these tapes were. And the arguments that Mike just made about why the tapes could be made secret should remain secret are pretty good arguments. I think a judge presented with those kinds of arguments probably would have said, you know, you're right. I'm not going to order these tapes to be produced. But the issue here is that the CIA and whether it was the -- the former head of the director of operations or whoever it was, decided unilaterally without consulting lawyers, without letting a judge make the decision, to destroy these tapes, that seems very likely to be illegal.

FOREMAN: Let me come back to you, Michael. You made the point a moment ago that a sense that people were more interested in playing politics in Washington sometimes than the on the ground nuts and bolts of controlling terrorism, doing things like that. But in their defense as well, couldn't they be saying, precisely what Jeffrey said, you guys were playing judge and jury. This is too far. It shouldn't have gone that way.

SCHEUER: I think there's two separate questions here. It seems to me the question is did the agency or someone in the agency deny to the 9/11 Commission that these tapes existed. That -- if that occurred, that occurred under Mr. Tenet and Mr. Pavic (ph), not under the current group. I think the second question is I'm not sure I've heard that anyone ever ordered the agency not to destroy those tapes. If there has been an order, then that's a problem. But as far as I know, there has been no order to the agency to save those tapes.

FOREMAN: And I think that hanging over all of this continues to be the notion that we haven't decided officially as a government what we consider torture and what we don't. We're still debating that and yet people are worried about images, worried about the impression.

SCHEUER: Well, they're very much worried. The Congress is much more worried about what the Europeans, who they envy, think of them than they are with protecting Americans. That's very clear. Whatever comes down on the legal issue in this case, the Congress is driven by what the Europeans and the human rights people in the U.N. think of us. Not by protecting your children or my children.

FOREMAN: Jeffrey -

TOOBIN: I know. I really don't think that -- that's fair to Congress. I mean, if the administration thinks that waterboarding is fine, they should have come out and said it. And yet they have danced around it. When Judge Mukasey was nominated to be attorney general, he wouldn't come out and say whether waterboarding was whether he thought it was legal or not. I mean, if the administration really believes that waterboarding is necessary to protect American lives, they should simply say that. But they've danced around it. And I don't think it's -- you know, just, you know, human rights activists we are concerned about it. I think a lot of people are concerned that that's something the United States government should not be doing. John McCain being a prominent example of that view.

FOREMAN: Michael, how much do you think this comes back to the basic notion that you know, in difficult times, right after 9/11, I didn't hear anybody saying, Let's be worried about all these issues in the first few days. A few weeks later people started saying, hold on a second. Now, let's retrench here. It seems like that's part of the deal. We're dealing with this continuing battle with murky foes that we can't find. It's hard to reach decisions about where we stand day-to-day.

MICHAEL SCHEUER, FOREMER CIA OFFIER: I think that's right, sir, but I also think there's been no lack of clarity on interrogation techniques. The president of the United States and the Department of Justice have authorized the CIA to use particular methods. They've been very clear on that.

FOREMAN: Well it hasn't been clear to us in every case what those methods are.

SCHEUER: I agree with that, sir, but they're very clear to the Central Intelligence Agency because we wouldn't be doing them if they weren't authorized by the president and the Department of Justice. So I don't buy the argument that at least in so far as the agency is concerned there hasn't been clarity. The administration has been very clear on what they want done.

FOREMAN: and with that, thank you Michael and Jeffrey as well.

Next, a surprising reappraisal of General David Petraeus's counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq. But first, as we always do, let's take some time for a final salute to some of those who fell in "This week at War."




UNIDENTIFIED MALES: Three, two, one. Merry Christmas!

FOREMAN: Soldiers from Pennsylvania's National Guard shared a holiday tradition with families and friends this past week. The members of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 213th area support group lit Harrisburg's Christmas tree via satellite allowing loved ones to watch. Opening presents will have to be delayed however. The unit isn't due back until spring of next year.

Last May, a retired general called the war in Iraq a slow grind to nowhere which totally ignores the reality of Iraq and the lessons of history. This week, the man who commanded the first infantry division in Iraq co-wrote a very different appraisal of U.S. military strategy. Both in Iraq and in the larger "long war against Islamic extremism." In an exclusive interview, retired major general John Batiste joins us from Rochester, New York now.

General, in this town where people like extremes, many people say you did a complete about-face. You were totally against the war, now you're totally for it. What do you think?

MAJOR GEN. JOHN BATISTE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Tom, this hasn't been an about-face at all. In fact, I've been consistently saying the same thing now for the better part of 20 months. If this nation has learned anything in the past six years, it's the notion that war is the extension of politics by other means, and one doesn't take the nation to war unless all other options have been totally exhausted.

FOREMAN: Well, I'll take that at face value. Let's listen to something you said back in September when you talked to the House Armed Services Committee about the military component here.


BATISTE: Our army and marine corps are at a breaking point with little to show for it. The current surge in Iraq is too little, too late.


FOREMAN: Would you say the same thing today militarily, that it's too little, too late or do you now see signs of encouragement?

BATISTE: Tom, what I'd say is that the surge as the military component strategy is beginning to show signs of success. There's no question about that. But let's not forget that the solution in Iraq, however you define victory, is not going to be defined by the military. It must be a political solution. And if we're not very, very careful, if we don't radically change direction with respect to our strategy, with respect to mobilizing the country behind our exhausted military, with respect to finding the right political process in Iraq to ensure success, today's tactical successes will turn into strategic failures tomorrow.

FOREMAN: Part of what you wrote along with Peter Hegeeth in the "Washington Post" was this - the counter-insurgency campaign led by General David Petraeus is the correct approach in Iraq. It is showing promise of success and if continued will provide the Iraqi government the opportunities it desperately needs to stabilize its country. It seems like the big question for you is still whether or not that government there or the Iraqis can capitalize on this at this point.

BATISTE: Tom, here's a couple of thoughts. Right, the Iraqi government, the Iraqi factions, entities, must reconcile. And they, to this point, have shown little inclination to do that. The other important thing to remember is that a national strategy is based upon diplomacy, political reconciliation, economic recovery, military operations. There's a whole holistic approach to any kind of operation such as what we're doing in Iraq or Afghanistan. To depend entirely on the military is pure folly. And in my mind, that in large measure is what we're doing. We need to rethink the strategy. It must be regionally and globally focused to deal with extremism. And by the way, the first tool to use is not the military. There are other ways to deal with it. We must mobilize our country behind this effort. Less than 1% of the population is shouldering the burdens of Iraq and Afghanistan. The military is stretched thin. It cannot continue the cycle of deployments for much longer.

We need to think of ways to fund this war much as our parents and grandparents did in previous world wars, with war bonds, people sacrificing in real meaningful ways. We need to get serious with our industrial base to provide the troops what they need. Mind resistant vehicles, better body armor, better helmets. The list goes on and on. We haven't gone after this as America is accustomed to when they make the decision to go to war.

FOREMAN: And yet the tone certainly of what you're saying now does seem different, whether or not you're consistent in your message. I'll buy what you're saying there, but nonetheless the tone is somewhat different. Before you were saying it's sort of hopeless. Now you're talking a lot about hope and you're talking very much the idea that we must be in it for a long, long haul.

BATISTTE: I think whether we like it or not, we're facing an extremist element worldwide that would like to see our way of life destroyed. It is a long war. And we must approach it from that perspective. But I'll tell you, I for one am getting upset with our leadership's failure to direct us with a comprehensive, meaningful strategy with a regional and global focus. With a complete failure to mobilize the nation behind our incredible military. They need it more than anything right now. We've got to get this right. Or the tactical gains on the ground today in Iraq are going to crumble. It will be a strategic failure of some magnitude. And that's not good for the United States. It's not good for NATO. It's not good for our way of life.

FOREMAN: Thanks so much, general, for your insights.

Now, a look at the other hot spots in "This week at War." In Pakistan, the battle between the government and Islamic militants continued as a suicide bomber struck a school bus at a military post, wounding five children. In Jerusalem, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held their first round of talks since the Annapolis peace conference. Most of the time, it was devoted to grievances, but both sides did agree to meet again and that's something. And in Lebanon, a car bomb killed a senior general. The first attack on the Lebanese Army seen as one of the few unifying forces in this struggling country. We'll have a report on that from our man in Beirut in just a moment. Stick with us.


FOREMAN: Two weeks ago, Lebanon's president stepped down and was not replaced. A series of car bombs has paralyzed the government and in the opinion of many observes, left this country perilously close it to the kind of all-out sectarian violence that tore it apart two decades ago. This week, another car bomb killed a brigadier general and left in doubt the elections called for early next week. CNN's Beirut bureau chief, Brent Sadler joins us now from Beirut. Brent, who is behind all of this violence?

BRENT SADLER: Well, Tom, there's no one that's been brought to any court to prove who's behind a whole series of car bombings that have really torn this country apart over the past three years. Many of those who are part of the coalition, the ruling coalition, supported by the United States blame Syria for having a hand in these attacks to destabilize to country to try to allow Syria to bring about the conditions that could see a Syrian, if you like, reoccupation of this country that ended back in 2005 after strong U.S.-led international pressure. Tom.

FOREMAN: Let's take a look at the map very quickly and see what you're talking about. This is the area where Lebanon is. Syria, right next to it. Many people historically think Lebanon should be part of Syria. At least a lot of Syrians think that. Brent, you said they want to bring back certain conditions. What would Syria get out of this by controlling Lebanon?

SADLER: Well, Syria gets to control a front line with Israel to the south of Lebanon. As far as Syria is concerned, this gives Syria strategic depth against Israel. It has the support of Hezbollah. Many inside Lebanon and the United Nations claim that Syria has been moving weapons into Lebanon from Iran, they claim, to arm Hezbollah. Hezbollah, a strategic existential threat to the Israelis as we saw what happened here last summer with the Israel-Hezbollah war that brought many parts of northern Israel to a stand-still. So the stakes here are very high. Not only for the Syrians and the Iranians, but also for the administration of George W. Bush that has strongly supported the western-backed government of Prime Minister (inaudible). They sent weapons here a few months ago when the Lebanese Army was battling Al Qaeda-style Islamic terrorisms in the north of the country. Those weapons used to crush that revolt and the general who was the latest victim of the assassinations actually led military operations to defeat those Islamic terrorists and some are saying that perhaps that's the reason why he was targeted in the Wednesday bomb blast. Tom.

FOREMAN: And yet officials there, as you found out on Wednesday, don't really want to say it. Let's listen very briefly.


PIERRE DACCACHE, INDEPENDENT LEBANESE MP: Nobody is trying to help Lebanon.

REPORTER: Is Syria one of those enemies?

DACACCHE: I don't - I don't want to - I don't want to incriminate somebody unless I have proofs for that.


FOREMAN: We're almost out of time here, Brent, but why will the government of Lebanon not step up and loudly say, we think it is Syria and the international community must tell them to get out?

SADLER: Well, the politicians that support the western-backed government, the coalition here, often say that Syria is behind it. Often, really criticizing Syria and criticizing the international community, especially the United States and France, which led a recent effort that failed to get that presidential post filled, that they need to do more to pressure Syria, to force Syria, they say, to get Syrian hands off Lebanon and let the Lebanese get on with a ruling themselves, which has been very difficult for them to do under these very split conditions where Hezbollah-led Syrian-Iranian backed opposition has effectively besieged this government here for the past year, really shoving this country into a very difficult and dangerous predicament. Tom.

FOREMAN: Thanks so much, Brent Sadler for that update.

Straight ahead, flash brief, around the world in 90 seconds. First, our dispatch segment, a look at the real people fighting our wars. And this story begins in World War II when a youthful Vernon Henriks was an army corporal. Our I-reporter Jill Levans is one of two granddaughters who are now married into this family's military tradition. Jill's husband, Specialist Jody Levans, has already done a tour of duty in Iraq with field artillery and her brother-in-law Capt. Willian Razky is winding up his third tour next month. He's been training Iraqi troops. When they're home, both of them spend time trading war stories with granddad, Vernon. He's great grand dad Vernon, actually now. And he celebrated his 90th birthday this week. Happy birthday and our best wishes to him and the entire family. We would like to hear about your week at war, too. It's easy just go to and click on the i-report link. We'll be right back.


FOREMAN: Time now for flash brief. We bring in our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre for a look at things we should be watching in the week to come. Jamie, big fight going on right now over this question of more funding. The Pentagon says give us the money or we'll have to lay people off and the democrats don't much want to do that with the war going the way it is. Will there be empty desks at the Pentagon?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN, SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Probably not at the Pentagon, but it could happen at Army bases around the country early next year because the Pentagon says it's not bluffing. Still, in this high stakes gain, the betting is that the Congress will fold and provide the military with at least some of the money it needs to keep the war going.

FOREMAN: There's some big new concern about the amount of money being wasted in Iraq. What is that about?

MCINTYRE: Well, anytime you're spending money in a war zone, there's going to be some waste. But this latest (deo DIG) report has really many whopping examples. One example, for instance, $32 million spent for a base that was never built. That's pretty much all of the money that was supposed to be taken and they never got the base.

FOREMAN: Unbelievable. Terrible, terrible news about the number of suicides from our returning troops. What's happening?

MCINTYRE: Well, the Veterans Department and the Pentagon still are arguing about whether this amounts to an epidemic, but the numbers are way up. And clearly you don't need more than any just a little bit of common sense to know that this is because of the strains of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

FOREMAN: Let's turn to Afghanistan for a moment. There's very much a sense that we need more troops there. The Secretary of Defense is saying NATO must supply them. If NATO won't, will we?

MCINTYRE: Well, never say never, but it's not likely. Bob Gates made it clear that he's not letting NATO off the hook. That's the message he's delivering to NATO ministers in Scotland. And, frankly, if you talk to U.S. commanders, unless there's a big draw-down in Iraq, the U.S. simply doesn't have the troops to send to Afghanistan anytime soon.

FOREMAN: And here we are at the 19th anniversary of that terrible bombing of a Pam-Am flight over Scotland, almost 300 people died, on the ground and on the plane. And yet there's news on that. MCINTYRE: That's right. It looks like the Libyan who's been held in that may get a new appeal because of new evidence suggesting that maybe he wasn't behind it after all.

FOREMAN: Unbelievable. Thanks so much, Jamie McIntyre for the flash brief.

When we come back, I met so many young marines in this country. They're just spectacular young people who seem to be able to do so very much, and yet this Christmas season, they have met a wall that they may not be able to scale unless you help. Please stick around.


FOREMAN: The U.S. Marines are in trouble, and they are really depending on you to come through for them. They're not looking for a few good men this time. They just want a few good toys. For the past 60 years, the Marines have been the tip of the spear for the "Toys for Tots" campaign, and this year it looks as though as many as 6 million children could be disappointed.

Across the United States, Marines are reporting a massive drop in donations. Maybe it's the economy, maybe it's the toy recalls. Either way, they're coming up way short. But Marines don't give up and neither should you. In many places, they will be accepting donations right up until Christmas eve. You can find out where to drop off toys at Go check it out. Rally your family and friends, wake the dog, get the troops to come to the rescue here.

It's nice to talk about something besides war for a change. Thanks for joining us on "This Week at War." I'm Tom Foreman. Straight ahead, CNN's "Special Investigation Unit: God's Christian Warriors.