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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Derailing President Obama's Message; Formula For Success in Afghanistan?

Aired September 7, 2009 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm Erica Hill in New York tonight.

A lot of new stories in development at this hour, including the president under pressure over health care reform, his speech on Wednesday looking like it's make-or-break time. And, even as he deals with that, he's still under fire after a top adviser steps down over the weekend.

Anderson Cooper tonight is live for us at U.S. Patrol Base Jaker in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, though. And that's where we begin -- Anderson.

We may be having a little bit of trouble with that shot tonight. As you can understand, doing this from a base in Afghanistan obviously not the easiest feat. But don't worry. We will be getting back to Afghanistan. We will also have a number of reports coming up for you throughout the show from Anderson, from Michael Ware, and from Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

So, as we try to reestablish that connection, let's take a look at what's happening back home in what is frankly, a make-or-break week for President Obama, out on the road today, pushing health care reform, before he tries to sell it to Congress on Wednesday night in a speech which sources tell CNN will be forceful in tone.

Of course, before he gets to that much-discussed speech, there's the one to America's schoolkids tomorrow. Frankly, none of this has been simple or easy, which pretty much sums up the president's summer. And while most of the attacks have come from the opposition, some of the wounds are self-inflicted, the latest happening over the weekend, a fiery aide going down in flames.

The "Raw Politics" now from Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The White House special adviser on green jobs is out of his job. Critics went after him when bits of his past caught up with him.

VAN JONES, FORMER SPECIAL ADVISER FOR GREEN JOBS, ENTERPRISE AND INNOVATION, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY: Well, the answer to that is, they're (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(LAUGHTER) CROWLEY: Van Jones, a renowned environmentalist, gave his epithet- laced description of Republicans before he got his job. But YouTube is forever.

He put out a press release apologizes. And profanity is a bipartisan sport, not exactly a game-ender. But then came this, a 2004 petition from 911truth.org, "a call for immediate inquiry into evidence that suggests high-level government officials may have deliberately allowed the September 11 attacks to occur." Van Jones was petitioner number 46.

The White House said the idea that the U.S. government let 9/11 happen is not what the president thinks. Jones put out a press release, saying it's not what he thinks either. But conservatives on blogs and the airwaves stepped it up.

Jones resigned shortly after midnight Saturday, the White House clearly not interested in fighting this one.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, from a policy perspective, it's -- it's damaging for the president to go to mat for one individual when there's so much at stake.

CROWLEY: Health care, Afghanistan, the environment, the economy. There is no time in the schedule, no room on the agenda to get distracted.

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You don't want, if you're president, going into what next week will be his -- his big week on health care, to have two embarrassments going into it, both the -- the Jones matter and the brouhaha regarding the -- the education speech.

CROWLEY: It's been an unsettling summer for the White House. The president's poll numbers have slipped steadily to a low 50 percent average. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats are opposed to the war in Afghanistan that the president has said is necessary.

And overall support for what people perceive to be his health care plan has also fallen. Some Democrats fear major health care reform is slipping away, and they have urged the president to step it up, be less cool, less cerebral.

So, here he was today.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your voice will get health care passed. Your voice will make sure that the American worker is protected. You can build America. I need your help.

Thank you, Cincinnati.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Are you fired up?

CROWLEY: He is formidable, gifted, and has more political capital than any politician in Washington. Now he needs to make some legislation.

It's nowhere near over. It's just tougher. Last spring's honeymoon is giving way to autumn's reality.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: "Digging Deeper" now with Candy Crowley, senior political analyst -- senior political analyst, also senior political analyst David Gergen, and Joe Hicks, who is vice president of Community Advocates Incorporated.

Candy, I want to start with you.

As we just heard, strategists on both sides of the aisle, they are telling you that this was too much of a distraction, the risk was too great. Yet, Van Jones' activism wasn't exactly a secret to anyone. So, was he just not properly vetted?

CROWLEY: Well, as far as we can tell, you know, that big long 64-page questionnaire that they put out, did you ever belong to any group that might embarrass the president, did you ever write an e-mail that might embarrass the president, czars, that is, White House advisers, these special White House advisers, don't have to fill those out.

He certainly was well-known and was friends with a number of people on the president's staff, but he was not vetted at all like Cabinet members were. First of all, it would be far too time-consuming. But -- but you're right. There were a lot of those things that were out there, certainly, the bent of his politics.

But the idea of the 9/11 petition, I don't think that's anything they knew about, because I think they would have spotted that as trouble.

HILL: David, is -- is the White House reacting quickly enough to -- to some of these -- these issues that are coming up, and are they reacting properly?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let me just say this, Erica.

I have known Van Jones for a number of years, have seen his good works, as he let Yale Law School, instead of going to a lucrative job, went out and worked with ex-prisoners, tried to create green jobs for them, has been featured in "TIME" magazine, gotten all sorts of award for it.

I was not familiar with some of his past statements. But is a -- he has done some good works. And it's a sad day to see this happen. The White House made -- I don't think forced him out. I think he fell on his own sword, but it also made no effort to keep him.

I think they are genuinely concerned that they need to clear the decks for health care and some of these other fights. But I think it's a sad day to see a man of good work get so little credit. I mean, there's no balance to understanding just how many good things he's done. HILL: Joe Hicks, as a conservative, how harmful is this to the president and to the administration heading forward? Will it have any impact on, say, health care coming up this week?

JOE HICKS, VICE PRESIDENT, COMMUNITY ADVOCATES, INC.: Well, I'm not sure the Van Jones issue will have effect on this. I think that's going to depend on what the president is able to do and how he's able to convince Americans about what this plan is that there seems to be a great deal of confusion over.

But I have got to say, like David said, a lot of people knew Van Jones and knew him from his work around the environment. But, frankly, had they just asked a few questions around the circle of activists in this country, this guy was well-known, and well-known to be a quite left figure.

I mean, it's almost like having a Holocaust denier or somebody who believed in the flat earth issues inside, occupying a desk in the White House. This guy was known for some really radical beliefs. And just turning up a few rocks would have revealed that. It's unfortunate that they did not.

HILL: Well, we're going to continue to talk more about this, not just this issue, but, of course, as Candy mentioned at the end of her piece, quite a news coming up for the -- quite a week coming up for the president. And we will continue that with our panel next.

Also ahead, we will have more on the breaking news out of Afghanistan tonight, as part of our special coverage there continues throughout the hour.

You can also join the discussion happening now on a live blog. You know where to find it, AC360.com.

Just ahead, we will take you where the president's speech to schoolkids tomorrow will not be seen, even after the White House released the text today and some big-name Republicans endorsed the speech.

Plus, as we mentioned, we head back to Anderson. We will find him with the Marines who are trying to build success in Afghanistan by adapting some of the best practices from Iraq to some very hostile territory.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Our conversation continues now about President Obama's message and whether it's being drowned out in a lot of noise, some of that noise reflecting legitimate concerns, some of it politically driven.

Whatever the reason here, the White House seems to understand that noise problem and is trying, albeit a little later in the game, to overcome it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: We have never been this close. We've never had such broad agreement on what needs to be done. And because we're so close to real reform, suddenly, the special interests are doing what they always do, which is just try to scare the heck out of people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: "Digging Deeper" now with our panel, Candy Crowley, David Gergen, and Joe Hicks back with us now.

Candy, as we talked about and you talked about in your piece, this week really described as crucial, as the critical juncture for health care reform. What do you expect to hear from the president Wednesday night, when he addresses Congress, and what does he need to say to both Congress and the American people?

CROWLEY: Well, what we're told he's going to be just tonally is just more aggressive, I -- I doubt as aggressive as he was in that town hall meeting, simply because it's not quite the forum to be up on Capitol Hill doing that.

But we -- we're told that we will hear a president much more forceful. But what Democrats want to hear from him and what they expect to hear from him is, what do you want and what is expendable here? They want some guidelines, because what happens with Democrats -- and it has happened to them before, as well as to Republicans -- is that you don't want to run to the barricades for your president, only to find out he's not behind you.

So, they're trying to figure out, like, what's acceptable, what's not acceptable, and they're looking for, you know, the big L., some leadership, because, as you know, the president has sort of taken this 50,000-foot view for a while. And they want him in the trenches.

HILL: Still trying to figure out what the message is, clearly.

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: Joe, before we can get to that speech on Wednesday, there is the subject of the president's speech to schoolchildren tomorrow -- so much controversy over it last week. The text of the speech was released today online, yet there is still some backlash, mainly, though, over the Department of Education's suggested lesson plan.

Still, some folks are endorsing it today, including one of the biggest Jim Greer, saying his kids will listen now to it. Should the backlash still be there? Should -- should this continue to be an issue for the president tomorrow?

HICKS: Well, it never should have been an issue initially, Erica.

I mean, come on. Ronald Reagan did the same thing, addressed the nation's schoolkids. This is about opposition for the sake of opposition, apparently. And I say that as a political conservative. And I said this on a commentary done on PJTV.com. Listen, there's a lot of hysteria, but to have a president sit down and talk to the nation's schoolkids about fundamentally important things and deliver what actually is a conservative message, personal responsibility, stay in school, take your studies seriously, the -- the actual, you know, importance of education, these are good things.

And -- and to have some on the right find ways to oppose this president on this, I think, causes people to scratch their heads and go, what the heck is going on over there at the fringes of this -- this conservative movement?

HILL: You...

HICKS: And it's really troubling.

HILL: You call it -- you call it the fringes, but, clearly, this opposition for opposition's sake, as -- as you characterize it there, is having an effect on the White House.

David Gergen, they seem to be constantly on the defensive. And this has been what appears to be a particularly rough summer for the president. Why has it been so difficult?

GERGEN: That's a very good question, Erica.

I think, in part, the White House team is tired. They had a couple of, you know, rough, hard challenging years for a campaign and had to go into the most energetic presidency we have seen in a long time. I think, in part, they didn't realize how tired the country was of all the initiatives, and how the country was really getting very concerned about the growth -- the potential growth of government.

And I must say, I think now -- and Joe Hicks may have a view on this -- that the conservative blogosphere, the conservative talk show hosts have really shown a new power since George W. Bush left power that I think wasn't fully anticipated by the White House.

And that is, they -- with a Republican in the White House, they had to -- they were -- they had to be more careful. Now they have just unleashed on this White House. And there are times -- I think Joe Hicks is right -- they have gone overboard, as on this school speech.

But there are other issues they are digging into, and they are causing conniptions for this White House. There's a whole conversation going on in the conservative blogosphere that the mainstream media sometimes just misses and then doesn't see the Van Jones eruption coming.

HILL: And, Joe, just to bring it back to what David just mentioned, you had mentioned earlier this is sort of on the fringe, but it is still conservatives. And many people do associate -- quote, unquote -- "conservatives" with Republicans. Is the Republican Party playing catchup at this point?

HICKS: Well, clearly, the Republican Party has been on the ropes since the election, and some would argue way before that. So, yes, there is some catching up to do here. But you don't do that. And I'm not making here that the Republican Party and some mainstream conservatives -- even though there are some who have opposed this president's speech tomorrow, some are now backing away from that.

But if you listen to some of the voices, there are a lot of conservatives from the very beginning said, wait a minute, hold on, what is this opposition really about here, understanding the first President Bush did this, Ronald Reagan did this.

If -- if Obama's going to deliver a fundamentally important message, one that conservatives have been delivering often, about personal responsibility, why would you oppose that?

So -- but I think, you know, David has hit on something here. I think that the White House, for some reason, has been unable to really defend itself and doesn't seem able to figure out how to come at some of these issues and present them in a way that disarms -- disarms some of this opposition for the sake of opposition.

HILL: Candy, it's interesting, though. We seemed to hear a different tone today. And you mentioned it a little bit earlier, the -- the fire that we saw in the president today when he was speaking to union members in Ohio.

I want to take a quick listen to a little bit more of what he had to say first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I have got a question for all those folks: What's -- what are you going to do?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: What's your answer?

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: What's your solution?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And you know what? They don't have one.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: More reminiscent, actually, Candy, of -- of what you might call some of his campaign speeches from last year. Is the White House now getting the message, and are they trying to hit back with their own bit of fire?

CROWLEY: They are. They are pushing back. Now, they're going to push back against the whole school brouhaha tomorrow. We are told, again, that he's going to be forceful in his speech Wednesday.

But it has to be more than this. I mean, what this is about now that you're seeing, here's the president in front of a very friendly labor audience today talking. And, so, he had a great crowd. And this is like the anti-town hall meeting thing.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Here I am and listen. Here are all these people with me.

But it has to be more than that, because what this -- you can't go and do that on Capitol Hill. You can be forceful. You can say, here's what I want, here's what I won't stand for, here are my bright red lines, but you also have to, you know, knock heads. You have to be Lyndon Johnson at some level and say, I need on you this, you have to be with me on that.

He just needs to get tougher. So, it's two different crowd here. There's the crowd you saw today. And that -- that was for picture and that was for momentum. But what you have got to have behind the scenes is a president who is willing to put his political capital on the line with his own party.

HILL: And that, of course, is the big thing that everybody is looking to see, is whether or not he will do that.

Candy Crowley, David Gergen, Joe Hicks, good to have all of you with us tonight. Thank you.

GERGEN: Thank you.

HILL: Just more ahead: on that school speech flak. You will hear from a principal and from parents about why one school will not let its students listen to the president tomorrow.

Also, looking for the formula for success, with Afghanistan possibly at a tipping point right now, and, also, more on the growing allegations that the recent election there was rigged.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Millions of schoolkids will head back to class tomorrow, but not all those classrooms will be full. Some parents are choosing to keep their kids at home. And it has nothing to do with swine flu -- their concern, the president's planned speech to America's schoolkids.

Now, some families claim it is an attempt to indoctrinate their children, while others, including one of the most outspoken critics of President Obama's planned speech, are actually changing their tune.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM GREER, CHAIRMAN, FLORIDA REPUBLICAN PARTY: After reading the text, seeing the Department of Education have told teachers they are not to lead students in the direction that they would have a week ago, my kids will be watching the president's speech, as all -- I hope all kids will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Those comments from Jim Greer coming today, after the White House released an advanced copy of the speech, and also after the Department of Education last week modified its suggested lesson plans, including materials encouraging children to write letters about how they can help the president, something, by the way, the first President Bush asked schoolchildren to back do in 1991.

For some parents and schools, though, those changes are simply not enough.

Gary Tuchman takes us "Up Close."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This North Carolina school principal had to decide whether or not to air President Barack Obama's speech for students in his school. The pressure was on.

CHRIS GIBBS, PRINCIPAL, CLAREMONT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: This may sound a little strange, but, after a flurry of phone calls, my first thing was go in my office, shut my door, and have a prayer, because I knew I was going to have to make a decision.

TUCHMAN: What was he hearing from parents? Mostly comments like those we heard at the county fair just down the road.

(on camera): Do you think the school should play Barack Obama's speech?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's getting more like communism, saying we're going to do this and that. And...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think it should be up to the parents' decision if they want their children to hear that or not.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): And that's exactly what principal Chris Gibbs decided. The speech will not be shown at Claremont Elementary School.

GIBBS: And I'm not going to sit here and deny that the political climate right now is pretty high. A lot of emotions are flying high. It just feel like that kids should be put in a position where they can be singled out, where staff members singled out, and the parents singled out.

TUCHMAN (on camera): You mean singled out because they wouldn't want to stay for the speech?

GIBBS: Exactly.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Teachers we met at the school told us they back the decision.

LISA MATEYUNAS, CLAREMONT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: It's not something that we want to divide our school with.

TUCHMAN (on camera): In our research of the schools and school districts that will not be showing the president's speech live, we found that most of them, perhaps not surprisingly, are in counties where Barack Obama did not do particularly well during the November elections. Catawba County, the home of the Claremont Elementary School, is no exception. John McCain received 67 percent of the vote here.

This is what he's going to say in his speech. "If you quit on school, you're not just quitting on yourself; you're quitting on your country."

I mean, isn't that a message you would want your kids to hear? Isn't that part of what education is all about?

GIBBS: Most definitely. And we have asked our parents again, going back to responsibility, a responsible parent is going to sit down and talk to their kids about staying in school.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But Barack Obama's message about it won't even be shown here in an edited form in the days to come. The principal has decided, if the children are to see any of it, it should only be from their parents.

Let's say President Obama said, I want to come to your school. He calls you: I want to make a live appearance at your school and have an assembly.

You would be dealing with the same thing with these parents, wouldn't you?

GIBBS: I would, probably.

TUCHMAN: And how does that make you feel?

GIBBS: Well, we have a long way to go. And the issues out there today are divisive issues. They're sensitive issues. But if the president wants to come to Claremont Elementary School, he will certainly be welcome to come to Claremont Elementary School. And I guess I would go back in my office and shut the door and pray again.

(LAUGHTER)

TUCHMAN (voice-over): This principal believes he these words he put on the word marquee: "The price of greatness is responsibility."

The world leader getting top billing here on Tuesday will be Winston Churchill, not Barack Obama.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Claremont, North Carolina.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HILL: If you still have questions about tomorrow's speech, log on to AC360.com, where you have the full text of the president's speech.

Coming up, live from the battle zone -- Anderson gives us an up-close look at a Marine patrol base in Afghanistan that, until two months ago, was still Taliban territory.

First, though, Tom Foreman joining us with a 360 news and business bulletin.

Hi, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Erica.

In Britain, three convictions today in the plot to blow up planes bound for the U.S. and Canada with liquid explosives -- the plan, which was uncovered three years ago, led to all those strict limits on the amount of liquids that can pass through airport security.

A 360 follow-up -- a senior British official admits trade and oil played a crucial role in the decision to include the Lockerbie bomber in a prisoner transfer deal with Libya. That's according to Justice Secretary Jack Straw in "The Daily Telegraph" newspaper over the weekend. Soon after that decision, Libya approved a $900 million deal with oil giant BP.

Last month, the bomber now dying of cancer went free on compassionate grounds, and not under a transfer agreement. But some politicians and victims' families claim it's all the same and it all smells.

British candy-maker Cadbury has rejected a $17 billion merger offer from Kraft Foods. Cadbury says the offer is just too low.

And Bay Area drivers need an alternate route for their morning commute out in California. The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge will still be closed for repair after engineers found a crack while doing other construction work over the holiday weekend -- Erica.

HILL: Closed until 5:00 a.m. Wednesday, huh?

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: BART is going to be very busy in the Bay Area, I think, tomorrow.

(LAUGHTER)

FOREMAN: It sure will be.

HILL: Tom, thanks.

Just ahead on 360: Anderson joining us live again from Afghanistan, where he talks with the Marines now manning a front-line outpost that, until very recently, was Taliban territory. It's a new strategy and it's taken it out of enemies' hands. Anderson shows us just how they did it next. Also tonight, Michael Ware takes you to the most dangerous highway in the world. It is booby-trapped by the Taliban, a stretch of road where, frankly, every trip could be a driver's last.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: We have solved our technical problems, good news here.

So, we want to head back now to Anderson, who joins us live in Afghanistan. He will be there all week reporting on the war -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Erica, we're coming to you from Patrol Base Jaker, which is a forward operating post in a remote region in southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province.

Now, the Marines' strategy here in Helmand Province is clear, hold, and build. In past years, the U.S. didn't have enough troops on the ground here to clear it of the Taliban and hold onto these areas and help build the local government.

President Obama has sent in 21,000 new troops. There's about 10,000 Marines here in Helmand. And although that hasn't allowed the Marines to work in all the areas of Helmand, it has allowed them to move into many areas that have been under Taliban control for years, like this area.

It's a strategy designed to try to protect the local population and show them the benefits of life without the Taliban. It's a strategy the Marines say in this area is showing success.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Patrol Base Jaker is a remote, dusty outpost in the Helmand River Valley. This was Taliban territory up until just two months ago, when the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade arrived in force.

(on camera): How bad was the fight when you first got here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was every day, pretty much all day. That was Captain Heisman's (ph) company and my headquarters element. When we landed here, I mean, we got shot at as we flew in. And, for the next 10 days, every patrol that went out was -- was destroying the enemy.

COOPER: Lieutenant Bill McCullough (ph) and his Marines can now openly walk the streets in this district. And they're moving quickly to help rebuild.

There's a new road being organized with U.S. funds. Dozens of businesses have already reopened. And, soon, the local school, closed by the Taliban, will reopen as well.

(on camera): Some people will see this and say, well, this seems an awful lot like nation-building. And is that something -- is that part of the mission? Is nation-building part of the mission? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, if you call enabling governance nation- building, then yes.

COOPER: So, to really win in Afghanistan, to win long term, and to win for real, you have got to build governments here that work. It's not just a government in Kabul, but a government here in small areas like this, in local districts that really provide services to people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.

COOPER (voice-over): To do that, Colonel McCullough (ph) works closely with the governor of the district and with the local police. They're trying to restore residents' confidence and spread stability.

(on camera) So the idea is pockets of stability that then spread out and connect? Like an oil stain that spreads outward?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. And those -- how do they connect -- are through these roads that connect these communities together. Roads that have to be safe.

COOPER (voice-over): Afghan police man checkpoints on the roads, but they need more police here and better trained ones. Without U.S. troops, Colonel McCullough (ph) says the Taliban would return in a matter of days.

(on camera) A lot of Marines I talk to make a distinction between big "T" Taliban and little "T." What's a big "T" Taliban.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Enablers, the people that are in contact with people from Pakistan, Arabs, Chechens. They're the hard-core fighters.

COOPER: The little "T" Taliban are, what, more opportunists?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, they're somebody that lives here, that doesn't have a very good life, never had an education. Is he really a long-term threat to stability? I don't believe he is. Neither does the government. Neither does the district ministry.

COOPER: You can co-op little "T" Taliban, just as was done in Iraq with former insurgents?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.

COOPER: You think that can work here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has to work. How do you end the war if you don't -- if there's no place for the former fighters to go, how do you end it?

COOPER (voice-over): How do you end the war in Afghanistan? If what's happening here is any indication, the answer may lie in winning the peace.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: It is a very fragile peace, however, as you heard in that piece. The Marines will say in a matter of days the Taliban would return here if, at this point, they were pulling out.

There are setbacks and constant reminders of how dangerous and deadly the mission is in Afghanistan. Michael Ware found out first hand. He traveled on the road from Kabul to Kandahar. The U.S. helped rebuild that road. It used to be safe. Now it is now a Taliban death trap.

Here's Michael's report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The costs of the Afghan war are staggering. The loss of life, the billions upon billions of dollars, and yet what has it delivered? Looking around, talking to the U.S. military, it's clear. It war is not being won.

(on camera) For most ordinary Afghans, this perhaps is the simplest, clearest measure of that. This is highway No. 1. It's here Kabul ends, and 300 miles down that road is Kandahar and the Taliban heartland.

I remember when taking the journey from Kandahar to Kabul was more than 12 exhausting hours, but in 2004 American aid money repaved this road and cut that down to a mere five or six. Now, that journey is back to nine or ten hours. There's at least three known Taliban checkpoints on this American-paved highway. People are being pulled off buses and executed by the Taliban.

(voice-over) Truck driver Mohammed Katham (ph) runs this Taliban gauntlet once a week. He hauls fuel in this tanker. The road, he says, is in terrible shape, wrecked by explosions. Drivers are left completely exposed 37.

"It's been blown up by land mines and there is no security on it," he says. A father of three, Katham (ph) has to provide for his children. He takes his life in his hands each time he travels highway 1. "I'm compelled," he tells me. "How else do we eat? There's simply no alternative."

Highway 1 looks like this. It is one of the most vital arteries in Afghanistan, rebuilt with almost $300 million in American aid money. Its asphalt rolls out from the capital, Kabul, to the west towards Kandahar, the nation's second largest city and a political epicenter.

(on camera) And this is the other end of that road. Kandahar is just a short distance down there, Kabul, hundreds of miles that way. But here in Kandahar, this is a city surrounded by pockets of Taliban resistance. Indeed, just a few miles down that dirt road is a Taliban-controlled district. A few miles up the highway is the first Taliban checkpoint.

The fact that the Talibans have been able to strangle the life out of this highway is a testament to the fact that there's simply not enough American, British, international or Afghan troops to secure it. What had once been an American project, hailed as a sign of progress, has now become a mark of a mission in crisis.

In talking to senior U.S. military here on the ground and others, that crisis is across the board with the mission. Militarily, the entire U.S. military strategy for the war in Iraq right now is under significant review. As one commander put it to me, an American commander, "We can't move forward; we can't move back."

Politically, the nation is in limbo. The election results from the presidential runoff last month have been stalled from being released because of a storm of corruption allegations. As one senior American officer said to me, there's going to have to be something dramatic happen here to see a reversal -- Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We'll have more from Michael Ware throughout this week as we report to you live from Afghanistan.

When we come back, we have breaking news on allegations of election fraud. We'll talk to national security analyst Peter Bergen about that, and we'll talk with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who's also here in Afghanistan, looking at military trauma teams treating U.S. forces in the field. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're coming to you tonight from Patrol Base Jaker, which is a remote outpost in Helmand province here in Afghanistan, where Marines are fighting hard to -- to not only beat the Taliban but also to protect the local population.

There have been concerns from Washington beyond of voter fraud in the recent elections in Afghanistan. We have breaking news on that tonight. CNN has learned that the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, met with President Hamid Karzai over the allegations.

A senior department official told us that Eikenberry and U.N. representatives present at the meeting urged President Karzai to allow the Afghanistan election commission to investigate questions of voter fraud and apply, quote, a very high standard to determine which votes are counted. Once that's done, election officials are going to determine if a runoff is necessary.

National security analyst Peter Bergen is with me at Patrol Base Jaker. He joins us now.

Why is this significant, Peter, about the election?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, Karzai has to get 50 percent of the vote. And right now all of the votes are in, and he's sort of just under 50 percent of the vote.

If there was substantial election fraud, which there are serious allegations that that is the case, he won't get to 50 percent. There will be a runoff. The main other candidate, Dr. Abdullah, has a chance of running again against Karzai. So this would delay the whole election process even as late as October, by the time you do the new election and get all the new results in.

COOPER: You came out on patrol with us yesterday where you're going to be spending the week with us here in Helmand. What's the significance of what's happening here in Helmand province?

BERGEN: Well, according to a senior Marine officer that we spoke to, Anderson, you know, Helmand, 12 districts in Helmand were controlled by the Taliban in July. Now only one, according to the Marines, is controlled by the Taliban.

So certainly, there's been a lot of what the military calls kinetic activity, moving the Taliban out of areas they controlled. Certainly, the area we're in, at least on our walk around yesterday, seemed to be the Taliban had been rolled back, although they remain a presence. Have they gone underground? Did they just move out of the area? The Marine incursion here was widely advertised. So they had a time to kind of...

COOPER: So it's possible they just kind of faded away into other areas or some of the ones who live here are just kind of laying low to kind of see what happens in the future?

BERGEN: No doubt. And in fact, we've had fairly serious attacks in the north of Afghanistan by the Taliban just in the last few weeks. So the Taliban, you know, they were thinking organization, as well.

COOPER: Admiral Mike Mullen has said that the war here is deteriorating, the situation is deteriorating and that we're seeing Taliban move from -- from traditional strongholds here into the north and into the west.

Here, though, at least the Marines we talked to say they are seeing success in a very short period of time. You know, when everyone in the United States thinks about this war as being eight years old, the Marines here will say, you know, it's only 65 days old here, because there have not been significant U.S. forces here over the last eight years.

BERGEN: None. Almost none. And I think, also, another factor here is the topography in Helmand. I mean, it's pretty flat. You know, in parts of the country where they can hide in the mountains, you know, that's something that works in their favor. But clearly, it has been somewhat successful from a military point of view now that's moving into the, you know, delivery services.

COOPER: There's still a huge problem, though, with Taliban being able to slip across the border into Pakistan.

BERGEN: Right. And you know, one of the surprising things, Anderson, I think we've learned is that al Qaeda is really not a factor here. You know, I think most Americans think we're in Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda, certainly because Obama has said that.

But at least in this very important province, which is -- if it were a country which supplied, you know, the world's leading supplier of heroin, al Qaeda is not so much a factor. COOPER: What they're doing here is essentially nation-building...

BERGEN: It is.

COOPER: ... at a very local, small level.

BERGEN: It is. I mean, the president sold this to the American people as going after al Qaeda. In practice, I think this is more about nation-building, which I think is the right approach. Because if you don't -- you have to bring more than security. You also have to bring jobs. Otherwise the Taliban can pay people, put them on the payroll. You have to get them sort of alternative employment for a place with, you know, more than 50 percent unemployment.

COOPER: All right. We're going to be talking to Peter throughout the week here in Afghanistan.

Coming up next, though, fighting death in a war zone. Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes us inside a battlefield hospital where doctors race to save a 2-year-old boy, caught in the crossfire of fighting.

And Jaycee Dugard's childhood friend speaking out about her own encounter with Phillip Garrido. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We deployed correspondents throughout Afghanistan over the last week and also all throughout this week. You've heard from Michael Ware earlier, and you'll hear from him this week. We also have Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in addition to national security analyst Peter Bergen.

Sanjay has been looking at medical facilities for U.S. forces here in Helmand province. He takes us inside a trauma unit at Camp Dwyer in Helmand province, and we'll talk to him in just a moment. Take a look at his report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Early morning, Kandahar.

(on camera)We've been here just a few minutes. We're already getting an idea of just how busy this hospital is. Out there is the busiest air strip, supposedly, in the world, planes landing all the time, all trying to get patients to the hospital.

We're hearing this next is a very urgent case, a patient with lots of bleeding, a possible double leg amputation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's stay out of the box, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very weak radial pulses. Carotid pulse is all right. And then the tourniquet was put on about 45 minutes ago. Bilateral tourniquets.

GUPTA: Doctor Haye (ph) is communicating with the patient, translating, trying to figure out exactly what happened to him.

(voice-over) We don't know much. Middle-aged, Afghan national. But here's something: only a quarter of the patients brought here are U.S. or coalition forces. The rest are locals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. We'll go ahead and give him some more pain medicine. Yes, please, 50 again. He can handle it. These patients (ph) are good.

GUPTA (on camera): You have no idea the severity of injuries. Check his back, check his spine. Make sure there's nothing else they missed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see the tourniquets are still holding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

GUPTA: They're putting big IVs in here. There's just a couple of tourniquets that are really holding all that blood from pouring out of his leg. That's why they have to take him to the operating room.

(voice-over) Twenty-four/seven, a battlefield hospital in the middle of a war zone. Like this. Surgeons working on a young soldier. IED, improvised explosive device attack.

As you watch him wheeled out, his face is torn, his left arm terribly damaged. And underneath that blanket, one of his legs is gone. Surgeons tell me his mother received the awful call just a short time ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ready?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't move him yet.

GUPTA: It's all hard to watch and to process. They are brothers, friends, neighbors, but here is where it gets worse.

That sound you hear is the drill being used to remove the skull of a child, a 2-year-old Afghan boy. He fell down a cliff while playing. His name is Malik, and he has a massive brain injury. Almost dead. Doctors here are trying to give him a fighting chance. He is one of the cutest boys you'll ever meet.

(on camera) It's nighttime here now in Kandahar. See what's going on behind me. A chopper is about to land. Very rigid Hill (ph). We just don't have a lot of information. We just know there are patients. Over there, look over there, two ambulances. All the medics over here. They're starting to run out to the chopper. They just got the all-clear signal. We're going to go with them.

(voice-over) Thirty seconds later, the patient is inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get him on the...

GUPTA: As you can see, there's a lot of triage going on right now. They're placing IVs, they have a breathing tube check. A couple things I noticed right away: he's moving both of his legs, and he's moving both of his arms. Very good sign. There's a concern about head injury, but it's probably not that severe if he's able to do what he's doing now.

And keep in mind, in the midst of all this, the young boy, Malik, his life still hangs in the balance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: I'll tell you, we're going to check in on Malik all week long. He is alive. He is recovering from that head injury. But it was remarkable, Anderson, to see how these doctors sort of go to work, how they brought him from a remote village to Helmand province to try and operate on him, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Sanjay, we'll talk to you tomorrow and you'll be reporting all week from -- live in Afghanistan.

We're also going to be looking at one of the greatest threats to U.S. forces right now, which is IEDs. One of the eerie things is that, even in an area like this, where the Marines have been able to clear out the Taliban, especially those hard-core Taliban elements, is that they know that there are still many Talibans still living in this area. They live amongst the community. They're part of the community.

And so those Taliban can, if they want, still try to lay IEDs. And that's -- that's killing and wounding a large number of the U.S. forces who get injured here. We're going to take a look at that throughout the week here in Helmand province and other areas of Afghanistan. I hope you join us for that tomorrow night. Now let's go back to Erica Hill -- Erica.

HILL: Anderson, thanks for your reporting. As always, looking forward to more of that coming up throughout the week.

Just ahead here in the U.S., sharks on the move, forcing the closure of some beaches. We'll tell you exactly where it's happening.

Plus, Tila Tequila says her boyfriend, who's an NFL player, attacked her. He fires back. She responds. Was he violent? Was she drunk? Do you know who they are? You'll find out in a minute. Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Get you caught up now on some of tonight's other stories. Tom Foreman joining us again with a "360 Bulletin."

Hi, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Erica.

Thousands turning out today in the California town where Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped 18 years ago to celebrate her freedom. A lot of happy tears at Sunday's parade and chilling memories. One of Jaycee's childhood friends says she told her parents a man and woman followed her home from the bus stop just a week before Jaycee vanished.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMELIA EDWARDS, JAYCEE DUGARD'S CHILDHOOD FRIEND: I remember hearing the tire tracks pull onto the dirt road behind me and freaked me out. And I remember walking faster, hearing the tires go faster. And that made me even more scared. And so then I ran home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman is back practicing with his team a day after being arrested after he choked and restrained his girlfriend, reality TV star Tila Tequila. He denies it and says Ms. Tequila was drunk. She says no way, claiming on Twitter she's allergic to alcohol. And that's how she got the name Tila Tequila, because she can't drink.

And surprise, visitors to Massachusetts. Beaches are closed to swimmers in Chatham after three Great White sharks were spotted. Two were tagged so scientists can study them, and presumably the third did whatever he wanted to.

HILL: And people weren't getting in his way because he's a Great White.

FOREMAN: Yes.

HILL: Tom, thanks. Thanks for clearing up, too, the mystery of who Tila Tequila was.

FOREMAN: Not sure which reality that reality star is living in.

HILL: May not be ours, but, hey.

Up next, someone who does live in our reality, a dog. We both love our dogs. We've got a straight-shooting puppy, though, tonight. Check out the dog who also shoots pool. It's our "Shot of the Day."

And President Obama fighting to stay on message, despite the latest distractions. We'll take a look at the "Raw Politics."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Tom Foreman, the moment you've been waiting for. It is "The Shot," and it may come as a surprise on this program, but we are going with something a little out of our comfort zone tonight, an animal- related shot.

FOREMAN: No.

HILL: Yes, "Dramatic Animal Video" has returned in the form of Halo, who's more than just a dog. He's a nasty pool shark. Look at him go. Who needs a cue stick when you've got paws like that? Yes, you show that ball who's boss, Halo.

FOREMAN: Yes. HILL: I don't know if he's a hustler, but I'll tell you this: if I were some of the folks in this studio, I'd be worried if he put a little bet on the table there.

FOREMAN: You know what I think he was?

HILL: What's that?

FOREMAN: I think he was one of those poker-playing dogs.

HILL: He just might be.

FOREMAN: And he just shifted over.

HILL: Well, he's a multitalented...

FOREMAN: He looks like one of the dogs from around the table there.

HILL: He does look like one of the dogs from around the table.

FOREMAN: Yes, he does.

HILL: I want to be on his side. That's what I know.

FOREMAN: Yes, he's good. He's good. Look at that face on him.

HILL: And he's happy. Clearly happy.

FOREMAN: A lot happier than most of the pool sharks I've run into in my life.

HILL: A lot more pleasant to deal with, too.

FOREMAN: Yes.

HILL: Just don't get on his bad side, Tom.

FOREMAN: Yes, yes.

HILL: All right. Just ahead, coming up at the top of the hour, President Obama launching his make-or-break health-care push this week and taking heavy fire from opponents at the same time. Also dealing with his self-inflicted wounds.

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