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EARLY START

Ten Sailors Missing In U.S. Destroyer Collision; Will American Trust Trump On Afghanistan?; North Korea Warns Of 'Merciless Strike'; Eclipse Of The Century. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 21, 2017 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:33:46] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. Ten sailors missing, five injured after a U.S. Navy destroyer collides with an oil tanker near Singapore.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, the president's decision on a path forward for America in Afghanistan. His explanation to the American people, that comes tonight.

BRIGGS: And get those special glasses ready or get your homemade shoebox out. What you need to know about today's total eclipse. And, Madras, Oregon -- all eyes there. Seven thousand people live there but more than 100,000 people have come to that small town in Oregon.

Welcome back, everybody, to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Thirty-four minutes past the hour.

If you're here on the East Coast, like we are, you have about six hours to make your -- to make your cardboard box if you haven't bought the glasses yet.

BRIGGS: But, careful about those glasses.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: You need to make --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- sure they are the correct ones.

ROMANS: All right, 34 minutes past the hour.

Breaking news.

Ten Navy sailors are still missing after the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant vessel near Singapore. Naval officials say five crew members were injured. The damaged destroyer -- you can see it there -- arriving at port in Singapore overnight.

[05:35:05] BRIGGS: It's the fourth incident this year involving a U.S. ship based in Asia.

Now, that includes the fatal collision involving the USS Fitzgerald in which seven sailors died. The three top commanders of the Fitzgerald were removed from their duties in the fallout surrounding that fatal collision.

As for the McCain, a massive search and rescue operation is underway as we speak.

CNN's Kyung Lah live in Tokyo with the latest. Good morning to you, Kyung.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave.

Good evening here as the sun sets and that's really what's become a race against time near the waters of Singapore because search teams have about 90 minutes of daylight left. It is a search area of 100 nautical miles.We are hearing from the Malaysian authorities that what they are searching for, those 10 missing sailors.

Upon impact between the USS McCain and this oil tanker, the sailors are believed to have gone overboard. The waters are quite rough. This is about 12 years -- 12 hours ago, so they have been in the water -- if they are, indeed, in the water -- 12 hours.

According to the U.S. Seventh Fleet, five others sailors were injured. Four of them were airlifted by helicopter off the USS McCain to local hospitals.

And you mentioned also that this is the fourth incident. These sorts of nautical collisions between the U.S. military and merchant vessels are considered to be quite rare.

But if you look at what's happened this year, at this list alone, it has been a very challenging year on this side of the world -- the USS fleets colliding with some merchant ships. Also, one went aground. So certainly, a tough year, Dave.

BRIGGS: Kyung Lah, live for us in Tokyo. Thank you.

ROMANS: President Trump set to unveil the new U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan. He will do it tonight in a primetime address. The speech is coming after an extensive review in which White House and Pentagon officials considered a more aggressive role for the American military.

U.S. forces have been engaged in Afghanistan since 2001. This is America's longest war.

We get more from CNN's Boris Sanchez.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, we are set to hear from President Trump tonight at 9:00 p.m. He'll be addressing the nation from Fort Myer, in Virginia, on the strategy moving forward in Afghanistan.

This is something that the president tweeted about over the weekend on Saturday, writing that after a very important meeting with top military brass in Camp David they came up with the strategy.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis was actually asked about this on Sunday. He gave no indication except to say that he wanted to allow the president to explain the decision to the American people, himself. Here's Sec. Mattis.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I was not willing to make significant troop lifts until we made certain we knew what was the strategy -- what was the commitment going in.

In that regard, the president has made a decision, as he said. He wants to be the one to announce it to the American people so I'll stand silent until then -- until that point.

SANCHEZ: So it will be interesting to see what the president emphasizes moving forward. This is something that the White House has been working on for months and finally tonight we will get to know what the president has decided to do with that war that has gone on for so long and cost so many lives -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Indeed, it has. As Boris mentions, there are more than 2,200 killed, more than 20,000 wounded in America's longest war.

The Trump team has been working on a new Afghan strategy for months now. Many options on the table and they range from a troop surge to a complete withdrawal. One proposal favored by now-ex White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, shifting the responsibility to private contractors, what some refer to as mercenaries.

Sources tell CNN it could be a bump of some 4,000 troops, mostly advisers, that embed with local Afghan army units. Officials say troop levels, just one component of the full South Asia strategy, which includes pressuring Pakistan to deny safe haven to the Taliban and other extremist groups.

Let's bring back Julian Zelizer, senior political analyst and historian, and professor at Princeton University.

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning to you, sir.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Nine o'clock eastern time, in primetime, the president addresses the United States and tries to reassure them -- convince them of his strategy in Afghanistan.

How pivotal a moment is this for President Trump given the context of everything that happened with his Charlottesville response? ZELIZER: It's very pivotal in terms of this is a president who is facing so many major political problems right now, including the break-up of support from his own party and some evidence in polls that his strongest areas of support are weakening.

[05:40:06] So, can this president go on national television and make a persuasive case about the need to engage or re-engage in an area of the world through military force potentially, and does he have any credibility left? And tonight is one of those tests that we're going to be watching closely.

ROMANS: Does he have any credibility left, that's a very good question because, you know, he has, over the years, made lots of conflicting statements about Iraq and Afghanistan.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: But now he's there with these -- you know, all of these, you know, generals behind him and military leaders behind him and he's going to have to own what the next -- what the next strategy is here.

And then, after a primetime address he's going to turn around and go to Arizona where he's going to have a campaign-style event, we suspect. That could be a very different tone altogether. Will he be able to unify a country that right now is not very united?

ZELIZER: Yes. I mean, President Trump is a divider, he's not a uniter and this is something he, himself, would probably acknowledge. This has been his political strategy.

So I doubt that he is going to go to Phoenix and suddenly change his tone. He'll probably be off-script, he'll probably be the genuine President Trump. And so, that makes it hard to do everything else.

Whether we're talking about health care legislation or whether we're talking about war and peace, if the country is not willing or capable to come behind you then I think it's very hard for a president to mobilize support.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ZELIZER: And on this -- on this issue he's going to have trouble with the famous base that we always talk about, which is not particularly enthusiastic for big military operations.

BRIGGS: But you know that crowd in Arizona is raw meat for the president. It's his oxygen.

If he takes aim at Sen. Jeff Flake, at Sen. John McCain, if he pardons Joe Arpaio, the controversial sheriff, what does that tell us about the direction he wants to take?

ZELIZER: Well, I think he will play to that crowd because I think that's who President Trump is. I think he's most comfortable in the crowd that he will encounter in Phoenix and I think he'll give a message that's genuine to his own heart. But the problem is he's now running into some trouble between that and the rest of the Republican Party which is not as comfortable sitting next to this president on many of these issues.

So I don't know how he threads the needed. I don't know how he tries --

ROMANS: Yes.

ZELIZER: -- to bring together a Republican Party that seems to be in a bit of shock right now.

ROMANS: The unscripted Donald Trump has worked -- President Trump has worked very well for his base. But even in his sort of -- the Trump -- the Trump-friendly hometown newspaper, the "New York Post" Trump support craters (ph) in key states, corroding the Rust Belt.

And looks at these NBC -- this new NBC poll showing the approval ratings in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the disapproval ratings.

They also ask this interesting question which I'm not sure -- I don't know. Is Trump's behavior -- about his behavior -- does it embarrass you, and 64 percent of Michigan voters said Trump's behavior makes you feel embarrassed.

Is he losing his base?

ZELIZER: Well, I think it's too early to say that, and his base likes a lot of what he did since Charlottesville. They're not unhappy with the positions he takes but it is a risk.

Those are the kinds of polls that other Republicans are going to look at, particularly those running in 2018, and they're going to start to worry what is the political impact that the president will have on my party and what is the impact that they'll have on these midterm campaigns.

So polls like that in Wisconsin are going to be noted as Republicans make a decision about whether they stand behind the president, whether they move his legislation, whether they cause him problems in the months ahead.

BRIGGS: Well, one thing is clear. The president has two opportunities in the next two nights. We'll see what he does with them.

Julian Zelizer, thank you, sir.

CNN will have special live coverage of the president's address at 9:00 eastern time tonight. That's followed by an exclusive town hall with House Speaker Paul Ryan, which is moderated by our Jake Tapper.

ROMANS: That should be just critical viewing, no question.

All right, 44 minutes past the hour. North Korea threatening a merciless strike if the U.S. and South Korea hold joint drills today. How is the Trump administration responding?

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[05:48:41] BRIGGS: North Korea ramping up the rhetoric once again in response to military exercises by the United States and South Korea, which begin today.

The Kim Jong Un regime threatening a merciless strike. The official government newspaper warning the joint exercises are quote "driving the situation into the uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war."

U.S. officials say the 10-day military drills are proceeding as scheduled. They will, though, be computer-based.

ROMANS: All right.

Let's bring back retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, a CNN military analyst.

There's so much going on.

BRIGGS: Good to see you, sir.

ROMANS: We're pleased to have you here with us this morning.

I want to talk first about what we're expecting from the president tonight with this Afghanistan strategy. Stay the course, add more troops, or get out? What are you expecting?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think, Christine, that what we're going to see is probably add more troops. And I think what, you know, all the reports indicate is that he'll probably put about 4,000 more troops into Afghanistan. This will, at best, be a temporary solution.

He has those three choices that you mentioned. Staying the course is probably unacceptable to him because he wants to win. That's his basic political philosophy and there's nothing better than a military victory to cement that kind of a military and political philosophy.

[05:50:03] But, you know, the other part about getting out also has risks and that could potentially leave Afghanistan without a viable central government and make it, once again --

ROMANS: It's on the table.

LEIGHTON: -- a fertile ground for terrorism.

BRIGGS: To your point, the president views things through a very simple lens. It is about winning and losing. He has a very capable national security staff with Mattis, with Tillerson. At State, you have Dunford, chief of staff -- just so capable -- H.R. McMaster.

If you were in that circle what would you advise the president do on Afghanistan?

LEIGHTON: Dave, I would tell him that it was time for us to get out. And now, this is a very difficult decision and it's something you don't take lightly, especially after so much blood and treasure has been spent in Afghanistan.

But this is one of those places in the world that does not want to be governed in a centralized fashion. It is one of those areas where there are ways to contain the types of threats that we had before from Afghanistan, especially from al Qaeda when that was a big threat to us.

And there are ways to do these kinds of things --

ROMANS: Sure.

LEIGHTON: -- that we need to do without spending tons of money and wasting people's lives.

ROMANS: Look, 2,200 deaths in Afghanistan, 20,000 wounded. It is America's longest war. There are really no good options here.

Let me ask you, quickly, for your thoughts on this incident -- this naval incident -- the USS John McCain colliding with an oil tanker.

There are 10 sailors missing right now. There are five we know are wounded. There's a gash in the side of that vessel. It is now back in port.

There have been four incidents this year. What is happening?

LEIGHTON: Christine, this is a serious operational issue and so one of the first things military leaders look at is the possibility of a training deficiency, you know. Is there something in the procedures, in the training, in the way we conduct our operations that is inadequate and didn't meet the types of requirements that are really out there in the real world? So that's number one.

Number two, is it a command issue? Are the people that are in charge of these vessels -- the four incidents you spoke of -- are they up to the task? Did they -- are there failures in command?

With the incident before this one with the USS Fitzgerald, it was very clear that the Navy has found that the leadership climate there was not a good one onboard that ship and they have taken measures -- or will take measures to discipline the top two officers and the senior enlisted person on that vessel.

So these people's careers are over and they made some serious mistakes based on this kind of assessment. It's a situation where you can have just one mistake and, unfortunately, that one mistake can have serious, serious consequences.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: The president will certainly address that tonight, as well. At 9:00 eastern time we'll bring you that Afghanistan address.

Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you, sir.

ROMANS: Thanks, Colonel.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Dave. You bet, Christine.

ROMANS: It's time for a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Alisyn Camerota joins us this morning. Good morning, happy Monday.

BRIGGS: Welcome back.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Thank you, guys. I've been gone for a week on vacation. Did I miss anything?

ROMANS: No, but you come back and then the lights go out.

BRIGGS: Not much happens here.

ROMANS: The lights are going to go out this afternoon. Other than that, there's nothing going on.

CAMEROTA: We do have eclipse fever here so, of course, we will be telling everybody that safest way to watch the eclipse.

And we'll be recapping everything that's happened over the weekend. The news cycle never slows down, as you all know, so we'll tell you what happened on the Sunday shows.

And then, of course, we'll look ahead to the president's big announcement on the Afghanistan strategy. Why now, what is this about, and what will be changing for Americans in Afghanistan?

So all of that when Chris and I see you at the top of the hour. Chris is already getting ready, as you can see.

ROMANS: I can see. He's studying like a little -- like a high schooler. Just like --

CAMEROTA: Cramming.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Never.

BRIGGS: Way to study.

CUOMO: It's time for the test. Time to perform, Romans.

ROMANS: We'll be right back.

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[05:58:10] BRIGGS: All right.

We're just hours away from a total eclipse of the sun. The sun will disappear for a short time all across America today. The last time there was a total eclipse crossing the U.S. was 99 years ago. ROMANS: So, people from Tennessee -- oh, I remember it well. People from Tennessee to Oregon will be in the path of totality.

A reminder, you cannot look directly at the sun, even during an eclipse. You can either get special glasses or you can make a projector box out of a shoebox. NASA's Website has all the guidance you need to watch safely.

Here, I think we're going to have 71 percent coverage so it could -- it's going to be --

BRIGGS: Two, forty-five p.m. eastern time.

ROMANS: It's going to be a really cool event. OK.

BRIGGS: It should be a great day.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now. We'll see you tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, August 21st, 6:00 here in New York.

And we do beginwith breaking news for you.

Ten U.S. sailors are missing after a Navy destroyer collided with an oil tanker east of Singapore. This crash is the fourth incident involving a U.S. Navy warship in the Pacific this year alone.

CUOMO: The cluster of incidents raises questions of readiness and causation.

So, the commander in chief will address the nation tonight to discuss this incident and principally, to unveil his strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Will the president's plan call for the deployment of more U.S. troops to the region? If so, will that be seen as a betrayal by his base and their new advocate on the outside, Steve Bannon?

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Ryan Browne, live at the Pentagon with more on our breaking story. What do we know about these souls?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, this collision between this much larger oil tanker and the USS John McCain took place just east of Singapore -- east of the Straits of Malacca.

Now, this ship -- the McCain suffered heavy damage. We're told that flooding took place in several compartments, including a sleeping area, as well as a communications area.