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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Night Patrol, Close Call; Make or Break Health Care Speech; President Obama's Address to School Children; Marines' Dangerous Mission; War Zone Surgeon
Aired September 8, 2009 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a difficult day for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Four Marines killed in the east of the country while on patrol with Afghan forces. And in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, a suicide attack on the airport there. At least three people known dead, others are wounded. It was a dramatic development in a day that has seen many dramatic developments.
For the first time today, NATO commander admits that civilians were among the dead in a bombing on Friday. America's top commander General Stanley McChrystal now launching an investigation and banning alcohol at the command post in Kabul.
That's after published reports that CNN has not independently confirmed that subordinates were either too drunk or too hung over to answer his questions following the strike.
However, a Pentagon spokeswoman did tell the Associated Press that the general's frustration over contacting his staff did trigger the booze ban. He is clearly doing serious damage control.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, U.S. COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTAN: I think it's a serious event that is going to be a test of whether we are willing to be transparent and whether we are willing to show that we are here to protect the Afghan people. And I think that it's very important to me that we -- that we follow-through.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Protect the Afghan people and win over skeptical hearts and minds. We're reporting on that tonight on new evidence the presidential elections here in Afghanistan were rigged, a U.N.-backed commission ordering recounts in selected areas.
Also, new casualties today, as I said, in the east and more tonight from Marine Camp Jaker here in southern Helmand province.
Michael Ware is back from patrol surviving a close call with a roadside bomb. He joins us shortly along with 360 MD Sanjay Gupta who ended up performing some delicate life-saving surgery at a busy field hospital. We're also joined by national security analyst Peter Bergen.
First, my conversation with Peter Bergen and Candy Crowley in Washington covering the political angles.
COOPER: It appears these NATO air strike was in Kunduz, and I want to show on the map on our viewers where Kunduz in relation to where we are. It's about 400 miles away from where we are. We are in Helmand province right now.
A large number of militants who were reportedly killed but also a large number of civilians. The exact number at this point is unknown by NATO; it is still being investigated.
It was a PR disaster to begin with. But now there is this word that General McChrystal couldn't get in touch with some of his the top commanders early in the hours after the attack to find details about it because they were out drinking.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, which is pretty astonishing. According to the "London Times," he couldn't get into touch with his people. And within a couple of days he has banned drinking for all NATO people under his command.
COOPER: Yes, I mean U.S. forces have not been able to drink in theater, it's surprising to me that the NATO forces were. This is kind of PR disaster, though, that the Taliban makes the most of.
BERGEN: Right. And, of course this is a very conservative Muslim country. And it's a well-known fact, that if you're not an American soldier or British soldier, you can drink, you know, pretty much at will in a lot of these places.
So apparently I think this is long overdue. I mean we're in a war zone. You shouldn't be drinking. It makes sense.
COOPER: Yes, we should point out again the Marines here at a base like this and all U.S. forces are not allowed to drink in theater.
Candy, this war is being sold to the American people by the Obama administration as a hunt against al Qaeda, as a fight against al Qaeda and therefore, protecting the United States.
While it is that in the big picture, what we're seeing on the ground is -- it looks an awful lot like nation building. That's a word that Washington politicians don't like to use.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They don't. And this may be what the president is trying to sell, a war of necessity. But the fact is it isn't selling very well at this point.
The president is going to have to face this, this fall when we hear from the commanders on the ground whether they want more troops. The betting here in Washington and the military and on Capitol Hill is that there will be a request for more troops. And that's in the face of rising U.S. opposition to the war in Afghanistan. So even as he battles on the domestic front for health care, Afghanistan looms very, very large in what in the end certainly will be part of Barack Obama's legacy.
COOPER: Peter, President Obama is being presented with recommendations for new strategy from General McChrystal. It's classified, details of it really have not leaked out in specifics.
But being here on the ground, as we have been for the last couple of days and we know the Marine strategy is clear, hold and build. They're only moving into areas they can hold on to that can actually keep their troops in and actually help build an infrastructure and build confidence for the Afghan government.
It seems inconceivable that they're not -- that McChrystal is not going to at some point -- ask for even more troops, even more than the 21,000 that President Obama has already sent here.
BERGEN: Indeed. I mean the numbers that are being floating around are anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000. I think...
COOPER: There'll be 68,000 troops -- American forces by the end of this year. So possibly -- tens of thousands more?
BERGEN: You're right. I think there is a political problem with asking for a lot. That's I think one of the reasons these numbers have been floating out there, sort of to prepare public opinion for the fact that there will be some form of ask.
I think the best kind of ask will be for more military advisors for the Afghan -- building up the Afghan National Army. That's the most politically palatable thing and of course, that's the best exit strategy for the United States from Afghanistan to build up the Afghan National Army.
COOPER: But they're going to have to have more than just advisors because there are areas right now in Helmand province that the Marines don't go into. That are basically, the places where the Taliban have retreated to and are there unfettered.
BERGEN: Well, I think, you know, it's a matter of triage. Because I mean, it's just too big a country and there are just not enough forces to go around. I mean there are four times more Iraqi army police than, you know, than there are in Afghanistan right now.
So you're just going to have to make some decisions about what you're actually going to do.
COOPER: Candy, it's interesting because the resistance to the idea of more U.S. forces in Afghanistan is going to come from the president's own party.
CROWLEY: Almost three quarters of Democrats in our most recent poll at CNN are against this war, want this war to end. So even as the U.S. is trying to win hearts and minds as we say on the ground in Afghanistan, the president is losing hearts and minds here, particularly in his party at the same time he's beginning to lose some of them on health care.
So this is -- this is a quandary for the president because the fact of the matter is -- and I think Peter hit on it -- one of the problems is that he's going to have to convince the American public that there's an exit strategy.
COOPER: And until the government of Afghanistan is up and running, the idea of an exit strategy is frankly hard to imagine at this point.
Peter Bergen, I appreciate it. and Candy Crowley as well. Thanks.
COOPER: A quick reminder: our coverage of the 1st Battalion 5th Marines here in Helmand province is not just on television tonight. It's also online. We're bringing you throughout the week, Peter, Sanjay Gupta and Michael Ware.
You can go to AC360.com to see their blogs online and also see the work of still photographer Tim Hetherington who is traveling along with us and posting photos everyday online.
And while you're there you can join the live chat right now happening at AC360.com. Unfortunately, I'm not able to log on myself, but Erica Hill is.
Just ahead tonight, 360 MD Sanjay Gupta in the OR, and not just reporting -- operating. Also Michael Ware's brush with death on night patrol in Kandahar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you all right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Hey, we're coming to you tonight from Marine Camp Jaker in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province. We're with the 1st of Battalion 5th Marines of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
The troops here and across the region involved both in combat operations and something more, something less tangible. It's called clear, hold and build; that's the strategy. Clear the Taliban, that's the idea. Protect civilians by sticking around and building both infrastructure and trust.
They say it's going pretty well here in Helmand province, in this area; elsewhere though there are major challenges and set backs.
In eastern Afghanistan today, four Marines were killed in what's being called a sophisticated ambush by Taliban forces. And roadside bombs are still everywhere. Michael Ware found out firsthand a very close call he had in Kandahar on night patrol. He is elsewhere now, some place safer. But here's what it looked like at night in harm's way.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is one night, one police patrol in Kandahar. A hidden Taliban roadside bomb, an IED, is about to hit this Afghan police gun truck. A CNN camera man and I are riding in it.
Like some miracle it detonates a heartbeat too soon. Otherwise, we would all be dead. Instead, gravel rains over us.
Are you all right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WARE: Then come the shooting, a so-called death blossom, police firing aimlessly to ward off further attack.
But this is the true front line against the Taliban. It's where President Obama's war will ultimately be won or lost.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God.
WARE: On that front line is my old friend Afghan police commander Mullah Gul Akund. I've been away for six years reporting in Iraq so it's a relief just to see he's still alive. It takes a certain kind of man to survive for long on the Kandahar front, a hard warrior with little mercy. A man like Mullah Gul.
As a police commander he's been killing Taliban since December 2001. For the Taliban, that means he's been a target for eight years. I have no idea how he survived.
MULLAH GUL AKUND, AFGHAN POLICE COMMANDER (through translator): I protect myself, he says. God has a date for everyone's death. And when that day comes, they will die. But my day has not yet come.
The men and boys he commands guard the back door to Kandahar. After Mullah Gul's outpost comes territory fully controlled by the Taliban. Through that mountain pass, just beyond his checkpoint, it's all Taliban.
As for our night patrol, we just broke into the Muslim fast of Ramadan with Mullah Gul and his forces in a neighborhood called Loya Wala (ph).
(on camera): It's very hard to see me where we are right now because the men we're with are using as little light as possible. These are Afghan police patrolling Kandahar. This is the Taliban heartland. This is the birthplace of the Taliban.
Let's get moving. I want to get back in the trucks. These men do this every night. And where we are right now is a Taliban-held neighborhood. Their commander says if they were not patrolling, there would be attacks almost every night.
In Mullah Gul's vehicle he warns me we could be heading into trouble.
AKUND: The street that we are getting inside now is the most dangerous place in Kandahar.
WARE: Oh really?
WARE: So we're about to enter the most dangerous area.
This is where they have the most contact with the insurgencies firefights and IEDs. There is a curfew in place here for 10:00 p.m. So anyone on the streets after 10:00 p.m. is deemed being suspicious.
Here we are in the middle of the night moving through this neighborhood watching the police at work. We arrive at an intersection controlled by Taliban fighters.
Ten days ago this intersection here, this small bridge, was a Taliban running point. The commander says, every night they were spotting as many as 20 or 30 Taliban gathering here to share information and from where they will launch attack.
But that by establishing just one permanent patrol base, a checkpoint not far from here, he's managed to force Taliban to move to another area.
(voice-over): We didn't know the strike against our vehicle was only moments away. The police gun truck CNN camera man Samad Kasumi (ph) and I are riding into this back street. The Taliban bomb is hidden ahead of us.
It seems victory is still a long way off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You all right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
COOPER: Michael, what's your assessment of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan?
WARE: Well, you have an American mission virtually in crisis. I mean you have the country here in Afghanistan in a political limbo. They don't even know who their president is right now. They don't have the finalized outcome of last month's presidential election.
To some degree, not that it matters and in many Afghans eyes it's won by a bunch of crooks or another bunch of crooks. But the problem is that the storm and the corruption allegation that's delaying the count has stripped any incoming government of its legitimacy. And that's a heavy body blow to the U.S. mission.
Also, the whole war plan is up in the air. America is reconsidering how to fight this war. And it simply doesn't have enough American, NATO or any kind of troops including Afghans to fight all the fights that are necessary to put any real kind of pressure on the Taliban.
So it's got to be a real challenging time for the Obama administration to decide whether it really wants to fight this war or not -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, to many people on the ground here, it seems inevitable that the military is going to ask for more force here's in Afghanistan. They're going to have as many as 68,000 troops here by the end of this year.
President Obama's already ordered 21,000 new forces here. They'll be fully here by the end of this year, 68,000 troops in addition to some 38,000 other foreign troops, NATO forces.
But it seems likely they're going to have to ask for more troops because the strategy of clear, hold and build, they're not moving to areas that they can't stay in and that they can't build in. And they simply can't go into some areas even here in Helmand province.
There are simply some areas they cannot go to. And that's where the Taliban is in force.
Just ahead from Afghanistan, the view from even closer to the threat, perhaps the most dangerous job in this dangerous place. We'll take you on patrol, on point, not knowing if your next footstep could be your last.
Also tonight, President Obama's other make or break battle for health care reform. Ed Henry has a preview of his big speech tomorrow night to Congress.
COOPER: Helmand province are primitive, to say the least. This is Patrol Base Jaker. This is really a kind of the future model perhaps for what the U.S. is going to be doing increasingly in Afghanistan. It's a very small patrol base.
General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander has said he'd like to see more operations probably like this one, small patrol base in a local community, Marines going out every day on foot patrol, not in vehicles, interacting constantly with locals here, trying to build confidence in the Afghan government.
It is a slow process. It is classic counter-insurgency, very difficult, very slow and very dangerous.
Here in Afghanistan, probably the most dangerous position for troops when they're out on patrol is being out in front, on point, in the lead.
We're going to show you just how risky it is.
But first, Erica Hill joins us with a "360 News and Bulletin"-- Erica.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Anderson, we begin today in Iraq.
More roadside bombings killed four American troops and seven Iraqis. More than two dozen people were wounded in those attacks. This is of course, the Muslims holy month of Ramadan when insurgents often step up their fighting.
Americans feel far worse about their finances than they have in the past seven months with credit card debt helping to fuel those worries. That's according to the latest consumer reports index. But the good news here, interest in shopping for large ticket items like new homes and cars is looking strong for September.
In Los Angeles, a major rescue operation for a fire truck. The truck fell into a large sink hole caused by a water main rupture on a residential street. It was actually responding to a call about flooding. Four fire fighters onboard did manage to escape injury. That truck was eventually pulled out.
And Caster Semenya, the world champion South Africa runner who is undergoing gender testing is featured in the cover of South Africa's "You" magazine wearing makeup, a dress, sporting a new hairstyle. Inside the magazine, she is shown wearing a range of outfits, including a sequent top and leather pants. The makeover causing a bit of a stir. Some are questioning the timing, Anderson, as they're waiting on the results of the gender tests.
COOPER: All right. Erica thanks.
Still ahead, some are calling it a high noon moment of President Obama's battle for health care reform; a prime time speech to a joint session of Congress. What does the president need to say to sell his plan? We'll talk about that.
Plus, the presidential speech that some said was a ploy to indoctrinate young minds with socialist ideas. Today we heard the message for ourselves. Does this sound controversial to you?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You cannot drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to train for it and work for it and learn for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well as you know, in less than 24 hours, President Obama is going to give a prime-time address on health care reform to a rare joint session of Congress. Tomorrow's speech may be a potentially make or break moment for the president. A chance to spell out exactly what he means by health care reform and how he says he can pay for it.
Today the president met with Democratic Congressional leaders to talk strategy. In the meantime, the Senate negotiators took up a new proposal but Finance Committee Chairman, Max Baucus is tossed into the ring.
Ed Henry has the "Raw Politics."
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And Anderson, what we know from sources familiar with this meeting in the Oval Office is that the president was very insistent, really urgent tone in telling Democratic leaders they've got to get moving. That now is the time to act.
And we're told by advisors to the president that's really going to be the tone of his address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday evening. Very much, that look, the debate has already happened. It's time to act now.
And this is the same high pressure venue that Bill Clinton used, this joint session of Congress, 16 years ago this month. It did not work for Bill Clinton. And what -- that's why there is so much pressure on the president and Democratic leaders right now.
That they don't want to repeat that and fail on health care, but also have an election year debacle a year later. And that's why it's very interesting that after this meeting, Speaker Nancy Pelosi emerged saying she very much wants a public option, that it's essential. And that's not what other Democrats are saying. There seems to be some real division here.
Her number two Steny Hoyer saying today, he thinks that a health care bill can get through the House without a public option. Essentially the opposite of what Pelosi said and most importantly, advisors to the president telling us that they expect the president on Wednesday night to say that while the public option is important it's not going to be a deal breaker.
If it's pulled out the president will be fine with that because in the end, he wants to get a deal with or without the public option -- Anderson.
COOPER: Ed, what can you tell us about the health care bill that Max Baucus presented to the bipartisan gang of six senators today?
HENRY: Well Anderson, basically the Baucus bill would cost about $880 billion over the next 10 years. How will they pay for it? The key is $6 billion in fees on insurance companies, about $4 billion in fees on the makers of medical devices. Also in what could be very controversial, it would impose fees on individuals who do not step-up and get health insurance.
If you're a single person and you don't get health insurance, you could pay a fine of $750. If you're a family, the fine could be up to $3,800 a year in terms of a fine. That could be very, very controversial. And, of course, most important of all, the Baucus bill does not have a public option.
Instead, it has a co-op, much less critical in terms of trying to provide choice and competition. But not going for a full public option. What's interesting is my colleague Dana Bash learning on Capitol Hill, that Max Baucus has given a deadline of 10:00 a.m. Wednesday for Republicans to come up with a counter-proposal.
We expect Republicans will do that, and so a lot of people waiting and wondering whether or not they can strike a bipartisan deal; a lot of drama on the Hill and at the White House even before the president's big speech.
COOPER: Well, tomorrow, CNN is course is going to cover the president's prime time health care address to Congress live at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. You can also see it live online at CNN.com/live.
CNN will also have an instant polling tomorrow. We'll bring to you first measure of how the president's speech played to the country.
Now the other presidential speech making news today, the address that President Obama gave to the nation's schoolchildren. He delivered it at a high school in Arlington, Virginia. It was broadcast live on C-Span and the White House Web site.
Now, for days we've been covering the backlash over the anticipated speech. Today we heard for ourselves what was in it. As back-to-school messages go, the president's words were pretty basic. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: You can't let your failures define you. You have to let your failures teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently the next time.
So if you get into trouble, that doesn't mean you're a trouble maker. It means you need to try harder to act right. If you get a bad grade, that doesn't mean you're stupid. It just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one's born being good at all things. You become good at things through hard work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Some schools and parents refused to play the president's speech today, refused to allow students to listen to it.
Candy Crowley is covering it all for us.
Candy, there was -- so much was made about this. In the end, it was a pretty basic speech. CROWLEY: In the end, it was a pretty basic and a pretty conservative speech. It was -- listen, you cannot blame whatever is going on in your life, even if you have a bad home life or, you know, you're poor, no matter what it is, can you not have an excuse for not studying.
That's pretty basic. That's pretty conservative.
You know, stay in school. Not many people I know that would argue that except for maybe the kids themselves. But nonetheless, it was a very basic speech on education.
And, indeed, a lot of sort of conservative value things in there which obviously are far greater than conservative values.
COOPER: I talked to Jim Greer, the Chairman of the Florida Republican Party last week who had raised all sorts of concerns saying, you know, that essentially this is going to be a speech where the president is talking about health care and trying to shove his agenda down the throats of American students and kind of indoctrinate them to his way of thinking.
He was claiming that the White House was going to alter the speech. And now that there is controversy, is there any evidence that they altered the speech?
CROWLEY: The White House said it didn't alter the speech. What was altered was the sort of original kind of lesson plan that the Department of Education had suggested to teachers saying perhaps you could get your students to write how they can help President Obama or, you know, that sort of thing.
And that's kind of what set off some of these conservatives saying, wait a second. You know this isn't a teaching tool. That's a political angle.
So that was changed to why don't you have them write about why you should stay in school and your educational goals.
So -- but the speech itself is not changed and in fact, one of the reasons that the White House has put out this speech yesterday is so that everyone could read it. It's to kind of tamp down this sort of hysteria that led up to it.
COOPER: Yes, they clearly, I think, had no idea what was going to happen when they announced this speech. And clearly, it was those lesson plans that caused a lot of the trouble, a lot of the criticism.
Next on the program: the most dangerous job here in Afghanistan when you're on patrol, is being on point, on a search-and-destroy mission for IEDs. The most lethal threat facing American forces in this war.
And if you've ever wanted to eat dinner with Sarah Palin, now is your chance. We'll tell you how, coming up.
COOPER: You're looking at some of the still photos taken by photographer Tim Hetherington, who's traveling with us all this week in Afghanistan.
Sixty-two thousand Americans; that's how many American forces are in the country right now. By the end of this year, there should be 68,000.
They're battling a ruthless enemy, determined enemy, in an unforgiving land about the size of Texas. That's the reality U.S. forces are facing in Afghanistan. For them and the Pentagon, time is running out.
We're back live from Patrol Base Jaker, a small outpost in Helmand province where the 1-5 Marines are in what's called Nawa (ph) district. For security reasons, we can't tell you our exact location here at the base.
I can tell you it is rough living. There are no dining halls for Marines, just meals ready to eat and bottles of hot water.
The area surrounding Patrol Base Jaker is no longer Taliban strong hold. They managed to push the Taliban, for the most part, out of this region, or at least made them lay low for the time being.
The dangers remain here, especially the unseen dangers. I'm talking about IEDs. You saw some of them earlier -- earlier in Michael Ware's piece. IEDs, of course, are improvised explosive devices, and they've become more sophisticated and more destructive here in Afghanistan.
The question for Marines is how do you find them? How do you disarm them? It's a constant struggle, a constant search.
We went out on patrol and met one Marine whose job is to sweep for IEDs. Take a look.
COOPER (voice-over): It is the most dangerous position on patrol, out in front, on point. Lance Corporal Phil Howard quickly waves a metal detector in front of him, searching for signs of an IED.
LT. CPL. PHIL HOWARD, U.S. MARINES: It's kind of scary being up on point and knowing that somebody is going to pull something on you or you step on something, it's going to be the front guy.
COOPER: Every second, Howard has to remain alert. One mistake could kill him or a fellow Marine behind him.
(on camera): That can be tough, too, because you never really know who's a friend and who's an enemy. HOWARD: Exactly. You can look around right now and, you know, that guy who's over there. That could be a good guy, could be a bad guy. You never know
COOPER (voice-over): IEDs have become the No. 1 threat to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In Helmand province, they're responsible for some 80 percent of all casualties.
(on camera): They can either be buried in the road or detonated by a member of the Taliban who's hiding in underbrush like this.
That's why it's important for the Marines to keep ten or 15 meters in between each Marine on patrol so that, in the event that an IED is detonated, the damage is limited.
(voice-over): Since they arrived in Helmand province a little more than two months ago, the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment has lost one Marine to IEDs; 48 others have been wounded.
In July, Lance Corporal James Buttery's vehicle was hit. He escaped with just a concussion.
(on camera): And where did you -- you landed literally right over there?
LANCE CORPORAL JAMES BUTTERY, U.S. MARINES: Yes. The front of the truck was pretty much where that tree was. Knocked the tree out and I was laying right there. The front end was just there. I was able to crawl out. The other Marines here were able to jump in and grab the Marine that was in the canal. We were all conscious. No serious injuries.
COOPER: You were lucky.
COOPER (voice-over): Marines collect parts of the IEDs they discover. Pressure plate devices like this one are common.
LANCE CPL. REESE BARNETT, U.S. MARINES: When you step on that, this charge goes off. And that's how you get your explosion.
BARNETT: They make a lot of stuff out here that for the pressure plates, you see how they did it. Little metal strips right there can make it real hasty like. Put the sticks on there. Goes down. And then that's how it connects, and they also make...
COOPER (on camera): So that's what -- I mean that's amazing seeing it's as primitive as that. It's basically just two pieces of wood with some metal.
BARNETT: Yes, sir. I'm not going to put -- they're pretty small (ph). But we're finding them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you seen anything out of the ordinary around here? Down in the village?
COOPER (voice-over): Today's patrol is not just about finding IEDs, however. It's about meeting local residents, building their confidence in U.S. forces and in the local Afghan government.
It's not exactly what First Lieutenant Chris Conanan (ph) expected to be doing in Afghanistan.
1ST LT. CHRIS CONANAN, U.S. MARINES: Initially I thought I was going to have pretty much just a firefight every day, just a running gun fight. What I've seen is that we haven't taken contact in maybe a month or so in terms of small arms, which is a good thing. And right now we're simply just having tea with village elders.
COOPER (on camera): Hot tea.
CONANAN: Exactly. I've had -- I can't even remember how many cups of tea. And a couple dinners, which is always an interesting experience.
COOPER (voice-over): Building trust, however, takes more than tea. It takes time. And with the Taliban growing in strength in many parts of Afghanistan, U.S. officials acknowledge time is not on America's side.
(on camera): Do you think the people here believe you're here to stay? Or do you think you're still on the fence?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the majority of them are on the fence. We have some supporters, and we have some people that think that we're going to leave tomorrow. But for the majority of the people, I think they're on the fence.
COOPER (voice-over): To get them off the fence and on the side of the Afghan government, the Marines are trying to fund local development projects and show residents they're not going to let the Taliban return.
In the town of Kaji Baba (ph), the Marines meet with two village elders. Both are courteous but aren't willing to say if they support the U.S. or the Taliban.
Lieutenant Colonel Bill McCullough (ph) tells them Marines will be here at least until next summer. But beyond that, he can't promise.
(on camera): So a lot of people here aren't willing yet to choose sides.
LT. COL. BILL MCCULLOUGH, U.S. MARINES: They're waiting for a little more bona fides from us that we are here to stay.
That's what we're trying to develop here. They trust us, they trust their own government. And once these folks pick sides and say, you know, "We're with the government," I believe that is -- it's not a win, but it's a sign that we're winning.
COOPER: Signs of winning are hard to find. I can tell you that, 12 to 18 months. That's what Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the U.S. has to turn this war around. The window is short. Time is running out.
What happens if that doesn't happen? Let's talk to national security analyst Peter Bergen, who's with us again from here in Patrol Base Jaker.
It is amazing when you think about it, the amount of resources and time and effort being put into basically convincing a small number of Afghans to support their own government.
BERGEN: Well, you know, the support for the Taliban is actually pretty low, Anderson. I mean, a lot of polling data shows that support for the Taliban has never really been above 10 percent. But here in Helmand, when you poll on that question, it goes up to about 30 percent.
And as we, from discussions we had yesterday, you know, people don't really know is the United States staying? Is the United States going? You know, they're hedging their bets. They've lived through 30 years of war. So they're not convinced the United States is really going to stay. Even if -- no matter how often times we've said it.
COOPER: And that's what the U.S. is really trying to convince people here of. That maybe not that the U.S. is here to stay, but that there's going to be security here, whether it's U.S. forces now and later Afghan forces once they're fully trained.
BERGEN: Absolutely. They're building up an army. You know, it takes a long time. And you know, one of the complaints, when the United States went into Helmand, was how few Afghan forces were part of that, just several hundred.
Now that is beginning to change. But still the Afghan national army is not remotely at the point where it could really take charge of the security of this country.
COOPER: You don't hear U.S. troops here saying we're winning.
BERGEN: Well, we don't...
COOPER: You hear -- locally, you'll hear Marines say, "Well, there's -- we've seen some successes here in this area in Helmand province."
BERGEN: Well, I think everybody's been very careful. I mean, it's -- you know, we're eight years into this. Here, the fight has been going on for about two months. But, you know, I think it would be premature to say we're winning.
The Taliban certainly don't think they're losing right now, which in an insurgency is very important, because if can you wait somebody out, that's their strategy.
COOPER: What -- is there an end game here? Is there an exit strategy at this point?
BERGEN: Well, I think building up the Afghan national army. We don't know yet what is in General McChrystal's assessment. But I think that he's going to ask for the forces and money necessary to build up the Afghan national army to 240,000. Right now it's...
COOPER: That's something that takes years, though.
BERGEN: It does take years. It's not a quick process.
COOPER: So anyone who thinks there's going to be some quick pullout of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, unless some political reversal is made, that's not going to happen. U.S. forces are not going to be here for a long time to come unless something happens much quicker.
BERGEN: Yes. I mean, the biggest variable here is the political will of the American people. And according to a recent CNN poll, 57 percent of Americans have already turned against the war. Back in 2002, that number was 9 percent.
So that's really the biggest variable. That's the political time line that the administration has to deal with.
COOPER: Why do you think the Taliban is able now to -- they're expanding into the north, they're expanding into the west. Why are they -- why is the military situation here, in the words of Admiral Mullen, deteriorating?
BERGEN: Well, there are a lot of reasons for that. But this is a thinking organization. And it was widely advertised the Marines were coming to Helmand. So some people are lying low. There's an effort to show the flag in other parts of the country, to show that we can attack anywhere at will.
You know, tactically, the Taliban remain a problem. Strategically, it's not like they can take Kabul or any major city tomorrow. So, you know, they are a thinking organization. Are they a strategic threat for the government of Afghanistan? I don't think so.
COOPER: All right. Peter Bergen, thanks very much. We'll continue the reporting from here all week.
Coming up, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who's also here in the war zone, shows us an American surgeon and what he faces, a military surgeon, what he faces on a daily basis here, saving lives of U.S. forces and Afghans, as well.
Also, we'll show you some behind-the-scenes images from our reporting here in Afghanistan; our quarters along with the Marines. We'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Since the war here began nearly eight years ago, more than 3,800 Americans have been wounded in action. In recent months, the Pentagon has reported an uptick in injuries. In fact, the last two months have been the deadliest months for U.S. forces here in Afghanistan. When the troops need emergency care, an army of medics is there to provide it. Simply put, their efforts are extraordinary. Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is at Camp Dwyer. Like us, it's also in Helmand province, in the Garmsir district. Again, we can't reveal the precise location.
Sanjay spent some time with a surgeon whose job is to save lives. It's an incredible story and for Sanjay, a personal one, as you'll see. He went from watching a procedure in the operating room to helping the medical team perform it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three. Oh, that's a mess. OK.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: U.S. Army Major Augustus Brown is the only vascular surgeon in the entire country of Afghanistan.
MAJ. AUGUSTUS BROWN, U.S. ARMY: Probably an anti-personnel mine that he stepped on and basically amputated his legs. His feet were gone. And we completed the amputations.
GUPTA: Brown is 43 years old. He's a long way from home, the same hometown as mine, which makes this all the more personal.
(on camera): This place has been attacked. You're risking your life to save others.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to take care of them.
BROWN: The deal was when they need you, for whatever they need you, go. That's it.
GUPTA (voice-over): The go call came January 29. And there's been no rest for this battlefield surgeon.
(on camera): We're here in one of the trauma bays at the Kathrofri (ph) hospital. It's an unusually quiet moment. But I wanted to give you an idea of the numbers here, which give you a reflection of what's happening here in Kandahar, what's happening in Afghanistan.
On average, they used to see about 80 patients a month, mainly traumatic patients. By April, it was 100 a month. Then take a look at August: roughly 230 patients a month. And I think by fall, the numbers will increase even more.
(voice-over): U.S. troops, coalition forces, locals, Dr. Brown treats them all. (on camera): They asked me to help out. They needed four surgeons. They only have three. This is what happens when they have a hospital as busy as this one.
One of your children was born while you were deployed?
BROWN: Yes, sir.
GUPTA: How do you deal with that?
BROWN: It is a sacrifice for my family. But it's a privilege. Even when I'm back in Atlanta and they ask what do I enjoy most about surgery? I said the most fun I've ever had is in -- when I'm at war.
GUPTA: When you had to say good-bye to your wife and your many kids -- you have a lot of kids, just like I do -- tell me about that conversation.
BROWN: It was hardest for my son. The oldest, 6 years old. That's always hard. There's no silver lining.
He gave me a good luck charm. It's a little stuffed dog. It's in my uniform in the back. I always go with it. The promise is as long as I keep it on me, I'd be safe.
GUPTA (voice-over): In talking to Major Augustus Brown, I realized there is a fear of death, but he never lets it steal his thoughts. He finds, though, there are some images he can't shut, some that haunt him, like this burned child. Her only pain relief, a package of candy.
BROWN: You just don't ever see yourself, after all those years of education, sitting in the middle of a desert, trying to scrape dead tissue off a child. That was probably the worst day. And they all lived, all of them. And they all got better.
But I think maybe 20 years down the road, when everything settles down, I could come back and see one of them alive, grown up, and you'd feel like it was worth it.
GUPTA: Those are tough stories, for sure, Anderson, but some good endings, as well.
It's worth pointing out that Dr. Brown is a reservist. Typically, it's a 90-day term in Afghanistan and then they are asked if they want to stay longer. When he was asked that question, he said, yes. He would stay a year.
COOPER: Sanjay, you profiled a 2-year-old boy, who was being cared for in a battlefield hospital yesterday. What's his status today?
GUPTA: Yes, you know, Anderson, it was interesting, because there was concern that he might not even survive the operation. The good news is he's doing -- he's doing very well, especially just so soon after his operation.
Now, you can take a look at the video there. He's got his bandages off his head now. The breathing tube is out. I was actually examining him here. He's even starting to regain some of the strength in his left arm and left leg.
So this is really so far, at least, Anderson -- fingers crossed -- a really tremendous outcome for him. We're going to, again, keep a close eye on him for the next several days to come.
COOPER: That's great to hear. Sanjay, thanks.
This is not the first time, of course, that Sanjay's skill as a surgeon has been put to use on the front lines. Log on to AC360.com to read about his experiences and to find out what it's like for him to become part of the story in this case.
Coming up, Sanjay, Michael Ware and I are going to continue to bring you stories from the front lines here in Afghanistan, all week long.
But coming up tonight, we're going to take you behind the scenes, a look at our living quarters here at Patrol Base Jaker: a bedroom, an edit room, a rec room, all in one. It's kind of smelly.
It's our "Shot of the Day."
And ever dreamed of having dinner with Sarah Palin? The bidding has begun on eBay. We're not kidding. Details ahead.
COOPER: We're with the 1-5 Marines here in Helmand province at Camp Jaker. Coming up, we'll take a look at our living quarters. We'll show you what they are like.
First, Erica Hill joins us with a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.
HILL: Anderson, we begin with a "360 Follow."
A forensic expert concluding a bone fragment found in the back yard of the home where kidnapping suspect Phillip Garrido once stayed is probably human. A sheriff's spokesman says the state crime lab is now performing DNA tests to determine the bone's age and origin but also noted it isn't unusual to find Native American remains in the area. Now, the spot where the bone was found is actually next door to the home where Garrido and his wife allegedly held Jaycee Lee Dugard captive for 18 years.
Former President Bill Clinton says Republicans are waiting for Democrats to mess up on health care but tells "Esquire" magazine he does believe President Obama will manage to push through health care reform, succeeding where Mr. Clinton says he failed during his tenure in the White House.
Sarah Palin, on the other hand, bringing her case against the president's plan to tomorrow's "Wall Street Journal" in an op-ed she penned for the paper. The former governor restates her belief that health-care reform will lead to government rationing and concludes that rationing means, in her words, death panels.
But maybe you'd rather talk health care with the one-time V.P. candidate in person, one-on-one. You can. Sarah Palin is auctioning off a private dinner, starting price, $25,000. The proceeds benefit a charity for wounded veterans. By the way, a background check is mandatory.
And one of Michael Jackson's iconic sequined gloves, tossed to an Australian fan in 1996, sold at auction for $48,400. That is twice the estimated selling price. The winning bid came from a buyer for the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas -- Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Erica thanks.
Next, life on a base: an up-close look at our little close quarters where we work and where we sleep. It's our "Shot of the Day."
COOPER: For tonight's "Shot," I thought I'd give you a little taste of what it's like for us here at Patrol Base Jaker. The Marines here all sleeping in tents; conditions are very difficult for them.
We have it pretty easy here by their standards. We actually have the one actual building on the base. This is actually the room where we're staying. It's small. It's dark. It's packed with our belongings, our equipment. It's where we work. It's also where we sleep. It's also where we bathe and, I don't know, spend most of our time when we're not out on patrol.
There aren't any chairs, you may notice. We sit on boxes and other containers. But as they say, we certainly don't mind. We consider ourselves extremely lucky and very honored to be here and privileged that -- to show what you the Marines are facing here in Afghanistan and all throughout the country.
So that's what it's like, Erica. It probably looks a lot like your office.
HILL: I don't know what you're trying to say about my office, Cooper.
But I do want to ask you a question. You mentioned you actually got it a little bit better because you're in a building. The troops there, the Marines are in tents. But everything, no matter where you go, is pretty much covered in that layer of dust and sand, right?
COOPER: Yes. It's amazing. The dust just gets into everything. I mean, we're completely coated in it now. It's in all our equipment. It's in all the bags. It's an effort to try to keep it out of the cameras and out of the computers and stuff like that. But everything else you just kind of give it over to the dust. And it's this very fine, like moon -- moon dust. So it's just one of the small difficulties troops are facing here.
That's it for us from Camp Jaker. We'll see you tomorrow night.
"LARRY KING" starts right now.