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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama's Surprise Visit To Afghanistan; Obama, Karzai Sign Strategic Partnership Agreement; Obama Speaks to Troops in Afghanistan; Body Bombs?
Aired May 1, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president is visiting U.S. troops at the Bagram Air Base. I think we can hear what he's saying. I want viewers to hear it as well.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'm here to tell you everybody in America knows that, and everybody in America appreciates it, and everybody in America honors it. And when the final chapter of this war is written, the historians will look back and say not only was this the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, but all of you also represented the values of America in an exemplary way.
I could not be prouder of you, and I want you to understand I know it's still tough. I know the battle's not yet over. Some of your buddies are going to get injured and some of your buddies may get killed. And there will be heartbreak and pain and difficulty ahead, but there's a light on the horizon because of the sacrifices you've made.
And that's why for Michelle and me nothing is more important than looking after your families while you are here and I want everybody here to know that when you get home, we are going to be there for you when you are in uniform. And we will stay there for you when you are out of uniform because you've earned it. You've earned a special place in our hearts and I could not be prouder to be your commander in chief. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Now, I want to shake some hands.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. That's the audio. We don't have the video yet. We'll be getting the video fed in pretty soon from Afghanistan with the president there speaking to U.S. military personnel at the Bagram Airfield. We're told most were U.S. soldiers from the first infantry division, from the army's first infantry division.
They congregated inside the hangar, a secure area of Bagram Airfield. The president traveled by helicopter from Kabul in the presidential palace in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, back to the Bagram Airfield in Chinook helicopters. The president of the United States is there. We're watching all of these dramatic, historic developments unfold. ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: And let's continue to cover the breaking news. Under tight security and the cloak of secrecy, President Obama is paying a surprise visit to Afghanistan right now. All of this coming on the first anniversary of the U.S. raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. The president has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai.
He'll be addressing the American people later this evening. We'll have live coverage, of course, here on CNN and CNN International. The visit, all of this, coming as Afghanistan remains in a war zone, a serious war zone full of potential dangers.
Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's been to Afghanistan on many occasions. Barbara, set the scene for us. What's going on right now in terms of the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Obama is moving very quickly across Afghanistan during this visit for a very simple reason as he tries to move ahead with this strategic partnership keeping the details of this trip secret is key to keeping the president safe.
STARR (voice-over): It doesn't get much riskier than sending the president of the United States into a war zone. President Obama arrived at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan under cover of darkness with extraordinary security measures. Reporters traveling with the president were sworn to secrecy. The secret service is prepared for anything that could happen.
It starts with getting in. U.S. planes landing in Afghanistan perform a corkscrew type landing making sharp banks and terms to avoid heat seeking missiles. Col. Mark Tillman knows first hand how dangerous it can be. Now retired, he told Wolf Blitzer about secretly taking President George W. Bush to Baghdad in 2003 while combat raged.
COL. MARK TILLMAN (RET.), FORMER AIR FORCE ONE PILOT: The challenge wasn't so much to get him in there, because we easily fooled everybody and got him in there. The challenge was once he was on the ground, and everybody knew he was there to get him back out again. So, we worked very hard to make sure he had minimum time on the ground.
STARR: Any longer and terrorists might be able to set up an attack. And over the years, Bagram, right where the president landed, has come under repeated rocket and mortar attacks. So, the president quickly boarded a heavily armed helicopter for a half-hour ride to Kabul with apache gunships providing escort.
Even the heavily protected area where the president headed to meet with President Hamid Karzai is not totally secure. Just last month, the Taliban pulled off multiple attacks in the green zone where the presidential palace, NATO headquarters, and the U.S. embassy are located. But the secret service, of course, works to make sure there are no attacks.
Only a handful of U.S. officials and top military commanders even knew the president was coming. Less information, more security is the way the president's men make it happen.
STARR (on-camera): Now, of course, the president is running for re-election as commander in chief. So, as with all things White House in this election year, there certainly is a political component, and that's part of the reason the president wanted to be seen signing this agreement.
He wants to have that relationship with Afghanistan, but certainly, by all accounts, he wants the American people to see him moving towards winding up the combat phase of the war -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm sure those U.S. military personnel at the Bagram Air Base right now are pretty happy to see the commander in chief, even though it's the middle of the night, and they're all congregated inside that hangar. We're getting ready to get those pictures to our viewers, Barbra. Stand by for that.
Let's go to Kabul right now. CNNs Nick Paton Walsh is in the Afghan capital. Talk a little bit about this agreement, this formal, strategic partnership agreement, Nick, that the president just signed with President Karzai.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's big on symbolic talk about their future partnership. It's big on talk of economic agreements, aid, how the two countries want to be Democratic allies, commitments to the type of relationship they want to see post- 2014. I mean, that's when most NATO troop will be gone from here.
It doesn't address some of the thorny (ph) issues, exactly how much money will the United States be giving to Afghanistan in the years ahead, because that's something that Congress has a distinct say in it, and it doesn't address the other thorny issue of what kind of military presence will America have here once that NATO campaign has finally drawn down in 2014.
But let's remember the tone of this kind of agreement. We're really talking about a president here who, a year ago, talked about the tide of war receding, making his third trip here in his political career to this country ahead of an election campaign on the anniversary of the death of Osama Bin Laden, perhaps, for many Americans, a reason to end the war in Afghanistan.
He was the reason they came here in the first place, and he died a year ago. So, many people sitting at home seeing this may be drawing the conclusion, perhaps, we are seeing President Obama trying to, somehow, bring this narrative to an end. There are many challenges ahead still here for American troops, and there's difficult fighting season in the months ahead, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes. What is it, like, 2:00 a.m. in the morning there right now? I don't know the exact time in Afghanistan, but the fact that they had to sign this agreement in the middle of the night and under these enormously difficult security concerns, obviously, they want to make sure that the president of the United States is safe.
What does that say to you that they couldn't do this in daylight? They had to do it in the darkness of night?
WALSH: It's very odd, to be honest. I mean, Kabul is considered one of the safest cities. Of course, you're going to see enormous security around any kind of presidential visit, but it's should been kept under enormous secrecy or tries to be at least. There was deep panic, I think, it's fair to say about seven hours ago when Afghan media started suggesting Obama was already in Kabul.
Erroneously, it turned out that U.S. and Afghan officials quick to say that was inaccurate. Deep concerns about security, secrecy trying to ensure that there is security for the president. As you know, Wolf, this city under attack. Six months ago, the U.S. embassy and other embassies, again, two weeks ago another attack sustained, insurgents getting inside what's known as the ring of steel of Kabul.
I'm sure concerns are very prominent in the mind of the security detail of President Obama that couldn't be completely satisfied that Kabul would be secure. Of course, this is, I think, maybe his first trip to the presidential palace here. The last time he was here, he stopped at Bagram bad where they get stopping and from competing (ph) his journey, so really, (INAUDIBLE) which we can't ensure Obama's security is going to be 100 percent confident about, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh on the ground in Kabul. We're getting these new pictures, these still photos coming in the signing ceremony, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, and President Barack Obama. They signed the strategic partnership agreement just a little while ago. The president now on the ground in Afghanistan for about three hours.
So, six hours or so ago, when there were these reports that the president already was in Afghanistan, those reports were clearly inaccurate, although, a lot of folks knew something was in the works. The president landing just before 2:00 p.m. eastern time in Afghanistan. He's now still there.
Remember, he'll be addressing the American people 7:30 p.m. eastern time tonight from Afghanistan before he boards that Air Force One 747 to fly back to Washington, D.C. Retired U.S. army general, James "Spider" Marks, is here with me in the SITUATION ROOM.
What do you make, first of all, from the military perspective of what's going on. Still about 90,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and so many of them, tens of thousands, are supposed to stay there for at least another two and a half years through the end of 2014?
So many Americans, if you look at the polls, they say why? Get those troops out of there as quickly as possible. This is a mission that's going to have an unhappy ending no matter how long they stay.
JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the president and our Congress has established when that presence is going to end, and that's 2014. Clearly, the mission is drawing down and it's what I would call settling. What's happening right now is there is a focus on mission one, which is to continue to track down, eliminate, reduce the Taliban as well as any remnants of al Qaeda that exist in Afghanistan, and clearly, elsewhere in the region.
There are missions that are ongoing, but specifically in Afghanistan, that mission continues. And also, Wolf, as you know, a very large part, an enduring part of the United States mission will continue to be to train the Afghan security forces and to make sure that they have stood up and can carry this mission forward.
BLITZER: Because they've trained about 300,000 or so Afghan security and police forces, but by all accounts, they're not ready to take over that country. The Taliban, within a week, presumably, could come right back in despite billions, hundreds of billions of dollars the U.S. has spent and the loss of so much blood over these years.
MARKS: Oh, absolutely. Clearly, now, I don't know -- I think I might disagree with you in terms of the Taliban coming back in a week, but I will say that there is a standard that's established, and we have seen most recently that there are some rogue Afghan security forces that have done things that are absolutely --
BLITZER: Like shooting American troops in the back of the head.
MARKS: Absolutely. Things that we have got to make sure can never happen again. So, the way you do that is you don't turn your back on them and walk away. What you do is you continue to work it to assure that the standards can be met. And that will be our enduring presence beyond between 2014. It will be a training, equipping, and advising mission so that these forces can be sustained.
BLITZER: But the Afghan military, presumably, will take the lead in all of this. The question is, are they really ready to do so or do they have the will to do so. I've spoken to so many military personnel who come back from Afghanistan. I got to tell you, a lot of them don't have much respect for the Afghan military.
They sort of go when they want, come when they want. They're not really up to the job, but you've been there. what do you think?
MARKS: Well, the question remains. If the standard has not been met and we have a timeline to ensure that we can achieve that standard and possibly beyond, do we continue on that path or do we leave right now? Clearly, what we're trying to do is lean into the wind to make sure that we can get that standard closer and closer for these Afghan security forces.
You're absolutely right. There's a lot of reason to be concerned about the standard, but we can't wipe out all the work that's been done, and in fact, paint all of the Afghan forces with the same brush that we have several of these that clearly need to be brought to justice.
BLITZER: If somebody would have said to you back in October 2001, you were in the military at that time as I well remember, that in May of 2012, 90,000 American troops would still be fighting in Afghanistan, what would you have said?
MARKS: Of course not. I would not have seen that as a possibility, didn't see it as a possibility. In fact, remember, when we went into Afghanistan, it was an immediate success, and then, we reduced our numbers considerably. Also in Iraq, we had an incredible success, we were supposed to pull out very quickly. Clearly, that didn't happen in both of those cases.
BLITZER: Gen. Marks, stand by for a moment, because we're going to watch what's going on. You can see the president right after the signing ceremony greeting some of the members of the Senate, Sen. Carl Levin, Sen. Jack Reed. You see Jack Lew, the White House chief of staff to your left. We'll continue the breaking news coverage from Afghanistan right after this.
BLITZER (voice-over): We're awaiting -- here's the video. You see members of the 1st infantry division and other U.S. military personnel, U.S. army personnel, marines, navy, air force. I assume there are some coast guardsmen there as well. This is the Bagram air base, and the president of the United States is being introduced. I don't know if we have the audio of the introduction, but I'd be interested to hear what the general on the scene is saying, introducing the president. Let's listen in.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of all 50 of the ISAF countries are going to come together in Chicago. And when they're -- all 50 of the heads of these countries. Now, I wish you could all be in Chicago at the same time. But we're not going to be able to arrange that, so what we did, what we did this evening is we have brought Chicago to you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, ladies and gentlemen of U.S. forces Afghanistan, ladies and gentlemen of the international security assistance force, please join me in welcoming the president of the United States of America and our commander in chief, President Barack Obama.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How's everybody doing tonight?
OBAMA: It is good to be back here with all of you!
OBAMA: I've got a few acknowledgements I've got to make before I say what I've got to say. First of all, somebody who has served our country with the kind of distinction that doesn't happen a lot, somebody who has been a leader for you and leader for our country for a very long time, give your commander, General John Allen, a big, big round of applause.
OBAMA: We also have somebody who is John's partner on the civilian side and has made extraordinary sacrifices first in Iraq, now in Afghanistan, Ambassador Ryan Crocker is here. Please give him a big round of applause.
OBAMA: All right. Now, let me just see if I've got this right. We've got the 1st infantry division in the house?
OBAMA: We've got the 455th air expeditionary wing?
OBAMA: We've got the task force mule skinner.
OBAMA: We've got the 101st army field sustainment brigade.
OBAMA: We've got task force pilot in the house.
OBAMA: And we've got task force defender in the house.
OBAMA: And we've got me in the house.
OBAMA: 82nd -- 82nd in the house? 82nd in the house? You know, somebody's going to be in trouble because they didn't have 82nd on here. Anybody else I'm missing? There you go. All right. I love all of it. Now, listen, I'm not going give a long speech. I'm going to have the opportunity to address the nation from Bagram just in a little bit.
It's going to be broadcast back home during primetime. So, all I want to do is just say thank you. You know, the sacrifices all of you have made, the sacrifices your families make every single day are what make America free and what make America secure, and I know that, sometimes, out here when you're in theater, it's not clear whether folks back home fully appreciate what's going on.
And let's face it, a lot of times, it's easier to get bad news on the news than good news. But here's the good news and here's part of the reason that I'm here. I just finished signing a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan that signals the transition in which we are going to be turning over responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghans. We're not going to do it overnight.
We're not going to do it irresponsibly. We're going to make sure that the games, the hard fought games, that have been made are preserved. But the reason we're able to do that is because of you. The reason that the Afghans have an opportunity for a new tomorrow is because of you, and the reason America is safe is because of you.
We did not choose this war. This war came to us on 9/11, and there are a whole bunch of folks here, I'll bet, who signed up after 9/11. We don't go looking for a fight. When we see our homeland violated, when we see our fellow citizens killed, then we understand what we have to do, and because of the sacrifices now of a decade and a new greatest generation, not only were we able to blunt the Taliban momentum, not only were we able to drive al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but slowly and systematically, we have been able to decimate the ranks of al Qaeda. And a year ago, we were able to finally bring Osama Bin Laden to justice.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: That could have only happened because each and every one of you in your own way were doing your jobs. Each and every one of you, without a lot of fanfare and without a lot of fuss, you did your jobs. No matter how small or how big, you were faithful to the oath that you took to protect this nation.
And your families did their job, supporting you and loving you and remembering you and being there for you, and so, together, you guys represent what is best in America, and you're part of a long line of those who have worn this uniform to make sure that we are free and secure, to make sure that those of us at home have the capacity to live our lives, and when you're missing a birthday or you're missing a soccer game or when you're missing an anniversary, and those of us back home are able to enjoy it, it's because of you.
And I'm here to tell you, everybody in America knows that, and everybody in America appreciates it, and everybody in America honors it. When the final chapter of this war is written, historians will look back and say, not only was this the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, but all of you also represented the values of America in an exemplary way.
I could not be prouder of you. I want you to understand I know it's still tough. I know the battle's not yet over. Some of your buddies are going to get injured, and some of your buddies may get killed, and there's going to be heartbreak and pain and difficulty ahead. But there's a light on the horizon because of the sacrifices you've made.
And that's the reason why for Michelle and me, nothing is more important than looking after your families while you're here, and I want everybody here to know that when you get home, we are going to be there for you when you're in uniform, and we will stay there for you when you're out of uniform, because you've earned it.
You've earned a special place in our hearts, and I could not be prouder to be your commander in chief. God bless you, and god bless the United States of America. Now, I want to shake some hands.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END LIVE FEED)
BLITZER: All right. So, the president of the United States in Bagram at the Bagram Air Base meeting with members of the U.S. military. You just saw the president there. A huge crowd there in a hangar there in representing the U.S., army, navy, air force, Marine Corps, and coast guard. They are all inside. You heard the president salute them.
Now, he's going go into that crowd and give a lot of those military personnel the thrill of their lives. They're going to be shaking hands with the commander in chief, the president of the United States.
Let's assess what we've just heard. First of all to you, David Frum, the former speechwriter for President Bush, our CNN contributor, what do you think of those remarks to the troops?
DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's Obama at his best. He's natural. He's easy with them, and he emphasized the message of care and concern. He emphasized the first lady's role, all good. What we are going to look for when he talks to the whole country is whether he can address the serious policy problems we've got as a result of this big commitment to Afghanistan.
BLITZER: He's going to have a major address at 7:30 p.m. eastern, in about two hours from now, we'll, of course, have live coverage. Paul Begala, you heard the president say to the troops that he's going to be speaking to the American public in primetime here in the United States, at least, on the east coast. I assume that's what the president's political advisers like.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I suppose so, but I wonder if they haven't built a bridge too far. I don't know if you can improve on what you just saw. David Frum makes a good point. He didn't have to nor should he have in that setting with the troops go into the tough questions. How many more troops after 2014, Mr. president? How much time? How much money? How much combat? He'll have to, at least, try to deal with that tonight talking to the American people in the more formalized setting, but I'm with David. This was -- you know, this president, sometimes, can be a little professorial. This was president being emotional. And I saw this with President Clinton (INAUDIBLE), saw this with President Bush.
There is something that really deep and emotional and almost mystical between these commanders in chief and their troops. And he understands, President Obama has been to Dover. he has seen those flag-draped coffins come home, and he has seen the wounded warriors. He's talked to the families. You saw that emotion pouring out.
I thought it was really striking when he said there's going to be heartbreak and pain and difficulty ahead, but there's light on the horizon. I think that is a commander in chief talking to his troops in the finest American tradition.
BLITZER: It is a great tradition as someone who's traveled with presidents overseas to these kinds of operations. You look at those young faces of the U.S. men and women in the military in Afghanistan right now. Gloria Borger is watching those young faces together with me and all of our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
You look at those young faces, Gloria. You say to yourself, I'm sure the president says it to himself, these are courageous individuals, all volunteers, but who will come back to the United States alive, who will come back injured, who will come back with post-traumatic shock, stress disorder or whatever?
It's a heartbreaking situation for anyone, especially a commander in chief who keeps 90,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, at least, for now.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And this is exactly what a president should be doing, meeting with the troops in a war zone, speaking as Paul said, really from his heart, signing, by the way, a very important agreement, a broad stroke agreement, but that paves the way for a path out --
BLITZER: In two and a half years.
BORGER: In two and a half years. And, so, I think it's very difficult even for the president's political opponents to criticize a president in theater with the troops doing what the president is doing right now.
BLITZER: What's been the reaction, at least, so far? It's been about three and a half hours or so since we learned that the president was safe on the ground in Afghanistan from Republicans. What are you hearing?
BORGER: I think the Republicans are not criticizing the president. And I think they're smart not to criticize the president, to tell you the truth. Wolf, I spoke with the senior adviser to Mitt Romney who was very reserved saying, look, the commander in chief is in theater. Mitt Romney has national security disagreements with this president, but those are well known.
This is not the time to talk about it. And so, I think Republicans are holding back. You're not going to see statements released from the Republican National Committee. And I think, you know, they've decided to hold back because this is what a commander in chief really ought to be doing.
BLITZER: Gloria, stand by for a moment as we continue to show the pictures coming in from the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The president greeting a lot of U.S. military personnel, young men and women who are gathered there. It's now way in the middle of the night. About two hours or so from now, he'll be addressing the American people from the Bagram Air Base.
There, he gets a nice hug from a nice U.S. woman who is serving in the military right now. All of this comes a year to the day after U.S forces killed Osama Bin Laden. Let's turn to someone who spent most of his career studying bin Laden. He met and interviewed the terror leader at an Afghanistan hideout way back in 1997. His latest book is entitled "MAN HUNT: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad". It's just come out; our national security analyst Peter Bergen is joining us right now.
Peter, you spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. You know this situation about as well as anyone. Is this going have a happy ending for the United States when all of the dust settles?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think it has to, Wolf. It doesn't matter if it's President Obama or President Romney or President Hillary Clinton or any future potential president of the United States. They all know the history of Afghanistan. We closed our Embassy there in 1989, basically switched the country off into the vacuum, came a civil war and then the Taliban.
A version of that was replayed in 2002 when the George W. Bush administration which had a sort of ideological opposition in nation building you know did it on the cheap. We're now you know doing a serious effort and the strategic partnership agreement that has been signed today is an indication of the United States plans to be in Afghanistan in some shape or form for the next decade.
Now of course the devil is in the details and I've been speaking and listening to senior administration officials describe the terms of that agreement and you know there is no specific number on troop levels in the post-2014 Afghanistan. America hasn't you know produced a number, Afghanistan hasn't agreed to that particular number. Over the next year those details will be hammered out and obviously that's a big -- you know if it's 5,000 troops that's one thing, if it's 20,000 troops that's another thing.
Another commitment that is, you know, mentioned in the agreement, but again, the devil will be in the details and the implementation is there is a commitment to funding the Afghan national security forces which estimates suggest will cost about $4 billion a year going forward. The Afghans will pay for some of that, other NATO countries will pay for some of that, but of course the United States is likely to end up with a good chunk of that. There's no specific number obviously.
That's something that Congress has to get involved in, in terms of future funding operation. So while there is -- I think this agreement is a very good thing. It's a good thing that it's been signed. It's good for the United States. It's good for Afghanistan. It's also good for countries in the region. No one wants an Afghanistan that reverses civil war. There will be some details, many details that need to be worked out. Some of them we will hear about, Wolf, on May 20th when the NATO summit happens in Chicago. Clearly there's been some back room discussions about which countries will put up which kind of money and some of that, no doubt, will be announced in Chicago at the NATO summit.
BLITZER: Peter, I want you to stand by for a moment as we continue to watch these pictures coming in from Afghanistan. I want to talk about "MAN HUNT", your brand new book. It's an amazing book with remarkable details about the hunt for bin Laden and what's going on right now. There's the cover of this new book. Our conversation with Peter Bergen and the breaking news coverage coming out of Afghanistan will resume right here in THE SITUATION ROOM in a moment.
BLITZER: This was the president of the United States and the president of Afghanistan about an hour or so ago. They walked into the presidential palace in Kabul and they signed that historic strategic partnership agreement outlining in general, framework what the U.S. relationship will be all about with Afghanistan post-2014, presumably for a decade, but they've got a lot of details they've got to work out. How many U.S. troops will remain after 2014? How much U.S. assistance will be provided to Afghanistan post-2014?
The devil will be in the details, as they say. We are getting some more information from senior administration officials traveling with the president right now. They say this -- the timing of the president's surprise visit to Afghanistan was driven by what they call the negotiations over the strategic partnership agreement and the desire by both presidents to sign the agreement in Afghanistan prior to the NATO summit in Chicago later this month. These are new pictures coming in of the president when he was meeting with U.S. troops at the Bagram Air Base.
The officials did acknowledge, though, that the timing does coincide with this, the first anniversary of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, to the day, in fact, the president arriving in Afghanistan. The president -- the president, we are told, will mention the bin Laden raid in his remarks later -- less than two hours from now at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. We are told his speech will run about 10 minutes or so. That will be 7:30 a.m. Eastern, 8.5 hour time difference between the East Coast of the United States and Bagram in Afghanistan, so it will be what, 4:00 a.m. Wednesday morning in the middle of the night in Afghanistan when the president delivers this major 10-minute address. We'll have live coverage here on CNN, CNN International around the world. We're expecting a statement, by the way, momentarily from the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. We'll bring that to you as soon as we get it. In the meantime I want to bring back our national security analyst Peter Bergen. He is the author of a powerful new book entitled "MAN HUNT: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad". He's had amazing access to the hunt for bin Laden.
What was it like when you went into that compound in Abbottabad, Peter? Just walk us through because they allowed you to go in there. You were in the bedroom where he was killed by members of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6.
BERGEN: Yes, I mean after kind of a considerable period of negotiation with the Pakistani military and the controlled access to the compound they allowed me to visit it on February 10th of this year, unbeknownst to me one of the people who were showing me the compound, it was then knocked down two weeks later. You know the compound -- you know we've seen these pictures a million times. Obviously, from the outside when you get inside, you know the overwhelming impression I had was one of squalor, Wolf.
It was not - they were not living large. They were growing their own crops in the field you're seeing here. There were -- you know, it was quite a crude kind of living situation. Each of the three wives who lived in the compound had her own kitchen relatively small with kind of metal buckets to spin it over the stove to -- and pipes to suck kitchen smells outside. There was no air-conditioning in a place it can get pretty hot in the summer.
There was a few gas heaters in a place it gets pretty cold in the winter. Abbottabad, which you see here, is at about 4,000 feet, so in the winter you're in the foothills of the Himalayas. The place housed about 24 people. I was able to get a good look around -- the pictures we see here is two of bin Laden's wives were PhD's and were teaching the kids -- kids, of course, most of them did not go to school for security reasons. I was able to tour the bedroom in which bin Laden was killed.
You know this is I thought maybe this would be like visiting Hitler's bunker. It was actually somewhat different. It was really a squalid, suburban compound. I looked at the toilet in which you know bin Laden would do his business. Very place like small size of a closet with a very kind of rudimentary hole in the floor and bin Laden and his Yemeni wife would squat over that which is not the image one usually associates with the world's most wanted man, a tiny little kitchen and by that, next door there was a study in which bin Laden would type out these mammoth (ph) memos to his men, leaders of al Qaeda basically kind of trying to micromanage the affairs of al Qaeda.
One 48-page memo which I was able to review showed how basically the American drone campaign was really well understood by bin Laden to be a big problem. He was advising his men to leave Pakistan in the tribal regions there where the drones are located and go into neighboring Afghanistan. So, you know, it was interesting having spent 15 years of my life to see the place where he died, to see also the documents that he was writing in the last year or so of his life. It painted a picture of a guy who was having kind of not uncomfortable retirement, but you know in a prison of his own making, trying to kind of maintain control over what remained of his organization, Wolf.
BLITZER: One of the amazing things you write in the book Peter, and I want you to explain it to our viewers, you suggest that bin Laden himself began to think that the 9/11 strike on the United States was a terrible miscalculation. What do you mean by that?
BERGEN: Well, I'm not sure that bin Laden himself thought it was a terrible miscalculation. I think there were people in his immediate circle who were saying to him before or afterwards we have, you know, this has been kind of our Pearl Harbor, a tactical victory that is you know really causing us big problems and in fact, some of the documents recovered in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban you know show that senior members of al Qaeda were saying you know bin Laden really screwed this one up. Instead of getting what he wanted which was the United States to pull out of the Middle East, instead now he's destroyed our base in Afghanistan.
He's destroyed, you know, put a huge amount of pressure on the organization. Back here these video pictures are interesting. These were taken by Pakistani officials, who I think then sold them (INAUDIBLE) other news networks, but it shows you this area here that we're looking at was where they kept the cows. They kept cows for milk. They were also raising chickens. They were also raising honey bees for honey, but you can see from these pictures this was not a luxurious compound.
It was initially portrayed as a million dollar mansion. Certainly it cost some money to build, maybe a few hundred thousand dollars, but you know bin Laden and his wives were used to living -- this is a kitchen area I think on the ground floor -- they were used to living in a kind of pretty rudimentary way in Afghanistan, obviously, under the Taliban. It was not a place where you could live a luxurious lifestyle. And when bin Laden was living in Sudan, you know he was living without air conditioning. He was living a very humble life. So for his wives, this humble existence they were living in the compound would not have been as much of a change.
BLITZER: One quick point. I want you to just alert our viewers, Ayman al Zawahiri, who is the new leader of al Qaeda right now, the number two for a long time, now the number one, does anyone really have a clue where this guy might be hiding out? Is he living some place near the so-called West Point of Pakistan? Does he have protection from the Pakistanis and others as so many people believed bin Laden did receive that kind of protection?
BERGEN: You know where Ayman al Zawahiri is, is a $25 million question because that's the amount of money on his head. I think that -- I know that American officials don't think that Ayman al Zawahiri is in central Pakistan or northern Pakistan and is sort of Pakistan proper where bin Laden was hiding. I think the hypothesis is that he is more likely to be in Pakistan's tribal regions, but if they really knew where he was, he wouldn't be doing these videotapes. He would be you know on the business end of a drone missile or you know captured or killed in some raid. So I mean the short answer is no one really knows, but the general's consensus is that he's in Pakistan's tribal regions.
BLITZER: Peter Bergen is the author of a powerful excellent new book entitled "MAN HUNT: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad". It is just coming out this week, congratulations, Peter, amazing, amazing work. I recommend this book to all of our viewers in the U.S. and around the world.
BERGEN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Peter will be back with us in THE SITUATION ROOM to discuss more about this book in the coming days. We are getting a statement from Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. He just signed a long-term, strategic partnership agreement with President Obama in Kabul, Afghanistan. The president getting ready in about an hour and a half or so to address the American people from the Bagram Air Base. We are watching all of the breaking news unfold. Stand by. Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: These are new pictures just coming to THE SITUATION ROOM from Bagram, from the U.S. air base in Afghanistan. You see the president of the United States there with a member of the United States military. A lot of military personnel got into that hangar in Bagram, way in the middle of the night to hear the president speak to them.
Inspiring words to the U.S. men and women who are on the front lines in Afghanistan right now. A great thrill, obviously, for them. The president's surprise visit to Afghanistan, it comes exactly a year after U.S. Navy SEALs gunned down Osama bin Laden, but there may be -- repeat, may be a new threat unfolding right now. Authorities say they're on alert against possible quote "body bombs" that could be deployed on flights to the United States.
Let's bring in our national security contributor Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser to President Bush. She serves on the CIA and Homeland Security External Advisory Boards. Fran, what does this mean, body bombs, an alert saying that this could be a new threat? What's going on?
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Wolf, we heard this first about a year ago, the possibility that al Qaeda operatives might try to sneak explosives on to western aircraft by inserting it in their bodies. There was some belief that the assassination attempt against Mohammed bin Nayef (ph), the head of the Saudi security service involved such a bomb.
It turned out the Saudis when they examined this whole incident found it was not, but there were concerns and additional documents that have been released post the bin Laden raid. You know oftentimes we see bin Laden or others in the organization thinking about new techniques, new possibilities, so we haven't seen such a technique deployed but of course there are concerns that operatives might at some point try to use this to get a bomb on a plane.
BLITZER: I know you've been checking with people who are knowledgeable about the president's surprise visit to Afghanistan today. What are you hearing, Fran?
TOWNSEND: You know look, Wolf, people felt like this was long overdue. It's been over -- it's been over a year since the president has traveled to Afghanistan. It's been longer than that I think since he's spoken about it and so there's a sense that this was long overdue. I think you know you can see from the pictures the troops welcoming the president, glad to see him there, welcoming his leadership, but I will say, I spoke to one soldier who is no longer with the military, had been there when President Obama had first visited Afghanistan and he said to me, look, it's not going to be lost on anybody that this is sort of a victory lap on the one-year anniversary, you know sort of expressing the wish that you know, we wanted him to come. We welcome him there, but why does it have to be on the anniversary, as though there's something unseemly and political about it being on this particular day.
BLITZER: What goes into a visit like this by a president of the United States to a war zone, arriving in the middle of the night, signing a document 1:00 a.m. local time, speaking with U.S. troops 2:00 a.m., getting ready to address the American people 4:00 a.m. local time, what goes into the decision-making process because obviously you got to keep the president safe.
TOWNSEND: Right, and that's first and foremost what's on the minds of everybody on his security detail and his entire staff. You know, people don't realize, Wolf, he flies in under cover of darkness because it's safer. He's doing this at these hours because it's safer for him and for the staff. You've got to get this plane in there. It goes in. It's completely blacked out. The shades are pulled. The internal lights are shut off. And all the usual external lights are shut off.
He comes in. He makes a very quick descent. They put the plane down in Bagram and you move him around very quickly. It's one of the reasons the press isn't told until the last minute about his trip there, and he doesn't stay very long on the ground, denying our enemies the ability to set up a potential attack and so you know until he's wheels up and out of Afghanistan, there's no one on his staff that really breathes easily until he's safely out of there.
BLITZER: Here's what worries me and let me ask you bluntly if it worries you. I'm concerned about the Afghan military and police, some of them are infiltrators. Some of them clearly would love nothing more than to God forbid take a shot at the president of the United States. How worried would U.S. military security personnel, Secret Service agents be when they take a look at the Afghan security because there's got to be a liaison. There's got to be cooperation with them.
TOWNSEND: That's right, Wolf. Remember when Secretary Panetta was last there Afghan forces and U.S. forces were asked to leave all weapons outside of the room and not bring them with them. You know unusual with a war zone to separate the soldier from his weapon and that's all part of the very concern that you're talking about. I don't have any doubt, look, the president is speaking and visiting with U.S. soldiers right now, but as you point out, there is no question that there will be a concern. We know that there were at least two U.S. soldiers shot at the Ministry of Interior. There have been these sorts of incidents you know where Afghan soldiers have shot. It's an aberration but one that they will take very seriously to protect the president against.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure a lot of people will be happy when Air Force One takes off from the Bagram Air Base and heads back to Washington, D.C.
BLITZER: That will be relatively soon. Fran thanks very much. We'll take another quick break, more of the breaking news after this. We're going to hear from Hamid Karzai. What did he have to say on this very important day?
BLITZER: Following the breaking news, President Obama landed in Afghanistan under the cover of darkness just a few hours ago, he's there on this, the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden to sign a major agreement outlining the responsibilities of U.S. forces in the coming years. Here is a portion of what the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN (through translator): (INAUDIBLE) responsibility (INAUDIBLE) of all the forces who are in Afghanistan and the past 10 years they worked with us, helped us and support us, go back to their country and of course the people of Afghanistan will never forget their help and their support and also the relationship with this country, we will start anew, start with this relationship and we will continue with this relationship. Mr. President, sir, I just want to say (INAUDIBLE) all the help and support the people of the United States and to the people of Afghanistan (INAUDIBLE) I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.
And I just thank you, and also, just want to thank you, sir, for all the, which is provide all the accessories to bring this strategic partnership for signing today or tonight and I just thank you and all of your team (INAUDIBLE) Ryan Crocker, Ambassador Crocker, General Allen, I thank them for their hard work with our team, work together. They were very patiently work together and to continue this dialogue. Today we will see the result of this talking and communication today we sign and I just want to thank you. I just ask you to, sir, to give your speech, sir. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And there was the signing ceremony between the president of the United States, the president of Afghanistan, outlining a long-term strategic partnership agreement between the two countries.
That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Our special coverage of the president's surprise visit to Afghanistan continues right now on CNN.