NR: "...it's accounting for more casualties than virtually any other threat that they face almost combined."
October 31, 2009
Don Lemon spent an hour discussing Afghanistan; Michael was on twice, first discussing the war in general and later talking about IEDs and their impact on the war.
DON LEMON: I want to bring in now CNN's Michael Ware. He has covered some of the world's most dangerous places for CNN, including the war in Afghanistan, and just got back from there just a couple of weeks ago. You hear those stories, Michael, and of course, it just breaks your heart. But this week, we saw the president going to Dover. We have seen members of the administration going to visit veterans, the president meeting with the Joint Chiefs and his chief advisers.
If you -- you know, you've been doing this. He is weighing 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan. What do you think? Are more troops the answer here?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends upon how President Obama decides what his goals in Afghanistan in this war really, really are. I mean, if you want to apply the military pressure to put a clamp, to seriously undermine the Taliban, then, yes, you need more troops. But if his military goals are less than that, then perhaps he can get away with fewer troops.
Certainly, I know the commanders on the ground want to fight this war and they say they need 40,000 more. Now, that will still only be a small number of what's actually required. But as it stands right now in the battle in Afghanistan, the U.S. effort is barely touching the Taliban's war machine. It's disrupting it, but it's done nothing to dismantle it. So if you want to put pressure on that organization, you need more boots on the ground.
LEMON: Hey, listen, Mike, I know this is sort of -- you're not a politico here, but reading the tea leaves, many people who are politicos are saying if you see the president going out to Dover, you see the first lady and you also see Mrs. Biden going to veteran hospitals, you hear the vice president talking about Afghanistan, the secretary of state saying, the president is considering a different approach and mission in Afghanistan -- there are those who say all of this means that the president probably will not be sending 40,000 troops into the region there. Have you heard anything about that?
WARE: Well, no, I haven't. Obviously, the military is keeping things tight, as is the White House. I certainly know what the military wants, and I would suspect that the defense secretary, Robert Gates, will be leaning towards a higher number than a lower number. But again, that's only speculation.
It all comes down to this decision from the White House. Now, the fact that the president and the first lady and others have been paying due attention to America's fallen and wounded at the moment could be going either way with regards to this decision. At the very least, it's poignant and timely that the administration is at least addressing and getting something of a first-hand account of the true human cost of this war before such an important decision is made.
Perhaps it's a sign that he's going to send more and he wants to say that, I know the cost. Or it could be the other way. I can't read the tea leaves, Don.
LEMON: Thank you. Thank you very much for that, Michael. Michael, as I said, was in Afghanistan just a short time ago and also experienced what many troops are experiencing there, Michael, and that's IEDs. We're going to talk to him about that in just a little bit. He's going to rejoin us.
First, they are the number one killer of soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan...
LEMON: All right, from Anderson Cooper to CNN's Michael Ware, who knows a thing or two about the danger of IEDs.
WARE (voice-over): A hidden Taliban roadside bomb, an IED, is about to hit this Afghan police gun truck. A CNN cameraman and I are riding in it. By some miracle, it detonated a heartbeat too soon. Otherwise, we'd all be dead. Instead, gravel rains over us.
(on camera): You all right?
(voice-over): Then comes the shooting, a so-called "death blossom," police firing aimlessly to ward off further attack.
LEMON: Michael, we are certainly glad that you -- you said if it just -- a fraction of a second later, and you might not be here. Talk to me about that experience over there because many of the troops are facing that same experience.
WARE: Absolutely, Don. I mean, that's the troops' worst nightmare. As you say, it's accounting for more casualties, the IED, than virtually any other threat that they face almost combined. And the worst part about these things is, obviously, you don't see them coming. Many are found. Many are defused. Many are blown up where they're discovered. But some still get through. And as we saw this week, seven American soldiers died in one vehicle alone.
Now, in our vehicle -- we were in an Afghan gun truck, which is just a pickup, and we were sitting in the back. If that bomb had detonated just a nanosecond later, then we may have a very, very different story to tell. Indeed, the patrol I was on contacted me -- this police patrol, Afghan police patrol -- contacted me a week later and said the exact same spot where we'd been hit, two men lost their legs and another man lost his sight in yet another IED. They're the true mark of the war in Afghanistan now, Don.
LEMON: I want to talk to you about a couple of different things here because -- we'll get to what they're doing and how they're improving the equipment, technology, medicine there. But there is a new danger on the horizon that I'm being told, and by you, as well, Michael. It's coming from the Iranians, this new device called an ESP, which is even more dangerous than the old IED. Is that correct?
WARE: Well, it's a very particular form of roadside bomb, and it is lethal. Now, the Iranians are specialists in the creation, development and deployment of these bombs. We saw them starting to appear in Iraq as Iran stepped up its campaign against U.S. soldiers.
So far, we haven't seen them become a major threat yet in Afghanistan. But I can tell you, I had it confirmed by the U.S. military that they are finding caches or dumps of these weapons or their components. So some of these bombs are getting in the country. Now it's just a matter of time, perhaps. And when these things go off, they can punch through the armor of an Abrams battle tank like a fist through a piece of plywood. These are devastating bombs. And from my time in Iraq, I can vouch for that, Don.
LEMON: Yes. And Michael Ware tells us even with the technology -- there are improvements in medicine on the battlefield, that's helping, improvements in armored vehicles, equipment-jamming devices, as well -- but if you have a new type of device then it's going to pose an even new challenge and you may have to start over again.
Michael, I could talk to you about this all day. We appreciate you joining us. We're going to move on. We have so much to cover in this hour. This is a huge story that we want to give our viewers as much information about as possible. Thank you, Michael.