AC: Double-duty: budget for Iraq & Juarez drug wars

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Two very different pieces tonight: first, Michael joins Anderson Cooper in the NY studio and David Gergen (by video) to discuss the budget plans as they will affect the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, his "360 Dispatch" about the cartel wars in Juarez, Mexico, followed by more discussion with Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER: More on our breaking news tonight: President Obama telling congressional leaders his new strategy for Iraq. He plans to have all U.S. combat troops out of the country by August 2010 -- not all troops, though.

He will unveil more specifics tomorrow in a speech at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, his first visit as a president to a military base.

But we also know tonight, from congressional officials, that Mr. Obama wants as many as 50,000 troops to remain in Iraq, even after the August deadline, playing what he calls a support role.

Let's talk it over with Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware and senior political analyst David Gergen.

So, Michael, troops out in 19 months, sort of out, 30,000 to 50,000 remaining. What do you think?

MICHAEL WARE: Well, it's sort of a -- it's a middle-ground policy, isn't it? I mean, it's more than the 16 months he promised on the campaign trail. It's less than the 23 months that the generals had asked for.

What I would say is that, as long as this is based upon what's happening on the ground, this is a relatively sound strategy. I mean, let's think about it. This is the candidate who went into the elections promising to end the war. And we're not talking about pulling any troops out of Iraq until virtually the end of next year, only two brigades out of 14. That's roughly 10,000.

COOPER: And what does that mean, 50,000? I mean, it's combat troops? You still have 50,000, I assume, combat-ready troops in the country. What are they going to be doing?

WARE: Well, this is the great question.

And they are calling them transition troops, meaning transitioning from an American mission to an Iraqi-led. They are calling them advisers. I mean, this is the thing that we knew was coming.

How do you define a combat troop? I mean, you can have an infantry brigade of American soldiers and call them perimeter security. But they are ready to storm out the gate whenever they need to.

COOPER: But are -- would they be on patrol?

WARE: Well, no, no.

COOPER: Will they be -- no?

WARE: I suspect that, under the terms of the SOFA agreement and under, you know, the intentions of this administration, they're not going to be out roaming freely.

As we know, they are going to have a counterterrorism capability, but that's going to rely on knowing where the terrorist is and storming out and going and capturing or killing that person. It's not patrolling as we see now. So, this solution, in some ways, is a -- is back-dooring politically.

Yes, to a degree, it meets the election promises, but, also, it answers some of the concerns of the generals.

COOPER: For the generals.

David Gergen, what do you think?

DAVID GERGEN: Anderson, what strikes me is that, in contrast to the way President Obama is so bold and audacious on the domestic side, he's being quite cautious in foreign policy.

He was presented with three options by the Joint Chiefs for Iraq, to pull out most of the combat troops within 16 months, 19 months, or 23 months, as Michael suggested. And he chose the middle option, just as he's done in Afghanistan. Instead of going bold, he's gone with a more conservative 17,000 troops. The military wanted 30,000 in the beginning.

I think that the president is feeling his way along, and in contrast to the Democrats on the Hill, who can stand up and say pull everybody out, he, after all, at the end of the day, has to be the president who does not lose Iraq. He does not want to pull out so precipitously against the wishes of his advisers on the ground that, if he pulls the plug, the whole thing implodes on him.

So I think he's keeping those troops in there, basically a third of what we already have in there, in order to make sure that Iraq doesn't fall apart, that nobody comes in from the outside. If terrorist camps start up, he can hit those, but he can also provide security.

COOPER: And the truth is it's not as if all these troops are coming home, these numbers. You know, a lot of them may be redirected to Afghanistan. Seventeen thousand new troops already have been sent.

Michael Ware, do we -- there's no end game in Afghanistan. I mean, there's no...

WARE: Oh no.

COOPER: There's no clear strategy right now.

WARE: If there's anywhere you really have to dig in, it may be Afghanistan. It depends upon what your goals in Afghanistan are.

As we saw in Iraq, America went in with this noble ambition to create this glorious democracy that would be a beacon within the region. Well, by the time General Petraeus took over command of that war and Ambassador Crocker was the ambassador in Iraq, those goals had changed. It was simply a stable country that vaguely worked that wouldn't attack us and we can go.

We may see the same for Afghanistan. No one has won in Afghanistan. It's the graveyard of empires. Let's see how the administration goes.

GERGEN: Anderson, one last point. What the president's new budget suggests is he does want to get out of Iran and Afghanistan fairly quickly. His budget assumes that we're going to get a lot of budget savings by reducing our costs in the next few years in both those places.

COOPER: Clearly, he's also hoping European countries are going to add in more troops to Afghanistan, but so far no takers on that.

David Gergen, thank you very much, doing double duty tonight, and Michael Ware, as well, doing double duty.

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ANDERSON COOPER: Well, tonight a trip to one of the most dangerous cities on earth, not in Iraq or Afghanistan or Darfur. We're talking about a place just across the border from El Paso, Texas.

Mexico is on the -- well, some say it's on the brink of civil war. Drug cartels ruling large areas across the border, are in control of areas, intimidating police, mayors. Thousands have been killed. The government seems helpless sometimes against the violence, and the danger is spreading here into the U.S.

Mexican gangs are turning Phoenix into a kidnap-for-ransom capital. Texas Governor Rick Perry is begging Washington to send 1,000 troops to the border, and the State Department is urging students on spring break to be careful.

Also this week the U.S. attorney general announced a massive drug raid and roundup.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: More than 750 people have been arrested in the United States and also in Mexico. More than $59 million in illegal drug proceeds and large amounts of narcotics and weapons have been seized in the United States by law enforcement authorities.


COOPER: The Justice Department says more than -- the drug cartels operate in more than 230 cities in the United States.

There's going to be more weapons, more drug and death. Tonight Michael Ware brings you to the front lines in this surging battle. It's in the city of Juarez. It's a city that is under siege in many ways, only a few miles from America.

But first I want to warn you: some of the images you're going to see are difficult to watch, but the story, we think, is important. Here's Michael's "360 Dispatch."


MICHAEL WARE (voice-over): This is how American Jose Molinar knew his wife was dead. He saw these television pictures of her bullet-riddled car broadcast from just across the boarder in Juarez City, Mexico, minutes from his Texas home.

JOSE MOLINAR: As soon as the image came up, I saw her truck, and I knew what had happened right then and there.

WARE: His wife, Marisela, a U.S. resident and mother of two, was gunned down doing a last-minute favor, giving a Juarez government lawyer a ride to go shopping.

MOLINAR: Wrong place, wrong time. That's the only way I can describe that.

WARE: Marisela died close to the border crossing, just yards from U.S. soil. It was her passenger who was the gunman's target. He was shot multiple times. She was killed by a single shot to the chest. This is the cartel war in Mexico, a conflict raging on America's doorstep, a conflict in which Juarez police officers like this one, under attack from a drug gang, are fighting for their lives, while the drug cartels are battling throughout the city for control of a lucrative drug route into the United States.

Sixteen hundred people killed in this city last year. That's three times more than the most murderous city in America, and 50 of them were police officers. This year, in just two months, 400 more already murdered.

We saw the most recent victims laying in the city's morgue, overflowing with bodies, many unidentified cartel members destined for mass graves. They'd been brutally killed by rivals: beheaded, tortured, strafed with bullets.

But now the cartels are renewing a favorite tactic: intimidating government leaders. This time they're doing it by killing cops one by one.

MAYOR JOSE REYES FERRIZ, CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO: They started killing police officers, and not while they were doing police work but when they were coming out of their homes and getting into their cars to go to the police station.

WARE: This sign says it all: a cartel vowing to kill one person every 48 hours until this man, the chief of police, stands down. At first he refused to go until, on one of the days when we were there, and he'd finally had enough, after the cartel had killed eight of his officers in less than a week.

In the hours following his resignation, we rode on patrol with police officers out on the streets, the entire force on high alert, the cartel war grinding on.

(on camera) And it's going to be a long war with most of the advantages in the cartels' favor. Their gunmen outnumber these police, and they're better armed. And the body count continues to rise.

(voice-over) Now the mayor's family is being targeted, a cartel threatening to behead them wherever they are. Police in the U.S. suspect the cartel is planning to cross into Texas to get to the family where they're hiding.

Meanwhile, over the past year, the Mexican army has moved into Juarez. Over 2,000 soldiers sent as part of a huge operation that has 45,000 troops combating the cartels across Mexico.

"This is not going to be won quickly," says Mexican government spokesman Enrique Torres. "While we know the monster is big, we don't have any idea just how big it is."

And though the U.S. this year is giving Mexico about $400 million to combat the cartels, officials on both sides of the border privately agree. The war as it's fought now cannot be won, which is something Jose Molinar's wife probably knew before she was gunned down.

(on camera) This drug war in Juarez robbed you of your mother. I mean, how do you carry that?

ALBA PRIETO: Day by day, just... I always think she's at work.

WARE (voice-over): And the unwinnable war that killed her mother rages on.


COOPER: It's amazing, also, I mean, not just the violence there but how it's spilling over into the United States. The Justice Department saying the cartels are operating in 230 American cities.

WARE: Absolutely. I mean, first there's the distribution networks. I mean, by and large the Mexican cartels have taken over from the Colombian cartels in terms of the power.

Then, once they ship the drugs to America, they have to distribute it. Now they do that cutting deals with American gangs, but obviously they need people in place. They're spread throughout the United States to distribute. Then there's their intelligence-gathering. They have informants across the U.S. border.

And indeed, an American official confirmed to me what many in El Paso, Texas, were saying: the cartels will cross over into America, kidnap who they want, and take them back to Mexico and murder them.

But let's not forget, this whole war is fueled, first by America's demand for illicit drugs; and, secondly, it's being fought with American weapons that have been smuggled back over the border.

COOPER: Just incredible. Michael Ware, appreciate it. Thanks for going down there.