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tv   CBS Evening News With Katie Couric  CBS  October 5, 2009 6:30pm-7:00pm EDT

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>> couric: tonight, u.s. forces in afghanistan on the hunt for taliban militants who killed eight american soldiers in the deadliest single battle in more than a year. i'm katie couric. the weekend attack was almost a rerun of one of the worst ambushes of the war. >> be advised, we are in a bad situation. we need you to come in hot immediately. >> those figures are american soldiers lying dead on the ground. >> couric: tonight, as the president prepares to make some critical decisions about additional troops and a new strategy, we begin special extensive coverage of afghanistan, the road ahead. captioning sponsored by cbs this is the "cbs evening news"
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with katie couric. >> couric: good evening, everyone, pressure is building tonight on president obama to come up with a new strategy for afghanistan as u.s. casualties there continue to mount. hundreds of taliban militants attacked a u.s. outpost over the weekend, killing eight soldiers in the deadliest attack in more than a year. today, u.s. and afghan forces reportedly sealed off an area where the attackers are believed to be hiding. the ambush happened in eastern afghanistan. mandy clark is in the afghan capital of kabul tonight with the very latest. >> reporter: the fierce battle took place in the remote mountainous region bordering pakistan. about 300 local insurgents launched a coordinated early morning attack saturday against the american outpost which was being defended by just is 40 u.s. and afghan soldiers. after a bloody day-long fire
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fight, american air support was finally able to break the siege and drive off the insurgents. u.s. forces have suffered some of their worst casualties in this isolated province where they're trying to control the high mountain passes that insurgents use to cross the border. the weekend's heavy losses highlight a problem the u.s. is struggling to deal with. under the new strategy, american forces will abandon isolated combat outposts that are just too difficult to defend. the tragedy here is eight u.s. soldiers died fighting for an outpost that was going to close down anyway. mandy clark, cbs news, kabul. >> couric: that battle here inñi kamdesh was almost a carbon copy of one of the worst ambushes of the war just to miles away in wanat, nine u.s. soldiers were killed there in july of last year. in both attacks, american soldiers were sitting ducks,
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overexposed and outnumbered in enemy territory. the pentagon has called the afghan war an economy of force operation, meaning there are simply not enough troops and critics say the two deadly ambushes were the tragic and inevitable result. the attack is under investigation and our national security correspondent david martin has this exclusive and dramatic account of how that battle unfolded. >> this is miserable. it sure is. >> reporter: after nearly a months of relentless combat in afghanistan, the soldiers of second platoon charlie company are filling their last sandbags. >> doesn't this look like fun? go army. >> reporter: this is video they shot themselves just 12 days before they were supposed to go home. >> the last 12 days. >> is 1 days, we like to say. >> reporter: the outpost they are building is at a village called wanat, deep in a remote and isolated afghan valley surrounded by the mountain passes insurgents use to infiltrate from sanctuaries in
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pakistan. just four days later, it would come dangerously close to being overrun by an estimated 200 taliban fighters. >> they're within hand grenade range at this time. break. >> reporter: this is the scene apache helicopter pilots reported on camera tapes obtained by cbs news. furious fire fight, buildings in flames and the only officer still alive on the ground calling for help. >> be advised, we are a n a bad situation. >> i need you to come down immediately. >> i think they're pinned down good, bro, they don't want to lift their head. >> the apaches will have to lay down their cannon fire within ten meters of the american position. >> i know it's high risk but we need to get these guys. >> ten meters. >> you've got to be kidding me. >> reporter: more taliban are shooting down on them from those buildings. the apaches make run after devastating run. >> i'm winn a missile. >> there you go, that's how you do it. that's how you do it. >> reporter: they also come in firing their cannons but the
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taliban keep shooting back. >> you can see flashes down here like [no audio] lightning bugs. >> roger. >> reporter: a desperately needed medevac helicopter tries to get in through the maelstrom but instantly becomes a target. >> we're taking fire. we just got hit in the lower belly just port side of the aircraft. >> reporter: the apaches clear away a landing zone for the medevac. >> we've got several casualties that we still need to move. we'll be able to pick up two now and probably two more later, over. >> reporter: finally, reinforcements arrive and the tide of battle turns. the battle took place a year ago in a valley east of here that's now controlled by the taliban and it has triggered an investigation into why the 49 men of second platoon were left so exposed so deep in enemy territory. for much of its tour, the platoon was under incessant attack, hunkered down at a base that was surrounded by high ground and could only be supplied by helicopter. lieutenant jonathan brostrom set up a camera to record an assault
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on that base and when he was home on leave showed it to his father, retired army colonel david brostrom. >> i was frankly shocked. they were getting attacked and probed everyday. heavy attacks by enemy forces. >> reporter: brostrom's platoon and the other units fighting up and down the valley sometimes called in air strikes on houses from which they were taking fire. >> my son showed me that, i said you know, you just lost that village. >> reporter: we dropped 86 is bombs with few questions asked a senior commander is quoted as saying in a center for the army lessons learned center obtained by cbs news. >> oh! what was that? >> reporter: they also fired white phosphorous artillery at what they believed was a taliban campfire. rounds which were never intended to be used against personnel. >> white phosphorous? >> yeah. >> reporter: they were supposed to be protecting the population
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but according to the report, the people whose homes were being leveled and neighborhoods turned into battlefields saw no improvement in their lives and no real evidence of security. >> i said "you know, son, you need to get out of there." and he said "we are. we're moving to another location." >> reporter: the new location at wanat was supposed to be less exposed but it was still in enemyer the dir. >> i knew the missioned that potential of being quite hazardous. >> reporter: david dzwik was the sergeant of the platoon. 49 americans and 24 afghan soldiers. >> i would have liked to have had another platoon up there with troops in the high ground. >> reporter: it was july and they were short of basic necessities. >> it's the second day, we were extremely low on water. we started running out of water, it's very hard to continue working through the heat of the day. >> reporter: which meant they had to take frequent breaks froi preparing their defenses. the villagers knew what was about to happen. >> a couple people from the village came up and said the
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enemy was going to attack. >> reporter: despite signs of an impending attack, unmanned surveillance drones were diverted to a higher priority mission. >> not having the surveillance was the concern for me. i... part of the planning was that we would have some. >> reporter: a camera pointed at the sky caught the first burst of machine gun fire. >> all hell broke loose. >> reporter: the first apache helicopters got there an hour and five minutes later. three-fourths of the americans were killed or wounded. >> i prided myself on being able to push forward and kind of go through to do the job. for the first time in my career i actually stopped dead in my tracks when i came across the scene up there. >> reporter: those figures are american soldiers lying down on the ground. one of them is david brostrom's son. >> what did my son and what did those other sons die for? you have to do the investigation so this doesn't happen again. >> reporter: many of the soldiers in these videos are no longer alive. nine were killed at wanat.
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an apache pilot said it all when he heard the toll. >> we will have additional fallen hero missions, i have a total of nine k.i.a.. over. >> damn it. >> reporter: type in soldiers dead holding a piece of terrain which two days later the u.s. abandoned to the enemy. david martin, cbs news, afghanistan. >> couric: a break with his predecessor, president obama has called afghanistan-- not iraq-- the central front in the war on terror. and back in the spring, he announce there had would be a new strategy. he'll be holding another meeting about that with his war council this wednesday. one key question, whether to send more u.s. troops to afghanistan where 869 americans have been killed in eight years of war. a war that began with a terrorist attack on america and a vow to hunt down those responsible. >> i can hear you. the rest of the world hears you.
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and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. (cheers and applause) >> couric: september 11, 2001, wasn't the first time america had heard from osama bin laden. since the 1998 embassy bombings in kenya and tanzania and the bombing of the u.s. u.s. "cole" in 2000, the united states had been pressuring the taliban regime to hand over the al qaeda leader, believed to be hiding out in afghanistan training terrorists. they did not comply. >> on my orders, the united states military has begun strikes against al qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the taliban regime in afghanistan. >> couric: by november, the u.s.-backed fighting force known as the northern alliance had reclaimed kabul. by december 7, the taliban stronghold of kandahar had fallen. >> there's no doubt that the united states thought that we had succeeded in afghanistan, that we had osama bin laden on
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the run, that this was a war that was essentially in the bag. >> couric: with hamid karzai in place as the interim leader of afghanistan, the drum beat of war moved west to iraq. >> the conduct of the iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the united nations. and a threat to peace. >> the problem was that he took his eye off the ball and linked two things that didn't go together, which is al qaeda and saddam hussein and osama bin laden and so things got much worse. >> couric: by october of 2006, there were 148,000 u.s. troops in iraq and just 21,000 in afghanistan. >> we gave the taliban time to regroup, chased them out of afghanistan, they regrouped in pakistan and now the years of neglect are coming back to haunt us. >> couric: the international council on security and development reports that today the taliban has a presence in 80% of the country, up from 54%
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just two years ago. >> i've already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops. >> couric: making good on a campaign promise, president obama called for a troop increase in afghanistan, bringing the number of u.s. forces there to a record 68,000. those troops face an enemy that's battle tested and extremely disciplined. when we return, lara logan with an inside look at the taliban-- stronger than ever. dad, here-look at this- your p.a.d. isn't just poor circulation in your legs causing you pain. ok-what is it? dad, it more than doubles your risk of a heart attack or stroke! you better read about plavix. if you have p.a.d., plavix can help protect you from a heart attack or stroke. plavix helps keep blood platelets from sticking together and forming clots- the cause of most heart attacks and strokes. talk to your doctor about plavix?
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(announcer) if you have a stomach ulcer or other condition that causes bleeding, you should not use plavix. taking plavix alone or with some other medicines including aspirin may increase bleeding risk. tell your doctor before planning surgery or taking aspirin or other medicines with plavix, especially if you've had a stroke. some medicines that are used to treat heartburn or stomach ulcers, like prilosec, may affect how plavix works, so tell your doctor if you are taking other medicines. if fever, unexplained weakness or confusion develops, tell your doctor promptly. these may be signs of ttp, a rare, but potentially life-threatening condition, reported sometimes less than 2 weeks after starting plavix. other rare but serious side effects may occur. >> couric: for eight years now, u.s. forces have faced two major enemies in afghanistan: the taliban and the terrain. it's a huge country the size of texas with 30 million people who speak 70 different languages and dialects. the battlefield is also diverse,
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from desert to tundra to lush valleys. and most challenging of all, the treacherous mountains. the hindu kush mountain range more than 500 miles long stretches across northern afghanistan. the range has nearly two dozen peaks, taller than 23,000 feet and in the winter temperatures have reached 24 below zero. they are virtually impassable to those who don't know them well. >> the taliban knows the terrain. they are able to use mountain passes that we are simply unaware of that only very local people know. >> couric: in the south, there are scorching deserts. daytime temperatures can reach 120 degrees near jalalabad. blinding sand storms brought by western winds can last for days and bring travel to a stand still. for the afghan people, life can be as challenging as the land and the climate. nearly three quarters of afghans are illiterate. more than half live in poverty.
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all of them want stability. >> you have all of us wanting and praying and hoping for a decent central government which will govern them equitably. this is a country that wants to be delivered. it wants modernization. >> couric: and the water and tools needed to grow crops. right now, poppies-- used to make heroin-- account for 60% of the country's economy and funnel as much as $100 million a year to the taliban. cutting off that cash flow without cutting off income to farmers is a challenge as daunting as the mountains themselves. so who are the taliban? once known for roadside bombings and suicide attacks, they've developed into a sophisticated fighting force that launches many of their assaults from safe havens just over the boarder in pakistan. our chief foreign affairs correspondent lara logan in kabul has an exclusive look at how the taliban has come back
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with a vengeance. >> reporter: a brazen daylight attack on the outskirts of the afghan capital. this is the face of the enemy u.s. troops are fighting in afghanistan today. unlike our last encounter with the taliban three years ago, this time only our local afghan team was permitted to see their operations. what they found was disturbing. inside the vehicle, this man, an afghan policeman the taliban had just captured. taliban fighters drove his police car through town for all to see. masters in the art of propaganda their commander, amir hamza boasted they'd seized many hostages from the main road. "i can show you, if you want" he added casually. and show us they did. this captured policeman's hand shaking with fear as he was forced to hold up his i.d. card,
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u.s. flag clearly visible. we don't know what happened to him, but the taliban have executed many policemen. the main highway is fertile ground for their attacks here. supply convoys torched right on the outskirts of kabul. these days, not even the afghan capital is safe. taliban fighters are able to blend easily with the local population here, moving in and out of kabul at will. they're able to carry out spectacular al qaeda-style attacks with sophisticated military backing that many here believe comes from pakistan. commander hamza told us his taliban had only a few small guns when they started to fight back against the u.s. "now we control the main road close enough to see the american base," he said. hamza is part of what's known here as "old taliban." one of those wh duringation in e
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1980s when the u.s. was armed afghanistan's holy warriors to defeat the soviets. after the russians limped home, afghanistan descended into civil war. five years later, the taliban emerged out of the chaos. a radical religious and political movement drawn from afghanistan's biggest muslim tribe, the pashtuns. by the september 11 attacks of 2001, 90% of afghanistan was in n taliban hands. commander hamza told us after 9/11 when the americans attacked our government collapsed but our organization did not. we went home and waited for orders. one of hamza's young fighters, or new taliban, has a different story. he's part of a new generation driven to fight the americans out of deep hatred. he claims u.s. soldiers killed
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his father and two brothers. "now," he says "i'll fight till the last drop of my blood." al qaeda fighters helped resurrect battered taliban forces from their defeat. now the two have the same goal: seeing the u.s. fail. >> absolutely right, absolutely. and they are depending on one another in such a way that one cannot survive without the others. >> reporter: the fight against the taliban has become inseparable from the war against al qaeda. the momentum now on the side of the insurgents and terrorists. they're watching anti-war feeling in the u.s. grow and they smell victory. lara logan, cbs news, kabul. >> couric: coming up next, where has the u.s. strategy gone wrong? we'll ask two key senators and vietnam war veterans that and other critical questions. ddle o?
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>> couric: as the united states enters the ninth year of war in afghanistan and president obama plans a new strategy, we asked two key senators, two vietnam veterans, to look down the road ahead. i put the same critical questions to john mccain, the ranking republican on the arms services committee, and democrat john kerry who chairs the foreign relations committee. what has been the biggest problem with u.s. strategy in afghanistan to date?
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>> well, we're entering the ninth year of a war that has had almost every year the same as the year before. we've had a strategy without a... an appropriate focus on the problems of afghanistan. it's been a strategy for eight years focused on iraq. afghanistan has suffered for the lack of resources, lack of strategy, lack of coordination, corruption of government, and all of that now we have to try to undo in a very short span of time. >> i think it has been insufficient resources and the right strategy, some of it dictated by the practical aspects that we had to succeed in iraq in order to not fail in afghanistan. >> couric: what does success in afghanistan look like? >> it looks like a country that is no longer a... cannot be a base for attacks by extremist religious organizations on the united states of america and our
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allies. it's a country that has a secure population so that the economic and political and other aspects of their life can grow and they can live in an environment of security. >> success is having a sufficiently stable governance situation where al qaeda is not capable of creating a sanctuary from which to plot an attack against the united states and where it will not destabilize pakistan. pakistan is, frankly, the center of our strategic focus and in many ways more important than afghanistan per se. though afghanistan is important in achieving the goal of pakistan. >> couric: are there limits to u.s. power and what it can accomplish? >> there are very clear limits to u.s. power and there are probably even more clear limits today than in many times in the past. this is a new era of american foreign policy, a time where we
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need consensus, we need other nations to be at our side, and we simply can't do this alone. >> i think there are definite limits to u.s. power and what it can accomplish. we... i think the reason why we didn't do a better job on afghanistan is our attention-- either rightly or wrongly-- was on iraq. but i certainly am confident that the strategy devised by general mcchrystal and general petraeus and admiral mullen can and will succeed with sufficient number of troops and expanded afghan military and all of the kinds of strategy that provide a secure environment for the people. >> couric: general mcchrystal says he needs more troops to get the job done in afghanistan. but should he get them? senators mccain and terry respond to that critical question and more and we'll hear from secretary of state hillary clinton tomorrow. we'll be right back. every sunday, lasagna at mom's was a family tradition.
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(announcer) get your first prescription free and save on refills at advair. now you know. >> couric: our special cev "afghanistan. the road ahead," continues tomorrow night. we'll look at america's long history that country dating back to when the u.s. was arming the very fighters who are now enemy. plus, david martin in the field with general stanley mcchrystal. his strategy for progress and why he says it has to work also, how u.s. marines took back a village from the taliban. that and secretary of state hillary clinton tomorrow night. and for all of the stories me this series, you can go to and click on "afghanistan tfrpltd road ahead." that the "cbs evening news" for tonight. i'm katie couric. thank you for watching.
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i'll see you tomorrow. good night. captioning sponsored by cbs a dopping story we have been following all day. protests for dc teachers to keep their job and as armando trull tells us in the last hour we are learned lawsuits will be filed. hey hey ho ho. >> hundred of students took to the streets to protest the teachers and counselors who were fired last week. >> a 30-year veteran treated like a criminal, like i had sold something. -- stole something. >> reporter: the protester did not get the answers they


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