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tv   CNN Saturday Morning  CNN  February 13, 2010 8:00am-9:30am EST

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in haiti, for kimberly and so many others like her. we won't forget. we'll keep coming back down here to haiti and bring you the stories of what's happening here. i'm sanjay gupta in port-au-prince. more news on cnn starts right now. hello, everybody, from the cnn center, this is "cnn saturday morning" for saturday february 13th. i'm t.j. holmes. >> i'm betty nguyen. we have a loot to tell you about. >> a big story, largest military offensive in the long afghan war is taking place right now. nato forces battling taliban fighters in the hellmann province down of marjah, in the south. marjah is the last stronghold in the taliban in that region. we're getting world that three
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u.s. service members were killed today in an unrelated attack, not related, again, to that what jar offensive. three other people dead. three others wounded after a shooting at the university of alabama in huntsville. the suspect is an assistant biology professor. cnn affiliate whnt caught up with her when she was taken into custody. listen to what she had to say. >> do you have anything to say? do you know what about happened? >> it didn't happen. there's no way. >> what about the people who died? >> there's no way. they're still alive. >> all right. there are three people who are dead. the suspect's name is amy bishop. according to cnn affiliate waff authorities say the shooting occurred at a faculty meeting in which bishop learned that she would not receive tenure. and a horrible, horrible start to the 2010 winter olympics in vancouver. last night's opening ceremonies went off but they had to be
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changed last minute to pay tribute to a young man who died in a horrible accident the day before the opening ceremonies. talking at a luge athlete from georgia killed after crashing on a training run. you see a picture there of the luge. this is when they lay down on those boards and they're going down this long track at some 90 miles an hour. this particular track, there had been several crashes already. some of the athletes complained it was just too fast. now, it is being inspected. but still, expected to reopen in time for the first luge event which happens at 8:00 eastern time. icy roads are a big headache this morning in atlanta and other parts of the deep south. but the hassle isn't limited to just roadways. tlent's hartsfield-jackson's airport had to cancel hundreds of flights as four inches of snow fell yesterday. the airport has some advice for travelers today, go online. check the status of your flight before you get to the airport. and, of course, we always advise
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you to pack some patience. back to that operation in southern afghanistan. nato troops say they have gained a foot hold in part of the taliban controlled town of marjah. our frederick is there. where have you heard as to where the troops are right now and what progress is being made? >> reporter: hi, betty. what we're hearing is that this operation commenced in the early morning hours under the cover of darkness. you are seeing air assaults in that town of marjah to establish that foot hold. this was followed by a ground offensive. just got off the phone with spokes people for nato there in southern afghanistan, and they are telling me right now that they do have that foothold. they do control large parts of the city. they do say that they are meeting scattered resistance there in the city of marjah, so what you're looking at there is isolated firefights and attacks on the soldiers. the other thing interesting thing that they were telling me
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is that the troops have already made a lot of interesting discoveries there. they say that they have discovered a lot of explosives. they have discovered ten improvised explosive devices. also, artillery shells, anti-aircraft shells, and also heroin as well. you can see this operation is going on. they are sweeping the area and finding all sorts of things. what we're hearing from the battlefield as well, betty, is that up until now, five taliban fighters have been killed and at least eight have been taken into custody for further questioning. the word that we're getting from the u.s. military and from isef is that separation in this very dangerous territory is going exactly the way the u.s. military and its allies had planned for it to go, betty. >> so it is on course. it is under way at this hour. it is largest offensive in the war. thanks so much for that because we're going to try to get a live report now from the ground.
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t.j.? >> atity ti yia abawi is on the. frederick is getting reports from the commanders in kabul that it is going exactly as they had planned. that is the view and maybe the stuff they're telling us there from kabul. you're on the ground there as well. is it, in fact, going exactly as they had planned? >> reporter: t.j., i can tell you from the men on the ground here, actually going better than they expected. again, they expect -- prepare for the worse and expect the worse, but luckily they haven't had any casualties yet and hopefully they won't have any casualties. when we talked to the men here they were expecting to get on the ground and have a firefight right from the start. many of the marines i spoke to did tell me prior to the battle they did expect this to be one of the worst fights they have experienced. these are men deployed on multiple deployments in iraq and afghanistan. they came into marjah, the city
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of marjah, at around 2:00 a.m., boots on the ground, pitch-black dark except for the stars and flares in the sky. they have to deal with the rough terrain. this is an area that has canals and irrigation system built by the u.s. in the 1950s and '60s. and those were the challenges that they faced in the very beginning. and they did have four lightly injured troops who were medi vacced out and it was because of the train, not because of the enemy activity. but when the sun rose that the shooting began from the taliban. the taliban did attack. we were running through the field wsz the u.s. marines, with the afghan soldiers as we were being fired at by the taliban. throughout the day, from morning until now, late afternoon, early evening, sporadic gunfire, rocket propelled grenades. the u.s. military have been fighting back. they've been fighting back from
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other areas of this city. in fact, two civilians were brought to the marines i'm embedded with. 16-year-old and 18-year-old injured by the fighting who told the u.s. marines that their house was taken over by the taliban, used to attack the u.s. troops. they say that there are more fighters out there and they're preparing and planning to also continue their attacks. this is their last stronghold in hellmann province. the marines do not expect them to give up so easily. t.j.? >> i wanted to talk to you a little bit as well here. another question about the level of resistance. there were some thought that these -- because the military gave them a heads up, essentially, announcing this offensive was coming, this was giving them an opportunity to dig in, to lay booby traps. what is the level of resistance as you would describe it? they are running into. and also, about those booby traps, about those issues of booby trapped buildings, are they running into a lot of that that they're having to diffuse
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before they're able to move forward? >> reporter: absolutely, t.j. the ring around marjah, the city of marjah, they call it the ied belt. the insurgents have had time to plan. we've been hearing explosions all day long. they've -- the marines have been exploding ieds that they've been finding along the way, particularly a vehicle called assault feature, with the convoys coming into the city. the marines, they have dogs that are called ied detective dogs where they are able to sniff out the ieds in the area and then they do detonate it themselves to make sure that there are no casualties when it comes to the u.s. marines. we are hearing that the majority of the ieds have been detonated preventively. some have gone off, but luckily no marines have been injured, killed because of these ieds. t.j.? >> atia abawi embedded with
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those forces right now in the middle of that offensive. thank you so much. i want to turn to the pentagon and our barbara starr. she is following this offensive from there. she joins us now. brar bra, what are you hearing from the top brass as far as how this operation is going? >> well, as, you know, frederick just said, commanders are saying in these very early hours it's going as expected, as they planned. but let's be very clear. this is just a few hours old. u.s. coalition forces on the ground, moving very slowly, as atia said, encountering some resistance. the question will be, of course, how much resistance, how long will this last over the next many days. fundamentally, betty, the key question is whether the afghan forces and the afghan government can now move in once the fighting stops, with the security, with the economic assistance, with the aid, with the rebuilding to offer to the people of marjah, to offer to the afghan citizens so they
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believe that going with their own government is a better option than going with the taliban. i think we have some sound for you about the british commander -- sorry, i guess we don't have that sound. the british commander just yesterday talking about this, that this is the ultimate goal. and this is going to be the ultimate test of president obama's tragedy in afghanistan. even of the surge strategy, sending more u.s. troops in, but for one key goal, making the afghans able to stand on their own two feet. betty? >> yeah, the british general messenger said it's about the security of the population, not fighting down insurgent numbers. but in light of that, if they're truly trying to go in there and re-establish the afghanistan government in that area and route out the taliban, those taliban that does say scape, essentially are they going to set up shop somewhere else in afghanistan? >> that's been the taliban strategy. they're a very savvy lot. all of the way along.
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they're not showing any inclination to really give up at this point. you know, we've seen operations in hellmann province, in the east for months and months now, and this has been with the taliban moving around every time there's fighting someplace, they go somewhere else. what they're looking at in this area of marjah is how many taliban may, in fact, move on to another region and how many may stay and fight, because at the same time, of course, the afghan government of hamid karzai is trying to extend that hand and say, you know, come in, give up your arms, be part of the government. not a lot of inclination on the part of many taliban to do that right now, betty. >> another part of this is to really destroy the poppy crops, the opium trade there that fuels the taliban war and fuels them as well. so in doing so, i mean, how much is that going to work?
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how much of a at the tidetrimen that be? will that break them? >> afghanistan really provides, of course, the majority of the world's heroin crop. marjah is the heroin breadbasket, if you will, of afghanistan. this is the major poppy growing area. the taliban intimidate the farmers here, pay them, force them to grow the heroin poppies. but there is no other crop for them. so crucial to this will be, again, for that afghan government to provide the farmers with incentives and the ability to grow something else, in particular, wheat. the price differential between the heroin poppy and wheat is coming very close together. so what they need to do now is convince the farmers to grow wheat, get their products to market, but to hit them in the growing season. you know, how to bridge this economic gap between destroying the poppy crop and the next round of the planting season
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when you can plant and raise a wheat crop that you can actually take to market. it's that economic incentive that may actually be the winning ticket here, betty. >> yes. seems like that is going to be the key to all of this. barbara starr, thanks so much for that insight. we really appreciate it. joining us live from the pentagon. the pentagon is telling us about the mission. nato already laying out its plans as well. part of the plan is to have government officials ready and in place to assume control of marjah within days and quickly begin construction and clean-up project to provide jobs. what about right now, what about today? our nic robertson in london with more on that. nic, hello to you. >> reporter: hello, t.j. well, it is the hope of nato commanders, they've said within two to three to four days they could have an afghan sort of official representation, representative of the afghan government back in marjah, taking over from the taliban. but when pressed on that, the nato spokesman did say, well, we
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don't know how long it's really going to take, it's going to be a matter of time. another nato commander said it could be 60 to 90 days. and he answered that question in this way, saying general mcchrystal has said that we have won when the afghan people think we have won. that means in this particular context, when the afghans in marjah believe that nato is providing and the afghan troops with them are providing security for them, better security than they get with the taliban, making them safe from the taliban, that's when people are going to think they have won. that's when it's going to be safe for an afghan government, local representatives, if you will, from the marjah area, to take control. we've heard of hundreds of tribal leaders meeting with nato officials in the lead up to this operation. that's what it's all about. keeping the tribal leaders on-site through the operation, allowing them to move back in. their continued support depends on the reaction of the local
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populati population, the farmers living in the area, how they are effected, how many of their own friends and family members they see being perhaps killed or involved in the fighting. all this is going to play into that time line, t.j. >> but, nic, we hear this talked about it seems like all the time. it oftentimes doesn't seem to work. is there something about this time, this operation, the focus on marjah, that they believe they're getting it right this time and how they're going about involving the local government, civilian, farmers, they think they've got the formula right this time? >> reporter: i think they believe that they have the formula about as right as they can get it with what they have available. they have more troops available, so it's going to mean that securing the area can perhaps happen in a less heavy-handed way as we've seen other parts of hellmann have the taliban beaten out of them. for example, two summers ago the marines operating not far from marjah took a huge number of thousands of artillery rounds to
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force the taliban out after a month-long fight. that cost the support of the local population in that area for a time. so that's part of the dynamic here. but an important part is not just this military operation, but it is really disconnecting the taliban from the population which will give a political imperative to the taliban to see that they -- although everyone knows that they can't win this militarily, the taliban knows that, the nato knows that, it will give the taliban the idea that it is going to be sometime in the not too distant future time to talk because they're losing influence in the local population to run the parallel government. it's a very strategic political dimension behind it as well. t.j.? >> and that part of it may be even more important than that military dimension you just mentioned. nic robertson this morning, we appreciate you. thanks.
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i'm cnn meteorologist bonnie schneider, tracking this historical snowstorm in the south. we are tallying up the numbers. the snowfall totals are just incredible. atlanta, 3.6 inches of snow on the ground. and making a little bit less, more in columbia. i want to show you a live picture of atlanta at this hour because we do have the sun sort of shining but it is very unusual to see snow-covered trees here like this. on average we only see a couple inches a year. now the ground's completely covered. a picture of the downtown skyline, looking nice, looking pretty. i'm glad this happened on a friday into a saturday, so a lot of feel have the day off. they can enjoy the snow. where is the storm right now? it is bringing some very light snow showers to virginia beach and the outer banks of north carolina. most of this is light. i'm not expecting any more accumulation with this storm. definitely temperatures are very
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cold in this region. outside right now, across the mid atlantic we have numbers that are below freezing. it's 24 degrees in charlotte where five inches of snow is on the ground. we also have 30 in richmond and 33 in norfolk. really this storm pulled down some very cold air. and not just in the mid atlantic but in the southeast we're also looking at some very chilly temperatures. check this out in mobile, alabama, where there was a trace of snow, very unusual to get snow right along the gulf coast. but we did. we even had a trace of snow in pensacola as well. 28 degrees. watch out for black ice this morning. there is another threat of snow for the mid atlantic this week. i'll have more on that coming i'll have more on that coming up.
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all right. so along with the major offensive in afghanistan, nato has launched a new effort, this one online. >> the strategy here is for afghans to help the military get the message out. josh levs joins us with this this morning. >> good morning, everybody. if you've been following the news you know about this big mission we're talking to you about inside afghanistan. you might not know about this. this is it right here. it's called 30 days through afghanistan. it's basically online. and it's a new effort in which the military led by u.s. troops is working with afghans to get their message out. you can see here the gibbi ibeg video. someone comes on and announces what day it is in the 30 days. and in the next clip you will
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hear from a young student named mohammed. let's watch that. >> there are many challenges on our way to prosperity and to peace, but the will is there amongst the youth, amongst others, too. the will to be safe, to be -- the will to be stronger, more educated, and more successful as people and as a country. >> you can't help but see the future of afghanistan in the faces of mohammed. now we just hope to continue to have the opportunity to make their country great. >> so that's the kind of thing you're seeing each day in which u.s. troops are going around and talking with different afghans and presenting some of their words out there. it certainly is the military's point of view that they're putting out that way. let's zoom back in on the screen. i am going to show you where i posted the lynx. it's called 30 days through afghanistan. they talk to you about what
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their mission is. each day they post a new video. you can say up to day four right there. they allow you to interact not only with the people who are part of the military but also with the people they introduce you to. let's go to the screen because i'm going to show you where i posted a link to all of this. it's on our blog this morning. cnn.com/josh and facebook and twitter. joshl jo joshlevzcnn. we will be keeping an eye on that and what nato thinks it achieves. >> we will be watching closely, too. thank you so much for that. cell phones is a call at least out there to try to make them more affordable and free in some cases. >> we'll explain when "cnn >> we'll explain when "cnn saturday morning" continues. it guides.
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staying connected during tough economic times. that sounds good to a lot of people out there. we have a downturn in this economy. and many people still need that cell phone. our tech guru mario armstrong joining us this morning with a program to help us understand programs out there that can actually help people get these phones. again, this is no small thing here. this can be very important to a lot of people, mario.
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>> absolutely, t.j. we're talking about a tough economic time. i mean, i know personally extended family members that i'm helping right now, personally, that have been laid off, that are looking for work. i know of some other family friends that are dealing with other folks have been laid off or are trying to take care of their kids and they want to get back to work. what they don't have is that one thing that we all kind of take for granted, and that is a cell phone, that constant link of communication. >> it can be important for people looking for jobs as well. you've got to stay connected out there on the go. first thing that may come to a lot of people's mind, is this another government program? where is this money coming from, who is going to pay to put free cell phones in people's hands? >> this is happening from telecommunications companies and it's not the government actually paying for it although the government supports these programs through a fund that's called the universal service fund. now, this was really all started back in 1984 through the reagan administration with a program called a lifeline assistance program. so this is back in the day for
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those traditional landline phones. now it's being adopted to help people with mobile phones. so you have two companies right now. one is called safe link wireless, and they are in about 19 states right now and have about 2 million customers that are currently using this particular free phone and free service. now, they only get about 55 to 68 minutes per month is what i was able to find off the website. there's another company, too, t.j., quick, called assurance wireless. assurance wireless is connected to virgin mobile and sprint and boost. they are offering, get this, 200 free minutes a month for people and a free phone. they're only available right now in four states but looking to expand their program. >> and when we say free, you know, nothing in this world is free. we hear that. are we really talking it it's as simple as -- we will get to the qualifications in a second. but if you are qualified, free phone, free minutes.
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is it that simple? >> it really is. in the case of the assurance wireless situation, they are not setting up people with bills. you are not going to receive a bill. you do not have to sign a credit check. this is all about prepaid type of service that is already being donated to you. you will not see a bill. the only thing you will have to pay for are any overages over your 200 minutes. if you go over the 2 p00 minute you pay ten cents a minute extra. you will know what that amount is going into it. >> all right. so it slounds like it really is free. how tough is it to qualify for this? >> yeah, that's a great question. so we're talking about folks that are on medicaid or you are receiving the free school lunch program or you are on public housing. but there also qualifies people that are in temporary assistance, needy families. there are a lot of different ways that you can qualify. my best suggestion would be to
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logon to my blog or these companies websites, assurance wireless or safelink wireless to find out what the specific qualifications were. >> assurance wireless and the other one again? >> safelink wireless. >> we're going to get those up because a lot of people would be interested in that. safelink wireless and assurance wireless. that is important information that people need right now. mar mario, appreciate you bring that to us. >> good to see you. take care. reminder for our viewer, every saturday this time, our tech guru mario armstrong giving us the scoop on what's happening out there. you don't want to miss him. again, the latest on technology from mario armstrong right here every single weekend.
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checking our top stories. assistant professor at the university of alabama in huntsville is facing murder charges this morning. police say amy bishop who teaches biology at that school went on a shooting rampage, killing three faculty members, three others were wounded. and according to cnn affiliate waff authorities say the shooting happened at a faculty meeting in which bishop learned she would not receive tenure.
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a string of shootings in tampa. it happened at a convenience store yesterday when police say 53-year-old andre watkins stole a pickup truck. he then drove to a house and killed a 19-year-old woman. watkins is suspected in dilling two other people in separate shootings. right now we want to update you on the latest from afghanistan. the u.s. and nato forces are rolling out a monumental fight against the taliban this hour. here's why you need to watch this one play out. one, it's happening in the city of marjah which is an area considered to be a key role in the taliban's opium smuggling network. that's how they fund their operations. let's get more on this because retired army lieutenant colonel maginnis is here. we understand there's been no air strikes so far and the troops went in at night. strategy behind this, explain how that's at play. >> yes, betty. it's critical that we take advantage of our real skills at night fighting, which is what we train to do, night vision
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goggles and so forth. we go in there and we get a foothold, as the marines already have, atia has already reported on. then you can expand from that foothold. really the problem has been getting through the mine fields and the ied fields that they put together. and we use, of course, the assault bridger which is a -- >> explain how that works because there are land mines, there are booby traps in and around this city. >> absolutely this is a 70-ton, the vehicle has a 15-foot plow in front. carries thousands of pounds of c-4 explosive that they can shoot out in front and clear mine fields. of course, they have dogs that can sniff out a variety of ied. explosive. so we're doing all that as much as we can at night. and now obviously it's daytime and has been for a number of hours. and we're beginning to pursue the remnants of the taliban that
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didn't flee the area that are going to stay in the bunkers and fight us to their death, which is essentially we're going to be accommodating because we want to protect the population as best we can and we want to quickly transition to the afghan national government so that they can bring services and really win the hearts and minds of the people. >> i know it's all speculation at this point. do you have any idea of how many of those taliban fighters that might have stayed behind? we're hearing numbers between 1,000 and 2,000. >> and, of course, i don't know that you'll ever know, betty, because a lot of them are going to blend in to the general population. that city is maybe 80,000. and, of course, we have some indication because we've been talking about this for weeks. now, we have probably seen a lot of people heading south, toward the mountains, away from that area where they have more safety from, of course, our pursuit. but it's very important to understand that there will be some jihadists that will want to
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stand and fight and they'll diaz we've already seen, five have been killed thus far. >> is it true that the locals there,many of them are assisting the taliban because the taliban has provided them with schools, provided them with the opium trade. they're making money there under the taliban leadership. >> there's no question, betty. they've provided a shadow government, discipline under sharia law and the poppy production which fuels the taliban throughout the region. now the shachallenge is to reeq the locals so they can grow wheat or barley or whatever to feed the population and deny the taliban the source of poppy which, of course, makes opium for heroin production in which 90% comes from afghanistan across the world. so this is absolutely critical, t strategic to cut the legs out
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from underneath the taliban. >> in order for it to work they have to change the civilian mindset to get away from the opium, heroin trade and grow that wheat that the government is talking about. but are they going to be able to do that because the locals there, many of them distrust the government. that's why they've gone with the taliban. >> with good reason. and general mcchrystal has made it very clear, it's the afghan people that are going to tell us when we win. we have to provide long-term security. the afghans have to have afghan government in place that they trust. they have to have civil services, they have to have jobs and education. you have to do all the things you would in any part of the world where you want to really win the hearts and the minds of the people. this is incredibly important. very difficult. we can kill people but we can't win hearts and minds with rifles. so it's going to take a concerted effort. i think that this is really going to determine whether or not this whole strategy that we're now venturing forward is going to be successful.
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>> that is so true because if you don't win the hearts and minds, the taliban could come back, set up shop once again and, you know, we're dealing with the same situation. lieutenant colonel, thank you for your time. we do appreciate it. >> thank you, betty. we want to turn to the white house now. kate baldoun is keeping an eye on things there. kate, of course, there's a lot on the line there in afghanistan in this offensive. but as always, something on the line politically. what is that for the president? >> reporter: yeah, this is really high stakes for the president. i'm sure there's no -- that's not actually very sure pricing because, look, this is his war now. and when it comes down to it, this is the first -- this operation is the first major offensive since president obama announced he was sending in 30,000 additional troops to fight in afghanistan. so this can be seen as a first test or a real test of the president's new strategy in the region. so just there right then, t.j., i mean, there is a lot at stake
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politically. remember, the president has set a deadline for when he wants to begin to pull troops out. so this operation, this offensive and the mission at large, the objective here is to oust the taliban, stabilize the country and hand over security to the afghan people and the afghan government. and all of that needs to happen and needs to show success before the president can reach his ultimate goal of beginning to withdraw troops in sdwr s is in. that's still a lot of progress and a lot of ifs that need to happen to meet that goal. >> as we know and have seen over the years, the public can grow weary of war, of constant death, troop deaths. so how is the president going to go about building up that public support, maybe even keeping the support for one thing, but also gaining momentum for that public support? >> yeah. there's no easy answer there. that is a very tough job because you know public support is essential in continuing to fund
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a war and continuing to keep momentum and keep morale up for such a war. i think showing evidence of progress, success with this operation, with this offensive and with the mission at large, that would be the best way to really regain some public support. but remember, t.j., we've been talking about it in the most recent cnn poll which was conducted a month ago on this type of issues, 52%, majority of americans oppose this war in afghanistan. not an easy job ahead in regaining public support for this. >> kate baldoun from the white house, still a picturesque white house today with all the snow around. glad to see you all getting to work all right this morning. >> reporter: thank you. >> easy to say picturesque sitting in your warm seat here inside the studio, t.j. >> we're going through it in the south here as well. >> we got, what, three, three inches, four? >> got a little over three inches, yeah. >> plenty of snow down here in the south. we got it, too. in the meantime, though, we got to talk about this. want to get back to that developing story, shooting at the university of alabama.
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three people were killed. three others wounded. authorities say an assistant buy ji p biology professor pulled the trigger. catherine, we understand a woman is in custody. any idea as to what was the motive behind all this? >> apparently according to one of our local affiliates, it all came down to tenure. apparently she received word earlier in the day that she would not be receiving tenure. she is facing capital murder charges, betty, in the deaths of three first quarter kaaculty me the university of alabama in huntsville and the wounding of other employees. 42-year-old harvard educated amy bishop. she was arrested just outside the shelby sciences building behind me just minutes after the shooting occurred. about 4:00 yesterday afternoon. we know that the dead do include the chairman of the biological
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science department, gopi podila and maria davis and aidriel johnson and others, joseph leahy and luis cruz-vera and stephanie monticello also in stable condition at the hospital this morning. amy bishop actually spoke very briefly to reporters yesterday on her way to jail. here's what she had to say. >> ma'am, do you have anything to say? do you know about what happened? >> it didn't happen. there's no way. >> what about the people who died? >> there's no way. they're still alive. >> well, as you heard, amy bishop saying it didn't happen. one of the local affiliates is reporting again that she did receive a notification earlier in the day that she would not receive tenure and alleged li came to the campus and came into that faculty meeting and the
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shooting spree allegedly began. there will be no classes and no sporting events on this campus for the next vinceweek. we should learn a lot more about exactly what took place yesterday at a news conference scheduled here on campus coming up at noon today. >> we will be following that. catherine callaway joining us live. thank you. we are talking about a little bit earlier. you braved the conditions to get to work today. i chickened out, stayed in a hotel and so i didn't have to drive in. but a lot of people are dealing with it. >> yeah. your move was probably the smart move. >> thank you. >> it was a good move to make. >> this is why. >> this is why. we don't get this often in atlanta in the south. so it's nice. we can enjoy it because it did happen on a weekend. everybody can hunker down. we don't have to worry about the rush hour. that's great. still causing a few problems. but we're not done talking about snowstorms just yet. where is the next spot that's under the gun?
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bonnie schneider coming up next.
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right now. a national day of mourning in haiti.
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one month after the earthquake that devastated the country. thousands of people gathered in port-au-prince yesterday for a remembrance service to honor the dead. more than 212,000 people died and more than 300,000 people were injured. the start of the olympics overshadowed by this. an accident on the loounuge when athlete was killed. you can see him here. this is a georgian athlete. 21-year-old set to make his first start of the olympics. we're not showing you the end of that because his body was thrown going some 88 miles an hour on that luge track. his body rams into a metal pole. they weren't able to revive the young man. right before the olympics starts, he dies. that track had been given a lot of complaints because it is so fast. there have been many accidents, none fatal, but so many other accidents. but still, the track was inspected. it's going to reopen in time for the first luge event at 8:00 eastern tonight. meanwhile, treacherous driving conditions in the southeast today. a rare winter storm hit the
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region yesterday bringing several inches of snow to states that often go years without seeing any serious snowstorms. the roads, they did get icy as temperatures dropped into 220s overnight. you know what that meant, lots of car accidents. hundreds of flights were also canceled and schools, many of them are closed. so let's get the latest on the weather outside for you. bonnie schneider is in for reynolds wolf today. bonnie, i understand there is snow on the ground in just about all the 50 states. >> that's right. even in florida we had a trace in pensacola. measurable snow though in atlanta. 3.6 inches on the ground. more for the south of the city. the average, two inches a year. and you're right, sometimes we don't even see that. so a lot of snow. also into the carolinas we had five inches in both columbia and in charlotte. right now the carolinas kind of getting a little taste of the snow. it's almost pretty much over. temperatures are cold though. so black ice will be a concern throughout the morning. it's really cold. this storm pulled down much colder air just like the one in the mid atlantic did. and that's really what set the
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stage for this unusual storm. we had cold air in place. plus, we have the el nino weather pattern on the southern branch of the dip stream carrying the weather systems. this happens a lot. we get a lot of rain, wet weather here in the south. when you have that cold air and you have moisture like this you do get snow. so we're watching for that and we're also tracking the potential for another winter storm. this one will bring light snowfall possibly to the mid atlantic. it's a fast mover. stay tuned. we have a lot more coming up on we have a lot more coming up on "cnn saturday morning."
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a lot happening in the sports world this weekend. actually have the big nba all-star game in dallas, daytona 500 this weekend. danica patrick making her debut today in a nationwide series.
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you have the olympics happening. a lot of this going on. so we have to talk to our business sports analyst, rick horrow, also visiting a professor over at harvard law school because, betty, when you think harvard law -- >> you think rick or low. >> of course you do. rick, good morning to you, kind sir. you're joining us on skype this morning. appreciate you being here. the olympics, we hope to talk about the big celebration. we saw the ceremony last night. just a somber note here, after the death of this luge athlete, i mean, tell us just how much of a damper does this really put on things moving forward and does the olympics committee have kind of an issue here because there have been complaints about this luge track? >> well, first of all, it's a $6 billion olympic cost and one of the costs was to build the track. it was satisfying all safety concerns. it checked out. very fast, the georgian luger lost his life. people are obviously concerned about that. the games will go on.
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and hopefully with respect to him, the games will be bigger and better than ever. this is an issue, but there are 17 days of festivities going on to generate about $10 billion of economic activity. so it's a damper for the games that hopefully 17 days from now we'll reflect on and say we got past it. >> a couple of story lines, if you will, the other thing a lot of people have been talking about is the fact they had to truck in some snow. nothing you can do about the weather. do you believe the story lines will naturally change, like you said, over the next 17 days. >> well, and also, you know, $800 million for this new highway up to whisler. another $800 to expand the convention center, the light rail. right now, it's the greatest show on manmade snow. >> all right. let's move on to dallas. betty's hometown here. her old stomping ground. a bissell brags for a lot of people that don't know. the nba all-star game is known as one of the biggest parties in sports if you will, even bigger
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in some ways than the super bowl week. they're having issues with the weather down there. is that causing any problems, people that can't get in, maybe can't get around? >> issues with the weather is media speak for 12 1/2 inches of snow. can't get around here. but they cleared it up, by the way. and so there's a billion dollar facility just down the road, cowboys stadium. that's where the game is going to be. this ticket is important because 90,000 people will be in there tomorrow night, which means it's the most attended basketball game ever in a building where the scoreboard is bigger than the court. hks designed the building. first class all the way. >> can people afford the ticket prices? >> well, yeah, but the bottom line of that facility is there are a lot of price points. you can get in there for $30 with a party pass level and actually stand in standing room only, watch the game on the scoreboard, which is bigger than the courtney way, and say you were there. in many ways that's a positive way to get a lot of people in there. three times as many people
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around dallas have come in than have seats for the game. so david stern, the commissioner, we talked to him last night at an event, he's talking about $100 million, t . t.j., of economic activity. >> kobe, iverson, not playing, right? >> kobe, iverson, not playing. resting their respective injuries. it's not like the nfl pro bowl where it's the end of the season. a lot of people were not playing. 30% of them. here, this is a place to see and be seen. a big party last night. one at the house of blues. tonight at the hilton. betty, these are all your stomping grounds. >> good times. >> everyone says where's betty? you know, we have to compensate. >> some of us have to pay the bill. do you know what i'm talking agent? thanks, rick. >> rick, good to see you. i know you're going to be back up in vancouver for the olympics. we'll check in with you next weekend. thanks, buddy. good to see you. >> yes, sir. >> all right. thank you. there's much more to come
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right here on "cnn saturday morning." [ woman ] ♪ whoa
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hello there, everybody, from the cnn center, this is "cnn saturday morning" for february 13th. i'm t.j. holmes. >> thank you. thanks for being with us today. it is a busy day. we have a lot to tell you about including this, the biggest battle yet, it's happening right now in afghanistan. >> we will have exclusive video for you as u.s. troops and coalition forces in afghanistan battle the taliban. we're all over this still developing story this morning. we're going to be focusing on the largest military operation we have seen in the afghan war.
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first, we want to bring you the top stories right now. first up, university of alabama campus in huntsville is mourning today after a deadly shooting there. police say an assistant biology professor shot and killed three faculty members and wounded three others yesterday. the suspect's name is amy bishop. according to cnn affiliate waff, authorities say the shooting occurred at a faculty meeting in which bishop learned she would not receive tenure. no students were involved in the incident. and yet another recall for toyota. the japanese carmaker announced a voluntary recall of 8,000 four-wheel drive tacoma trucks. toyota says the potential defect in the front drive shaft of certain 2010 models. we've been telling you all morning about this massive military offensive right now in what marjah where they set up a shadow government. our own atia abawi is with them.
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she gjoins us by phone. atia, bring us up to speed on the progress so far. >> reporter: betty, it's been a very, very long day of fighting. it all started at 2:00 a.m. when the first battalion regiment involved in this operation called moshtarak, it was from this team. they came in at 2:00 a.m. in the dark hours of night. they landed in a field, a farming field. it was a pretty rough terrain compared to what most people are used to. this is an area that has canals, that has irrigation systems. and the dark hours of night, four people were wounded. minor injuries but still had to be medevaced out. luckily the company we are embedded with, no casualties from enemies' fire but they did
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meet enemy fire when the sun came up. that's when the taliban started shooting, that's when we started running. the taliban has been sporadically firing at the u.s. marines here in the city of marjah. but the marines have been firing back as well. we do know that there have been taliban casualties. and right now the firing seems to have stopped for the moment. just a lull. we do expect more fighting in the evening time and tomorrow and in the coming days. in fact, two civilians who were injured actually came to the u.s. marines, treated by the u.s. troops here, and medevaced out. but they were told by the civilians that the taliban are waiting just possibly 500 to 1,000 meters awhay preparing to fight, as they're based to launch attacks against the marines. still not clear as to when this will finish. again, this is the largest nato operation in afghanistan since
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2001, over 15,000 people involved and at least 5,000 u.s. marine combat troops, as well as 1500 afghan soldiers. betty? >> you say there's a lull in the fighting right now. let me ask you. how difficult has it been to get down to these particular areas in marjah, because we've been told that the taliban fighters have been setting up for months, land mines and booby traps and stuff to make sure this is a difficult fight. >> reporter: absolutely. the city of marjah is actually surrounded by what's called an ied belt, improvised explosive device belt, because the taliban have had time to prepare for the nato forces that were coming in. throughout the day we've been hearing explosions. luckily the majority of those explosions have been detonated by the troops themselves with the technology that they have, including what's known as a breacher. the breacher is able to move ieds, detonate them before they're able to cause damage to
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the troops themselves. the company we've been with on the ground, there have been booby traps within the city limits and they've been able to detect it with what's known as an idd, ied detective dog, who can sniff out the ieds in the field. they've been able to detonate those prior to any kind of troop casualties. and we have striker fire, we have attacks coming in from the taliban, mortar rounds going out against the u.s. marines. they've been able to keep within bay. but i have to tell you that the taliban have been as close as 400, 500 meters where we're at with the marines right now. betty? >> i know there were warnings sent out to the civilians living in marjah. have many of them indeed decided to stay and remain in their homes despite the fighting that they've been told will take place? >> reporter: definitely. definitely. when i look around the bizarre
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right now and the fields, it's basically a ghost town at the moment. you can tell obviously that people do live in the area. the fields are cloud, growing soft. while we were running from taliban fire, i could hear children from one of the compounds. but for the most part the civilians have decided to stay. that being said as well, the taliban has been using civilians to try to gather information on troop movement, on what the troops are doing, using children, in fact, from what i've heard to try to figure out what the u.s. marines, where they are, what they're planning to do. >> that's got to be a difficult strategy then, to go into a city where most of the civilians have remained behind, where the taliban works very closely with many of those locals to determine who's who, who indeed is the enemy here, especially if they have direct orders not to cause any civilian casualties, if at all possible. >> reporter: absolutely. it's very -- it's a very, very
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difficult task that's been put on us, put on the hands of these u.s. soldiers on the ground because they are under the tactical directive by general stanley mcchrystal. that directive is to reduce civilian casualties. if they think that a civilian is in a building that they know the taliban or the insurgency are there, they're told to withhold from firing because of that. in fact, our camera woman, mary rogers, while she was filming, the snipers looking for enemy fighters in the city in the area, they did see a woman, they saw her, held back their fire. they made sure that it was a civilian and they have also seen insurgents and they know -- they've been able to distinguish well between the civilians and the taliban. but at the same time, it's very difficult task to do, especially as the sun goes down and more of the fighters come out. and fire from homes, the homes of the civilians that they're going into and using them as
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human shields as we've seen in the past as well. betty? >> atia abawi embedded with u.s. force there's in afghanistan as this major offensive is under way at this hour. thanks so much for this insight. we're going to turn over to kabul now where our frederick plighten have been talking to commanders there and the folks that have been doing the plan for this offensive that's been going on in southern afghanistan. frederick, what can you tell us that they are telling you about just how they think things are going out there on the battlefield? >> reporter: well, i've been on the phone with the commanders there, regional command south and they are saying that right now they believe this operation is going exactly the way they had planned it to go, as atia is saying they've moved in the early morning hours. as of this point they have not taken any casualties themselves. they do say there have been taliban casualties, five taliban killed and at least eight taliban taken into custody.
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so certainly they are saying right now they're very happy with the way things are going. also what appears to be going on right now, they are telling me, is that the troops, nato troops, are sweeping through that area, sweeping through the town of marjah. they've already made some very interesting, some disturbing discoveries there. they discovered some artillery shells, at least ten improvised explosive devices, which are, of course, the main killer of u.s. soldiers incovered ammunition a weapons. they also discovered drugs. they discovered heroin there as well. so right now that we're doing is they're trying to broaden their foothold. they're sweeping through the city trying to take control of it as fast as possible. t.j.? >> as fast as possible. that was going to be my next question. how quickly are they able to move? it's only so much you can do when you're trying to diffuse bombs and booby traps, things set for you. i guess give us an idea of just how slow of a process this is.
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>> reporter: well, certainly it's not something that's very easy to do. it is a fairly slow process. on top of, of course, all those threats that the troops face, there is, of course, also the fact that they do have those direct orders not to cause civilian casualties if at all possible. they have to be careful in the way they move forward. however, they do say they are trying to get their foothold broadened out as fast as possible. this is the marines moving into that area with helicopters, going and sweeping through the area. but they do say they believe that the bulk of the military operations can be accomplished fairly quickly. i have heard one general say something around 48 hours, if things go well. of course, the interesting thing that we're going to be monitoring after that is how will that continue, how fast is the afghan government going to be able to take control there. so on the one hand, t.j., very interesting, on the one hand they are under immense time pressure, on the other hand, they have to be very careful to protect americans' lives and the lives of the afghan civilians down there on the ground. t.j.? >> again, so far so good, it
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sounds like, you're hearing from commanders there. thank you so much. we'll be checking in with you once again. well, she chose to take care of her son instead of deploying to afghanistan. >> yeah, but now we know how the u.s. army plans to punish this single mom. we are hearing her story.
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it is one of afghanistan's most violent provinces, and it's the hub of the country's opium industry. right now this hour, u.s. nato forces staging one of the largest offensives of the nine-year war trying to seize the town of marjah. they let the taliban know well in advance they were coming. cnn national security analyst and also a friend of our show here on cnn saturday and sunday morning. peter bergen joining us now. good morning to you. we know marjah is important. but from what you're seeing and how nato, the forces have gone about conducting this operation, does it look like they've learned some lessons from the
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past and they're getting it as right as they can this time in the way they're going about it militarily and also the way they're going about involving the afghan government and also the civilians there? >> i would say the biggest difference we've seen in this operation and previous operations in helmand is the size of the afghan military force. you may remember, tomi rwhen th marines went into helmand in july of last year, one of the big criticisms is there are very few afghan soldiers that went along with them. now it's very different in this operation. so that's one difference. obviously, you know, as atia was saying in her discussion with betty, you know, general mcchrystal's important recommendations about, you know, really reducing civilian casualties have made a difference about the tactics used in this fight. we will see how that works out. you know, when the marines went into fallujah, you know, several years ago the first time around,
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there were a fair number of civilian casualties. they're taking a different approach with this assault on marjah, which is still a major frontal assault on a somewhat large town. but it is being done in a rather different way. >> on the point you made about they're taking in a greater number of afghan forces this time, now, does that make a difference, are you saying just a matter of sheer numbers and that just helps with the military force, or is this more a point that the civilians there need to see more of their own, their afghan brothers out there as a part of this fight? >> i mean, i think the latter, t.j., very much so. the american and nato exit strategy from afghanistan is an effective afghan army. and so far we've seen, i think, very limited evidence of any really effective afghan army units. if they're effective in this fight, that, you know, that's a good indicator of sort of progress on that front. >> how have you seen -- you've been watching this as well. you talk about the two differences there. from what you've heard from our
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atia abawi and her reporting this morning, how this stands out to you as to how this offensive is going? >> one thing that stands out to me which is a bigger issue is why we are conducting these massive operations in helmand where a rather limited amount of the afghan population actually lives. the center of gravity of the tag b taliban is not in helmand, it's in kandahar. when they were in charge, it's a lot of the leadership comes from, and you know, there are some good reasons that we are in helmand. if helmand was a country, individual country, it would be the world's single largest producer of heroin. it is in a sense the bank of the taliban. that's important. marjah is the center of this business. however, at the end of the day, this is not a game changer for southern afghanistan, i don't think. a game changer for southern afghanistan is retaking the areas around kandahar that have essentially fallen to the taliban. >> where do you see the logic then? it sounds like -- and you know, the u.s. military and nato
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forces have made an argument for why marjah is important, but still, you don't -- it doesn't sound like you believe this should have been the primary focus. do you at least see it as maybe just one -- a baby step, if you will, heading maybe next looking at kandahar? >> oh, i mean, i think that's only right, t.j. but a lot of these decisions about sending the marines into helmand were made, you know, up to two years ago. so all of these decisions were grandfathered into the system. and, in fact, you know, i think that a lot of these operations, anderson cooper and i were both in helmand in september. the marines have done quite effective job in pacifying what was a province with the highest amount of taliban presence. at the end of the day what happens in taliban is what happens in kandahar. that is going to come next. we'll see how that goes. >> our peter bergen for us this morning. always good to have you. i know we are going to be talking to you plenty down the road about what's happening in
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afghanistan. thanks so much. good to see you this morning. again, a closer look at marjah. the town where the offensive is taking place. we're going to take you inside. give you more of an idea of exactly what this place is and why it is so critical. that's when we come back.
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all right. we've been talking about this major offensive going down right now in afghanistan, specifically in marjah. so where is marjah exactly on the map and why is it the focus of this nato and afghan
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offensive? well, our tom foreman breaks it all down for you. >> betty, t.j., this is really ground zero for this. helmand province in afghanistan. why does that matter so much. look, first where the u.s. troops have been. on the border from kabul to capital and down in the south. they've been there because that is where the taliban is strong, as you can see in the red sections here. and now they're going after a real stronghold of the taliban, marjah. about 125,000 people live here. this is an opium producing area. so it's been the source of funding for the taliban, also for weapons running here. so what is the plan for attacking it while keeping the civilian casualties to a minimum? well, the idea is that they're going to circle the city first and then they'll strike in with helicopters from different sites outside and with specialized strike forces, increasing pressure on the inside. trying to keep down civilian casualties and yet put pressure on the taliban.
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maybe the pressure makes them flee, maybe they'll stand and fight. we do know there are targets here that matter a great deal. for example, they're going to pay attention to choke points and checkpoints like bridges like this one over here. they're also going to pay a lot of attention to things like roads that become critical for people moving out. for example, this one right here runs from marjah up to many of the refugees have been fleeing this area have already been going out this way. so these are critical things they're going to have to watch as they strike this area. what will they find? that's the big question. as these days go on and this attack continues, there's always a big question mark about the degree to which people will stand and fight and the degree to which they will flee. and one of the best ways to know that is to look back in history. as we fly over to iran here over to iraq we can see the town of fallujah where there is also a similar strategy in the past where they surrounded the town
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some years ago in a major battle trying to get the nrntds there. they also came from the outside. they thought at the time many of the insurgents would flee. many of them did not. a battle that was supposed to last only 90 hours in fact went on for many weeks. betty, t.j.? >> good information there. want to tell you this, too, five taliban fighters have been killed and eight arrested in the early hours of this operation. turn to some weather here in just a second. how in the world are you supposed to dig out from one snowstorm and you got to prepare for the next one that's coming? our bonnie schneider is going to be along with that in a second.
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welcome back, everybody. we are following this major offensive in afghanistan. very closely this morning. actually have some new developments to tell you about. >> we're going to bring in barbara starr. barbara, we have been keeping up trying to hear about any casualties involved. we got the number that five taliban fighters have been killed. but you got updates for us. by all means, tell us. >> t.j., betty, really sad news. the first confirmed reports from coalition military officials of coalition casualties. we have now confirmed that in the marjah operation one u.s. marine has been killed by small
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arms fire. another coalition soldier, we are led to believe, possibly british, killed by an ied. the first two fatalities in the marjah operation we've been talking agent all morning. separate li today in afghanistan, three other coalition troops have lost their lives in battle in kandahar. but that is separate from the two reported fatalities now confirmed in marjah. t.j., betty? >> saying it to us again, barbara, on that first part we missed because we heard there's been some u.s. or maybe nato forces that were injured at least. but that was related to terrain. but these two deaths we are talking agent are cobout are th related? >> that's right, t.j. again, one united states marine now confirmed by military sources to have been killed in action, small arms fire believed to be the cause. another coalition soldier, not afghan, coalition soldier,
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believed to be british, killed by an ied. it is these ieds, these small arms attacks in this marjah region that pose the greatest threat to the coalition troops moving through there now, t.j. >> so two coalition deaths thus far in this. but three other coalition troops have been killed in another region. that being in kandahar. correct? >> that is correct. that is a separate ongoing event. >> a lot going on this morning. barbara starr, i know you are keeping up with it. thanks for that update. quick break.
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so a single mom who chose taking care of her baby over deploying to afghanistan has been given an other than honorable discharge. >> yeah, we've been following this story since last november. that's what 21-year-old alexis hutchinson was supposed to deploi. her attorneys said she refused to go because there was no one to take care of her infant

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