AC: "This represents the new focus, both militarily and politically, on Afghanistan."
It's 5am in Baghdad, yet Michael is wide-awake and raring to go. Anderson Cooper (anchoring from Los Angeles) talks to him primarily about Afghanistan and the new push by the Marines into Helmand Province, a place that Michael knows well from 2002, when he reported from there for Time magazine.
They also talk about the Iraqi reaction to the American pullback from the cities. Personally, I think all that show of Iraqi nationalism is a good thing -- if anything will pull the country together, it is that kind of pride and feeling that they are one country, not a bunch of warring factions or sects or tribes.
ANDERSON COOPER: Coming to you tonight from Los Angeles, where we'll have more on the Michael Jackson investigation shortly.
But there's breaking news tonight out of Afghanistan to tell you about. U.S. troops have launched a major operation against Taliban fighters in the Helmand River Valley. It's in the southwest corner of the country, a region that produces more opium than anywhere else in the world. It is the first large-scale test of the U.S. military's new counterinsurgency strategy. Some 4,000 Marines are involved.
Michael Ware joins me now from Baghdad. He's been covering the pull-out of U.S. troops there, a turning point this week in Iraq.
Michael, Afghanistan. Major operation, 4,000 American troops, Marines pushing through southern Afghanistan. How significant is this?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is significant. I mean, this represents the new focus, both militarily and politically, on Afghanistan.
But I can tell you, Anderson, I lived for a year in Kandahar, which was the former capital of the Taliban. This area where the troops are moving in Helmand, I know it like the back of my hand. I was running around there in 2002. This is ominous terrain.
The Russians never took this territory. And I know that going up the valley where these troops are now, it's littered with the rusting hulks of Russian armor. This is not going to be an easy place to fight.
And I've seen some of this before. Some of this is reminiscent in different parts of Afghanistan. I remember way over in the east of the country going and living with American Green Berets and some Marines in very small outposts in some of the most fiercest valleys on that part of the country. So in some ways this is the old made new again.
But I can tell you one thing, Anderson. Like I said, no one's ever taken this country off the hands of the commanders there. There's going to be one heck of a fight for this, Anderson.
COOPER: Well, 4,000 Marines, I give them good odds. The British have been fighting there this past year. It is a huge opium-growing area. Is this, though, a change in U.S. strategy? They're not just moving in. Their strategy right now is to move in and hold. Right?
WARE: That's right. That's right. And that's classic counterinsurgency, and we know that CENTCOM Commander David Petraeus literally rewrote the American manual on this kind of warfare. He applied it here in Iraq, and they're reapplying it in Afghanistan.
But, for example, in areas along the Afghan border, there has long been posts within Afghan villages, where we've seen the troops doing precisely this. Not just move in and clear but stick and stay. The hold concept of the clear, hold, and build strategy of counterinsurgency.
It's the first time we're seeing such a devoted effort in this particular part of Afghanistan. I think what we'll see is, as these troops move in now in force, we'll now see them start to set up their little bases. I would suspect they'll receive little resistance initially. The insurgents there, the Afghan fighters who fought against the Soviets in the same valleys, I suspect will just be sitting back and waiting and watching. And they'll wait for the little posts to be established, and that's what they'll start hitting, Anderson.
COOPER: Let's keep those Marines in our prayers tonight. Michael, you're in Baghdad. It's been two days since the U.S. pulled back troops out of major cities. A big milestone. We've seen pictures of Iraqis yesterday dancing in the streets. How have they reacted and how are American troops reacting right now?
WARE: Well, Anderson, this has really been a mixed bag of emotions across the spectrum from Iraqi to American. I mean, on the eve of this landmark handover, which was -- which is the end of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, there was tumultuous scenes among the Iraqis.
I went to a park here in central Baghdad. Literally hundreds of families picnicking, bands strolling about the park like mariachis. Young men singing and dancing, draped in Iraqi flags.
National television, state TV had a countdown timer fonted in the corner of its screen, its anchors draped in national flags. For them, this is like popping the champagne cork on Iraqi nationality -- nationalism. They're such a fiercely proud people, and whether it was well intended or not on our part, they see this as the end of a foreign occupation, and they've been celebrating it that way.
They declared it a national holiday, indeed, National Sovereignty Day.
Among some in the American mission, that hasn't been easy to take. I know that some of the officials who were aggrieved that such a celebration, they felt, belied the American sacrifice in this country. 4,324 American servicemen and servicewomen laid down their lives. And some felt that not enough due was being paid to that here in Iraq.
And I'd like to think that at least in America people paused and stopped on that day to think about that sacrifice, Anderson.
COOPER: Yes. It's a good point, Michael. We got a lot of e-mails from viewers, kind of angry at seeing those pictures, and saying they didn't see a lot of Iraqis saying "thank you." And that's something they would have liked to hear, certainly.
Michael Ware, appreciate the reporting from Baghdad tonight. Michael, thanks.