Anderson Cooper kicks off AC360 with a recap of the most important moments from the speech and then talks to his panel: Michael, Christiane Amanpour, Nic Robertson, Peter Bergen, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Michael says he was disappointed by the revoiced rhetoric he heard ("Let's hit Pakistan with a wet piece of lettuce") although he was not expecting details to be discussed in the speech.
In the second clip, John King and Michael are back at the Magic Wall to show again where the American/NATO forces are and where the fighting is.
Finally, Anderson talks to Fareed Zakaria about the president's grasp of the situation in Afghanistan (which leads to a wisecrack about Michael's wearing of the salwar kameez).
COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: President Obama's new
plan to fight the war in Afghanistan and, he says,
finish it soon. He is sending more troops, 30,000,
but it's a commitment with an expiration date, July
2011. A year-and-a-half to fight the Taliban, build
up Afghan governance and security forces, and then
try to get out.
He made his case at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, about an hour north of New York's Ground Zero, where the war began more than eight years ago.
We have extensive coverage in the hour ahead from our reporters who have been there for years, our political analysts on the heat this is already taking, Dick Cheney blasting the president today, liberal Democrats already opposing any additional troop commitment.
But, first, some of the key moments, in case you missed the speech, President Obama tonight, in his own words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years, it has moved backwards. There's no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population.
Our new commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short, the status quo is not sustainable.
Now, let me be clear: There has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war during this review period.
This review is now complete. And as commander in chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.
I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.
This is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards and al Qaeda can operate with impunity.
These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.
It's easy to forget that when this war began we were united, bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was President Obama tonight.
You heard him defend the length of time it took him to come up with a new war plan, the president invoking his visit to Dover Air Force Base during that time, where the remains of America's war dead come home. He witnessed the return of 18 of our fallen. More than 800 American men and women have died in the Afghan theater since the war began.
Mr. Obama also speaking tonight of how polarized Americans have become over this war. The question now, of course, did he change any minds tonight? Did he change your mind?
Because, in addition to the 18-month clock he started tonight, there's about a half-dozen more clocks ticking, a budget clock, a military morale clock, and, as always, a political clock.
I want to get a quick read tonight on some test reaction on all of it from CNN experts and correspondents, a lot of whom have gotten the answers firsthand, spending a lot of time on the ground over the years, a lot of them recently back from Afghanistan, starting with chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour.
Christiane, what jumped out at you tonight?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he obviously put the troops on the ground. He has put this deadline of 18 months to start withdrawing them.
Experts on the ground told us today that the last thing people on the ground there need and in the region is the notion of an exit strategy, because they want to see promises kept, security delivered, and some kind of stability and development laid, so that Afghanistan can, in fact, stand on its own two feet.
COOPER: Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, was it a mistake for the president to kind of put a timeline on this? Does that signal to our enemies when the U.S. wants to get out?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Unfortunately, it does.
The Taliban have all time in the world. They have said that from the beginning. They have their own strategy. They'll be deciding now when to put in place their own surges, midterm elections for the upcoming presidential election. They will have their surges. They will watch where the troops deploy to. They will make their own movements. They will change their own strategy. And they will wait those 18 months, and be ready to step forward when troops step back.
COOPER: Michael Ware, you have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. You lived in Kandahar. What did you think of the president's speech?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, maybe I expected too much. I found it disappointing.
Apart from, you know, confirming the fact that he is sending extra troops, the rest was just rhetoric. I mean, we've heard it all before: Let's pull together. Let's hit Pakistan with a wet piece of lettuce. Let's take a new...
WARE: You know, let's take a new path forward.
I mean, obviously, we're not going to give away the details in the president's speech, but I thought it lacked the substance I was hoping to hear.
COOPER: Peter Bergen, national security analyst, you've spent a lot of time on the ground in Pakistan. We were just there together in September. What did you think? What did you hear tonight?
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, you know, the -- if we're talking about the withdrawal in 18 months, there is a huge kind of caveat to that, which is, it's conditions-based.
Right now, there are 34 provinces in Afghanistan. Only one is actually controlled by the Afghan police and Afghan military, which is Kabul Province, the capital. So, you know, when it comes to this 18-month decision, you know, it could be that only two provinces are handed over. It could be 10. Who knows? It's a very, very big caveat. It's not that there's going to be a big drawdown come July 2011, I don't think.
COOPER: Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent, you were just there with us in September. Casualties are going to increase. There's no getting around it.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
I didn't expect him to talk about the increased medical capabilities out there, but obviously -- that is obviously something that is going to be necessary. The hospitals there, the biggest trauma hospitals, are already running at full capacity.
Add to that that you're really -- most of the medevacs are by chopper. So, you need more choppers. You need more personnel to transport these patients back. And just the nature of these injuries, Anderson -- you saw them as well -- I mean, they're just very, very difficult to treat.
The medical infrastructure is not good, even at its baseline.
COOPER: We are going to have more with our panelists in just a moment, a lot more throughout this hour.
Let us know what you think. Join the live chat, the discussion going on now at AC360.com. I will try to log on shortly.
COOPER: Thirty thousand more troops for Afghanistan
puts real pressure on an already stretched military.
Tonight, we want to take a quick, closer look at the
troops, where exactly they are going to be going in
Let's bring in John King, who is at the magic wall with Michael Ware -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, thanks.
And as we zoom in on Afghanistan, let's first remember it is in perhaps the world's most volatile neighborhood here. Now, let's come in a little bit closer and we will underscore the challenge the president outlined tonight.
Here is Afghanistan. And I want to draw a quick line just to help as we go forward here. Just going to draw this line through here. And, as we go forward, you will understand the significance of why.
And, Michael, you jump in as we do this.
First, let's take a look at where the troops are now in Afghanistan. And you see the American flags and the British flags down in this region, most of the NATO flags up...
MICHAEL WARE: Yes.
Notice all the American flags, Aussie flag, British flags here, and the NATO-European flags at the north. Now let's go to the next item, and you will see why.
KING: I can you show right here. The darker the province -- right.
WARE: This is where the fighting is. This is where it isn't.
KING: But the darker the province, the stronger the Taliban.
WARE: Right, the darker the province, more Taliban influence or control.
This is where the NATO troops are. This is the bulk of the fight. And indeed, even on this map, I would argue that you could make Kandahar as dark as Helmand. Perhaps Zabul. Perhaps Partika. Even perhaps Khost.
I mean the Taliban's control is even worse than it looks here, especially at night in the villages. American patrol will come at day. But by night, guess who's in charge?
KING: And if you send 30,000 more US troops, most of them highlighted in here, what is the impact even if things go very well? I want to bring in the neighboring region here, because what happens in Afghanistan will deeply effect what happens in the border region in Pakistan.
WARE: Absolutely. As we know, Pakistan's role in this great Afghan game, as you may want to call it, is they're giving sanctuary to those who are killing the American soldiers and attacking the U.S. government.
Now up here there's Pakistani Taliban which is different to the Afghan Taliban. There's al Qaeda. There's the Hisbe Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. But these sanctuaries, these safe zones for the fighters stretch all the way down. Indeed, even down here in the major city of Quetta in Pakistan, the leadership there is well known. It's called the Quetta Shura. They're the ones running the war from here.
So the problem stretches all along. And I would suspect the bulk of the 30,000 troops going there are going to be going to this region. Right now this is where the fight is. Right here in Helmand province where Anderson was.
See, the problem is, America's bitten off a very small piece of a large apple. To the Taliban, this is all one operating area. But we're trying to do it bit by bit by bit. And they're just simply running rings around us.
KING: Anderson, as you can see, and you know it from your time there, again, most of the concentration will be down in here. Some NATO forces up here. And one of the big questions we will answer in the coming days is will the NATO allies put up real numbers or will they send modest, symbolic contributions, Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, Mike and John, stick by that wall for a second.
COOPER: Fareed Zakaria, you were at the White House
today along with several others. You had lunch with
President Obama. He has really been looking into the
minutia of this policy. I mean, that's what he's been
spending a lot of time doing, correct?
FAREED ZAKARIA: He's been looking into the minutia. He's very well informed on it. He can talk about Pashtun areas and Tajik areas. He'd give Michael Ware a run for his money on that map. But I think...
COOPER: But he's not wearing pajamas like Michael Ware.
ZAKARIA: I didn't tell you what he was dressed in.
MICHAEL WARE: Yeah, well, at least I look good in them.
ZAKARIA: No, but I actually think what he spent a lot of time focusing on is a bigger issue. Which is what are the strategic states here for the United States? Because you know, we give ourselves the challenge -- how do we stabilize Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban -- that's a huge challenge. It's one we could do if provided the resources and time. But the question is, is that in the national interests of the United States?
What he has focused in on is the idea that disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda is the core national security interest of the United States. And I think in that sense, this is a limitation of what have been previous conceptions of why we were in Afghanistan. Certainly a limitation from Bush.
President Bush talked often about the need to establish a viable functioning democracy, a flourishing economy. Obama doesn't talk about a lot of that. It really is focused on dismantling al Qaeda.
COOPER: Well, Michael Ware, can they then do what they did in Iraq? Can they either co-opt Taliban, those 10-dollar-a-day Taliban, the ones who aren't hard core ideologues, and can they just start to buy off people? Pay thugs, you know, to form militias and control small amounts of territory?
WARE: Anderson, there certainly is some room for that. And I can tell you now that, from when I was there back in September, the American military is already investigating this option.
Indeed, a pilot program was underway, at that time being run by the president's brother in Kandahar. They're calling it the local national protectors' program.
Now it will be a lot more complicated than Iraq. It will be a lot bloodier. It will be a lot messier. Expect a lot of human rights to go out the window.
But once you give power to these men, and I sat with them in Kandahar, if they say, "There will be no Taliban in my district," then there will be no Taliban in that district. And if they show up, they won't just kill their wife and their father and mother. They'll probably kill their goats, their dogs and everything. There is an option that needs to be explored.