AC: "An IED is about to hit this Afghan police gun truck."
The second AC360 report also focuses on Michael's time in Kandahar last week. As he mentioned in this afternoon's discussion on The Situation Room, one night when he had gone out on patrol with a local police force working to curb Taliban activity in the area, the truck he and his cameraman were riding in hit an IED.
(Michael's friend, Mullah Gul Akund, was mentioned in this article he did for Time in January 2002.)
ANDERSON COOPER: Michael Ware is back from patrol, surviving a close call with a roadside bomb. He joins us shortly, along with 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta, who ended up performing some delicate life-saving surgery at a busy field hospital. Also joined by national security analyst Peter Bergen.
COOPER: Hey. We're coming to you tonight from Marine Camp Jaker in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province. We're with the 1st Battalion 5th Marines of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. The troops here and across the region involved both in combat operations and something more, something less tangible.
It's called clear, hold, and build. That's the strategy. Clear the Taliban. That's the idea. Protect civilians by sticking around and building both infrastructure and trust.
They say it's going pretty well here in Helmand Province, in this area. Elsewhere, though, there are major challenges and setbacks. In Eastern Afghanistan today, four Marines were killed in what is being called a sophisticated ambush by Taliban forces. And roadside bombs are still everywhere.
Michael Ware found out firsthand, a very close call he had in Kandahar on night patrol. He is elsewhere now, someplace safer. But here's what it looked like at night in harm's way.
MICHAEL WARE (voice-over): This is one night, one police patrol in Kandahar. A hidden Taliban roadside bomb, an IED, is about to hit this Afghan police gun truck. A CNN cameraman and I are riding in it. By some miracle, it detonates a heartbeat too soon. Otherwise, we'd all be dead. Instead, gravel rains over us.
(on camera): You all right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.
WARE (voice-over): Then comes the shooting, a so-called death blossom, police firing aimlessly to ward off further attack.
But this is the true front line against the Taliban. It's where President Obama's war will ultimately be won or lost.
(on camera): Oh, my God.
WARE: On that front line is my old friend Afghan police commander Mullah Gul Akund. I have been away for six years reporting in Iraq, so it's a relief just to see he's still alive.
It takes a certain kind of man to survive for long on the Kandahar front, a hardened warrior with little mercy, a man like Mullah Gul. As a police commander, he has been killing Taliban since December 2001. For the Taliban, that means he's been a target for eight years. I have no idea how he survived.
"I protect myself," he says. "God has a date for everyone's death. And when that day comes, they will die. But my day has not yet come."
The men and boys he commands guard the back door to Kandahar. After Mullal Gul's outpost comes territory fully controlled by the Taliban. Through that mountain pass, just beyond his checkpoint, it's all Taliban.
As for our night patrol, we have just broken the Muslim fast of Ramadan with Mullah Gul and his forces in a neighborhood called Loya Wala.
(on camera): It's very hard to see me where we are right now, because the men we're with are using as little light as possible. These are Afghan police patrolling Kandahar. This is the Taliban heartland. This is the birthplace of the -- the Taliban. Let's get moving. We want to get back in the trucks. These men do this every night. And where we are right now is a Taliban-held neighborhood. Their commander says, if they weren't patrolling, there would be attacks almost every night.
(voice-over): In Mullah Gul's vehicle, he warns me we could be heading into trouble.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, the street that we are getting inside now is called (INAUDIBLE) yes?
WARE (on camera): Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is the most dangerous place in Loya Wala.
WARE: Oh, really?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WARE: So, we're about enter the most dangerous area in Loya Wala.
This is where they have a lot of contact with the insurgencies, firefights, IEDs. There is a curfew in place here for 10 p.m. So, anyone on the streets after 10 p.m. is deemed suspicious. Here we are in the middle of the night moving through this neighborhood, watching the police at work.
(voice-over): We arrive at an intersection controlled by Taliban fighters.
(on camera): Until about 10 days ago, this intersection here at this small bridge was a Taliban running point. The commander says, every night, they were spotting as many as 20 or 30 Taliban gathering here to share information and from where they'd launch attacks.
By by establishing this one permanent patrol base, a checkpoint not far from here, he has managed to force the Taliban to move to another area.
(voice-over): We didn't know the strike against our vehicle was only moments away. The police gun truck CNN cameraman Sarmad Qasiri and I are riding in enters this back street. The Taliban bomb is hidden ahead of us.
WARE: It seems victory is still a long way off.
(on camera): You all right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.
COOPER: Michael, what's your assessment of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan?
WARE: Well, you have an American mission virtually in crisis. I mean, you have the country here in Afghanistan in a political limbo. They don't even know who their president is right now. They don't have the finalized outcome of last month's presidential election, to some degree, not that it matters.
In many Afghans eyes, it's one bunch of crooks or another bunch of crooks. But the problem is that the storm of corruption allegations that is delaying the count has stripped any incoming government of its legitimacy. And that is a heavy body blow to the U.S. mission.
Also, the whole war plan is up in the air. America is reconsidering how to fight this war. And it simply doesn't have enough American, NATO or any kind of troops, including Afghan, to fight all the fights that are necessary to put any real kind of pressure on the Taliban. So, it's gone to be a real challenging time for the Obama administration to decide whether it really wants to fight this war or not -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yeah. To many people on the ground here, it seems inevitable that the military is going to ask for more forces here in Afghanistan. They're going to have as many as 68,000 troops here by the end of this year. President Obama's already ordered 21,000 new forces here. They will be fully here by the end of this year, 68,000 troops, in addition to some 38,000 other foreign troops, NATO forces.
But it seems likely they're going to have to ask for more troops, because this strategy of clear, hold, and build, they're not moving to areas that they can't stay in and that they can't build in. And they simply can't go into some areas, even here in Helmand Province. There are some simply areas they cannot go to. And that's where the Taliban is in force.