This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 16, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: This is clearly the beginning of the spring offensive that the Taliban engages in. And we are, I think, fully competent that combined with the Afghan army, we can confront that threat.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I think what you saw, how you saw them react yesterday with very little help from us I think is indicator that that strategy is sound. The French provided a couple of helicopters, we provided a couple of helicopters but this was very much an Afghan show.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The Pentagon today saying the Afghan commandos led the counter offensive on a massive coordinated strike around the country of Afghanistan in three different provinces targeting western embassies, NATO headquarters, Afghan parliament, the presidential palace. 15 people died, 10 U.S. special operations soldiers were wounded after a car bomb in one area.

We're back with the panel. Steve, we do see increases in attacks as Defense Secretary Panetta was mentioning come the spring. With this current environment about U.S. troop withdrawal pending how does this play?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: These are the two separate questions that you've raise. One is right, how did they perform? If you talk to people who are familiar with what is going on on the ground, they said that this actually could have been much worse and that the Afghan troops performed very well. And I didn't get the sense that was sort of spin, like people who have their head in the clouds, everything is fine. They said that this was a test and they did really well in this test.

The second question, though, is the politics of this. And I think, anytime you have this kind of a large scale attack, particularly something that seemed to have taken many months in the planning stages, it's going to cause people here, elected officials and others to wonder what we're doing there. Should we be there, should we stay? And why haven't we been able to uncover these things in their developmental stages maybe in a way that we have in the past? I think those are serious questions, they deserve serious answers.

The one cautionary note that this, I think, attack sends more than anything else is that if you pull out sort of quickly, and there is that temptation that for Republicans and Democrats alike, this was planned and executed by the Haqqani Network. They are, as Mike Mullen called it in congressional testimony, a veritable arm of the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence network. It doesn't solve the problem if you pull out quickly. That is the bigger problem.

BAIER: Right, Mara, they just wait until the time when U.S. troops draw down.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Sure. The interesting thing about this, in terms of the public opinion, public opinion is growing against the war among Republicans as well as Democrats. But you have got a situation that I think means that nothing is going to change in the policy. Why? Because the president has to stabilize Afghanistan if he is going to get out. And he wants to get out as soon as possible. And you can't have a Republican presidential candidate arguing to get out any faster even have him criticizing the president for handling it and how he is managing the war.

So you don't have any kind of "pull-out now" faction out there with the exception of the president's own Democratic base, which I think is going to give him a pass until after the election.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: But as to what it tells us about the war, some events are truly demoralizing, like when an Afghan soldier turns and shoots an American. This happened a few months -- a few weeks ago. Is that happening often? That is demoralizing because you figure are we ever going to have a stable and reliable ally?

But this event ought not be demoralizing. It was an attempt of the jihadists here to do a Tet offensive. And the Tet offensive was a miserable failure for the Vietcong militarily, but psychologically it was success because it demoralized Americans and it was the beginning of the end of the war. But it shouldn't in this case. The Afghan defense forces actually acted well on their own and showed a lot of resilience. Yes, it showed that the bad guys have infiltration, are able to penetrate into cities and have allies inside but we knew that. What we weren't aware of was how good the Afghan commandos were in defending themselves. So I think this ought to be a plus in terms of looking at our prospect of success in Afghanistan.

BAIER: Down the road, yes or no, do the increased attacks this spring speed up withdrawal?



HAYES: I hope not, but it's possible.

BAIER: The political environment is at that place?

HAYES: Yes. If she is right about the Democratic base, that could be pressure that the president can't withstand.

LIASSON: Not between now and November.

HAYES: If there are increased attacks you will hear louder voices from the Democratic base that the president may want to answer --

KRAUTHAMMER: The base is loyal and cynical. It will not attack its own president in the run-up to an election no matter what. It stands on principle only if the Republicans are in office.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned as things heat up on the campaign trail.

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