Editor’s Note: As drugs and violence flow north from Mexico, guns are heading south from the U.S. Our Ed Lavandera rides along with an ATF agent for part one of the American Morning original series “The Gun Trail.” Tomorrow, he heads to Savannah, Georgia to see how gun smugglers are taking advantage of the state's weaker gun laws, and why shop owners say they're not part of the problem.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/15/guns.sign.mx.gi.art.jpg caption="A sign warning border-crossers that weapons are forbidden in Mexico is posted on the streets of the border town of Lukeville, Arizona."]
By Ed Lavandera, CNN
We drove the streets of Houston with an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). We can't tell you who he is because he's in the midst of the biggest case he's ever worked; battling lethal Mexican drug cartels on American streets.
"We started seeing [the guns] popping up in Mexico and then further down in Guatemala is where it really opened our eyes that we're onto something pretty big here," the agent says.
What they found was a trail from Houston to Guatemala littered with almost 340 guns purchased by so-called "straw buyers” – 23 Houston-area residents, all with squeaky clean records and legally allowed to buy guns.
Investigators say almost 100 of those guns have since turned up at crime scenes south of the border, in the hands of the drug cartels.
"They're fighting each other for turf in Mexico. And unfortunately, many law enforcement and civilians are being killed in that fight," says Special Agent in Charge Dewey Webb.
Coalition forces are tightening their grip on a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.
Officials there say most of Marjah is now under government control, but the 15,000 Afghan and NATO forces are said to be facing, “scattered resistance.” Mines, as well as IEDs left by Taliban fighters, are still a major concern.
To discuss this largest offensive since the war began, our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joined us Monday on CNN's "American Morning." Below is an edited transcript of the interview.
John Roberts: This is also a big test of the new “clear, hold, and build” strategy; the new surge strategy the United States has implemented.
Barbara Starr: You know, John, it really is. This is the test of President Obama's strategy. The key, of course, is putting more U.S. troops in to be able to throw the Taliban out and then bring the Afghans in and make them do the “hold” phase of this. Make them insert their own government. This is the big test if that will really work. A lot of people say the Afghans just aren't ready and it's going to be very tough going in the weeks ahead.
Roberts: A lot of troops involved in this: U.S., NATO forces as well, troops from Canada, other countries. But a large contingent of Afghan forces as well, and the U.S. military really making a point of the number of Afghan forces involved here. Why?
Starr: Well, again, because they want to show to the American people that there is, first and foremost, a way home for U.S. troops. And the way home for U.S. troops is for Afghan troops to be able to handle their own security situation. And also, to demonstrate to the Afghan people that it is their own government and their own security forces that are really in the lead here. Nobody wants to see it look like a U.S. occupation.
It was a battle of the titans over terrorism. Vice President Joe Biden and former Vice President Dick Cheney are trading jabs across the Sunday morning airwaves.
The two men clashed on everything from the likelihood of another 9/11 to how the Obama administration handled the failed Christmas Day bomb plot. The two men did agree on one thing – the former vice president praised the current surge in Afghanistan.
And it's not just the vice presidents of past and present airing their differences.
Senator John McCain is trading jabs with former Republican Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who will announce today he's running for the Senate seat McCain has held for more than two decades. Our Casey Wian has the report.
Read more: Hayworth to challenge McCain
With a slew of lawmakers suddenly retiring, the mid-term elections could be the perfect storm for Republicans trying to make a bigger dent in the Democratic majority.
31 seats in the House will be up for grabs. 13 belong to Democrats and 18 to the GOP. But anti-incumbent sentiment is the real wild card and that's bad news for Democrats. Our Brianna Keilar is following the story for us.
The economy, health care, resurgent Republicans – they've managed to stall the president's domestic agenda at every turn it seems.
But will problems here at home spell trouble for President Obama reaching out to allies and adversaries abroad? Our Jill Dougherty is following that story for us.
Marjah, Afghanistan (CNN) - Resistance is waning in a major NATO offensive against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, the nation's officials said Monday, a day after 12 civilians died in a rocket attack by coalition troops.
"Coalition forces are clearing mines and roadside bombings, and facing only scattered resistance" from the Taliban, said Zahir Azimi, the Afghan defense spokesman.
The troops met almost no resistance on Monday, unlike Sunday, said Hanif Atmar, the Afghan minister of interior affairs.
"Progress is being made on all fronts," he said.
However, CNN's Atia Abawi, who is embedded with Marines in Marjah, said the coalition forces were still battling militants, facing sporadic gunfire.
About 15,000 Afghan and NATO forces are taking part in Operation Moshtarak, the biggest offensive since the Afghan war started in 2001. The assault aims to wrest control of the town of Marjah and surrounding areas from the Taliban.